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The raving thoughts of a misanthropic academic

December 20, 2010

Song of the Week: Silent Night

Brown Baptist ChurchUnlike many families, the Fodder Family Christmas is traditionally held on Christmas Eve. Some of my earliest memories of life come from Christmas Eves spent in the drafty Brown American Indian Baptist Church, just five miles south of Walters on Highway 5.

(Incidentally, this is the same church where I met my wife at the tender age of 13).

As did many of the children, I had a sense of dread as we lined up to participate in the annual Christmas Program. Like criminals waiting to be executed, we somberly walked down the narrow aisle toward the front, parading before the stained glass windows and our adoring families, badly reenacting the birth of Baby Jesus. Invariably someone would fall, see their mother, or make a b-line for the exits in the middle of the procession. And every other year or so, the odd child would simply stand on the stage and cry, giving my mother/director fits.

Of course, nothing matched my personal dread, standing before a packed congregation, and reading the Christmas Story from the book of Luke, usually chapter two:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
(Luke 2:1-2 ESV)

Not to brag, but I have sometimes been asked how I developed what scant public speaking skills I have. My stock answer is that nothing steels the soul quite like reading the Christmas story to a church full of Baptists on Christmas Eve.

And let’s face it, if you can learn to properly pronounce “Quirinius” while speaking in public, well quite nearly anything can roll off the tongue.

Brown Church, Stained Glass WindowAt any rate, my big relief came when the bell tolled, sending a signal to Santa Claus that the torture of the children was over.

Bounding through the front door, parading past the stained glass windows, Santa Clause came with a big bag of presents for all the boys and girls – whether good or bad, much to my chagrin. That particular moment always struck me as an incredible teaching opportunity to stiff the kids that had screwed up our Christmas play.

Santa seemed to think better of it.

Of course, this came as little surprise. Santa Claus was always one to let the odd bit of mischief go unpunished. I knew this first hand. After all, the part of Santa Claus was played by my Grandfather who was generally quite keen to turn a blind eye to the trouble-making caused by his grandchildren.

Many years have passed, and Grandpa Fodder has long since relinquished his role as Santa Claus in the Brown Church Christmas Program. I suppose hip replacement surgery makes it somewhat perilous for squirming children to sit on his lap these days. But the Christmas tradition soldiers on every Dec. 24th.

Papa's Living Room, Christmas 2004Church services were followed by our family Christmas at the Fodder Family Farm. Our stockings hung neatly above the cramped living room. Toys packed deep within the branches at the base of the Christmas tree. Nothing compared to the smell of the cedar as we entered the house. The scent was even more satisfying, knowing that I had helped cut the tree from a grove near the creek behind our house.

After Christmas dinner, pie, and coffee (I began drinking the nectar of the gods around age five) it was finally time to open presents. As the living room became a wasteland of wrapping paper, I could always look forward to the pouting face of my youngest sister when she did not get the Bratz Doll of her choice.

Chelsey - I Hate This Bow

But what I remember most about the Church service, and our family gathering was the music. From the church singing carols in unison, to the small cd player tucked into the corner of our living room, it was always the Christmas music that set the spirit of the evening. Christmas would surely have been memorable and special without the sounds to match. But with them, the evening was perfect.

Among the pantheon of hymns, no song stood out more in my mind than the timeless Christmas Carol, Silent Night as performed by Bing Crosby. I could wax eloquent about the song’s timelessness, and the depth of meaning it communicates. But the carol’s genius is in its brevity, and its profundity in its simplicity. A simple song, for a simple message of redemption that mankind will never fully grasp.

The Bing Crosby version of the Silent Night, circa 1947 is the gold standard for the song. Crosby’s performance is notable for its starkness. A simple white backdrop and a boys choir are all that accompany the voice more widely associated with Christmas than any other.  The carol will almost certainly blare from the iPod player as we open Christmas presents Friday night, in the same cramped living room you see above. For if Christmas isn’t about tradition, then nothing is.

With that, please enjoy the Pax Plena Song of the Week: Silent Night as performed by Bing Crosby. Lyrics follow after the jump.

