A shattered night sky ripples and oozes ominously overhead. Strange glowing orange doughnut holes open up in the fabric of the heavens. Pulsing domes of dim red light glow somewhere over the horizon, flicker slowly, and finally fade from sight again. Our commander gets word this attack comes from no nation on Earth. Space aliens? He says we may as well try to get home. Let’s get out of this place. Wait, a dream? What a weird nightmare!
CD: “Get Happy” (Jenny Lin, 18 tracks, Steinway & Sons, 2012)
Frances and Iggy are celebrating their 50th anniversary in our local restaurant. They are both good, solid characters who worked their entire lives, Life probably beat up on them at some point along the way. Frances paints her purplish-red lipstick on with an angular sash and trim brush, Her smile has grown lop-sided over the years. Iggy’s rugged hands are bent and arthritic from decades of heavy work, with which he cups Frances’ hand over the table. They are still both deeply in love. They share decanters of a modest house red. The dining area sound system is playing a melange of old traditional favorites like “Begin the Beguine” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.”
Frances rolls her eyes in ecstasy. “Oh, Iggy, ain’t it lovely ta hear these again after all these years?”
Iggy concurs. “Frannie my love, it’s like we was back again at the old high school dance where we was first introduced at.”
Well, no, not really. It isn’t like that at all.
Jenny Lin was born in Taiwan, educated in the United States and Europe, and is an internationally known pianist of considerable talent and some renown. Amazon lists a number of her classical CD’s and “MP3 albums” promenading works of several obscure composers and three I have heard of: Liszt, Schumann and Shostakovitch. I sampled a couple of those. I’d rate her performance as noticeably talented if not enchanting. Sometimes in her keyboard work I hear traces of Debussy. Her published listings also include a number of attempts at popular and movie tunes.
The problem with “Get Happy” is it’s part music and part metaphor: not quite like anything you want to hear again.
It isn’t quite traditional. It’s not trad jazz. It’s not jazz improv, I don’t believe music needs to conform to strictly enforced centuries-old standards. Most of all, music of any genre needs to have integrity, and here “Get Happy” doesn’t quite have what it takes.
In the signature song track “Get Happy,” we keep expecting Lin to segue into “What’s It All About Alfie.” There are too many skipped and rushed notes, too many transitions for transition’s sake, and, worst of all, enough unwarranted show-off embellishments, frills and irrelevant musical lace to make Liberace blush.
One of many problems with this album is that occasionally Lin gets it right, as In the best-remembered bars of the title old favorite “Get Happy,” Lin makes you want to shout “YES!” as she re-creates the core feeling you remember even if you had not heard that song for forty years. But then Lin shatters it with mindless “look at me, I can play good, huh?” riffs that broadcast how she just doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone. She doesn’t know when to play and when to quit.
In that wonderful old Gershwin favorite “Bess You Is My Woman Now,” from Porgy and Bess, Lin’s keyboard work is so good that you really want to believe she’s going to make it work! Here is an incredible love story that listeners of all ages know and depend on for a memorable emotional experience. Lin turns it into sanitized piano lounge music, showing off the pianist’s skill, not the heart and soul of the composer’s gift to us, It’s just music that never distracts the attention of patrons sharing house wine in their own private worlds.
Those of us lucky enough to remember Rogers and Hammerstein’s wonderful musical “The King and I,” or the Yul Brynner movie of the same name, can immediately recall the dramatic contest of wills between the King of Siam and his children’s British tutor, Anna. The story line develops into an electrifying romance. Lin almost turns this song into a “March of the Wooden Soldiers.”
The delightful “My Favorite Things,” from The Sound Of Music, prompts us all to remember Julie Andrews teaching the Von Trapp children the disciplines and joys of harmonized song. Here in particular, in my opinion, Lin ruins that magic with a Niagara of trills, frills, and randomly improvised little embellishments. In monitoring this track I had to re-check iTunes to make sure Lin was still playing the same song I’d selected.
For me, Lin’s “Get Happy” release rarely augments the personal listening experience. It invariably muddies and distracts. It annoys in the same manner as when your sweetheart says “they say it’s going to rain tomorrow” but you have just said “I love you.” Where did that come from?
