Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Absent Friends

Freddie Hubbard, Cold Turkey.
The Four Tops, Bernadette.
Miriam Makeba, Mbube.
Bob and Earl, Harlem Shuffle.
Nappy Brown, Don't Be Angry.
Mikey Dread, Saturday Night Style.
Jody Reynolds, Endless Sleep.
Bo Diddley, She's Alright.
Bobby Lee Trammell, If You Ever Get It Once.
Dee Dee Warwick, Foolish Fool.
Johnny Adams, I Wish It Would Rain.
Nathaniel Mayer and His Fabulous Twilights, Village of Love.
Eddy Arnold, The Cattle Call.
Eartha Kitt, The Blues.
Alton Ellis, Girl I've Got a Date.
The Dixie Hummingbirds, Christian's Automobile.
Charlie Walker, Pick Me Up On Your Way Down.
Isaac Hayes, Don't Let Go.
Jerry Reed, Guitar Man.
The Tuff Darts, Slash.
The Count Five, Psychotic Reaction.
The Dubliners, Whiskey in the Jar.
The Esquires, Reach Out.
Jimi Hendrix Experience, Crosstown Traffic.
Fats Domino, Hey La Bas Boogie.
Jo Stafford and Tommy Dorsey, Manhattan Serenade.

Freddie Hubbard
, 1938-2008. On Red Clay.

Levi Stubbs, 1936-2008, and Miriam Makeba, 1932-2008. Bow your head, royalty has left us. "Bernadette," paranoid, majestic Baroque soul, is on Anthology and Makeba is here.

Earl Lee Nelson, 1928-2008. On Sand in My Shoes.

Napoleon "Nappy" Brown, 1929-2008. On Blowing the Fuse.

Mikey Dread
, 1954-2008. On The Prime of Mikey Dread.

Jody Reynolds, 1932-2008. He finally went into the sea: it was waiting for him. On Happy Days.

Bo Diddley, 1928-2008.

Bobby Lee Trammell, 1934-2008. Rocker, state legislator. On Arkansas Twist.

Dee Dee Warwick, 1945-2008. On Collection.

Norman Whitfield
, 1940-2008. Co-composer of "I Wish It Would Rain," one of hundreds of marvels. Adams' 1972 version is out of print, I think.

Nathaniel Meyer, 1944-2008. R&B journeyman. On the out-of-print I Want Love and Affection.

Eddy Arnold
, 1918-2008. This is the original version of "Cattle Call," from 1945--he re-cut it in the '60s for this LP.

Eartha Kitt, 1927-2008. On Purr-Fect.

Alton Ellis, 1938-2008. On Let's Do Rocksteady.

Ira Tucker, 1925-2008. Lead singer of the Dixie Hummingbirds:

You've gotta check on your brakes
and stop your wicked ways:
a man is born of a woman,
is only of a few days.

Charlie Walker, 1926-2008. On Honky Tonk Heroes.

Isaac Hayes, 1942-2008. On Ultimate Collection.

Jerry Reed, 1937-2008. On The Essential.

Jeff Salen, Tuff Darts guitarist, 1953-2008. On Live at CBGB's--1976.

John Byrne, 1947-2008. Lead singer of the Count Five. On Nuggets.

Ronnie Drew, 1934-2008. Lead singer of the Dubliners. On Whiskey in the Jar.

Gilbert Moorer, 1941-2008. Lead singer of The Esquires, whose "Reach Out" is from 1969 (thanks to Office Naps for first posting this some time ago).

Give the drummers some: Mitch Mitchell, 1946-2008 (Electric Ladyland) and Earl Palmer, 1924-2008. One of Palmer's first gigs was backing Fats Domino in New Orleans--hear it all here.

Jim Jones, guitarist for Pere Ubu, 1951-2008. On The Modern Dance.

and Jo Stafford, 1917-2008. The voice of the home front, the sound of the absence of war. On Yes Indeed.

Ave atque vale: Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Wo Weihan, Clive Barnes, Bobby Fischer, Madelyn "Toot" Dunham (who cast her vote for her grandson before she died), Major Andrew Olmsted, Studs Terkel, Manny Farber, Harold Pinter, Jessica Jacobs, Rudy Ray Moore, Richard Sudhalter, Thomas M. Disch, Arthur C. Clarke, Albert Hoffman, Mauricio Kagel, David Foster Wallace, Gregory McDonald, Sir Edmund Hillary, Deep Throat, Robert Rauschenberg, Del Martin, Majel Barrett, and Odetta.

More tributes at Star Maker Machine all week.

Coming in the new year: the 1910s! brace yourself.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Warren Zevon, Winter Wonderland.
Blind Willie McTell, Cold Winter Day.
Neil Young, Winterlong.
Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond, Wintersong.
Nico, Winter Song.
Vashti Bunyan, If In Winter.
Lucille Hegamin, Cold, Cold Winter Blues.
Edith Wilson with "Doc" Straine, It's Gonna Be a Cold, Cold Winter.
The Durutti Column, Sketch For Winter.
Winterreise: Die Krähe.
Kokomo Arnold, Cold Winter Blues.
Blood, Sweat and Tears, Sometimes in Winter.
The Modern Jazz Quartet, Skating In Central Park.
Pytor Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker: Waltz of the Snowflakes.
Rev. Tom Frost, Frosty The Snowman.
Wizzard, Rock and Roll Winter.
Mrs. Jack Keating, How Cold These Winds Do Blow--The Wintry Winds.
Bob Seger, Vagrant Winter.
The Choir, It's Cold Outside.
Hüsker Dü, Ice Cold Ice.
John Lewis, December, Remember.
Elf Power, The Winter Is Coming.
Bert Jansch, In the Bleak Midwinter.
The Carter Family, When The Springtime Comes Again.

