If Belle and Sebastian is a soft band for indie folks mildy estranged from the demographic center, They Might Be Giants is straight hardcore for socially dysfunctional super nerds. Naturally, I love them both. One of the most fun concerts that I ever attended was with They Might Be Giants at the 9:30 Club. Geeks have more fun; it really is true, and their only drug is caffeine.
I am fond of almost all of T.M.B.G.‘s songs, but having to hear about Obama’s Clintonization this week makes me feel a bit more vermicular than usual; ergo my mood for “Doctor Worm”:
John and John, thanks for all the good times.
In high school, when I first began to explore pre-modern music outside of church services, I became a fan of the women’s chant and polyphony group, Anonymous 4. If you are not familiar with medieval or Renaissance Western music, you will still find them somewhat familiar due, I think, to Christmas and hymnal traditions that have preserved a bit of that sound in our contemporary culture. Anonymous 4’s work is astoundingly beautiful. English speakers frequently abuse the adjective “angelic” but it suits the music of Anonymous 4 very well.
I highly recommend their albums. I love them all, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would probably be Miracles of Sant’iago: Music from the Codex Calistinus. On Harmonia Mundi’s web site, you can listen to samples of their recordings.
Here is “Congaudeant Catholici” from their Miracles of Compostela:
If you like Anonymous 4, you may wish to explore other medieval and Renaissance works, as well. You ought then to consider the works of William du Fay, Josquin des Prez, and Giovanni da Palestrina, which are relatively easy to find and quite remarkable. Below is “Ave Maris Stella” by William du Fay.
The West has its splendor. I wonder if it can retain it.
On this election day, I would rather be abroad. At least I can write about something other than politics.
Iconography is theology in color, as they say. It seems that iconography plays a more significant role in the Orthodox Christian life than religious art in the West, though perhaps medieval church architecture provided such a role for Western Christians centuries ago. If you ever go to an Orthodox parish, you might experience stimuli overload with all of the iconography; the story of God’s economy is illustrated on every wall, from creation to the martyrs of the Soviet monster. I cannot explain here the richness of the iconographic tradition, but there are many electronic materials online, such as the Orthodox Christian Information Center.
My favorite icon is the Vladimir Icon of the Theotokos:
Aaron and I had the wonderful opportunity to venerate the icon in Moscow. The Soviets confiscated it but, in their shame, did not destroy it. The Tretyakov Gallery is the current custodian of the icon, but the Russian Church demanded it back. The museum struck a compromise with the Church; there is a church next to the museum, Saint Nicholas in Tolmachi, and the museum owns the church, in which the icon is kept. Therefore, the faithful can venerate the icon during liturgical worship, while the museum’s visitors can see one of the most remarkable icons ever written.
One of my favorite liturgical pieces is Αγνή Παρθένε, “O Pure Virgin,” by Saint Nectarius of Aegina:
Antonín Dvořák is one of my favorite composers, as one would expect: Czech heritage, an interest in the nineteenth century, a love of Romanticism, and fond memories of Bohemia make me rather susceptible to his charms. I paid my respects to the illustrious man in the Vyšehrad cemetery just south of Prague, as I like to visit the graves of famous folks. Anyway, I probably love the Slavonic Dances most, obviously followed by his Ninth Symphony, From the New World. As an American, it is a civic duty to love this wonderful tribute to our land. Indeed, I cannot understand how anyone could not love it. Below is Z nového světa, performed by the Wiener Philharmoniker, and conducted by Herbert von Karajan:
Second Movement: I
Second Movement: II
Fourth Movement: I
Fourth Movement: II
Earlier in the “Fun” realm, I discussed Renaissance Festivals and how they bring together the diverse demographics of American geekdom. As the Negroes say, I can pass—when it comes to geekiness. Perhaps, I have full-fledged nerd street creds, but I never really fit well in any crowd—even among the social pariahs of yesteryear who have now come into their own, as David Brooks wrote some months ago, “The Alpha Geeks” in that Graying Old Whore. Well, I am glad that the alphas now have a safe haven from the benighted epsilon-minus semi-morons. Yet, didn’t all that social ostracism give nerds the necessary time to innovate and to make America technologically superior? If potential Bill Gates get peer respect and girls, then we might as well send the White House’s keys to the Peking oligarchs now; the contest is over.
Brooks’ account of nerd ascent misses entirely the covert nerd integration into mass consciousness through the work of Led Zeppelin. What? Did I just call perhaps the greatest rock band ever a bunch of nerds? Yep! In what might be the best executed stealth maneuver in pop cultural history, Led Zeppelin succeeded in bringing geekdom to the masses in the language of rock, thus paving the way for George Lucas’ Star Wars. I know the accusations of heresy that I shall incur from the dogmatists. Yet, I stand and can do no other: “Before there was Hans, there was John Bonham.”
Should you have any doubts, consider Robert Plant’s fantasy sequence in Led Zeppelin’s movie, The Song Remains the Same:
Even without mentioning Tolkien, the defense rests.
Adam introduced me to the Magnetic Fields some time ago—he is my indie and 1990’s music source, I suppose. As with all of his recommendations, the Magnetic Fields is a fine band with pleasant tunes.
I found this fan video of “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side,” which was a school assignment for the video creator. I think that it is rather impressive: charming, fun, and silly, just like the song:
As in all songs, I have my favorite part. With this one, it’s “Well I’m a fool.” I am not sure why I have favorite moments in songs and movies, or why such parts please more than others. It is strange.
You may know that I am quite fond of the band Belle & Sebastian, which Adam introduced to me several years ago. Here is one of their few videos featuring “Dog on Wheels” available on their Push Barman to Open Old Wounds album.
It is true to their quirky form. I like the stuffed dog.
Many pop and indie music critics find the band pretentious, but it seems that their pretense consists in their utter lack of pretentiousness. The band appears quite comfortable with childhood silliness in an unironic way, and such a comfort level presupposes a decent amount of confidence—a confidence not situated in common social opinion. I remember that my friends and I finally realized that we were no longer children when we could indulge in childlike activities unironically without shame or embarrassment because we were quite comfortable in our maturity. Likewise, I think that B&S enjoy making songs about sleepovers, libraries, and ladies’ journals because they do not feel the need to prove themselves “deep” beyond the superficialities of life. Hence, their lyrics do not revolve continuously around “adult” themes like sex, death, and the meaningless of life—though they occasionally play with those topics, too. Just like normal life, we get the high and the low, the trivial and the profound, all mixed up like a typical day in the life of Everyman.