O Mighty Forces of the Blogosphere, I Summon Thee!

Phil Ford

A Friday grab-bag: news, a joke, and  a bleg. (Remember blegs?)

The news: last night I heard a lecture by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, whom I have mentioned here before, and afterwards went out for a beer with him and some folks from the Harry Ransom Center. Cop show! The lecture itself was stupendous, and I’ll write something about it later when it’s all settled a little more firmly into my skull. I introduced myself afterwards in the most embarrassing way possible, with the gushing and the simpering. (I think I actually used the words “I’m a huge fan.” Argh.) But he was cool. Anyway, I now want to have someone custom-make me a bumper sticker, or maybe a T-shirt, with the cover photo from The Production of Presence . . .


. . . next to the slogan, WWHUGD?

Anyway, the joke. A musical joke. I’m probably the last person to see this, but on April 1 Alanis Morissette released a video parody of the obnoxious, stupid, inane Black Eyed Peas video “My Humps.” First, see the original. (“Lovely lady lumps?”) And now the sensitive piano version:

As Julian Sanchez writes, Morissette’s parody “deserves an extra nod for managing to simultaneously be hilarious as a satire of both Fergie’s and Morissette’s own styles and
(just to twist the knife) actually a substantially better piece of
music than the tuneless original, low a bar though that admittedly is.”

Finally, the bleg. Commenter Roxanne Rieske wrote to ask what we’d suggest she could do to learn more about music history that doesn’t involve going back to college. It’s a good question, or at least, now that I think of it, I have no idea what to suggest. What good intro books are there that aren’t textbooks? Or miserable piffle? Book People in Austin, which is a good bookstore but which reflects the general Austin indifference to classical music, has a pathetic section that’s mostly “Dummies Guide to Classical Music” sort of things, but I’ve never looked at them to see if they’re any good. I suspect not. I summon the awesome power of the blogosphere! Fellow music geeks, what would you suggest?

Actually, I just had the greatest idea. Roxanne, I urge you to buy the DVD box set of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s not just for kids. This is the greatest tour-de-force of music-appreesh pedagogy of all time. It is COP SHOW in the biblical sense. I watch this stuff for fun, because Leonard Bernstein, like Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, is the man. He’s so huge he is, in fact, The Men.

A clip from the very first one, in 1958:


Bernstein is so emo. Geez, when’s the last time you saw something like this on CBS? In prime time?

I just plugged in the categories that correspond to the uncoordinated bits of this post, and I see that it says “Life, Teaching, Humor,” which sounds awful, like Mr. Holland’s Opus or something. OK, I added “cop show.” That’s better.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
This entry was posted in Cop Show!, Education, Humor, Life. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to O Mighty Forces of the Blogosphere, I Summon Thee!

  1. TTU theory says:

    I like Bruce Adolphe’s books: Of Mozart, Parrots, and Cherry Blossoms in the wind and What to listen for in the world. Not music history, per se, but some interesting essays on music that I think the general public can enjoy and relate to. I’ve used the first one before in non-major appreciation classes to good results.

  2. I agree about Bernstein, although I find some of the Young People’s Concert lectures to be surprisingly dry. Reading “The Joy of Music” and “The Infinite Variety of Music” had an enormous impact on me when I was first falling for music. Even though they largely consist of scripts from Bernstein’s Omnibus TV show, they are amazingly readable; it does help to be able to plunk out tunes on a piano. The “How Dry I Am” lecture that shows how many great tunes begin sol-do-re-mi was especially compelling. (I have the audio of that show on an old LP.) I also love the imaginary conversations. Whatever you do, avoid Sigmund Spaeth’s “The Great Symphonies”; I’ve never been able to get his theme lyrics out of my head, especially (WARNING: You might want to stop here) the opening of Mozart’s 40th: “With a laugh and a smile like a sunbeam, and a face that is glad with a funbeam . . .”

  3. Phil Ford says:

    (spam deleted)
    Sigmund Spaeth! That book is a musical neuroweapon — you get Speath’s idiot mnemonics in your head and it will forever overwrite your prior hearings of the music. When I was taking James Hepokoski’s sonaata theory courses as a grad student I found a copy of this book in the library, and we used to have fun finding the dumbest bits. My personal favorite is the mnemonic for Schumann’s symphony no. 3, the “Rhenish.” “Rheinland, lovely Rheinland/super-fine land!”
    But the problem is now I can’t hear that music without those stupid words ringing in my ear.
    This should probably be a whole separate topic — the (usually obscene) words that music students add to the pieces they’re playing.

  4. Yeah. I’m not going to repeat the saucy lyrics I learned to the third Chopin Ballade, but I CANNOT hear it without hearing them.

  5. Phil Ford says:

    Just one relatively harmless example. “Don Juan gets laid more than I do/cuz he’s a stud/and I’m a dud.” Not funny on its own, or for that matter when sung to the big tune from Strauss’s “Don Juan,” but a durable part of conservatory lore. Sort of like prison jokes or schoolyard rhymes.
    Another thought, along the same lines as the Benstein “Young People’s Concerts” — when I was a kid growing up in Canada, Yehudi Menuhin had this miniseries called “The Music of Man,” which he had made for the CBC. A short clip, somewhat representative of Menuhin’s appalled-humanist tone, can be found here:

    But I loved this show. The videos for it are long out-of-print, I think, which is unfortunate. There are amazing things in that show, including a dialogue between Glenn Gould and Menuhin, where apparently Gould had written out a script ahead of time and was disgruntled when Menuhin ignored it. “Music of Man” was not so much a systematic exposition of music history and literature as a nine-part cogitation on the nature of music, with Menuhin’s own opinions very much to the fore. But Menuhin was The Men, like Bernstein, so it’s all fine. The book version is easy to find in used bookstores, but the videos are scarcer, though more worth searching out.

