Aug 31, 2010

Amaud Jamaul Johnson and Reading Aloud


Sorry some photos are repeats, but they fit the subjects to some extent.

Thanks to Paula at for tipping us off, over a week ago, to Amaud Jamaul Johnson, a poet I did not know. Here are two of my favorites so far, which seem to have at least some connection to recent posts here: the care and feeding of birds and other young, along with cruelty, and the rigors of survival in both the animal and human realms.

From the Fishouse: Amaud Jamaul Johnson: Portion Given

Aesthetics by Amaud Jamaul Johnson : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

The subjects here are worth a poem, and I find the images precise, vivid, and tough; I predict they will be memorable.

Mr. Johnson reads well too--no histrionics, slow, steady pacing, and a respect for his own decisions about line and stanza breaks. These are virtues that some serious writers seem to ignore, and I don't know why.

Maybe the event that the idol worshiping majority want is a carny act, or a strip tease, or a soap opera. And someone has clued in the writers and those fawning dilettantes in the audience--but not the curmudgeons, who are present because they care about writing as an improvement upon ramshackle daily utterances delivered at breakneck speed so they can spear straight through the gizzard of what the other guy was trying to say.

Did I get carried away there? Was that excessive?

I can be fine, by the way, with carny acts and strip teases if they're well done. Soap operas, not so much. "Well-done soap opera" is a gash of oxymoron, a bucket of contradiction. It is what they listen to in Hell, where they fill a tin chalice with fava beans, cliches and phony, overwrought gestures. Then they talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk . . . .

In the small sampling I've seen so far, Amaud Jamaul Johnson, rises nicely high above that. The material invites him to descend, but he reigns it in, keeps on the high road. I'll be reading more.


Aug 29, 2010

The Care and Feeding of the Young. Birds.

I just watched a mother goldfinch jam food into the beak of her teeny-bopper son, who, by the way, looked big enough to go out and get his own seeds for brunch.

This spring and summer the difficulty of life as a bird has registered with more clang than usual. Even in the bird welfare state of my back yard, there’s the feral cat to watch out for. A couple of years ago, a hawk showed up twice, sat out back, staring, a breeze in her feathers. The song birds hid for at least two days after my last sighting of the red tail.

For the chickadee and nuthatch, there’s the impressive labor of flying each seed to a branch to pound it open before gulping. (It appears that birds do not chew, so how much pleasure can there be as reward for the work?).

The cardinals aren’t that private or skittish, but there’s still the pounding to go through.

Of course those appealing birds must fight through the hoards of sparrows and squirrels, as common and aggressive as mice.

All of that reminded me of the injured hummingbird video a friend sent yesterday.

YouTube - Peter & Peeps -- Rescued Baby Hummingbird Fed in Hand by Mother

It’s very much a feel-good story, but both the hummer and the goldfinch moms reminded me of the earnest vigor in the parents’ feeding, the avian variation on the old slang, "gag me with a spoon." It really looks like a brief attack on the young, their punishment for begging so shamelessly.

Maybe I’ll remember all this next time.
And as great provider (father?) to all these urchins, there is of course the issue of how much is going on that I don’t see—nurturing, sharing, cuddling, predation, itching, illness, death. About what am I absolutely clueless and how much of it is there?


Aug 27, 2010


Year after year, I’m surprised at how early autumn begins.

If you can avoid the Labor Day mayhem on the roads, think about a two-lane trip soon. I'm recently back from a two-lane route of about 150 of the 200 miles from western Michigan to the Detroit suburbs,

and every leg of the 150 was a barge of relief from contemporary hustle, crowding, and obnoxious drivers. The patches of forest and the endless, rolling farm country were magnificent, though I worried about the dessicated corn crop in central Michigan, as if I knew what I was looking at.

Then came the last leg, into the suburbs--a re-immersion, a dunking, in suburban hellfire. Do people honestly think they’re so important that they need to, deserve to, rush like that--to crowd me like that? Who’s going to care if they take an extra five minutes or an hour? Maybe the boss, of course, but I wonder.

