Funk Friday: “In The Air,” The Apples


The First Funk Friday after the first day of spring calls for this breezy, warm-weather track from the great band The Apples that hails from Tel Aviv, Israel.  I listen to this and I see myself throwing around a frisbee on the Mall, grilling at a friend’s place, inviting my crew to my roof deck, playing boozy croquet in the park – really doing anything that involves good friends, warm sun, cold drinks, and solid tunes.  Spring, you ol’ so-and-so.


Throwback Thursday: “Ecco La Primavera,” Francesco Landini


EVERYONE!  Wonderful news!  We made it!  We made it through the winter!  Today is the first day of spring!  I don’t think I’ve so keenly anticipated the vernal equinox in my entire life.  Imagine how the poor sods who lived through winters in the 14th century felt when it came time for spring.  No wonder this piece is so happy.  

Landini (c. 1325 – 1397) lived through some pretty monumental things.  He survived the Black Death, initial and successive outbreaks of which killed about half the population of Europe.  He survived the so-called Little Ice Age, which made warm summers unpredictable and caused so much rainfall that crops failed.  He survived the Hundred Years War between England and France, lived through the near collapse of the Catholic church as an institution, and the rise of the Ming Dynasty and attendant isolation of China.

Somewhere in there, amidst all that unhappy uncertainty, he wrote this little tune about the return of spring.  I can imagine it might have taken a little bit of faith.

Ecco la primavera,
Che’l cor fa rallegrare,
Temp’è d’annamorare
E star con lieta cera.

Noi vegiam l’aria e’l tempo
Che pur chiam’ allegria
In questo vago tempo
Ogni cosa vagheça.

L’erbe con gran frescheça
E fior’ coprono i prati,
E gli albori adornati
Sono in simil manera.

Ecco la primavera
Che’l cor fa rallegrare
Temp’è d’annamorare
E star con lieta cera.

Spring has come apace
To waken hearts to gladness;
Time for lovers’ madness
And to wear a happy face.

The elements together
Are beckoning to mirth;
In this delightful weather,
Delight pervades the earth.

The grass in fresh rebirth
Helps meadows come a-flower,
And every branch and bower,
Is decked with kindred grace.

Spring has come apace
To waken hearts to gladness;
Time for lovers’ madness
And to wear a happy face.

Worldly Wednesday: “Dark Moon, High Tide,” Afro-Celt Sound System


I realize this morning, with great excitement, that soon it will be spring.  Spring means warmth.  Warmth means warmer water temperatures.  Warmer water temperatures means your plucky heroine can get back out on the water in her trusty Peinert racing shell and row her little heart out.  This was the song that ran through my head when I first learned to row, and the song that is going through my head these days as I think about getting back out on the water again.  C’monnnn spring.

Termagant Tuesday: “Your Mind Is On Vacation,” Mose Allison


The Office of Personnel Management, in its infinite sagacity, closed the federal government yesterday because the District got a bit of weather.  So, I and my fellow govvie types got to spend the day entertaining ourselves, either with work at our kitchen tables (hello), or feverishly filling out March Madness brackets, or having snowball fights, or getting terrifically soused at a “bottomless brunch,” or all four.  This was just gravy as far as I was concerned.  The older I get, the more I enjoy spending the entire day at home.  Not because my place is amazing, which it is, or because I hate the outdoors, which I don’t, or because I neither own nor know how to operate a pair of pants, both of which are incorrect.  No – it’s just, sometimes…people.  I mean, seriously.

