Monthly Archives May 2023

Brilliant Songs #38: Eric Bogle’s “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”

I learned the Australian folk ballad “Waltzing Matilda” so early in my elementary school years that I don’t remember very much of the life I led before it became one of those anthemic tunes that courses through my blood with ease and gladness whenever I find myself suddenly singing it in the shower or out on a bike ride in the sun-splotched innocence of a spring day.

So the genius of Eric Bogle’s “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” is that it uses the freewheeling joy of the original as the backdrop for a deep lamentation on the devastating losses of war. Bogle frames those losses not in the realm of great battles and territory surrendered or annexed, but in the individual persons (young men in this case) with families, friends and romances waiting for them at home, and a future that will never be realized.

The setting is World War I, perhaps the most nonsensical war of all the nonsense that lies deep ...

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The Art of Song Interpretation: “Both Sides Now” From Four Sides

Although I lack data to support this assumption, I would bet money on a natural human inclination that among songs we are drawn to upon first hearing, that is the version we will prefer for the rest of our lives, no matter how many cover versions follow as other artists explore a great song’s nearly inexhaustible interpretive possibilities.

That said, sometimes we experience a huge “Wow!” as we listen to a cover version of an old favorite.

Sometimes the “Wow!” occurs because an artist brings a different musical genre altogether to a song. Jimi Hendrix’s take on the “Star-Spangled Banner” may be the most dramatic example there, but “Wow!” can also happen when a female covers a male’s original song (or vice versa), or a young artist covers an old artist’s song (once again, vice versa), or any artist goes louder or softer, faster or slower, or emphasizes lyrics that open up another dimension to a song we h...

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How to Spend the Day When Your Laptop’s Gone Down the Highway in Your Pal’s Car

Sit down on convenient bench outside coffee shop where he dropped you.

Give 10 seconds to wailing and gnashing of teeth and cursing such absence of mind.

On 11th second, turn face up to sun.

Initiate multiple voluntary deep breaths.

Turn attention to coffee and cantaloupe slice you DID remember to remove from car.

Reach for phone to catch at least home page of New York Times.

Experience familiar exasperation of reading news shoved into hellishly cramped space that used to be your morning newspaper.

Think better of reading; cast face back to sun.

Espy actual, hard copy local weekly newspaper lying about on next bench.

Note cover story on aging.  (Synchronicity!) Decide to read it.

Note disappointment with story’s shallowness.

Vow to write something deep about aging one day.

Quickly acknowledge this will not be that day.

Climb on bike, which, unlike laptop, you had removed mindfully from rack at rear of ca...

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Documentary Two-Fer: The Musical Odysseys of Leonard Cohen and Jason Isbell

One an observant, mystically inclined Jew, born to wealthy, pedigreed parents outside Montreal, a poet by training and temperament, handsome, charismatic and refined, who drifts down to New York City in his early 30s to shore up a wobbly career by throwing himself into songwriting.

The other from rural Alabama, the son of uncultured, unmoneyed teenage parents whose loud and bitter fighting drives the pudgy and awkward boy to his room, where he teaches himself electric guitar in order to drown out the noise and his own rage and sorrow.

One born in 1934, full of questions, indignation and ardor for a God he doubts as a profession of faith, even as so much of his music probes the places God may be hiding.

The other born 35 years later, seeking escape from the dark gods of domestic hell and hoping he’s found it in rock & roll, only to be felled by its all-too-common underbelly: a wretched excess of drink...

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