Search results for 'Brilliant Songs'

Brilliant Songs #24: Henryk Górecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”

As our 20-year nation-building project draws to a catastrophic close in Afghanistan, what do we have to show for it? It’s a painful question made all the more so by the lives of U.S. soldiers and civilians freshly lost in the terrible bombings on Thursday, not to mention the far greater number of Afghans who have paid, and will continue to do so long after our exit, with their lives and freedom for the brief window of semi-democracy both nations worked with such tenacity and treasure to provide for that beleaguered land.

All of it turning now, with near dizzying speed, to ash.

Questions, doubts and recriminations about both our long-running presence and chaotic exit from Afghanistan dominate our national conversation today, at least temporarily pushing the re-emerging horrors of the Covid pandemic out of the spotlight.

The entire symphony is a treasure, a voyage through sorrow and lyricism whose beauty par...

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Brilliant Songs #23: Fields & Kern’s “I Won’t Dance”

Almost all music makes us want to move at least a little bit, and some inspires a nearly universal impulse to get up and shake every last cell of The Body Electric, as Walt Whitman “sang” about in the long ago. But when consummate pros like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are on hand, we are all better to take a seat and settle for tapping our toes and breaking into broad grins as their dazzling skills are brought to bear.

And that is exactly the case with our newest “Brilliant Song” in this series, the now 86-year-old classic, “I Won’t Dance.”

The song became an enduring hit in the 1935 film, “Roberta,” starring the aforementioned duo of Astaire and Rogers along with the under-appreciated singer and (mostly) comic actress Irene Dunne and leading man hunk, Randolph Scott. It had been a Broadway musical of the same name two years earlier

“I Won’t Dance” has a slightly complicated history, though, having bee...

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Brilliant Songs #22: Greg Brown’s “Rexroth’s Daughter”

One of the things I love about Greg Brown’s “Rexroth’s Daughter” is Brown’s refusal to offer any kind of explanation or backdrop to the somewhat mysterious title, which is encompassed in the only line he repeats in the song’s 72 lines: “I’m lookin’ for Rexroth’s daughter.”

This is consonant with a certain strain of creative artist who simply wants to have his or her work stand on its own, meaning what it means to anyone who comes across it, without shaping a viewer’s/reader’s/listener’s response via either explanation or the creator’s biography.

That said, we can surmise easily enough that the reference is to the great poet Kenneth Rexroth, often called the “father” of the so-called “Beat Generation” literary movement that grew up around him in 1950s San Francisco, and which included the poets Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, among many others.

Rexroth was a self-taught intellectual ...

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Brilliant Songs #21 : Gene McDaniels’s “Compared to What”

Consider these lines from the early 1960s pop classic, “A Hundred Pounds of Clay”:

He took a hundred pounds of clay
And then He said “Hey, listen
I’m gonna fix this-a world today
Because I know what’s missin’
Then He rolled his big sleeves up
And a brand-new world began
He created a woman and-a
Lots of lovin’ for a man
Whoa-oh-oh, yes he did

And now these, five years later, from another hit, “Compared to What”:

Slaughterhouse is killin’ hogs
Twisted children killin’ frogs
Poor dumb rednecks rollin’ logs
Tired old lady kissin’ dogs
Hate the human, love that stinkin’ mutt (I can’t stand it!)
Try to make it real, compared to what? C’mon baby now!

Might it strike you as improbable that one artist played a major role in both of these songs, the first which he sang to a hit that peaked at #11 on the R&B charts, the second which he wrote but was beyond happy and surprised to see another artist take to ...

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Brilliant Songs #20: Jay Rogers and Meggan Moorhead’s “Hymn for These Times”

The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked all manner of havoc and misery across the world, and in the way of all such human crises, it has also revealed deep reservoirs of our species’ adaptability, resourcefulness, and endurance. Part of that adaptation is purely practical: adjusting our behavior and lifestyle to minimize the risk of infection to ourselves and others, and making sure we will have enough food and shelter to survive the economic shock the pandemic has caused.

But another, arguably just as important part, has to do with meeting the internal challenges the pandemic poses, in the realm of what we commonly refer to as psyche, spirit, soul, and communion—that rich playground of the imagination where we grapple with questions of meaning and value, love and devotion, hope and despair.

Whatever our material accumulations, we are poor indeed without a sense of the larger and deeper context, purpose and de...

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