“How to Ruin Good (Even Great) Music” by our resident skeptic, James R. Cowles

Note: This was originally published in Beguine Again, the sister site to The BeZine. James is a member of The BeZine core team. / J.D.

Actually, the title should be “How to Ruin the Experience of Listening to Good (Even Great) Music,” but that was too long. I suppose one could argue that the experience of listening to good music, as far as the listener is concerned, is the music. But let’s not quibble about ontology. In any case, I know at least two ways of forever ruining both the music and the experience thereof. Please understand: in what follows, for anyone who loves music, as I do, these are practices to be avoided at all cost if you love good music, especially great music … or just music, period. Please understand, also, that I did not avoid these practices, and so much – not all, but much – good, even great, music is now forever accompanied inside my skull by a parallel sound track of the “music-as-ruined”. I cannot hear one without hearing the other. So I am not an example to be emulated. On the contrary, I am a counter-example, or an anti-example, to be avoided. Anyway … with those caveats here goes … in order to avoid ruining (the experience of listening to) music …

o Never watch Warner Brothers cartoons, especially Bug Bunny cartoons, from the “classical” years of the 1960s.

Contemporary WB cartoons are probably mostly OK. But cartoons from WB during that earlier, “classical” era are deadly. For example, you will never be able to hear “pure” Wagner again. Instead, overlaying the sound track of, e.g., The Flight of the Valkyrie, you will ever after hear

Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit! kill-the-wabbit1  

Which is hardly the same thing, and least of all “music to invade Poland by”.

Nor will Rossini escape. Instead, The Barber of Seville will be dogged by the alternative Bugs Bunny libretto of The Rabbit of Seville:

Come into my shop,

Let me trim your mop,

Let me shave your crop …  

Daintily, daintily!  

Caaa-aa-aa-n’t you see that I’m much sweeter?

III-III-III’m your little seniorita!

You-uu-uu-uu look like my kinda guy,

Let me loosen your tie,

And I will sing for you!

This aria is followed by Bugs’s four-footed massage of Elmer Fudd’s scalp, performed to Rossini’s Barber score, which is guaranteed to cause potentially catastrophic laundry problems, especially when you see an actual performance of Barber in a grand opera house, because, even as you watch the performance onstage, you will be seeing and hearing the parallel Bugs-Elmer version of Barber in your mind’s eye and ear. In fact, you cannot avoid seeing and hearing the Bugs-Elmer parallel. Barring a case of acute and profound amnesia or aphasia, The Barber of Seville will henceforth be lost to you.

th And speaking of Rossini, we can write off The William Tell Overture right now for reasons having nothing to do with WB because of its close and unavoidable association with the Lone Ranger. But Warner Brothers compounded this pernicious variant of déjà vu in a cartoon about a little flea nesting on the back of a Doberman pinscher. Along toward the end, the flea drives the dog to such distraction that the Doberman starts galloping hither and yon in desperation, hoping to dislodge his tiny tormenter … whereupon the little flea, riding the dog like “LR” rode Silver, shouts out Hi-yo, Doberman! Now, every time I hear Rossini’s stirring Overture, I not only think of the Lone Ranger, but in place of the Ranger’s iconic cry, I hear the flea’s Alvin-the-Chipmunk-like voice shouting Hi-yo, Doberman!  And so … “another one bites the dust”.

o Never read Mad magazine from the 1960s era.  

I grew up with Mad. I still read it from time to time. Call it a guilty pleasure, if you will. But the contemporary version is musically harmless compared to the “classical” Mad of the ‘60s, which was positively lethal, not to classical or baroque music, but to music that was “classical” within the context of US popular culture, e.g., show tunes, movie music, Christmas carols, etc.

Consider the beloved song “The Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady … which Mad transposed from the key of Pygmalion-like romantic love to that of nuclear terror with:

I have often walked down your street before,

But there once was pavement underneath my feet before;

Now as I walk by I see rubble fly.

Boy it’s rough on the street where you live!  

People stop and stare.

They don’t worry me

Got lead underwear, and I am safe as safe can be

All the air is filled with radioactivity 

Boy it’s rough on the street where you live My-Fair-Lady-my-fair-lady-10457205-1024-768  

Or think of that wonderful song from the 1920s by Gene Donaldson and George Whiting, “My Blue Heaven,” which Mad warped into an anthem of nuclear apocalypse entitled “My Blue Shelter”:

Whenever I hear an H-bomb is near

I hurry to my blue shelter. 

A hole in the floor, a six inch lead door

Will lead you to my blue shelter.  

A lovely place

Without a trace

Of coming doom!

A cozy place that’s nestled

Where the H-bombs boom!  

Just Molly and me!

Let’s see … that makes three!

We’re happy in my blue shelter!

