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.

Carnegie Museums (YGtCTO #216)

Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Whether or not we have a messy desk and an inability to appear on time for appointments, we are still inclined to organize the world around us. The most befuddled among us do manage to distinguish all sorts of things all day long. We alter our behavior based on the amount of light available. We divide everything into stuff we eat and stuff we do not- sometimes stuff we eat now and never again.

My point is that we handle the world by organizing it. This is sport and this is not- the eternal arguments about bowling, billiards, and rhythm gymnastics. I suspect much of this divide and organize inclination starts early and is trained. Our caregivers go to a lot of trouble to teach us to keep things orderly. Big toys go in this box. Outdoor toys go by the door. Green beans go in the mouth and not the nose. As a side note, that may be why prejudice is easy to teach. It plays to our natural inclination to organize the world into categories.

One of those early ways to organize the world is by art and science. Art makes things pretty and science makes things make sense. Your experience may vary, but none of us were privy to graduate school theory definitions of art or science when we first recognized the difference in ultimate output between the person who worked with all the test tubes and the person who worked with all the paint tubes.

Our museums generally reflect the same well-defined borders. Unless… you have been to the main Carnegie Museum facility in Pittsburgh. Basically, the art and natural history areas are housed together. They make an attempt at distinguishing themselves, but the exhibits are interlaced across multiple floors like hands folded in prayer. Sure, you could visit just one section, but why would you?

As a youth,

I knew that a trip to the Carnegie promised the best of both worlds. Slowly, however, they revealed how everything was part of something else. The geodes were natural works of art. The architecture hall looked more like the dinosaur hall than the art galleries. The areas dedicated to native people and ancient Egypt displayed art and history and nature. The entire experience questioned the divisions that I had previously used as well as providing a view of the world that could be both orderly and a little chaotic.

The top floor provided an escape from museum feet and overwhelming input with a long, narrow hall filled with birds and coins and what have you. The glass cases were perfect examples of just-put-some-cool-stuff-out-there and people appear. Categories do help (I prefer not to eat dirt). Yet, we have to recognize that they are a construct. Sometimes, in our more courageous moments, we need to let the walls between things become a little more porous. In those moments, we might find a door among the birds and coins that grants a way into our next great discovery.

Carnegie Museums

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. 84 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.

Allen Ginsberg (YGtCTO Words #72)

Howl

Poem written by Allen Ginsberg

I could be wrong about this, but I believe that poetry started being free on the internet first, before music and video and lunacy and porn. Not surprisingly, Big Poetry did not bring all the force of its corporate power to bear on those who would share poems without sending a few pennies to the poet or their corporate “protectors.” No, we live in a world where poetry is given away for free and we shrug and we figure the price is about right.

Poets tend to toil in obscurity. I know the U.S. has a poet laureate, but I did not know that the role started as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, which was changed in 1986 to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. The post was funded in 1936 by an endowment. From the sound of things, the endowment remains the funding, so I am guessing that Congress decided to give a better title instead of a raise.

Here are the holders going back to 2001 (I could not have done this list without Wikipedia):
2001–2003: Billy Collins
2003–2004: Louise Glück
2004–2006: Ted Kooser
2006–2007: Donald Hall
2007–2008: Charles Simic
2008–2010: Kay Ryan
2010–2011: W. S. Merwin
2011–2012: Philip Levine
2012–2014: Natasha Trethewey
2014–2015: Charles Wright
2015–2017: Juan Felipe Herrera
2017–present: Tracy K. Smith

I’ve read poems by five or six of these folks and go out of my way for two of them. Honestly, I haven’t a clue about the last four. While maybe I should feel bad about this, I don’t.

Allen Ginsberg

All of this

is a long way of saying that we don’t generally remember our poets. We don;t particularly celebrate them either. If they cross over into the world of personality, then our culture has something with which it can work. Charles Bukowski did this for a while. Better yet, a poet can manage a guitar or piano and we call them a singer/songwriter. In either case, we forgive the quality of the poetry in favor of the performance.

Ginsberg had the performance part down. He also managed to appear at moments when television cameras would be on. I knew who he was from the national news before I knew that he was a poet. Really, he seemed like another one of those too old people hanging around youth movements of the moment- like William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, and Terry Southern. All sorts of “adults” popped up on college campuses seeking counter-culture verifieds.

Lasting in the memory is really what we want from our poetry. That proves a deft trick because we don’t always grant a poem more than a cursory thought. Perhaps the other part of the trick is hitting an audience when they are young. I’m not sure my brain is made for memorizing stanzas anymore. For that matter, I’m not sure I have conversations anymore where dropping in a line of poetry does anything more than bring matters to a halt.

And then I read Howl. I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again.

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. 85 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.