Are there any good songs about the joys of the freeway? Did the Wabash Cannonball need eight lanes? Is anybody crowding her? Here’s an oldie I used to worship, maybe still do. It’s about the journey. You can get the destinations on TV.

YouTube - Ian and Sylvia - Four Strong Winds (CBC TV 1986)

Well, if anybody wants some recommendations for routes in southern Indiana, central Ontario, or western Michigan, give me a buzz. I’ve lucked into some this summer. And yes, I planned well, if I say so myself.


Aug 25, 2010

Great Speckled Bird, Beauty and the Beholder

Roy Acuff (1903-1992) was known as the King of Country Music. If you're in a hurry . . . why? But if you must skip ahead, the actual song begins a little beyond the one-minute mark.

YouTube - Roy Acuff - Great Speckled Bird

YouTube - A Female Guinea Fowl Call by farmingfriends.avi

About the photos: A farm in southern Indiana. I heard a sound and thought the car was breaking down. Then the flock appeared.

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins writes, "Glory be to God for dappled things."

"The person who is widely credited with coining the saying in its current form is Margaret Wolfe Hungerford (née Hamilton), who wrote many books, often under the pseudonym of 'The Duchess'. In Molly Bawn, 1878, there's the line "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder", which is the earliest citation of it that I can find in print." (

And this just in from Wikipedia: Guineafowl have a long history of domestication, mainly involving the Helmeted Guineafowl; in the UK they were usually known as "Gleanies". The young (called "keets") are very small at birth. The keets are kept in a brooder box inside the house until about six weeks of age, before being moved into a proper coop or enclosure. They eat lice, worms, ants, spiders, weedseeds, and ticks while on range or they can also eat chicken layer crumbles (one kind of commercial bird food) while housed in a coop. The cooked flesh of guineafowl resembles chicken in texture, with a flavour somewhere between chicken and turkey.

Keep reading. Quitters never win, and a winner never quits.

"The Great Speckled Bird" is a Southern hymn whose lyrics were written by the Reverend Guy Smith. The song is in the form of AABA and has a 12 bar count. It is based on Jeremiah 12:9, "Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, the birds round about are against her; come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field, come to devour." It was recorded in 1936 by Roy Acuff. It was also later recorded by Johnny Cash and Kitty Wells (both in 1959), Hank Locklin (1962) . . . .” (Wikipedia).

The tune is the same apparently traditional melody used in the folk song "I Am Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes," originally recorded in the 1920s. The same melody was later used in the 1952 country hit "The Wild Side of Life," sung by Hank Thompson, and the even more successful "answer song" performed by Kitty Wells called "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels."

All four of the songs are in the Banjo52 Hall of Fame.

YouTube - Roy Acuff - Great Speckled Bird

YouTube - Marty Robbins I'm Thinkng Tonight Of My Blue Eyes


Aug 24, 2010

The Collins Kids again, Jacques' "Seven Ages of Man," "Fern Hill"

If you'd rather, feel free to skip to the bottom with Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas, for I realize I've gotten carried away with the Collins Kids. It's just that I still cannot figure out how, growing up at the edge of Appalachia, I completely missed them, unless they were just too far west, on an Oklahoma farm, then in California show biz.

Here are some tidbits: Lorrie Collins was Ricky Nelson’s first steady girlfriend ( She also performed with Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. After Lorrie's retirement to motherhood in 1961, “the Collins Kids remained silent until they reunited to much acclaim in 1993. By that time Larry had become a successful producer and writer, penning country classics like ‘Delta Dawn’ and ‘You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma.’” (

YouTube - Tanya Tucker-Delta Dawn

YouTube - Collins Kids, Bimbo's, San Francisco, December 1993

YouTube - Collin Kids - Documentary about Lorrie and Larry

So maybe there are some happy endings in the lives of country music artists.

