Tuesday, November 30, 2010

musical family trees

The following is a repost of a Shelf classic from the week after Thanksgiving in 2005. A recent discussion in my Humanities class discussing Media in American Culture, spurred me to give students a project based on this post- to create a Music Family Tree, taking a current artist and tracing their musical influences into the past and tracking the roots of those various influences and genres. It was a very successful experiment and they seemed to enjoy it- as far as I can tell that is, they are all bucking for great grades at this point - buttering up the crusty old instructor seems to be a popular M.O. around the holidays.
Either way, enjoy this Shelf classic before we dive headlong in Christmas!

I love music. Different kinds of music. With me - it's not so easy to describe who or what I like. It's more - I know what I like when I hear it. So to speak. OK - I am a big band, jazz, blues, croonin' junkie -but at the same time I love Sting, INXS, Queen, Barenaked ladies, Aaron Copeland, Beethoven, Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Rosemary Clooney- do you see what I am getting at? Eclectic doesn't begin to describe my collection. I like me some Brazilian Bossa Nova, and am just as likely to put Celtic harmonies, the Boston Pops, or the Beatles on my playlist. Again I know what I like. I love discovering new music- even though it just may be new to me. A couple of years ago I saw O Brother, Where Art Thou, and - like many other Americans - bought the soundtrack. That led to discovering and loving the music of Allison Krauss and Union Station (one of the most beautiful voices in music today) - even though I don't consider myself a Bluegrass gourmet. Soon after I wandered into the realm of Ralph Stanley, and for a reason I don't remember, Johnny Cash. That led me to rediscover Lynard Skynard. Maybe unrelated links, but a thread nonetheless.

I enjoy something which has been dubbed- "The Great American Songbook." Thanks to Rod Stewart, a Scot, many have started to discover or rediscover great "American" songs - stuff sung by Sinatra, Martin, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, Nat King Cole, and others. You probably know most of the songs, or at least heard of them. They are American classics like "As Time Goes By", "Over the Rainbow", "That Old Black Magic", and one of my personal favorites, "Stardust." The thing about these songs is that they evoke some of the common culture, influences, and spirit of our country. And that's nothing to be ashamed of. Why did it take a Scot to make us remember that this stuff is great? Don't know - but thanks anyway. I've been enjoying this music for many years- but it's great to see so many others discovering it now.

Now if someone where to ask- "Do you love Bluegrass? or Do you love Country?" I would probably answer "Not really." However, were they to ask about certain artists or play certain songs within those genres - I might answer differently. I don't know why. I know what I like - and I don't always identify or like an entire genre of music. I don't really know anyone who could honestly claim they like every performance, every performer within a genre of music. We are too human, too rooted in our own life journey for that. But that doesn't mean we can't discover music, artists, or performances. I think the very act of discovery - the discovery of knowledge, music, art, film, words, and ideas - keeps us young and alive, no matter what our age. When we stop discovering, we stop living.

Music, to me, is a journey. I particularly think that our culture, our history, and our identity as a nation of peoples is so beautifully expressed in music, as much as in words or pictures. So its a wonderful thing to make discoveries and to return to old favorites. I have always enjoyed taking an artist I like and then making a journey of discovery through them. For example, I enjoy the work of Harry Connick, Jr. So - who influenced him- who does he influence? Who has a similar sound and what do they do differently with it. Potentially one could start with Harry- and then discover one of his influences- Thelonious Monk. It's then possible to go from Monk to John Coltrane, or one of his influences, Duke Ellington. Duke could lead you to Fats Waller and then, you could study Jazz during the Harlem Renaissance and then the roots of Jazz and Blues in the Mississippi Delta and the South. It is then possible to go from there to traditional Southern Mountain music and even the African influences of music in the Gullah areas of the Charleston coast. Could you then go from the mountain music and it's parentage in Scotland and Ireland and then pull back into traditional Gaelic music in the present? Sure. Or even go to Africa and discover the drums of West Africa.
See - a journey. One that all started with a Harry Connick Jr. CD that you popped in and listened to one afternoon. Music has such potential. We can take a wonderful journey, if we just act on our curiosity and impulse to learn. We are truly only limited by our curiosity and imagination.

Take a little trip before we are truly inundated with Holiday music. Not that I don't love Holiday music- in fact, I do love it. But the wait will make it all the more enjoyable- trust me. In fact, once we roll into December you can also add Holiday music to Pandora and see what it comes up with. Enjoy.