Rothstein, Iowa City in the Snow, 1940 (Shorpy)

Confusion of seasons is over.
Today was clear winter.
Light that on trunks seemed warm
Looked bleak and bare
On chill limbs high in chill air...

James Applewhite, River Writing: An Eno Journal.

In the year above mentioned
Near Christmas, the dead time
When wolves live on the wind
And men stick close to their houses
Against the frost, close by the blaze...

François Villon, "The Legacy" (trans. Galway Kinnell).

Now winter nights enlarge
The number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.

Thomas Campion, Third Book of Ayres.

Avercamp, Winter Landscape

Hermione: What wisdom stirs amongst you? Come, sir, now
I am for you again. Pray you, sit by us,
And tell's a tale.

Mamillius: Merry or sad shall't be?

Hermione: As merry as you will.

Mamillius: A sad tale's best for winter. I have one
Of sprites and goblins.

William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale.

The sun gone down. The crescent moon, Jupiter, and Venus. The sound of the sea distinctly heard on the tops of the hills, which we could never hear in summer. We attribute this partly to the bareness of the trees, but chiefly to the absence of the singing of birds, the hum of insects, that noiseless noise which lives in the summer air. The villages marked out by beautiful beds of smoke. The turf fading into the mountain road. The scarlet flowers of the moss.

Dorothy Wordsworth, journal, 23 January 1798.

They stopped and walked barefoot in the snowy field, shouting and laughing. Marcus threw himself down on the snow and stretched his arms out and said, "I am ready for Easter." Sukie circled, turned round and around in the field, her shadow hopping behind her, then in front of her. Marcus said, "She's dancing with crows."

Harold Brodkey, "The Abundant Dreamer."

Speaking of the cold, he said he had seen Fahrenheit’s thermometer, in Paris, at twenty degrees below zero, and that, not for a single day, but that for six weeks together it stood thereabouts. “Never once in the whole time,” said he, “so high as zero, which is fifty degrees below the freezing point.” These were his own words. He knows better than all this; but he loves to excite wonder. Fahrenheit’s thermometer never since Mr. Jefferson existed was at twenty degrees below zero in Paris. It never was for six weeks together so low as twenty degrees above zero. Nor is Fahrenheit’s zero fifty degrees below freezing point.

John Quincy Adams (irritated by Pres. Thomas Jefferson's frequent tall tales at dinner parties), diary entry of 11 January 1805.

Beside me Faxe of Otherhord spoke for the first time since the sound and splendor of the ship's descent. "I'm glad I have lived to see this," he said. So Estraven had said when he looked at the Ice, at death; so he should have said this night. To get away from the bitter regret that beset me I started to walk forward over the snow towards the ship. She was frosted already by the interhull coolants, and as I approached the high port slid open and the exitway was extruded, a graceful curve down onto the ice.

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness.

Cape Cod, way off season

Over the next few weeks the several squads of tourists in evidence on his arrival just disappeared. In the whole town only two or three restaurants stayed open for business, their windowpanes filmed with steam and bordered by grimy snow. Brief thaws came often, but Provincetown seemed, in general, arctic and bereft.

Denis Johnson, Resuscitation of a Hanged Man.

Once the bright days of summer pass by, a city takes on that sombre garb of grey, wrapt in which it goes about its labors during the long winter. Its endless buildings look grey, its sky and its streets assume a sombre hue; the scattered, leafless trees and wind-blown dust and paper but add to the general solemnity of color. There seems to be something in the chill breezes which scurry through the long, narrow thoroughfares productive of rueful thoughts...The sparrow upon the wire, the cat in the doorway, the dray-horse tugging his weary load, feel the long, keen breaths of winter. It strikes to the heart of all life, animate and inanimate...

If the various merchants failed to make the customary display within and without their establishments; if our streets were not strung with signs of gorgeous hues and thronged with hurrying purchasers, we would quickly discover how firmly the chill hand of winter lays upon the heart; how dispiriting are the days during which the sun withholds a portion of our allowance of light and warmth. We are more dependent upon these things than is often thought. We are insects produced by heat, and pass without it.

Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie.

Maris, Winter

The snow had been coming down for days, but in the morning it had stopped and now there was a strong wind. Here and there one could see a patch of black earth where the snow had been blown away; but the roof-tops were completely white, and even the wretched huts of the poor people were very pretty under their covering of snow, evenly lit by a pale moon as though they were thatched with silver.

I could see a lady who was covered in about eight layers of light violet, red plum, white and other robes; over this she wore a cloak of dark violet, which shone with a brilliant lustre...The lady had slipped into the back of the carriage to avoid the brilliance of the moonlight, but much to her embarrassment the gentleman now pulled her forward. Again and again he recited the words, 'Piercing cold, it spreads like ice.'

Sei Shōnagon, The Pillow Book.

I hate winter, the whole surgical tool kit of it: the scalpel snow, the retractor wind, the trocar darkness. I hate the snow, whether it's fluffy virginal or doggy urinal. I hate the inevitable harangues about how you lose 30, 50, 200 percent of your body heat through your head, because above all I hate winter hats and refuse to wear one.

Natalie Angier, The Canon.