Even Christmas carols were not sacred, least of all Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Mad took the Star of Bethlehem and replaced it with fireworks:

Boom! The cherry bombs explode

Blowing potholes in the road.

Midget sticks of dynamite,

Sure can give a guy a fright.

One went off by Irving’s mamma.

Poor thing damn near had a trauma.

God, what simple-minded jerks,

We turn loose with fireworks!

cherrybomb_stockimage  Many Christmases, Diane and I go to Victoria, BC, for high tea at the Empress and to hear the wonderful Christmas carolers in the lobby of the hotel. I always light the candle on the table, discreetly genuflect, and utter a silent prayer in English, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Sanskrit, Arabic, and High Church Latin to Yahweh, Allah, Odin, Zeus, Athena, and Cthulhu and Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones that the carolers will not perform Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, for fear that I will make a public spectacle of myself by dissolving into gales of helpless, howling laughter from hearing Mad’s parallel sound track in my head.

But the entire fault for the loss of music cannot be laid at the feet of Warner Brothers and Mad magazine. Entire oeuvres of poets have been lost to me, not by WB or Mad, but by a chance passing remark from someone whose name I cannot even now remember. Several years ago, someone – I think it was on a radio talk program – mentioned in a tone of oh-by-the-way breeziness that most of the poetry of Emily Dickinson can be sung to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas”. Well, I give you three guesses – and the first two don’t count – how the following Dickinson poem reads to me now, the one that begins …

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me.

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality …

 … and, conversely, what poetic text flashes to mind whenever I hear the tune “The Yellow Rose of Texas”.

On a much more somber and sinister level, let us not even reference the slobbering fascist sociopaths who took the heart-breaking tenderness of the second movement of Haydn’s Emperor Quartet (“String Quartet in C-major, Opus 76, No. 3”) and gang-raped it into the jackbooted crudity of “Deutschland Ueber Alles”. One of the advantages, arguably the sole justifying advantage, of being an ex-Christian is that I am under no obligation to forgive such crimes against high culture.

And we shall leave similarly anonymous the company that, back when phone-answering machines used tape, marketed an answering-machine microcassette where some guy with a (seriously, really) beautiful baritone voice sang “Nobody’s home! Nobody’s home!” to the tune of those four iconic notes that begin Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The effect of that is still enough to make me want to drink a fifth, because now, every time I hear the opening of the first movement of the Fifth Symphony … but … really … need I finish … ?

Kids’ Sunday School songs are no less insidious. There is a little ditty I learned in “kiddie church” when my age was in high single digits whose words fit all-too-perfectly with the first movement of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik:

One … two-three … the Devil’s after me!

Four … five-six … he’s makin’ me feel sick!

Alle- … alleluia … alleluia … alleluia … ! EineKleineVlFirst_BIG

I once was unwise enough to start Nachtmusik playing from my i-Phone over my car’s Bluetooth system, and honestly thought I was going to have to pull over into a parking lot until I stopped laughing. O Wolfgang! Wolfgang! Meiner beliebte Freund! Es tut mir leid! Ich werde niemals das tun!


Ludwig von Beethoven

 But … ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh … GAWD! … It occurs to me that I owe you, my Constant Readers, an apology as well as Wolfgang. I’ve been blithering on about this issue, and you’ve been reading my blitherings … which means that you are now infected! I’m worse than Typhoid Mary! At least Typhoid Mary herself was never sick when she passed the disease on to others. But I’m both sick and infectious. Maybe I’m a musical zombie! Maybe I belong on an AMC TV series called The Walking Tone-Deaf! And I’ve “bitten” you, passing on the Plague! Or maybe I’ve listened to so much Bach, I’m now in a “fugue” state. (Yeah … yeah … OK … awright … apologies awready! … sheesh!)

Please … I beg you … stop reading right now! Forget you saw this post! I’m just so … so … so … so very … sorry!

© 2017, essay, James R. Cowles; header illustration and following two illustrations, Elmer Fudd and archenemy, Bugs Bunny, © Warner Bros; Theatrical release poster for “My Fair Lady original illustration by Bob Peak  Bill Gold and © Warner Bros.; red cherry courtesy of and © of blog.naver; sheet music, Eine Kleine nachtmusick, Wolfgang A Mozart, courtsey of MûsesCore.com; public domain photograph of Ludwig van Beethoven painting by Joseph Karl Stieler (1820)


LINE-UP FOR YESTERDAY… Celebrating the 117th Season of Major League Baseball with Ogden Nash

Federic Ogden Nash (1902-1971), American Poet of light verse, unconvential rhymes, author, lyricist and pianist

Federic Ogden Nash (1902-1971), American Poet of light verse, unconvential rhymes, author, lyricist and pianist

major_league_baseball-svgWho better to celebrate the beginning of the 117th Major League Baseball season in the U.S. than poet Ogden Nash? He was an American poet known for the unconventional and humourous expressed in rhymed poems. He made strategic use of misspellings and puns or twists on famous poems or sayings. One of my faves pokes fun at Joyce Kilmer’s Trees.  “I think that I shall never see/ A poem as lovely as a tree.” v. Ogden’s version, which switches “billboard” for “poem”  … “Indeed, unless the billboards fall / I’ll never see a tree at all.”