OK- back to present- Try out this project for yourself. You can use Pandora to find artists with similar styles to artists with whom you are already familiar. Then research the artist on the internet and discover who their influences were, and the genres of music that influenced them most. Trace the musical styles back and back and you can see that even artists as different as Michael Buble, Cree-Lo, Sade or The Beatles have some similar roots up the line somewhere- sometimes closer than you think.

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.

I don't care what you call me, man, just as long as my name is on the record.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

thanksgiving 1789

"WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our sasety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine."

(signed) G. Washington

This is a nation founded through divine inspiration. Let us all take time today to give thanks and remember from whence we came that we may control what we become.

Feel free to comment if the need strikes you.

The time is near at hand which must determine whether Americans are to be free men or slaves.
George Washington

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

thanksgiving childhood memories...

Our final entry for our Thanksgiving playlist should come as no surprise- The Thanksgiving animated specials. These days they only really play A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, but back in the day specials like A Garfield Thanksgiving, Bugs Bunny's Thanks-for-giving Special, The Mouse and the Mayflower and others received regular rotations. Every once in a while an oddball special like B.C.'s The First Thanksgiving or The Thanksgiving that Almost Wasn't would air on the weekend before Thanksgiving day itself. Occasionally you can catch an airing of one or two of these specials on Cartoon Network, and the Garfield special has hit DVD, but most of them seem to relegated to old VHS copies and the memories of childhood days gone by. Sad, isn't it?
Some clips exist here and there-and they serve to remind one that they weren't always great, but nonetheless they contributed to the spirit of the season and are a part of our holiday childhood memories. Here are a couple of clips, and then a full special itself for our Thanksgiving rotation- a trip back to years gone by...

First up: The Mouse and the Mayflower- it's sad that this special isn't on DVD considering the huge library of Rankin/Bass specials that exist out there on DVD. Tennessee Ernie Ford sings and narrates this tale about a mouse named Willum who is there to witness the Pilgrim's voyage across the sea and first year in a new world.

Here's an odd that's only available on Youtube: B.C.'s The First Thanksgiving. The characters from the long running comic strip B.C. pursue a turkey to try add some actual flavor to their regular Rock Soup, resulting in the "First" Thanksgiving. It's a little strange and has a slow pace, but different and has some funny moments. You can watch it on YouTube in three parts, and for the sake of space we won't embed it, but rather link to it here. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

Sometimes Disney and of course, Looney Tunes, compiled clips of their holiday-themed shorts and threw them together for a Primetime special. The Bugs Bunny Thanks-for-Giving special is a perfect example of this, but many times only edited portions of the shorts were shown. I like actually finding many of the Looney Tunes, Disney, and MGM studios shorts and watch them in the entirety instead of watching the special. Here are a couple of my favorites:
Jerky Turkey:

Holiday for Drumsticks:

Finally, Pilgrim Popeye

And of course, my personal favorite, which you probably have on DVD and/or have seen on TV already - A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Hulu has the entire special posted, and case you haven't seen it- check it out there.

That's all for today's installment, folks- on behalf of everyone here at The Shelf we wish to you and your family a very safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

I haven't even finished eating all of my Halloween candy!

Monday, November 22, 2010

when a meme goes rogue...

For the past few years, we've done a fun "meme" for the holidays- just something to do to have fun with our blogging friends. Some people don't like them and others live for them. With me, I'm sort of in between: I enjoy doing certain ones, but I can also get irritated by others. Recently, I actually happened upon an interesting meme that has made the rounds on the web and is currently making the rounds on Facebook. A friend tagged me on a note about a list of books created by the BBC, wherein the BBC also claimed that out of those hundred books, the average person has only read six.
Looking over the list I counted that I had read somewhere in the vicinity of 40 of them, but the titles on the list began to bother me. For the sake of brevity, I won't include the entire list here, but here is a link to the list so you can examine it for yourself. Here is the top ten:
1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

Now over the entire list Austen appears many times, as do other Victorian novelists. While Austen's works are listed separately on the list, other authors find themselves condensed to a single "Works" listing. Admittedly, I am not a Jane Austen fan, but I am also not the intended audience perhaps. Still, the list is very odd. No Hemingway, Poe, or Twain - no Greek classics, very few early novelist, etc. And also included are some very recent novels, that while popular today, may not really endure to achieve "classic" status. How can this list be a true "classic works" list. It seems more arbitrary, than something deliberated and thought out.