Silent Night, Holy Night
By Bing Crosby

Silent Night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright
'Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in Heavenly peace
Sleep in Heavenly peace

Silent Night, Holy night, shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from Heaven a far
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born

Silent Night, Holy night, Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

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December 19, 2010

Realism and The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Much hay was made late last week when the United States endorsed the 2007 United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or the UNDRIP.

[Link]

But as one friend put it, the Declaration is little more than a "non-binding gesture of goodwill," for my money, not unlike a Christmas card. And in fact, the Christmas cards you receive this month may have more meaning behind them.

Many tribal interests have lauded the Obama Administration's decision to endorse the instrument, but the functional difference the endorsement makes for indigenous rights in the United States is anyone's guess.

Realistically, the Declaration does precious little to alter the domestic policy of nations' toward their indigenous populations. Nothing in the UNDRIP, for example, requires that nations consult with indigenous peoples prior to making decisions on issues affecting them. Article 19 of the Declaration provides:
Article 19

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.
While the language of the Article reads like a robust mandate, the Declaration is actually non-binding on signatory governments. The actual language from the Declaration's Preamble merely "encourages" states to comply with the instrument's provisions. This, of course, means that signatory parities are free to disregard the Declaration so long as they make a good faith effort to implement its aspirations.

To be fair, this criticism is not specific to the UNDRIP. The problem of weak mandates is endemic to many areas of international law, even where the instruments in question are actually said to be binding on the signatory parties. Consider the matter of Dann v. U.S..

There, the Dann sisters routinely grazed their cattle on public lands that were once part of the Western Shoshone Reservation. When the U.S. Government slapped a fine on the sisters for grazing without a permit, the Danns claimed that the lands were part of their ancestral territory, and that the fine violated their indigenous human rights. Naturally, the matter was litigated in the U.S. Courts where the Danns lost at every level, including the United States Supreme Court.

Having exhausted their domestic remedies, the Danns brought their petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which issued a sweeping finding of violation against the U.S. Government.

While the matter might seem like a win in any domestic court in the world, in international law the outcome was quite the contrary. In response to the IACHR opinion, the U.S. Government flatly ignored the Commission's ruling, seized the Danns cattle, and dismissed the entire proceeding as the misguided effort of two Indians to upset the settled expectations of tribal property law.

Note carefully, that this was the outcome litigated under an international law instrument that is said to be 'binding' upon the signatory parties. If a binding instrument produces such incongruous results, the long-term viability of a non-binding instrument is a legitimate concern for advocates seeking to affirm rights on behalf of indigenous peoples under the Declaration.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
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December 10, 2010

Song of the Week: The Holly and the Ivy

It’s already Friday, and our Song of the Week feature is nigh on life support just under two weeks after its resurrection. In correcting course, it seems appropriate to run a series of Christmas songs to get back on track, and to get our readers into the Holiday mood.

The Christmas carol The Holly and the Ivy has been around almost as long as Christmas itself. Originating from the early, Druid songs and ceremonies of the British Isles, The Holly and the Ivy became a mainstay of Christmas hymnody during the 1400 and 1500s. 

The music is fairly simple as one might expect Druid music to be, but it commends a delicate grace toward the Christmas season. In its best form, as in the Bing Crosby version below, the music is light and festive. It’s not hard to envision carolers singing the song in a London pub, slogging back pints around the corner piano.

The lyrics, by contrast, are fairly austere. They invoke nearly every icon of the Christmas season, from the purity of Marry in Bethlehem to the blood of Christ at Calvary.

But the mix works. While it’s true that the Christian faith is sometimes called cheerless, and even dreary by some, the overarching theme of the music and of Christmas itself is one of great joy – all made possible by Jesus’s birth.

With that bit of introduction, please enjoy these initial sounds of the season brought to you courtesy of the Pax Plena Song of the Week, The Holly and the Ivy. The Bing Crosby version begins at the 2:09 mark, while Cambridge University’s King’s College Choir performs the song in full below.

