In which I gig
In which we get some culture
In which I jump on the 'Vienna' Bandwagon.
In which I encode mp3's
In which I wish Tom Lehrer many happy returns
In which I buy and trouble-shoot a third generation iPod Shuffle.
I... I will derive... find the derivative of x, position, with respect to time. It's as easy as can be, just find dx/dt.... I will derive!
A maths geek parody to the music of Gloria Gaynor. What's not to like?
Why on earth did that awful song from Greece get so many votes?... and from the UK too - I'm disappointed.
In previous years, the UK has deserved to do badly, but this year was undeserved - that's the voting for you. Iceland, who are you give 12 to? Denmark? Okay.... what about you, Bosnia? Serbia, fine.
.... but then, I suppose Ireland and the UK have a similar arrangement. It's probably more something to do with a shared sensibility that anything else. I know I would have wanted votes to go to a singing turkey.... but then, in these North Atlantic islands we tend to go for the comedy.
We live in a world focused on celebrity, but there are also luminaries -- those guiding lights who actually inspire celebrities along with the rest of us. Today there's a luminary we'd like to call out: Tom Lehrer. It hasn't escaped our attention that Mr. Lehrer turned 80 last week. (We have it on good authority that his view of numbers is such that 80 is not so different than 79, so he probably won't mind this belated note.) We think he's great. We're fans.
Mr. Lehrer is the Harvard mathematician turned parodist songwriter-performer whose sense of humor, intelligence and rhythm created a cult following that, weirdly enough, anticipated a lot of what Google's culture tries to be about. His work is clever, playful and fun and connects things in ways that surprises, delights and inspires. (Consider "The Element Song", his ode to the periodic table, or his lesson on "New Math".) How could we not be inspired by someone who can craft a good laugh, a great tune, and an elegant equation?
From "The Masochism Tango" to "Who's Next" to "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" (trust us, you have to hear it), Mr. Lehrer's unique music carved out a distinctive place in popular music in the 1950s and '60s. He made his fans feel smart. An entrepreneur -- and we like entrepreneurs -- he self-produced and sold his songs via mail order. And for all the edginess in his humor, he ended up writing some ten clever songs for the '70s public television children's program The Electric Company, including a tune about the letter 'e.'
Although Wikipedia notes that he performed only 109 shows and wrote just 37 songs over 20 years, we think his impact and influence goes well beyond those numbers. He was the best kind of "geek" before the word made its way into pop culture. He's the kind of character as comfortable teaching a university course on the history of the musical -- which he did -- as running a seminar on the nature of mathematics -- which he did.
We hope that in retirement Mr. Lehrer is enjoying himself even a fraction as much as we've enjoyed his work. We're grateful that he's such a great example of how science, humor, music and mathematics can be combined to create such wonderful things.
The other day, 'Build me up, Buttercup', came on the radio. I haven't heard this for a while, and so started humming along. Catchy.
Then I listened to the lyrics, which hadn't really registered before:
Why do you build me up (build me up) Buttercup, baby
Just to let me down (let me down) and mess me around
And then worst of all (worst of all) you never call, baby
When you say you will (say you will) but I love you still...
Of course, I *knew* that, but I hadn't really parsed it before.
This got me thinking about other songs that are downbeat - I particularly wanted to think about catchy songs.
Now, I'm very bad at remembering detail about a song, but I often know a song, sometimes quite well, once given a prod. So unsurprisingly I wasn't too successful. I thought of 'The Ballad of James A. Moon' - but hardly anyone knows that, and I've lost my only copy.
I was not looking for songs that are purely bitter and twisted, such as 'The Ballad of Tom Jones' or 'Winner takes it All' by Abba (both of which are great), but I'm trying to think of songs where there is contrast between the words and the tone of the music.
Nor was I looking for songs which have a non-cheery tone which get even less cheery when you listen to the words.
Thinking about this, my brain gave lots of examples in other categories, such as The Police and 'Every breath you take' - which falls in the category of 'love songs which when you actually think about it are incredibly disturbing'.
I'm posting this in the hope of getting some suggestions for 'catchy, but depressing'
Here's a headline you don't see every day:
Georgia has drafted in 1970s disco icons Boney M in its battle to regain control over the tiny separatist region of South Ossetia.
They are to perform a concert to "show the South Ossetian separatists that life would be better and more fun if they returned to government control."
You couldn't make it up....
Another Guilfest has gone. Overall impressions were good, although there were some niggles this year.
- The toilets were not anything like their usual standard - they were messy, not cleaned, and did not have adequate water pressure to allow flushing. They also kept closing. It was not pleasant.