I was strolling to my favorite coffee shop this weekend when a woman turned from the upcoming corner onto my street and came to be walking in front of me.  She was solitary, dressed in as normal an outfit as you’re likely to find in D.C., and all of a sudden, she started to laugh.  Loudly.  Then, started talking as if she were interrupting someone.  Except, there was no one else around for a city block.  Was she insane?  Was she some sort of yuppie reincarnation of Teresa of Avila having her own private confab with God?  Was she a one-person flashmob?  An acting student?  I sped up considerably to pass her in case she had a shiv and a plan, and in so doing noticed that she had one of those little blinking in-ear widgets.  She had been on her phone.  It’s entirely possible she was insane and on her phone.  And somehow, I was supposed to accept this blithely and without comment, or – get behind me, Satan – conform and get my own little blinking in-ear widget so to numb the minds of others with one-way conversations about the pointless intangibles of my own life.  No wonder Putin grabbed Crimea so handily.  We were all on our cell phones talking about Swiffer Wet-Jets.

Things like this happen all the time now.  It is a defining characteristic of the modern urban human condition.  And it drives me absolutely mental.  I should like there to be little quizzes administered after I run my errands, otherwise all my knowledge of a visiting man’s proclivity for miniature biscotti, a man whose chatty grandmother has just spent the past eight unhappy minutes trailing me around Trader Joe’s (does she have magnets in her skull? Go. Away.), will have gone to waste.  Perhaps there could be gate-side therapists with Xanax-scented sound-proof booths for deplaning passengers so they can cleanse themselves of the knowledge of the woman in 13C – that she just landed, that her flight was on time, that it was a little bumpy, and that she plans to get home the usual way and will arrive at the appointed time because, I mean, at this time of day – well, you know – right, exactly.

I’m fully aware that I’m having a full-blown, unfettered “get off my lawn” moment, but I don’t care that, in this aspect, I’m turning into a crank.  So pardon me if I don’t jump at the opportunity to be out amongst the great muttering unwashed when I have a day to myself.  If you need me, I’ll be at home. And it’s extremely unlikely I’ll let you in.

Modernism Monday: “Destroyer,” Panama


This sounds like Thompson Twins, Lou Reed, and U2 got together and wrote a song.  In fact when I first heard it I thought it was a lost New Wave track.  Wrongedy-wrong-wrong.  Panama is a new band from Australia.  The driving rhythm and steady bass guitar makes it sound totally U2 with a dash of New Order and Depeche Mode, while the fairly consistent volume level reminds me of Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle.”  This is good song for a long night-time drive, or a cold and snowy Monday.

Sacred Sunday: “Sicut Cervus,” Palestrina


Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (or just Palestrina.  Like Madonna is just “Madonna.”  …Okay maybe not.) is one of the top four Renaissance composers, in my opinion.  His music just aches with feeling.  Born in 1525 in Palermo, Italy, Palestrina the Prolific gave the world 105 masses, 68 offertories, at least 140 madrigals, more than 300 motets, 72 hymns, 35 magnificats, 11 litanies, and four sets of lamentations before he died in 1594.  This simple anthem, “Sicut Cervus,” is my personal favorite Palestrina composition out of everything he wrote.  He manages to pack such longing into simple harmonies and phrasing.  Listen to when the basses come back in at 2:06 to follow the tenors on “Ita,” the second half of the lyrics.  It literally and figuratively deepens the sentiment expressed and creates the supported space for the sopranos to come in with the long “Anima” at 2:08.  It’s a tough piece for me to sing because it always makes me choke up if I think about it too much.  This piece really is my soul’s tuning fork.

Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.

As the deer longs for running water, so longs my soul for you, O God.

Salubrious Saturday: “Roadrunner,” Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers


A Daily Tune-Up Haiku: “It’s 65 Degrees and Sunny So I’m Going For A Really Long Run”

The Modern Lovers

Wrote this song.  …Ok, good talk. 


PS: To all my friends running the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon today, including the inimitable K-Smash: crush some pavement!

Funk Friday: “But I Do,” Poldoore


I.  Cannot.  Stop.  Playing.  This.  Song.  This is a remix of O.V. Wright’s Song “I Don’t Know Why,” which, as you’ll see is much slower.  By speeding it up and adding a new drum track, Poldoore skews the track way more towards funk – and hip-hip – and away from soul.  I love the very 60’s era chord progression and lead guitar riffs (vaguely Buffalo Springfield-esque), the tempo, the rhythm track layered on top, the horns, the way it builds – everything.  It’s flawless.  Check out more of his stuff on his Soundcloud website.  Groove on, Tune-Up fans.

