Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Forgiving Capitol Offenses

Some time ago, I issued a request to iTunes to do more with visuals in their program. I reflected that where much has been gained, for many (though not all), in having immediate electronic access to music, something has also been lost, since the CD era, in the way of album art. I opined that iTunes had the technology to return us to the days when pouring over album covers was as vital to the experience of listening to music as pricking the lint off the needle before laying it on the turntable.

My call has since been answered (lint-free!), as you can not only retrieve album art from music you have already purchased (from a button in “Advance” preferences), but can also – as I specifically advised at that time – click the thumbnail on the bottom left of the screen so that the album cover takes up another window in your monitor.

You’re welcome. (Yeah, as if I had anything to do with it.)

But I had also mentioned in that post how Beatles music had yet to be released online, what with Capitol records, the purveyor of Beatles music from 1964 to 1968, milking its devoted fan base of every possible dollar through every conceivable reissue of Beatles music (cf., One); and the remaining Beatles being as parsimonious with electronic editions of their music as they are profligate with lawsuits to “protect their brand."

Well, I can’t speak for Paul and Ringo, but Capitol has gone and done it again, this time with a reissue of the Beatles albums issued on Capitol records in the States – that is, *as they were issued in the States. As any hardcore Beatles fan will tell you, up until Revolver, released in 1966, the Beatles albums issued in America – the long plays, or LPs – differed in content from the extended plays, the EPs, issued in Britain. Naively, I used to think it had something to with “album technology” (or something like that) in each country. But no, the system American record companies used to tally up music royalties differed fundamentally from the system that English record companies used. It’s the economy, stupid. Hence different releases (and more specifically, shorter American LPs than British EPs).

Hardcore Beatles fans will also tell you that that’s how the most prized item of Beatles paraphernalia – the “butcher cover,” as it’s known – came about. That is, by 1966, the Beatles had already issued a store of songs on EPs in the U.K. that hadn’t been issued in the U.S. To (er) capitalize on this trove, Capitol released all of those songs on one album, Yesterday and Today, and the Beatles, gruesome wits, shot the album cover sitting in butcher coats stained with blood and laden with dismembered baby dolls and other gross offal -- a statement on how their own music was being pieced apart and reconstituted (check out the menace on George's face!).

As this album appeared not long after the flap over “we’re bigger than Jesus,” Capitol records, upon receiving droves of complaints from offended parents, reissued the album under another (sublimely benign) album cover. So few “butcher covers” went into circulation that it remains the Holy Grail among Beatles collectors.

I wish I could slam Capitol over their latest release, but I can’t. You see, American fans such as myself discovered and experienced the Beatles in the Capitol format. But when Beatles albums were initially remastered and issued digitally on CD, they were reissued according to the British EP releases on Parlophone. After all, CDs could contain that much information (not that albums couldn’t do so all along . . .).

But how could I ever listen to Rubber Soul without “I’ve Just Seen a Face” launching the album, that brisk and thrombing acoustic guitar leading into Paul’s plucky faux-country voice? The U.K. Rubber Soul begins with “Drive My Car.” Catchy. Still a crowd-pleaser (Paul played it at the Super Bowl). But that song –- a single (a corporate choice) -- doesn’t compare to the innovative, post-Dylan-goes-electric intro of “I’ve Just Seen a Face” (which appeared deep into the Help! album in the U.K.). It’s been years since I cued up one of my old scratchy Beatles albums, and I’ve tried to grow accustomed to the Parlophone versions – the British version of Help!, for example (with “I’ve Just Seen a Face”), is my favorite among those editions; and I’ve used the playlist function on iTunes (having ripped those CDs) to rearrange songs in the order I know them.

(Sidebar: There was much talk that the iPod and its technology -- the shuffle feature -- destroyed the album as a genre, because albums were no longer allowed to tell a story, from one choice beginning to an equally deliberate end. I harumphed at that critique, as I organized my iPod according to album, and didn’t turn on the shuffle. Fret not, rock snobs: your Led Zep II can remain intact.)

But rediscovering all the Beatles songs (not every song was issued on Parlophone either), and in the order in which I first heard them, has been a delirious diversion bordering on the sublime.

This is especially the case for the very first albums issued, or those collected in “The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1.” Of these, “The Second Album” stands out for one rip-roaring rock performance after another. Meet the Beatles, the one with that iconic image of the Beatles’ faces in half shadow, contains those songs that had been written and produced under the watchful ear of producer George Martin (late of the Goon Show and BBC Classical records: the perfect blend of experience for his witty and musically curious protégés). These are the sunny pop tunes we all know: “I Want to Hold Your Hand”; “I Saw Her Standing There”; “All My Loving.”

