Monday, 13 April 2009

Dizzy For This Disc. . .

Call me old-fashioned, but I hope what I still call record stores don't ever disappear in my lifetime. It's great to be able to download music and I love my iPOD, but as with books - online purchasing only really works if you know exactly what you want. And I still like the serendipity of coming across something completely unexpected while browsing through CDs, hearing something really interesting playing in the store, and accessing the brains and passion of the staff for recommendations. It's my favourite way to shop. And I'm one of those geeks that actually reads all the notes in the accompanying booklets. I also like having the lyrics handy, although I do wish music labels would stop producing CDs in those non-recyclable plastic cases and go to the cardboard ones instead.
Case in point: I recently went to one of my favourite classical CD shops - L'Atelier Gregorian - looking for a compliation of Maurice Jarre's film scores, as I'd recently been reading his obituaries (he died last month). Well, I didn't find the collection I was looking for, but while flipping through the jazz section, I came across Dizzy Goes to Hollywood, which lo and behold contained his take on Lawrence of Arabia. Now, this is a very upbeat and almost unrecognizable version, but I loved it all the same. The whole disc is great - there's a bouncy, jazzy "Moon River", a sensually moody "Walk on the Wild Side" and it ends with a terrific toe-tapping "Carioca" which got me into the mood for popping Flying Down to Rio into my DVD player. Great music to perk you up on a Monday morning, but don't listen to it just before going to sleep - because you won't!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Of Liza and Huxley and a Real New World. . .

I was browsing the newspapers a couple of weeks ago, rolling my eyeballs at the mediocre reviews of Britney Spears' concert and wondering why anyone would shell out so much money to basically watch someone lipsynch on a jumbotron. And then I turned the page and there was an ad for Liza Minnelli's concert and I thought well, now there's someone real - she'll be belting out every word herself, backed by a great band and in a venue where you can actually see the star without having to squint at a huge video screen.

I immediately went and ordered a ticket. And how glad I am that I did. The concert was last night and it was terrific. What incredible energy! I was exhausted by intermission, just from watching her. She was funny, gracious and the power in her voice was incredible. I feel very privileged to be able to say I've now heard her sing "Cabaret" live. And I teared up, both when she sang about watching her mother perform, and during the encores where in complete contrast to all the flamboyant, powerful numbers, she beautifully sang "Everytime We Say Good-bye" with just a piano accompaniment. During her last encore, she was completely alone on the stage, sequins replaced by a t-shirt, high heels shoes kicked off, lit by a lone spotlight and then, "I'll be seeing you in all the old, familiar places. . . "

Of course another great reason to go to Roy Thomson Hall, is to check out their music store in the lobby where I always find the most unusual stuff. Last night's find was a 1956 radio dramatization of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, where Huxley himself plays the narrator, and with an original score by Bernard Herrman (which is really why I bought the CD - Herrman is an incredible composer doing the scores for lots of Hitchcock movies such as Vertigo and North by Northwest, but also Citizen Kane, Fahrenheit 451 and so on). I've only listened to a bit of it, but I'm enjoying it so far. Huxley's voice has an old-fashioned, but elegant school teacher tone to it and the score is like a mysteriously sinister lullaby. In the accompanying booklet, they quote from a Time article describing the challenges of getting the sound effects just right:

"It took three radio sound men, a control-room engineer and five hours of hard work to create the sound that was heard for less than 30 seconds on the air. The sound consisted of a ticking metronome, tom-tom beats, bubbling water, air hose, cow moo, boing! (two types) oscillator, dripping water (two types) and three kinds of wine glasses clicking against each other. Judiciously blended and recorded on tape, the effect was still not quite right. Then the tape was played backward with a little echo added. That did it. The sound depicted the manufacturing of babies in the radio version of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World."
The notes also talk about how this production was an attempt to revive CBS's Columbia Workshop which had produced a lot of experimental radio drama in the late 1930s before television arrived to lure the audience away. I however, am going backwards and rediscovering the joys of radio. I've just recently cancelled my cable tv, deciding that there was nothing worth watching that was worth the $500 annual fee and I was wasting far too much time on my couch, lazily sucked into persuing inane programming. So my television set now exists solely to allow me to watch DVDs. I don't think I'll miss it. The older I get, the more I crave real experiences - theatre, live music, travelling, walking - and if I'm lazing on my couch, I want to be accompanied by a good book, or be listening to great music. Or perhaps now, a radio drama.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Nothing artificial about this reality. . .

Many thanks to Dovegreyreader for this post, in which I first read about the German writer Irmgard Keun. I just finished her novel The Artificial Silk Girl, which first appeared in English translation in 1933 and was reissued (and is still in print) by Other Press in 2002 with a new translation by Kathie von Ankum.
Doris - a pretty, young, ambitious girl who wants to be a movie star and famous - scribbles her adventures in a notebook covered with white doves: "I think it will be a good thing if I write everything down, because I'm an unusual person. I don't mean a diary - that's ridiculous for a trendy girl like me. But I want to write like a movie, because my life is like that and it's going to become even more so." She lies her way into working as an extra in the theatre, schemes to get a line in the play, steals a fur coat from the cloakroom and then confidently escapes with it to Berlin to seek her fortune. The introduction calls Doris a precursor to a Bridget Jones or Carrie Bradshaw, but while she has some of the same cheerful optimism as her fictional heirs and is also constantly searching for love, her experiences on the street, basically working as a prostitute to support herself, are far more serious than anything you'll find in the chicklit of today. I'd compare this more to Alfred Doblin's 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz - Keun is articulating the female voice and reality behind the many prostitutes that pop in and out of that novel. Or even to Stefan Zweig's The Post-Office Girl, in which a bored and frustrated woman also engages in an unhealthy fantasy life. All these novels do illustrate the real and desperate economic options placed on unmarried women in the post WWI era. Doris has a great and admirable talent for making the best of situations, and this comes through her gutsy narrative voice, so that the reader keeps rooting for her. But though she attempts to conquer her fear and loneliness behind her writing, it becomes another facade, another "pose" to help her get through the daily grind. Mind you, it's her best talent; her observations are frequently quite funny and yearningly childlike as in the following. She's describing the party goers in a Berlin restaurant to a blind WWI veteran:
" a handsome man just kissed a woman fat as a tadpole - old men are kissing each other - the music goes one-two, one-two - there are lamps hanging from the ceiling that look like Paul's starfish collection stuck together - the music is covered with flowers like a chiffon dress which tears very easily - let me tell you, Herr Brenner, a woman should never wear artificial silk when she's with a man. It wrinkles too quickly, and what are you going to look like after seven real kisses? Only pure silk, I say - and music - "
That phrase - "seven real kisses" - oh, the longing in that. I found this novel fascinating to read and I certainly want to explore more of Keun's work. There's a brief biography at the back and her life also reads like a novel. While The Artificial Silk Girl became a bestseller, her books were later banned by the Nazis. She left Germany during the beginning of the war, met authors Stefan Zweig and Ernst Toller, had an affair with Joseph Roth, and then returned to Germany hiding under an assumed name. Like many Virago authors, her work was rediscovered and republished in the 1970s during the feminist movement. She died in 1982.