 

 

King's College

 

The Holly and the Ivy

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown

Chorus:
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Saviour

Chorus

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good

Chorus

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn.

Chorus

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all.

Chorus

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November 25, 2010

Song of the Week: Dancing in the Minefield

Of late, I have seldom been inclined to publish a ‘Christian’ song of the week. For whatever reason, the embers of faith have not necessarily been burning bright, and to be perfectly honest, I’ve found my time more valuably spent watching my abysmal Dallas Cowboys than sitting through a weekly church service.

But on this Thanksgiving Day, I cannot help but slip into old habits, and reflect a bit upon the things for which I am thankful this past year. Though we spend the holiday here in Indiana, a veritable world away from our place in Tucson and my home on Oklahoma’s plains, the essence of my thankfulness this past year is largely tied to a profound appreciation for my family – both the small one in Tucson with my loving wife Gwyn, our dog Alexas, and our fish Maestro, and our bigger ones here and in Oklahoma. Rather than posting the lone Shaker hymn on ‘thanks’ in the hymnal, I thought the song below by contemporary Christian musician Andrew Peterson was much more on point.

The Pax Plena Song of the Week is called Dancing in the Minefield, and as noted features the superb vocals of Andrew Peterson. I ran across Andrew Peteron’s music several months ago from the blog DonMillerIs.com. While I was already a fan of Donald Miller, over time I have come to appreciate his penchant for picking a good tune. When he recommended Andrew Peterson, I immediately consulted YouTube and was not disappointed. What struck me most by Andrew Peterson’s music was its honesty, and style. Musically, the song is both minimalist and acoustic, à la The Fray circa 2005. But what The Fray lacks in ability, Peterson compensates for in spades.

To wit, Peterson’s voice is as clear as the guitar he strums, and he doesn’t have nearly the same teen angst that artistically limits The Fray’s appeal. In a word, the music is substantive. Peterson’s acoustic guitar deftly unpacks a lifetime of reflection, while the sparse keyboard supplements Peterson’s vocals as well as a back up singer might do in a larger arrangement. Unlike many a sad song, Dancing in the Minefields is mostly upbeat. By my reckoning, the song’s most popular chord is the “C” chord, which keeps the sound optimistic and thankful rather than sullen and brooding. 

And it is exactly this sort of upbeat sound that is necessary to balance the serious themes being discussed in the lyrics. Dancing in Minefields tells the story of a lifetime spent together, breaking down marriage, its joys, and its complications. Unlike much of the cloying glamorization of love coming out of the Christian music industry, Peterson approaches the institution honestly. He analyzes the difficulty of marriage, specifically, rather than romanticizing it to meet a particular, Christian stereo-type of happiness. The singer opens by reflecting upon the mistake of marrying  too early, and contrasting that decision with the magnitude of committing one’s life to another. The poetic, eponymous conclusion is that marriage is like dancing in a minefield – which in many respects it is.

But the singer’s conclusion is far from fatalistic. The point seems to be that faith in the commitment, and faith in the mutual sacrifice of a marriage is what makes it worthwhile. In other words, the song challenges the proverbial us to get out of our own neuroses, and experience life by living for others.

And really this is the point of Thanksgiving: that we have individuals in our lives whom we can serve in quiet ways – perhaps in ways that only we can understand. Such simplicities make dancing in the minefields a joy, and give our otherwise troubled existence meaning. And for this, we can all give thanks.

Please enjoy the Pax Plena song of the week, Andrew Peterson’s Dancing in the Minefields.



