Llewyn Davis, Inside Out



I just read The Mayor of MacDougal Street, a memoir of the Greenwich Village folk scene of 50 years ago, written by the late Dave Van Ronk with engineering by Elijah Wald.

I bought my copy when it was published in 2005, and began the long process of moving it from one stack of books symbolizing my various intellectual ambitions to another. Now that a Coen Brothers movie, Inside Llewyn Davis, has been loosely inspired by it, the book moved to the stack symbolizing "read the book already, Einstein."

To my surprise, I laughed my ass off reading Mayor — my wife was happy I finally read something funny. I want to repeat certain of its stories the rest of my life, but several are chapter-length psychodramas that start funny, and build and build with running gags and all the trimmings.

A story about absinthe smugglers is one of those stories that's almost too good to be told, never mind whether it's true. A chapter about Van Ronk's cross-country trip to California certainly seems smarter and funnier than anything in On the Road … maybe it's me.

And then there's that brief anecdote about a Greenwich Village rat.  Similar stories helped end my fantasies of having been there for the Golden Age. (I can't remember how I know a story about Mike Seeger scrawling "roaches roaches roaches" on the wall in John Cohen's apartment.) But Van Ronk's vermin story is the best yet, maybe owing to his matter-of-fact delivery.

In essence, Mayor is an oral history of the mid-century Folk Revival.

The book shows just how good oral histories can be as literature, and how important they are to reviving the past as lived reality. Robert Shelton's role in booking acts at Gerde's Folk City, and John Mitchell dodging bullets from all directions … those stories reorganized my understanding of that time and place, and they could only have come to me through oral history.

And Van Ronk's memories constitute arguments about the past that some readers will find challenging.

At some point over the past 20 years, I realized that there wasn't one Folk Revival, but instead an ongoing, rolling revival impulse running through American culture, changing shape and location and agenda. New revivalists keep being born, always with fantastic notions in their heads about the past:

They all seemed to go to Music and Art High School, and their parents all seemed to be dentists. I remember once coming across a covey of them sitting cross-legged around a bespectacled banjoist who struck a dramatic chord and earnestly explained "This is a song the workers sing when they're oppressed."

Van Ronk's street-level memories, refined over some very eventful decades, would make a great education on what it was really like, what people were really thinking about, and which romantic ideas you should abandon and which you should hold on to.

Not that Van Ronk couldn't be full of it, or that Elijah Wald's handiwork doesn't occasionally shine through. But the quality is such that these function as layers of complexity a wise reader will appreciate.

Here Van Ronk is the stereotypical New Yorker feeling superior to fly-over country, but there he's marveling at the depth of talent flowing into the Village from Hibbing and Detroit.

Here he insists that song lyrics need to make literal sense on the page ("along" a watchtower?), but there he praises Francois Villon specifically for using slang that no longer means anything.

Here he rolls his eyes at the insipid tourists who associated Greenwich Village with the horror genre (both were weird, he guessed), but there he argues that science fiction was a perfectly natural association (both are weird, I guess).

I know from Lewis Erenberg that theme restaurants like the spooky Cafe Bizarre had been features of Greenwich Village at least as early as 1915. It raises the question of just how important selling "a version of Greenwich Village that never existed" has always been to the existance of Greenwich Village. Much of it was created by landfilling with garbage in the 1700s — its very ground was established by Clydes.

Rigorous peer-review might have cleared and screwed all of this up completely. Visions like Van Ronk's — both observation and misperception — were driving forces behind the Greenwich Village Folk Revival and, for that matter, all historical events, past, present, and future. The fog of war *is* the real war, not a veil that obscures it.  

As for my own fog, Dave Van Ronk had been one of those people I'd had a recurring appointment with, and I never managed to keep it. I knew his face, his voice, and his rap sheet, but he always was mostly the guy Dylan stole the "House of the Rising Sun" arrangement from.  

