Chaucer Meets American Pie

Sunday, February 2, AD 2014

For out of olde feldes, as men seith,
Cometh al this new corn fro yeer to yere;
And out of olde bokes, in good feith,
Cometh al this newe science that men lere.

Chaucer, Parlement of Foules




Hattip to Mrs. Darwin. Nicholas Jackson has transcribed Chaucer’s version of American Pie:



A longe longe tyme sithen, and yet yt me remembreth yn what maner that musique was wont to make me smyle.

And Ich wiste wel, hadde Ich a chaunse, thanne Ich mighte maken the folk to daunse, and peraventure thei wolde feele mirthe a litel while

Yet Fevrier did maken me to quake, wyht everye lettir patent Ich did take. Ill tidinges at the gate-hous, and barely Ich koud get oute.

Ne me myndeth whethir Ich wepte, whane Ich knewe of sorwe a widow kepte. But myn inwit did much agrieve, the daye the musique took yts leave

And thei were singinge…

Bye, bye, Englisshe Jakke of Dover, drove my palfrey almoste halfwey but the tourney was over.

And the fayre goode lordes were sippinge ypocras and rhenish, and sayinge thys daye my lyf shal be finisshede.

Hast thou writte the boke of love, and kepestow feyth yn God above, yf the scrypture sayeth so?

And believestow yn rokke and rolle, kan vernacular vers saven thy mortale soule, and kanst thou teache me howe to daunse the saltarello?

Ich knowe thou lovst hym paramours, for Ich sawe yow on the palais floor. Ye doffede yower krakowe shoon, and than did thos trumpetes blowen

A solitarye valet burninge in loves biere, wyth a livery badge and a destrier, & Ich ful wel was yn despayre, the day the musique perisshede

Bye, bye, Englisshe Jakke of Dover, drove my palfrey wel nigh halfwey but the tourney was over.

And the fayre goode lordes were sippinge vernange and rhenish, and sayinge thys daye ower lyves shal be finisshede.

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Killing Lori Softly?

Saturday, August 3, AD 2013


Something for the weekend.  Killing me Softly with His Song , written by Charles Fox  with lyrics by Norman Gimbel.  Out of the musical wasteland that was the Seventies, this is one of the few songs that I enjoy.  Sung by many artists, this version by Roberta Flack is the standard.  The song had an interesting genesis if one believes one version of how it came about.

Don McLean, he of American Pie and Vincent, was singing and folk singer Lori Lieberman had an emotional reaction to his song Empty Chairs.  She wrote a poem and the song was based on the poem.  She sang the song in 1972 a year before Flack’s version.  Here is her version:

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10 Responses to Killing Lori Softly?

  • Gimbel and Fox also wrote I Got a Name which was recorded by the late great Jim Croce. It was the only one of Croce’s hit songs not written by Croce himself.

    While the 70’s had some bad acts, it was far, far, far from a musical wasteland. For starters, it featured some of the best acoustic folk singer/songwriters like Gordon Lightfoot, Croce, Dan Fogelberg, Harry Chapin, and yes, John Denver.

    It had great R&B acts in addition to Flack like Al Wilson, The Spinners, The Commodores, and Al Green.

    In the rock genre you had good bands like Three Dog Night, The Allman Brothers, Bob Seger, Chicago, with their brilliant blend of hard rock, jazz, and Latin sound.

    Had some great one hit wonders too like Brandy by Looking Glass and Dancing in the Moonlight by King Harvest.

    I could come up more examples, but I think that suffices for now.

  • “John Denver”

    De mortuis nihil nisi bonum.

  • The song figured in the movie About a Boy.

    There was a good deal of schlock peddled in the 1970s, but there usually is. The mass-marketed music of the first decade after the 2d World War was very thick with it. Active in the 1970s were David Bowie, Yes, Traffic, Supertramp, Genesis, Steve Miller, Chicago, Al Green. Dave Bruebeck was still active.

  • “De mortuis nihil nisi bonum.”


