Category Archives: You’ve Got to Check This Out

Rodgers and Hammerstein (YGtCTO #273)

Oklahoma!


Stage musical with music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein II

When they stopped including instruction manuals with software programs, I must have stared at the packaging for ten minutes, trying to decide how to contact the company and explain that my software didn’t have a manual. I must have said something out loud because someone nearby commented, “Oh, yeah, it’s online now. Besides it’s pretty simple to get started.”

They were right, as millions of users can confirm. Or perhaps they were right about the fact that we didn’t need the manual, anyway. Over the years, I noticed that you could distinguish those folks who saved manuals and referred to them from the people who did not. I feel obliged to add that I never found any other shared trait among either group, including intelligence or likability. Well, those of us who read manuals did have that annoying bit where we would often respond to questions with, “Have you checked the instructions?” Debit a few points on likability for manual savers, I suppose. Also, the loss of that retort may explain more about our dismay about no more print manuals more than anything else. Furthermore, I am glad we stopped printing those massive tomes. It saved trees and online manuals are easier to search.

So, musicals…

I had seen West Side Story and enough other stuff that I knew at a fairly young age that Broadway musicals did not shy away from serious topics. Really, anyone who has heard a love song about loss or a folk song about a tragedy must be aware that the very fact that something is being expressed in music does not remove it from the realm of drama.

Rodgers and Hammerstein

But that
doesn’t make it any easier to take musicals seriously. Let’s face it, outside of the car and the shower, nobody breaks into song at full throttle. I knew one guy who continued singing into the locker room at the gym and it was okay because he had a great voice, but I never thought we were learning about his life or character. I mean, all of us there were pretty clued into the fact that he wasn’t shy, but nothing else.

The fascinating thing about American musicals is how they evolved to use the music to take what was going on inside the character and put it outside. Then, it had to go further and use the music to express emotions and ideas that were inexpressible. That’s a lot of the reason that we all just know once the character is left alone that they are going to start singing.

Rodgers and Hammerstein were way ahead of the game though. They used the musical to tell a story that could not be told otherwise. They took the character’s inner turmoil and found a new way to express it through their compositions combined with dance.

So, the other thing about manuals is that they are basically road-maps. We really use them only until we have that eureka moment of clarity where we comprehend how to proceed. If you can get to understanding without a map (which we accomplish on so many things in life), then more power to you. I remember watching Oklahoma! and suddenly seeing ways to express all those underlying feelings and thoughts through art. I’m not certain it counts as a manual, but it did the job for 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. 27 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.

James Branch Cabell (YGtCTO Words #91)

The King Was In His Counting House

Book written by James Branch Cabell

I have to have faith that some enterprising publisher will bring this back into print as an eBook. Of course, that means they need to find a copy of it somewhere, but those have to exist, don’t they? I found one in the bowels of a library. That’s a more accurate description of the sub-basement beside the river than you can imagine.

Considering that Cabell appears to have gained notoriety around 1920, his relative anonymity today should serve as some sort of warning to anyone who believes in art providing a lasting mark on the world. The obscenity trial over his work was not the last court case, but authors like Henry Miller and James Joyce are much better remembered today. Cabell may not be held in the same esteem as Joyce, but he certainly reads as well as Miller.

Despite his demure reputation, Cabell’s Jurgen remains in print as do a few others. They have become something of a secret handshake among readers. The name has a nice rhythm and people usually let you say all four syllables before they smile and nod with that knowing glance, as if you just expectorated an unexpected joke. Or else they stare blankly like you just spoke in a foreign language. Unless they’re an English professor- then they’re trained to fake it well enough that they nod knowingly and grunt.

James Branch Cabell

The biggest revelation

about Cabell, for me, was that someone was writing like this before Tolkien or Nabokov. He has the epic aspirations mixed with the desire to tear down all of the edifice that has been built up around the way we tell stories. Cabell is post-modern back when modern was just starting to be a thing. Read two or three of his books and you begin to think that he is trying to accomplish with words what the cubists were doing in art with multiple perspectives, absurdity, and dedication.

The great fear once we discover any artist in a critical review is that they will be difficult. So often, we convince ourselves that understanding will require work on our part. Certainly Picasso and Braque can’t simply be appreciated for their wacky humor and color choices, can they? After all, they started a movement.

Sometimes, it takes a Cabell to remind us that people managed to be entertaining while mattering in the scheme of things. Sure, that means we dismiss him as more disposable because it’s difficult to build an academic thesis around so, so many jokes. Besides, Gore Vidal and William Faulkner are sitting there, too.

The King Was In His Counting House contains more plot than most of Cabell’s books and it does a pretty good job illustrating everything wrong with the world, but I speak in hyperbole. Just bookmark that link to the book and hold your breath until someone publishes the book anew. One tiny corner of the world will be a better place.

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. 28 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.

Lyle Lovett (YGtCTO Music #91)

Step Inside This House


Song written by Guy Clark and performed by Lyle Lovett

Lyle Lovett is an enigma to me. This isn’t a problem. In fact, it may be what keeps me interested. I’m not talking about the occasional acting job or the high-profile marriage that ended a while ago. This isn’t about the song choices or subject matter (maybe a little bit about those things). I’m not confused by however he has been described in various pieces of celebrity journalism (which have pretty much come across as benign).

I mean that the music is an enigma to me because I can’t entirely appreciate my own response to it. The first time I heard one of Lovett’s recordings, I had to buy it. I wore out that tape. I acquired everything else that I could find. What’s so weird about that you might wonder? Anyone who has written this many blog entries about music has to be a little obsessive.

Other than some Johnny Cash and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, I didn’t really own any country. I liked it well enough, but it just didn’t fit with my self-perception. I wanted to be the person who listened to hard rock all the time and didn’t get a headache. My style choices ran very far away from cowboy boots. The best thing you could say about it was that I was never going to have the big-hat-no-cattle problem. (Let’s not discuss the Indiana Jones hat. I do have a big-hat-no-holy-grail problem.)

Lyle Lovett

Sometimes,
I think I understand why I have latched onto his music so intensely. The songs that he writes capture a view of the world that fits fairly well with mine- wry, appreciative. I get joy from it all, but I think that may be the connection that any art allows with something bigger than ourselves. Perhaps it’s also the promise that I can keep on enjoying music when I have to moderate my intake of AC/DC.

When Lovett recorded an album of covers of his favorite songwriters, I was apprehensive. I assumed that he had good taste, but I liked the songs that he had written and it didn’t feel like there were enough of them. I was mistaken in my worrying.

Step Inside This House is on that short list of most beautiful songs that I have ever heard. Hell, it’s probably the top, especially Lovett’s performance. I mean, how absolutely magnificent is the entire set of covers.

Now, it’s twenty years on and an incredible amount has happened since I first heard this song. I must have felt like an old man then, in some tiny way, but I had no idea. Probably, we’re never too young to think about the past. We all want to wear our lives half so light with twice the meaning.

In retrospect, I should have stolen the name of this song for this blog series. Truth be told, these are my treasures that I have put on display. They don’t count for any more than the stories that they tell.

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. 29 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.