Dancing in the Minefields
By Andrew Peterson 

Well I was 19 you were 21
The year we got engaged
Everyone said we were much to young
But we did it anyway
We got the rings for 40 each from a pawnshop down the road
We said our vows and took the leap now 15 years ago

Chorus:
We went dancing in the minefields
We went sailing in the storm
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for

Well ‘I do’ are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I’ve heard is a good place to begin
Cause the only way to find your life is to lay your own life down
And I believe it’s an easy price for the life that we have found

Chorus:
And we’re dancing in the minefields
We’re sailing in the storm
This is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
That’s what the promise is for

Bridge:
So when I lose my way, find me
When I lose loves chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith
to the end of all my days
when I forget my name, remind me

Cause we bear the light of the son of man
So there’s nothing left to fear
So I’ll walk with you in the shadow lands
Till the shadows disappear
Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos baby
I can dance with you

Chorus:
So lets go dancing in the minefields
Lets go sailing in the storms
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And kicking down the doors
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And sailing in the storms
Oh this is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
That’s what the promise is for
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November 18, 2010

Song of the Week: Kissing a Fool (Redux)

The Pax Plena song of the week has long been a favorite of yours truly. Harkening from the cold nights of my formative years, Michael Bublé’s Kissing a Fool impacted the way I listened to music in a very fundamental way. Perhaps more than any other song, Bublé’s Kissing a Fool taught me the importance of not only hearing music but feeling it. (So much so that I wrote a similar review of the song back in 2007. Though I am not normally one to repeat material, what I wrote then really did not do justice to the music of the song, and the way I perceive it now. Funny how time has a way of providing perspective.)

Like any good song, Kissing a Fool tells a compelling story. The song recounts the plight of a love-struck bard, reeling from the loss of his one and only. The singer’s reflections on the relationship-gone-bad are a mixture of sadness and marvel at what might have been, and the strength required to throw it all away. Naturally, the music melds seamlessly. Written by George Michael in 1988, this should come as little surprise. In addition to his penchant for cannabis, George Michael, in his prime, wielded an uncanny musical range, and still enjoys a legendary music career – one that somehow survived the train-wreck that was Wham!, leading to much more impressive works like Kissing a Fool.

The song’s music has been described as minimalist in nature, which really places the entire burden of the performance on the vocalist. Like its author, the feel of the song is at times brooding and at times soaring, which underscores the impressive vocal range necessary to perform the song well. In the Michael Bublé version, this broad range flows without effort and without interruption. When the song begins, a smooth jazz piano line, and the soft touch of the cymbal usher in the performance. But there is only a moment to enjoy the neo-jazz sound as listeners are immediately carried away into the relationship’s sad demise by Bublé’s voice .

Midway through, the thoughts of the vocalist become more pronounced, and as the song gains strength. A slight brass accompaniment drives home the power of the singer’s thoughts of futility and betrayal. But no sooner does the crooner sound bitter, than the music returns to the sober introspection that first introduced the song to listeners. As in life, the emotions seem mixed. Not long after the song hits an eerie quiet, it erupts with sound as the singer thinks about the couple’s lost future. At its zenith, the entire brass band joins with the percussion and the piano as the singer fathoms the thought of his love with ‘another man.’

Naturally, the singer is not one to deny reality. The remainder of the song is a quiet reflection marked most poignantly by the jazz piano. In a way, this only underscores how truly far away the lost love is. As the keyboard trails off, so too does the singer who is left only to conclude that his love was, indeed, kissing a fool all this time.

What gives the song its staying power – few songs that are twenty-plus years old are as popular – is its ability to tap into the raw emotions performed. Nearly everyone has loved and lost. Kissing a Fool taps into that small pain and sets that feeling to music in such a way that it transcends the particular circumstance of one’s life. Whether one is still searching for love, enjoying Mr. / Ms. Right Now, or enjoying the love to last a lifetime, most people can relate to the thoughts expressed by George Michael’s timeless work.

With that, please enjoy the Pax Plena Song of the Week, Kissing a Fool as performed by Michael Bublé. Lyrics follow after the jump.