Indeed, because I knew he was a key figure in a key time-and-place (maybe the in the), it meant there was no hurry. His story and music would always be around when I was finally ready for them. That attitude is one reason I'm not good at collecting oral histories.

Now, after Mayor, I have what feels like a relationship with the guy, and I get why people's feelings about him are often profound in a full sense of the term.  

His music seems urgent to me now, and I see the mark of his music and mind on a lot of people who understood him long ago. For example, his friend Dakota Dave Hull is a friend of mine, and I've always nodded sagely when he talks Van Ronk, which is often. Probably, I'll do less nodding and closer listening in the future, when I get the chance.


Sight and Suds, 1927


Norma Shearer, as Kathi, introduces the central motif


Pardon this bit of throat-clearing.  Hope you had a good summer.

Twice in the past few weeks, TCM aired the 1927 silent film The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg.  Made in the same year the Victoria Cafe Orchestra recorded Moonshiner's Dance, and sometimes just as sodden with alcohol, the film might still retain the world's record for the most beers consumed in one movie — something like 500 steins worth. 

There are scenes that almost play like beer porn — a "Girls Gone Wild" in which beers instead of breasts are fetishized to the point of self parody.  (Incidentally, I've run across 1929 newspapers ads for an actual Fox studio film called Girls Gone Wild, although it doesn't yet appear to have been reissued.)  The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg even finds ways of involving alcohol in a wide variety of metaphors and plot points.

A clip from The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg is currently available on YouTube. It's a well-chosen clip, featuring a bit of this beer-guzzling and illustrating some key plot elements.

In it, Prince Karl Heinrich watches from a balcony as his new love interest, Kathi the barmaid, delivers beer to grateful college students in Heidelberg.  A sheltered young prince of a fictional European nation, he longs to experience the pleasures and freedoms of normal life — and his time has finally come, now that he's been sent to Heidelberg, a notorious party school. 

The clip ends with Prince Karl pouring himself a glass of water and drinking it, but the clip ends a couple seconds too early to show the prince dashing the water glass to the floor in a fit of frustration. 

The 1927 audience out there in the theater seats was living under Prohibition, of course — for them, beer-guzzling violated the Constitution of the United States.  It must've been easy to identify with Karl's frustration, and with his voyeurism. 

On the other hand, the audience wasn't all that thirsty, since Prohibition had failed to keep virtually anybody sober.  In another scene, as the students hoist their steins and sing a drinking song, the song's sheet music suddenly appears onscreen much like a silent-film dialog card.  The sheet music stays onscreen a good long time, giving the audience time to strike up a sing-along right there in the theater.

The scene leaves the impression that the audience could not only get a drink if they wanted one, but might have been actually drunk at the time of the screening.  Hip flasks were everywhere, of course, and I'm reminded that the largest theater firm in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area was partly backed by the area's most prominent brewing family.  (I'll have to look into this ... anybody have info about movie theaters doubling as speakeasies?)

The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg is set in both Germany and a fictional Old World nation. 

The common folk in the film look a little less stereotypical than the lederhosen-clad townsfolk in early monster movies, but they are pretty quaint.  I've often seen such characters pictured in 1920's newspaper advertisements — always for liquor-related items such as malt sold for home brewing of strictly non-alcoholic "Old World" beverages (wink wink, nudge nudge!). 

It's clear to me that the German peasant image immediately brought beer to mind for Prohibition-era viewers — the dirndl as the era's "4/20."  Notably, the German immigrants who dominated the brewing industry were among the fiercest opponents in the battle against the ratification of the 18th Amendment. 

As the historian working on Moonshiner's Dance, all of this has me jumping out of my seat during The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg

Both documents are booze voyeurism — vicarious drinking binges for the already drunk — delivered with a Bohemian accent.  They both represent the way alcohol became much more than a drink during Prohibition. 

By 1927, booze had evolved into a signature experience and an organizing metaphor of the era.  At least in a lot of the cultural texts the era left behind, it was a pervasive medium that oriented and disoriented everything — even, or especially, when it wasn't around. 