    Art and Greg, I’m afraid you are beating your heads against brick walls debating with Don about ’70’s music – I gave up a couple of years ago 😉

    Always loved this song – of course, Roberta Flack’s version is the benchmark.
    Haven’r heard Lori Lieberman before – very nice. She has a sort of Barbra Streisand sense about her.

    Have always admired Don McLean. When living in Australia in the 80’s, he came to Sydney to do a live concert in the Opera House ( I think). The show was live on TV also. The guy came out with his acoustic guitar, sat on a simple stool, and held his audience – including I’m sure, arguably another million live TV audience – spellbound for two hours. Brilliant.

  • “Art and Greg, I’m afraid you are beating your heads against brick walls debating with Don about ’70′s music”

    You better believe it! I can rant for hours on the subject of disco alone! Any decade that could produce “Kung Fu Fighting” was cursed beyond redemption.

  • I was never a big Bowie fan, although I did like Space Odessy (Ground Control to Major Tom). As for Traffic, their frontman Steve Winwood is a first rate musician, The same could be said for Phil Collins, although I was never too much into Genesis.

    As for Chicago, 25 or 6 to 4 was the most brilliant blend of hard rock and Latin jazz ever produced, meaningless lyrics notwithstanding. Terry Kath’s smoking guitar solo against the horn emsemble backdrop is one for the ages.

    Mass marketing in music existed with the WWII big band as much as it did with music afterward. That can both a good and bad thing.

    There was one duo in 70’s, Seals and Crofts of Summer Breeze and Diamond Girl fame that, one year after Poe v. Wade, put out probably the very first explicitly pro-life song called Unborn Child. Unfortunately, it never got any real airplay, due in part to pro-abort groups pressuring radio stations not to play that song and organizing boycotts of their concerts. These guys were not even Christians. They were devout Bahai’ Faith followers. But they deserve a great deal of credit for putting their careers on the line to record and release that song which was the title track of the album. I know of at least of few examples of women who decided not to go through with their abortions after hearing that song. I wish more pro-lifers knew this and gave these guys the recognition they deserve for that effort.

    If you watch the video on the You Tube page, you’ll find the comments interesting.

  • Any decade that could produce “Kung Fu Fighting”[and ABBA} was cursed beyond redemption.

    In the word of Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times and the worst of times.”

  • Art and Greg, I’m afraid you are beating your heads against brick walls debating with Don about ’70′s music – I gave up a couple of years ago

    I am not sure what he has against Carl Douglas. ABBA was insipid, but what do you expect from Scandinavia?

    The trouble is, if a decade is peculiarly cursed, you have to ask what was being produced in any other decade. In my house, we bought some Time-Life CDs a number of years ago of popular music sorted by the decade. You expose yourself not just to Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney but a mess of other material on the radio ca. 1950 and you realize (pace Jo Stafford) that the advent of rock music was not in and of itself an indicator of decadence. Operetta was evidently quite popular co-incident with Swing. (Both Opera and Operetta are an assault on the senses).

    My last two visits to art museums (in 1997 and 1999 respectively, one in Quebec City and one in Seattle) persuaded me that unless a museum or gallery has a discrete commitment to displaying representational art produced prior to about 1920, you will have a depressing time of it. It is not hard to pick out the gems in popular music, but in the art world, it has grown difficult to imagine anything with the imprimatur of the art establishment would ever be worth viewing. You can go to crafts fairs, I guess, but you run the risk of your wife retaliating against you for some slight by hoovering up a mess of macrame and hanging it in your living room.

    The most notable innovation in popular music since 1979 have been the advent of that horrible anti-music called ‘rap’ or ‘hip-hop’. That really is a curse. (And just who is this ‘Katy Perry’ person???)

  • It was the 1950s that saw the switch from “music that people already liked being sold in recorded form” to “mass marketed recordings that influenced what people liked” due to the explosion of the number of radio stations and recording studios. This is why in just 10 short years, popular music went from Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Arte Shaw (complete with 15-20 member mini-orchestras) to “Rock Around the Clock” and “At The Hop.”

    Just as Marchall McLuhan later predicted in “Understanding Media” that TV would fundamentally alter the way people actually percieve thier surroundings, the increased affordability and supply of recorded music in the 1950s affected its substance, so that quicker, easier and cheaper-to-produce releases became the norm in order for music businesses to maximize profits.