Kissing a Fool
By Michael Bublé
Written by George Michael

You are far
When I could have been your star
You listened to people
Who scared you to death
And from my heart
Strange that you were strong enough
To even make a start
You'll never find
Peace of mind
Till you listen to your heart

People
You can never change the way they feel
Better let them do just what they will
For they will
If you let them
Steal your heart from you

People
Will always make a lover feel a fool
But you knew I loved you
We could have shown them all
We should have seen love through

Fooled me with the tears in your eyes
Covered me with kisses and lies
So bye
But please don't take my heart

You are far
I'm never gonna be your star
I'll pick up the pieces
And mend my heart
strange that I was wrong enough
To think you'd love me too
You must have been kissing a fool
I said you must have been kissing a fool

But remember this
Every other kiss
That you'll ever give
Long as we both live
When you need the hand of another man
One you really can surrender with
I will wait for you
like I always do
There's something there
That can't compare with any other

You are far
When I could have been your star
You listened to people
Who scared you to death
And from my heart
Strange that I was wrong enough
To think you'd love me too
You must have been kissing a fool
You must have been kissing a fool
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November 17, 2010

The Dean Martin - John Boehner Connection

The DMJB Connection
Much ink has been spilt about the new Republican Congressional Majority. But perhaps readers are unaware of the comparisons being floated between incoming House Speaker John Boehner and the erstwhile King of Cool himself, Dean Martin.

To wit, no less than three press shops have made the comparison – one as long ago as 2006:
Easygoing and well liked, with a perpetual tan, a low golf handicap and an ever-present Barclay cigarette between his fingers, Mr. Boehner, 56, looks like a throwback to the 1950's — Dean Martin comes to Congress. But he is known around the House as a serious legislator, a pro-business lawmaker who is one of the few senior Republicans who can work with Democrats.
[Link]
Building on the NYT’s motif, AOL’s Politics Daily recently mused, “Who Is John Boehner: Dean Martin? Don Draper? Or the Next Newt Gingrich?” While U.S. News’s Washington Whispers delivered the most glowing comparison of all:
Like a character out of Mad Men, likely incoming House Speaker John Boehner is about to bring old-school cool and political wrangling back into fashion. "He's so cool, every man should hate him," says Tea Party organizer Dick Armey, who calls Boehner the "Dean Martin of politics." 
[Link]
Notwithstanding the fact that I am a Republican and the fact that Speaker Boehner is, indeed, pretty cool, comparing an individual to the standard of cool set by Dean Martin is a serious compliment – certainly not one to be taken lightly. A penchant for slick suits and cigarettes simply is not enough. Like the CIA looking for weapons of mass destruction, we require further proof.

The most instructive analysis on this score comes from the Daily Beast’s post-election article describing the new Speaker’s fondness for hooch. Two quotes are on point:
When President Obama suggested a “Slurpee Summit” with Boehner and his colleagues this week, the likely Speaker came back with a counterproposal. 
“I don’t know about a Slurpee,” he told ABC’s Diane Sawyer. “How about a glass of Merlot?” 
[And here:
"You have a good party and people tend to show up for the next one,” Boehner once told The Hill. “You'd better make sure the first one's a good one.” 
[Link]
While comparisons alone are insufficient to bespeak a ‘coolness connection’, I think that Dino Martin would approve of merlot over Slurpees. And he certainly would approve of a good party. After all, if we can say anything at all about Dean Martin, it’s pretty clear the man loved life.

So, as a final verdict, we’ll let the comparison stand for now– at least until  Speaker Boehner does something to require a rescission. As with Dino, It’s hard to call the man set to put the party back in GOP anything but cool.

Special Thanks!
By the by, special thanks to Dean Martin aficionado “Dino Martin Peters” for calling the US News piece to my attention. DMP has a terrific site discussing all things Dean Martin since 2007. His slice of the web can be accessed at http://ilovedinomartin.blogspot.com/ .

As a special note, last week’s “Song of the Week: On an Evening in Roma” was featured recently on DMP’s site. It’s a great privilege for us here at Pax Plena to connect with the broader community of Dean Martin fans on the web. Thanks a ton!
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November 11, 2010

Song of the Week: On an Evening in Roma

I've never been to Rome. But after listening to Dean Martin's On An Evening in Roma I sometimes feel as if I have. 

