Wednesday, August 16, 2006

6 Cardinal Colors: Blue

George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue.
Henry "Red" Allen, (Trouble Ends) Out Where the Blue Begins.
Langston Hughes, Too Blue.
Louis Armstrong, Blue Again.
Bessie Smith, Blue Blue.
Men At Work, Blue For You.
The Savoy Orpheans, The Blue Room.
Jimmy Rowles, Serenade in Blue.
Clifford Hayes, Blue Guitar Stomp.
Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant, Blue Bonnet Rag.
Sidney Bechet, Blue Horizon.
Duke Ellington, Diminuendo in Blue.
Duke Ellington, Crescendo in Blue.
Ray Martin, Blue Tango.
Johann Strauss, The Blue Danube.
Roxy Music, Out of the Blue.
Elvis Presley, Blue Moon.
Fats Domino, Blue Monday.
Dorothy Moore, Misty Blue.
Vashti Bunyan, Winter is Blue.
Joanna Newsom, This Side of the Blue.
Flatt and Scruggs, Baby Blue Eyes.
Pete Townshend, Behind Blue Eyes (demo).
Willie Nelson, Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.
Al Ferrier, Don't Play Blue Eyes (Crying in the Rain).
Modest Mouse, Baby Blue Sedan.
Lou Gramm, Midnight Blue.
The Heath Brothers, A New Blue.

And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two.

Tennyson, The Lady of Shalott.

Blue is beyond. It is the color of the sky and the sea, worlds in which we can travel but in which we ultimately cannot live. The earth, knowing this, shuns blue--it is a shade scarcely found among plants, worn by a handful of animals. If green is nature's color, blue lives in spirit. "I write my God in blue," said the poet Jay Wright.

"What is blue?" Yves Klein once said. "Blue is the invisible becoming visible...Blue has no dimensions. It 'is' beyond the dimensions of which other colors partake." Blue is the pharaoh of colors: no other shade fully matches its power, and all, with the possible exception of red, bow in deference to it. Wassily Kandinsky was awed by blue: "The ultimate feeling it creates is one of rest. When it sinks to almost black, it echoes a grief that is hardly human."

Seen from space, the earth is blue.

Yuri Gagarin.

Like the sky which reflects it, blue contains multitudes. It is both the color of the nobility and the peasant, of libertines and scolds. It is the color of Confederate dollars and Union Army jackets. It is worn by the Virgin Mary, intermediary between the divine and the human, and by medieval cuckolds.

The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

Philip Larkin, High Windows.

And in music blue is forever courted, forever praised, yet is never completely captured. Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" is one noble attempt to do so. It begins with the single clarinet, soaring like the call of a muezzin, and then comes that irresistable melody, as fresh, as Virginia Woolf once wrote, as if issued to children on a beach. The melody is carried first by stately horns, then with a swagger by the whole orchestra. The piano has its say, then everyone gets up to dance, seemingly without end, throughout the black-blue night.

Matisse, Blue Nude IV, 1952.

"Rhapsody" was premiered in 1924 by Paul Whiteman, and has been used forever since, both movingly (the opening sequence of Woody Allen's Manhattan) and ridiculously (the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics). Is "Rhapsody in Blue" overrated? "Weep over the lifelessness of the melody and harmony, so derivative, so stale, so inexpressive!" wrote one critic after its premiere. John Lennon once described songwriting as sticking the good bits together, which, in a way, is what Gershwin did here. Leonard Bernstein, while in awe of Gershwin's melodic gifts, said that you could excise most any part of "Rhapsody" and the piece would seem as whole, as its structure is so elastic, or formless--take your pick.

Anyhow, you can find this version, used in Allen's Manhattan and performed by the New York Philharmonic, here. Original Gershwin recording here.

The deeper blue becomes, the more urgently it summons man toward the infinite, the more it arouses in him a longing for purity and ultimately, for the supersensual.

Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art.

Clyfford Still, Untitled, 1953.

"When are you going to sail?" asked Mary.

"I cannot justly say; our ship's bound for America next voyage, they tell me...I may have to hoist the blue Peter any day; so, make much of me while you have me, Mary."

Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton.

So, hoist the Blue Peter, and off we go. First, a blue overture:

"(Trouble Ends) Out Where the Blue Begins" (what a title!) is performed here in a 1936 recording led by Henry "Red" Allen, who plays trumpet and sings. An unjustly obscure figure now, Allen became the label ARC's attempt to offer up a rival to Fats Waller. His Vocalion sides, such as "Trouble Ends," were often chaotic recordings--Allen would show up at the studio, assemble a group from whatever musicians were hanging around, and was handed lead sheets to obscure songs he had never heard before. A few minutes later, he would record. But the result, when everything aligned, was a recording like this, in which the blue mood achieved subsumes everything else. Find here.

