Music postsMonday November 11, 2013
Happy Armistice Day, When the Songs That We Sing Will Be Sad
Our holidays morph, don't they? FOX-News is right about that but it's not a war and it's not specific to Christmas. It's just change, which FOX-News, absolutists all, can't comprehend. Washington's Birthday becomes Presidents Day (here's to Warren Harding! Herbert Hoover! George W. Bush!), while today, the day Word War I ended, Armistice Day, becomes, in the states anyway, Veterans Day. It's not much of a holiday in that most of us still go to work. If it were a true holiday, if it made sense as a holiday, then veterans would get it off. Why not? Why should I get a holiday for their service? And why shouldn't they for theirs?
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Nov. 11 became a legal holiday, Armistice Day, in 1938, three years before Paul Simon was born, and in 1954, when Simon was 13, it became Veterans Day, a day to honor the veterans of all of our many wars. So Simon certainly remembers when it was Armistice Day. That phrase may even be tinged with nostalgia for him. It may be why he wrote the song “Armistice Day” in 1968:
On Armistice Day
The Philharmonic will play
But the songs that we sing
Will be sad
There's also these words that never go out of style:
Oh, I’m weary from waiting
In Washington, D.C.
I’m coming to see my congressman
But he’s avoiding me
Weary from waiting down in Washington, D.C.
Anyway, here's to the war to end all wars.
Happy Birthday, John Lennon
John Lennon would've turned 73 earlier this week. I thought of that sad fact while reading a great piece by the New Yorker's John Seabrook on the latest hitmaker in what's left of our hit parade: Lukasz Gottwald, aka Dr. Luke, who, with Max Martin, a Swede, has written top-10 hits for, among others, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Kesha. The money graph:
In writing lyrics, McKee [one of Gottwald's protegees] adheres to the Swedish school of pop songwriting championed by Max Martin. Words are chiefly there to serve the melody. “It's very mathematical,” McKee explained. “A line has to have a certain number of syllables, and the next line has to be its mirror image.” I asked for an example, and she sang, “California girls, we're unforgettable, Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top,” then said, “If you add one syllable, or take it away, it's a completely different melody to Max. I can write something I think is so clever, but if it doesn't hit the ear right then Max doesn't like it.” Don't these strictures make the songs formulaic? McKee doesn't think so. “People like hearing songs that sound like something they've heard before, that's reminiscent of their childhood ... people still just want to hear about love and partying.”
The talent in the room: Britney, Katy, Kesha, Miley
Empty Chairs at Empty Tables
Last “Les Miserables” post of the day.
I first saw the cinematic “Les Miserables” before I was familiar with the music, and the music I became familiar with after seeing the movie was the original Broadway cast album, which has great singing performances from, among others, Robert Billig and Michael Maguire.
The movie has great performances, too, but the voices don't soar quite so much. Director Tom Hooper went for verisimilitude. He had his performers singing live, rather than to a studio-recorded playback. I still like that choice, that chance. This is what I wrote last December:
There’s power in these songs, and from these actors, that you don’t normally get from lip-synching to playback. You definitely feel it in Hathaway’s signature song. You feel it in Hugh Jackman’s early numbers, too, with his red eyes burning into you (“What Have I Done?), and in Redmayne’s great song of survivor’s guilt, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” which is my second-favorite number in the movie.
This week I saw the movie again on HBO, and the standout this time was Eddie Redmayne as Marius. Particularly “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”:
Apparently “Les Miserables,” as a musical, began as a concept album in the 1970s, then became a French musical in 1980 that closed after three months. It was revived in its English-language form in London in 1985, where it became a hit, and then on Broadway in 1987.
So it was written long before the AIDS crisis. Even so, I can't hear this song without thinking of AIDS and the havoc it wreaked:
Oh my friends, my friends, forgive me
That I live and you are gone
There's a grief that can't be spoken
There's a pain goes on and on
Watching this video several times today, I also thought of the Onion Cellar from Gunter Grass' “The Tin Drum”: that place where stoic people go to cut open onions and cry and feel. That's movies, too. The better ones?
After the Revolution: An Interview with Michael Maguire, the original Enjolras in 'Les Miserables'
It's less a lazy Sunday than a Les Miz Sunday.
To go along with my sister's chance encounter with Hugh Jackman at the Toronto airport, here is part of my Q&A with Michael Maguire, who played the original Enjolras on Broadway, and is now a family law attorney in Beverly Hills:
Q: You won a Tony for playing Enjolras in the original Broadway production of Les Miserables. You perform with symphonies all over the country. So I have to ask: Why law?
A: I wanted to go to law school for years. I just wanted the intellectual challenge. I mean, I do recognize that I have a physical gift. It’s almost like being a fast runner or something. I have a talent that I needed and still need to share.
But while I was singing with symphonies, I was also buying and restoring old houses in Hancock Park in Los Angeles. I love historic restoration. I made good money doing that. But the market started looking soft to me in 2005 and I thought, “If I’m ever going to go to law school I should do it right now before I’m just too old and lazy to do it.”
Q: And why family law?
A: I had a nasty divorce. During the course of that divorce, I started recognizing that my attorneys were billing me a tremendous amount of money for basically regurgitating what I told them. Or they were checking boxes that I could have checked. And they didn’t understand numbers like I did because I’d been a broker on Wall Street prior to going into the theater. I just had a mission in my life, and it continues to this day, to try to keep other people from going through that. ...
Q: Does it ever get in the way of your family law practice—the fact that you played Enjolras?
A: I don’t tell anybody about it.
Q: Right, but …
A: So if somebody knows, it may, and only for a minute, get in the way. Actually, if anything, it gets in the way of the opposing counsel. Because they think, “Oh, this guy’s just a singer.”
Q: So they’ll underestimate you.
A: They underestimate me big time. And that’s their big mistake.
Maguire dominated the “Les Mis” cover of Newsweek magazine in 1987. In a bit of coincidence, that cover was designed by Patricia.
Maguire's voice still gives me chills, by the way, particularly the way he sings the following:
With all the anger in the land
How long before the Judgement Day?
Before we cut the fat ones down to size
Before the barricades arise?
It's my favorite part of the musical, give or take an “oo and ah.” Or an empty table or empty chair.
You can hear the person sing here. He shows up at 1:54:
Song of the Day
-- David Bowie, “Young Americans,” 1975
See also: “American Car,” “American Idiot,” “American Tune,” “American without Tears.”