When the Pax Plena Song of the Week, On An Evening in Roma, was released in 1959, Fidel Castro had just assumed power in Cuba, the Barbie Doll made its debut, and the Dali Lama made his initial flee from Tibet. Though the world was surely going through trying times, Dean Martin’s easy singing style helped the world forget. By the time On An Evening in Roma was released, Martin had already been on the American music scene for more than ten years. In that span, he released the much heralded That’s Amore, and the eventual No. 1 hit Memories Are Made of This.

By contrast, On An Evening in Roma never even cracked the top 50 songs on the American charts and fared even worse over seas.

But what makes the song a classic is its singer. Martin, perhaps more than any crooner of his era, masterfully uses his voice to tell a story. The music proceeds languidly, as  the faux Italian sound dictates that it should, while listeners detect a hint of mischief as Dino describes the couples of Rome wandering off. But above all, it is Martin’s warbling voice, explaining the mysterious, arbitrary role of the espresso in the grander scheme of love that makes the song ‘perfetto’. 

The song has seen a bit of a resurgence of late, appearing on soundtracks in a number of movies, some related to Rome, and others not. I suspect this is attributable to both Martin and the song’s lyrics. What Dean Martin does that other versions of the song do not is use his low-tenor voice to playfully describe the scene listeners hear – from Rome’s street lamps, to its starry skies. Dino flat makes Rome come alive.  And everyone loves a good love story, right?

In some ways, there is only so much that the written word will do to describe the ability of Dean Martin. Without further delay, please enjoy the Pax Plena song of the week, On An Evening Roma, as performed by the legendary Dean Martin. 

On An Evening In Roma Lyrics

by Dean Martin

Como e' bella ce' la luna brille e' strette
strette como e' tutta bella a passeggiare
Sotto il cielo di Roma

Down each avenue or via, street or strata
You can see 'em disappearing two by two
On an evening in Roma

Do they take 'em for espresso
Yeah, I guess so
On each lover's arm a girl I wish I knew
On an evning in Roma

Though there's grining and mandolining in sunny Italy
The beginning has just begun when the sun goes down

So please meet me in the plaza near your casa
I am only one and one is much too few
On an evening in Roma

Don't know what the country's coming to
But in Rome do as the Romans do
Will you on an evening in Roma

Como e' bella ce' la luna brille e' strette
strette como e' tutta bella a passeggiare
Sotto il cielo di Roma

Don't know what the country's coming to
But in Rome do as the Romans do
Will you on an evening in Roma

Sott'er celo de Roma
On an evening in Roma

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July 11, 2010

Song of the Week: You Make My Dreams

The Pax Plena Song of the Week made its way across my radar late this spring while watching a disturbingly funny movie called (500) Days of Summer. In fact, readers may recall a separate clip that we featured, which remains one of the funniest movie lines of the year.

The song of the week enters the film after the chronically depressed character Tom Hansen (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) finally scores with love interest Summer Finn (played by Zooey Deschanel). Upon exiting her apartment, a dance sequence ensues featuring You Make My Dreams.

There really isn’t much more to the song than this, but it has been a welcomed addition to my ‘happy songs’ playlist – a particularly useful list given that I have been studying for the bar exam all summer.

And it’s hard not to smile while watching the scene from the film. It makes me wonder what life would be like if dance sequences randomly occurred while walking through a city park. One can dream, I suppose...

With that, please enjoy, the Pax Plena song of the week, Hall and Oates’ You Make My Dreams. The film clip featuring the song appears directly below, followed by the song in full, and lyrics.

And just for the record, the movie itself is quite the film as well. It will doubtless hit close to home for anyone who has loved, or loved and lost. Enjoy!

The actual performance of the song by Hall and Oates:

 

You Make My Dreams

by Hall and Oates

What I want, you've got
And it might be hard to handle
But like the flame that burns the candle
The candle feeds the flame
What I've got's full stock of thoughts
and dreams that scatter
You pull them all together
And how, I can't explain
But You make my dreams come true
On a night when bad dreams become a screamer
When they're messin' with the dreamer
I can laugh it in the face
Twist and shout my way out
And wrape yourself around me
'Cause I ain't the way that you found me
I'll never be the same
'Cause You make my dreams come true
I'm down on the daydream
That sleepwalk should be over by now
I know that You make my dreams come true"

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May 4, 2010

Song of the Week: The Streets of Bakersfield

The Pax Plena Song of the Week comes to you courtesy of country music, and the the late 1980s.

