Playing the English Music Halls by Will M. Cressy

15 Apr

[NOTE: This is an excerpt from Continuous Vaudeville by Will M. Cressy, first published in 1914. It's a bit of an oddball book, consisting of almost random snatches of memoir mixed with a large volume of anecdotes about Vaudeville life from the perspective of a long-active performer. Some are true, some might be true, and some are clearly the kind of story that gets invented by starting out as true, and then being retold by multiple tellers before reaching the listener's ear. This being a first-hand account, I thought it an interesting view of the gulf between Britain and America in the early 20th Century. -DJF]

An American talking act going over to England to play has got a big job on hand. The trouble is going to come from a totally unexpected source too. It is because we do not speak the language. We say that we speak English; but we don’t; that is, mighty little of it. We speak mostly plain, unadulterated, United States language, which is very different from English. So when we go over there, in addition to talking about things that they do not understand, we are also using a language that they don’t know.

For instance: We opened up in Manchester with a play called The Wyoming Whoop. Now out of that title they understood just one word—”The.” They did not know whether “Wyoming” was a battleship or some patent skin food. And “Whoop” was still worse.

During the progress of the play one of the characters speaks of having left the day’s ice on the steps all the forenoon; I say—

“Has that piece of ice been out in that Wyoming sun all the forenoon?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, you take a sponge and go out and get it.”

After two or three shows the manager came to me and asked me what that line about the ice meant; was it supposed to be funny? I told him it was in America. He wanted to know why.

“Well,” I said, “you know Wyoming is the hottest place in America, don’t you?”

“No; is it?”

“Well then, you know that if you left a piece of ice out in the sun all the forenoon it would melt, don’t you?”

“No; would it?”

Upon investigation I found that there was probably not one person in ten thousand in those manufacturing towns of England who ever saw a piece of ice. They didn’t know but that you could bake it.


It took me only three days to discover that I was in wrong with The Wyoming Whoop. So the next week in Liverpool I switched to Bill Biffin’s Baby. Now we were on the right track. We had a subject, Babies, that they understood and liked. But on the second show I began writing it over—into the English language. I found that in twenty-four minutes I was using thirty-two words that they either knew nothing of, or else meant something entirely different from what I intended they should.

For instance: Take the words Trolley Car. An American player spoke of having seen a lady riding on a trolley, and the audience went into fits. The player was astounded; he hadn’t told his “gag” at all yet—(and, by the way, it isn’t a “gag” there; it is a “wheeze”)—and the audience was laughing. And then when he finally told his “gag” not a soul laughed. Upon investigation he found that over there what he meant by a trolley car was “a tram.” And what they called a “trolley” was the baggage truck down at the railway station that they hauled trunks around on.

Another of their “gags” was—

“I saw you coming out of a saloon this morning.”

“Well, I couldn’t stay in there all day, could I?”

Received with more chunks of silence.

He meant a place where they sold liquor. He should have said “a Pub.

A “saloon” there is a barber shop.

The ticket office is the booking office.

The ticket agent is the booking clerk (pronounced “clark”).

A depot is the railway station.

You don’t buy your ticket; you “book your ticket.”

A policeman is a “Bobbie.”

You drive to the left and walk to the right.

An automobile is a motor car.

The carburetor is the mixer.

The storage battery is the accumulator.

Gasolene is petrol.

Ask your way and instead of saying “second street to the left” they will say “second opening to the left.”

If they bump into you instead of saying “excuse me” or “pardon me” they say “sorry.”

Your trunks are “boxes,” and your baggage checks are “brasses.”

Your hand baggage is “luggage.”

I found English audiences just as quick, just as appreciative and even more enthusiastic than our American audiences—if you talked about things they understood and in words they understood.

But the average American talking act is talking what might just as well be Greek to them. I never realized until I played in England what an enormous lot of slang and coined words we Americans use.

Another thing that we Americans are shy on, both in speaking and singing, is articulation. I always had an idea that I enunciated uncommonly clearly—until I went over there, when I learned more about speaking plainly in three days than I had in a lifetime here.

You will notice you can always understand every word and syllable uttered by an English singer.

Music Monday: Elijah Drop Your Gun and From The Mouth Of Paris EP by Mieka Pauley

14 Apr

Elijah album coverYes, I am cheating enormously by giving you two this week, even if one is a four-track EP. And while both are Creative Commons-licensed, you have to pay for them. But the money goes directly to the artist, and she kicks ass, so quit yer complainin’.

Mieka Pauley has been an indie performer for more than a decade, winning a number of contests, and supporting herself solely through her music for all that time.

And if you give her work half a chance, it’s not hard to see how she’s able to do so.

Her lyrics are intelligent, thoughtful, often quite wickedly clever, and always satisfying. Her melodies are pleasing, engage the listener directly, and often anticipate and trump the listener’s expectations by doubling back and doing something much better than expected.