All this leads to the too familiar theme of the stages of life, so here is Jacques (remember to Anglify it to "Jay-Queez," though I never learned why) in Shakespeare's As You Like It, with his Seven Ages of Man speech.

YouTube - "7 Ages of Man" from "As You Like It" (Nicholas Pennell)

And here again is Dylan Thomas's "Fern Hill." (Today I'm finding Wordsworth just embarrassingly gassy. The Welshman is concise by comparison.).

Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

Tell me where else you're going to find Rockabilly child stars, Shakespeare, and Dylan Thomas under one umbrella, and everybody getting along just fine.


Aug 22, 2010

The Collins Kids and Wordsworth, or Why I Don't Get Rap

Photo: The Young, All Ears.
(near South Haven, Michigan)

Maybe they were on WWVA in Wheeling, WV and Grand Ol' Opry on WSM in Nashville, but somehow I missed the Collins Kids in the 1950s. Thanks to Sandy-- recently posted about Ricky Nelson's singing sons, I clicked around in a fit of nostalgia and ended up with an introduction to the Collins Kids, a brother and sister act, plus a reacquaintance with the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Brenda Lee, Jack Scott and some others. If you're in the mood for, or actually need, the soft chaos of wandering backward, then click away, not only at my offerings, but also down the right side of "the page" at YouTube. Wow.

YouTube - The Collins Kids-Chantilly Lace

YouTube - collins kids

YouTube - Collin Kids - Documentary about Lorrie and Larry

YouTube - Rick Nelson Garden Party 1985

And in case you're about to complain that there's no poetry today, here are two passages from Wordsworth's "Intimations Ode." Yes, it was fuel for the movie Splendor in the Grass with Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty.

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;— ...

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.


Aug 20, 2010

Wallace Stevens, "Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock." South Haven, Michigan.

I haven't made anyone look at sailboats or the Stevens' poem since Febuary, so quit complaining.

Pretty picture. Menacing poem.
Simple picture. Complex poem.
Comforting picture. Challenging poem, maybe a kind of in your face poem that says, "You ain't no old sailor. An old sailor was a friend of mine. That's right, I knew an old sailor, drunk and asleep in his boots, and you, Sir, Lord and Lady Lace, in your white night gowns, you are no old sailor. Neither is she or that little lap dog, that little rat terrier feist."

Yin and Yang.

Today's big water is Lake Michigan at the town of South Haven--a touristy but tasteful little burg. I recommend it, especially if the alternative is Ontario's ballyhooed town of Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. In searching for scenes for like these, it was a big disappointment a couple years ago, especially with regard to lodging.

As a native Buckeye, I hate to admit it, but every once in awhile I see what these native Michiganders have to crow about.

Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock by Wallace Stevens : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

Aug 19, 2010

Robert Wrigley, "Do You Love Me?"

I’m aware of some dog lovers sniffing around Banjo52. For that matter, I’m a dog lover too.

Displacement is the psychological operation by which we go home and kick the dog because we cannot kick the boss at work, or various other actual targets of our anger. That misdirection is one of the ego defense mechanisms—and “ego” here means healthy self-esteem, not arrogance. However, one wonders how much ego is left to defend if it requires kicking the pooch.

I wonder if Robert Wrigley would agree that that bit of psychology is one of the things going on with the child in his poem, “Do You Love Me?” I came across it a couple of years ago, loved it, yet forgot about it until I went to the trusty Poetry Foundation, looking for a love poem to suit my recent photo-capture of these youngsters, engulfed in themselves on a pier beside big water.

I find some awkwardness in the middle parts of “Do You Love Me,” but its knockout conclusion makes me forgive that. If you’d like to hear Wrigley reading it, go to Poetry Foundation as well as this site. Whatever you do, don’t kick the pooch (unless he deserves it).