Doubtless, few will remember what they were doing during the hot and dusty summer of 1988. Yours truly was roughly five years old (almost six!). President Reagan appointed Judge Anthony M. Kennedy to the United States Supreme Court that spring. Microsoft had just released Windows 2.1. And, perhaps most memorably, later that December, Pan Am Flight 103 would explode over Lockerbie, Scotland.

But sometime, during the lowly month of August, Capitol Records would release the third album of country music upstart Dwight Yoakam titled Buenos Noches from a Lonely Room.

The album, by most accounts, had little promise.

To many in southern Oklahoma, a genuine citadel of country music, Dwight Yoakam was a shtick performer – an ugly cross between an epileptic Elvis Presley, and a skinny Vince Gill. Regardless, Yoakam’s album skyrocketed to the top of the Country Music billboards. And, leading the way was our song of the week, The Streets of Bakersfield. Little promise, indeed.

Aside from its underdog appeal, what makes our song unique is its obvious Southwest influence. From the accordion, to the guitars, to the subject matter, The Streets of Bakersfield is rife with the music and energy of the Southwest. In no other region of the world would one expect to find the imagery of the working man so seamlessly melded with the hope of a better life and the reality of bad luck. As a result of this vivid narrative of the American west, it is not difficult to imagine the plight of a drunk, staggering down Chester Avenue in sunny Bakersfield, CA.

Even more than this, the song hearkens back to a musical era, not so long ago, that our society has already forgotten. Country music in the style of Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens is all but gone, replaced with the pop country of Lady Antebellum and Taylor Swift. Nearly three years ago, I described Dwight Yoakam’s style as a rare deviation from the “kitsch of Nashville.” And even though Nashville is underwater tonight, the statement remains mostly true.

With that, while the song remains up for posterity and the ad revenue of YouTube, please enjoy our Pax Plena Song of the Week, The Streets of Bakersfield. If nothing else, enjoy the traditional country music of the 1980s, and memories of what was a much simpler life.

The Streets of Bakersfield by Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens

I came here looking for something
I couldn't find anywhere else
Hey, I'm not trying to be nobody
I just want a chance to be myself

I've spent a thousand miles of thumbin'
Yes I've worn blisters on my heels
Trying to find me something better
Here on the streets of Bakersfield

Hey you don't know me but you don't like me
You say you care less how I feel
But how many of you that sit and judge me
Have ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?

I spent sometime in San Francisco
I spent a night there in the can
They threw this drunk man in my jail cell
I took fifteen dollars from that man

Left him my watch and my old house key
Don't want folks thinkin' that I'd steal
Then I thanked him as I was leaving
And I headed out for Bakersfield

Hey you don't know me but you don't like me
You say you care less how I feel
But how many of you that sit and judge me
Have ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?

Hey you don't know me but you don't like me
You say you care less how I feel
But how many of you that sit and judge me
Have ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?

How many of you that sit and judge me
Have ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?

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April 24, 2010

Song of the Week: When the Saints Go Marching In

The long week is over, and below is a Song of the Week to suit the occasion – particularly on this gorgeous Saturday morning.

Of the stars in this performance, Louis Armstrong needs no introduction. Danny Kaye, though, may be a bit more obscure. In case it jogs the memory, Danny Kaye was an actor/singer/comedian who famously starred opposite Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, in the 1954 classic White Christmas. Anyway, by my estimation, Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye performed many a beat in the night club circuits of old. Fortunately for us, at least one of their performances was caught on tape.

Simply put, the video below is as fine an ad lib musical performance as any you will find. Ever. What really ‘makes’ the piece is how darn good they both were. We’ve since replaced true musical ability with the likes of Taio Cruz and Ke$ha, but at one point in time musicians actually had talent. The Armstrong & Kaye performance of “When the Saints Go Marching In” reminds us that this was so.