- The place could have really used some big screens, especially on sunday night. When a long way from the main stage, the sound quality lost definition in the treble range (we watched the last act halfway to the second stage)
- We had tents sorted, they had fences all the way around the tents, and a guy sitting at the far corner fire exit for the whole festival (well, multiple guys) - unfortunately, he was sitting so he could open the fence in the event of an emergency, and not guarding an exit - why not provide an easy exit to the car park?
- I objected to the way that the stewards on the entrance would check wristbands by grabbing wrists and manhandling the arm into a position that they could check whatever it was they were checking. A simple 'would you mind, sir?' would have made the difference, but instead it was a 'grab'. Most rude.
- One security guy objected to my taking photos of an act. I pointed out that everyone around me was taking photos, but he said that my camera was 'too professional'. Really very silly, especially if he saw the shots I was deleting. It was annoying as if I'd have been two or three people further back then he wouldn't have seen me at all, and the shots would have been virtually identical.
The lineup was not as strong as last year, however, the headliners for Saturday and Sunday were about as big as they come - Squeeze and Madness.
On Friday, we saw 'The Ordinary Boys', who were surprisingly good. I say surprisingly as my knowledge of them comes through being unimpressed when their lead singer had a hissy fit on 'Buzzcocks' - which didn't endear him, he's also connected to Big Brother, which never comes as a recommendation to me.
They were followed by Supergrass. Now, Supergrass were good, but the thing is that they're playing to a festival audience - i.e. people who, on the whole, don't follow them per se. Therefore, the bulk of the set should be recognisable tunes - but they fell into the trap of saying 'here's one from our new album' way too often. There were only two Supergrass songs that we, or anyone around us, could name off the top of our heads - these are 'Pumping up your Stereo' and 'All Right'. Of these, they only played 'Stereo' - we thought that they'd use 'All Right' in the encore. They didn't. The conceit of going off stage just to be 'spontaneously' called back to do the songs that you're actually known for annoys me somewhat .... though for a big band like Madness with lots of songs you're known for, it's fine.
Though people enjoyed them at the time, once they'd finished, there were a lot of people who seemed a little peeved.
Once the bands had finished, we went to the Cheesey Disco, which took so long to get going that it was almost packing up time!
On Saturday, I 'd nipped home to feed the cats, and returned a little late, but I caught the end of Kovak, who are excellent. Along with a few others I heard 'My Boyfriend is a Rockstar', which is one of my favourite numbers from them. Kovak's tent/van was set up close to our tent - I went over on Sunday morning and thanked them for the entertainment (though I didn't get all of their set). My sister thought they were good too, and our tastes differ wildly (she's of the 'Take That' generation).
We caught the end of Sandi Thom - but were in place for the whole of Jimmy Cliff's set. He started slow, sitting down, with 'The River of Babylon'. We thought 'well, he is getting on a bit', but as the music went on he stood up, and was soon bouncing around the stage full of energy. He sang (Ooh La, La, La) Let's Go Dancing, Save our planet heart, You Can Get It If You Really want, Vietnam, Wonderful World, Beautiful People and others. Unfortunately, unless the heat affected my memory, he didn't do 'Many Rivers to Cross', which is one of my favourites.
We went for a little wander, and came back to hear Morcheeba. They were okay, I don't know why they got a higher billing than Jimmy Cliff.
The headline act for Saturday was Squeeze, newly reformed (without Jools Holland). They were really good, though the lead singer had a slightly ropey throat. They did all the favourites, such as 'Cool for Cats' and ' "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)"', and joked that they would spend the next hour or so performing tracks from their respective solo albums.
On Sunday, things were a little damp, it rained during the day. It started off well with 'Rock Choir'. These guys were great, and sang numbers from Robbie Williams, Abba, 'Chicago', and others.
We went into the comedy tent for a bit, and then it chucked it down and everyone else came in, making it rather hot in there.
During the afternoon we nipped home briefly, then returned to hear 'The Magic Numbers' and 'Madness'.
The crowd was HUGE for these, and we were quite some distance away from the stage, right next to the exit, in fact - so no photos. The sound quality started to get a bit distorted at that distance, which spoiled things a little. Madness in particular were very good, playing all the hits, plus some others. Of course, they started with 'One Step Beyond' this has the 'Hey You, don't watch that, watch this' intro. They did everything one expected, short of flying the saxophonist off the stage.
A nice weekend, marred only by a bit of changeable weather, and a few things which should be relatively simple to put right.
I'll be there.
(I'm turning into a bit of a musical old fart.... Arctic who?... Why is the Day Green?... RadioPhonics? ... however, Kovak got under my skin at Guilfest 2006, and I'm looking forward to hearing them again)