Largo (yawn)

I just read a biography about one of my favorite singer-songwriters, James Taylor. I was disappointed. Not with Taylor, but with the author Ian Halperin, a self-styled “investigative journalist” who has received some positive attention, and has apparently worked as a musician from time-to-time. Pish. I scooted over to Amazon, where I read other reviews complaining of the poor writing. Mr. Taylor deserves better. The only way he and his colleagues are going to get it right is if they write autobiographies, or cooperate with a reputable biographer.

2.0 out of 5 stars
images Fire and Rain Creates Mud, September 30, 2009

I so very much wanted to like this book. When reading biographies of contemporary persons, I try to remember to take what I find with a grain of salt and be generous of the author’s bias and context. For one, we most often have individuals writing bios who are trained as journalists. Stylistically there is a conflict.  Journalists opine, write tight paragraphs out of necessity, and do not have time or space to develop a narrative.

Biographies require a narrative treatment. It’s a form which needs to retell and recreate conversations and situations. Details are everything. When I see writer X of Such and Thus Magazine authoring a biography, I understand what I am getting myself into. That’s my bias.

My patience is waning.

“Fire and Rain” has some documentation.  There is some worthy content. We learn a few new details. All good. However, I cringe every few pages over grammatical sloppiness. The greater crime is a lack of fact-checking. It causes one to question the author and publisher’s motives. Do we get this thing written, ship product out, and accept the shortcomings for the cash?  Apparently. Don’t publishers employ editors anymore? Mean, picky editors who force accountability and some conformity to basic standards?  Apparently not. Is it too much to ask that information be cited, and some footnotes available?

I’ll offer an example of this miserable lack of fact-checking.

On page 124, the author is discussing the anticipation surrounding Taylor’s follow-up record to his first U.S. release on the Warner label, Sweet Baby James. ( Note that Taylor’s actual first record, James Taylor, was on the Apple label, but the zoo that was Apple and it’s messy demise, kept the record from being well promoted. There was nobody handling A&R at the time.)  Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon made a huge impression. Sophomore albums usually sell fewer units than first releases, and that is an accepted pattern in the record industry. I run into frustration in the following sentence from paragraph three.

“Solo artists like Jackson Browne and Cat Stevens were enjoying much-publicized revivals, so it wasn’t difficult to predict that Taylor’s new album would see massive media exposure.”

Here is the problem.  Although Cat Stephen’s 1971 release, Teaser and the Fire Cat was his fifth album, he had not yet taken off in the United States. The two singles from the first three albums reached chart positions of 118 and 115 (Billboard).  He did much better in the UK. In 1970, Wild World, from his fourth album, Tea For the Tillerman, made 11 on the chart (ibid).  Songs from this record were featured in the Harold & Maude soundtrack. This is a pattern of an artist riding up in a nice arc. Teaser was the evidence of Stevens arrival, certainly not, as the author states, a revival.

As for Jackson Browne, the author is egregiously wrong.  In 1971, Browne released his *first* album, the eponymous Jackson Browne, fondly referred, to his initial chagrin, as Saturate Before Using due to the cover art by Henry Diltz. It was a much anticipated release in the industry from the man who had composed hits for other artists.

Borrow the book from the library or go to as I did, where folks trade books. But keep the laptop handy because you’ll find yourself wanting to confirm certain details.


Sataña Vieros Furioso

imagesThey are coming. Yesterday, a few hours to remind us. Today it is still.  But tomorrow, or soon, we will feel the static electricity and the unease that pervades the LA Basin as the tumult increases.

The vientos de Satán have made plans and are on the rise.

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
—Raymond Chandler, “Red Wind” (1938).

Something about these winds disturb me to a near psychotic feeling of the flight reaction. It’s all too creepy and unsettling; I have to leave LA whether I am there for business or pleasure.

With the winds come the fires. It’s a two-fer. We build out and up into areas in which the natural ecosystem requires fires for rejuvenation. Does this stop the sprawl?  Will it ever? 

A few months later, if the rains beat down heavily and we are recovering from a drought cycle, there will be mud to contend with. Houses slipping down from their perches atop hillsides exhausted from water lust, and unable to absorb it.

In both cases, people seem astounded. Why the fires? How can we build fire-resistant houses that can stay attached to the staggering views? Common sense says nature always wins. Stupid wins, too, and we never learn.

The winds arrive, and I rev my wheels for a long drive up Interstate 5 to my adopted city of cool breezes. 


Respecting the Composer: Coda

imagesI’ve written an imaginary letter. There is a storage room somewhere full of these!

Please note the gentleman to our right (or stage left, if you will)  is our composer.