Touched By A Monkey: "Do You Love Me?" by Robert Wrigley


Aug 15, 2010

Bluegrass Miscellany

Photo: Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike band

Say what you will about bluegrass music as the theme for roadkill, incest, and judge-your-neighbor honky gospel, you won’t see scenes like these at the symphony or the mosh pit.

Pickathon 2010 |

Pickathon 2010 |

If you're interested, here's the site to copy and paste for more photos where those two came from:

Or have a listen to one of these, at least for a few seconds. The first reveals something of a pro, something of the myth:

YouTube - Still Fiddling In the Ozarks

The second is a young pair trying to get in touch with the bluegrass classic, "Cripple Creek." It's usually played as an instrumental, maybe because Chester Burnam's lyrics can get a little racy:

I got a gal at the head of the creek
Goin' up to see her 'bout the middle of the week.
Kiss her on the mouth just as sweet as any wine,
She wraps herself around me like a sweet potater vine.

Goin' up to Cripple Creek, goin' in a whirl.
Goin' up to Cripple Creek to see my girl.

YouTube - Cripple Creek

Happy Monday.


Aug 12, 2010

Yeats and Olds Continued, The Bird Lady, "Adam's Curse"

Maybe everyone has met a bird lady at least once in a lifetime. In a way, the woman in the photo doesn’t exactly qualify because feeding the pigeon nation was a first for her. She kept repeating, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Cynics might urge her to get out of the house more, but I liked her delight in a simple pleasure. Pigeons are probably no one’s favorite animal, but the sheer numbers of greedy, gluttonous birds were impressive, and the woman became a girl again.

Then, behind me, I heard a gruff male voice, a stranger with a thick Brooklyn accent: “Those birds shit all over the place. Somebody oughta shoot ‘em all.”

“Shooting Pigeons in Brooklyn.” Sounds like a Mickey Spillane title. But that was the guy’s comment, and I wondered what I’d done to invite it.

There are certain kinds of tough-guy language and behavior that suck the joy right out of October blue and laughing children. Sometimes I worry about making such statements myself, just as I worry about being too sappy at the other end. Good writers have to walk that tightrope, among others, every time they put pen to paper. (By the way, I've just learned that Mickey Spillane briefly worked as a trapeze artist).

Somehow that’s the kind of decision I was asking for yesterday in comparing Sharon Olds’ “Sex without Love” to Yeats’ “When You Are Old.” Compared to honoring the Yeats, I can probably explain much more thoroughly what I like or respect about the Olds poem—its boldness and ingenuity in making serial sex a metaphor for our condition in the universe, its brazen repetition, its Oldsian decisions about line breaks, its mix of the trendy and the ontological, and on and on.

But “Sex with Love” also strikes me as a chunk of gravel shredding ancient parchment. Yeats and others have a feel for sacred documents; they know how to lay palms upon it, or gently unfurl it. I don’t know if Yeats could be crass if his life depended on it. But maybe that means he couldn’t be realistic either. He paid for that.

Perhaps it’s in this context that I offer Yeats’ “Adam’s Curse,” about work and beauty, poetry and love. The casual elegance of its language might cause readers to miss the fact that it’s written in rhymed couplets. Apparently the poet followed his own directions and labored so hard that we sense only the graciousness of his lines, not the labor that went into them. Isn’t that what he said he was going for, that illusion of naturalness? I wonder if he’s been to Brooklyn.

Adam’s Curse by William Butler Yeats : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.


Aug 11, 2010

Sharon Olds, Anis Shivani, Romantic Love, and What Makes Poetry Good

If you're a regular here, please forgive my self-plagiarizing on the photos. Surely they are relevant.

As for text, here is Anis Shivani, positing at Huffington Post that 15 admired American authors are overrated. He’s hardly the first to try such a thing.

Anis Shivani: The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers (PHOTOS) - Thomas Pynchon, Books

Among Shivani's overrated writers is poet Sharon Olds. Here is a Sharon Olds poem that I find interesting in a number of ways.

