Thursday, November 30, 2006

In Other News

It is currently the one week of the year when it is cold enough that I have to wear socks at home.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tuesday Tunes

It's been pointed out to me that the last five entries in a row on this blog were about animals, more or less. While I am slightly obsessed with my cats, and love giraffes and my parents' new dog very much, I am actually a musicologist, and do spend most of my time thinking about music. So, in what I hope will be a regular Tuesday feature of this blog, I want to take a moment to discuss a favorite song. This week, that song is an obvious choice for those who know me. In fact, when I was teaching History of Rock and Roll this summer, I had an extra credit question on the final exam which read, "What is the greatest song of all time?" This was not a subjective, or defend-in-an-essay question. There was only one right answer, and I had warned my students earlier in the quarter that they needed to write down in their notes that this song was the greatest song of all time, and be ready to regurgitate this answer for the final. So, what is, objectively and empirically,* the greatest song of all time?

The Shirelles, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" (1960

I'm not, of course, the only person to love this song so much. In our classes here, we usually teach this song in conjunction with Susan Douglas's lovely essay "Why the Shirelles Matter." Jacqueline Warwick's forthcoming book on sixties girl groups will no doubt discuss it excellently as well. The basic point that these authors make is that although the usual annoying rockist scholars of popular music studies tend to view the period 1959-1964--after Elvis joins the army, before the Beatles invade--as a fallow time in popular music, it's actually the period when we get unusually rich and complex music aimed at teenage girls. This song is a great example--rather than being sentimental about love and boys and things, it is quite frankly discussing sexuality and teenage romance as a meaningful experience:
Tonight you're mine completely
You give your love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow?

Is this a lasting treasure?
Or just a moment's pleasure?
Can I believe the magic of your sigh
Will you still love me tomorrow

Tonight with words unspoken
You said that I'm the only one
But will my heart be broken
When the night meets the morning sun?

Compare this with Patti Page's marriage advice for girls, published the same year, and you can see how unusual it is to treat this subject so forthrightly and frankly. And not only is it frank, but it is subtle and emotionally rich--the song's only two and a half minutes, but it feels like this microscopic moment of decision is stretched out for symphonic ages.

But it's not really about the lyrics, of course. And although the songwriters, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, knew how to craft a fancy-pants chord progression very well, it's not even really about that either. I agree with one of Douglas's points that actually it's all about the timbre: the heavy reverb on the lead vocal, mixed all the way front. No saxophone or distorted lead guitar, just those lovely strings, that shimmery quiet guitar, and above all, Shirley Owens's throaty, heartfelt vocals. The violins represent hopefulness, and when they break off for their solo moment, you really believe that it's going to work. But every time Shirley sings, it's heartbreaking. You hear that voice, and you know what is really going to happen in the morning, no matter what she is saying. But then there is the ineffable: it makes me really happy to listen to this song. It's sad, it's heartbreaking, but...the pain feels good, in an endorphin-rush-after-a-tattoo kind of way. I just wish I could put my finger on how the music does this, technically speaking.

It's a sad song, and it's a lovely song, and it is the Greatest Song of All Time. If you haven't listened to it recently, go get a copy, find a quiet place, close your eyes, and enjoy.

*Objective and empirical because I am a musicologist, and I say so.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

More Thanksgiving

Click the owl for more pictures of Thanksgiving at my grandparents. Including, by popular demand, The New Dog. Unfortunately, being rather squirmy, he wasn't very good at sitting still for a picture. Biting my ear, very good at that.

Note to self: those thirty undergraduate analyses of a Chopin prelude ain't going to grade themselves, mister.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Lions and Tigers and Bears

No dead rats, this time, but lots of giraffes. I've been going to Thanksgiving at my grandparents' house in Napa Valley for almost twenty years now, and each time, there is some sort of activity to keep everyone occupied for the day after. Wineries are the obvious choice, and we've done that a few times. Obviously, this was less fun when I was under 21, but some of the wineries are kind of cool even for kids--one, I seem to recall, has a gondala ride up to the top of the ridge. We've also gone to visit the Calistoga Geyser, the Petrified Forest, even the Napa Valley Wine Train. For the last one, my grandfather had to go incognito in my baseball cap and my mother's sunglasses, since local residents officially disaprove of the train.

