" . . . you've got to stand up for the imaginative world, the imaginative element in the human personality, because I think that's constantly threatened . . . People do have imagination and sensibilities, and I think that does need constant exposition." -- John Read

"To disseminate my subjective thoughts and ideas, I stealthily hide them in a cloak of entertaining storytelling, since the depth of my thinking, shallow at best, might be challenged by erudite experts." -- Curt Siodmak

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Rockies game review: or, why I’m not a sportswriter

Seattle Mariners @ Colorado Rockies
May 29, 2017
1:10 p.m.
If you’da told me the Rockies were going to be in first place in the National League on Memorial Day this season, I’d have kicked you right near in the viaduct. The Rox have a long tradition of flaming out right after April, and considering the ludicrous amount of injuries we opened the year with, it seemed like now less than ever they deserved another shot from this enthusiastic but gun-shy fan. Our prospects, literally and figuratively, didn’t look good.

I waited ‘til yesterday to go – surprisingly, it was not hard to get tickets. (The previous day’s game was a sellout.) The Bolder Boulder and other holiday activities sucked away some potential crowd members, although a few people with insane stamina, still in their racing bibs, showed up to the game.

It was slightly disheartening, but familiar, to watch the Rockies lose. However (a Rockies fan must always seek qualifiers) there was definitely a different kind of losing going on in this game. This was close. Traditionally, the hit-happy bunch are let down by a series of exploding starting pitchers, who are then replaced by a dreary litany of failed relievers down the years –nay, decades, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory time and again.

Yesterday, our pitchers as a group (we used five, they used seven) suffered from a kind of dreaminess. They seemed to hurl the ball in a state of Borgesian lassitude, as though they were not quite sure any of this was real or not. This caused them to run the count up to 3-0, again and again. Despite the then heroic shakes of their respective heads, pulling them back to consensual reality, and a few strikes thrown, often as not our pitchers were getting pulled with only one or two outs and the bases loaded. You can’t keep this kind of foolishness up for long without getting punished for it.

 Otherwise, it was a good, clean game, full of swats (17 total hits, 11 runs) and no errors. Time crept by as the pitchers kept changing; the good old Rockies employee who runs gear out from the bullpen when pitchers change and then dashes back, to wild acclamation from the crowd, got worked. It would be easy to cite Parra for his ill-advised steal attempt that killed the 4th as well as some momentum, but it's a standard move. If he'd made it I'd be saying the opposite,so what do I know? In the end the Mariners just did, as Grandpa used to say, more gittin’.

In the stands, we kept our scorecards and cracked wise, one ear on the radio. The usual scoreboard shenanigans kept everyone amused, and there was plenty of hat-doffing and singing and moments of silence for Memorial Day. (What has happened to the interactive magic of the hapless fan out there trying to catch a fly ball, or replacing a base, for prizes, between innings? Is there some kind of liability issue? Has the nnany sstate taken even this away from us?) And, as I predicted, the giant anthropomorphic tooth won the mid-inning race around foul ground, maintaining a lead from the beginning over the anthropomorphic toothbrush and anthropomorphic toothpaste. Not bad.

And, oh yes, when did I predict it would rain? 2 p.m. When did it start raining? Exactly. And who was happy I brought two ponchos? Yes, that is right. Father is right.

Oh, yes. They beat us, 6 to 5.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

NRR Project 34: John McCormack sings ‘Il mio tesoro’

Detail from William Orphen's portrait  of McCormack
‘Il mio Tesoro’
From Mozart’s Don Giovanni
Performed by John McCormack; accompanied by Walter Rogers and ensemble
Recorded May 9, 1916
What is the hell is an Irish tenor? From the late 19th century through the middle of the 20th, you couldn’t throw a brick-end without hitting one. They infested churches, bars, social halls, auditoriums, and stood by pianos, organs, and spinets in countless parlors, warbling melodies that charmed the ear and made a tear well up here and there. And John McCormack was the ultimate manifestation of the phenomenon.

An Irish tenor is not necessarily Irish, although it would have behooved him to don a moniker like Reilly or Flanagan before taking the stage. It’s the vocal quality and material covered that makes an Irish tenor. He does not have the strong blare of a Verdiean tenor, nor the all-day toughness of a Wagnerian heldentenor. An Irish tenor is light, lilting, legato – smooth as silk and full of feeling. It’s perfect for sentimental ballads, whether they be about a girl or about Ireland.

John McCormack was a true son of the sod, born in the small town of Athlone in the dead-center of Ireland. His vocal gifts were appreciated, and his community chipped in to send him to Italy for training. He rose swiftly in the opera world, and began to record in 1904. He rapidly became second only to Caruso in terms of recordings sold.

Though McCormack could essay much of the tenor repertoire, he switched his focus to concerts around 1912. There he performed the hits people really loved. He was the first to record “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” and he made famous other chestnuts such as “I Hear You Calling Me,” and “The Last Rose of Summer”; his Irish ballads like “The Minstrel Boy,” “Mother Machree,” “The Wearin’ o’ the Green,” and many, many others proved insanely popular with the Irish-American population, which was finally beginning to overcome generations of prejudice.

This recording is a perfect example of his work. It is eminently listenable, flawless, with an extraordinary breath control and sense of articulation. Parlors everywhere had a large stock of McCormack records nearby. Soon crooners and jazz babies would take over the top spot in American musical culture, but McCormack is one of the last remnants of that genteel tradition in American vocal music. He was perfectly lovely.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: The Bubble Book. 

NRR Project update: New selections for 2017!

Dear and faithful reader -- here is the list of recordings selected by the National Recording Registry for 2017, just announced today. The comprise 25 recordings from the across the history of American recorded sound. I have been plowing forward through time on this project, and am currently working on an essay concerning John McCormack's 1916 recording of "Il mi Tesoro." So lenghthy is this project (I have tackled 34 out of 475 to date) that each year I find myself adding the new entries to the list, circling back to cover selections that predate where I'm currently at, etc. I am hanging in there, and I hope you are, too. Hopefully someday a complete compendium will  be assembled. In the meantime, I am still learning and having fun sharing what I find out with you. Thanks for reading!