Sex Without Love - Poem by Sharon Olds

After you've read both Shivani and Olds, please respond. Feel free to bring into the discussion Yeats’ poem “When You Are Old,” posted here on Monday: When You are Old- - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More.

Yes, I feel as if I’m dangling bait, but I'm not sure what I expect to catch or what I think myself.


Aug 9, 2010

Yeats, "When You are Old" and "Lamentation of the Old Pensioner"

I hope this isn't too dreary a post for a Monday in the dog days of August, when we all might be feeling just a bit old and worn.

Maybe you remember "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," an early Yeats poem (an idyll?) that I posted here July 25, 2010. Yeats lived from 1865-1939, so he wrote in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as both a Victorian and modern poet. Most students of his work find the mature Yeats superior--tougher, more sinewy and more complex, as both thinker and craftsman.

However, I've heard quite a few people over the years mention with great fondness "When You Are Old." I'm adding "The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner" because, as an unheralded Yeats poem, it caught me by surprise when I was a young grad student. Although I'd never argue that it's the equal of "Sailing to Byzantium" or "The Second Coming," for example, I've never stopped liking "Lamentation." After two calmly plaintive stanzas, the surprise of the turn to hissing and impotent fury in the final two lines strike me as an honest urgency, desperation, earned bitterness. I still marvel that a young Yeats could be so convincing about old age, or that the poem spoke so forcefully to me as a young man.

Does that make it a better poem than the better known, more widely loved "When You Are Old"?

When You are Old- - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More

The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner, by William Butler Yeats


Aug 7, 2010


Gary Melcher's The Fencing Master (1900):
Wall Street Tycoon? Nerd in the Basement?
Pillar of Society or Social Embarrassment?

Dinner for Schmucks: Steve Carrel. Grade: C- + A- = B-

Steve Carrel seems such a likable, decent guy that I hate saying anything negative about his work. However, the opening half-hour or so of Dinner for Schmucks is so vapid that one might be tempted to leave.

But hang on to your popcorn. Some major offbeat humor is on its way, and as long as you’ve been tricked or coerced into the theater in the first place—by your children? your friends? your mate?—you might as well stay for the payoff.

Dinner for Schmucks has not only some weirdly hysterical moments, but also some substance. Targeting the Darwinian fittest of the financial world and their social snobbery has been done before, but the method here strikes me as original and worthwhile.

In the movie, sociopathic Wall Street competition takes the form of fraternity pranks. The top floor offices are full of middle-aged frat boys who run amok in the adult, elite, sadistic layer of commercial America. It’s Enron as Kappa Haffa Assa, and the empty suits full of hubris are appropriately disgusting.

In Dinner for Schmucks, society’s outliers or “losers” are rendered interesting, and therefore valuable humans—without the lie that they are flawless, regular guys or unlucky, adorable innocents. No, they are difficult, annoying personalities; they are outcasts for reasons. But those same features make them more interesting and more decent than the sharks of the cool crowd.

If only the writers and director had found a way to cut the dross. The laughs need to come more often, especially in that dreary, sentimental opening. But beneath its slow and lower-than-sophomoric spells of flop, what the movie proposes about human personality, creativity, and social Darwinism is somewhat profound and troubling. In the final 30 or 40 minutes, it also manages to be hysterical.


Aug 6, 2010

Salt: Movie Review

Photo:  Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt, CIA agent, in a rare moment of quiet meditation.

Grade:  A.     That is, Salt does well what it sets out to do—hyper action and suspense in a pretzel of plotting.

Salt doesn’t need or deserve a lot of analysis; it is an action film, pure and simple, and as that it's one of the best of its genre. In quality, I’d compare it to the Bourne movies, except that the stunts in Salt are slightly more outrageous and the hero(ine) is less a character, more a caricature of an iron-willed, steel-bodied superwoman. You might say her metal is up.  In that context, Angelina Jolie is scarily good as Evelyn Salt, insuperable CIA agent.