Being the natural skeptic I am (it's inherited), I began to poke around. Come to find out- not only is the list truly arbitrary- the BBC connection is at best, confused, and at worst, intentionally bogus. Here is the back story: In 2003, the BBC did a poll of Britons asking them to nominate their favorite novel to determine what the nation’s best loved novel was. The poll was called The Big Read. The result was a list- but not this one. The list from the original poll is somewhat different, but similar enough. It included many books that appear on our meme/Facebook list, some different ones and in different order. What gives? A little more digging reveals that in 2007 the UK paper, The Guardian did a new poll in honor of World Book Day. The resulting list was entitled Books You Can't Live without. Now take a gander at that list-does that look familiar? It should- it's our same list.
This list has actually made the rounds on Facebook last year and around the net as well. This is where the trail goes a little cold, but it seems that someone had taken this list and turned into a "meme" two years ago, confusing the BBC as the source or deciding to attribute the BBC for credibility's sake. Again, at best a connection made in confusion or inflated as it was passed around; and at worst, a bogus attribution to conflate the credibility of the list. Further inquiry has resulted in zero news stories or online articles that actually mention the BBC ever claiming that most people have only read 6 of the books on any type of list; much less their own.

Is this just a fanciful addition by an Internet blogger or Facebook conspirator to have fun? Perhaps. But what it does accomplish is what any good meme or "greatest whatever" list does- turn up the conversation. It's as simple as 1-2-3.
1. Interest/Connection: "A list about books- I like books. I wonder which ones are on the list that I've read?"
2. Resentment/Controversy: "What? Lemme see that list. The BBC said what? That's malarkey!"
3. Competition:"I bet I have read more than six of these! I'll pass that around. We'll show them." Thereby resulting in a sure-fire meme for people to pass around and argue about books. Yes, it is kind of false advertising- and the BBC is unfairly maligned. Do I have to really tell you that you should always take what you read on the Internet with a grain of salt? I didn't think so- but still we shouldn't be so blind as to buy into the BBC claim without doing at least a little fact checking. However it has people talking about books and perhaps inspired others to read more. And in and of itself, that is not a bad thing.

Let's take the opportunity to scratch beneath the surface of this list and look a little further into what lists like this, that result from polling, can reveal about ourselves and our culture. The characteristic about this list that initially started my digging around was the lack of many literary classics on the list, and an over-representation of recent books. Even that the list singles out so much Jane Austen was interesting. During the last decade or so, many of these books were made into movies or television adaptations. Does that mean people are associating having seen the movie with having read the book? ("Well, I saw the movie, so I know what it's about.") Or are more people reading the books after being introduced to them by the movie version? Certainly there is a popularity association between books and movie adaptations- sales of both feed one another. A cursory glance at the list and I can see several book series that have been hugely popular movie series in the last decade: The Harry Potter Series, the Lord of the Rings series and the Chronicles of Narnia just to name a few.

Then again- recent studies also show that perhaps we tend to *ahem* shall we say, exaggerate how much and what we read. It's something that plays into perceived status and social standings, and in western democracies, aside from money, the thing people use to signify social status is education. In 2009, The Guardian conducted another poll for World Book day, this time asked people to fess up about their reading habits. The results were interesting: roughly 65% of people asked admitted to lying about the classic books they have read. The book most have lied about reading: George Orwell's 1984. I wonder if people were thinking of that time in school when their teacher asked if they had read for the test...? While some of the results are interesting and some worrisome, Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust is quoted in the article as finding the overall results as reassuring: "It shows that reading has a huge cultural value in terms of the way we present ourselves as intelligent and engaged people."

The question we have to ask, however, is this really demonstrating that reading has a true cultural value or does the appearance of being well -read have the true value? Over the past several decades many short-hand books, such as Cultural Literacy, have shown that perhaps our modern culture is short changing the cultural pillars of our past. Past generations have often demonstrated at least a reverence and in some cases, a intimacy, with history, literature, art, etc- the cultural artifacts and cornerstones of civilization. While a large portion of society was more concerned with tilling the earth and earning their daily bread, a respect for education and at least a familiarity with books and history, was embedded within. My great grandmother, for example, was raised on a North Carolina Tobacco farm, and raised her children on her own farm as well. But that did not stop her from becoming a voracious reader and intimately familiar with history and developing a lifelong passion for learning. She was not alone either: in 1910, when my grandmother was a child, the average illiteracy rate among children was about 2.2%. Total average, including adults was roughly 7%. However, consider several circumstances that may give some interesting context for that number: formal school enrollment was fairly low (lower among poor whites, immigrant families newly come to the country and blacks). Also the average drop out rate past elementary school years increases with each successive year. It was not uncommon for people, especially in rural areas, to not go beyond their 5th or 6th year of formal education. Yet the average illiteracy rate among school-age children was still just 2.2%.
Flash forward to the present. The adult illiteracy rate in the US in 2009 was estimated to be 1%-meaning 99% of the adult population is functionally literate. Sounds good right? However, that only makes us tied for 21st place among the nations of the world. Many of those in 21 place with us are first world and developing nations. But these incorporate only the very basic reading and writing levels. When degrees of literacy are incorporated, the results are even worse. Consider this information from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) and the US Department of Education: "One measure of literacy is the percentage of adults who perform at four achievement levels: Below Basic, Basic, Intermediate, and Proficient. In each type of literacy, 13 percent of adults were at or above Proficient (indicating they possess the skills necessary to perform complex and challenging literacy activities) in 2003. Twenty-two percent of adults were Below Basic (indicating they possess no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills) in quantitative literacy, compared with 14 percent in prose literacy and 12 percent in document literacy."