The Anthology and Carbine Williams

Banjo and rifle


OK, I'm officially a Turner Classic Movies fan.

Lately, movies hardly seem worth watching if Robert Osborne isn't there, just before and after, to give a cheery commentary about them. Bruno could be OK, but I'll wait until it comes to TCM so Osborne can tell me who ALMOST played Bruno before they finally cast Sacha Baron Cohen.

More seriously, the relentless march of old films has mattered to my development as a cultural historian. I live much of my life in a pre-WWII "immersion program" of my own design, and it helps that movies carry a lot of dense and very palatable cultural information. 

Consider the relatively obscure Jimmy Stewart movie Carbine Williams — a biopic about an inventor who helped create the M1 carbine rifle, a standard gun used in WWII.

Aside from this seemingly unpromising subject, TCM's viewer guide said that Williams was a bootlegger in the 1920's and created his invention while in a North Carolina prison. I figured hillbilly stringband music had to appear somewhere, right? 

Also, the movie was released in 1952, the same year Folkways Records released Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. Maybe the movie would shed light on ... say, the prevailing attitudes about southern Appalachian culture that greeted The Anthology upon its release.

I hunkered down to watch TCM's broadcast. What blew my mind turned out to be the way the filmmakers tried to compensate for the dry subject matter — how they tried to draw you into the biography. 

The film begins "now" — in 1952 — with the son of Carbine Williams having had schoolyard fights about his father's criminal past. The son is otherwise a typical 8-year-old of 1952, with the greasy kid stuff in his hair, the rolled up jeans, the horizontal-striped t-shirt.

To help the son understand him, Carbine Williams brings the boy to his old prison warden, who tells the boy — and us — the remarkable story of how a convict in his prison went on to win WWII for America.

In the end, the boy now understands and appreciates his father's experiences as a Prohibition outlaw, a convict in the Depression, and finally an engineer of the military-industrial complex that won the war. A heart-warming hug closes the film.

The appeal of the framing storyline is direct: the events of the first half of the century will be incomprehensible, or at least misunderstood, by the baby-boom generation. The movie proposes and fulfills a dream that the catastrophic experiences of two World Wars and the Depression (if not the fiasco of Prohibition) could somehow be appreciated and acknowledged by the children of The New Prosperity.

That this yawning divide in experience could somehow be bridged someday was, and is, an entertaining fantasy.

About the musicians whose 1920's recordings were reissued in 1952 on The Anthology, Greil Marcus wrote:

In 1952 [they] were only twenty or twenty-five years out of their time; cut off by the cataclysms of the Great Depression and the Second World War and by a national narrative that never included their kind, they appeared now like visitors form another world, like passengers on a ship that had drifted into the sea of the unwritten. "All those guys on that Harry Smith Anthology were dead," Cambridge folkies Eric von Schmidt and Jim Rooney wrote in 1979, recalling how it seemed in the early 1960's, when most of Smith's avatars were very much alive. "Had to be."

The Anthology derived some of its power from exploiting the same radical break in memory that Carbine Williams uses as a dramatic frame. To young people the age of the Williams boy — that is, Bob Dylan's or Joan Baez's age — the world that created their parents and the recordings on The Anthology alike seemed about as distant in time and place as any world could.

At some level, the cataclysms of the first half of the century were not only events Carbine Williams witnessed, they were projects he undertook. As a suggested path for the boy himself to follow, his father's life could reasonably be seen as a nightmarish sentence.

Carbine Williams never hints at the possibility that the son might be less interested in the life his father had lived than in the world his father had created and would leave as the boy's inheritance. And in 1952, that world looked like an awfully mixed bag.

A lot baby boomers came to see the entertainment industry that produced Carbine Williams — the one that failed to anticipate their perspective — as a purveyor of bad dreams thin enough to be transparent. They were drawn to cultural alternatives that were more opaque and thus less easily churned out by the efficient new systems for the manufacture and distribution of culture.

