Some Marvels

Batman and Robin

Lorenz Hart

Miserably closeted, self-hating and almost constantly booze-sickened, Larry Hart could nevertheless write a song lyric like a crazed angel, and his stupefying lines (married to Richard Rodgers’ unbound melodies) adorn many many many of the tunes that comprise the Great American Songbook. When Hart dashed out a lyric he did so with such single-minded enthusiasm that he was known to leave the bathtub overflowing as he pursued the perfect line he’d only sat down momentarily to scribble. You can feel Hart’s light bulb going off over these things. His short conflicted life ended in a literal NYC gutter within days of his having been pushed away and his longtime partnership dissolved by tune-twin Richard Rodgers, who could no longer bring himself to write and work with the scary, ruinuos drunk Hart had become. They’d penned a canon of the most enduring and melodically insane pop tunes the world has seen, but on this night Hart seated himself on a storm-swept sidewalk outside an 8th street bar, bombed out of his sorry gourd, having been earlier refused entry to his own show, what would be his and Rodgers’ final Broadway collaboration, ‘A Connecticut Yankee’.  Rodgers had given strict and panicked orders not to allow his increasingly drink-maddened partner into the theater this opening night, and the celebrated lyricist was dead within two days, of pneumonia. Rodgers would go on to form an iconic partnership with Oscar Hammerstein II and redefine the American stage musical, those two all but inventing the idea of show songs as actual bearers of a play’s narrative and not just pretty placeholders sprinkled through the acts. But never again would a songwriting team crank out with such seeming ease the context-free uber pop Rodgers and Hart alchemically produced without pause for two decades. Though the language of critical praise hadn’t advanced sufficiently to allow for overspill (favorably comparing McCartney to Schubert, for instance, as happened within a short 25 years or so), the critics unanimously praised Rodgers’ melodies at a time when Melody was a commonly understood artistic element and the successful songwriter’s Grail, RIP.  He and Hart became very wealthy and very famous indeed. Even this ascent wasn’t enough to staunch Hart’s lifelong hemorrhage of self-opinion. Despite the ghastly hangovers and daily torment (or maybe due to them), Hart’s lyrics are hardened spun glass. His stuff can make you both swoon and bark out loud with laughter in the same stanza; lyrics whose life-informed undercurrent of bitter regret has given these songs a darkling piquancy that ripens them with age. It Never Entered My Mind is a tune around which someone ought to construct a religion. Please listen to that within the next 48 hours, preferably Julie London’s exasperatingly sexy take on it. Rodgers and Hart also wrote (among many many others) Manhattan, Where or When (a moving, smokily melodious  reincarnation tale of two reconstituted old pals meeting in another age and having the pleasing sense they’ve met before; Sinatra chose it as the last song he would ever sing to a dying Sammy Davis Jr. at Davis’ mute final public appearance, a star-studded tribute. Frankie sang the absolute balls off it.), My Funny Valentine, Bewitched (Bothered and Bewildered), and the miraculous I Wish I were in Love Again, in which performing seals are conscripted to offer a sensible lesson on how pain can exalt. Hart was a doomed Magus who never made it out of the 40s. We owe him..

Abyss Resurrection Marvel

Ed Harris Convincingly Shouts His Ex Back From The Dead in The Abyss

The Abyss is a movie about non-terrestrial intelligences from a deep sub-oceanic trench hazing the freaked occupants of a sunken oil rig. Okay? The film features hyper-articulated water tentacles, giant glowing jellyships and a water-breathing argonaut. Still, the audience wants believable. The scene in which Ed Harris resurrects his drowned ex-wife with shouting has invited sophomoric titters of ridicule since the movie’s release in ’89. In the shot, the crew are gathered despondently around the dead woman and witnessing with some disgust the actions of her manic ex as he pleads for his recently despised ex-wife’s life. The thing is, the scene is actually hair-raising and jumps out of the film like an Olivier moment amid 2 or so hours of otherwise capable acting. Harris takes the game up several notches and seems not to be acting at all. He gets lost and it’s a heart-wounding bit of cinema ~ 3/4 of the way through a pretty good sci-fi movie, but the setting could have been anywhere. His desperate death rasp, his veil of tears, his clasped hands and prayer-rattle at the end of the resuscitation? You stare. It gives me Wet Eyeball Fire. Can you really shout a loved one back from the dead? Uh, yeah?? The scene has been widely mocked, even by the most ardent suspenders of movie house disbelief, but is in fact one of those cinematic miracles that happens when all the stops are pulled out. Ed Harris!! In this movie and elsewhere. Don’t try to make me feel stupid about this.