Considering that average enrollments are much, much higher and drop out rates are much lower compared to 100 years ago, and that the literacy gap between whites and minorities have narrowed dramatically, why is illiteracy such an increasingly large problem. Why are current generations of students increasingly culturally illiterate? Is there a connect also to recent studies that demonstrate a dramatic decline in historical, economic and civic literacy as well? 100 years ago, my grandmother's father was a farmer, but he, like many others, had an intimate familiarity with US history, was at worst functionally literate, a working knowledge with matters of economics and civics. These things, especially as evidence as shown, were weighed heavily in our society and considered important for each and every citizen to know. A similar feeling of responsibility to know and learn these things can be seen among new citizens and immigrants seeking full citizenship, but not so much among our current generation of students.

Even in my own personal experiences with my students, I note a disinterest and devaluing of cultural literacy and even just reading in general. In one of my humanities classes that I teach when we discuss traditional forms of media like books, I see a very clear gap when it comes to readers and those who use the library for anything other than the Internet. One of my colleagues from the Sociology dept might be able to interpret what I see more precisely, but one thing that stands out is that a majority of average people in their early 20s and younger are become less and less of traditional readers. We know newspaper readership is virtually nil among this age group- but so are "book habits." On average they are less familiar with current books than previous generations and even less so with literature and works, other than what they might have had to encounter in school. When I informally poll my students (these are college age students, but the age range is fairly diverse as they are in an atypical college situation leaning towards adult learning) a majority of them have never read and in most case completely unfamiliar with: mythology, American 19th century literature, early 20th century British or American books, British Victorian lit- and quite frankly had never even heard of any classical literature or plays.

Some familiarity is expressed for books they remember assigned to them in school: To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, and something along the lines of The Red Badge of Courage- but most cannot recall the plot or main themes of the books. At best, they remember the title, and this is despite the fact that I know there are good teachers out there who are trying to introduce these works to their students. In some ways students are doing what they can to get by- using the Internet, etc for help with papers, but I think our culture is also somewhat to blame as it has increasingly devalued anything from our past, western civilization in general, and devalued anything that takes a good deal of time to digest and process. If it can't be encapsulated into a sound bite or hyped on the latest entertainment news site- they don't really care.

For me the unintended consequence of it all is that while Technology has made so much of the past, of literature, of information more and more accessible to so many more people- many more members of the "technology generation" are becoming less and less consumers of said information. Studies have shown that third world countries that are now beginning to have greater access to technology and overall have improved more technologically, young students in these countries are not only becoming more exposed to information from around the world, they are also becoming better readers, retaining more knowledge and becoming more interested in learning. In our society, where technology is so abundant - we actually see a decline among younger demographics in terms of active reading and cultural literacy.

What does this all mean- I'm not completely sure, other than to note parents and teachers have an uphill battle- but I think one that needs to be fought? I look back at when I was a teenager and had someone told me that one day I could affordably own a small, thin and portable device that could store a vast library of books that I could read anywhere, anytime - or that I could own a device that would store many movies and play them back- I would've been incredulous that that could happen in my lifetime. And yet - here we are; and I am still amazed sometimes that I can own a library of my favorite classic movies to watch when I want or store tons of books on an eReader.

Where does that leave us? Well, remember that this rambling examination all began with looking at a little Internet meme that went rogue. It's fun to discuss what books we may or may have not read, but we also need to find ways as a society to place more value on reading, on great books, on classics, on history and civics. We need to reverse the decline of cultural, historical, economic, and civic literacy. If we don't, all the Internet sites, Tech gadgets and webisodes in the world won't stop the freefall that is occurring in Western civilization. Familiarity with these things not only promotes a cohesiveness to the citizens in our nation, it also serves to instruct, teach or remind us that our Nation is unique and that our freedoms are not only precious, but the "Grand Experiment" our Founders set us upon hundreds of years ago, is worth continuing and defending. So next time you happen to have conversation with someone about an old movie or classic book, and they dismissively tell you "Who cares about that old stuff?" Tell them you do- and that they should. And tell 'em why.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and a tired man who wants a book to read.