This year was no different, and my grandmother bought us all tickets to go to Safari West. It's a 400 acre wildlife preserve that breeds and raises a bunch of endangered African species. I'm not sure where they stand in the hierachy of such parks--they are a private organization that makes money off of tours and visitors staying in authentic South African tent cabins, but they seem to be accredited by all the right people, and eschew fancy lions and elephants in favor of more mundane elk and gazelle whatsits. With the exception of three cheetahs, its all herd animals. But I definitely liked the giraffes. Who doesn't like giraffes? Giraffes are great.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Turkey, Puppies, and Rats

Thanksgiving is upon us. Tomorrow, my cousin and I are driving up to my grandparents' house in Napa Valley, where we'll be doing The Meal with my mom's side of the family. I'm looking forward to clean air, good food, meeting The New Dog, and of course, time with the family.

Of course, last year, this same plan ended up with me nose to nose with a dead rat while crawling underneath the house attempting to install a satellite dish. But high hopes for this year!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sunday evening with a cat in my lap

It's nice to take the weekend off. I've finished a chapter, a fellowship application, and a bunch of grading, so I thought I deserved some relaxation. These past two days, I've cleaned my apartment, done laundry, spent some quality time with the cats, gone grocery shopping, cooked a big heap of pad thai, and watched a good chunk of the first season of Battlestar Galatica. I've resisted BG for a long time, since science fiction tends to bore my eyeballs out. But I watched a few episodes this fall, and have to admit it's pretty good. Then tonight, I had some friends over to eat the aforementioned pad thai and watch Goonies, which I had somehow never seen before. I think it is a slight generation gap--the movie came out in 1985, so even though it was a kid's movie, I was just a little too young to see it in the theater, or appreciate it fully if I had. So I'm glad to have filled that pop cultural gap.

My favorite line from the movie, apropos of the characters trying to play a melody correctly on a special skeleton keyboard in order to open a secret door: "I can't tell... if it's an A sharp or if it's a B flat!" "If you hit the wrong note, we'll all 'B' flat!"

Despite this relaxation, I am getting excited for my next chapter. I'm glad that my dissertation involves several different genres of music--getting sick of the music I study is less of a problem than it could be. I'll post more about this chapter soon, but suffice to say, I spent all day today listening to the Moonglows, the Orioles, the Ink Spots, and the Coasters. Mmmmm.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Poetry Friday

Who doesn't love a little Roethke on a Friday evening in November?

“For an Amorous Lady”

“Most mammals like caresses, in the sense in which we usually take the word, whereas other creatures, even tame snakes, prefer giving to receiving them.” From a Natural-History Book

The pensive gnu, the staid aardvark,
Accept caresses in the dark;
The bear, equipped with paw and snout,
Would rather take than dish it out.
But snakes, both poisonous and garter,
In love are never known to barter;
The worm, though dank, is sensitive:
His noble nature bids him give.

But you, my dearest, have a soul
Encompassing fish, flesh, and fowl.
When amorous arts we would pursue,
You can, with pleasure, bill or coo.
You are, in truth, one in a million,
At once mammalian and reptilian.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Life in the Ivory Tower

Want to see something fun? This will really make your day. This is a video of UCLA campus police tasering a student in the campus library. You can read the full story here. The best part is when the kid, a 23-year-old student, is on the ground in handcuffs screaming in pain, and they tell him to stand up or they will taser him again. That's just slightly better than the part where a bystander asks an officer for his badge number, and he tells her "Shut up or I'll tase you." Good times.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Fellowship Collage

