Glen Campbell keeps on playing

Glen Campbell is not just another pop celebrity, though that’s what he’s best known for.  He happens to be a great, great guitar player.  I’ve heard him play.  Anyway, the news came out awhile ago that he has Alzheimer’s.  What I didn’t know is that he is still giving concerts!

Here is a link to a review of one of those concerts, which sounds quite amazing.  It also includes a priceless quotation:

“I have Alzheimer’s?” he asks Kim, 53, his wife of 29 years… “Well, doggone … what’s that?” Kim gently reminds him that it’s the reason he’s been having trouble remembering things, but Campbell prefers a different explanation…. “God just cleared a lot of things out… It was crowded up there. I’ve been trying to get rid of that crap for years.”

via Althouse: Glen Campbell, despite Alzheimer’s disease, gave a concert last Thursday..

HT:  Bruce Gee

The Devil’s interval

by Jimmy Veith

Have you ever been freaked out by a piece of music that sounded evil? Have you heard combinations of notes that were so dissonant that it made you tense and restless, but yet was strangely alluring? Well, you may have been placed under the spell of the Devil’s interval, known in music theory as the augmented 4th or flatted 5th.

Let me explain. Remember when Maria, the good Nun from “The Sound of Music”, taught the children how to sing, with the Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do song? That was the major scale on which most Western music is based. In the key of C, it would be all the white keys on the piano; ie, C, D, E, F, G, A B and C. Each note of the scale is assigned a number. In the key of C, C is 1, D is 2, E is 3, F is 4, G is 5, A is 6 and B is 7.

For some mysterious reason, the major scale is not symmetrical in its intervals. There are whole steps between C, D, and E, but a half step from E to F. There are whole steps between F, G, A and B, but a half step from B to C. Now, let’s create a more sinister sounding scale by eliminating the half steps and playing only whole steps. If you start with middle C, you would play C, D, E, F# (G flat), G# (A flat), A# (B flat), then C again. You have just played a scale based on the tri-tones, which is a scale of six different notes in equal intervals as opposed to seven notes found in the major scale.

Now this is where it gets freaky. Play the C and F# (or G flat) together. This is the interval known as the augmented 4th or flatted 5th. Play this over and over again. How does it make you feel? Now play C and G flat in alternating order, over and over again, one second apart. Do you recognize the opening guitar riff in Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”? Play it some more. Have you summoned the devil yet? Ok, that’s enough, Quit Now! Quit Now! Quit Now I say, before it’s too late!

OK. I may be exaggerating. However, this interval has been used by composers when they want to create an atmosphere of evil or dread. It is used extensively by heavy metal groups such as Black Sabbath, and classical compositions such as Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, Beethoven’s Fidelio. Also, it is found in modern compositions such as West Side Story, and the theme song of the Simpson’s.

It has been said that this interval was banned in the middle ages by the clergy. This may be more mythology than fact. Are there any musicologists out there who could shed some light on this issue?

I don’t mean to suggest that artists that use this interval are by any means evil. Great music involves interplay between tension and release, and the use of this interval is one of many tools that a skillful composer can and should use to create tension.

Now here is something for you Lutherans. Consider the great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” by Martin Luther himself. The third line of the first verse reads: “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe.” The third line of the third verse reads: “The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him. ” The two lines where Luther refers to the Devil in the text of the hymn, also happens to be when the “devil’s interval” is found in the melody line. Just a coincidence? Or genius?

Big Brother Butts In:  I would add one more thing that Jimmy pointed out to me when he was explaining all of this over the piano.  I had always wondered why it is that musical scales have to have those half-steps.  Wouldn’t it be easier and more consistent and more orderly for a scale to have all whole steps? It would, but now I know that a scale with all whole steps is actually discordant.  Not only that, it has the Devil’s Interval!   Which teaches us that perfect regularity is neither beautiful nor good.   True beauty–whether of music or art or literature or a person–needs its quirks, its inconsistencies, its surprises, even its flaws. Philosophies and ideologies that demand utterly consistent regularity–think of Marxism–become inhuman, tyrannical, and demonic.  As do people when they try to fit their neighbors into some regular pattern of whole notes.  And God, who Himself is unutterably complex and confounding to human reason, designed things this way.  (And if you think such connection between music and other kinds of cosmic order is just made up, the old music theorists, such as Bach–anyone know if he used the Devil’s Interval?–thought and made music in these terms.