Aftermath of ice storm, Geneva, 2005

The Great Frost was, as historians tell us, the most severe that has ever visited these islands. Birds froze in mid-air and fell like stones to the ground. At Norwich a young countrywoman started to cross the road in her usual robust health and was seen by the onlookers to turn visibly to powder and be blown in a puff of dust over the roofs as the icy blast struck her at the street corner. The mortality among sheep and cattle was tremendous. Corpses froze and could not be drawn from the sheets. It was no uncommon sight to come upon a whole herd of swine frozen immovable upon the road...

But while the country people suffered the extremity of want, and the trade of the country was at a standstill, London enjoyed a carnival of the utmost brilliancy. The King directed that the river, which was frozen to a depth of twenty feet and more for six or seven miles on either side, should be swept, decorated and given all the semblance of a park or pleasure ground, with arbours, mazes, alleys, drinking booths, etc., at his expense....

Here and there burnt vast bonfires of cedar and oak wood, lavishly salted, so that the flames were of green, orange and purple fire. But however fiercely they burnt, the heat was not enough to melt the ice which, though of singular transparency, was yet of the hardness of steel. So clear indeed was it that there could be seen, congealed at a depth of several feet, here a porpoise, there a flounder.

Virginia Woolf, Orlando.

Three people were gassed after the frost had burst mains and 20 others were taken to hospital. Workmen at three London power stations suspended their work-to-rule campaign, but much of the city was still blacked out and the Ministry of Works stopped the fountains in Trafalgar Square. Over 5000 children were sent home in Portsmouth, where twenty schools were closed because of frozen lavatories. Seagulls were frozen into the water in Pole Harbour.

The Guardian, 14 January 1963.

Wondrous things have come to pass
On my square of window-glass.
Looking in it I have seen
Grass no longer painted green,
Trees whose branches never stir,
Skies without a cloud to blur...

Frank Dempster Sherman, "Wizard Frost."

All through the morning the air was held in an ominous stillness. Sitting over my books, I seemed to feel the silence; when I turned my look to the window, I saw nothing but the broad grey sky, a featureless expanse, cold, melancholy. Later, just as I was bestirring myself to go out for an afternoon walk, something white fell softly across my vision. A few minutes more and all was hidden with a descending veil of silent snow.

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft: Winter.

Then came old January, wrapped well
In many weeds to keep the cold away;
Yet did he quake and quiver like to quell,
And blowe his nayles to warme them if he may;
For, they were numbed with holding all the day
An hatchet keene, with which he felled wood,
And from the trees did lop the needlesse spray:
Vpon an huge great Earth-pot stean he stood;
From whose wide mouth, there flowed forth the Romane flood.

And lastly, came cold February, sitting
In an old wagon, for he could not ride...

Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene.

And the cold postman, with a rose on his button-nose, tingled down the tea-tray-slithered run of the chilly glinting hill. He went in his ice-bound boots like a man on fishmonger's slabs.

He wagged his bag like a frozen camel's hump, dizzily turned the corner on one foot, and, by God, he was gone.

Dylan Thomas, Child's Christmas In Wales.

Then wearily the footsteps worked
The hallelujah crowds

John Cale, "Child's Christmas In Wales."

Wyeth, Winter.

Too-Ticky rubbed her nose and thought. "Well, it's like this," she said. "There are such a lot of things that have no place in summer and autumn and spring. Everything that's a little shy and a little rum. Some kinds of night animals and people that don't fit in with others and that nobody really believes in. They keep out of the way all the year. And then when everything's quiet and white and the nights are long and most people are asleep--then they appear."...

They went out on to the landing-stage and sniffed towards the sea. The evening sky was green all over, and all the world seemed to be made of thin glass.

"Yes, she's on her way," said Too-Ticky. "We'd better go inside."

Far out on the ice came the Lady of the Cold. She was pure white, like the candles, but if one looked at her through the right pane she became red, and seen through the left one she was pale green.

Tove Jansson, Moomintroll Midwinter.

Sohlberg, Efter Snestorm, Lillegaten Røros

It was an afternoon in January. For hours I had been trudging against a bitter winter wind awhirl with snow. Fatigue had set in--that leaden fatigue when the body seems to have shrunken; while yet the bones keep up a kind of galvanic action like the limbs of a machine. Thought itself--that capricious deposit--had ceased for the time being. I was like the half-dried mummy of a man, pressing on with bent head along an all but obliterated track.

Walter De La Mare, Ding Dong Bell.

Juno, who hates poets, called in Æolus to help her, and Æolus beat down upon us, with hail, and snow, and rain, and wind, and fog--now one--now all together. After the storm came a frost; snow and water froze into lumps and sheets of ice. The road became rough. The mud hardened into ridges. The trees were coated with ice. Some were split, others lost their branches from the weight of the water, which had frozen upon them. We rode forward as we could, our horses crunching through the crust at every step, and cutting their fetlocks as if with glass. Your friend Erasmus sate bewildered on a steed as astonished as himself. I cursed my folly for entrusting my life and my learning to a dumb beast.

Just when the castle came in sight we found ourselves on a frozen slope. The wind had risen again and was blowing furiously. I got off and slid down the hill, guiding myself with a spiked staff which acted as rudder. All the way we had not fallen in with a single traveller, so wild was the weather, and for three days we had not seen the sun.

Erasmus, letter to Lord Mountjoy, winter 1496.

Oh, the falling Snow!
Oh, the falling Snow!
Where does it all come from?
Whither does it go?

Eleanor Farjeon, "For Snow."

Bruegel the Elder, Winter Landscape With a Bird Trap

Let us walk in the white snow
In a soundless space;
With footsteps quiet and slow,
At a tranquil pace,
Under veils of white lace.

