“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!

beethoven-5th

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)

THERE ARE MEN TOO GENTLE TO LIVE AMONG WOLVES, James Kavanaugh and his poetry

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Finally unafraid to be free,
Ready to surrender all the illusions of
recognition and external securities,
Living off the sky and earth like soaring
eagles and braying burros . . .

The iconoclast poet, Dr. James Kavanaugh, first gained fame when he wrote A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church. It was published in 1967.

“It is one of the most moving human documents I have ever read! In an earlier day the author would have been burned at the stake.” Dr. Carl Rogers

In this best-selling book the author called for Church reforms on its positions such as birth control, divorce, premarital sex and celibacy for priests. It says a lot about the man that he had the courage to speak his truth and ultimately to leave the Church.

A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church is worth your time as an exploration of ideas and ideals and difficult decisions. It seeks to dig the historically accurate from under dust of mythology.

Encouraged by family, teachers and tradition to become a priest, Kavanaugh entered the seminary when he was fourteen. He served as a priest for nine years and, when he left the Church – which he did love – it was to honor the depth and breath of his values and to strike out on an adventure to free his soul and find his own vision of God.

We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it provides.” James Kavanaugh in There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves

I believe Dr. Kavanaugh wrote four nonfiction titles, one children’s book, two novels … but the bulk of his work was poetry.

Dr. Kavanaugh’s first collection of poetry was There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves. That book’s eponymous poem is below and it reminds us of ourselves and so many we know.  It’s a healing and compassionate read. Someone understood!

The second poem here is the complete poem that was refered to and quoted in part in yesterday’s post by Rev. Ben Meyers in Notions of God. 

James Kavanaugh died in 2009.  His wife and family continue to keep his legacy alive at jameskavanaugh.org where you can read more about him and his work and purchase all of his books, proceeds to charity.

If you have not yet read Kavanaugh, do. His work is frank, profound, accessible, finely crafted and recommended without reservation.

THERE ARE MEN TOO GENTLE TO LIVE AMONG WOLVES

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men too gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of candied apples and ferris wheels
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who devour them with eager appetite and search
For other men to prey upon and suck their childhood dry.
There are men too gentle for an accountant’s world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And search for beauty in the mystery of the sky.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove.
Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant’s world,
Unless they have a gentle one to love.

– James Kavanaugh

My Easy God is Gone

I have lost my easy God – the one whose name
I knew since childhood.
I knew his temper, his sullen outrage,
his ritual forgiveness.
I knew the strength of his arm, the sound
of his insistent voice.
His beard bristling, his lips full and red
with moisture at the moustache,
His eyes clear and piercing, too blue
to understand all,
His face too unwrinkled to feel my
child’s pain.
He was a good God – so he told me –
a long suffering and manageable one.
I knelt at his feet and kissed them.
I felt the smooth countenance of his forgiveness.

I never told him how he frightened me,
How he followed me as a child,
When I played with friends or begged
for candy on Halloween.
He was a predictable God, I was the
unpredictable one.
He was unchanging, omnipotent, all-seeing,
I was volatile and helpless.

He taught me to thank him for the concern
which gave me no chance to breathe,
For the love which demanded only love in
return – and obedience.
He made pain sensible and patience possible
and the future foreseeable.
He, the mysterious, took all mystery away,
corroded my imagination,
Controlled the stars and would not let
them speak for themselves.

Now he haunts me seldom: some fierce
umbilical is broken,
I live with my own fragile hopes and
sudden rising despair.
Now I do not weep for my sins; I have
learned to love them.
And to know that they are the wounds that
make love real.
His face eludes me; his voice, with all
its pity, does not ring in my ear.
His maxims memorized in boyhood do not
make fruitless and pointless my experience.
I walk alone, but not so terrified as when
he held my hand.