Fellowship season is in full swing. These past few weeks, my classmates and I have been up to our necks in sample chapters, "narrative timetables," "relevance to broader humanistic inquiry," and finicky online applications. Take your project, the proposal for which you slaved over for months and which is about 26 pages long, and boil it down to four pages. Take your beloved 55 page chapter, and cut it in half. Cobble together a two page "sample bibliography," wondering which books will make you seem smart, and which are passé. Fellowship season is all about chopping yourself into little bits, rearranging those bits as instructed to do so by a mildly fascistic fellowship authority, and somehow trying to inject a little bit of life into the mix

There are ups and downs to being an Americanist. There are less fellowships for us to apply for, for one thing. If you want to go do archival research in Europe, there are tons of funding opportunities. And while I suppose it is a little easier and cheaper for me to go to my archives, it's actually not that easy or cheap, and I wouldn't mind support. At the same time, a friend of mine has a fancy fellowship to spend time in a foreign country, and the paperwork is just astonishingly arcane and intricate. So, you know, ups and downs.

I finished my main fellowship today. Another big one to apply for in January, and another in March. Here's hoping that some referee somewhere finds the relationship between music and McCarthyism so unbearably fascinating that they want to shower me with piles of money.

The good news? Now that I've done this, it is officially time to really move on to my next chapter! I love me my John Cage, but I'm looking forward to writing about music I can hum to when driving to school. Music of Changes somehow just didn't cut it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

On Blue Books and Movie Stars

Los Angeles is an odd place to be an academic. You know how there are some cities that are safe havens for academics? Obviously, a lot of those cities are college towns. I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a year, clearly a place where my species feels comfortable. Walking around Cambridge, you know that the people on the street understand you. If you were to tell someone you were a graduate student, they understand what that means: that you're poor, over-educated, pretentious, and socially awkward. They don't judge you (much), because they have a slot in their brains where they can place you. Even in a non-college town like New York City, there is definitely a niche for academics. You see a slovenly-dressed person grading a stack of blue books, you know who they are. You see an older man with a comb-over and a tweed jacket, you know what he is.

The citizens of Los Angeles just don't have that slot for us. This town--or at least my corner of it--is so dominated by the Industry (and there is only one!) that anybody who does something different will always be an oddity. When I meet people in bars, they are always fascinated by the fact that I am getting a Ph.D. When I pull out exams to grade at my local coffeeshop, heads across the room look up from their screenplays and stare at me. There are actually a lot of academics in Los Angeles--UCLA, USC, Cal State LA, Cal Tech, and a lot of smaller places--but we are completely subsumed to the Hollywood monster. Sometimes I wish I lived in a city where I had a place.

Of course, if I was in Cambridge I would not, as I just did tonight, have looked up from my pile of blue books at the Sunset Boulevard Coffee Bean to see Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest, and Jamie Lee Curtis walk by on their way to the premiere of For Your Consideration, followed by a swarm of paparazzi. Take that, Cambridge.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Week in LA

It has been a good week for celebrities. Last Friday, during the conference, I saw Brian Baumgartner at the Century City food court. The American version of The Office is one of my favorite shows, so that was pretty exciting. More exciting, however, was on Thursday, when I saw Morgan Freeman. I was walking to lunch on campus, and he was standing there being interviewed by a reporter. Cool!

Coolest, however, was today. While shopping at Collar and Leash, our local pet supply store, I had a discussion on the merits of different kinds of cat litter with Anna Faris, of Scary Movie, Lost in Translation, and My Super Ex-Girlfriend fame. I've always thought she was pretty cool, and it turns out she was nice in person too. Unfortunately, her cats are having trouble finding the litter box. She ended up going with some special litter that is supposed to attract cats; I went with our usual sawdust pellet standby.

Speaking of naughty cats, Pablo and Carlos have figured out a clever way to express their annoyance when Nikki or I don't feed them breakfast at an appropriately early hour. The hallway outside our bedrooms is wallpapered with New Yorker covers, so when they are hungry in the morning, they start eating the covers. Every morning I wake up to another pile of scrap paper outside my door, and another empty spot on the wall.

