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November 2004
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Wolfe Huffs and Puffs and . . . Slithers?

It's time again for the Literary Review's annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award, this year bestowed upon Tom Wolfe for a particularly slurpy passage ("Slither slither slither slither went the tongue . . . .") in I Am Charlotte Simmons.  The passage is indeed deeply, deeply bad -- bad enough to overcome any suspicion that Wolfe is actually being punished for his outspokenly conservative views concerning These Kids Today.

Those with a taste for the lurid and the discipline and wherewithal to suppress fits of giggles are free to read all of the nominated passages in full.  Oh dear.

Incidental intelligence:  The Guardian report linked above reveals that the British version of Wolfe's book has a rather more erotic cover design than does the tightlaced American edition.

Nostalgists are welcome to revisit my report and comment on last year's awards and sex writing in general, which comes complete with a bonus quotation from an old John Barth novel.

Perfection Its Own Self

Terry Teachout quotes possibly the finest lyric Stephen Sondheim has ever penned, the middle section of "Not a Day Goes By" from Merrily We Roll Along.  Carly Simon, of all people, gave a very fine rendering of this song on her 1981 album, Torch, and I've been unable to get it out of my inner IPod since first hearing it.  The complete lyrics can be found here.  The key to the song's success, I think, is that list at its center and the way it builds to a lyric and musical pivot point with "And turning and reaching/And waking and dying."  (How long must Sondheim have worked to get just the right eight items into that list, eh?)  Because it is put together so well, words and melody tied so tightly to one another, it is one of those songs that only really lives in the performance, pretty as it is on the page.

Vox Sagittarii

It has been one week since my own birthday, and I am struck by the number of fellow webloggers who have also celebrated birthdays in the past seven days.  So far, I've spotted birthday-related entries by: David Giacalone [Dec. 9, as noted below], Professor Bainbridge [Dec. 11], and Greg Perry [today, Dec. 13].  My very own non-weblogging mother [Dec. 10, as noted last year] would also qualify, but for being "non-weblogging".  A suspicion nags at the back of my mind that I have seen at least one other birthday post on my regular reading-rounds this past week, but it is eluding my recollection at this moment.  Suggestions as to whose it might have been are welcome.

Yule Brynner

Rick, for Hannukah, provides a link to a toe-tapping (if often misspelled) tribute to the Festival of Lights à la OutkastHey-yahmulke?

In a similar spirit, for That Other Holiday later in the month and for the benefit of headbangers everywhere, I give you:

  • "Christmas Rhapsody" by Pledge Drive, a visit from that jolly old elf as it might be reimagined by Freddie Mercury & Co., with fleeting guest vocals by the Whos (the ones down in Whoville).  [Download or stream it from the band's site, here.  Lyrics available here:]



St. Nicholas has a lump of anthracite for me
For me
For meeeeee . . . .

[Link via Fluxblog.]


In response to my self-absorbed birthday verse below, David Giacalone took his first foray into the double dactyl form.  (He is generally a haiku and senryu sort of a versifier.) 

Today being David's own natal day . . . and that of his twin Arthur . . . and presumably that of David's various alter egos -- ethicalEsq, skepticalEsq, haikuEsq and the incorrigible Professor Yabut -- this verse is proffered in honor of them all:

To a One-Breath Pundit and Bard of the Bar

Annually, annually,
David the Ethical
(and his twin brother) more
Elderly grow.

Haiku sustains him, and
Weblogging Fools wish him
Well, with a Hey-nonny,
Hey-nonny noh!


Rupert Holmes

Artie Shaw gave me the pass
And Miller's band signed up en masse
To serenade
The D-Day raid --
If I play one more country club, I'll
[colorful verb drowned out by woodwinds]

Lord, I'd even buy myself a new reed
If they would only let me play lead. . . .

-- Rupert Holmes, "Second Saxophone"

Terry Teachout surprises today with an "Almanac" entry quoting lyrics from "The People That You Never Get to Love," a lesser known (but beautifully crafted) song by Rupert Holmes

"Rupert Holmes," you say, "He wrote and sang the dreaded Pina Colada Song, right?"  Indeed he did, more's the pity.  I really, really dislike that song, out of all proportion to its objectively objectionable qualities, because for several years prior to its huge success at the start of 1980 I had been a deep-dyed Rupert Holmes fan.  That Holmes should be known to the larger world only as the creator of a Song Everyone Loves to Hate struck me then, and strikes me now, as a wicked jape of the Muse.

