Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Smiling Idiot, Bob the Mumbler, And Musical Mayhem

"If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it." ~ Orsino, Twelfth Night

"The Irish gave the bagpipes to the Scots as a joke, but the Scots haven't got the joke yet." ~ Oliver Herford

"Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings." ~ Robert Benchley

"Listen, lads, I think the song's really smashing, but there's just one thing we've got to change before we record it. Instead of Hey Prude, why not go with something else? I don't think we'll want to be performing that song with Prude in the title all the time, particularly after we break up the band when John meets some weird crazy nutcase. Not that I'm saying that'll happen. Hey, wait, I know. How about Hey Jude?" ~ Ringo Starr

"Mumble, mumble, mumble, yeah, mumble, mumble, (incomprehensible), mumble, mumble, uh huh, mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, yeah, (incomprehensible) (incomprehensible), mumble, mumble, rolling stone, mumble, mumble, mumble...." ~ The lyrics to pretty much any Bob "Mumbler" Dylan song since 1963

"You're a great audience, Montreal! You know, before we go on with the concert, I'd just like to draw your attention to a cause near and dear to my heart. I want you all to think about the plight of the vampire rabbits that are being persecuted around the world right now by those sadistic wankers in the Van Helsing Society..." ~ Bono, during a recent U2 concert in Montreal

"Do I have to explain to you people what Summer of '69 is really all about?" ~ Bryan Adams

I've noticed quite a few writers, when mentioning it in blogs or comments in various places, have music on when they're writing. It inspires them, it gives them something to set a pace to, or it just puts them in the right frame of mind. For me, the type of music depends on what I have to write, though largely I'll rely on film scores to begin with (I'm a fan). Classical music also works well, and I've found jazz to be as well. Rock might tend to distract, as we might be inclined to sing along to our favourite musical act. And as for country, I'd advise against using it for inspiration, unless your story is about a guy whose wife just left him and took the pickup truck, the dog, the kids, and the last case of 24 in the fridge while she was at it.
I've got a fairly eclectic range of musical tastes. I can find at least something to like in many genres, with the following exceptions: rap, hip-hop, and metal. In the first two cases, they're just not music. In the last, it's too obnoxious and really hostile. Sorry, Metallica, but there's a reason your audience has gone deaf on you. I'd say it to you directly, but you guys have gone deaf too.

I have my mother to thank for the eclectic range. Any music appreciation I have in me is due to her. I certainly didn't get it from my dad, whose idea of music is largely confined to accordion tunes, Sousa march music, and the abomination otherwise known as The Smiling Idiot, Andre Rieu. You've no doubt seen the Smiling Idiot on countless PBS pledge drives, messing around with perfectly fine classical music that he seems to think needs improvement for some reason or another. Apparently the Smiling Idiot has a following; his concerts always feature audience clapping like demented seals through every single tune. Johan Strauss Jr. must be rolling over in his grave every time the Smiling Idiot massacres The Blue Danube Waltz.  
Andre Rieu aims at the snarky Canadian calling him a Smiling Idiot...
Anyway, my mother has a preference for classical and opera, but never did fall into the turn that crap down vein of parenting. As long as we weren't listening to something like, oh, Little Richards' often overlooked Kill Your Parents In A Pool Of Blood And Fire (go look it up, it's on his greatest hits album... I'll wait here for you to get back), she was fine with it. So I gradually developed my own taste in music, and it branched off into all sorts of directions. It starts, of course, with rock, but it went from there to jazz, folk (Celtic folk, not the Joan Baez variety of sitting around campfires for ten hours singing kumbayah nonstop), country (at least the ladies side of things), the blues, and more.

Incidentally, three basic truths: U2 is the greatest touring band in the world, Great Big Sea is the most fun you can have at a concert, and Sarah McLachlan is a goddess of music. Infinity plus one, which means these basic truths can never be disputed. So there. Debate's closed.

Along the line, it might have been liking film scores that got me into classical. Half of my personal collection consists of film scores, and that's what does the trick for me as an accompaniment to writing. With the classical side of things, it depends on the era. Baroque, for example, doesn't do anything for me. I like the sound of a fully developed orchestra, so realistically, we're talking about Beethoven and onwards. Sorry, Herr Bach, but you put me to sleep. Don't even get me started with Gregorian chants.

What brought on this musing on music? Earlier this month I attended a concert at the National Arts Centre here in Ottawa. The Orchestre de la Francophonie is associated with the NAC, and is marking its tenth anniversary this year. The orchestra put on a concert featuring three of the masters, which was well attended. The evening started with Mozarts' Magic Flute Overture, then moved into Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and finished with the Second Symphony by Brahms. All of them are beautiful pieces of music. Brahms' Second can be best described as majestic. And even if you're unfamiliar with classical music (heathen! I cast you out!), you know the opening notes of Beethovens' Fifth. The first movement of the symphony is all power and strength, brooding, just like we imagine the composer himself. The fourth movement is my personal favourite: listen to it, and it's pure joy in musical notes. By the same token, his Ninth Symphony is the closest any human being has ever come to perfection.

