27 March 2009

Relevant to my Interests, Ep. 16

"I can has cheezburger, mommy?"
"Not yet, my little one, but soon. Yes, soon..."

Not content to merely possess the looks of an angel, Jeanette MacDonald also had to have the voice of an angel, as well. Jeanette MacDonald is today remembered best for the several films she made with Nelson Eddy (one hell of a singer in his own right!), although she also appeared opposite Maurice Chevalier in her earlier pictures. And if it may be hyperbole to say Jeanette had the voice of an angel, it isn't hyperbole by much--this woman could sing like nobody's business. Even through the somewhat primitive, monaural sound recording technology of the day, Jeanette's voice rings through as clearly as a church bell through the autumnal fog. Nelson Eddy was frequently Jeanette's beau on the screen, but he carried a torch for her just as much off the screen. Personally, I can't blame him.

The above photo dates from the early days of Jeanette MacDonald's career, as the Paramount logo suggests. The identity of the cat remains unknown.

[Image Sauce]

23 March 2009

Free Associations, Ep. 9: Special Birthday Edition

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin and Joan Tomasovna Crawford are famous for vastly different things--one ruled the Soviet Union with an iron first while the other was the quintessential movie star of Hollywood's Golden Age. To most, that is where the similarities end. That, however, is not quite the case.

In their younger and more vulnerable days. Actually, I think they make quite a cute couple.

To begin with, Stalin and Crawford were both noted for their willfulness, argumentativeness and assertiveness. In fact, give the tireless way they clawed their way up the ranks of their respective professions, it wouldn't be stretching the truth too far to say that Stalin and Crawford both possessed a particular forms of megalomania. Although the difference between dictatorship and movie stardom necessitates that Uncle Joe and Mommie Dearest manifested their megalomania in different ways, there is little doubt in my mind that their eccentricities both sprang from the same intrinsic need to be great.

The remorseless way in which Stalin and Crawford pursued their respective forms of greatness meant that they both made their fair share of rivals and opponents. Stalin had many nemeses (real or otherwise) in the early days of the Soviet Union, most notably Sergei Kirov and Leon Trotsky, while Crawford viewed Norma Shearer as a hated rival, and later feuded quite famously with Bette Davis. Stalin's enemies usually wound with a bullet (or the occasional ice axe) through the brain, but Joan never quite had the luxury of being able to arrange for her enemies to meet with unpleasant ends (this is probably for the best--Norma Shearer's bullet-riddled corpse, no doubt, would have been the source of quite a scandal for the gossip rags of the day).

Stalin and Crawford were both highly conscious of how the public perceived them, though their dealings with the little people were not necessarily the same. Joan was keen to the fact that her greatness was dependent upon the approval and adulation of her fans, and sought to always stay in their good graces. Ever less nuanced in his ways, Stalin dealt with the problem by ensuring that the people of the Soviet Union knew of no alternative but to adore him. Stalin's cult of personality will remain the envy of dictators and generalissimos for centuries to come (In a way, a cult of personality for Joan has survived to this day, but it seems that most members of this particular cult are drag queens).

Nor are the personal lives of Joseph Stalin and Joan Crawford without their similarities. It should come as little surprise that they each had rough childhoods. Beyond that, however, their relationships with their families were, shall we say, a bit strained. Joan's dominion paled in comparison to Stalin's--the Crawford household was hardly the size of the Soviet Union--but what she did control she ruled with an iron fist. Indeed, Christina Crawford's Mommie Dearest is a retelling of Joan's totalitarianism. It's not quite The Gulag Archipelago, but I suppose that it springs from a similar (albeit much less bloody) sort of victimization.

After their rise to power.

No one can say for sure what Josef Stalin would have been like in Hollywood, nor can anyone be sure what Joan Crawford would have done at the helm of a totalitarian dictatorship. I suspect, however, that the end results wouldn't be all that different.

And if you didn't know, it's Joan Crawford's birthday. Merry Joansmas to all!

19 March 2009

Musical Interlude: Марш Преображенского полка

I apologize for the paucity of posts in the past month or so. Things are not all sunshine and roses out here in Sigmaville, and thus I've been a bit distracted. Of course I know that my personal life is of interest to absolutely nobody, and so I'll leave it at that. Let us turn now to more interesting matters:

The above video features four songs, the latter three being renditions of the marching song of the Preobrazhensky Lifeguard regiment (it also features a nice pictorial overview of Russian military history, besides!). The Preobrazhensky Regiment was established by Peter the Great around 1687, and was among the most renowned units in the Imperial Russian Army. The regiment itself was disbanded in 1917, following the events of the Russian Revolution, but the unit's march has remained a staple of the Russian army.

The first song heard in the video is a choral arrangement of a passage from Tchaikovsky's famous 1812 Overture. It's not unpleasant, but it's not the reason we're here today. The first version of the Preobrazhensky March we hear is a slower, more regal treatment of the song. The second is an a Capella rendition of the march (perhaps my favorite rendition of the three on display in the video). Finally, the third rendition of the march is an uptempo version of the march, quite suitable for a parade (as an aside, I'm fairly certain this particular version appeared on the soundtrack for the game East Front II).