Friday, November 19, 2010

jack benny's gobblers

For today's entry on our Thanksgiving Playlist, I thought I would share a couple of great Thanksgiving episodes of the Jack Benny Radio Show. Jack is very well known for his hilarious Christmas episodes- especially where Jack goes Christmas shopping and runs into the luckless salesman played by Mel Blanc. But just as funny were the many Thanksgiving shows that Jack and his cast performed. Jack's skinflint ways, vanity and wam heart under it all was a perfect foil to play against for the holidays.
For me, two of my favorite Thanksgiving episodes came back to back in the same year: 1947. This is Jack's classic cast: Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris, Don Wilson, Dennis Day, Rochester, the Sportsman Quartet and of course who can forget Mel Blanc, Frank Nelson ("Yesssssss?"), Artie Auerbach (Mr. Kitzel) and Bea Benaderet and Sara Berner (aka: Gertrude and Mabel the phone operators) in great supporting roles. Jack attempts to pull off a nice Thanksgiving for the gang- with great hilarity.

First up is the 11-24-1947 show: Jack begins the show talking about his attempt to get a studio to film his Life story, but that eventually leads Mary to telling the rest of the cast (in radio flashback mode) about her shopping trip for a Turkey for the Thanksgiving dinner for the gang:
Click here for the episode.

Next we have the very next episode where Jack recounts having to "dispatch" the turkey he bought with Mary, which leads to Jack, too much of a softie to do it himself, to assigning the grim task to Rochester. All this weighs a little on Jack's conscience, so that when he takes a nap, we great a hilarious dream sequence where Jack is on trail for executing the turkey.
Click here for the episode.

There are several other great and fun Thanksgiving OTR- check out some of friend's sites like OTR Perk and others around the web for more. And stay tuned for more entries on our Thanksgiving playlist!

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

There's only five real people in Hollywood. Everyone else is Mel Blanc.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

i've got plenty to be thankful for...

It's only a little over a week away from one of my favorite holidays of all- Thanksgiving. We've done our level best here at The Shelf to defend and promote Thanksgiving over the years and we think it's a wonderful holiday where the focus should be on family and gratitude for the things we have. In fact, I think in a country where we have the freedom and the Constitution that we have, it's altogether fitting that we should have a day set aside for a national day of gratitude.

It's still a little too early to break out the Christmas music for me, and I've often wished there was some sort of compliation of "Thanksgiving" music to listen to over the weeks up to the big day. So, I've sort of made something of my own little playlist of Thanksgiving episodes of Classic Radio shows (Jack Benny has some particularly funny Thanksgiving episodes), Hymns that remind me of Thanksgiving and gratitude and some classic film songs and standards that hit the mood. So I thought that perhaps this year, in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I would share with you some of the items on my Turkey day playlist in hopes that you will enjoy them and consider letting the Holiday and the spirit of gratitude take hold before the season of giving took over. Maybe there is something to learn there folks; in order to give from the heart, perhaps we need to really learn gratitude and what means to be grateful for things we couldn't possible make happen on our own. Maybe it's the grateful heart that truly gives. That's putting the horse before the cart, so to speak.

Allow me to give you the first item on my playlist; and these are two very underrated songs because they are overshadowed by being in a Christmas film. Both of these numbers are Bing Crosby tunes from two of his classic and most loved holiday films: Holiday Inn and White Christmas. Perhaps it's cheating a little, because I have the wonderful soundtrack that contains the songs from both of these films and technically it is Christmas music, but I've placed two particular numbers into my playlist. Here I am presenting clips of the numbers from the film, but the soundtrack, which I recommend highly, has the full songs.

First: Holiday Inn. Most of you know the story: Crooner Jim Hardy (der Bingle) is in love with fellow performer Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) and has decided to propose, but dancer Ted Hanover has wooed her away with promises of stardom and an offer to be his partner. Lila follows Ted leaving Jim with a broken heart. Ted decides to get away from show business and move to a New England farm that eventually he turns into an Inn only open on the holidays. (So much for getting away from show business). It is there where Jim meets the talented ingenuine Linda Mason (played by the lovely Marjorie Reynolds) and falls for her. Linda and Jim have a great thing going, but Ted enters into the picture again. Despite his attempts to hide Linda from him, Ted tries to woo Linda away from Jim with offers of stardom and Hollywood. Linda, mad that Jim couldn't trust her to make up her own mind, goes to Hollywood- and Jim, with a defeated attitude, just gives in. It is at this point that Thanksgiving roles around and Jim is celebrating a lonely holiday with just his housekeeper, Mamie and her kids. Then the number comes in- in the form of Jim playing his latest composition: "I've Got Plenty to be Thankful for." The song is actually quite sincere (despite Jim's lousy attitude) and it takes Maime to tell him what he needs to hear to change his attitude and go after Linda.
Here's the clip (side note- the Thanksgiving holiday briefly went back and forth being declared on different weeks, to allow more Christmas shopping, until it was finally left alone on the last Thursday of the month- hence the little cartoon at the beginning) :