For all her talents, Lin plays most of her 18 track selections like one of those brilliant autistic kids who has never heard a composition before, but can play it – in metronome perfection with a few off-the-wall frills – after hearing a few bars..
For my money, I believe I’m right on about Lin’s overall performance, but I’m baffled about the rationale behind this release. Perhaps the fact the CD was produced and released by a leading piano manufacturer, rather than by normal recording labels, should have been a tip-off. This NASCAR special has been brought to you by Castrol. Only $15.63 for 18 laps.
Not everyone likes the same kid of music, or asks the same kinds of things from it. So, if perhaps you disagree with me, I hope you’ll buy Iggy and Frances a drink. They’re going to have hangovers tomorrow anyway, so the house red would probably still be a welcome choice.
A Tribute to Ray Bradbury by Fred Leeds
There was once a weaver who, like Rumpelstiltskin, spun straw into gold. The straw was all the untapped wonder of his living days, and the gold was many a magic tale, and every tale was a journey through the mind’s hidden spaces.
Among Ray Bradbury’s gems is a story about a man who steps on a leaf and changes the course of history. There is one in which a man is tattooed all over with living pictures. In another, earthlings become Martians just by going there. In one funny tale, a man and woman are actually the last people on earth and still can’t get together. In Bradbury’s still living pages we find a quest to the sun to catch a cup of gold, and a man turned bird who is executed for his boldness. In one tale there are two children whose room eats their parents. In another, a guilt-ridden killer keeps hunting for fingerprints until the police arrive. Bradbury’s other characters include a pedestrian charged with thinking for himself, a lady who was never young and girls who would never grow old, a man, forever a boy, who seeks out new parents when the old wear out…
Bradbury saw with fresh eyes all of life’s hidden wonder. He was a true guardian of the imagination. Here’s to Ray Bradbury, wherever he has gone in the galaxy’s vast spaces.
Ray Douglas Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012): American fantasy, science fiction, horror and mystery fiction writer. Best known for his novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and for the science fiction and horror stories gathered together as The Martian Chronicles (1950) and The Illustrated Man (1951). (from Wikipedia)
thousand year telegrapher;
worlds, long forgotten.
illuminates my skyline,
My God, an x-ray!
Weren’t you just here?
we canoed across the lake;
now it’s just water.
Dreary late spring rain
waving clouds of leaves
dripping like morning news.
Polished the car
clouds pouring rain
more wax and wane?
Fishing, water, gossip
float my boat
Soul’s Song, or A Brief Excursion into Inner Space
Vignette by Fred Leeds
Hidden in time’s recesses there lurks a timely secret: a musical instrument which gives back the soul’s true sound, rather than the busy wall of noise which passes for meaning in the world. When this harp sings, it rings like a choir, with the harmony of a humanity no longer just mine or yours. Its existence is something of an open secret, as everyone encounters it in his dreams, though no one speaks about it. It is referred to somewhat more openly in the religious scriptures of the world, whose scattered words barely conceal their quest for just one song. The challenge they pose, the object of all their dreams, myths and legends, is just this: Why do we find ourselves born and in a body? Why do we pass through life so swiftly and seem to be no more? It is the ancient quest for the elusive butterfly of hope, the battle they could never win, though in their hearts they have not given up. One sound alone will satisfy it: the lilt of the universe’s own first notes, already unfolding within themselves.
The explorers of inner space are sometimes called psychenauts, to distinguish them from their astronaut colleagues. Some of the more ardent adventurers in inner space come from the East. Foremost among these are the practitioners of Zen. Their use of the koan, a question studied in meditation, is well known. Probably the most famous of these concerns the sound of one hand clapping. This unique sound stands for the integrated life meaning behind outer forms. Ordinary clapping involves two hands and makes a noise only upon the instant of clapping. Zen’s primal clap, however, involves one hand only. Here, audience and performer merge, as sounds become a reflex of your own true hearing. No one knows just why you clap but you. Zen or music, call it what you like, it can bring you grace within and make you an instrument of peace.