I do not splash in the blood of his son
nor hear the crunch of nails or thorns
piercing protesting flesh.
I am a boy again – I whose boyhood was
turned to manhood in a brutal myth.
Now wine is only wine with drops that do
not taste of blood.
The bread I eat has too much pride for transubstantiation,
I, too – and together the bread and I embrace,
Each grateful to be what we are, each loving
from our own reality.
Now the bread is warm in my mouth and
I am warm in its mouth as well.

Now my easy God is gone – he knew too
much to be real,
He talked too much to listen, he knew
my words before I spoke.
But I knew his answers as well – computerized
and turned to dogma.
His stamp was on my soul, his law locked
cross-like on my heart,
His imperatives tattooed on my breast, his
aloofness canonized in ritual.

Now he is gone – my easy, stuffy God – God,
the father – master, the mother – whiner, the
Dull, whoring God who offered love bought
by an infant’s fear.
Now the world is mine with all its pain and
warmth, with its every color and sound;
The setting sun is my priest with the ocean for its alter.
The rising sun redeems me with rolling
waves warmed in its arms.
A dog barks and I weep to be alive, a
cat studies me and my job is boundless.
I lie on the grass and boy-like, search the sky.
The clouds do not turn to angels, the winds
do not whisper of heaven or hell.

Perhaps I have no God – what does it matter?
I have beauty and joy and transcending loneliness,
I have the beginning of love – as beautiful as it
is feeble – as free as it is human.
I have the mountains that whisper secrets
held before men could speak,
I have the oceans that belches life on
the beach and caresses it in the sand,
I have a friend who smiles when he sees
me, who weeps when he hears my pain,
I have a future of wonder.
I have no past – the steps have disappeared
the wind has blown them away.

I stand in the Heavens and on earth, I
feel the breeze in my hair,
I can drink to the North Star and shout
on a bar stool,
I can feel the teeth of a hangover, the
joy of laziness,
The flush of my own rudeness, the surge of
my own ineptitude.
And I can know my own gentleness as well
my wonder, my nobility.
I sense the call of creation, I feel its
swelling in my hands.
I can lust and love, eat and drink, sleep
and rise,
But my easy God is gone – and in his stead
The mystery of loneliness and love!

– James Kavanaugh 

© poems Steven J. Nash Publishing

There Is Pleasure in the Pathless Wood … and therein is your Wednesday Writing Prompt

IMG_0046There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal

Gordon George Byron, Lord Byron
from Childe Harold, Canto iv, Verse 178

WEDNESDAY WRITING PROMPT

It’s important – and it’s often a relief – to get out in nature where the quiet is healing and the beauty helps us to feel our connection with the whole of the Universe.  Byron writes here of the woods.  Where do you go for solitude and solice, refreshing your soul? Woods. Garden, Lake. Ocean. Wilderness lands. Perhaps a park like the one in the photograph above. Tell us about it and how you feel, how it draws you in and wakes you up spiritually. Do it by way of poetry or creative nonfiction. May this be a meditative exercise for you.

© photo, Jamie Dedes

Sacred Space in What You Are Already Doing!

“Unmasking the God who described himself as the world …” Poets, writers, anyone with a soul, don’t miss Terri Stewart’s post on The Bardo Group blog today …

The BeZine

flickr photo by On Being  cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by On Being
cc licensed ( BY NC SA )

Tonight I went to see Dr. Cornel West along with two young men that I work with. We were all inspired by the passionate energy that Dr. West brings to his presentation! Tonight, he was particularly focused on the work of Abraham Joshua Heschel. He describes the arch of Heschel’s work in a way that I totally relate to the Bardo community!

Pietic–>Poetic–>Prophetic

Meaning, personal piety not bound by religious rules but bound by reverence or seeing the sacred worth in all be-ings. For West’s interpretation of Heschel, the pietic leads to the poetic. A poetry that is not grounded in nihilism or optimism, but grounded in hope. He said, Heschel was “not a person of optimism, but a person of hope.” And that Heschel’s hope as expressed in poetry was hope for the world–not just the Hasidic…

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