Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Bard: When That I Was & A Little Tiny Boy

Elvis Costello/John Harle: When That I was & A Tiny Little Boy
[purchase (full album on vinyl?)]

Elvis Costello has on more than one occasion worked Shakespeare into his music, in fact, he did a whole album in 1993, named the Juliet Letters, whose concept revolved around sending letters to Juliet (of R& J fame) to the sounds of the Brodsky Quartet.

So it was not much of a surprise to anyone when in 1997 he was featured in John Harles album Terror and Magnificence where Shakespeare is set to John Harles saxophone.

A particular highlight for me When That I Was & A Little Tiny Boy, sung by Costello, is a song taken from Twelfth Night in which the character Feste, the fool of the household of Countess Olivia, reflects on the events that had transpired throughout the play. In this retrospective Feste demostrates the ability to correct foolish acts and times ability to temper things.

While detractors of Costello don’t bother with his solo output, I think he did an incredilble job with both the Juliet Letters, as well as, in Terror and Magnificence.

Perhaps it’s because of the amount of Shapespeare being crammed down my throat for three summers selling tickets to the theatre or maybe it’s because I enjoy musicians being self-indulgent or just maybe it’s because Costello’s delievery is so great but I enjoy the hearing Costello literally play the fool and make me sing lyrics from the Twelfth Night on my way to In-N-Out.

Guest post by Edgar

The Bard: Ophelia


Natalie Merchant: Ophelia

Struggling to avoid the all too tempting lure of Romeo, and mindful also of a paucity of appropriate references to Bottom or Puck, I had to cast my mind back to GCSE English literature and school plays for inspiration. Given I only ever played the likes of Friar Francis and Falstaff, I was unlikely to ever find much joy there. But fate threw me a googly, as I watched the remake of The Picture of Dorian Gray, with his first “victim”, Sibyl Vane, the actress, playing Ophelia at Drury Lane. Of course, I thought, immediately making this a simple toss-up between the unbridled joy of Levon Helm leading the Band through their Ophelia at The Last Waltz or this. Somehow this felt more apposite, with, if no direct and overt mention of Shakespeare as source, received wisdom seeming to be that this song is using Ophelia as a metaphor for the fate and circumstance of womankind? Pretentious? I’ll come to that……

I guess I was an early acolyte of 10,000 Maniacs, their heyday coinciding with the end of a self-imposed immersion I had undertaken in nothing but traditional folk for a number of years. Their version of “Just as the Tide was a Flowing” burst through my prejudices, reawakening me to a brighter and broader palette of musics. I was lucky enough to catch them live on a subsequent tour of the UK, totally in awe of the extraordinary and unusual stylizations of Ms Merchant, coming on like a librarian on heat, full of passive-aggressive intellectual bombast. With the final encore being her solo piano emotional overload of “Verdi Cries”, I knew that something special had this way come. Ultimately her musical needs strayed beyond the conventions of US college rock, necessitating a solo career, and her subject matter exploded through unlikely scenarios and scapes, becoming ever more bleak and desolate.  Pretentiousness, as alluded to above, was seldom more than a foot fall away, but somehow, just somehow, at least for me, she managed to step just shy of it.

If only she could pronounce her “R”s, or is that part of the appeal?

Guest post by Retropath2

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Bard : Under The Greenwood Tree


In the Spring of 1967 Sir Laurence Olivier met with Donovan who was then at the height of his sunshine superman stardom. Olivier asked Donovan to compose melodies for his modern production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It". In his autobiography Donovan writes that he was delighted to transform these songs:
I gave "Greenwood Tree" a light, rocking  musical form and kept the sonnet in the troubadour style.

 The lyrics are all Shakespeare's but they reflect Donovan's interest in nature.

Under the greenwood tree
Who loves to lie with me
And tune his merry note....