For The Beatles' Second Album, Capitol reached into that repertoire of songs – largely covers – the Beatles had played for years in the Cavern Club in Liverpool, and mastered during their punishing shift on the Reeperbahn (which is to say, playing squalid strip clubs) in Hamburg, Germany. On Meet the Beatles, the band sounds eager. On The Second Album, the Beatles sound hungry. (And when do we ever hear appetite in a sophomore release these days? If a band has made it that far, they're taxing our patience with ho-hum laments on the price of fame.) Choice cuts: George's punchy rendition of "Roll Over Beethoven" (the first track, a dynamite intro); John's throaty growl in "Money" ("that's. . . what I want!"); and Paul's tenor holler in "Long Tall Sally" (sorry, Ringo fans, no token track here); each tune firmly driven by John's pulsing rhythm guitar (fret work for which he received little credit).

Capitol also upped the ante by packaging the set so that each CD comes in its own mini-album cover, wholly duplicated from the original -- from the dingy earthtones, to the punchy 60s graphics, to the hilarious cover copy itself: "Electrifying big-beat performances!" "Never before has show business seen and heard anything like them!" Show business! What a hoot. Capitol’s efforts to reproduce the album experience, even on a mini/digital scale, detracts from the cynicism of its entire reissue enterprise.

So to those of you reticent to shell out yet again for yet another Beatles disc (each volume runs around US$60), I say: you’re excused. Shell away. And to iTunes I say again: are you listening?

Can you spell D-V-D?

I understand that Akeelah and the Bee has come out on DVD down there (in the 48 contiguous). For those of you who might watch it, check out my very first post on the blog, a review that also took on Starbucks' promotion of the film.

Monday, October 09, 2006

I am the Christian Right's Worst Nightmare

I am going to use The Colbert Report to teach the English Reformation.

Coz it's all about The Word.

Any questions?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yes, you read that right. Today is Thanksgiving in Canada (the True North, Strong and Free).

In an odd way I feel as though I've come full circle, in that it was the third Thursday of November last year when I received the dossier request from Queen's. I was in the full heat of cooking -- I usually roast farm-raised game hens, instead of turkey; it's much easier, you can do more with them, and everyone gets to carve their own bird -- when, on a fluke, I checked my e-mail. When I saw "dossier request" on the subject line, I thought, "Whuh? What school would order a dossier on Thanksgiving?! Is this a test?" And panicked: "How am I ever going to reply punctually, what with birds in the oven, guests downstairs, and my hands pasted with giblets?" Then ohhhhh, it's that Canadian university I fancied. Silly Canadians, they celebrate Thanksgiving in October.

Little did I know that I'd be here contemplating how we should celebrate it today (coz -- not to sound like Oprah, but -- you can never have too many opportunities to be thankful).

I played the mock-ugly American in my classes all last week, needling my students about "Thanksgiving on a Monday" (!?) and how it can possibly be Thanksgiving if there's no football game to watch. Of course, I've also been probing them about how Thanksgiving here differs from ours in the States. Interestingly, there's no arch-narrative everybody recites on cue. My U.S. readers likely remember many elementary school days devoted to the "story of the Pilgrims," how they "escaped religious persecution" for "freedom in the New World," and, btw, didn't have the slightest idea how to make popcorn. That narrative has changed in recent years, as awareness and appreciation of the Native American populations has gathered more space in standard-issue textbooks (though I imagine that most first graders are still making pilgrim hats and Indian feather head-dresses . . .).

Three themes have emerged in my quasi-research on Canadian Thanksgiving: 1. "Turkey." 2. "We have a different harvest season." and 3., most interestingly, an account that, prompted by my inquiries, one of my seminar students sent me -- we call her "Itchy," she watches the clock for me so I don't go over time -- about the occasion for the first Canadian Thanksgiving (this from one "Steve Holland"):

The first Thanksgiving was observed around 1578. Martin Frobisher, an English navigator who was searching for the Spice Islands, landed on Baffin Island. He established a settlement and held the first ceremony of thanksgiving in what is now Newfoundland. The celebration was to give thanks for surviving the long sea journey. As other settlers arrived, they continued these thanksgiving celebrations.