The most committed Folk Revivalists of the early 1960's traded their father's M1 carbine rifle for their grandfather's banjo. Staging a kind of identity insurrection, kids like the Williams boy would try on identities that their fathers seemed to have abandoned to become architects of the Cold War — identities inspired by Woody Guthrie, Charlie Poole, Jessie James, or Henry Lee's jilted lover.

Or Harry Smith — whoever he was. His Anthology was like a Ouija board for receiving and sending messages from and to the millions of souls Carbine Williams and his invention had left for dead.

Some of the Williams boy's generation tried to reenact the Anthology's obsolete performances. Some tried to retrace the occult thinking that organized the collection. Many tried to discern, in the most obsolete songs they could find, the stories their fathers either didn't know or had decided not to pass along.


Williams and Hearst
Patty Hearst's famous rifle was an M1 carbine.


Against Camp: The Cosmological Argument

Indian head nickel
a nickel I bought in Seattle for a couple bucks


I have five nickels from 1940, all gotten as change over the last few years when buying coffee in the morning. You pay for a bagel and as change you get this thing minted before Pearl Harbor. Before the bomb. Before rock music. It says so right on it.

My wife Jenny sees me picking through my pocket change — or through hers — looking for a penny with an attractive patina or a dime from when Frank Cloutier was still alive.

I'm not a real coin collector. For me, coins are vehicles for thinking about the mundane objects of the past. Like old music, they're intimate little windows, in the palm of your hand, on what used to be intimately in the palm of somebody else's hand.

Old movies do the same job. A character picks up a phone, pauses, and finally says something like "Bensonhurst 5472." I saw it a hundred times before I ever really asked myself what was going on there. How did you used to make a phone call, and how does it matter that it's now different?

The small stuff is ignored by history, even though that's where all the significant changes happen. Money and politicians still shuffle things around — build stuff up, knock it down. Newspapers gin up wars overseas and most people worry about their livelihoods more than anything else.

What does change in dazzlingly profound ways are the mundane details. What does your pocket change look like? What are your shoes made of? What's playing at the local theater? Where's your bank? If Native Americans living in, say, 1491 could see today's America, the ephemera of our everyday lives would lead them to conclude that the world had ended — and they would not be wrong.

Here's the point. Somebody made the mistake of telling straight people about camp — I don't know, maybe it was Susan Sontag.

In any case, when I see old movies (say, 1967 or earlier) in a theater, there's always somebody who aggressively laughs as loud as he can. A kind of projected stage laughter. Hysterical, as if this were the first movie he'd ever seen in his life. It seems meant to signal that he recognizes something campy.

The last time I witnessed this, the movie was Rear Window. Everything about it was hilarious to the guy sitting immediately behind me. The sight of the murderer smoking a cigarette alone in the dark was a particular knee-slapper.

What's so funny, you wonder? It's the past. Anything marking the film as having been made before the current instant in time makes it worthy of derision, as if stupidity were confined to an earlier phase of cosmological expansion. The reason you and I happen to exist NOW, as opposed to some moment before now, is that you and I are mind-blowingly sophisticated. We're cool — that's why the current time happens to be "now."

But consider the alternative, as a cosmologist might. The past and the future are the same stuff. Both the past and the future are absent. They exist only in the mind's eye. They are only imagined. Neither is "here." Only the present is ... well, present to us.

But there is one difference between the past and the future. Exactly one difference.

It's cause and effect. Cause and effect goes in only one direction, from the past to the future. The arrow of causation never goes the other way. If it did, there would be no difference between the past and future.

And "cause and effect" is another way of saying "information." Information flows only from the past to the future. A coffee cup is information about the past — we can't drink out of a cup made in the future. Likewise, you can't meet a person born in the future — people, such as you and me, were caused in the past. We are information about the past.