I shall go shod in silk,
And you in wool,
White as a white cow's milk,
More beautiful
Than the breast of a gull.

We shall walk through the still town
In a windless peace;
We shall step upon the white down,
Upon silver fleece,
Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes:
Wherever we go,
Silence will fall like dews
On white silence below.
We shall walk in the snow.

Elinor Wylie, "Velvet Shoes."

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry: Février

I will go searching, till I find a sun
Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner that shall shine as gladly,
As frost-nipped suns look sadly...

George Herbert, "Christmas."

The snow is beginning to fall, it is winter. I will spare you the shroud, it is simply the snow. The poor are suffering. The landlords often do not understand that.

On this December day, in the rue Lepic of our good city of Paris, the pedestrians are in more than usual haste, having no desire to stroll. Among them is a fantastically dressed man who is hurrying to reach the outer boulevards. He is wrapped in a sheepskin coat with a cap that is undoubtedly of rabbit-fur, and he has a bristling red beard. He looks like a drover.

Do not take a mere half-look; cold as it is, do not go on your way without carefully observing the white, graceful hand and those blue eyes that are so clear and childlike. It is some poor beggar, surely.

His name is Vincent Van Gogh.

Paul Gaugin, Intimate Journals.

Van Gogh, Paysage Enneige

The little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year...

Robert Frost, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening."

By the time we got to Oslo,
the snow was gone.
And we got lost.
The beds were small,
but we felt so young.
It was just like Christmas.

Low, "Just Like Christmas."

83rd and First, Manhattan, 1996 (C.O.)

...the grass seems
to rise up &
cushioning bring down
the flakes:
as if a god slept hereabouts
and meant to make a winter
of his sleep

A.R. Ammons, Tape For the Turn Of the Year.

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipped, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl:
"Tu-whit, tu-whoo!" a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

W.S., Love's Labour's Lost.

Now the snow is falling, mama
oh, and it's falling fast,
Now the snow is falling, mama
oh, and it's falling fast,
I got icicles hanging
Down from my yes yes yes

Kokomo Arnold, "Cold Winter Blues."

Raeburn, The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch

The day is now beginning to decline. The mist, and the sleet into which the snow has all resolved itself, are darker and the blaze begins to tell more vividly upon the room walls and furniture. The gloom augments; the bright gas springs up in the streets; and the pertinacious oil lamps which yet hold their ground there, with their source of life half frozen and half thawed, twinkle gaspingly, like fiery fish out of water--which they are...

Midnight comes, and with it the same blank. The carriages in the streets are few, and other late sounds in that neighbourhood there are none, unless a man so very nomadically drunk as to stray into the frigid zone goes brawling and bellowing along the pavement. Upon this wintry night it is so still, that listening to the intense silence is like looking at intense darkness.

Charles Dickens, Bleak House.

Arcimboldo, Winter.

Mankind is in a position similar to that of a set of people living on a frozen lake, surrounded by cliffs over which there is no escape, yet knowing that little by little the ice is melting, and the inevitable day drawing near when the last film of it will disappear, and to be drowned ignominiously will be the human creature's portion. The merrier the skating, the warmer and more sparkling the sun by day, and the ruddier the bonfires at night, the more poignant the sadness with which one must take in the meaning of the total situation.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience.

They walked through the tracks of all the others in the snow, she gravely on his arm, wind blowing her hair to snarls, heels slipping once on ice. "To hear the music," he said...

The church is as cold as the night outside. There's the smell of damp wool, of bitter on the breaths of these professionals, of candle smoke and melting wax, of smothered farting, of hair tonic, of the burning oil itself, folding the other odors in a maternal way, more closely belonging to Earth, to deep strata, other times and listen...listen: this is the War's evensong, the War's canonical hour, and the night is real. Black greatcoats crowd together, empty hoods full of dense, church-interior shadows...

Advent blows from the sea, which at sunset tonight shone green and smooth as iron-rich glass: blows daily upon us, all the sky above pregnant with saints and slender heralds' trumpets. Another year of wedding dresses abandoned in the heart of winter, never called for, hanging in quiet satin ranks now, their white-crumpled veils begun to yellow...

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

James Joyce, "The Dead."


This recording of the late Warren Zevon, who is virtually exploding with Christmas spirit, is from a Kansas City concert, 20 November 1990 (complete show here); McTell's "Cold Winter Day," is from 1935 (on Statesboro Blues); "Winterlong," written by Neil Young ca. 1968 and originally slated for Tonight's The Night, finally wound up on Decade; "Wintersong" is off Mulligan and Desmond's Quartet LP, from 1957 (this is the first take--the CD includes another); Nico's own winter song, written by John Cale, is on 1967's Chelsea Girl.

The young Vashti Bunyan was winter-besotted, as she wrote a number of winter ballads over her short career--here is one from 1966 (from Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind); Lucille Hegamin and Edith Wilson were of the first generation of blues singers, those left in the shadow of Bessie Smith: Hegamin's "Cold Winter Blues," from 1923, is on Vol. 2, while Wilson's duet with "Doc" Straine, from '24, is on Edith & Lena Wilson Vol. 2; The Durutti Column's "Sketch for Winter," traces of light playing across an ice field, is from 1979 (The Best Of).

Schubert set his "Winterreise" song cycle (published 1827) to poems by Wilhelm Müller, one of which is "Die Krähe" (The Crow)--performed here by the collaborators and lovers Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, on this 1963 recording; Kokomo Arnold's "Cold Winter Blues," from 1935, is on Vol. 3; Blood Sweat & Tears' "Sometimes in Winter" is from their self-titled 1969 LP.

