Saturday, June 11, 2005

The hills are alive

I've been hit with another of those blogmemes, I see; but, thankfully, this one is for music. While I never seem to be able to actually sit down with a book unless killing time while traveling, I do keep iTunes running while I work, and my iPod on me when out and about. (I can thus give answers just a bit more credible and uncalculating than with the Book Tag thing, you see.) Total size of music files on my computer: iTunes claims 6689 songs, adding up to 25.01 gigs, and spanning a length of 15.3 days. I only keep about 12 gigs on John Quincy iPod, though, and even that's overkill, given how much I automate the playlist process at the iTunes end. The last CD I bought was: Okay, this is going to be a double, going by that particular criterion. I only buy physical CDs from Amazon, and thus tend to stack up two or three on my short-term wishlist at a time, to reach the threshold for free shipping. Then, invariably, I notice that buying from the Amazon Marketplace sellers with used copies, even factoring in their increased shipping fees, would save a dollar or two on the whole transaction. So, while I received them two weeks apart, there's two cast albums in this category: The 1976 Original Broadway Cast of Pacific Overtures, and the quirky off-Broadway Zanna, Don't! The latter is one of Stephen Sondheim's patented Oddball Central Conceit shows, about the forced 1853 opening of US-Japanese relations by Commodore Perry from the Japanese point of view, and it's just delightful, with a richly layered score and witty, complex lyrics. (You could write an entire thesis on the masterfully elegant convolutions of "Someone in a Tree," and I'm sure some music grad student somewhere has.) Also amusing is the aggressively-orchestrated finale, "Next," for what I'm sure is meant to be self-flagellation in the Carter-era-malaise Japan's Economy Will Destroy Us mode: COMPANY Never mind a small disaster. Who's the stronger, who's the faster? Let the pupil show the master — Next! Next! A VOICE There are 223 Japan Airline ticket offices in 153 cities through the world. ALL Next! ANOTHER VOICE There are 8 Toyota dealerships in the city of Detroit, and Seiko watch is the third best selling watch in Switzerland. ALL Next! THIRD VOICE 57% of the Bicentennial souvenirs sold in Washington, D.C. in 1975 were made in Japan. ALL Next! FOURTH VOICE This year Japan will export 16 million kilograms monosodium glutamate and 400,000 tons of polyvinyl chloride resin. [...] Heh. It's the line about Bicentennial souvenirs that especially dates the song. I know that's meant to imply something about the weakness of American industry in the 1970s (much more pointedly noted with the line about Toyota dealerships in Detroit), but it just comes off sounding desperate, especially given how Japan's economy drastically reorganized throughout the late 70s and 80s to move away from the cheap trinket-producing industry and into the tech sector. Sondheim's timing was off; he could have waited just a few more years to see what Japan turned out to be really good at producing, to shared American and Japanese benefit. Sometimes, it just doesn't pay to interpret trade relations in terms of historical vengeance. (At least, not when jumping straight from the 1850s to the 1970s, without taking note of what might have happened in the intervening years.) Zanna, Don't!, on the other hand, is pure poppy fun, manically cheerful without descending into too much saccharine mawkishness or dead-eyed Message politics. (And it really could have, with a premise such as it has.) No complexity there, really (though there's a nice solid use of a single leitmotif throughout the main numbers, if you listen carefully); just a sweet, charming little fairy tale of a show. Song playing right now in iTunes: When I'm working, I typically just switch to my random cycle of least recently played mid-to-high-rated songs, which means anything that pops up, I haven't heard in at least a month. Currently playing is "I Remember How I Loved Her," by the Zombies, a haunting, eerie little piece of mid-60s Britpop featured in the Patrick McGoohan series Danger Man, translated into the Italian "Mi Amore Sta Lontano." Next up on that playlist: "Rama Lama Ding Dong" by Rocky Sharpe, and Thomas Newman's "Stoic Theme" from The Shawshank Redemption. Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me: Let's keep this simple, and go with a slightly filtered list of what iTunes claims to have the highest playcounts... 1. "L'Arena," by Ennio Morricone, the undisputed king of Spaghetti Western scores. My copy is from the Kill Bill soundtrack, but apparently it's originally from the soundtrack of 1968's Il Mercenario. There's no way to describe it but "rousing;" it's the kind of thing that'll make you feel inspired and confident, capable of kicking ass at anything. 2. "Forty Years," by Joe Jackson. Nothing ever - and I mean ever - changes: Here in DC, they talk about 'Euro-disease,' And how the French are always so damn hard to please; Motions are passed in Brussels, but no one agrees, And no one walks tall - but no one gets down on their knees Once allies laughed and drank, But it was forty years ago. It's as true today as in 1986. More so, I think, as the shared horrors of what was then only forty years past recede further into history, and out of the contemporary consciousness entirely. 3. "Defying Gravity," from 2003's spectacular Wicked. I have got to see this show. The original cast recording is all well and good, and the libretto fills in some of the gaps omitted in the notably different-from-the-source-material narrative by cutting out dialogue, but it seems to be such a well-presented behemoth of a stage production, especially in the uplifting lyrics of Elphaba's (the erstwhile Wicked Witch of the West) show-stopping Declaratory Rebellious Characterization Number combined with dramatic wirework. This track also features excellent use of what composer Stephen Schwartz calls the "Unlimited" motif, which - as a clever little tip of the hat to the original and more famous musical adaptation of L. Frank Baum's work - is the first seven notes of "Over the Rainbow," in rhythmic and tonal disguise. A hugely powerful and dramatic diva number coupled with nerdy musical theatre in-jokes? What's not to like? 4. "Blue Lamp," Stevie Nicks. I don't like anything else she's ever done, but I like this. For some reason - and I don't quite know why - it makes me think of a particular time and place I've never experienced in quite in the way I imagine, but it certainly feels like I have. (That time and place: 1985 or so, a quiet and oppressively hot summer night, a small town somewhere hereabouts. Renfrew, or Carleton Place, maybe. A dead-end place to be in an age that seems so comparatively technologically ancient that a blue Tiffany lamp doesn't seem antiquated, but merely quirky.) 5. "Pusher," from Raisin the Stakes, a Very Special Episode of too-clever-to-survive MTV/Teletoon animated series Clone High. Again, this is going to require some explanation: I'm a sucker for a musical episode of anything, let alone one that's a pastiche of Hair, Pink Floyd's The Wall, Godspell and The Phantom of the Paradise. When such gems pop up on TV, I rip the audio to MP3s immediately; special musical episodes successful enough to eventually release the album are rare. (Though the now-ancient official site for the show does feature free downloads of that particular song, and a couple of others from other episodes.) And now I have to pick five people, huh? Crud. I don't suppose I can shrug that off twice in a row. Fortunately, I don't seem to be among the last among those who read or occasionally link to this particular corner of the blogosphere to be tagged, this time, which is a plus. Well, let's try: Alwyn Macomber, Ben at The Tiger in Winter, VW of The Phantom Observer, N=1, and Peter Rempel. May I be forgiven for spreading it, regardless...

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