Well, she might be this, she might be that. The movie is good with its ambiguities about white and black hats. I must not say more about the plot—if I hint, there might be a domino effect, and it’s the plot and explosive action that matter, including laughable feats of physical and mental dexterity.

If Salt weren’t through and through a popcorn affair, I might wonder about the wisdom of its revival of Russia as America’s nemesis. Russians in American film and television have recently become a default villain all over again—every Russian is a gangster or prostitute, it seems. In triggering memories of the Cold War and stereotyping one more category of immigrant, might the movie be offering still more stimulation for the stampede of paranoiacs, one more group to fear and hate?

But I hope that’s taking it much too seriously. Unless you’re a delusional, hate-loving grenade-brain,  get out of the heat and enjoy this interesting plot and adventure. (And if you are a grenade-brain, it's high time you became a silent shut-in before you go off in public).

Salt beats 007 and Kung Fu Casper all to Hell, and I predict you cannot predict how things turn out for the two or three main characters. Enjoy.


Aug 4, 2010

Jacques Brel, "Ne Me Quitte Pas"

I offer this as follow-up to the discussion on yesterday's post. It doesn't help with the question of translation, but here are four versions of the song--which, by the way, I'm starting to like more, including Brel's own performance.

If I hear those first five notes in my sleep, there's gonna be trouble.

YouTube - Jacques Brel - Ne Me Quitte Pas

YouTube - If you go away - Scott W


YouTube - Ne Me Quitte Pas: If You Go Away (by Patricia Kaas)


Aug 3, 2010

Margaret Atwood's "Rat Song." Jacques Brel and The New Criticism.

Indian Falls, Owen Sound, Ontario

Let's stay Canadian a bit longer. And in case anyone has fallen into the shakes from an absence of poetry, here is "Rat Song" by Canadian novelist, Margaret Atwood. I didn't know she also wrote poetry, and I kind of like her curious venture here. What do you think?

Rat Song by Margaret Atwood : Poetry Magazine [poem/magazine] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

I'm not sure I'm finished with Jacques Brel, but I know I was long-winded in my Sunday review, so the above is my effort to be brief once again.

Let me add one more note on Brel in case I don't get back to it (your wishes will help me decide). At the risk of becoming obnoxious about The New Criticism, I must toss out something I came across while meandering through Jacques Brel commentary. In the Stratford Program Notes, Lois Kivesto, PhD, writes: “In 1969, Brel himself attended and exclaimed to Blau [who was responsible for the English version]: ‘You have really done it. You have separated me from the work. The songs have a life of their own. I really enjoyed them.’”

Maybe that's all my version of the New Criticism amounts to: both reader and writer recognize that the artist has birthed his baby--his work--into the world. Now he and we must see what and how it goes about being that which it is.

Studies of the author's life, region, period in history, culture, ethnicity, and so forth might be interesting or helpful, but they must not supplant the-baby-the-work as the primary subject. We can have a meaningful experience with a Brel song without knowing anything about Brel the man, or his love life, or Belgium, or the particulars of two World Wars. Conversely, we can know a lot about that background material, but without the song itself, it means little.

For those who have been on this ride with me before, I'll stop and thank you for your patience. But the quotation about Brel is, from my perspetive, just too good to pass up.


Aug 1, 2010

Jacques Brel at Stratford, Ontario

Sean Pinchin does blues at the Boar's Head, Stratford.

The Stratford, Ontario 2010 production of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris is a hip cabaret of a musical and a roaring success. As usual with this play, there is no story, there are no songs bursting absurdly from women at the meat market or men at the docks or grandfathers sitting on the toilet. As it should be in all shows where music is the focus, Jacques Brel is one compelling song after another, freed from the syrup of some far-fetched narrative.