Terry's quotation provides an excuse for me to praise Mr. Holmes for the talented fellow he is, and to recommend to you tracking down his work before his paean to umbrella drinks.  "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" appeared on Holmes' fifth album, Partners in Crime (as does the far superior song quoted by the Honorable Mr. Teachout).  His first album, Widescreen, was an eclectic assortment: adult pop somewhat on the lines of Barry Manilow (who later recorded a version of Holmes' "Studio Musician"), clever story songs, outright jokes, even a mock radio drama.  It caught the attention of Barbra Streisand, and Holmes and his producer pal Jeffrey Lesser later co-produced a Streisand album, Lazy Afternoon, on which she sang several Holmes compositions, including the aforementioned "Widescreen." 

[Digression: The song "Lazy Afternoon" itself has nothing to do with Rupert Holmes.  It has been covered by a number of singers and jazz musicians (I'm partial to Mark Isham's trumpet-based version) and comes from The Golden Apple, a 1954 Broadway musical based very, very loosely on Homer's epics -- transferred to rural Rhododendron, Washington.  Kaye Ballard, as Helen, sang the song originally, and can be heard doing so on the original cast recording.  My parents saw the show in New York on their honeymoon.  Life's a seamless web, isn't it?  End of digression.]

Holmes' next three albums -- Rupert Holmes, Singles, and The Pursuit of Happiness, none of which seem to enjoy a current domestic release -- grew progressively more serious (although the jokes never disappeared altogether) while maintaining high standards of songcraft.  Then came that darned Pina Colada ditty.  I can't begrudge Holmes his success with that tune, but I can surely wish that something, anything from the rest of his repertoire had brought him the big payday.

After Partners In Crime, Holmes never had another pop hit.  He did find other realms for success, however, winning himself three Tony awards -- Best Score, Best Book and Best Musical -- in 1985 for The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  He has a number of successful ventures into the theater, musical and non-musical, to his credit since then, and this past year published a thriller, Where the Truth Lies, that is -- you guessed it -- soon to be a Major Motion Picture (details at the rather gaudy semi-official

If I have piqued your interest in Holmes and his 100% Colada-free earlier work, I recommend Widescreen and the officially-out-of-print-but-not-too-hard-to-come-by Varese Sarabande compilation from 1994, The Epoch Collection, which contains most of the best material from those first three albums.  I think I'll go listen to that one in my car on the drive home today.

A Little Dact'll Do Ya

Yesterday, December 5, marked the 71st anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition.
Tomorrow, December 7, will mark the somewhat better known 63rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. 
And today, what do we find, slipped in between those dates of real historical importance?

A Song of Myself - 12/06/04

Jiggedy, jiggedy,
George “a fool” Wallace is
Fond of a dactylic
Dimeter line.

Here he is, gettin’ all
“Friends, it’s my birthday: I’m
Two score and nine.”

Extra special thanks to my parents, of course, without whom my life would be a wild surmise at best.

Have You Heard? The Word's Absurd

Our younger son celebrated his 14th birthday earlier this week, and for the occasion we are off to the Land That Walt Built.  Our visit is unlikely to be so linguistically challenging  as Michael Dare's Trip to Disneyland with Eugene Ionesco:

The pomegranates explode with trepidation and delight.

[Link via ::: wood s lot :::.  Many more intriguing Michael Dare Polaroid manipulations and accompanying facts and fictions are to be had here.]

A Holiday Diss-play

Perhaps you have heard or read of Alan and Bonnie Aerts, whose  home in toney Monte Sereno, California, was for many years the scene of hyper-elaborate seasonal son et lumière complete with surfing santas, hot air balloons, holograms and what have you.  The display drew viewers from miles around but ultimately grew tiresome to the neighbors, who did what good Americans do in such situations: they sent in the lawyers. 

The neighbors succeeded in persuading the city to impose a permitting requirement, effectively shutting down the yuletide arts of the Aerts.  This year, the former abundance of conspicuous Christmassitude has been replaced with a single 10-foot tall Grinch.

NPR reported the story yesterday, informing us that for four to five hours per night the great green creature spouts smoke, flashes its eyes, and points at the home of the spoilsport neighbors, all the while playing a loop of the great Thurl Ravenscroft's immortal rendition of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."  (Listen here.)  Which leads this Fool of a lawyer to wonder: Have the Aerts paid appropriate royalties for the public performance rights to that song and, if not, when will the RIAA's legal staff be descending upon them?

Update (12/02/04):  As an attorney myself, I should know better than to joke about legal teams descending upon the unsuspecting in intellectual property cases.  Exhibit A: Jason Kottke, who is apparently still in the clutches of Sony's lawyers, irate over his temporary posting of audio from Ken Jennings' final appearance on Jeopardy! (which I linked below).  Advocates of free-ranging expression on weblogs, such as Jeff Jarvis, are put out, to say the least.  This is a topic to which I will have to return, if I can find the time to give it the thought it deserves.