I’m also biased toward her because she has done quite a number of songs that make me feel she’s spent time spelunking in my subconscious and writing out what she found there.

Elijah Drop Your Gun is her first full-length album, yet it’s completely mature work. The third song, “Secret”, is just one example of how her lyrics work at multiple levels, setting up your expectations and then pulling the rug out from under you:

Can you keep a secret and guard it with your life
Can you keep a secret, cross your heart, hope to die
Would it stay between us, just simple words between us
Can you keep a secret this time

Those last two words come out of nowhere and turn the entire verse from an expression of cautious trust into a knife in the back, with a good solid twist added in.

I have many theme songs, and Mieka sings several of them. The one on this album is the kick-ass rocker “Be Like The Man”:

Be like the Man, be like the Mob
Be like the State, be like a God

Get mad, get mad, dress yourself in black
This cannot wait, you gotta take it back
Get mad, get mad, dress yourself in black
And prove it, do you want it back

What’s interesting about this song beyond the adrenaline-pumping tune is, again, the complexity. It is an anthem, but it’s also a challenge and an expression of preemptive contempt. (She tells the story of writing the song in live shows — the chorus is what it is because those are the four things “you do not fuck with”.)

albumThe EP From The Mouth Of Paris was originally done as a release for a band, The Mieka Canon, but that project seems to have fallen by the wayside, and it is now listed as a solo. In any case, it is a group of four great songs and no bad ones.

“Colossal” might well be titled “The Sociopath’s Song”:

Be honest, be straight:
Do you wanna make a colossal mistake
As much as I do?

“We’re All Gonna Die” is blackly funny when you know that it’s written from her own life. Her husband is (or was) a stand-up comedian, and she “got” to hear him work up his material from inspiration onward, which meant that he kept telling her about awful news stories as he was sifting through them, things that most people shrug off, but which left her, as she put it one time, curled up on her bed sobbing.

“Faster”, my favorite song on the release, is simply a brilliant piece of songwriting. It captures perfectly the yearning to be healed when you know you’re broken, the “if I could just have x, things would be better”, and each verse demonstrates how “x” is never what you thought it would be once you get it.

Finally, “That Golden Room” is a piece of quiet beauty, a different take on yearning, this time for that moment in your life when everything was Right, but you didn’t realize it until after it had already changed.


Creative Commons License
Elijah Drop Your Gun by Mieka Pauley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Creative Commons License
From The Mouth Of Paris by Mieka Pauley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License.

Music Monday: Colossus by The Monster Brothers

7 Apr

[cover] The Monster Brothers - ColossusChange of pace this month: Lyrics are now required, rather than frowned upon. I figure not everyone is distracted like me, and I’ve got lots of good CC albums that have English lyrics on them, and and and I’m thinking about putting together a monthly podcast where I will finally enact my initials and DJ various CC music for one and all. (Have not made a final decision on that last, though.) Call it Lyrical April.

I don’t remember what first brought this album to my attention, but I know I downloaded it then didn’t listen right away (which happens quite a lot, in fact). Then I demonstrated my (lack of) character. I went to the band’s Facebook page, was smitten by the super-cute bassist, and made sure to listen to this album a lot.

Yeah. I’m easy.

But it turned out to be a really good thing, because The Monster Brothers are actually very, very good. (With the added bonus that, if you download the album from Jamendo, it’s under a Free Culture license so you can use any of the music and/or lyrics with very little trouble at all.)

It’s mostly hard-rocking, upbeat, fun, and very melodic. Past that, I can’t really say much other than: listen to it. It’s good, and its quality should be evident right off the bat.

From what the band themselves say about it:

Everything started from the need to make music again and perform live.

Some great and original songs were already there from previous experience….

The sound is well crafted, the influences are multiple, perhaps more rock and pop, with some jazz, jungle and reggae on it – surely very original and finally with lyrics to listen to.

The leader is from Austin, Texas, the other members are all originally from Switzerland/Ticino.

Jason sings and plays keyboards, Gionata plays the drums, Alex and Paolo play the guitars, and Nicole plays the bass. Enjoy.

You can download Colossus by The Monster Brothers from Jamendo under a CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported License.

You can also buy it through BandCamp (thus giving money to the band and encouraging them to keep on playing) under a CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Unported License.


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Colossus by The Monster Brothers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://twitter.com/MonsterBrothers.

Writing Music Monday: Beautiful Way by Keffy Kay

31 Mar

CoverKeffy Kay is a Ukrainian artist that I’ve just come across, though his two albums are from 2009 and 2011.

This album is an interesting mix of synth and more natural sounding instruments. Some tracks sound perfectly complete, others sound like they’d make good backing to vocals. The second track, “Restored Soul”, reminds me of a favorite movie, the Korean drama Windstruck (particularly the “rap” sequence involving the end of a car chase, if you know the film).

Overall, it’s just what it means to be, good background music. There is a certain element of repetition, but not in the amateur way I find detrimental on some other CC artists’ first efforts.