Maybe I'll talk to my good friend Anna for suggestions.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

News of the Day

Things One Should Read:
  • For a Veteran's Day feature, the San Francisco Chronicle had the bright idea to interview one of those veterans who often gets ignored on this patriotic holiday--in this case, the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It's totally fascinating to hear Ferlinghetti talk about his experience in WWII, which included chasing Nazi submarines in a little wood boat, and visiting Nagaskai six weeks after the bomb. Read it here.

  • Steven Soderbergh is apparently making a movie using primarily 1940s movie-making technology: old lenses, only boom mics, incandescent lighting, etc. Using the technology forces him to use certain angles that you don't see much anymore, and forces to actors to speak loudly and with precise diction. Basically, it's historically-informed performance practice for film! Richard Taruskin must be spinning in his grave. Oh wait, he's not dead.

  • One More: It's not the most intelligent article in the world, but our local weekly the Citybeat has a cover story this week on undocumented students at UCLA. A little depressing, but worth a read, especially for those of us in the teaching profession! We really often have no idea what is going on in our student's lives. Here I am hectoring my students to tell the difference between Schubert and Beethoven, and they are worrying about where to buy a fake social security number so that they can work and not be tossed out of the country. Man.

Poetry Friday

I'd like to share something about myself. I don't think it's common knowledge; in fact, it's rather personal. It's my favorite poet. A person's favorite poet tells you a lot about them. I'm not sure what exactly my choice says about me; so it always makes me a little nervous to reveal it. But here goes: William Carlos Williams. There. Now you know.

A Widow's Lament in Springtime
William Carlos Williams, 1921

Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
Thirtyfive years
I lived with my husband.
The plumtree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turned away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Good and Bad

I'm glad the New York Times is teaching its reporters how to write good:
A protracted recount in Virginia is a scenario that many voting experts feared, with control of Congress hinging on a razor-thin margin in one Senate race, bringing a replay of the bitter litigation of the 2000 presidential election, which resulted in a drawn-out recount and bitter litigation.

In other news, how do you know when your veterinarian girlfriend has become jaded?

Me: How was your day?
Her: Good and bad. We killed several of my patients today, but on the plus side that means rounds won't take as long tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Change is Gonna Come

Almost didn't exercise democracy today! My plan was to vote in the evening, once I got home from school. Jewel Dakini and I left at 6:30 pm, which should have been plenty of time to be home before the polls closed at 8, but there was staggeringly unpleasant traffic, and it took us over an hour to get to WeHo. By the time I dropped her off and found parking, I had five minutes left to vote, and also to deliver Violet Vixen's absentee ballot. (I'm hoping that in the future, every single person I know will have a blog so that anytime I recount a story I can link to every single person.) But I made it, and there were no lines, thank goodness.

My voting was along the expected lines. No on the annoying Props. 83 and 85, yes on the bond measures, the cigarette tax, and the alternative fuel thingy. Also, no on that measure that would have forced the legislature to put transportation taxes towards repairing roads--if there is anything I learned from my mother's career as a school board member, it's that state propositions are a bad way to allocate funds. I skipped the judges since, really, who has any idea, and voted a straight Democratic ticket everything else.

When it came to governor, however, I took the opportunity to indulge in a bit of caprice: I didn't vote for Democratic candidate Phil Angelides. Which is not to say that I voted for Herr Schwarzenegger, because believe you me, I am not looking forward to a lifetime of having students looking at the diploma on my office wall and seeing Arnold's signature. No, I voted for Peter Camejo, the Green candidate.

Now, I don't know a ton about Mr. Camejo. I feel like I have heard a few inklings of negative stuff about him, and at any rate, i definitely don't support the Green platform all the way. But voting Green was a wonderful feeling. When I first registered to vote, days after turning eighteen in 1998, I was a committed supporter of third parties, and gleefully registered as a Green Party member for my maiden election. Remember 1998? Things were so hopeful. Yes, the Republicans controlled the House, and yes, the Monica Lewinsky scandal had broken a few months earlier. But still, having lived under a Democratic administration ever since I was twelve years old, it was hard to imagine the evil that lay ahead. One could imagine that greater change was possible, and that one's convictions, rather than fears, could be the source of my vote. Don't worry, by 2000 I knew the jig was up, and voted for Gore.