Watching the concert, I found myself paying attention to the musicians, to their body language, to the way they held themselves on stage. Some of you may remember a character blog I wrote awhile ago, featuring a classical violinist named Cecilia Brennan, who just happens to be a terrorist. While she didn't make an appearance in Heaven & Hell, she did get mentioned indirectly in the book, and she'll turn up in a couple of books again down the line. One of the things that I took away from that concert was the decision to write the same three pieces of music into a concert Cecilia will give in that coming book. I suspect that before I start that book, I'll need to spend time with musicians, to get to know their schedules, their discipline, and what the audience looks like from their point of view. I wonder if the musicians will appreciate that the musician I'm writing about will be a devious terrorist. Depends on how they view villains, I suppose.

Music. It can inspire us. It can put us to sleep. It can annoy us (Britney, Miley, Christina, I'm looking at you). It can make us wonder who's torturing a mime (which, incidentally, is not a violation of the Geneva war conventions).

In time, the latest act to burn up the charts or win American, that is American Idol (fans of said show being heathens of the first order) will fade into dust. No one will remember them a hundred years hence. It was the same way in the classical era: lots of composers who never had staying power.

So, for those of us with good taste who are wondering how long a certain pint sized nitwit and his annoying songs are going to stay around, I say these two words: be patient.
I leave you then, with a small avian member of the polar chamber music ensemble and his bright idea of how to make a dull day somewhat more exciting.....


  1. Love the cats on the keyboards and that brave little penguin!

    Your mother taught you class. Makes me feel like a barbarian when I look at the songs on my iPod! But yes, I do listen to music when I write. Each book has had a soundtrack, actually.

    Great blog, as always!

  2. Beethoven rocks. I love the pastoral 6th- it reminds me of nature, mountains and fresh air.
    Great post and Norma's right, that penguin is brave. I just cancelled by subscription to sirius.

  3. I love it! Great blog. Who doesn't love music? The cat pics are perfect, but I vote for the penguin who can't run at all.
    Finally, someone who agrees with me on Dylon's singing. I can't understand a word of it; like him though.

  4. That poster about rap is right on. I don't even refer to it as "rap music". It would have to actually be music to put that in the title.

  5. How can you not love the mathematical precision, the intricate interweaving of melodies in Rap? Oh, I meant Baroque.

  6. i really LOLed at the last pic :)

  7. Ha ha ha - the quotes at the beginning are hilarious, especially the one about the bagpipes because my boyfriend makes fun of me all the time for loving bagpipes.

  8. I agree with Norma. I loved the kittie pics. And I agree with Eve. Love Mr. B. Love all classical music. Agree with you about U2.

  9. Beethoven's 6th, absolutely, and the 1812 Overture. And the Grand Canyon Suite. Okay, this could go on forever ...

    But like you, it was film scores that led me to classical; the one artist who takes up the most space in my collection is John Williams.

  10. I can imagine that poor little penguin trying to waddle away from that very angry bear!

    I don't think I've ever met anyone who doesn't love U2.

    Around our house, we refer to rap music as "crap music."

  11. @Norma: okay, what's on the ipod?

    @Eve: Ludwig thanks you for your good taste in symphonies.

    @Donna: Bob says "mumble mumble mumble yeah mumble mumble"

    @Diego: I thought it was perfect for the blog once I saw it.

    @Carla: I like the bagpipes too, though I can see how it'll drive some people up the wall.

    @Mark: Mendlessohn's Italian and Scottish Symphonies, Tchaikovskys' Second Symphony, Sibelius' Finlandia, Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky... yes, it can go on forever. And John Williams is the man.

    @Lynn: Bach rocks... us to sleep, that is.

  12. I despise country music and metal and most rap. I am still soooooooooo jealous that you went to that concert!!! I LOVE jazz and classical, especially when I'm writing. I agree it's too tempting to sing along if it's rock or pop whenever I'm writing. I just watched the red Violin the other day. God the music in that is incredible! You should look those scores up for sure!

  13. I laughed out loud at the last pic too! Then I ran through to the next room to show my friend.

    I used to listen to Bach when I was studying for high school exams. I guess it had a calming effect. Now that I'm teaching I play music in the classroom to focus the kids. I'm still experimenting to see what works. They didn't like Philip Glass or the Killers, but they love Adele. I can't play her music anymore because they sing along instead of doing their work.

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  15. I've got the Red Violin soundtrack, actually. It's been awhile since I've listened to it.

    And Philip Glass can be an acquired taste; I've liked some of his work.


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