Ten years ago

Ten years ago, give or take two weeks, I posted my first permanent update on my Manila site, the web site that morphed into this blog.

Userland Software‘s Manila was a hobby for me for a few months starting back in 1999. When I first got DSL (back when we still called it ADSL), it was new enough that no one really was clear about whether it was kosher to run a server from your house, and certainly new enough that Bell Atlantic (yes, this is before it was called Verizon) was filtering traffic upstream. So I ran an HTTP server on my Mac, using first personal web sharing and then Aretha to run a little web site.

Sometime later Dave Winer and Userland opened up EditThisPage.com, and I set up my own blog there, and that’s when it all took off. The site, originally hosted at jarretthousenorth.editthispage.com, was something I played with for a few months in early 2000. Then I went to B-school and stopped having time to play with things. Then I moved to Seattle for a summer by myself and had way too much time on my hands. And I started writing.

These days, I hardly have enough time to write at all, save for the occasional Glee Club history writeup. But I still think back to the technology that started it all, and I’m grateful to Dave for starting something big that turned into something big for me.

Grab bag: Two turntables and a microphone

Stop, said God, holding his head

I am working this afternoon in my garage, having cleaned off the top of my workbench for the first time in recent memory. I find a cassette tape next to the workbench–the garage radio is the only one in the house that can play cassettes–and put it in. It’s the Virginia Glee Club and Smith College Glee Club at Smith, fall 1992. I listen to side B first—Smith sings the “Alice in Wonderland” songs by Irving Fine, a few other tunes, and then a reasonable joint performance of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. (Though I’ve never forgiven the Smith director for insisting that we use an alto soloist in the second movement instead of a countertenor.)

Then I flip the tape to side A. The Glee Club set that fall opened with a four-part meditation on the death of Absalom: Josquin’s “Absalon, fili mi,” the Sacred Harp tune “David the King,” Tomkin’s “When David Heard,” and our premiere of Benjamin Broening’s setting of “When David Heard.” In other words, a fine uplifting set. Then I heard—a hum. Some multi-tonal stuff going on. I go over and look at the tape liner notes. It’s “Time Piece.”

Time Piece“! Written for the King’s Singers in 1972, it goes from polytonal to high comedy to low comedy. After a while, there are cuckoo clocks, roosters, and other vocal effects, and then C. J. Higley, bless him, as the voice of God, yells “STOP!” The chorus intones, “‘Stop’, said God, holding his head…” and then continues for another five minutes more. Total run time: about 15 minutes. The Smith chorus (and audience) were moved to laughter at more than a few points.

And then we wrapped up with another three song set of spirituals.

I can’t imagine doing such a long guest set today. I also can’t believe that we only performed “Time Piece” twice (once during the Kickoff Concert that fall, once at Smith). But by springtime we were on to Young T.J. and a totally different repertoire.

Grab bag: Alex Chilton RIP

Alex Chilton RIP

I was startled and saddened last night to read about the passing of Alex Chilton, lead singer for Big Star (and the Box Tops). I came to the music of Big Star late, but became a full convert after arriving at the band via a Chris Bell recording. Big Star was really the band of the 2000-2009 decade for me in a way; I spent weeks with “#1 Record/Radio City” on repeat, put songs by the band on no fewer than 14 mix CDs, and posted a gushing love letter to the band on Blogcritics (where I was rightly remanded for my callowness).

It’s hard to believe he’s gone. I know he was a completely different artist after the first two albums–hell, even their third album is a completely different experience–but listening to “Give Me Another Chance” he seems like he should be immortal.

Other posts: Joe Gross on Alex Chilton’s passing; another link to an article about the recording of the classic Radio City album.

New mix: Happy time

The aftermath of a big flood feels like the right time to publish my first mix in about six months. Happy time is one part of a two part mix. This time, I might not ever get around to part two, because it’s the downside of this mix, and I’m enjoying the happy side too much.

Track list:

  1. Finest Worksong (Mutual Drum Horn Mix)R.E.M. (Eponymous)
  2. ReenaSonic Youth (Rather Ripped)
  3. Moby OctopadYo La Tengo (I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One)
  4. Scared StraightThe Long Winters (When I Pretend To Fall)
  5. Hot Pants RoadThe J.B.’s (Pass the Peas: The Best of the J.B.’s)
  6. I’ll Take You ThereThe Staple Singers (Best of the Staple Singers)
  7. HelicopterM. Ward (Transfiguration Of Vincent)
  8. BeautifulPaul Simon (Surprise)
  9. Cello SongNick Drake (Five Leaves Left)
  10. It’s Not the Only Way to Feel HappyField Music (Field Music)
  11. ThirteenBig Star (#1 Record – Radio City)
  12. HopefullyMy Morning Jacket (At Dawn)
  13. Fistful Of LoveAntony and the Johnsons (I Am A Bird Now)
  14. No Man in the WorldTindersticks (Can Our Love…)
  15. Happy TimeTim Buckley (Morning Glory: The Tim Buckley Anthology)
  16. People Got a Lotta NerveNeko Case (Middle Cyclone (Bonus Track Version))
  17. Sweet ThingVan Morrison (Astral Weeks)
  18. Number TwoPernice Brothers (Yours, Mine and Ours)

