Here’s another video via Scott McLemee. Seems appropriate since yesterday was May Day:
We got fundamentalist Muslims
We got fundamentalists Jews
We got fundamentalist Christians —
They’ll blow the whole thing up for you
But as I travel around this big old world
There’s one thing I most fear —
It’s a white man in a golf shirt
With a cell phone in his ear.
Via Scott McLemee at Quick Study, with a further comment at Crooked Timber. And here is a link to the Little Red Songbook, “to fan the flames of discontent.” Back in the seventies I had the good fortune to meet a couple of old Wobblies who had worked the docks in Seattle and knew people who had survived the Everett Massacre. Back then I had a friend named Blake, a hell of a guitar player who knew all the songs. Happy May Day, Blake!
Bonus Track: Shawntay Henry, a high school student from the US Virgin Islands, reads Robert Hayden’s poem “Frederick Douglass.” Henry won the Poetry Out Loud competition yesterday.
Second Bonus Track: A Mayday story from 3QD.
With an interesting backstory. Check out Dengue Fever — Cambodian rock music. I had heard something about the band last week on one of NPR’s news programs & today Terry Gross did an interview with lots of music that I heard while drive to work. Immediately ordered the new CD, Venus on Earth. So, go catch Dengue Fever — you won’t even have to be bitten by a mosquito.
3/1 — Prelude: This sounds like practicing scales. I return again to the pedagogical nature of these pieces. But what sweet, dramatic teaching / learning. Busy & thoughtful at the beginning, rising energy through the middle but still meditative, then those urgent pauses, trying to think of exactly the next thing to say, in the last moments. I imagine hearing this through an open window on a summer day, someone nearby practicing. And I mean practicing in all the sense of the word. The end feels more like a beginning. I often have the sense of inhabiting a room when I listen to these pieces, or a series of rooms in a large building.
3/2 — Allemande: Delicate steps. A folk tune. A tripping rhythm, skipping hand-in-hand. I hear voices trading parts. William Blake’s Songs of Innocence.
2/I — Prelude: Gorgeous long lines in a low register. Imagine this played on a baritone sax! Speeds up a little as it goes along. This was the first piece of the suites I ever heard, waking to it on a clock radio thirty years ago in Bellingham, in a little room overlooking the bay. What kind of jazz is this? I asked myself — that actual sentence in my mind & I still remember the words. In structure this Prelude is pretty simply, though not as symmetrical as many parts of the Cello Sutes. It seems to be finished about two-thirds of the way through, then there is a pause & an afterthought, a reflection not in the sense that symmetries are reflections, but in the sense of introspection. We don’t think of Bach as an introspective artist — what a mathematician, we cry! — but in these suites he often seems to look inward, listening to voices he then shapes into these moving lines.
2/II — Allemande: More chords on the cello in this one? More multi-string playing? The least dance-like of the movements I’ve listened to so far. I love that almost grinding low chord about a third of the way into the movement, the music then rising to a few sweet, higher notes before returning to the exploration of the middle range. I keep coming back to the sense that all these movements are exercises in the loftiest sense — or perhaps explorations, experiments — in which the artist is primarily interested in finding out what the materials can do.
2/III — Courante: A snappy little ho-down! I was telling a colleague the other day I think Sherman Alexie is one of the very few American novelists who can “do joy.” Bach “does joy” here. Not exultation, but joy, built on the basis of what the old song lyric calls “satisfied mind.”
2/IV — Sarabande: Symmetrical to the point of being nearly stationary. And yet I think this is my favorite movement so far. Lyrical & studied at the same time, somehow. On some of the low notes you can hear the cello bow pushing across the strings & it’s almost percussive.
2/V — Menuett : 1. A gently rocking rhythm. Perhaps because I’m listening with headphones, I’m really hearing the percussive quality of the bow on the strings. Decisive steps, a bit of swagger, boldness. 2. This one is more delicate & makes me think of flowers. A formal garden, evening. Fluent but entirely proper.
2/VI — Gigue: Begins with a bounce & picks up speed. A dancer would be pressed to keep this looking graceful. Masculine in contrast to the femininity of the menuett. Yes those terms are slippery — for us in ways they may not have been for Bach. But throughout all the suites there are men & women dancing, at least in theory, at least potential dancers like those potential subatomic particles physicists tell us onlycome fulling into existence when we observe them. Listening is a form of observation.