Short story by Fred Leeds
Submitted for your more than routine consideration, one Charlie Smith, a reformed, once habitual alcoholic. That is how things seem from Charlie’s point of view anyway. To put it more truly though less charitably, Charlie is an alcoholic who is habitually reforming. Today, truth and charity will join hands at last, however, for Charlie has an appointment with destiny. The paper bag which he so casually carries will no longer hold its usual high-proof content but something else altogether. Today, Charlie will peer into his bag and bottle of false salvation and find a miracle.
Our curtain opens on Heaven, where two angels are discussing Charlie’s fate.
“There he is, stoned right on schedule,” says Angel One, who is acquainted with such things. In his days on earth, he had a certain taste for the grape, which he conquered through hard struggle. As he speaks, he pokes a bony finger through a celestial cloud and points to earth.
The cloud clears and Charlie appears, reeling down Main Street as usual.
“You’re right, by God, or should I say by the devil? He does seem rather hopeless,” says Angel Two. Continue reading
Well, these days, any typewriter is “old.” I grew up with typewriters that were already old by the time I was allowed to get my hands on them. By the time I bought my first new typewriter (around 1966), typewriters were about ten years shy of becoming completely obsolete.
Around Junior High School (1956-’58) I started pestering my parents to let me use their typewriter for school papers. My mother and dad had pushed me to learn how to type in the first place (hunt-and-peck, same method they used). But letting the kids access the prized Underwood had high catastrophic potential, so they bought us a much older Remington. I’m pretty sure I remember the model as being “Remington Standard.” The archive photo below looks true to what I remember.
by Fred Leeds
A Buddhist Think Aloud
Thoughts are reflexes of our attitudes and can be, at times, almost deliberately misgiven. If I am an angry person, for example, I may be manufacturing reasons for that anger while imagining that it comes from the other person. Rather than recycling this anger, I should reconsider my outlook and cultivate charity.
I guess I mean that the mind has wings, can save itself through qualification and avoid tangling with the world like the body.
The awe and wonder of the universe. That sounds right. If that is what God stands for, then it is something we should never lose.
This is the problem with hostility – especially casually-expressed hostility – as I see it. It begins in the hearts of individuals, who “finish” it in group codes that cannot be retrieved. That is why group-think is such a problem – because it imprisons our living intentions in a self-justifying history, making repentance and self-reflection almost moot.
This tends to destroy the context of our free choices, overgeneralizing whatever we do so that it seems to fit in with the mainstream.
A Cup of Instant
The second I drink a cup of coffee, the coffee bean in its historicity vanishes. The proof is in the pudding, as they say-though in this case it is in the coffee.
We demand, as is only natural, that the flavor of one bean become the flavor of all beans, that the taste be consistent and up to standard. Yet in its lone heart the bean is still special.
As an advocate of beans, I must insist we see the coffee as a group venture, a concoction of sincere and fellow beans.
Now then, as humans, are we not as good as beans? Let us lift our shared cup in mutual appreciation, beyond what we offer to standard use.
story by Frank Hughes
Now here I am tell’n ya somethin interest’n. Well, maybe not so interest’n, but gareentee’d ta be pack’d plum full of stuff ya prob’ly hadn’t ought ta do … if’n you are in your right mind!
Thanksgiv’n … Now don’t that there word bring up some real fine memories. Lord have mercy, I can smell that big ol fat bird right here and now, and dress’n with turkey gravy … Oh Lord! I’m here ta tell ya it don’t get no better. But what I need ta tell you all about is a Thanksgiv’n tradition. You see my Uncle Clayton’s family had a real fine tradition that happen’d every Thanksgiv’n. Rabbit Hunt’n! After everybody fill’d up ta the gills with turkey and dress’n and had a piece or five of punkin pie, it was time ta grab a gun and head for the woods.
Now I know most folks would rather take a little nap or watch one of them football’n games … kind of take it easy for a spell, but not Uncle Clayton … Heckfire it was time ta go out and kill somethin! I’m here ta tell ya right now that Uncle Clayton and Aunt Mildred never spent much time watch’n none of them telleyvision shows. They was too busy hav’n kids! I lost count at seven or nine. Shootfire some of their oldest kids had kids almost as old as me! Now Uncle Clayton liv’d out in the country a ways. So ya see if’n they wanted ta do a little hunt’n all they had ta do was step off the back porch. Continue reading