How many of us have actually "heard" the song- it sort of plays in the background during this scene, but it's words have a great message- "I may not be rich or famous, but I have so much to be thankful for." Here are the words to this great Irving Berlin song:

"I've got plenty to be thankful for
I haven't got a great big yacht
To sail from shore to shore
Still I've got plenty to be thankful for

I've got plenty to be thankful for
No private car, no caviar
No carpet on my floor
Still I've got plenty to be thankful for

I've got eyes to see with
Ears to hear with
Arms to hug with
Lips to kiss with
Someone to adore

How could anybody ask for more?
My needs are small,
I buy them all
At the five and ten cent store
Oh, I've got plenty to be thankful for"

It's a wonderful tune and is one of the first songs on my Thanksgiving playlist.

Next is a song that comes from that wonderful holiday film, White Christmas. Filled with great performances, culminating with the famous song "White Christmas" (which actually made it's debut in Holiday Inn), our next song is actually for me one of the more beautiful in the film. The soundtrack has the full song performed by Bing, but costar Rosemary Clooney also has a lovely version on one of her Christmas albums. This song has been included in Christmas music albums before, but it has all of the earmarks of a wonderful song for Thanksgiving. Don't believe me? Have you every really listened to it? Here are the words:

"When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings"

In fact, our very own Mrs. Baravelli wrote a special article on how much she loves this song- why not revist that post to see why the song evokes so much about being grateful for the blessings we do have? To quote Mrs. B herself: "Somehow, however, when I heard this song again, it dawned on me – everything, even the bad, is a blessing to me. I have so many to be grateful for that I should start counting them instead of falling asleep while checking off my to-do list for the next day."
Yes, it's a perfect song for both holidays, if you ask me- gratitude shouldn't start and stop on Thanksgiving- it should tary within us all year. Perhaps it is gratitude that ties Christmas and Thanksgiving so well together.

Here is the clip- Bing's rich bass really delivers the emotion in this wonderful song:

Well, we hope you've enjoyed today's post. Stick around- we'll have more to add to our Thanksgiving playlist. Stay tuned...

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

You could melt her heart right down to butter, if you'd only turn on the heat!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

happy veteran's day...

...to all of the vets out there. On behalf of everyone here at The Shelf, I would like to say "Thank you" to all of those men and women who have served and given the ultimate sacrifice- and to their families who as well. Thank you for going out and training and defending and protecting my freedom. Thank you for sacrificing time from your families, leaving your homes and jobs to go to other countries and build schools, hospitals, roads and infrastructures that no one in the media will acknowledge.

Thank you for having gone and fought for your buddy and your company, and fought for your bunkmates - for burrowing down into a wet and muddy foxhole to avoid the fire from enemies unknown- for eating cold, undigestible food in field sometimes - for stitching up a wounded soldier or civilian- for following the orders given, even when everyone of you knows what might happen in the end.

Thank you for hundreds of years of American history, for defending the constitution and our way of life. I am sorry that sometimes it may seem we all take it for granted. Some people do, put I personally know many more who don't, and who value your service as well. Sure, you will always have some people who will never care for you, this country, or our way of life. They don't look at our history as a promise made on a piece of paper hundreds of years ago, that we have struggled to make true for people regardless of their sex, skin or race. They don't look at our country, mistakes and all, as an ongoing, developing and growing "Experiment" to make Freedom a reality. We've made mistakes, and we will continue to make mistakes- it comes with having freedom. But we have always risen above them and we try to learn from them. Some people only choose to see the mistakes and the negative and dwell on everything that's wrong. But you go out and serve your country, full of all kinds of citizens- including those who prefer to see the negative and could care less for you- and you still serve.