  6. Katie Baber says:

    I would never have thought to describe Bernstein as “emo,” but now I believe I will have to! Dead on.
    It’s nice to have someone pimping Bernstein, especially a future faculty member. I do find his aptitude for music appreciation amusing, considering this was the man who once said “learning is hares verus hounds, and teaching is worse…” Follies of youth and all, but ironic nonetheless…
    See you in the fall.

  7. Bob Judd says:

    Hey Phil,
    I agree that it’d be helpful to have a ready answer to the question– a big one.
    It’ll have many answers that are going to work in various ways depending on all the variables. But all of them are bifurcated, I think: involving listening, and reading about what you’re listening to.
    Even without a college class, you could certainly do worse than using the standard music appreesh books as a lead-in to the subject, with the proviso that the interested autodidact listen *live* as much as possible to the anthologized music.
    Given that it’s a big subject, one could also devise a taxonomy and explore based on same; I’m thinking stuff like chronology, geography, style, genre, people, culture reception. I like the notion of a series of outlines based on these (and other categories I’m forgetting), but emphasizing examples that can stand as representatives.
    I have a thing about synechdoche (see http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~rjudd/syn.html). The concept applies here: you can’t answer the question without accepting the principle that a part (of the repertoire, the category) will stand for the whole.
    Thanks for sharing the question — I like it and think it deserves serious thought.

  8. After posting my first comment above, I decided to transfer my old Bernstein LP to digital format. It’s his “The Infinite Variety of Music” lecture and can be accessed via the link attached to my name.

  9. Phil Ford says:

    Thanks for digitizing this, Michael! What a great little prize of Bernsteiniana.

  10. What a rich post, but I thought I’d approach the Lady Lumps biz:
    “…the obnoxious, stupid, inane Black Eyed Peas video “My Humps.”
    Normally, and generally I would agree with this evaluation, except I can’t help but be suspicious that there is more to this. Its typical modern lack of musical value hides some interesting social, textual questions. I have been, of late, a bit curious about how “international” English, the language of a few hundred words spoken as a second or third language by such a huge amount of the world, is coming back into our English as first language culture. And although it may just be a case of Stockholm syndrome, the fact the female seems to feel some sense of empowerment is a step up from the horrific misogyny of the likes of Snoop Doggy Dog.

  11. Phil Ford says:

    Hey, loose poodle dude! Love your blog.
    I gotta disagree with the sentence “Its typical modern lack of musical value hides some interesting social, textual questions.” I don’t think that a lack of of musical value is typical of present-day music in any genre. So OK, this is a terrible song, but then again, there’s Ghostface Killah’s “Shakey Dog.”
    Interesting notion about creole, lingua-franca-type international English being re-absorbed within American English. It would make sense that this would happen through the medium of hiphop, which is a (musical) lingua franca anyway.

  12. Anna says:

    oh my god, the black eyed peas song is so much better than the knockoff. please. the reason it annoys us so much is that the music is so catchy and the words and rhymes so puzzling. “they say i’m really sexy/the boys they wanna sex me”? it’s a terrible rhyme but it sticks in my head. when i hear the song i ponder how strange it is to call your breasts lumps, but maybe it’s that tension that makes it seem so musical.
    another thing – she’s a white woman singing about her breasts and her butt, things white women aren’t usually known for among blacks. i think she’s trying to take the place of the black women who’s breasts and butts the men praise. she’s fighting her position as a status symbol and trying to become physically sexy. but it’s unclear whether it works. did you notice the dice hanging from her belt? she’s still a car, a motorcycle, not yet a partner for the guy.
    it’s really interesting because then he goes, “let’s spend time, not money” as in, “okay, if you want to be interesting sexually, let’s talk about that.” but instead of talking about sex, she responds that if men touch her while she’s dancing, she’s going to start drama. so she’s not entirely comfortable in that position either.

  13. Phil, Can a poodle blush? It sure feels like it.
    “I don’t think that a lack of of musical value is typical of present-day music in any genre. ”
    I am an old fart, but I mourn the effect of sampling, that being the harmonic restriction (if your song is based on a sample which contains a tonality, for its aural signature, you can’t change the harmony). This has bred a dance music that had to become “trance” :-). And generally, hip-hop is sample to the core. So harmony is out, or at least, highly restricted. Rap is spoken in rhythm, so melody is also restricted, if rhythm is (within the strictures of 4/4), freed.
    I do hear some modern pop I like very much, particularly in France where I live part time. Groups like Air who mine musical material of the sixties. Yet it is only for moments. I miss the sophistication underlying simplicity that was the 60’s-early 70’s R&B. I remember really grasping the IV/V chord Roger Bourland is mentioning (http://rogerbourland.com/blog/2007/04/10/rufus-wainwright-the-maker-makes/), from “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time”.
    Things change, but I feel today’s pop music is more textual and social semiotics (video has had its effect to), and less “music”.
    Anna seems much more adept at reading the song. There IS something fascinating, but I get nervous when it feels like it is coming too much from my prurient interest.

  14. L. Gumbrecht says:

    hey, so basically I am Hans Gumbrecht’s daughter and I thought that your blog was very cute (in the sense that you were in awe of him… and that you were embarrassed). Don’t even stress, he is a gangster.

  15. Phil Ford says:

    Your Dad is so gangsta.

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