This is why you should never trust a psychic — the universe depends on his being a liar. More to the point, this is also why old movies — and old music, and old newspapers, and old coins — are the closest you'll ever come to being able to look into the future. They're not funny, they're information about the past ... which is the only information anyone will ever have.

So wipe that smile off your face and sit quietly ... even if it's The Sound of Music. Even if it's Barbarella. Possibly The Ten Commandments ...


Editor's Note: This is installment 27 of a 28-part experiment. I'm trying to post one entry to The Celestial Monochord every day (or at least FOR every day) during the month of February 2007.


Hearts in Dixie



Lately, I spend a lot of my time in university libraries, city and county libraries, and state historical societies, often looking through old newspapers from around 1925 to 1959. I now have no patience for anybody who ever feels "bored" — just pick up a newspaper from the 1920's and go nuts.

I recently ran across the headline above in a July 1929 newspaper from St. Paul, Minnesota. "Hearts in Dixie" has been written about often by scholars working on media images of African Americans, and I can't add much to that work. The main subject of interest, of course, is the racist nostalgia for the antebellum South to which the movie appealed and which it reinforced.

But for me, finding the particular article above drove home a few things. It appeared in a newspaper from one of the highest latitudes in America — Minnesota's state motto is "The Star of the North." The article reminds me again that these fantasies of blacks yearning for the happy days of slavery were not solely — in fact, not primarily — southern fantasies. A lot of northerners liked images of African Americans who wanted to go back where they came from.

Roughly the same preference gave rise, a hundred years before, to black-face minstrelsy, which was invented in northern cities like New York and Boston and remained more wildly popular there than in the South. I often think of the American vision of Ireland as a place where people are always covered with shamrocks and drink green beer — a total lack of familiarity is ideal for growing fantasies.

For our purposes, gentle Celestial Monochord reader, it's the article's musical content that's most interesting. The short article consists almost exclusively of a list of 25 songs that appear in the movie. Presumably, the writer believed the Minnesota audience would recognize these songs and have an opinion about them. I have a relatively shaky grasp of the history of where that belief came from.

A few of the songs are familiar to me from simply being an American. I don't know, I guess I heard them in grade school — "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", "Nobody Knows the Troubles I've Seen", "Old Folks at Home", and "Swanee River".

But a surprising number of the listed songs were completely unknown to me until I started listening intensively to what's known today as "Old Time" music — The New Lost City Ramblers, Tom Brad and Alice, and so on. Others may have been familiar before, but I now closely associate them with old time, bluegrass, or the Harry Smith Anthology. The article lists "Lonesome Road", "I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray", "Li'l Liza Jane", "Shine On", "Turkey in the Straw", "Old Hen Cackle", and "Oh Dem Golden Slippers".

As a consumer of so-called roots music, one line of the article is all too familiar:

Some of the other numbers are noteworthy in that they are foundation stones, so to speak, in the structure of jazz music.
Of course, jazz, particularly if loosely defined, was the most popular new music of the day, and it's funny to see that even back then, companies were using dubious claims of historical significance to move product.

I've written before, though, about newspaper stories that cited a kind of old time revival underway in the late 1920's, and this article is further support. One of those articles featured record store owner Harry Bernstein, who discussed the revival entirely in terms of repertoire, as opposed to performance style — it was old songs that were popular, not necessarily old styles of playing. THAT revival had to wait for Harry Smith and the New Lost City Ramblers. I haven't seen "Hearts of Dixie," although I'm sure I'd find the performances rather disappointing, stylistically ... at the very least.

I know vastly more about the history of performance styles and instrumentation than I do about repertoire (Benjamin Filene's chapter on it has helped a lot). This blind spot probably results from my being more directly a product of the revival of the 1950's and 1960's — which was so much about the rebirth of sounds — than a product of the various late-19th and early-20th century revivals, focused as they were on texts. If there had been an article about banjos in Minnesota, I would have had some good contexts in which to understand it, but this list of old songs is a little more mysterious to me.