You might have signed up decades ago and fought the Axis powers. You might be among the many who signed up to fight during the "hot times" in a cold war. You might be among those who fought back and forth on a parallel line you couldn't see in Korea. You might be among those who were drafted or even ending up in place of someone who ran away, paid their way out, used political influence, or flat out refused to go- then turned around and spat on you when you took their place. You might have fought in a small country named Vietnam that seemed at once a world and a time all of it's own. You might have signed up and fought in the Middle East among people, some of whom were grateful and some who were hateful. You might have gone to middle east, the far east or the islands of the sea. You might have been captured and held and told that you were forgotten, even though it wasn't true. You might have guarded our nation's buildings, our treasures and our citizens- even when no one noticed. You might have signed up to fight, to earn a living, to get an education or even to continue a family tradition. It might have been a couple of years ago or a lifetime ago. You might have made it home...when your buddies didn't. And maybe, you are one of those that we think about, that we cherish, who didn't make the trip home at all.

Whoever you are- Man or Woman, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine- Thank you. Wherever you are- Hawaii and Alaska all throughout the US to South Carolina and Florida- Thank you. Whenever you served- wartime, peacetime, World Wars to Terrorist attacks- Thank you.

Not just on this day, but every day. Thank you for what you've done. We honor and cherish you.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

There's a great lesson in this. Those of us who've learned it the hard way aren't going to forget it. We must never again let any force dedicated to a super-race... or a super-idea, or super-anything... become strong enough to impose itself upon a free world. We must be smart enough and tough enough in the beginning... to put out the fire before it starts spreading. My answer to the sixty-four dollar question is yes, this trip was necessary. As the years go by, a lot of people are going to forget. But you won't.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

reflections of a grateful voter

November - the month of Thanksgiving. The real beginning, if you will, of the holiday season. Leaves are changing, you can smell the fireplaces outside, sweaters are being worn, and the time for snuggling is upon us – look out Mr. Baravelli! Children are excited and geared up for celebrations and gifts and, it would seem that, “goodwill towards men” is reappearing. Oh wait, what’s that you say. Ah, yes, November. The first Tuesday in November, to be exact. Election Day. What magnificent irony that the day when the fighting comes to a head, the debates heat up, and we are called upon to choose the lesser of two evils exists in the same month when we should be reminded of our love for one another, a time when the newcomers to this country sat down with those who were here first – not for a heated debate or scandalous commercial but to come together peacefully and accept each other’s differences. What they would think of us now.

After narrowly escaping what I feared was the beginning of the “birds and bees” talk the previous evening with now 7-yr-old Little Baravelli, she surprised me on the way home this past Tuesday when, after explaining to her that she would be joining me at the polls so that I could vote, she asked who I would be voting for. I tried to explain that this is a personal decision and you shouldn’t ask that question. Her innocent voice replied, “Just don’t vote for the woman because she lied!” “How do you know she lied?” I asked, curious as to who at school would have had this discussion in front of children. “I saw it on TV,” she replied.

Can’t they just stay young forever?? Unfortunately, they can’t. So, I took this opportunity as another teaching moment to try to instill some not so young wisdom into the mind of a 7-yr-old. While doing so, I was reminded of why it is my responsibility to vote. In this month of Thanksgiving, I was reminded that I do, indeed, live in a free country, regardless of what is going on in it or around it. The names of the candidates may be littering up my highway and airways, but at least I have a right to choose. There weren’t any riots at my voting polls and everyone in line was having friendly discussions with each other about everyday life, not every day politics. Kindness was in my line as two elderly people with canes were asked to go ahead of everyone else, and no one had a harsh rebuke for it. It didn’t matter that we weren’t all voting the same way. What mattered was that we were all voting. Period. Little Baravelli was excited to go with me and was on her best behavior. She asked appropriate questions and was intent to understand how the process worked, if not why. She even asked the poll worker for a sticker. I’m sure I had a more pleasant experience voting than most. However, I can assure you we will be watching children’s programming tonight and not the news. I can only tolerate so much of the “experience.” I, however, am grateful for my right to vote. The right to take my child with me to take part, in some menial way, in a freedom that many still don’t or can’t participate in and that those before us had to fight for. It is my duty to educate myself on these choices, and not pay attention or get mired down in the dirtiness of the fight. It is also my duty to educate Little Baravelli, as well as Little Baravelli #2, on the process and on being able to discern the truth out of the lies – I’m still working on that one.

So, I encourage us all to participate in the continual change of this great country. Whether our candidate wins this time or not, we will never lose as long as we continue for change and a better future.

If I don't come back you'll know it's good news.

