Funk Friday: “Bop Gun,” Parliament

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I have no words.  This is just the sublimest of the sublime.  “Turn me loose!  We shall overcome!  Where’d you get that funk from, huh?”

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Throwback Thursday: “L’Elephant,” Camille Saint-Saëns

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Elephants are the largest animal that can also manage to be completely adorable.  I once spent a very diverting 20 minutes watching a baby elephant play catch with its mother using a red ball the size of a washing machine.

Elephants are also deceptively intelligent animals despite their otherwise slow-moving, vaguely dopey appearance.  They remind me of certain humans I know, come to think of it.

In any event, Camille Saint-Saëns wrote a whole suite of pieces about different animals.  I have very happy memories of listening to this one as a little kid and giggling at the thought of watching elephants gracefully dancing to this melody.

 

Worldly Wednesday: “Bassama Bissarma,” Abdel Gadir Salim

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Salim is one of the most famous singers and band-leaders to come out of Sudan.  Born in the Nuba Mountains, Salim has been playing traditional Sudanese music since the 1970s.

Sudan is an incredible country.  Home to at least six different civilizations and kingdoms over the past few thousand years, Sudan also created a system of pharaonic kingship like Egypt – the great temple of Ramses II is found on the border between Egypt and Sudan.  The Meroe Pyramids, nestled together like a modern cul-de-sac, are on my list of things to see.

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The ceaseless rhythm of this song’s 6/8 time signature reminds me of the gait of a lumbering camel up and over and down sand dunes.

Termagant Tuesday: “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away,” Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks

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Oh good.  It’s the New Hampshire primary today.  Anthems of joy.

If you detect snark in my voice, you’re half-right.  I’m half-snarking.  I love voting.  Anyone who has read this blog knows I love voting.  I am a votin’ fool.  But these elections are starting to feel as drawn out as the commercial “holiday season” that starts …actually I think it just restarted itself.  Our nation’s adrenal glands are already shot from the “soaring” rhetoric of these candidates’ speeches, fear-inducing attacks, and tear-jerky patriotism.  I’m so very tired.

I’m also very tired of trying to keep track of who all is still in the race.  Some of these candidates are easy to remember, being as they are America’s id on two legs.  Some of these candidates are…not.  Do you remember that luke-warm glass of water you drank yesterday?  No?  Well you drank one.  You did.  And you have no idea you did.  Would you vote for that glass of water?  What exactly are we talking about again?

Somewhere between Id Two-Legs and Somnolent Water Glass we have the rest of the field, many of whom are clinging on for dear life.  But after tonight, we will have blessedly fewer to keep track of.  My many sources (really only one source) tell(s) me that at least three candidates will have to drop out tonight because of their poor showing.

So get out there and vote, New Hampshire.  Vote your conscience.  And clear the field.  The rest of the country thanks you.

 

We’ll miss you, Dan Hicks.  (1941 – 2016)

Modernism Monday: “Overcome,” Laura Mvula, ft. Nile Rodgers

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I’ve been thinking a lot about identity recently: who do I want to be?  What are the facets of myself?  Woman, American, tall, professional…what else?  And which on that long list of identifiers has been chosen for me?  And which do I actually want to keep as my own?

A friend of mine in high school made me a pin, that I still have to this day, that says “Self-described and self-defined.”  What perfect freedom there is in that; and, also, risk of isolation.  The bravest people I know are those who actively, consciously, deliberately sculpt out their own lives.  People who listen to themselves and select (or create) a path forward, who hew closely to their own truth.  Those are my heroes.

“Doubt not, O poet, but persist. Say ‘It is in me, and shall out.’ Stand there, balked and dumb, stuttering and stammering, hissed and hooted, stand and strive, until at last rage draw out of thee that dream-power which every night shows thee is thine own; a power transcending all limit and privacy, and by virtue of which a man is the conductor of the whole river of electricity.”  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

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When your heart is broken down
And your head don’t reach the sky
Take your broken wings and fly

When your head is heavy, low
And the tears they keep falling
Take your broken feet and run

With the world upon your shoulders
Nowhere left to hide
Keep your head up carry on

It ain’t no time to die
Even though we suffer
Come together we pray

Round the mountain all God’s children run
Round the mountain all God’s children run
Round the mountain all God’s children run
Round the mountain all God’s children
All God’s children run round the mountain run
Round the mountain all God’s children
All God’s children run round the mountain run
Round the mountain all God’s children run

Sacred Sunday: “As One Who Has Slept,” John Tavener

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Today, in the Christian tradition, is one of the last significant days in the liturgical calendar before Ash Wednesday: Transfiguration Sunday.  This day marks the occasion that Jesus transfigured, or metamorphosed, before his disciples – upon summiting the top of a mountain, Jesus’s face and clothes shone with a white light.  While emanating this heavenly brilliance, Jesus is seen to speak with the prophets Elijah and Moses, both long since dead, about the upcoming final months of his life.  Peter asks whether he and the others should prepare three shelters for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses.  But before he finishes, the voice of God declares, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”.  Elijah and Moses disappear.

This story is important for a few reasons.  First, it identifies Jesus as the proxy of God on earth – the people’s judge, savior, and direct link with the divine.  Second, it previews the resurrection – of Jesus himself, and of all who believe in him.  But I love this story for another reason: I love it because of the achingly human motivation behind Peter’s question.  He acts as anyone who has experienced something transformative would act: they want to freeze time.  Sailing right past the fact that Elijah and Moses are very, very dead, Peter wants to set up camp for them (They’re here now, aren’t they?).  He wants to keep them there.  This is, of course, impossible.  But, God love him for trying.

We take two-dimensional pictures of landscapes, of people, to capture their three-dimensional physicality, and the multi-dimensional feelings we felt upon seeing them.  We tattoo our skin to immortalize a meaningful time in our lives.  Even though we know, as Peter must have rationally known, it isn’t possible to suspend time and trap a moment, or a person, or a ghost, still we can’t help ourselves from trying.  The promise of Jesus is that he will connect us to the eternal.  One day, we will be able to relive these moments.  One day, we will be able to never be without someone again.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, which leads to the retelling of the crucifixion narrative, and then onward to glorious, redemptive Easter.  I am approaching this season of Lent with more dread than in other years because I know that, this year, I have more of Peter in me than I’ve had before.  I lost a very close friend and mentor to cancer last year – my choir director.  His death comprehensively hollowed out church and sacred music, and though I have continued singing, nevertheless, that hole is still there.  And so, half of me expects his resurrection at Easter.  It’s a bafflingly irrational feeling but I can’t help myself from envisioning him conducting the timpani and brass quartet ornamenting “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” as we all process in, and completely accepting that he’s there.  “Oh, hey – Ben’s not dead!” would be as easy to say as “Oh, hey – Ben made it back from vacation in time for the service!”  The other half of me – the sane half – knows that Easter will bring back so many happy memories, now bittersweet, that it will feel like Ben is, in fact, there in spirit.  I will want to freeze that feeling.

That, of course, will be impossible.  But, God will love me for trying.

Tavener’s piece comes from the Liturgy for Great and Holy Saturday: “As one who has slept, the Lord has risen; and rising, he has saved us.  Alleluia.”

Salubrious Saturday: “Dirty Water,” The Standells

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I know this “ode” is tongue-in-cheek at best, but I still grew up listening to it and still mean it when I sing out the chorus.  Given I’m planning a trip home next month, I have to post some home-town love.

And, hey – do you like apples?  On this day in 1788, Massachusetts became the sixth state to ratify the new constitution.  How d’you like them apples?