Beautiful Way is free to download on Jamendo.


Creative Commons License
Beautiful Way by Keffy Kay is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Spot the fallacy

21 Mar

I’ve been spending a lot of time absorbing various lectures and books available on the Mises Institute site. It’s a great resource, but… you’ve really got to be careful when they talk about history, especially the Civil War (and, to a slightly lesser extent, World War II).

Usually, though, they at least attempt to make their arguments coherent. Thomas J. DiLorenzo, who is a very engaging lecturer, generally brings out a great many unknown or little-known facts about the Civil War. But then he’ll do something that makes the listener (or reader) pull back and treat everything he’s said as suspect. His relentless refusal to call the Civil War anything but “the war to prevent Southern secession” is one example.

Here, from his latest book Organized Crime: The Unvarnished Truth About Government, is another. See if you can spot the gigantic, enormous, blinking neon problem with it:

The population of the United States in 1861 was about one-tenth of what it was in the early twenty-first century. Standardizing for today’s population, the number of Southerners who perished as a result of the total war that was waged on them would be the equivalent of 3.5 million deaths. That would make the Lincoln regime significantly worse than the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. If the new estimates of some 450,000 Southern deaths comes to be accepted, then the Lincoln regime would be more than twice as bad as the Pol Pot and North Korean communists and four times worse than the Vietnamese communists in terms of democide.

There’s actually a lot wrong with this. But what struck me immediately was this: What is DiLorenzo’s rationale for adjusting Civil War deaths to the population of the US today?

When you compare numbers, if you “standardize”, you do it to try to get closer to a true comparison. The US population right now is over 300 million. Cambodia’s population at the time Pol Pot took power was about 3 million. The way to make a comparison is not to inflate the number of the man you hate (and make no mistake, DiLorenzo hates Lincoln) to make him look worse. Generally, in comparisons between two countries, you turn the numbers into a percentage.

Pol Pot’s regime killed approximately 33% of Cambodia’s population in less than a decade.

Lincoln, even accepting every other dubious premise that DiLorenzo fudges, can claim (using DiLorenzo’s worst numbers and ascribing all of them solely to Lincoln) 1.5% of his country’s population.

But the problem is, that doesn’t make Lincoln look worse. So that’s not what DiLorenzo did.

If the Mises Institute wants to shed its reputation for harboring loons and closet racists, they’ve got to stop endorsing crap like this. DiLorenzo can be, and frequently is, a very good historian. Even on Lincoln. But when his hate overwhelms and he stoops to cheap shots like this to validate his hate, he does himself no favors.

Writing Music Monday: Galaxy by Jahzzar

17 Mar

Cover[Stupid me, I forgot to hit "post" last week. So, here, a week late, this fine fine album.]

We need to come to an understanding on something.

I hate disco.

Despise it.

There are a handful of good disco songs, but I mean that fairly literally — I can count the number of “good disco songs” on one hand.

So when Javier Suarez posted this “disco” album some time ago, I was leery. Figured it would be one of his projects that just didn’t click with me.

How wrong I was.

Galaxy somehow manages to be disco and excellent at the same time, and I still don’t know how Jahzzar did it. I can listen to the whole thing, beginning to end, without pause. Normally, I can’t even do that with a single disco track, let alone an album.

Of course, it’s not really disco. It’s Suarez taking influence from disco, as well as other, related sources, and doing his magic to create excellent, excellent music.

You can get Galaxy through Bandcamp in just about any format you want, as well as sending appreciative money Jahzzar’s direction. You can also download it from Jamendo in MP3 or Ogg Vorbis format, whichever is your default.


Creative Commons License
Galaxy by Jahzzar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://betterwithmusic.com/contact/.

Writing Music Monday: Moducué by Gepel

3 Mar

Modecue album coverIf there is list of the Top Five Creative Commons Jazz Albums anywhere, then this album by Argentinian trio Gepel is on it. Or the list is just plain wrong.

Moducué (meaning “Thanks” in Lucumí, a Yoruba dialect, according to Gepel’s website) is, in some ways, simplistic. It’s a pure trio instrumental, with just piano, drums, and bass (not guitar, an actual bass). The trio are obviously playing together, all at once, rather than recording track after track after track to be mixed together later.

And yet, there is a sense of experimentation and play running throughout the album.

Each track is meant to be a celebration of a different style of Latin American music, and you can rather hear that as you listen, but each of the instrumentalists also takes real chances, not only in solos but in backing the other players. (Note: I am not a musician, so I may be talking through my hat here. But that’s how it sounds to me every time I listen to the album.)

Moducué was first released in 2007. The original release site seems to be gone, but it remains available, thanks to the Creative Commons license, on the Free Music Archive and the Internet Archive.


Creative Commons License
Moducué by Gepel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Italy License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.gepel.com.ar/Contacto – Ingles.html.

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