Ever the mischief maker, Donovan couldn't pass up a little joke at the end. In the recording that appeared on A Gift From a Flower to a Garden (best known for the hit "Wear Your Love Like Heaven"),  Donovan sings:

Do the Willie the Shake
Do the Willie the Shake
Do the Willie the Shake

The Bard: Summer, Summer

Two Gentlemen of Verona: Summer Summer

I am not a musical theater lover, but in my family, I am outnumbered 3-1. Both of my children have musical talent, and performed in musicals in high school. My son’s Luther Billis in South Pacific was hysterical, and my daughter’s Babe Williams in The Pajama Game, was awesome (although I have a soft spot for her Harry the Horse from Guys and Dolls). In addition, my wife has a beautiful voice, and sang on stage when she was in high school.

I have no such talent, but many of my friends at Clarkstown North were involved in our theater program, so I was convinced to join the stage crew. Remarkably, I have even less talent at building sets than I do at singing, but I found a role. My school was old, and did not have a modern “back stage” with counterweights to allow for easy raising and lowering of backdrops. I’m a big guy, so my job was to raise and lower the backdrops. I was also good at carrying things, bracing things, getting pizza and driving people home in my parents’ huge Pontiac Catalina. For this dedicated service to the theater, I got to be part of the production, and, notably, attend the cast parties where we black clad crew members would mostly sit together and complain about the actors.

One of the most fun shows that we did was Two Gentlemen of Verona, a rock musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy. Not only was it different from most of the other shows I was involved in—the music did kind of rock—but it was a pretty risqué show. Note the album cover in the video above. Naked breasts!! And they let us do this show in a high school. I specifically remember that there was one scene with simulated intercourse (which is not what we called it back then). As a parent whose kids did theater, I can pretty much guarantee that stuff wouldn’t fly today.

For a regular high school in suburban New York, I remember that the production was quite good—in fact, a few of the cast members went on to professional careers in show business (and a bunch became lawyers, too). Demonstrating my keen talents as a stage crew member, I got to lower an actor from the sky, a feat that I actually performed again the following year, when we put on Once Upon a Mattress. Which is another thing that I suspect would not happen today, due to insurance issues.

A few years ago, if I decided to write about this production, the odds of any of my fellow crew members, or any of the cast members, reading it would have been small. But now, because of Facebook, I have reconnected with a bunch of them over the last few years. So, I will post the link on my page, and maybe it will spark some nostalgia in others.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Bard: Stuck Inside of Mobile


Having moved to a bi-weekly theme format, this means we have the extended time-frame to post more than once during the window.
In the world of popular music, I suspect that for most of us, “the bard” equates to Bob Dylan;  in fact, a number of Dylan’s works include  Shakespearean references – some more direct than others. The Shakespeare reference in “Stuck Inside of Mobile …” is a straightforward in-your-face naming of the Bard:

Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells
Speaking to some French girl
Who says she knows me well
So … tell me … “Shakespeare’s in the alley, with his pointed shoes and bells”… Picture this scene with me for a minute. An alley in 1600 or so. London? Pointed shoes and bells. So far, so good: I can see the scene. Probably kind of muddy. Uneven cobblestones most likely. A French girl? Possibly. Knows me well? Mmmm. Poetic license, I guess. Maybe had to have been there to know the rest of the story. But there’s so much more to the lyrics: this is just the part that has the direct reference to “the Bard”. How about “.. built a fire on Main Street and shot it full of holes”?
I got my prompt for selecting this song from a site that has many, many more Dylan/Shakespeare links that could be worth your time to explore if you are interested in the theme.
The musician performing the above-linked version – Owen Scott III – confesses that he wishes he had had more time to perfect his recording: it is yet another Soundcloud free download:  and a very decent rendition at that. In places his vocals ring like Johnny Cash – in others, more like John Prine, and hey: he’s generously giving it away. The ‘net says he is “psychologist by day, novelist and electric guitar playerby night.” From Baton Rouge.
Dylan’s Stuck Inside of Mobile appeared first on Blonde on Blonde – 1966 – and on some others after that (Greatest Hits …) Another of my favorite bands – the Dead – performed the song periodically in the 80s and 90s and there is a free live version of that here