Commentary: Did R.E.M. record “Finest Worksong” with the horns in mind, or was it a cynical touch by some producer when it was time to release the single? It reads as a brilliant move, though, 22 years later. I’m of two minds about “Reena”–such a simple song for Sonic Youth–but the fact that I can’t get it out of my head two years on settles it for me. Ditto “Moby Octopad”, which is less a song than an extended riff, but no less brilliant for that.

“Scared Straight,” on the other hand, is a song, and a flipping brilliant one. And the horns alone are worth the price of admission. The horns also provide a great segue into “Hot Pants Road,” which makes a very nice segue into “I’ll Take You There.” A nice little singer songwriter set–“Helicopter,” Paul Simon’s “Beautiful,” “Cello Song”–follows, before we get into the psychosexual set of “Thirteen,” “It’s Not the Only Way To Feel Happy,” “Hopefully,” and “Fistful of Love” (and only Lou Reed could set up that song).

And then the last set. I won’t say anything about it, except that “Sweet Thing” may be the greatest single song ever. How was it that I missed out on Astral Weeks for all this time?

(Update: now on Art of the Mix.)

A visit from the Virginia Glee Club

I was going to write up Monday night’s Virginia Glee Club concert yesterday, but a couple busy days at work and a rehearsal last night ensured that I would get beaten to it (see the Tin Man’s writeup of the New York concert here). So I’ll just give a few thoughts about my experience at Monday night’s concert at Wellesley College.

First: I had not been back to visit Wellesley since our spring trip with Club in the spring of 1991. I saw an old friend (now the editor in chief at Rosetta Stone–time flies) there, but don’t remember much else except the beauty of the campus and of Houghton Chapel. On Monday night, it was a different story, largely because I arrived after dusk and had to scramble to get to the concert on time. Parking in the dark, I found my way back to the chapel via a brisk walk and got there in time to catch a little pre-concert warmup by the Boston Saengerfest singers. As I oriented myself, I saw a tall goateed man in a tux with a Virginia bow tie coming my way, and was delighted to finally meet Frank Albinder after various conference calls and emails. As we were chatting, up came another familiar face–Alex Cohn (Club ’97), now writer and photographer at the Concord (NH) Monitor. It was starting to feel a little like old home week.

Then the concert started. The Wellesley College Choir were lovely (vocally), performing many numbers from memory, and their conductor Lisa Graham was energetic and brilliant. Their performance was followed by a four-number set by the Boston Saengerfest Men’s Chorus. It was observed near me that the average age of the men in the chorus must have been about 70, but their energy through their numbers was unmistakable, and the tenor soloist in the third number had a brilliant voice. And then there was their performance of “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady,” which had the entire Wellesley Choir in giggles.

Afterwards, the Glee Club joined Saengerfest for a joint performance of a few songs, then went through their own set—beginning with “Alle Psallite Cum Luja,” continuing through a set of more modern works (“Embraceable You,” an hysterical song about the real meaning of “Glee”), and then an alumni sing-along section. I had forgotten more than I remembered of Frederic Field Bullard’s “Winter Song,” but “Ten Thousand Voices” and the “Good Old Song” were permanently embedded in my brain. And the joint performance of the Biebl  “Ave Maria” with the Wellesley Choir was something else again too–not an SATB arrangement, but the two choirs traded verses before performing as a double chorus at the end.

If I had a tear near my eye by the end of “Ten Thousand Voices,” I had more from laughter after the show talking with Frank and the Club guys about past tours and their current endeavors (and seeing Frank and Lisa Graham exchange hats, above). I hope that all continues well for them on the road and that their crowds in DC and Virginia are full to overflowing.

Grab bag: Stones, Matasano

Glee Club tour underway and blogging

The 2010 Tour of the Northeast of the Virginia Glee Club is underway, and you can follow it on the first ever Club tour blog, Virginia Glee Club On Tour. So far it is bringing up memories of tours past: vain exhortations from group leadership to not strain the voice, movies on the bus (tip to current Club guys: at night, cars driving next to the bus can see what’s on the TVs through the tinted glass. Just sayin’), and the first performance of the tour. Looking forward to seeing everyone on Monday night at Wellesley.

Grab bag: Goodnight Forest Moon