You see, boys forget what their country means by just reading The Land of the Free in history books. Then they get to be men they forget even more. Liberty's too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say: I'm free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn't, I can, and my children will. Boys ought to grow up remembering that.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

moguls and more

It's a new month, and nevermind that we missed doing the Shelf's annual Halloween Madness, but as we mentioned a while back, we've unburdened ourselves of self-imposed strictures and and deadlines. October was a very busy teaching month - with finals and new classes and more, so while we enjoyed Halloween with classic films and cartoons and family traditions as usual, we didn't get to share much with you- but we hope everyone had a wonderful Halloween season.
I was reading our friend Laura's monthly review of the schedule of Turner Classic Movies, as you should as well, and making mental notes of what to make sure to DVR, when I remembered something important: TCM begins it's massive new documentary series, Moguls and Movie Stars this month! It is truly something not to be missed. I received an advance copy and have watched the series- and have thoroughly enjoyed it.

Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood is a seven part series that examines the rise and fall of the studio system in Hollywood. The series is narrated by Christopher Plummer and included interviews with many Hollywood Historians as well as actors, producers and more- but what stood out for me was how they interviewed the descendants of some of the Studio pioneers for the series, which added a unique perspective and voice to the overall projects. Lots of never-before seen footage and rarely seen photographs are also featured. The series charts the very beginnings of the film industry in American and charts the beginning, the peak and the ebb of the studio system in particular.

I teach a Media in American Culture Class, and incorporated some of the information (I was not allowed to screen it for them obviously, but did ask them to watch when it premeired) I had learned from the series into my section on Film in America. It never ceases to interest me to see how little people have examined our culture and media beyond their own lifetimes. A 20-something college student often knows very little of song and film, beyond the 1980s. However, I was pleasantly surprised by my last group of students, some of whom were already classic film fans, and most of whom were very interested by the history of Hollywood. Our normal one hour interactive lecture turned into an hour and a half discussion, with many questions asked of me of how the studio system worked. One student in particular was of the opinion that perhaps we ought to go back to that way of making films. While there are pros and cons to the old studio system, no one seemed to argue that there was something missing from films today, and that is a very unique thing to hear from a group of 20-something college students. I am eager to hear what those who actually watch the series on TCM will have to say.

I highly recommend setting your DVRs, TiVos or what have you, to record the new series. It is well worth your time,- it's instructive, entertaining and important- an ambitious project that only TCM could truly pull off, and it succeeds at the highest level. Moguls and Movie Stars airs every Monday from November 1st through December 13th, with repeated airings on Wednesdays and other days as well(meaning you can still catch the first episode tomorrow night). Be careful when scheduling your DVR- some listings on the schedule have the series listed by episode title rather than series title first. So here the individual episode titles and times to look for (all times are Eastern Standard Time- check your local listings) :

Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood
Episode 1- Peepshow Pioneers: Nov. 1st at 8pm (and repeated viewings, for example, Nov. 3rd at 10 pm, Nov. 6th at 12pm - check the TCM full schedule for other repeating airings during the weeks ahead)

Episode 2- The Birth of Hollywood: Nov. 8 at 8pm

Episode 3- The Dream Merchants: Nov.15 at 8pm

Episode 4- Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? : Nov. 22 at 8pm

Episode 5- Warriors and Peacemakers: Nov.29 at 8pm

Episode 6- The Attack of the Small Screens: Dec.6 at 8pm

Episode 7- Fade In, Fade Out: Dec. 13 at 8pm

What is exceptional about this series, is that each week, TCM will also be airing some of the films mentioned and examined in the series- some of them rarely seen on Television or not available on DVD. For example, some of the silents and early pictures examined in the first episode will be shown this week on TCM- some of them in whole blocks of programming. D.W. Griffith at Biograph, for example, features many of his short films made while at the pioneering film studio. The rarely seen Ramona, with Mary Pickford will also be shown, as well as many of the early films of Thomas Edison and George Melies. Ramona is significant because the 1910 film is one the earliest surviving Biograph films intact with original title cards, and is one of the earliest films of it's kind with story structure and a narrative, a style that was still in it's infancy during that time, when most films were documentary in style. Griffith really helped to bring a strong visual storytelling style to film and is one of the earliest film pioneers to change films into a storytelling medium. Moguls and Movie Stars is highly recommended and definitely one series to clear a slot for on your television recording device of choice.

Item #2- Criterion Collection Sale!
Time to publish this news far and wide! Barnes and Noble is having their 50% Criterion Collection Sale! If you find yourself drooling over those fantastic Criterion Collection sets, but then quickly wiping that grin off your face when you see the price, your time has come! Check out the sale page on the Barnes and Noble site for more details. Not only that, shipping is free if you order $25 or more online. I don't work for B&N, but darn it, I know a good sale when I see one. Check it out now.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

If only those who dream about Hollywood knew how difficult it all is.


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