As a final curiosity, here are the lyrics to the song (in Russian, naturally):

Знают турки нас и шведы
И про нас известен свет
На сраженья, на победы
Нас всегда сам Царь ведет

C нами труд Он разделяет
Перед нами Он в боях
Счастьем всяк из нас считает
Умереть в Его глазах

Славны были наши деды
Помнит их и швед, и лях
И парил орел победы
На Полтавских на полях

Знамя он полка пленяет
Русский штык наш боевой
Он и нам напоминает,
Как ходили деды в бой.

Гордо штык четырехгранный
Голос чести не замолк
Так пойдем вперед мы славно
Грудью первый русский полк

Государям по присяге
Верным полк наш был всегда
В поле брани не робея
Грудью служит он всегда

Преображенцы удалые
Рады тешить мы царя
И потешные былые
Славны будут век,

13 March 2009

Free Associations, Ep. 8

I'm not sure even I can explain this one. Just rest assured that Broadway day is a very dangerous day.

[Image sauce]

06 March 2009

Five Good Songs

I haven't said much about music in some time. Not due to a lack of interest, mind you, but mostly due to a lack of training in musical criticism. Music has had an almost immeasurably significant influence on me over the years, and I'd like to be able to say more about the music I listen to than I currently do. The problem is that reviewing many of the albums I listen on a track-by-track basis can become somewhat tedious, given that said tracks are not of the radio-friendly "Top 40" variety. Current 93, for example, is out to write good music with actual depth and feeling, not just catchy hit songs that will become fodder for the VH1 retrospectives of tomorrow.

Ultimately, when I do try to review an album, I wind up focusing on the strongest tracks. With that habit in mind, I've decided to forgo focusing on a single album this time around, and instead have opted to discuss a selection of my favorite songs (at least for the moment). In no specific order, the selections are as follows.


"13 Years of Carrion"
Death in June
Rose Clouds of Holocaust

One of the better songs in Death in June's already impressive library is the down-tempo number "13 Years of Carrion". The primary elements of the track are Douglas Pearce's vocals and acoustic guitar, but while those elements are enjoyable enough on their own, the use of synthesizers lend an additional dreamlike atmosphere to the song. A trumpet is also featured, which gives the middle part of the song something of a jazzy quality. "13 Years of Carrion" originally appeared on the 1995 album Rose Clouds of Holocaust, and it's atmosphere is present throughout the album. The dreamy and hypnotic quality of the album brings to my mind images of hypnotic sequences from some dimly-remembered television show of my childhood. An alternate rendition of "13 Years of Carrion" appeared on Death in June's Abandon Tracks compilation in 2005, a rendition which gave the song more of a Folk-ish feel.


The titular track from Jesu's 2006 Silver EP showcases all the qualities that makes the music of Justin Broadrick and company so great. Jesu takes the oft-depressing heaviness of Doom Metal, the distorted electronica of Industrial music and the uplifting soundscapes of Post-Rock and fuses these disparate elements into some truly great music. "Silver" is a shining (pun only somewhat intended) example of Jesu at their best. It's the sort of song to listen to whilst leaving home--there is a definite sense of loss in the song, but at the same time a feeling of hope that borders on wonderment, which provides a poignant counterbalance to the sadness. "Silver" brims with pathos and catharsis in a way that not many songs can.

"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"
Bing Crosby

There are a number of recorded versions of this song, it being one of the most popular and memorable songs of the Great Depression. Bing Crosby's version of the song is among the best-known renditions, and happens to be the one I have. Whereas the primary appeal of the two earlier selections lie in the quality of the music, this time around it's the lyrics that make the song interesting. Aside from the fact that it comes from an era to which I am inexplicably drawn, I find the lyrics timely in two different ways. The most obvious reason is that the song is about living in hard times, the sort of times which are slowly and surely engulfing the country (and, it seems, the world). More profoundly, the song also reminisces about the bygone good old days, which just happens to be one of my major pastimes. I, like the man in the song, once was "building a dream", although my dreams were of the collegiate and academic variety, rather than the commercial and industrial. Either way, as the lyrics go, "now it's done." Some 78 years after its original conception, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" maintains its significance and appeal.

"Long Gone"
Dog Days

Thus far the list has been fairly down-tempo (and a bit depressing, too). Goatsnake's "Long Gone" is rather a different affair. Goatsnake's music is heavily influenced by Black Sabbath (as is all Doom Metal), with a healthy dose of Southern/Blues Rock grooves thrown in for good measure. Though it's fairly short--less than three minutes long!--"Long Gone" (from the 2000 EP Dog Days) is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through nonchalance at life's little obstacles, expressed through the unrepentant sauciness of the lyrics and the music. Goatsnake's sound is heavy and low frequency, which isn't much of a surprise if you consider that Greg Anderson (of Sunn O))) fame) is the guitarist.

Несокрушимая и Легендарная ("Invincible and Legendary")
Red Army Choir

Penned in 1943 at the apex of the Great Patriotic War by the great Soviet composer Alexander Vasilyevich Alexandrov, "Invincible and Legandary" is an uplifting and triumphant march and the de facto anthem of the Red Army. Say what you will about the Soviet government, the Red Army always had some of the best music. The version of the song I have appears under the erroneous title "USSR Army Song" on a French compilation album I found on the iTunes store. The album features a significant collection of popular Soviet songs from World War II, "Invincible and Legendary" being among the best. If this sort of music doesn't inspire you to drive the Fascists from the motherland, nothing will (here's some evidence that supports my theory).

05 March 2009

If you Can't Stand the Heat...

...it is advisable to stay out of the kitchen.