Winslow Homer, Coral Formation, 1901.

"Blue Again": If you needed any proof of Louis Armstrong's utter genius, this is the track to play. Just listen to the man: from the opening statement of purpose on trumpet, to his vocal, tender, woeful and knowing, to a final solo for which there simply are no words. From 1931, and on a number of compilations, such as this.

"Blue Blue," also from 1931, is from one of Bessie Smith's last recording sessions. By '31, the years had begun to abrade her voice, and she was making some concessions to popular tastes--using a drummer (Floyd Casey) for the first time during these sides. With Clarence Williams on piano, Louis Bacon on cornet and Charlie Green on trombone--together, they create a barrelhouse sound to complement Bessie's woes. On Complete Recordings Vol. 4.

"Too Blue," a short blue poem by Langston Hughes, was first published in the autumn of 1943 in Contemporary Poet, and recorded by Hughes in either 1944 or 1945 as part of a series of readings he did for Asch Records. On Voices of Black America.

For you blue

Childe Hassam, Nocturn, Railway Crossing, 1893.

To sum up "blue" songs in a single blog post is a foolish task. There are thousands of them, and that's only in English, and when you include songs with "blues" in the title, that's it, you're done--game, set, match.

How to choose a decent selection? I know, everyone looking at my list has their favorite absentees: Where's "Pale Blue Eyes"? "My Blue Heaven"? "Blue Bayou"? "Blue Skies"? "Tangled Up in Blue"? "Mr. Blue Sky"? "Black and Blue"? "True Blue"? "Devil With a Blue Dress On"? "Blue"? "Famous Blue Raincoat"? Time and world enough, people.

In song lyrics, blue loses all of its reserve to become a happy member of the dance. "Blue" is simple and pleasant to sing (as Alexander Theroux wrote of blue, "you pout pronouncing it, form a kiss...blowing gracefully from the lips as if before candles on a birthday cake") and easy to rhyme--blue, mating with "true", "do", "you", "too", "woo", etc., is the cornerstone of any romantic verse.

Two examples: Men at Work's "Blue For You". A forgotten but lovely track from their not-great sophomore record Cargo, from 1983, previewing the sort of pop-folk mellowness singer Colin Hay would offer in his solo years. It's the 1980s, so the drums get mixed loud, and this track is off vinyl, mind you--the CD must be deafening. (This LP was one of the first albums I ever purchased, in a Roanoke, Va. shopping mall, and has survived moves and floods to still play well some 23 years later--now a track from it gets digitized and someone in Lithuania can hear it, if they'd like.)

Franz Marc, The Blue Horses, 1911.

And Rodgers and Hart's "Blue Room", in which Hart, in one my favorite lyrics of his, offers a bright palette of rhymes, where "blue" serves in its usual role as rhyme-leader:

We'll have
a blue room

a new room

for two room

"Blue Room" was premiered in 1926's "The Girl Friend"; this 1927 recording is by the Savoy Orpheans, a London-based group that was the hottest dance band in the UK at that time. Vocals by the Hamilton Sisters. On Jazz in Britain.

Modigliani, Little Girl in Blue, 1918.

If lyrically free, blue regains its majesty and mystery when it is addressed in music. Scriabin found the key of F sharp to be a deep, deep blue (F sharp was the only key Irving Berlin composed in), and of course there are the blue notes--most often, the flatted third, fifth and seventh degrees of the scale. In a way, blue notes are "wrong" notes, notes made troubled by the musician. (To sum up the massive cultural heritage that is "the blues" in the midst of this already crowded post is simply a ridiculous, futile task--just listen to anything on Honey Where You Been So Long as a primer.)

Blue is a soloist's color ("No color isolates itself like blue," Fairfield Porter) and many instruments that lead on the melody seem to be blue in tone--piano, guitar, clarinet. (Albert Lavignanc heard blue in "the ethereal, suave, transparent timbre of the flute"; Wagner described the divided violins used in the prelude of Lohengrin as being "ethereal blue"). Naturally, it is jazz's heraldic color, with untold hundreds of jazz tracks from Bechet to Don Byron having "blue" in their titles.

Gainsborough, "Blue Boy", 1770.

