Archive for the ‘Language and music’ Category

The dobro

January 3, 2013

NYT obit (by Bill Friskics-Warren) for Mike Auldridge on the 1st:

Mike Auldridge Dies at 73; Lent Dobro Fresh Elegance

Mike Auldridge, a guitarist who became one of the most distinctive dobro players in the history of country and bluegrass music while widening its popularity among urban audiences, died on Saturday at his home in Silver Spring, Md.

Ah, the dobro. I assumed that it was originally a folk instrument, from some Slavic land, with a name in the local language. Well, not quite, as the obit went on to explain:

A resophonic (or resonating) acoustic guitar, the dobro produces sound by means of one or more spun metal cones instead of a wooden sound board. (The instrument’s name is a contraction of Dopera and brothers. Dopera was the surname of the Slovak-American brothers who patented an early version of the instrument in 1928.)

The name is what Ben Zimmer has labeled an acroblend, a combination of acronym and portmanteau (Ben uses blend to cover intentional combinations as well as inadvertent ones), for which I’d prefer the label acromanteau, or — naming the type from a prominent example — Nabisco (originally from National Biscuit Company)

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Bear music

July 25, 2010

Joan Armatrading was on NPR’s Morning Edition Sunday today, which got me reflecting on her song “Eating the Bear”, from the 1981 album Walk Under Ladders. That led me to follow up the music of ruin (here) by attending to bear music, in particular the source of yet another formula (la, sir, how you do go on!), the one in:

Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you.

(roughly ‘win some, lose some’, but with more of an edge), as in the title of the 1974 album by rock/folk singer Ian Matthews (in a variant with and between the two clauses).

In Armatrading’s version, the clauses are inverted and put in the future:

Some days the bear will eat you, some days you’ll eat the bear.

offering the hope of triumph; in fact, in Armatrading’s song the singer eats the bear, hence the title.

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The music of ruin

July 23, 2010

I was checking my iTunes to see if I already had a version of the “Turkish March” from Beethoven’s incidental music to The Ruin of Athens, Op. 113 (I’ll get to why I was engaged in this search later). Turns out I had four tracks with ruin in the track name or the album name:

“Ruint”, by Johnny Hodges with Duke Ellington, from Side by Side (see my ruint posting);

“Ruiner”, by Nine Inch Nails, from The Downward Spiral

“Don’t Ruin Our Happy Home”, from the “Odds & Ends” volume of Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman

“Ruination Day (Part 2)”, by Gillian Welch, from Time (The Revelator) (Have I mentioned how wonderful I think Gillian Welch is?)

And now one recording of the “Turkish March”, with more to come.

But five tracks scarcely scratch a micrometer into the surface of the ruin phenomenon; it turns out that the word is just huge in the music world.

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Lyrics with variable slots

July 22, 2010

Two sources for this posting: my recent piece on this blog on, among other things, The Mikado; and my recent piece on Language Log (“Back on top”), on my return to the top of the authors’ list there, after some time as Zwicky Arnold, at the bottom.

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“Oh, X the flowers of spring!”

July 20, 2010

Back in June, my grand-daughter (age 6) went, with her mother, to her first adult stage production (that’s ‘stage production for adults [as opposed to children]‘, not ‘stage production with sexual content or taboo language’): Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado, as done to a treat by the Lyric Theatre of San Jose, in the Montgomery Theater  in San Jose (note theatre/theater ‘theatrical company’ and ‘building for theatrical productions’). We were worried that she wouldn’t be able to sit still and reasonably quiet — she is a very active, and sometimes noisy, child — out of boredom or incomprehension and expected that she would then just fall asleep as the rather long operetta continued into late hours.

But no. Opal was transfixed. Delighted, all the way through — except for Katisha’s lament, “Alone, and yet alive” in Act II, which she thought was stupid and boring and went on too long (I have to say I’m sympathetic to her view). Granted, Elizabeth had given her some prep for the event, including practice on “a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block” (which is not only lots of fun to say or sing, but also is satisfyingly gruesome). Still, it was a great success, and now Opal listens to recordings of the songs, sings some of them, has figured out that (thanks to the intentions that she and Henry, son of our friend Jason, have to get married when they grow up) she is Jason’s daughter-in-law elect, and generally bathes in a happy and spirited G&S glow.

Elizabeth and I have done our best to induce her to join us in watching at least one of the DVDs of the Mikado that I have — the second of these will bring me, eventually, to my point — but she has firmly resisted, without explanation, though I expect that for her anything other than the Lyric Theatre, live, would be like a re-make, and we all know that re-makes are almost never as good as the originals. (We’ve tried explaining that musical productions and plays aren’t like movies, that people perform — not re-make, perform — the good ones over and over again, but she’s had enough experience with re-done versions of classic children’s books to be deeply suspicious of some new version of the Mikado.)

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The pig’s daughter

July 18, 2010

Another cartoon for the weekend, this one another Zippy in which Bill Griffith draws on references to 20th-century poetry (on other occasions, art), especially with a pop slant:

Even without the “Beatnik Poetry Day” caption, I would have recognized this as beatnik poetry. But echt-beatnik or Griffith-style faux-beatnik? Some of it sounded familiar enough to be the genuine article, and by now I’ve come to expect Griffith’s pop-culture references to be mostly right on target and not inventions.

I leave it to someone else to work out all the references, homing in instead on the one that clanged loudest in my memory, marrying the pig’s daughter.

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Country obscenicons

July 16, 2010

That’s country as in “country music” and country singer Kevin Fowler, who recently released the obscenity-laced but kiddy-safe “Pound Sign #?*!”, using spoken obscenicons to achieve this effect. It’s going on a new Linguist’s Playlist, on Linguistic Examples.

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On the run in 1972-74

July 15, 2010

Once again, it started with something that turned up on a random iTunes playlist. This time it was the Rolling Stones’ “T**d on the Run” (as the famously modest iTunes listings put it, for fear the printing of turd would damage the minds and morals of the young), from the Exile on Main Street album, released in 1972 and re-released earlier this year. In the intervening years, I’d forgotten about the song; more about it in a moment. But I was immediately struck by its nastiness, and by the possibility that it was a slam on “Band on the Run”, the big hit by (pre-Sir) Paul McCartney and Wings, from the album of the same name. And then there’s Pink Floyd’s “On the Run”, from Dark Side of the Moon, at about the same time. (more…)

I’m all about the wordplay

July 12, 2010

“Song for a Friend” by Jason Mraz came by today on an iTunes random playlist, and I recalled that Mraz was on my iTunes because of suggestions from Nassira Nicola for language-related musical items (performer names, album titles, song titles, lyrics mentioning language-related stuff), among them Mraz’s song “Wordplay”. Here’s the chorus from the song (minus the la-la-la bits):

Now listen closely to the verse I lay
It’s all about the wordplay
The wonderful thing it does
Because, because
I am the wizard of ooh’s and ah’s and fa-la-la’s
Yeah the Mister A to Z
They say I’m all about the wordplay

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More from Dick Dative

July 10, 2010

A footnote to my posting on Dick Dative and the Experiencers…

On dating the music: Charles Ulrich has written to say that the recordings were made in 1979 and released in 1980 — 30 years ago, sigh. Charles is able to be so sure about this because he remembers doing research the summer of 1979 in the Pomona College library on the quotations in the lyrics, and distributing the flyer below at the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, in Los Angeles that December (which is where I ordered my copy):

(I’ve cropped off the order form, just in case someone might be tempted to send $1.50, plus $.50 for postage and handling, to an address that Charles hasn’t lived at for a very long time.)


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