The "Waltz of the Snowflakes" ends the first act of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker (performed here by the Czech-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra). The MJQ's "Skating in Central Park" was recorded in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on 27 May 1960 (on Dedicated to Connie), while the Rev. Tom Frost cut "Frosty the Snowman" in the South of Hell, France, 2005.

Roy Wood and Wizzard's 1974 "Rock and Roll Winter" is on The Best of 1974-1976, while the mysterious Mrs. Jack Keating, of whom the world has heard nothing since, is on the 1958 LP Folk Songs of Ontario.

Hüsker Dü's "Ice Cold Ice" is from their last record, 1987's Warehouse; Bob Seger's "Vagrant Winter" is an early single he cut, desperately trying to sound like he wasn't from Detroit, in 1967 (not on CD); Cleveland's The Choir's "It's Cold Outside," from 1966, is on Teen Time; John Lewis' "December, Remember" is on his Evolution II, from 2001, one of this sad decade's finer records.

Elf Power's "Winter is Coming," from 2000, is the title track of that LP; Bert Jansch's "In The Bleak Midwinter" was a 1974 holiday single, unavailable on CD as of now. And "When the Springtime Comes Again" by The Carter Family, hoping for us all, can be found here.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all, as we desperately need one. Happy Hanukkah too. Kwanzaa, whatever else works.

So concludes our seasonals: in case you missed the rest, here are Spring, Summer and Fall.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Nailed To the North Pole, 1908-1909

Hubert Latham attempting to fly across the English Channel, July 1909 (he didn't make it; a while later he was killed by a buffalo).


Monet, Twilight, Venice.

Chris Chapman, Dill Pickles Rag.
Arthur Collins, Parson Jones' Three Reasons.
Edward Meeker, I'm a Yiddish Cowboy.
Maurice Ravel, Gaspard de la Nuit: Le Gibet.
Banda Municipal de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, Atalaya.
Unknown flute players and singers, Music for the Lela Celebration.

Our article is a necessity nothing else can take the place of. Go out in the street and look at the back of every skirt worn and then count and see if nine out of every ten doesn't need an invisible and secure fastener to close the skirt opening. Ask every woman you know and see if she won't agree with you that all her neighbors' skirts are not fastened neatly.

How easy to sell a fastener for the waist which eliminates gaping or opening when on, and wonder of wonders, THE WEARER CAN FASTEN THE BACK OF HER OWN WAIST!

Sell it also to the men: they know what a great need there is for the PLAKO waist fastener. Don't forget that PLAKO is an ideal trousers fastener. This is where the men are interested for their own clothes.

Take the PLAKO we are sending you under separate cover, show it to your friends, and get their opinion of it. You will find that you will have a number of orders to fill even before you have purchased your set of samples.

Send your order in quickly and hustle.

Letter by the NYC-based Clarke Sales Company, 14 October 1908, to Mr. James M. Joyce, of Lewiston, Maine. Clarke was one of the first companies to sell the zipper, in this case the PLAKO model.

Hine, 'Noon hour in an Indianapolis cotton mill,' August 1908

Charles L. Johnson's "Dill Pickles Rag" had a second life in country and bluegrass music, as it was later recorded by Dr. Humphrey Bates and His Possum Hunters and the Swift Jewel Cowboys, along with a heap of others.

This track, likely the first-ever recording of "Dill Pickles," features Chris Chapman on the glass xylophone, an instrument whose bright, clear tone seems designed to transcend the limits of acoustic recording. This is how many people first heard ragtime, back in the day: via xylophones, brass bands or banjos. The idea of "pure" ragtime being a pianist jauntily rolling out something like "The Entertainer" is a bit inaccurate.

Recorded on 15 July 1908 and released as Victor 5560; on Real Ragtime.

Out of the many singers who feverishly recorded during the wax cylinder era, Arthur Collins had emerged, by the end of the aughts, as something of a champion. The more desperate and vulgar white minstrels had begun to fade, while Collins matured into something you might as well call American pop singing.

Take Collins' version of Arthur Longbrake's "Parson Jones' Three Reasons": while Collins is still under the influence of black singers, he's not burlesquing them anymore, either. He's found his own style: his sense of humor is more sly, less blunt; he takes his time on the verses to let the jokes work, breaks the track down in the middle to play out a skit and builds it back again.

Released as Columbia 3208 (not sure--only found one reference); find in this archive.

Vacationers returning to NYC via Grand Central Station, 1908

Much like the African-American songwriters who wrote minstrel songs, Jewish songwriters contributed to their culture's mockery. Jews wrote bits like "Cohen Owes Me 97 Dollars" for Jews to perform on stage, usually a comedian wearing, as Jody Rosen put it: an "ubiquitous beard and enormous hook nose...oversized shoes, a tattered black overcoat, and a derby cap pulled tightly across his head so that his ears jutted out."

Even Irving Berlin (who Philip Roth, in Operation: Shylock, wrote had achieved the ultimate assimilation goal: turning the Nativity into a celebration of snow, and the Resurrection into a society parade) wrote his share of tenement ballads in his early years. A subconscious, subversive joke: the opening strains of the chorus of Berlin's "God Bless America" are directly lifted from the Jewish vaudeville gag song "Mose With His Nose Leads the Band."