"Serenade in Blue" showcases the azure sound of the piano, here played by Jimmy Rowles. Rowles was a big band veteran who worked with Zoot Sims and Stan Getz, among others. He was "a fiend for obscure movie songs" (Gary Giddins), and "Serenade in Blue", written by Hollywood mainstay Harry Warren, was from the Glenn Miller vehicle Orchestra Wives. With Red Mitchell on bass and Art Mardigan on drums. From 1954. On Visions of Jazz, the awesome, out-of-print Giddins compilation I feel obligated to mention ever so often.

The tune is space. The blue guitar

Becomes the place of things as they are,
A composing of senses of the guitar.

Wallace Stevens, Man With the Blue Guitar.

Two runs on the blue guitar: Clifford Hayes' "Blue Guitar Stomp" is from 1927. Hayes led a Louisville-based jug band and was lucky to have as a guitarist Cal Smith, a solid player with a keen sense of rhythm--a worthy contemporary of Lonnie Johnson or Eddie Lang. Smith's playing on this track is especially sweet. Find here.

And "Blue Bonnet Rag," from 1954, is Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant's jet-age interpretation of Leon McAuliffe's original slide-guitar instrumental. Find on Stratosphere Boogie.

Finally, Sidney Bechet's "Blue Horizon" is a blue study in longing, etched by Bechet's searing clarinet. From 1944, just a glorious recording. Find here.

Cezanne, Seated Woman in Blue, ca. 1905.

The birth of blue

Blue has always been treasured, though to the ancients the concept of 'blue' was muddled, at least to modern eyes. The Greeks appeared to consider blue to be a shade of black, as many surviving shards of Greek painting have blue used as a darkener. Perhaps blue's connotations with darkness and sombreness begins here, with an unknown Greek artisan making a bluish gray pigment by mixing black charcoal and white ore. But the Greeks also had words for the blue of sky and sea--kuanos, for one, is the ancestor of cyan. (Some languages to this day have no specific words for blue and green, considering them different variations of the same hue.)

The Charity of St. Nicholas, late 13th C.

Blue was often chosen to adorn great works of art--the Parthenon was once painted bright blue. And during the High Middle Ages, the 11th through 13th Centuries, aristocratic families began to favor blue as the dye best suited for high-quality fabrics. By the 1200s, blue is seemingly everywhere--worn by saints, heroes and kings in liturgical manuscripts (see above and below). To dress in blue came to indicate spirituality, a taste for humility, and steadfastness in love.

Achilles Killing Hector, 13th C.

And as with all trends, once everyone started doing it, it all went to hell: braggarts, unbelievers and those devious in love started coming to court arrayed in blue. It prompted Christine de Pisan to write "Wearing blue does not win my support," adding:

Love doth burgeon, not in wearing blue
But some people indeed put on that hue
Thus hiding several evil deeds from view
Deceiving easily by wearing blue...

Titian, Portrait of a Man, c. 1512.

Precious blue

Blue's most renowned and treasured embodiment, for much of the past millennium, was in the pigment ultramarine, derived from the rare stone lapis lazuli. And the only place medieval painters could acquire it was from Badakshan, in today's Afghanistan. Marco Polo, in 1271, saw one of the lapis lazuli quarries during his travels: "Here there is a high mountain, out of which the best and finest blue is mined."

Cennino Cennini, in Il Libro dell'Arte, wrote that "ultramarine blue is a color illustrious, beautiful and most perfect, beyond all other colors; one could not say anything about it, or do anything with it, that its quality would still not surpass."

and how, unfearful of deceit,
etched like an equine monster of an old celestial map,
beside a cloud or dress of Virgin-Mary blue...

Marianne Moore, Sea Unicorns and Land Unicorns.

Duccio, Virgin and Child with Saints (detail), ca. 1315.

Ultramarine was astonishingly expensive (Cennini estimates the best stuff would get eight ducats an ounce), which meant the color came to symbolize the holiness of the subject and, more importantly, the wealth of the patron. It is why Christ and the Virgin Mary, in medieval paintings, often are garbed in blue, and why Michelangelo left The Entombment (ca. 1501) unfinished, with the Virgin Mary only in sketch form--his promised shipment of ultramarine likely fell through.

Yet all monarchs fall. In the past two centuries came the advent of synthetic pigments: Prussian blue, pthalo blue, manganese blue, and most of all, artificial ultramarine blue, which was just as enduring and as vivid as lapis lazuli-derived ultramarine, but far cheaper and available in bulk. It's one reason why the Impressionists and their successors were able to indulge in endless blue fantasies--Renoir's The Umbrellas (above), the skies of Van Gogh's Wheatfield with Cypresses and Wheatfield Under Threatening Skies, and Picasso's "Blue Period" of 1901-1904, all owe their blues to an ultramarine brewed in a chemical factory.