But I still remember that feeling of optimism when I first registered to vote, and could actually vote for someone whose politics I agreed with. That really hasn't been possible since then. Like every other leftist, I've compromised, and compromised. And I don't regret it at all, because these political times have required it. But in this election, where Governor Arnold was headed towards a landslide, and the Democratic candidate had run a sniveling, unpleasant campaign, it felt great to be able to vote Green. And I could do so not just because my vote was a throwaway, but because once again, I'm feeling optimistic.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Conference Hangover

The day after an academic conference is akin to the day after a drinking binge. (Or so I imagine, mom.) You wake up with a hangover, literal and metaphorical, with no sense of what has happened for the last few days. Your belongings are scattered everywhere, the fridge is empty, and the cats are looking at you with a wounded look in their eyes. If the police showed up and accused me of murder, I could probably be pressured into a confession.

Man. This past few days was the annual meeting of my esteemed professional organization, held here in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, this non-anonymous blog is probably not the proper location to discuss the ins and outs of the conference. Saw some good papers, saw some bad papers. Schmoozed with lots of famous scholars, caught up with old friends who I only ever see at these things. Wasn't giving a paper myself, this year, so no pressure there. I watched several friends go through the job interview process, and I can't say I'm looking forward to that next fall.

Speaking of next year--so, I'm working on my application to a fellowship for next year, due in ten days. I've got my dissertation chapter all done, which was the main segment of the application. I look at the fine print, and read this: "Include a polished, substantive chapter of your dissertation (that is neither the introduction nor the conclusion) of not more the 25 double-spaced pages."

25 pages?!

What kind of diss chapter is only 25 pages? Mine is 53, and I am told that anywhere in the range of 40-60 is typical for my discipline. And note that they do not want a 25 page section of a chapter; they specify a 25 page chapter. Am I supposed to cut down and make a special version of this chapter just for the fellowship? Mind you, nowhere in the materials for this fellowship did they mention a page limit for the chapter. It was only revealed when you log in to upload your proposal. Argh!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Payday on the Sunset Strip

Yesterday was the first of the month, which means payday in these parts. And as is my custom, I went up to the Tower Classical on Sunset to part with a percentage of my paycheck. As we all know, Tower is going out of business, and like most, I feel ambivalent. On the one hand, Tower was the first monolithic chain store to come along and drive independents out of the business. On the other hand, in these days of Walmart as the nation's largest music retailer, one gets nostalgic for the days of big bad record store chains--at least they specialized in music! And Tower, to its credit, has always maintained a strong commitment to classical music. Although I am definitely not nostalgic for the waning power of the canon--as some commentators have been--I did like that a large corporation was willing to maintain a small space for music that is not commercially viable. The Tower Classical I used to frequent was a great store--not as gigantic a selection as Amoeba, but perfectly decent, with a knowledgeable staff. Oh well.

At any rate, this Tower has now made it down to 30% off, which means that the FLUX Quartet recording of Morton Feldman's String Quartet No. 2 was only forty bucks. Haven't listened to it yet, but I'm excited. Not that I will listen to the whole thing, as it is about six hours long--the package comes with one version cut up into five different CDs, and then a version on one DVD so that you could theoretically listen to the whole thing in one sitting. I actually was around when FLUX was recording this--they did it at Wesleyan my senior year. I didn't attend any of the taping, although I can't remember why. It was definitely a big event at the time.

Walking back home, I happened by the Viper Room, the legendary club on the Strip that used to be owned by Johnny Depp. There was a small pile of flowers and candles outside, and a small sign that informed me that October 31 was the anniversary of River Phoenix's death from a drug overdose, on the curb outside of the Viper Room.