From aggressive, raw portraits like “Port of Amsterdam” to lighter, zippy tunes like “Madeliene” to touching ballads like “Timid Frieda,” Brel’s range is terrific. If you don't love each song, you will at least admit you're never bored as he fits often complex lyrics to unconventional, unpredictable music. One reviewer compares Brel to Bob Dylan—different kinds of songs, same kind of musical-poetic genius. I think too of Leonard Cohen as composer or Edith Piaf as chanteuse.

I cannot find YouTube samples that do the songs justice. If the music is OK there, the technology is bad, and vice versa. Brel, singing his own work, is also at YouTube, but I find him overly dramatic. "Composer" and "Singer" are not synonyms (said that damnable New Critic again).

So I’ll just mention that I’ve seen or heard four performances of the play, and Stratford’s four singers and four musicians are the best of the lot by far. From the jazzy, raucous and sometimes comic material to the most moving, melodic ballads, no one can touch the the Stratford group for purity of intent or accuracy of delivery.

In the upbeat comic schticks, the director, singers, and musicians know their bounds. Brel’s comedy has substance and purpose, and the burlesque moments must not obscure that. Still, if there were any toes that didn't tap at all or teeth that didn't grin, they belonged to a few cadavers someone snuck into the building.

You need at least a vague sense of this, so here is Tommy Wallach, a YouTube guy, doing his rollicking version of “Jackie.” Tommy loses control at the end, but you might find his enthusiasm contagious. If it's a bit too long, hang in there for one verse and be sure you hear the refrain:

YouTube - W. #14 - Tommy Wallach - Jackie by Jacques Brel (cover)

If I could be for only an hour
If I could be for an hour every day
If I could be for just one little hour
Cute, cute, cute in a stupid-ass way.

If you won't say that about yourself, I don't trust you.

In slower, more emotional songs like “Fanette,” “Sons of,” “Old Folks,” and “If We Only Have Love,” everything at Stratford is just right—tempo, pitch, mood, choreography, lighting, make-up. The band is especially impressive: one player for guitar and cello, one for violin and accordion, and one each for bass and piano.

From my personal favorite, “Timid Frieda,” here's one YouTube version to give you just a bit of the melody and mood:

YouTube - Ottavia - Les Timides (Brel cover)

Then consider these lines in English about a young woman, maybe the archetypal daughter at 18 or 22, just beginning life in the city. The final three lines in the quotation are a refrain.

Timid Frieda
Won't return now
To the home where
They do not need her,
But always feed her
Little lessons
And platitudes from cans.

She is free now
She will be now
On the street where
The beat's electric.

There she goes
With her valises
Held so tightly in her hands

No tongue stud, no thong, no brassy mouth (though she does try to "take her brave new Fuck You stand"). If this is not a daughter in her idealized vulnerability, maybe she's the first love of many a man, the one he takes home to meet his mama.

If you know nothing of the music in Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, you might want to go ahead and sample some more of the flawed YouTube performances. At least you'll see that it's not bluegrass.

In spite of YouTube's damaged goods, one or two clips might coax you into investing in the original CD (circa 1968) with Eric Blau, Mort Shuman, Elly Stone, Shawn Elliot, Alice Whitfield, and Wolfgang Knittel. I think they honor the music better than the 2006 CD directed by Gordon Greenberg and Eric Svejcar, which strikes me as severe. The voices are razor sharp—not kind or wounded, as they need to be in the ballads. Also, some of the instrumentation is intrusive—such as an overpowering bass or some self-consciously long stops: Look at me, look at me. The performers love themselves more than the music, and that's wrong.

But the Stratford, Ontario 2010 production got it right. Here are the artists’ names, for they were stupendous, and this thimbleful of blog recognition is all I can offer in return.

Director: Stafford Arima

Singers: Brent Carver, Robin Hutton (who was excellent as understudy for the ailing Jewelle Blackman), Mike Nadajewski, Nathalie Nadon.

Musicians: Laura Burton, Anna Atkinson, George Meanwell and Luc Michaud

For further information and some shamefully unflattering video of the rehearsals, you might go here:


Lovers' Lane