Note, of course, that the 1578 date puts the first Canadian Thanksgiving some 43 years before the first "American" one in 1621. And it's nice to know that English navigators were as lame with a map as the Portuguese ones were (i.e., where Cristobal Colon thought he found India on Hispaniola, Frobisher was looking for the Spice Islands in Newfoundland). I was excited to see Frobisher featured here -- he's on my syllabus later in the year, when we'll be reading reports of and from the "New World." But what strikes me most here is how the "thanks" being offered relates to the voyagers' hardiness in having survived the rough elements, their physical resilience and ability to endure. I might be informed otherwise (Q-link?), but the emphasis on fortitude strikes me as characteristically Canadian (versus the "holier than thou" chronicle with which we're indoctrinated in the U.S.).

Well, anyone who's read my blog recently knows that we found it tough to settle here ourselves, even if careless drywallers and lackadaisacal moving companies made up the rough elements we had to endure. We are grateful to be here, however, and are especially thankful for both old and new friends. Have a happy one, wherever you reside.

P.S. I'll be grilling some organic turkey legs -- the big Henry VIII ones -- with glazed parsnips, p & c, my own stuffing recipe, and mashed sweet potato with rosemary. . . and punkin pie! Can never have too many opportunities to eat punkin pie! (Now that sounds like Oprah. . .)

Have a great day.

Friday, October 06, 2006

2 Moons, 2 Great Lakes, Whatta Looney Year

The Harvest Moon rose tonight. Sorry, I should've told you all beforehand, so you wouldn't miss it. The Harvest Moon is bright, orange, and ginormous when it first emerges at the horizon. (It's my belief that that's what Linus has seen and has been waiting for in the Pumpkin Patch.) While we can attribute its initial immensity and color to an illusion related to its position in the sky, its subsequent brightness is what has given the moon its name, as farmers have used the light of this moon to work through the night to collect their harvest.

My children and I watched the moon rise tonight over the point where the St. Lawrence river and Lake Ontario meet (truly breathtaking); and we are observing it now, from our house, its bright light shimmering on the surface of the river near our home.

I remember last year's moon quite vividly, too, watching it rise -- on a sultry autumn evening in Chicago -- over Lake Michigan. I had taken the kids to a park in Evanston on the lake, with the express intention of watching the moon rise. Harried and addled as I've been since we've moved here, I knew the moon was coming but was not nearly so together as to plan how we would observe it. Thanks to Blythe's friend Martha, who's having a birthday party tomorrow, we drove into town (to fetch a present), and then returned home, driving east, at just the right moment. Wow.

Of course, as my children are now old enough to remember "a year ago," it made for a nice homecoming, or housewarming (depending on how you look at it). I could see in their reaction why mariners would have been soothed by the reliability of fluctuations in the night sky.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Yo Seymour

I'm from Oxford. Do we know eachother?

I'm talking about Seymour, CT, here, although the word always reminds me of the neatest pick-up line I have ever been on the other end of. I was in Spain (this is decades ago), sunbathing with girlfriends (slathered with baby oil, SPF fuggedaboutit) on the roof of a Madrid hotel. Never one for light beach reading on the order of Cosmo or Danielle Steele, I was reading J.D. Salinger's collection of short stories, Raise High the Rooftops, which includes several of Salinger's "Seymour Glass stories." More tortured and afflicted than Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, Seymour Glass is Salinger's misfit prophet par excellence.

There was a group of young men sunbathing near us, one of whom had apparently taken a fancy (I'll be humble here) to my choice of reading material. As we americanas began to collect our things, said gentleman struck up a conversation with me about Salinger (to fits of giggles from my companions), and asked ultimately if he might borrow my book for the afternoon; he promised he would leave it at reception for me.

When I collected it later, the following message was written on the inside flap:

Seymour sees more.

I would like to see you

if you would like to see me

at la Plaza Mayor at 10:00 p.m.

Are you groaning? Is it awful? Yeah, I suppose. But pretty effective for lit geeks like me. Alas, by the time I retrieved my book from reception (after a night out in the Madrid clubs), I had already missed the appointed rendezvous. . .

Monday, October 02, 2006

Ursus major?

"Chicago Bears" and "Super Bowl" -- is it true? These words are being uttered in the same sentence, somewhere other than some South Side bar?

Naaaaah. Must be something wrong with my Canadian TV.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Pop Quiz

Identify the work, its author, and date.