Editor's Note: This is installment 18 of The Celestial Monochord's great February 2007 adventure — we are posting an entry a day all month long! JUST IMAGINE ... magine ... magine ... THAT ... at ... at ... at ...


1969 and the Moon Landing
Part 2: Alice's Restaurant

Alice's Restaurant is a long, rambling, very funny song about a lot of things — particularly the absurd way that its author, Arlo Guthrie, got out of the draft.

A film version of the song was rushed to the theaters soon after the song became a hit. In Arlo Guthrie's fascinating audio commentary for the "special features" of the film's DVD, Arlo describes the writing of the song, and then its first public performance:

I went to the Newport Folk Festival in 1967, and they said, "Oh, Arlo Guthrie, you know, aren't you Woody's kid?" And they put me out in this field — you know, I was just 18 or 19 years old, I was a real young guy — and I remember playing Alice's Restaurant standing on a box in a field with about 300 people.
They got such a response that they put me on some other program later on that afternoon with, you know, about a thousand people and that got such a respsonse that they put me on at the very end of the festival, and that evening there were probably about twenty, thirty thousand people in the audience.
They were afraid to put an unknown person like me at the end of a big festival. It'd be really chancy, I mean, what if I was terrible? What if it was horrible? ...

And so Judy Collins came out, Joan Baez came out and then other people came out, and Pete Seeger came out. And by the end of the evening, all the performers were onstage singing Alice's Restaurant.
And that was the day that Man first walked on the Moon. I remember being onstage and telling everybody, you know, "There's people walking around up there." And looking at the moon. And it was a big day. Big day for me, big day for everybody. The next day, I started getting the phone calls from all the record companies and the execs and stuff.

It's true that the song made its public premier at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1967. But "Man first walked on the Moon" two years later, in July 1969. There were no astronauts in space during the 1967 festival.

Part of what fascinates me about the film, and Arlo's commentary, is that they are both constantly haunted by endless coincidences, misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and mysteries — some of which Arlo points out, and some of which he seems to miss. The moon landing the night of his great triumph at Newport, for example, happened only in Arlo's memory.

The timing of the song and the film interests me. Hollywood in the mid-60s was in pretty bad shape and the studios were desperate to get people into theaters. Bonnie and Clyde (produced by 28-year-old Warren Beatty and directed by Arthur Penn) was a surprise success and helped encourage bolder movies by sometimes by younger artists, oriented toward younger audiences.

Alice's Restaurant was Arthur Penn's next directing job after Bonnie and Clyde, and has a disorienting strangeness that seems to come from being a weird hybrid of countercultural documentary and studio pandering. So, Alice's Restaurant feels like it catches Hollywood in mid-morph, trying to figure out how to do a new thing. The movie is one key to understanding Hollywood at that moment.

But I want to understand the year 1969 and how the The Moon Landing fit into it. One lesson of Arlo's mistaken timeline is that the recollections of the major players — whether astronauts or folksingers — are 36 year old, and are bound to be cloudy.

Certainly, any drugs used at the time are unlikely to help, but they're not the only thing that can make things "run together" — young people in 1969 had a lot on their minds, what with a draft, a war, assassinations, Nixon, and such. I often remind myself that between 1965 and 1970, there were ... well, just five years.

But the main lesson of Arlo's mistake is that it wasn't some other mistake — it was about the Moon Landing. It is testimony to the importance of the landing not just as a technological feat, but as a reflection and contributor to the headiness of the times.

The 1967 Newport Folk Festival was certainly one of the most important events in Arlo Guthrie's life. It changed everything for him, and it was inextricably wrapped up in momentous national events (just listen to the song). It really was a big day for everybody — every day seemed to be. 

So, it makes sense that memories would get pegged to Apollo 11 as a way of expressing their own intensity and, especially, to express the way those memories were shaped by various dramatic displays of American power.