The Twenty-seven Club

Rock chanteuse Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27.   That’s the same age that Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison died.  Also Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones.  Also Pigpen McKernan of the Grateful dead.  Also blues legend Robert Johnson.  And less famous rockers Chris Bell (of Big Star) and D. Boon (of the Minutemen).

Perhaps 27 is the age that the human body pays the toll for the untrammeled rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, especially when it involves hard drugs like heroin, used by a good number of the “27 club.”  There are, of course, geriatric rockers like Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler, but the death toll should be sobering.  Dying young from a dissolute lifestyle is not limited, of course, to rock stars.  Hank Williams was 29.  And the “in memoriam” tributes at the typical high school reunion will list those who never were famous at all.

At any rate, if you are older than 27, you have survived your youth.

via Amy Winehouse’s death at 27 highlights a troubled, young talent – The Washington Post.

Happy 70th Birthday, Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan turns 70 today.   I’ve been listening to his tunes lately, and they are as good as ever, if not better.  So, my fellow Baby Boomers, now that Dylan is 70, will you now admit that you aren’t young any more?

Notice I am not using a headline that alludes to “Forever Young.”  That’s about the only Dylan song that I find annoying, since it assumes that being young is better than being old, a notion I dispute.  (Do you fellow aging baby boomers now agree?)

 

American Idol finale

I have been sparing you this year my interest in American Idol, the popular talent show that causes the American public to exercise aesthetic judgments.  But now we are at the finale.  The last two standing are Scotty McCreary and Laure Alaina, 17 and 16 years old respectively.  They are both country singers, interestingly enough, and refreshingly free of attitude and vulgarity.   This season is being hailed as one of the best ever in terms of talent.  Simon Cowell is not on anymore, so the criticisms have been kinder and gentler, to put it mildly.  The replacements for Cowell and Paula Abdul, Steve Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, have been surprisingly likable.  They compete tonight, with the winner being announced on Wednesday.

I think some of you must follow the show, despite the snide remarks I have endured in previous years (“Dr. Veith!  You are the highbrow culture critic!  How can you watch this dreck?”), so I address only you fellow-travelers:  What do you think of the show this season?  What were the highlights?  Has justice been done?  Who deserves to win?

American Idol this time around

Yes, I’m following American Idol again, despite the way some of you have been giving me a hard time about this particular guilty pleasure.  Last night the 13 finalists were selected.  I would just like to note that I picked every one of the male performers and voted for four of them.  The one female contestant that I was pulling for, Naima Adedapo from Milwaukee, did not get enough votes from the public, but the judges put her back in as a “wild card.”  My favorite and the one I’m predicting to win is Jacob Lusk.  As Steven Tyler said, we need his kind of singing again, a strong, jazzy, standards-kind-of-voice.  Naima is much the same way.   These are adult voices.  It’s time adults made music for adults, as opposed to kids making music for kids, or kids making music for adults.

A feature of “Hollywood Week” was a plump baby-faced 15 year old with an angelic voice getting thrown out of a group by, in effect, some mean cool kids.  The mean ones were all voted off, except for country-singer-with-a-deep-voice Scotty, who tearfully repented.

Also, I will say that the new judging team of Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, and veteran Randy Jackson has, to my surprise, done a good job.  I had assumed the dark lord Simon Cowell would be missed, but the more positive panel has worked well.

This new crop of finalists is very strong, surely one of the best.

With twist, `American Idol’ down to 13 contestants.

So if any of the rest of you are following the show, I would welcome your assessments and your predictions.  (If you aren’t and if your comment would just be something on the order of “why would anyone watch this show?” you can keep that to yourself.)


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