Picasso, Self Portrait, 1901.

Yves Klein, working in the postwar decades, became determined to find a purer form of synthetic blue, patenting in 1960 a new color, International Klein Blue. Below are two examples, first Klein's Hiroshima (1961) in which some ghostly blue figures appear, then his IKB 79 (1959), in which blue is all there is.

"Diminuendo in Blue" and "Crescendo in Blue" were the back-to-back sides of a 78 RPM record Duke Ellington released in 1937. It was one of his most ambitious compositions to date, a series of almost two dozen 12-bar blues choruses. The pieces were almost entirely composed by Ellington beforehand, with little improvisation allowed during the performance, and its complexity pushed Ellington's group to their limits--the likes of Cootie Williams and Harry Carey do sound subdued during their brief, scripted solos (some prefer later live versions of the pieces, such as the one recorded at the 1956 Newport Festival). Ellington was besotted with blue--in addition to these sides, there's "Blue Feeling," "Blue Light," "Blue Ramble," "Transbluency," "Azure," Blue Goose," "In a Blue Summer Garden," and more I've forgotten. On Masterpieces.

Does "The Blue Danube" need any real introduction? Composed by Johann Strauss, its official title is An der schönen blauen Donau, Op. 314, and it was premiered in 1867. This performance is by the St. Petersburg Radio & TV Symphony Orchestra.

And Ray Martin's "Blue Tango", from 1952, was an enormous pop hit in the UK. The RAF conscript Iain Hay Gordon whistled the tune all through his brutal three-day interrogation--he was prime suspect in the murder of a judge's daughter, Patricia Curran, in Northern Ireland. Gordon at last confessed and was found insane, but the real murderer likely got away with it. On I Love Music.

Blue tranquility, blue sublimity

Like the sky, my blue gaze
Is calm as water in sunlight.
That's what it is, blue and calm,
Because nothing startles it or gives it pause...

Fernando Pessoa (as Alberto Caeiro), The Keeper of Sheep, XXIII.

Anguilla, blue prince of islands

Blue is the color of calm, respite, allegedly reducing pulse rates and blood pressure. Parents find blue light sometimes soothes wailing infants, and children often find the color reassuring (think of the Blue Fairy, who appears at important moments to help guide and prompt Pinnochio.)

The blue minarets of Isfahan

Blue sometimes indicates a move to another, higher plane. Alice, during her travels in Wonderland, is usually depicted wearing "a pale blue knee-length dress with a white pinafore overtop." And "The Blue Lotus" marked a sea change for the cartoonist Hergé. His first four Tintin serials had ranged from shoddy to at times racist, the work of a naive kid influenced by a fascist sympathizing priest. "Le Lotus Bleu was when it really began," he recalled in the early 1970s. Instead of relying on stereotypes, he, in collaboration with a Chinese friend, took exacting pains to properly depict Chinese culture, down to the street signs, and at the same time, Tintin no longer wandered around grunting natives, but was witness to a culture being consumed by an invading power, in this case Japan's occupation of Manchuria. It was the dawn of Hergé's art--the first Tintin classic.

And in Roxy Music's "Out of the Blue," the journey has already begun as the song fades in. From 1974's Country Life.

Blue Isolation

Tobias Funke joins the Blue Man Group

I wonder what Spanish poets would say about this
bloodless, mid-August meridian,
Afternoon like a sucked-out, transparent insect shell,
Diffused and tough to the touch.
Something about a labial, probably,
something about the blue.

Charles Wright, Cicada Blue.

Blue, for all its allure, can also seem alien and unnerving. When blue appears on our bodies, it's generally a sign of trouble--a gruesome bruise, an abscess from a venereal disease, of being overly cold, of being poisoned by cyanide. Blue is absence, emptiness, exile. "To be in the blue is to be isolated and alone," wrote William Gass, in his On Being Blue. "To be sent to the blue room is to be sent to's to be beaten by police."

In Kieslowski's Trois Couleurs: Bleu, blue is the color of "liberté"--the main character, Julie, sees her husband and child die, and decides to live completely alone, without work, without friends, completely anonymous. All she retains from her past life is her daughter's blue mobile.

