Monthly Archives: October 2017

Marx Brothers (YGtCTO #219)

Duck Soup


Film written by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby and others; directed by Leo McCarey; starring Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo

If you want to be known as the greatest actor of your generation, then you tackle Shakespeare. But, it can’t be just any Shakespeare- it has to be one of the big three roles: Hamlet, Othello or Lear. No matter how great you might be in As You Like It or Two Gentleman of Verona, that’s not the way to the peak. (I was about to point out that no one seems to do Verona anymore, but look at this.)

Despite a reputation that suggests otherwise, comedies do win Oscars for best picture of the year, although Annie Hall was the last one that made me laugh out loud, but I wasn’t the one who threw Terms of Endearment in with the funny ones (or classified West Side Story as a “crime, drama, musical,” which I guess it is if you want to force the issue).

Marx Brothers

The importance of seriousness has to taught. From our first breaths, we seek our first laughs. To be a grown up is to know when to set aside the giggles and get down to business. All appearances to the contrary, I’m not decrying this state of affairs. You don’t build anything or find a vaccine for something if you spend your day telling fart jokes. On the other hand, a well-timed belch can bring the laughs that make a little more overtime bearable. I have never heard anyone say that all they need is ten minutes for a good cry and then they’re set to start the double shift.

If
the Marx Brothers are unfamiliar to you, then consider this as an introduction, though it is one small sample. This is my favorite scene in all their films, but then it would be. Bonus points to the choreographer for the legs in the air move. Yes, over the years, I have seen as many as I could locate.

I discovered the Marx Brothers when I was young. They have proved a useful bellwether ever since. If you get them, then you probably get me, at least a little bit. Realistically, I can think of no other artist that has had as great an influence on me. That might seem a little pathetic, but I am not saying that they had a great influence, just a notable one.

Which is a stumbling way to point out that they did present a world view. Plenty of stand-up comedians come across as edgy with their thinly-veiled (or blatant) statements, but little of that comes across once they reach the rarefied air of television and movies. Be that as it may, the Marx Brothers taught a straightforward cynicism about everything from words to appearances. They embodied not judging a book by its cover or a liar by their words.

One more, just because, well, it is a philosophy. Also, once again, bonus points to the choreographer.

Oh, and I’m serious about the choreographer. Now, that’s an art form where it’s hard to be funny intentionally.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 81 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.

H.P. Lovecraft (YGtCTO Words #73)

Pickman’s Model


Short story written by H.P. Lovecraft

Let’s just take a moment and consider the fact that cosmicism is a thing. I mention this now because it may help place all of the following into some context.

My writing tools bridge major technological changes. I learned how to type while in middle school on an electric typewriter. I had fooled around with our manual typewriter before that, but it was beyond my fingers to develop any speed on the thing. My parents bought the electric version because somebody needed it for school and then it sat around the house until I came along with my school papers.

I shifted to pen and paper for short bursts of creative writing. If I liked anything, then I typed it into a form that could be read by other people. I stuck with the typewriter through most of college, but dabbled with word processing on the Apple II. They had four of them in the computer lab at university. That was the entire lab. They didn’t need more of them. I always found one available when I wanted to use it. Subsequently, I progressed with word processing and much preferred it to the typewriter and whiteout. Even when I idiosyncratically wrote a novel in pen, I transcribed the second draft with the word processor.

Along the way, I discovered that libraries (especially academic ones) accept donations of “papers” from historic and artistic figures. In my experience, the interest that you have in said papers is directly proportional to the difficulty in reaching the library. One exception for me has been the papers of H.P. Lovecraft which reside at Brown University, which has been near at hand on multiple occasions.

H.P. Lovecraft

My interest
in Lovecraft circles around to the fact that everyone seems to think that I ought to be interested in him. I don’t mean people in the street, but any wide reading in genre fiction and you develop the sneaking suspicion that you ought to know more about this individual. After a while, you feel as though you claim to be a huge fan of detective mysteries, but, no, you’re perfectly happy being ignorant of this Conan Doyle person.

It did not hurt that people who wrote about Lovecraft (or expanded on his writings) were good writers who made it all seem very interesting. My first attempts splattered against boredom with the exception of one short story: Pickman’s Model. So, I visited the master’s writings at the Hays Library. Back then, you sifted through a card catalog of the collection and requested a specific box. A formal process proceeded involving gloves and a private room. Frankly, I felt very unworthy. Then, you touched the actual letters and drafts and smelled the mildew.

I think that I sought some sense of what made this person important. What I discovered was a writer doing work that looked a lot like what happened when I wrote with a typewriter. Now, I don;t know about you, but I can sit for hours and watch someone else do skilled labor. They might be great at it and they might not, but I’m really not the person to evaluate. What I respect is the work and the output of something useful.

They have boxes of work by Lovecraft at that library and I started falling in love with the mind that crafted all those words. Words about Lovecraft continue to pile up, but his actual words are finite and it was a privilege to hold them and start on a path toward seeing beyond all the obstruction that has arisen between the man’s work and me.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 82 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.

Kurt Weill (YGtCTO Music #73)

Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife
Song by Kurt Weill; performed by PJ Harvey

The great American songbook had pretty much taken hold before I arrived on the scene. The songs inundated all aspects of life. As much as old folk songs seemed to have existed forever, the music of Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael felt as timeless. The reality is that recording artists like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald created the conceit of the songbook when they selected the tunes that they would record. The public doubtless had a hand in deciding which ones to remember.

However, this melding of all this music into an omnipresent culture meant that the original composers became just as remote as those who had written Jingle Bells. Admit it- the very idea that somebody first put those notes and those words together in that order seems slightly ridiculous. It must have come to them in a dream, unless the artist was in fact a creation of our own imagination.

So, rather than Richard Rodgers, I noticed Kurt Weill as the person who composed classic songs. This was the result of a few factors. Modern pop artists started doing tribute albums at the perfect time for the radio to play them and for me to take notice. The songs had not formed the complete background to my life, but they were not unfamiliar.

Kurt Weill

Some of that was because of Bobby Darin’s ever-present hit with Mack the Knife. More than that, Weill composed music that sounded like it was something that you always wanted to hear. Add to that the always impressive feat of being the one who created the tune and the lyrics and you had my attention.

If you checked out any of those videos linked above, then you noticed something else. For that matter, if you ever really listened to Darin’s hit, then you are also attuned to the fact that Weill’s songs are a few yards out of bounds. They are weird, in that they come at the world from a peculiar angle. Many are show tunes and every musical has a couple wacky songs, but everything Weill did stands out just a little from the page.

Perhaps it goes back to that great American songbook, but the ear grows accustomed to certain notes appearing in a certain way. Weill never shocks so much that you run to the radio screaming, but it is not easy to pretend that his songs are mere background. They demand attention.

No other composer is as inextricably intertwined with a single performer as Weill is with Lotte Lenya. They were married twice and her recordings heavily emphasize his works. The performers I mentioned came along after her and kept Weill’s music alive, but she did the heavy lifting after he died (and probably a fair bit while he lived). For all that, I saved another favorite for these last words.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 83 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.