Quintette du Hot Club de France (YGtCTO Music #89)

Ain’t Misbehavin’
Song composed by Fats Waller; performed by Le Quintette du Hot Club de France

I swear that I did not know this existed. You could have said the name of the group to me and I would have stared at you as though you were speaking in some sort of foreign language. I couldn’t pick the musicians out of a line-up if my life depended on it, despite the world-class status of at least two members of the group. Really, guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stéphane Grappelli are part of that tiny cohort somewhere above world-class on their instruments- you know, those few who may actually be the best who ever lived. But I had no idea who they were.

So, what did I think when I first heard some of their tunes on one one of those radio stations that big cities used to provide way down low on the FM dial of the radio? I thought- wow- this sounds just like Paris in the middle of this century (which would have been the 20th century at the time). How in the world had I absorbed that sense of time and place so thoroughly in just a decade or two? This question is no different than wondering how I knew at a young age that Martha My Dear looked backward as much as it was a recent song.

Quintette du Hot Club de France

Moreover, I wanted to be in that smoky bar situated on a side-street in Paris, surrounded by men in tight suits and women in tight dresses, nodding along as Reinhardt executes another dynamic fill. During breaks, the musicians would mingle with the crowd and French would be everywhere. That’s the point at which my mind wanders and I wonder just how much I’ve mashed together a hundred years of history into one anachronistic mess.

This miracle of art that transports us to places that we have never been is absolutely amazing. Nowadays, we associate it as much with film as any other form, but surely that is at least part of the appeal of landscape paintings and epic poems. You spent the night listening to Homer because he made you feel like you were experiencing all those islands where Odysseus landed during his horrifying journey home.

We like to say that musicians (and other artists) are ambassadors when they travel to foreign countries and perform, but we somehow bury the lead when we do that. The art is what transports people and it isn’t the musicians who travel nearly as far as the audience. After all, the whole point of the artistic ambassador is to allow an opportunity to those who could never develop an image of a distant land.

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. 35 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.

François Truffaut (YGtCTO #264)

Day for Night

Film directed by François Truffaut and written by François Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard and Suzanne Schiffman

Do you suppose there was anyone who knew nothing about John Huston and had never seen any of his films until he appeared onscreen in Chinatown? Did they see anything unusual? I doubt it, though it does seem a strange introduction to him as a professional artist. Did they race out of the cinema in search of Treasure of the the Sierra Madre based on his acting?

Whenever one director casts another director in a movie, a strange circumspection rises in my mind and I don’t think that I am alone among those who notice such things. If we’re not talking about Clint Eastwood or George Clooney or someone similarly experienced as an actor, then one does wonder why someone more known behind the camera is deemed superior to actors in need of a job. Of course, if you’re making the movie, then you can do what you like.

My first exposure to François Truffaut was in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I think someone, probably my brother, leaned over and whispered, “That’s François Truffaut.” I probably nodded in feigned recognition. As far as I was concerned, he was some dude with a French accent that Stephen Spielberg had located to make his movie feel international.

A little later, my high school showed Small Change and my brother reminded me that it was made by that guy from Spielberg’s movie. “Remember him?”

François Truffaut

The years

had to pass before I learned about Les Cahiers du Cinema and La Nouvelle Vague and all that flowed from that: the director as author of a film; emphasis on characters over plot; arguing about films way more than people should; etc.

Truffaut did in fact act in a number of films before Close Encounters (and before Day for Night). You can decide for yourself how skilled he was, but he definitely looked comfortable in front of the camera.

So, I saw Day for Night long after This is Spinal Tap, so there was no possible way that I could take seriously any movie in which the director narrates the action on camera. I started with a smile as soon as Truffaut starts walking across the first setup. Really, I expected him to approach a wall and acknowledge that he could walk no farther. I have also seen countless documentaries about making movies and Truffaut has effectively colored my expectations. I know there is pure silliness going un-captured just behind that door there.

Truffaut is always just outside the frame in his movies and I doubt he wanted it any other way. Maybe that’s what seems so strange with other directors who look a little less comfortable. Do you suppose that Huston gave Roman Polanski a lecture or two back in the day?

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. 36 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.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (YGtCTO Words #88)

Kubla Khan

Poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

There is something about any education in literature that bears a striking resemblance to throwing mud at a wall and seeing what sticks. That’s no disparagement as much as it’s a reality of trying to guess what art will make an impression on someone at a particular moment in time. In the case of school, you also get the added pressure of treating it all with importance. This is what makes it worse than giving recommendations to friends about a good book you just read. Hardly anyone anymore ever says they just finished Madame Bovary.

Of course, school teachers still have a little leeway on content (very little). If the school district still requires a dip into poetry and the teacher had to pass a couple poetry classes in college, then you also may have been exposed to English poetry of the 18th and 19th century. Byron and Shelley and Browning all made appearances. Someone was called upon to read aloud and probably made a hash of it. We don’t speak that way anymore. You do have to wonder if anyone ever did.

Then they pass out a photostat of something by Coleridge, which looks no more promising than all the rest. However, there is usually someone in the class whose eyes light up as they read. In my class, that was me in the back row, having the snark wiped from my mind.

I was ripe for this stuff. And I loved the background story about it being pulled from an opium dream. What teenager doesn’t prefer their artists with a hint of doom? Honestly, when Morrissey came along, I pretty much envisioned him as some dude in breeches with a Coleridge hairdo. In reality, they were both pretty weird, but I was definitely out of my mind.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

An excerpt:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

As part of the last class anywhere to ever have to do so, we had to memorize poems and this is the only bit I remember. I’m sort of proud of that, but really it is fading for me now.

Overall, I thought Coleridge was going to be my model for life and I knew absolutely nothing about him. My parents knew nothing about him, but bought me a biography for a birthday gift. He certainly seemed like a better role model than Jim Morrison, whose biography I was reading at the time.

I nudged around inside the biography and couldn’t get past how alien the man truly was. Some of that was because he seemed so damn smart and so incredibly bad at life. You would think that would seem cool, because it certainly was in a rock star, but somehow Coleridge still seemed more like a grandfather. I didn’t want to know my ancestor lived on a commune and drank laudanum. It was a step too far. Now that I’m closer in age to a grandfather, well… is that absinthe you’re having?

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. 37 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.