Shades of blue despair are found in a host of songs, perhaps the most famous being Rodgers and Hart's "Blue Moon". The two had a melody they knew could work, but three different sets of lyrics had failed--the song was first known as "Prayer", then reincarnated as "Manhattan Melodrama", then as "The Bad in Every Man." Jack Robbins, MGM's head of publishing, pushed them to try again, with a "punchier" title. So Hart began again, starting with: "Blue moon/you left me standing alone..."

It soon became a standard, performed by Connee Boswell, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Django Reinehardt, Bill Monroe. In 1948, Billy Eckstine had a smooth-tempo hit with it, and one of Eckstine's fans was a kid about to enter Humes High School in Memphis, and who, in August 1954, was in the studio trying to find material for his second single. One night, Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black spent hours "doing take after take of 'Blue Moon' in an eerie, clippity-clop version that resembled a cross between Slim Whitman's 'Indian Love Call' and some of the falsetto flights of the R&B 'bird' groups (the Orioles, the Ravens, the Larks)", wrote Peter Guralnick in Last Train to Memphis.

The master take of "Blue Moon", which Sam Phillips perhaps thought too odd for release, and which was shelved until it wound up on Presley's first RCA LP in 1956, is one of Elvis' most sublime performances--bizarre, tremulous, moody. Find on Sun Sessions.

The blues can grip you, and bring you down. "Blue Monday" was originally recorded by Smiley Lewis, but Fats Domino's 1956 single is the definitive version, sung with authority and weary joy. I admire Fats' work ethic--stagger around hung over on Monday, fall asleep at your desk on Tuesday, get it together on Wednesday, work hard on Thursday, and on Friday you get paid and drunk, in that order. On Fats Domino Jukebox.

And "Misty Blue," a gorgeous song by Dorothy Moore from 1976, is one of the last great soul records. On Greatest Hits.

Blue is the color of winter--of wan sunlight reflected by ice or snow, of long, cold sapphire nights. (That said, blue is also a hot color--the searing center of a flame is blue).

Vashti Bunyan's "Winter is Blue" was recorded in 1966 but never released until decades later. Bunyan, a British folk singer (and descendent of John Bunyan) with affinities to Nick Drake or Sandy Denny, was discovered by Andrew Loog Oldham, the third-rate Phil Spector who had managed the Rolling Stones; she first performed "Winter is Blue" on Tonite Let's All Make Love in London, a bleary 1967 film that indicated the London musical scene was about to fall apart. On Gather in the Mushrooms.

You could call the harpist/singer Joanna Newsom one of Bunyan's disciples, though I'm convinced Newsom is already a stronger writer. "This Side of the Blue" is on 2004's excellent The Milk-Eyed Mender. She's playing the McCarren Park Pool on Aug. 24.

Dirty blue

The earthly counterpart of the transitory world of pretense, deceit and hypocricy...Blue Beguines were whores; Blue Bet was the name of a harlot; blue devotion was pretend piety...Dutch has a couple of nice terms of abuse--blauwaard ("blue person") and blauwe schutter ("blue marksman") are used dismissively to describe impotent lovers...

Herman Pleij.

Corot, Lady in Blue, 1874.

It's one of my favorite Saturday Night Live sketches--a TV talk show run by Frank Sinatra, as played by the late Phil Hartman, with guests Sinead O'Connor, Steve Lawrence, Edie Gorme, Luther Campbell (from the 2 Live Crew) and Billy Idol. Sinatra runs the show as you'd expect, cutting people off, threatening them, ridiculing them, asking crass questions. He begins, for some reason, to take a liking to Luther Campbell (played by Chris Rock). When it comes to Sinatra's question about "what's wrong with MTV, with the nudity and that crap?", Campbell says it's his bread and butter. "You're wrong, schoolboy--you don't need to work blue," Sinatra shouts back. "You'll never play the big rooms with that crap. Ask Redd Foxx! You don't need the blue stuff, kid--you've got talent!"

Blue, for all its heavenly connotations, is also color of bawdiness--dirty books, pornographic films, filthy talk. "Blue laws" often refer to regulating bars and other places of ill repute. Joyce's Ulysses, once considered an obscene book, was originally bound in blue. Gargantua's colors were white and blue. Colette often wrote her sensual novels on blue paper. "Down in the bars the girls are painted blue," Mick Jagger slurs in "Undercover of the Night." And there are the sad lines from the Specials' "Hey Little Rich Girl," about a fallen heiress:

At your dad's office party
All the movies were blue
Caused him so much heartache
Cause the screen star was you.