As Rosen wrote, "I'm a Yiddish Cowboy" yanks together two typical scenarios of the period--a ghetto Jew out in the country making a fool of himself (see Roth's just-released Indignation), and the many perils of mixed marriages (think "Abie's Irish Rose"). Written by Al Piantadosi and Leslie Mohr, it's sung here by the dreadful Edward Meeker, who gurns and bleats into the recording horn, playing to the cheap seats. (Meeker was best known as the voice introducing hundreds of Edison records, including this one). You could claim the Billy Crystal movie City Slickers is a sequel to this song.

Recorded in New York in July 1908 and released as Edison Gold Moulded Record 9984; on Jewface.

"Mentally Retarded Children in [NYC] East Side Free School for Crippled Children," ca. 1908 (Shorpy).

Maurice Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, a three-movement piano composition inspired by the poems of Aloysius Bertrand, is a monster to perform: it is considered one of the more difficult piano pieces in the canon, and Ravel designed it to be so (he said he tried to make the final movement more complex than the already-dense Islamey).

Ravel loved what the poet Rilke called Things: treasured objects to obsess over. So Ravel, who collected wind-up toys, clocks, and tiny glass ornaments, placed at the heart of some of his works an "objet d'juste," what Deborah Mawer defined as "a musical object...a fixed, passive entity...an unchanging component of a larger motive or phrase."

In the second movement of Gaspard, "Le Gibet," such an object appears: a continually-repeated (235 times!) B-flat, meant to represent the church bells tolling in a village where a corpse is hanging from a gibbet. The endlessly intoned B-flat, an ancestor to works by everyone from Terry Riley to the Velvet Underground, has wearied some performers: the pianist Charles Rosen once compared it to Chinese water torture.

Composed in 1908 and premiered in Paris on 9 January 1909; performed here by David Korevaar, and the complete recording and score can be found at the Piano Society.

The Banda Municipal de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires was one of a host of popular tango orchestras playing in Argentina in the early years of the past century--their rivals included the Federal Police Band, the Pavilion of Roses Band and the Japanese Park Band. Tango, which originated in the slums of Buenos Aires, evolved into its modern form during this period, fueled by a colossal immigration wave hitting the city (Buenos Aires went from 210,000 residents in 1880 to 1.2 million by 1910). By then, Argentine tango orchestras had gone to Europe, creating fads and manias wherever they played.

Some thousand Argentine tango records and cylinders were released between 1903 and 1910--here is one, the Banda Municipal's "Atalaya," which smokes. On the import-only Buenos Aires 1908-1909.

Lela musicians, Cameroon

"Music for the Lela Celebration" was recorded by a German archivist in Bali, a town in northwest Cameroon, in 1908. This is holy music, performed by members of Bali's royal family on lela flutes. Lela festivals began ca. the 18th Century as an annual "new year's" festival for tribesman in the grasslands of what would become northern Cameroon. After Cameroon fell under German (and later British/French) colonial control, lela became something like a festival of arms or a "showcase" for natives; it is now a fairly secularized celebration of unity for the independent Cameroon.

The record itself is haunting, beautiful: a moment snared outside of time. On 100 Years.


"STARS AND STRIPES NAILED TO THE NORTH POLE," cable by Adm. Robert Peary, 9 September 1909.

Polk Miller and His Old South Quartette, Watermelon Party.
Polk Miller and His Old South Quartette, Jerusalem Mournin'.
The Old South Quartette, Oysters and Wine at 2 A.M.
Carroll Clark and Vess Ossman, De Little Old Log Cabin in De Lane.
Arnold Schoenberg, 5 Pieces for Orchestra: Premonitions.
Anton Webern, 6 Pieces for Orchestra: Funeral March.
Vess Ossman, Maple Leaf Rag.
United States Marine Band, Maple Leaf Rag.
Scott Joplin, Solace (A Mexican Serenade).

I begin my flight, steady and sure, towards the Coast of England. I have no apprehensions, no sensations, pas du tout...The moment is supreme, yet I surprise myself by feeling no exultation. Below me is the sea, the surface disturbed by the wind, which is now freshening. The motion of the waves beneath me is not pleasant.

I am amazed. There is nothing to be seen, neither the torpedo-destroyer, nor France, nor England. I am alone, I can see nothing at all--rien du tout! For 10 minutes I am lost. It is a strange position to be alone, unguided, without compass, in the air over the middle of the Channel. I touch nothing. My hands and feet rest lightly on the levers. I let the aeroplane take its own course. I care not whither it goes. For 10 minutes I continue, neither rising nor falling, nor turning. And then, 20 minutes after I have left the French coast, I see the green cliffs of Dover...

Avoiding the red buildings on my right, I attempt a landing; but the wind catches me and whirls me round two or three times. At once I stop my motor, and instantly the machine falls straight upon the land from a height of 20 metres. Soldiers in khaki run up, and a policeman. Two of my compatriots are on the spot. They kiss my cheeks.

Louis Blériot, "An Account of the First Cross-Channel Flight," Daily Mail, 26 July 1909.

The Courtin Family, London, 1909.

Polk Miller and His Old South Quartette was the finest American vocal group to record in the first two decades of the past century. To indulge in further hyperbole, their seven records, cut in 1909, are the great suspension bridge, the link between antebellum music and the many variants of 20th Century American popular song. You can hear in these records a universe waiting to be born: Captain Beefheart, Uncle Dave Macon, Fats Waller, the Mills Brothers, Harmonica Frank Floyd, the Coasters, the "5" Royales, the Unholy Modal Rounders.

