Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Jonathan Coulton's Christmas Is Interesting, from his 2003 album Smoking Monkey, overflows with references to Christmas as it is depicted in popular culture; here we'll focus on the literary ones. The song's second line--It's time for a long winter's nap--is a quick nod to Clement C. Moore's 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (aka The Night Before Christmas), but that is followed by a meatier reference to O. Henry's 1906 short story The Gift of the Magi: He takes your watch and he gives you a hairbrush/Your wife gets a wig on a chain. Near the end of the song we are present for the visit by Marley's ghost from Charles Dickens' 1843 novel A Christmas Carol: You go to bed and wait for Jacob Marley/He comes to make you feel brave/But under his cloak he is nothing but smoke/And a finger that points at your grave. Other references include the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special, Citizen Kane, and It's a Wonderful Life. Penning lines that compare Christmas to a knife in the heart or a stick in the eye, Coulton clearly has some issues with the season; but his song still makes us want to put on our feety pajamas.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Learn more about Eric Woolfson's life and work at http://www.ericwoolfsonmusic.com/.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
We are now on the cusp of the holiday season, and new offerings of seasonal music have been arriving for weeks. Among these is a collection from Sting called If On A Winter's Night.... It's not a holiday album in the usual sense, but a few of the songs specifically address Christmas, including a selection called Christmas At Sea. The lyrics are from a poem of the same name by Robert Louis Stevenson, from his 1890 collection Ballads, and have been set to music attributed to Sting and harpist Mary Macmaster. Both poem and song tell of a sailor battling the elements aboard ship, within sight of the town where he was born--close enough to see the snow on the roofs and the smoke from the chimneys, and even smell the meals as they're prepared. The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer/For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)/This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn/And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born. "I was attracted to Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem 'Christmas at Sea' because it describes so well the powerful gravitational pull of home that Christmas exerts on the traveller," Sting writes in the liner notes. "When Mary Macmaster started to sing the Gaelic song 'Thograinn Thograinn', a women’s working song from the Isle of Skye, I thought the melody would make a perfect counterpoint for the longing of Stevenson’s sailor..." The song depicts the sailor's concern for his aging parents, sitting by their fire in the town above and worrying about the son who has gone to sea. However, once the ship is out of danger, the poem carries that theme through to a final, wistful stanza not included in the song: And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me/As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea/But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold/Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
November 11th is observed by many countries around the world--in the United States as Veterans Day, in the British Commonwealth as Remembrance Day, and in other countries as Armistice Day or the Day of Peace. Each of these holidays began as an observance of the armistice that ended the First World War, signed at 11:00 am on November 11, 1918--the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Al Stewart's song Somewhere In England 1915, from his 2005 album A Beach Full of Shells, takes us back to that conflict with a series of dream images that feature World War One British Poets. First up is Rupert Brooke, who served in the British Army during the war and died in 1915 (though not in combat). In his poem The Soldier, written at the beginning of the war, Brooke penned the familiar lines: If I should die, think only this of me:/That there's some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England. In the song, Stewart depicts a woman standing on a beach, watching a troop ship sail away. She is identified only as an English Prime Minister's daughter--a reference to Violet Asquith, daughter of British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, who bore an unrequited love for Brooke. She's there to see him off to war, and while Stewart doesn't identify Brooke by name, the allusion is clear: And she watches the ship disappear for the length of a sigh/And the maker of rhymes on the deck who is going to die/In the corner of some foreign field that will make him so famous. In the next sequence, Stewart depicts the horror of the battlefield and mentions two other poets, this time by name: And a skull in a trench gazes up open-mouthed at the moon/And the poets are now Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. While Brooke's poetry depicted the war as patriotic and a soldier's death as noble, the poetry of both Owen and Sassoon contrasted sharply in tone, depicting the stark, horrific realities of war. Like Brooke, both of these men served in the British Army. Sassoon survived the war; Owen was killed in action one week before the armistice.