Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Bully Pulpit

"Word Crimes" by Al Yankovic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Gv0H-vPoDc

I imagine that most English teachers, descriptivists and prescriptivists alike, would love this song and video. (They must make sure not to neglect watching the latter, though, lest they miss too much of the cleverness.) I used to be an English teacher myself, and then I retired and realized I no longer had to pretend that I understood English or teaching, a minor revelation compared to the one that told me how easy it was to admit to my longstanding cluelessness. Pensions are wonderful financial products. Every old person deserves a good one.

What I don't get is why Al Yankovic is "weird." True, he has very long, very curly hair, but so do many (well, some) other men. But he also has a wonderful talent for satire, oafish comedy, verbal ingenuity, and music, four things I happen to love. And although he also understands how stupid some sectors of the zeitgeist are, he is never cruel or demeaning. My very intelligent youngest daughter doesn't care for him, but that's only because she's young (she'll come around). In other words, Mr. Yankovic is a complete, not weird adult -- not nohow, not no way. And in this song, his smarts and his singing talent are on full, giddy, unweird display. If there's a song video richer in jokes (both visual and verbal, and wonderfully nonstop), can someone please direct me to it? I enjoyed this beautiful thing several times before I remembered it was a parody, after which I had to find out which song it was parodying. I had no idea what that song might be (because I'm no longer young and my brain has a thicker filter between itself and its surroundings). After some routine Internet research, I was not surprised, then, that I had never heard of (or heard) that song -- something called "Blurred Lines" by someone named Robin Thicke, whom I had heard of, but only in the way you hear of famous people getting married or divorced or arrested for drunk driving or murder or sexual assault. My online self then discovered that "Blurred Lines" had been the subject of some controversy about its being "rapey," which it definitely was (if my understanding of the adjective is accurate). What a waste, because it was also so musically clever and addictively danceable.
But holy shit (man, thy name is misogyny), Robin Thicke and all your dopey pals: that video is really rapey. But now, thanks to unweird Al Yankovic, I never have to hear or watch it again because I get to hear its deep, lovely grooves and riffs serving an ingenious hilarity about English grammar and usage instead of some ugly sexual vibe. When I was a teacher of English grammar and usage, I could've used it -- it might have helped me decide to retire from my counterfeit career earlier. (I was a fraud, true enough, but long ago, before I knew it, I had children to support, and I didn't know how to do anything else.)

For its just-under-four-minutes, the song is unrelentingly funny and ass-bouncing, which is usually good enough for me, but when you consider that unweird Al Yankovic is making fun of one kind of stupidity (hating women) by ignoring it and then making fun of another kind of stupidity (linguistic elitism), you get to laugh at two kinds of bullies, two kinds of dopes, two kinds of assholes.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Fucking Joni Mitchell

"Coyote" by Joni Mitchell
A few weekends back, I found myself up late (an unusual circumstance), clicking the TV remote weakly and aimlessly (a too usual circumstance), and fell across The Last Waltz, a movie I remembered loving when I first saw it long ago. I fell back into it pretty well right away and pretty well started loving it all over again, too, but I also found myself, this time around, distracted and annoyed by the between-song interviews, which were giving so much face time to Robbie Robertson. I know he was the chief songwriter, but he was coming across (admittedly, to my drooping old self) as a preening, narcissistic dick. I couldn't figure out why the director of the thing, Martin Scorsese, had decided to talk to him so much when I'd always assumed that the other guys couldn’t not also be interesting (I can still be slightly fanboyish once in a while, despite my about-to-be-a-grandfather status), especially because Mr. Robertson was, as I’ve suggested, acting like a 1970s-style hipster egomaniac.

But because there was so much good music coming at me, I didn’t pick at that little nit of irritation, especially since a big part of so many of the wonderful songs I was hearing was Mr. Robertson’s beautiful electric guitar. Jesus, he could really play. (He almost kept up with Eric Clapton on the blues number the latter sang and played during his turn on stage.) And all those great male voices! Levon Helm's was my favourite (always had been), but I could die easily enough listening to Rick Danko or Richard Manuel sing me out.

I guess I'm saying the TV signal was a happy one, but a high-testosterone one, too. And then, out of nowhere, a packet of digital info had a stunning, spotlit Joni Mitchell coming out and singing a number called "Coyote." (Before she started she not only kissed Mr. Robertson, she stroked his face, so I take back anything less than complimentary I might have been thinking about him.) Female beauty doesn't come much better than how Ms. Mitchell looked that night, and female voices don't sound much better than hers did that night, and I realized I was just watching what I was watching and just hearing what I was hearing almost forty years after it happened, several thousand kilometers from where it happened, through a smeared lens (you know, fucking movies) and lousy speakers, and that I was in a highly suggestible condition (it was late, and I was tired, and I'm older than I used to be), but now I really did feel younger and happier and more cheerful than I had in some time -- and it was the middle of the night! (Women! Music!)

What would we do without love songs? Joni Mitchell's "Coyote" is one of those two-ships-passing-in-the-night love songs, and the way it was sung that night in 1976 was flawlessly primal and pure, and so sophisticated, self-mocking, self-knowing, other-knowing, ethos-knowing, earthy, happy, wistful, and (best of all) ecstatic. No matter when you were born, no matter if you're a man or a woman, whenever you get the chance to see an acutely intelligent, acutely ecstatic woman tame a big male stage and a big, intoxicated audience like the one she was singing to, you should take that chance. (Women! Music!) And because the song is also an ingeniously loose, swinging poem, listen to every word. Because the voice is perfect, listen to every note it sounds. Because "The Band" becomes a nice, steady, sort-of-jazz combo backing a very bright star, listen to them, too, if you want to. But make a special effort to listen for the bliss in the surging love added by that voice's new words to the last iteration of the song's only repeating couplet. She was fucking Joni Mitchell, man. She had it all.

Listen to it again. Watch it again. You know you want to. (Put some headphones on this time.)