    Just like today with social media and pocket video and communication devices – what people find themselves able to do now that they could not before will then become the standard.

  • This is why in just 10 short years, popular music went from Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Arte Shaw (complete with 15-20 member mini-orchestras) to “Rock Around the Clock” and “At The Hop.”

    Somewhere swirling around the internet is an interview with Jo Stafford in which she offers a precis of how the recording industry had changed from when she was at her peak. Her earliest hit was in 1944.

    1. Prior to 1955, the roles of singer and songwriter were seldom if ever combined.

    2. There were usually several versions of a song circulating at one time. “A song had a chance to find itself” on the radio and in the record stores.

    3. Anthony Esolen has described the distinction between ‘popular culture’ and ‘mass entertainment’ as that between the music people sing and play for themselves and the music they merely consume. I am not sure what portion of the music marketed in the first decade after the war consisted of standards. You can pick some cherries, though. The signature hits of Jo Stafford, Peggy Lee, Kay Starr, Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page, and Teresa Brewer were first published in 1951, 1956, 1951, 1939, 1947, and 1949, respectively. “Tennessee Waltz” might be something people subsequently sung in other settings and “Music, Music, Music” is so familiar it seems much more venerable than it is. The others, while enjoyable, not so much.

    Also recall Rosemary Clooney’s story of how it was she came to sing “Come on-A My House”. Mitch Miller called her into his office and played a demonstration record of the song. She argued with him about it, saying the song was not right for her. He listened a while and then said, “Rosie, if you’re not here at the recording session Monday, you’re fired.” She said, “It is strange how quickly that got through to me”. Jo Stafford offered a complaint many decades later (which I do not think Clooney shared) that Miller made a habit of mismatching singer and song. They were to a great extent employees.

12 Responses to Starry, Starry Night Open Thread

  • Random thoughts for the open thread.

    1. I tend to think that the Ludovic Bource win of the oscar for Best Original Score over two of John Williams’s scores is more evidence of the downfall of western civilization.

    2. I went to Mass with the family at the Basilica at University of Notre Dame this Sunday past. A wonderful combination of beauty in sight and sound. It struck me that beauty is the thing missing from most Masses – not the beauty of the Eucharist itself, but the adornment that is given. Beauty is in many forms – simple, elegant, ornate. But, it is not in poor architecture and “down to earth” music.

    3. I feel sorry for my students. They have hit a rare week of grouchiness and exam composition for me. It will be a more difficult road for them.

    4. I am reading the first of “A Game of Thrones” and finding it enjoyable.

  • Desire a spirit of mortification. I think of the cruel scourging Our Lord suffered (for my sins) at the pillar and the heavy blows which tore his sacred flesh.

    “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

  • I spent a lot of time with my eight year old son this weekend and would like to become as good a man as he is.

  • (Guest comment from Don’s wife:)
    “I am reading the first of “A Game of Thrones” and finding it enjoyable.”
    I recently finished that book myself, and have been viewing the Season 1 episodes from the HBO series (thanks to the free HBO promo when we switched to satellite TV). The HBO version is gorgeous, and reasonably faithful to the book; however, there’s way too much full-frontal nudity, on-screen fornication and gore for us to have it on when the kids are downstairs (and I keep a book handy to block my own view of the explicit scenes!). If this were edited down to a “TV-14” rating (as it may well be if it ever gets to broadcast TV), it would be much more enjoyable. As it is, I’ll stick to reading my way through the books, which are quite “meaty,” with lots of intrigue and multiple plot threads to keep track of.

  • The videos surely put Creation, space and time into perspective. The time lapse of the Milky Way from the Plains – amazing to this pretty well untravelled slice of sky viewer. When seeing Van Gogh’s paintings, I was struck by the limits of man, the art imitating life idea, and how much God has given us. Dismissed thinking about how far to ruin we are. Also, worried about a news clip last night about the trend of cloud cover over Northeast becoming lower than normal. The clouds over the Plains looked low enough to me. I don’t know – just a thought. Then the internet explorer quit and I think I travelled the world on the phone to reset it this morning. Cyberspace has become an important place to be with fellow man. Sorry to say – contemplating Eternity turned into my little worldly window – but I’ll click post. Just look out when you click ‘reset’. Little part of the world goes blank, and waits for you to do something about it.