I’m feeling a bit put out that I have to accommodate a harpist and string quartet when a sweet little composition I am offering was written specifically for piano and voice  It’s just a social event, but there will be a million musicians there due to the couple’s affiliation.  The couple being feted put the entertainment in the hands of a capable person of good repute.  The person plays harp.

I cannot say for certain if this song was turned into an arrangement by consent of  the host, or if the music director took it up as a cause.  It is a Lied by Richard Strauss, sung in German, to a sexy text by a wonderful poet.  I learned today that it has grown into an orchestra piece, key changed for harp’s benefit, and the soprano, the Musical Milliner, was not consulted.

I am more than put out.  My thong’s in a twist.

I worship Richard Strauss. I know his music.  I know that he favored the soprano voice over all others.  He fell in love with and married a soprano, who was his muse.   And I know his intentions because he left clear instructions. My integrity is challenged by the idea that a person thinks the music cannot stand on its own as the composer, who was also a greatly esteemed conductor, thoughtfully formed it. It offends me that  “an occasion”  would, in someone’s eyes,  require a simple charming love song to need tarting up to better suit the event.

I am faced with the occupational hazard of choosing sportsmanship over integrity. Good will for more jobs.  We’ve all been there.  I’ll give a good performance, and the people there who know will understand that I’m just the help, singing the gig.  A situation with which they’re familiar.

Back to the imaginary letter.

Good Afternoon,
Thank you for the
pdf file with your orchestration of the Strauss.

I think you’ve done a nice job capturing the feeling of the piece. I appreciate the effort you’ve put into this orchestration.  I do, however, have some concerns.

I am uneasy about the key change. You said it’s impossible to play in Gb.  Strauss wrote this for voice and piano. I can comfortably sing up a half step, but you are changing both the color of tone and the intent of the composer. You play harp, non?  I know nothing about the challenges of your instrument other than I am stunned that anyone can play it. If the key change is to accommodate the harp, I sympathize. I am advocating for my beloved composer and his intentions. Can we return this Lied to its original key, please?

May I add a couple of  housekeeping items offered to you in good faith, from a singer who’s taken a few laps.

Please cite in your copy, especially if you intend to use it again, that the lyrics are by A.F. von Schack. He wrote such beautiful words for these songs.  Without him, where would we be?

Also, this song is part of a group of six Lied for voice and piano. Please cite Op. 19, No.2 My understanding is that Opus 19 is not in the public domain, in case you find yourself using this arrangement again.

In measure 4 ( I’m counting from the start per Strauss, and not the two introductory measures you wrote and kindly agreed to remove for me)  you have the 8th notes in the second beat tied. Strauss made space there in the diction and vocal line. If you must make an adjustment, tie the 8th notes in “da stroemt” -I have misplaced my umlauts-sorry.  I realize it doesn’t matter to the players, but I offer this for notational accuracy.

Please do not tie  “…Klar mir deiner…”  as there is a phrasing there.  And space. You’ve made the same notation after “… Kranz, ich will nur…”  and below it tied vln1 with an extra note.  Strauss put space under the voice because the singer, per the lyricist, is phrasing there in order to build on that crescendo which weeps into a diminuendo of sublime delicacy. That extra note from the fiddle player, although pretty- I think I get your intentions to perhaps extend the legato- will cause the player a bit of grief.  This is a fluid moment for the singer in terms of tempo. My read and my experience is that Strauss wants the voice exposed there.

In this piece, the lover’s ardor is expressed so gently, and at the same time, so quietly passionate  as to not require more that some chords with a few leading tones to convince the listener of the committment of the lover.

As to the 5/4 bar in lieu of 4/4, I understand that will help the players. However, there is no triplet “…und deiner…”  but a rubato, and the singer’s part marked with accents over those five notes. I think the intent in the translation here is  “…and how beautiful I feel when you look at me.”  Strauss places emphases on the romance.

You’ve added quite a lot in the last three measures.  It is pretty, but perhaps a bit busy? The singer ends with an intense piano decrescendo. Shall we trust our composer’s intelligence and let the music reflect the sweetness and simplicity of the piece? Less is more in this case.

Please advise (you complete idiot).

Your Soprano




A few stolen days, and a reminder that who I am is of value.  A reminder that I have had a rich life, and when I tell my stories, I remember that I have contributed good to the world, and there is more here for me to do.

A reminder that I am cherished.

Finally, I am reminded that happiness is found in the eyes, and touch and conversation of everyone I take time for, every day.

Note to self: count my value.  Vocalise for two hours every day. Practice piano for one hour, and spend another hour on learning new scores and songs. Remember remembering.