Copper Shower

Phil Ford

I lied; I still have one more post to write this week. Can’t help myself. A couple of good comments have been posted in response to my earlier “cop show” post. This calls for linkage!

My colleague, music theorist Byron Almen, deserves credit for some of the R & D that went into the whole “cop show” concept. Although I coined the term, Byron came up with the “cop show” version of the high-five*, as well as a number of suggestions along the lines of Kip W.’s “lawyer show.” “Game show,” for example, might be what you say if something is actually pretty lame. “Gun show” might work best in rural areas. “Saturday morning cartoon show,” while prolix, might have a certain cachet among the under-12 set. Really, it’s a pretty elastic concept. But folks that know are gonna be saying “cop show” before the end of the year. Bringing up Chow-Yun Fat, as Michael M. does, just clinches the deal. In fact, the played-out term “phat” could be reinvigorated if we all started calling things “chow-yun phat.” But perhaps I’m reaching.

I forgot to mention that interested parties can see a full discussion of “cop show” and related matters at Unfogged, where Ben Wolfson kindly linked to this post. 289 comments on that thread. Can anyone doubt the eventual supremacy of “cop show”? Ben also perpetrated the first blogospheric use of “cop show” on his own blog. The main bulk of his post, though, is a meditation on one of the pitfalls of free improvisation — figuring out how to end. Ben writes:

One of the things that most frequently bothers me at such concerts is
the problem of ending a set.  A few times in Berlin it would transpire
that one or two players would gradually decrease the volume or
intensity of their playing, and I’d think, ok, we’re winding down, soon
this bit will come to a close.  But instead the player would keep going
just a little too long, and one of the other players, apparently
thinking things were set to continue just a bit longer, or wanting to
get his own piece in, or finding the first musician’s continuing
without support unbearable, or god knows what, would join in, but not
in any way that provided a basis for the music as a whole to pick up,
just a little bit of sympathy for the first.  But then a vicious cycle
is embarked upon, and the thing limps along forever, going nowhere,
doing nothing, always half-ended.  No one, seemingly, can think of
anything else to do, but neither can they just actually stop.  This is
very annoying!

This one of the pitfallls of the whole free-improvisation-as-a-synecdoche-of-life thing (and, by extension, the whole avant-garde breaking-down-the-barrrier-between-art-and-life thing). Life itself is sometimes pretty boring. Our conversations sometimes diesel on in exactly this way, with everyone sort of standing around hoping something will happen and trying, ineffectually, to make something happen. Which reminds us of one of the reasons we decided to have art in the first place: it gives us the opportunity to experience conversations (real and metaphorical) where everything is cop show all the time.

OK, still not buying the whole “cop show” thing? Here’s more evidence that cop show is the new awesome:

1. “The Boss,” a cue from Orson Welles’ 1958 film noir Touch of Evil. Films noir count as cop shows — just old, really cool cop shows. In this case, we have bongos, ostinatos, and screaming trumpets. But we don’t have an irregular meter, for which we need . . .

2. The main title theme from Johnny Staccato, by Elmer Bernstein. 5/4 meter, ostinatos, screaming trumpets, and John Cassavetes in the title role as a jazz-loving gumshoe in a late-1950s TV cop show series. I’ve never seen the show, but the soundtrack is swingin’. The show is apparently pretty silly, but it’s worth noting that without the money Cassavetes got from playing Johnny Staccato (and who wouldn’t want to play a character with that name?), he might never have made Shadows, which is usually hailed as the first masterpiece of American independent film. Goes to show you that the line between beat and beatsploitation is pretty thin at times. Maybe all the time.

3. And one more for good measure: Rack ‘Em Up, from the soundtrack to The Pawnbroker, a mid-1960s movie about a holocaust survivor who runs a pawnshop in Harlem. Quincy Jones scored this one, which has cop-show-type tracks on it, even if it is not, technically, a cop show. But we have irregular meter, a bass ostinato, bongos, hipster mouth-jive (don’t quite know what else to call it), AND Quincy Jones, so who’s complaining? By the way, the bass ostinato is the exact same one (with the same bass-and-piano unison scoring) as what we hear when the Sharks and Jets break into their first rumble in West Side Story. Here’s a bit of transcription. Cheers! See you next week, for real now.

* Step one: Raise your fist in black-power-salute fashion, but do not raise your fist above your head. Step two: move your arm from a vertical position to a 45-degree angle in front of your face. Step three: yell “cop show” and bump your arm with someone who is similarly disposed.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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6 Responses to Copper Shower

  1. Michael M. says:

    On “game show” as a negative term…
    If old man Perriwinkle walked up to me and told me I was looking “totally Match Game ’73” I would kiss him flush on the blank.

  2. eba says:

    Does that make a boring lecture — or one of those endless and pointless department meetings I endure here in the Fortune 25 — a complete and total “talk show”?

  3. Kip W says:

    Didn’t “The Match Game” use “A Swingin’ Safari” by Bert Kaempfert? Heh. That tune is probably the guiltiest of all my guilty pleasures. Not to listen to, just to play.
    Anyway, not all “Cartoon Show” music should be bagged. I’ll put “This Is It!” (David and Livingston) up against any show-biz song. “Overture / curtain, lights / This is it / the night of nights…” And then there’s all the great Comstock themes from “Bullwinkle.”
    If the file wasn’t almost 10 meg, I’d send you an mp3 of the late-era Spike Jones cut (circa 1963) “Ah-1, Ah-2, Sunset Strip” in which a TV detective whose name is a musical theme (“My name is [dah-dah-dah dah, Dahhh!].”) faces the ultimate indignity: “I don’t mind another gumshoe stealing my client, my girl, even my gum. But when they steal my music, that’s too much.” So he goes to bandleader Lawrence Staccato for a theme “nobody will steal.” It’s on the album “Omnibust,” which has been reissued on CD.

  4. Phil Ford says:

    Kip W — That sounds . . . . cop show. Thanks for the tip — I’ll certainly look for Omnibust. Cartoon music is cool. I strongly recommend getting the second DVD Looney Tunes anthology, which has a whole disc of the musical gags (and, of course, the immortal “What’s Opera, Doc” Wagner parody). The Three Little Pigs short, with the pigs as a jazz trio and the wolf as a no-talent trumpet player who keeps trying to sit in with them, is a scream.
    “Looking totally match game” is almost as good as “cop show.” “Talk show” is certainly something we’re all entirely too familiar with from our various faculty service obligations.

  5. chance says:

    Cop show. Awesome.
    That Johnny Staccato theme is incredible – where did you get it? I’ve been looking for it, but it doesn’t seem to be available on CD, except for a cover on one of the Ultra-Lounge discs.

  6. Phil Ford says:

    I’ve never seen a copy of the OST. But the version you hear on this post is a recording by the Buddy Morrow orchestra, available on a twofer reissue of the LPs “Impact” and “Double Impact.” Here’s the Amazon link:

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