I could describe the song more, but as one commenter on YouTube wrote, ‘It is genuinely unfair for someone to be this good.’ So, please enjoy the Pax Plena Song of the Week, When the Saints Go Marching In.

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February 11, 2010

Song of the Week: Mack the Knife

Last night the wife and I watched Kevin Spacey’s “Beyond the Sea.” I’ve yet to see a truly terrible Kevin Spacey film, and his performance in “21” has only heightened my curiosity since seeing it last spring. Being a passive fan of Bobby Darin’s the movie looked like a slam-dunk Netflix order for the middle of the week.

We were not disappointed.

In the film, Spacey plays the part of crooner Bobby Darin, and actually sings all of Darin’s hits in the film (soundtrack available here), including our Pax Plena Song of the Week Mack the Knife.

Originally set to the 1928, Brecht - Weill Threepenny Opera, the German text of Mack the Knife tells the dark and twisted tale of murderer Mackie Messer, old Macheath, a.k.a. Mack the Knife. The opera opens with a minstrel solo comparing the villainous Macheath to the menacing teeth of a shark, before recounting Mack the Knife’s manifold robberies and murders.

In the 1959 Bobby Darin hit Mack the Knife, the early verse tells much the same story as the Brecht - Weill version, yet it continues apace offering a modern rendition of the tale. But what really ‘makes’ the song  is the contrast between its subject matter and its music. If one compares Brecht & Weill’s german moritat with the version sung by Darin, well, one could be forgiven for thinking the two have nothing in common at all. Far from becoming Brecht’s sinister figure, Bobby Darin’s Mack the Knife could probably be a part of the show dancing on stage at The Copa with the legend himself.

Musically, the song captures the essence of the crooner/lounge era of American music – a point in time often referred to as music’s golden age. The song begins softly with a steady baseline, and builds with casual ease as Darin tells the tale of Mack the Knife. In a voice thick with coquetry, Darin ticks off Mack’s bloody murders to his female audience, subtly mocking any fears the story might conjure. Like most crooner songs, the swinging tempo makes an unmistakable cameo appearance, all while pressing toward the song’s denouement where Darin jubilantly proclaims: Macky is back in town! In the end, the big band music is so alive, and so exciting, it’s as if welcoming a serial killer to the city were a perfectly logical thing to do.

The video below is take from one of Darin’s early performances of the song. Alas, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Lyrics follow after the jump. Enjoy!

Mack the Knife

by Bobby Darin

Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And it shows them pearly white
Just a jackknife has old MacHeath, babe
And he keeps it, ah, out of sight

Ya know when that shark bites with his teeth, babe
Scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves, oh, wears old MacHeath, babe
So there's never, never a trace of red

Now on the sidewalk, huh, huh, whoo sunny mornin', uh huh
Lies a body just oozin' life, eek!
And someone's sneakin' 'round the corner
Could that someone be Mack the Knife?

There's a tugboat, huh, huh, down by the river don'tcha know
Where a cement bag just a'droopin' on down
Oh, that cement is just, it's there for the weight, dear
Five'll get ya ten old Macky's back in town

Now d'ja hear 'bout Louie Miller? He disappeared, babe
After drawin' out all his hard-earned cash
And now MacHeath spends just like a sailor
Could it be our boy's done somethin' rash?

Now Jenny Diver, ho, ho, yeah, Sukey Tawdry
Ooh, Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Oh, the line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky's back in town

I said Jenny Diver, whoa, Sukey Tawdry
Look out to Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Yes, that line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky's back in town....................
........ look out old Macky’s back!

UPDATE: The women referred to, toward the end of the song, left me puzzled. A quick search on the web reveals that Jenny Driver, Sukey Tawdry, and Lucy Brown were all characters in Brecht’s Threepenny Opera. Lotte Lenya sang the original german moritat written by her husband,  composer Kurt Weill (i.e., of Brecht – Weill acclaim). A video of her performance, lo so many years ago is below. It makes for an interesting contrast with the Darin version above. Some similarities are obvious after watching both – proving once again the music tends to influence music.

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