Throwback Thursday: “Variations on a Theme by Haydn,” Johannes Brahms


First of all, it’s important for my erudite international readership to know that one of my very best friends refers to Haydn as “H-Man.”  This did play a small role in convincing me to post this piece today.  Not an enormous role, mind you, but still.  A small one.  I’ve also been feeling relatively braced with life in general these days, and in these moments of rare contentment, I turn to this masterpiece by Brahms.  It runs the gamut of emotions and starts out proud but not arrogant, and calm but not sedate.  It is also important to recognize that Claudio Abbado is at the baton in this, my favorite recording.

Brahms, a native of Hamburg, Germany, lived from 1833 to 1897 and is one of the most important composers of the “classical” period.  He composed during an interesting period during music history, when Western classical music was evolving away from the structure of Bach and Mozart towards the freer harmonic modernism championed by Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner.  Brahms always sounds like he has a foot in both camps.  His melodies and embellishments are as flowery and delightful as any of the true Romantic composers, but he doesn’t go on for six and a half hours.  One of my favorite life quotes is actually from Brahms: “It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is to leave the superfluous notes under the table.”  I think he left only the very best notes in this piece.  By the end of it, you feel like you’ve run a marathon, graduated from medical school, completed astronaut training, and cleaned your kitchen.  You know – done something really major.

Worldly Wednesday: “Taro,” Alt-J


There are certain things in the world I don’t understand: whether Velveeta is a food or spackling material, why millipedes have to exist, why I always seem to end the day with $20 less in my wallet than I began with but have nothing to show for the loss, and so on.

I also don’t understand Western complacency towards global inequality.  Every person that is born, anywhere in the world, might be the person that cures cancer, AIDS, writes a new theory of international relations, transforms the United Nations, figures out how to slow or reverse global warming – any one of us humans might solve any of these terrifying, global problems.  That we limit the population of people who have adequate eucation, not to mention food and water and roads and clothes and voting rights and safe passage and electricity, to even attempt to solve any of these problems shoots us all in the foot.  Maybe my cold meds are getting to me, but every now and again it hits me that the biggest resource we waste is each other.  This is what this song by the British band Alt-J makes me think of.

Alt-J wrote the song about Robert Capa, the Hungarian photojournalist and war photographer, and Gerta Pohorylle, otherwise known as Gerta Taro, who was his companion and professional partner.  Taro was one of the first female photojournalists to work on the front lines of war, and died during a road accident while covering the Battle of Brunete during the Spanish Civil War.  Capa died during the first Indochina War after he left his Jeep and stepped on a landmine.

One of Capa's most famous photographs

One of Capa’s most famous photographs – “Death of a Loyalist Soldier,” 1936.


One of Taro's most famous photographs.  A woman in Barcelona, Spain, training for the Republican militia, 1936.

One of Taro’s most famous photographs. A woman in Barcelona, Spain, training for the Republican militia, 1936.

Indochina, Capa jumps Jeep, two feet creep up the road
To photo, to record meat lumps and war
They advance as does his chance, very yellow white flash
A violent wrench grips mass, rips light, tears limbs like rags
Burst so high finally Capa lands
Mine is a watery pit painless with immense distance
From medic from colleague, friend, enemy, foe
Him five yards from his leg, from you, Taro
Do not spray into eyes, I have sprayed you into my eyes
3:10 pm, Capa pends death, quivers, last rattles, last chokes
All colors and cares glaze to gray, shriveled and stricken to dots
Left hand grasps what the body grasps not, le photographe est mort
Three, point, one, four, one, five, alive no longer my amour, faded for home May of ’54
Doors open like arms my love, painless with a great closeness
To Capa, to Capa, Capa dark after nothing, re-united with his leg
And with you, Taro
Do not spray into eyes, I have sprayed you into my eyes
Hey Taro