Miller was born in Virginia in 1844. His father owned a plantation in Prince Edward County, as well as over 200 slaves, with whom Miller spent his childhood. Miller joined the Confederate Army, surrendered with Lee at Appomattox, and, after the war, became a druggist (mainly dog medicines) in Richmond. Around the time he turned 50, Miller gave up his job to become a musician, and toured as a performer of "plantation melodies," recounting stories and songs from slaves he had known as a child. He didn't wear blackface, but for his audience, he was the most authentic "plantation" singer of them all. General Fitzhugh Lee, the legendary Confederate calvary leader, said of Miller: "When I hear him and don't see him, I cannot be persuaded that he is not a genuine negro talking."

Polk Miller and his translator

Indeed, I wouldn't tell anybody that I even 'knowed how' to play the banjo, because it was looked upon as a 'nigger insterment,' and beneath the notice of the 'cultivated.' For years I longed for the time when it would 'come in fashion' and I could play on my favorite musical instrument without disgracing myself in the eyes of my city friends.

Polk Miller.

Around 1900, Miller added to his act a black vocal quartet that he had recruited from a tobacco factory in Richmond. This was the first integrated professional musical group in U.S. history, and they performed everywhere from Madison Square Garden (Mark Twain introduced him) to Confederate soldier reunions to African-American churches, until Miller died in 1913. Miller wrote of his difficulties in touring with his quartet, of having to hire police protection against hooligans and receiving letters from Northern cities asking Miller to come up without "his negroes".

Why did a slaveowner's son, someone who had fought for the Confederacy, decide late in life to dedicate himself to black music, to reincarnate slave quarters culture in his own person, to risk his neck touring with black men? You could argue that by recreating the music of his plantation childhood, Miller was indulging in the same sort of "Lost Cause" nostalgia that the entire South was steeped in by 1900. And creating cartoon images of "happy darkies" working on a plantation served as a corrective, for the Southern ruling elite, to the new generation of free black Southerners, many of whom couldn't wait to go North.

But there's more than bigotry and delusion behind these records--the joy, the hard respect, the seriousness that Miller brought to his task suggests a reverence for the culture, suggests that Miller had spent his days at his desk with the songs dancing in his head, until at last something broke in him and he went out to call the songs into being.

"Watermelon Party," which is one of the loopiest, loosest records ever cut (Twain called it a "musical earthquake"), was originally released as Edison Amberol 392. The song's composer likely was the bass singer of the quartet, James Stamper, though Edison, in its promotional material, claimed the song had no author: "like Topsy, it 'just grew'". (Cue Ishmael Reed.) "Jerusalem Mournin'" finds Miller calling out his lines like a trumpeter, answered by his quartet like a gathering army (Edison 10334).

After Miller died, various incarnations of Original Quartette kept on, playing around New York for decades. And then, as though they suddenly realized they had unfinished business, they went into a studio in Long Island City in the autumn of 1928 and remade some of the old Miller records. "Oysters and Wine at 2 AM," a remake of Miller's "The Laughing Song," is the masterpiece of that session, released in 1928 as Broadway 5031.

Miller has had a few modern advocates. One is the writer/historian Doug Seroff (father of Tofu Hut proprietor John), whose 1988 article in 78 Quarterly introduced Miller to a new generation. Another is Ken Flaherty Jr., who collected, compiled and restored the Miller/Quartet recordings and released them, first as a privately-pressed CD, and now as an issue by Tompkins Square Records. $15 for 14 fantastic sides--it's not a bad trade. Some Miller tracks are also found here.

Wolf Robe, chief of the Southern Cheyenne, 1909

"De Little Old Log Cabin in De Lane" was an early country music standard, one every hillbilly singer in the '20s and '30s took a crack at. It encapsulated what would be one of the genre's major themes: sentimental reverence for a dear, departed country home, often sung by someone lost in the modern world.

Composed around 1871 by Will S. Hayes, a Civil War-era songwriter (he played both sides of the fence, writing pro-Union and anti-Union songs), "Log Cabin" had a resurgence in popularity when the minstrel Len Spencer recorded it for Victor in 1902.

This version, however, is by one of the more enigmatic figures of early recorded popular music: the African-American singer Carroll Clark, who many listeners never knew was black.

Clarence Carroll Clark, born in Indiana in 1885, trained as a baritone singer and made his debut at the Philadelphia Academy of Music in October 1908. Soon after his concert, Columbia Phonograph contacted him. As Tim Brooks writes, "Why Columbia wanted a young black artist to sing standard southern selections for them is uncertain, when they had numerous white vocalists on call," and speculates that Columbia may simply have liked his clear, well-projected voice and his ability to do convincing dialects.

Columbia never identified Clark as black in their promotional materials, however, nor did they distribute any photographs of him. It's unclear why. As Brooks writes, it's not that Columbia had an animus against black artists--they were the label of Bert Williams, after all. One guess is that the label believed the primary audience for the sentimental "plantation song" record was older, conservative whites, who Columbia feared wouldn't buy a record by a black man.

Clark grew frustrated that Columbia wanted nothing but weepy old plantation hymns, especially as he had had scant luck attracting notice for his classical singing. At last in the early '20s, he broke out--recording for the first black-owned label, Black Swan, and cutting a number of spirituals. And then, around 1929, he vanished. Some writers have guessed he had a twilight career of singing in restaurants and church halls, others believe he may have died in the early '30s. No one knows what became of him.

It's tempting to call Clark's version of "Little Ole Log Cabin in De Lane," which he cut in 1909, an early example of country music, but something is off--Clarke's sonorous baritone is better suited for the concert hall, while the ever-present Vess Ossman, on banjo, is more restrained than the pickers of the next generation. So call it an elegant blueprint.