Nash was a prodigious baseball fan and wrote Line-Up for Yesterday, an alphabetical listing of prominent players he admired. It was published in Sport magazine in 1949.

A is for Alex
The great Alexander;
More Goose eggs he pitched
Than a popular gander.

B is for Bresnahan
Back of the plate;
The Cubs were his love,
and McGraw his hate.

C is for Cobb,
Who grew spikes and not corn,
And made all the basemen
Wish they weren’t born.

D is for Dean,
The grammatical Diz,
When the asked, Who’s the tops?
Said correctly, I is.

E is for Evers,
His jaw in advance;
Never afraid
To Tinker with Chance.

F is for Fordham
And Frankie and Frisch;
I wish he were back
With the Giants, I wish.

G is for Gehrig,
The Pride of the Stadium;
His record pure gold,
His courage, pure radium.

H is for Hornsby;
When pitching to Rog,
The pitcher would pitch,
Then the pitcher would dodge.

I is for Me,
Not a hard-hitting man,
But an outstanding all-time
Incurable fan.

J is for Johnson
The Big Train in his prime
Was so fast he could throw
Three strikes at a time.

K is for Keeler,
As fresh as green paint,
The fastest and mostest
To hit where they ain’t.

L is for Lajoie
Whom Clevelanders love,
Napoleon himself,
With glue in his glove.

M is for Matty,
Who carried a charm
In the form of an extra
brain in his arm.

N is for Newsom,
Bobo’s favorite kin.
You ask how he’s here,
He talked himself in.

O is for Ott
Of the restless right foot.
When he leaned on the pellet,
The pellet stayed put.

P is for Plank,
The arm of the A’s;
When he tangled with Matty
Games lasted for days.

Q is for Don Quixote
Cornelius Mack;
Neither Yankees nor years
Can halt his attack.

R is for Ruth.
To tell you the truth,
There’s just no more to be said,
Just R is for Ruth.

S is for Speaker,
Swift center-field tender,
When the ball saw him coming,
It yelled, “I surrender.”

T is for Terry
The Giant from Memphis
Whose .400 average
You can’t overemphis.

U would be ‘Ubell
if Carl were a cockney;
We say Hubbell and Baseball
Like Football and Rockne.

V is for Vance
The Dodger’s very own Dazzy;
None of his rivals
Could throw as fast as he.

W, Wagner,
The bowlegged beauty;
Short was closed to all traffic
With Honus on duty.

X is the first
of two x’s in Foxx
Who was right behind Ruth
with his powerful soxx.

Y is for Young
The magnificent Cy;
People battled against him,
But I never knew why.

Z is for Zenith
The summit of fame.
These men are up there.
These men are the game.

-Ogden Nash

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unROMANTIC POEMS, because love poems are elegies



at the grocery ~
Meeting accidentally in the wine section
you sip me shyly with gentle conversation
and read the label on my selection,
your hand brushes mine, a sensual appeal
It’s for drunken pasta! I explain,
you laugh and say you’d rather drink than eat it
your eyes are Wedgwood blue and hold a wistful smile
you imagine I’m something fine, a vintage port
you’re flushed with the fancied sweetness
I could drink you too, a sturdy Bordeaux
but I no longer deal well with hangovers


To the Frog at the Door

if you kiss a frog, so I’ve been told
there’s a chance he’ll turn into a prince
a frog prince, which means you have
you absolutely have to love him
and i’ve loved a few frogs, at least
i think i have, they never became princes
nor did their love morph me into a princess
i’m still a cranky old crow, we are what we are,
loving frogs and crows isn’t transformative
….why should it be?
one woman’s frog is another woman’s prince

…….as for this old crow

………….she loves flying solo

…….not that you asked

© 2013, poems, Jamie Dedes, All rights reservedIllustration ~ Wine and fruit photo courtesy of Jean Boufort, Public Domain Pictures. net and The Frog Prince by Walter Crane (1845-1915), U.S. Public Domain

GEORGE CARLIN on the dangers of euphemisms

George Carling (1937-2008)

George Carlin (1937-2008)

Imprecise language is misleading and our job as poets and writers is to tell it like it is. Here, George Carlin (1937-2008), American counter-culture stand-up comedian, social critic, philosopher, satirist, actor and writer, shows us just how  unjust, confusing – and often just plain silly – euphemism is.

VIEWER ALERT: Carlin’s vocabulary will offend some people.

Photo courtesy of Alex Lozupone under CC BY-SA 4.0 license