Part 1


1969 and the Moon Landing
Part 1: M*A*S*H

Apollo 11


The first major Hollywood movie to use "the f-word" was Robert Altman's M*A*S*H. It was hard enough to get this past the studio, but the word was spoken by a gung-ho, frat-boyish soldier, whose buddies were smoking marijuana on the sidelines. Released during the depths of the Vietnam War, it was not exactly the kind of depiction of Our Troops people were used to seeing on-screen. It is said, though, that many state-side soldiers found a way to go AWOL from their bases for a few hours to see the film.

While editing M*A*S*H after filming was complete, Altman was disappointed in the results. He thought something was missing, and eventually decided the film needed a kind of Greek chorus — a detached voice that could comment on the action. So, he sent a camera crew back out to film many dozens of shots of a loudspeaker on a pole, and then he dubbed the 4077's camp announcements over this footage. It was just what he was looking for.

One of those shots of the loudspeaker has a gibbous moon in the background. According to the DVD's "special features," that shot was taken the night Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first moon landing. There are people up there on that moon, behind the camp's loudspeaker in the movie M*A*S*H.

I wan't really there in 1969, so it's not easy to imagine the impact M*A*S*H must have had on its first audiences (the more familiar TV series doesn't help). What it must have meant for that moon landing to drop into the middle of 1969 is even harder to reconstruct. After all, when is it ever possible to grasp the mood of an entire nation in any year — much less America in 1969?

John Prine said recently, "If you want the big picture, you need a really small frame." That shot of the 4077's loundspeaker with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the background sometimes rests in my mind for a long time, like a shrine for contemplation or like some kind of worry stone.

Part 2

Lisa Simpson Goes to Banjo Camp

My wife Jenny reports that the episode of The Simpsons that aired on Sunday, April 17 briefly showed Lisa Simpson wearing a t-shirt that said "Banjo Camp." I missed it because I glanced down to peel a shrimp. I would love a screenshot of it, if anybody out there can make that happen for me.

Also, if anyone would kindly explain to me just what's so funny, exactly, about wearing a t-shirt that says "Banjo Camp" ...

UPDATE (April 26, 2005)

It turns out that Lisa's shirt actually said "Band Camp":


"Banjo Camp" was merely wishful thinking on Jenny's part. Ah well, it could happen to anyone. Actually, it does explain a lot — of course, band camp is for dweebs, and so, is funny. But banjo camp? That would've needlessly alienated a key demographic, don't you think?

Art and Science on "Morning Edition"

NPR's Morning Edition has been airing a series exploring the intersections between art and science. It's had some fine moments, and it's definitely worth listening to on the web. Probably my favorite segment was on Louis and Bebe Barron, pioneers of electronic music in the 1950's.

An apparently eccentric husband and wife team, the Barrons found ingenious ways to get crude 1950's-era electronics to make strange noises. Frequently, they would deliberately push circuits beyond their limits, creating various whirrs, whistles, and pops as the circuitry fried — that is, they made instruments that made music through self-destruction.

The home page of the series reads like a kind of Dream-Jobs-Only classifieds section.

Spider John: Amateur Astronomer


You may know the great Minnesota bluesman Spider John Koerner as a character in Bob Dylan's recent book. He's portrayed there as, essentially, "the other guy" around Dylan's university neighborhood who, in 1960, played the accousic guitar and tried to sound 45 years older than he really was. Well, now John really is 45 years older than he really was, and you can still find him playing in bars near the same old Dinkytown neighborhood, sounding better than ever.

The City Pages now confirms the obvious — Koerner is an amateur astronomer. This great bearer of the folk-blues tradition is also a "StarGeezer." Since tonight marks the premier of a new documentary about him, "Been Here, Done That," it's a good day to award Spider John the coveted Monochordum Mundi, given to those who best represent the fusion of science and music we're looking for here at The Celestial Monochord.

Go to Spider John's website and try clicking on the pictures of him there.