"Now in a meeting like this one, where so much is at stake, where so many brilliant men are competing to think up intricate strategies of war, what if an insignificant fellow like me were to get up and advise going on another tack entirely? Suppose I said the king should leave [a foreign country] alone and stay at home, because the single kingdom of [the home country] all by itself is almost too much for one man to govern, and the king should not dream of adding others to it? Then imagine I told about the decrees of the Achorians, who live off the island of [yet another country] toward the southeast. Long ago, these people went to war to gain another realm for their king, who had inherited an ancient claim to it. . . When they had conquered it, they soon saw that keeping it was going to be as hard as getting it had been. Their new subjects were continually rebelling or being attacked by foreign invaders, the Achorians had to be constantly at war for them or against them, and they saw no hope of ever being able to disband their army. In the meantime, they were being heavily taxed, money flowed out of their kingdom, their blood was being shed for the advantage of others, and peace was no closer than it had ever been. The war corrupted their own citizens by encouraging lust for robbery and murder; and the laws fell into contempt because their king, distracted with the cares of two kingdoms, could give neither one his proper attention.

When they saw that the list of these evils was endless, the Achorians took counsel together and very courteously offered their king his choice of keeping whichever of the two kingdoms he preferred, because he couldn't rule them both. . .

[So] suppose I told the . . . king's council that all this warmongering, by which so many nations were kept in turmoil as a result of one man's connivings, would almost certainly exhaust his treasury and demoralize his people, and yet in the end come to nothing, through some mishap or another. And therefore he should look after his ancestral kingdom, improve it as much as he could, cultivate it in every conceivable way. . . How do you think, my dear [name], the other councillors would take this speech of mine?"

"Not very well, I'm sure," said I.


“It was only one example of a visitor to the Oval Office not telling the president the whole story or the truth. Likewise, in these moments where [name] had someone from the field there in the chair beside him, he did not press, did not try to open the door himself and ask what the visitor had seen and thought. The whole atmosphere too often resembled a royal court, with [name] and [name] in attendance, some upbeat stories, exaggerated good news and a good time had by all.”

1. _________

2. _________

A. Bob Woodward, State of Denial, 2006 (Source: NY Times)

B. Thomas More, Utopia, 1516

Gold stars for those who correctly marked 1B, 2A, as the differences between them are slight: plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Western Civ grads likely recall More's treatise most for its fictive portrayal of the island of Utopia (from the Greek ou [not] + topos [place] = "noplace"), whose every facet of life and government More contrasted, implicitly, to conditions in England under Henry VIII. Raphael Hythloday's monologue on the isle takes up only Book II of the volume, however. Book I begins as "Thomas More" and his companion, Peter Giles, implore the Utopian traveler to "enter some king's service." As Giles entreats him: "Your learning and your knowledge of various countries and peoples would entertain [the king], while your advice and your supply of examples would be very helpful in the counsel chamber." Raphael refuses, and the book recounts his reasons for rejecting public service, chief among them his observation that counsel chambers typically stifle the airing of contrary views, and serve to reinforce the self-interest of their members. Have a look, Bob; it might give you some prose.

Indeed the *central question of Utopia is what role men [sic] of letters and learning should play in the creation and critique of public policy. This was the great call of the humanists: while the scholastics had directed their intellect to matters of theology (no less a public cause, at that time, but different in focus), and counsel chambers were attended chiefly by courtiers who had inherited their rank, it was humanists such as Thomas More who argued that the end of education (for them, the study of ancient Greece and Rome) should be public service.

How interesting then, that our "education president," who spouts humanist truisms like a fidgety bingo caller, should create in his chambers his own fictive island, where he reigns with the obtuse indifference of the Achorian king.

Of course, the weekend's political chat shows, especially those of the Fox variety, have been animated by attempts to "shoot the messenger" (a phrase we owe to Shakespeare, from Antony and Cleopatra), but I reckon it will be hard to bury big Bob, whose previous two books on "Bush at War" disqualify him as an dyed-in-the-wool Bush-basher, and whose message in this book merely restates what is already the conventional wisdom.

Thus another quote from Shakespeare (this from Henry IV, Pt. 1): wisdom cries out in the streets, and no man regards it. . .

Post-script Weds. Oct. 5: I shared this riveting parallel with my students this week. I can do that up here; you're not likely to find many pro-Bush undergrads. What's more, I wanted to show them the way in which the central concerns of Utopia remain vital and relevant. Finally, we observed how Woodward's title could be read as a variation on More's: how just as U-topia means "no place," state of denial -- where a denial means "no" -- also means "no state." Surely a dystopia if ever there was one.