Blue eyes

...that night in August--was it August?--that night ...
I can just barely remember the eyes; they were, I think, blue ...
Ah yes, blue; a sapphire blue.

Cavafy, Far Off.

If red eyes are considered disturbing and dangerous, if green eyes are mystical, blue eyes are prized above all other shades. They are the eyes of the powerful: Greek goddesses like Athena are often described as having blue eyes, though poets like Homer had a much different conception of blue than we moderns--he may have been referring to blue-green, or grey. But blue as the color of the natural aristocrat, of the beloved, of the worshipped, persists throughout time--Petrarch's Laura is blue-eyed, as is Iolanthe. (So was Abraham Lincoln and Sinclair Lewis.)

Keats goes into a rhapsody on the beauty of blue eyes, in "Answer to a Sonnet by JH Reynolds":

Blue! 'tis the life of heaven--the domain
Of Cynthia--the wide palace of the sun,
The tent of Hesperus, and all his train,
The bosomer of clouds, gold, grey, and dun.

Blue! 'tis the life of waters--Ocean
And all its vassal streams: pools numberless
May rage, and foam, and fret, but never can
Subside, if not to dark-blue nativeness.

Or the centuries-old rhyme sung by generations of British children, recounted in Iona and Peter Opie's The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, which begins like so:

Blue eyes, beauty,
Do your mother's duty

Four blue-eyed testaments:

"Baby Blue Eyes" was recorded by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in 1949. On Complete Mercury Sessions.

The demo version of "Behind Blue Eyes" was taped by Pete Townshend in either 1970 or 1971, when he was composing songs for his doomed Lifehouse project. Townshend has taken pains to note it's not a personal song, as it was meant to be sung in the voice of a Lifehouse character--the Who version, on 1971's Who's Next, turns it from a sad song to a loud self-laceration. Yet I prefer this quieter take far more--maybe because I find that Roger Daltrey's growling vocal wears on the nerves. On Scoop.

O lovely eyes of azure,
Clear as the waters of a brook that run,
Limpid and laughing in the summer sun.

Longfellow, Masque of Pandora.

Willie Nelson's take on Fred Rose's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" is a highlight of the classic Red Headed Stranger, from 1975.

And Al Ferrier delivers an answer song of sorts. He's been seeing a woman who's recovering from a bad relationship, and as things seem to be settling, one day, driving along together, she hears Willie Nelson's "Blue Eyes" on the radio, and all the memories flood back. Ferrier was a country/rockabilly musician who worked on the margins for decades and deserves to be better remembered. Released as a single on Master Trak (a subsidiary of the Louisiana-based Goldband label) in 1980 c/w "I'm Not Drinking More," and as far as I know, never released on CD, or LP for that matter. One of John Peel's favorite tracks.

Fading into the blue

Why make so much of fragmentary blue
In here and there a bird, or butterfly,
Or flower, or wearing-stone, or open eye,
When heaven presents in sheets the solid hue?

Robert Frost, Fragmentary Blue.

A blue epilogue:

Diebenkorn, Ocean Park No. 79, 1975.

Modest Mouse's "Baby Blue Sedan" was a bonus track on the LP version of 1997's The Lonesome Crowded West (once upon a time, bands put bonus tracks on CDs; now some put them on vinyl releases; i'm sure a special edition 8-track will resurface at some point). You can find it on the odds-and-sods Building Nothing Out of Something.

Monet, Lavacourt Under Snow, c. 1879 ("a winterscape in cobalt blue").

R.E.M., during their 1987-88 tour, often performed "Midnight Blue" during their sets. Journalists would ask Michael Stipe about it, figuring it was some sort of kitsch joke, but Stipe was sincere: "It's a great song." Stipe was right. Gramm, a fine singer who never had the material he deserved, soars with this track, one of the better things to come out the late 1980s--it was a gem in an era of pop dross. On Ready or Not.

And at last, head to the exits to the sound of "A New Blue," from the Heath Brothers, who were Percy (the Modern Jazz Quartet's longtime bassist) , Jimmy on tenor sax and Albert ("Tootie"), the youngest, on drums. On the 1978 LP Passin' Thru, which, to my knowledge, has never been released on CD. (I realized, upon listening to the track just now, that there's a skip in the middle of the recording--sorry! Consider it ambience.)

Cover star: Juliette Binoche, in Kieslowski's Trois Couleurs: Bleu.


Tell Bolingbroke--for yond methinks he stands--
That every stride he makes upon my land
Is dangerous treason: he is come to open
The purple testament of bleeding war

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