McAloon And Smith

All The World Loves Lovers

Paddy McAloon’s family outing Prefab Sprout (comprised of Paddy, his girlfriend Wendy and bass-playing, jug-eared brother Martin) scampered lithely onto the scene in 1984 with an indefinable prog-folk thingy called Swoon, an album brimming with gorgeous melodies (that again!), hyper-literate wordplay and unearthly arrangements never quite heard before or since. It was a somewhat turgid thicket of high art with a couple of glowing palliatives in the mix (listen to ‘Cruel’ from that album if you ever get the chance; magnificent – ‘Cruel is the gospel that sets us all free, then takes you away from me‘). Then T. Dolby came along and had Paddy sit down and play him some of his new stuff on guitar. The resulting high-pop-watermark, an album called Steve McQueen (Two Wheels Good in the States, because marketers recognize us as literalist clods) was a crisp 4/4 color wheel with such songs as can make your spirit gasp like a surfacing pearl diver (sorry). By the time the Sprouts recorded Jordan: The Comeback the gloves were off. All The World Loves Lovers from that album is a beautifully faceted hunk of chandelier-pop, sprinkled tastefully with confectioner’s sugar and just possibly a demure thimbleful of meth (to bowdlerize Ms. Poppins) so lifting is this danceable hymn. The bass just chugs along, every so often Wendy weighs in with the unembarrassed one-note proclamation ‘Love’. It soars. McAloon is a bitchin, literate lyricist who doesn’t play dumb however naked the sentiment; one of those songwriters who wears his heart on his sleeve and then leads with his sleeve while walking around, shopping, doing laundry etc. Every song he writes waves its arms like your giddy friend at the airport. You approach smiling and he rushes over and desperately embraces you with his eyes squeezed shut. This isn’t for everybody, but I’m into it, big time.  ‘All The World’ takes a transporting 4 minutes to mesmerize with an embarrassingly bald truth. We love love!

Great Expectorations Marvel

Stylish Spitting

This modern world is many things to many people, and we are daily stunned by a new innovation or piece of super shiny crap. These days people go to their deaths typing behind the wheel of a moving car. This is the future, Nostradamus. Even you missed it, and who can blame you? Typically the driver’s last message to the world is something like ‘I’m typing and I’m driving’. So if nothing else there is a helpful surfeit of meta-irony anymore. In the wake of these tragedies the heartbroken are known to express their otherwise unspeakable grief through tweets, as in “Heartbreaking Tweet…”. If we had half a mind left as a culture, the very phrase ‘heartbreaking tweet’ would have us laughing till our asses gasped. Alas we do not have half a mind as a culture, and neither has this Guilded Age of witless advances managed to stamp out world hunger or eradicate poverty, but g*d what gadgets! These modern times somehow seem only to have increased the number of men in sleek pricy jeans and sunglasses who launch slobber balls as a fashion statement. To my mind this oral tradition began around the time the iPhone became the First World’s must- have. Maybe just coincidence. Or maybe all that jawboning at the bottom of a wifi funnel has overstimulated the male salivary thingys. You’ve seen this guy walking our streets and sidewalks, hands in pockets, staring straight ahead with a studied nonchalance. Without warning a strangely coherent wad of goomba loops balletically from his unmoving yap and falls to earth in a tiny ballistic arc. Excuse me, but wtf? What and why are you spitting onto our crosswalks, outdoor markets and street corners? And may I approach you and ask that very question without you pushing me down to the ground with a hand on my startled face? I marvel.

Look Away Marvel

Band Pics With One or More Members Looking Off-Camera

When in the long history of band photography did it become de rigueur to have a member or members looking away as if dreamily distracted by the wonderment we dance floor peons can only vaguely apprehend? For decades we band pic looker-atters have had to contend with this madness. Incredibly, and after all this time, the bands themselves seem not to know they are following a trope that is about as hip as The Wheel of Fortune. Notice this phenom next time you are leafing through your local news and arts journal. You’ll see several local bands with a singular askance-peeking rebel operating like a fifth column within the larger group.  All of whom considered themselves rebels till they eagerly ran to snatch up their Thursday afternoon edition of the local rag with themselves on the cover, where to their chagrin they see that Carl has singled himself out as the band’s  sidewise-glancing Token Mystic; the Death Metal Walt Whitman. It’s time to put a stop to it. Then I might start to miss it. These hideous conundrums define me.

Cunning Linguists

Human Language

Someone’s lippy yap moves around a little; a wet hole ringed with jagged bones and featuring as its star attraction a pink pseudopod, clicking and sliding and writhing around in there like a crazy serpent, producing moist antediluvian nonsense-gargling that oughtn’t mean ANYTHING AT ALL.  And we are able to interpret this wet gibberish with crystal clarity.  We can even recognize it coming out of the radio, and you can’t even see the mouth parts moving around in that instance. Does this make sense? Profoundly, no. Burroughs was right.

This has been a random sampling of many things I hold to be marvels. Not brief enough by half, I know.  Interesting, huh. At what do you marvel? At.

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