Recorded ca. May 1909 and released in July as Columbia 696 (c/w Harlan and Stanley's version of "Dixie"); it would be Clark's biggest-selling record.

Kirchner, Marcella.

Many years ago I took a classical music appreciation class, which was audited by a number of wonderful elderly ladies from Boston. They attended concerts weekly, and each had her own vibrant tastes and prejudices (one truly hated Wagner, if I recall). I soon got the sense they knew far more than the instructor did, but kept quiet out of courtesy. For the Second Viennese School, however, there was utter, communal resistance. The first time the instructor uttered the word "Schoenberg," one of the dowagers, a fearsome woman who looked as though she was descended from the Borgias, icily stared and said, none too quietly, "PAH."

The music of Arnold Schoenberg, and his disciples and apostles, remains a source of trouble--where Cubist paintings and Ulysses have long lost their power to disturb or shock, atonal music continues to set listeners on edge. Some believe Schoenberg & Co.'s works essentially ruined classical music, leaving in their wake a school of theoreticians and cranks who produced music utterly inaccessible to casual listeners; others find them prophets whose messages have only begun to resonate a century later.

Braque, Chateau de la Roche-Guyon.

Schoenberg was born in Vienna in 1874, grew up immersed in music (his mother had come from a family of cantorial singers) and by the turn of the century was a leading young composer and a charismatic, at times unbearable presence in Vienna coffeehouses and concert halls. The two German-Austrian heavyweights of the time--Mahler and Strauss--found Schoenberg fascinating, repellent (Mahler once called Schoenberg "a conceited puppy") and a possible sign of their obsolescence.

Schoenberg's early compositions, while far from traditional, were recognizably in the German-Austrian tradition. Then, in 1907 and 1908, as his personal life foundered, his work mutated, veering towards atonality. Schoenberg's wife Mathilde deserted him for a time to have a rather public affair with a suicidal Expressionist painter. Schoenberg thought of killing himself, but instead churned into a creative ferment, as though his miseries served as kindling. In 1908 he wrote a string quartet whose last two movements are marked with dissonance and broken chords, and in the following year, he wrote his early atonal masterpieces: the Three Pieces for Piano, the Five Pieces for Orchestra and Erwartung.

Here is the first of the orchestral pieces, "Premonitions," a disparate collection of orchestral colors and dreamsounds (Alex Ross: "two note patterns dripping like blood on marble, a spitting, snarling quintet of flutter-tongued trombones and tuba"). It is music as inchoate sensation, seemingly lacking any touchstones, but it is designed as intricately as a watch--the cellos in the first three bars state the main theme, which spikes up again and again throughout the piece, all while bassoons and trombones play a continual droning chord.

Schiele, Gerti Schiele.

In 1904, Schoenberg placed a classified ad in a Vienna newspaper, in which he sought pupils for composition lessons. Two of the respondents were Alban Berg and Anton Webern. (This would be as if D.W. Griffith had taken out an ad for film direction lessons in Variety, and John Ford and Howard Hawks had responded.)

Webern was the austere, wintry miniaturist of the trio. While his early compositions were marked by grand Romantic gestures and elaborate orchestration, as he matured under Schoenberg's guidance, he pared his works to essentials--he rubbed them down until they held mere scraps and scrapes of sound, with movements sometimes lasting less then a minute, consisting of only a few dozen notes.

The Six Pieces for Orchestra, op. 6, written in the summer of 1909, is blighted by Webern's mourning for his mother, who had died three years earlier. The fourth piece represents a funeral procession: as though viewed at first from afar, a thin line of mourners and brass band members wend through a town's streets. They come nearer and, in waves, the mourners set about wailing and moaning--the horns blare, the winds shriek, the drums and percussion detonate in a horrific maelstrom of sound. Then, silence--death, in its asperity, sweeps them all off the board.

The Six Pieces did not premiere until 31 March 1913, in a performance that ended in a near-riot. Performed by James Levine and the Berlin Philharmonic (as is the Schoenberg); on this essential recording.

Scott Joplin started the decade in Sedalia and ended it in New York, where his ambitions had been restored. He had endured a few desperate years--his wife had died, he had parted from his longtime publisher John Stark--and his work had suffered. Now he was writing an opera and supporting himself by composing a series of new rags.

Joplin's greatest hit, "Maple Leaf Rag," remained popular a decade after its composition (included here are two fine late-aughts versions: Vess Ossman's 1907 take, which is one of Ossman's best performances--it's proto-rockabilly at times--and the United States Marine Band's 1909 disc). Joplin, however, was writing more subtle and complex works. "Wall Street Rag" attempts a musical narrative, "Stoptime Rag," as its name suggests, is built around stop-time passages, while "Solace (a Mexican Serenade)," one of Joplin's most beautiful pieces, opens with a habanera bass figure.

Ossman's "Maple Leaf Rag," recorded ca. March 1907 and credited to "Vess L. Ossman's Banjo Orchestra," was released as Columbia 228 (here); the United States Marine Band's version, recorded on 18 February 1909 in Washington DC, was released as Victor 16792 (here). "Solace" is performed here by Roy Eaton; on the out-of-print Joplin Rags.

16th St., Denver, ca. 1909

Sources: Jody Rosen, liner notes to Jewface; Bryan Simms, The Atonal Music of Arnold Schoenberg; Deborah Mawer, The Cambridge Companion to Ravel; David Burnett James, Ravel; Tim Gracyk, Recording Industry Pioneers; Tim Brooks, Lost Sounds.

Next: Winter songs.