  • Great peices Don.
    Halverson’s video is great filming and great music – seems I detected a lilt of celtic in there. Actually got it via e-mail ( you know, one of those e-mails you get from friends, some of them with jokes or amazing pictures) a month or two back, Its something you could watch a listen to over and over.
    Have always loved Don McLean. Recorded a live concert of his in Sydney Aus. when I was living there in 1984. He has what makes a true artist. He came on stage with his acoustic guitar, sad on a stool, and held everyone in rapt attention for an hour and a half – an entertainer par excellence.

  • Thank you Don. Starry, Starry Night has always defined the word “wistful” for me.

  • @G-Veg: Our Children are smarter and better than we are. This is how God renews the face of the earth. And they love us.

  • Here is a thread with which to sew our nation back together. Correct me if I am wrong, I am wrong a lot. In the prayer ban case, Engel v. Vitale, the Supreme Court told the atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair,: “She can go her own way” The newsmedia bannered “Prayer Ban”, leaving our country with a whole herd of prayer nazis, the likes of which even Vatican II woud be ashamed. and Yes she can go her own way. You and I can go our own way. Every man is free.

  • On the Fire and Ice Series:

    Ms. McClarey (et. al.),

    After reading the first two of the Song of Fire and Ice Series, Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, I have to say that I begin to find the books a bit tiring. It’s not so much the constant new names, scenes, etc. – as a Tolkien devotee, I am used to that – rather, it’s the constant sex and violence which the author feels the need to describe in graphic detail. I have found myself unsettled enough by the works to take a break from the for awhile. I am curious about endings, but not so curious as to continue without a breather.


  • Thanks for the content advisory on the Song of Ice and Fire series, Jonathan! I’ll probably still try reading at least Clash of Kings and see how it goes. I figure that with print descriptions only, it should be a bit easier for my “mind’s eye” to filter the sex & violence down to a “TV-14/R” rating (or just skip sections, as I did with the lengthy sex scenes in Jean Auel’s “Clan of the Cave Bear” series). If I still find that the amount of sex & violence overwhelm what could have been an epic fantasy series, the books will get sold on eBay (as do other books in our collection which don’t turn out to be “keepers”).

  • Less than an advisory, I think, and more of a restatement and adjustment of my initial praise for the books. There is, as well, a certain darkness (of which the sex and violence are symptoms) which pervades the series – a sense of hopelessness and doom which I think the author intends (“Winter is coming”). It will be interesting, I am sure, to see if he moves towards a Ragnarok with endless winter following, or whether there is some sort of Tolkienian mitigation of evil in some sense.

Genius, Weird Al Yankovic

Monday, September 6, AD 2010

That is a word that many music entertainers use to describe “Weird Al” Yankovic.

All of the songs that Weird Al parodies he gets approval for.  In fact after the Coolio controversy about his “Amish Paradise” music video he now makes sure he speaks with the music entertainer directly before he proceeds in the production of any new venture.

Weird Al also parodies music styles, ie, pastiche, in addition to pop music hits.

In another cult classic which is a rare original from Weird Al, he pokes fun at the pop music group Devo and their brand of music which is New Wave.

Shortly after the song was released, Weird Al received a letter from the lead singer of Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh, congratulating him on writing “the perfect Devo song”.  He has also said that the song is “beautiful … and I hate him for it, basically.”

An apocryphal story has been recounted where the lead singer of the Talking Heads, David Byrne, said after viewing the video for “Dare To Be Stupid” that Weird Al is a “genius”!

Dare To Be Stupid is the title song of the same album, and in my personal opinion his best album ever.


[Warning: The following videos are without profane lyrics or any form of nudity.  You may finally realize that you can enjoy “contemporary” or “pop” music without all the vileness that emanates from the black hole that is MTV.]

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