Posts Tagged ‘Merle Haggard’
The Oxford Comma– AKA, the final serial comma– has come in for some harsh criticism. Indeed recently, the storied punctuation mark suffered the ugliest of indignities: the “Writing and Style Guide” in Oxford University’s own “Branding Handbook” (the internal guide to usage meant to be consistent across all University publications) instructed: “As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’.”
The Prose Police did carve out an exception: “when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used…”
Good thing too. Language Log demonstrates with examples both hypothetical:
Your correspondent operates, as readers may have noticed, on the compositional principal “better safe than sorry”…
As we disagree with Vampire Weekend, we might recall another example of linguistic mutability: it was on this date in 1966 that Jimmy Hendrix changed his name to Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix had a good bit of Experience, if readers will forgive the pun, with name changes… He born was Johnny Allen Hendrix, but his father changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix (in honor of the father’s dead brother). Hendrix performed as a sideman as “Maurice James”; he led his pre-fame band, The Blue Flames, as “Jimmy James”; and when confronted with confusion of having two Randys in the group– Guitarist Randy Wolf and bassist Randy Palmer, he dubbed the latter “Randy Texas.” The former, anointed by Hendrix as “Randy California,” later joined his step-father Ed Cassidy to form Spirit.
Nathan Rabin (source)
There’s a wonderful line in the musical Passing Strange where narrator Stew wistfully remarks, “It’s weird when you wake up one morning and realize that your entire adult life was based on the decision of a stoned teenager.” In sharp contrast my entire adult life as a music critic was based on a casual decision made as a 21-year-old.
Sometime in spring 1998, my editor, Stephen Thompson, held up a copy of the Bulworth soundtrack and said, “Hey, Nathan, you like hip-hop. Do you want to review this for us?” I was at the time deep into my third sophomore or second junior year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and was eager to make a name for myself at The A.V. Club. I gleefully acquiesced. The paper needed a hip-hop writer. I needed to be needed. I had found a niche.
It was a natural fit. Hip-hop was the music that spoke most directly to me. It was the music I’d run home to listen to on Yo! MTV Raps and The Box after a long day of playing hooky. It was the music we gravitated toward in the group home where I grew up, the culture that spoke angrily and provocatively toward our collective anxieties, fantasies, and desires. It was the soundtrack of my tortured adolescence and marginally less tortured adulthood.
Volunteering to review the Bulworth soundtrack helped determine my musical diet for the next 11 years. Since that fateful day, I’ve listened overwhelmingly to hip-hop for personal as well as professional reasons. Huge rock acts have almost completely passed me by. I’ve never really listened to a White Stripes album. The last Radiohead album I was into was The Bends.
Throughout the years, I’ve fantasized about correcting my wildly unbalanced musical education by spending a year immersing myself in a foreign genre. (Yes, that is what critics fantasize about. That and elaborate new ways to file their CD and DVD collections.) I daydreamed about correcting the lopsided nature of my musical education by pulling a massive 180 in my listening habits. Instead of listening overwhelmingly to only one genre of music, I’d do something completely different and listen overwhelmingly to a different genre.
While listening to Billy Joe Shaver’s “Been To Georgia On A Fast Train” earlier this year, I had an epiphany. I decided that now was as good a time as any to put my plan into action. As the great Jewish philosopher Hillel famously asked, “If not now, when? If I am not for myself then who will be? And if I am only for myself than what am I?” I’m fairly certain Rabbi Hillel was talking specifically about ambitious yearlong online country-oriented projects on pop-culture websites. That is impressive, considering Hillel died several thousand years ago. In accordance with his final wishes, Hillel’s corpse was slathered with horseradish, wine, nutmeg, apples, and nuts, then buried between giant pieces of matzo.
This year, I decided to stop dreaming about pursuing a super-intense yearlong crash course in country, and start doing it. Inspired by Noel Murray’s Popless series [which your correspondent also heartily recommends], I will, over the next year, immerse myself in the sum of country music, the good, the bad, and the creamy middle, and write a series of long, rambling, freeform essays about my musical odyssey deep into the heart of a vital, oft-maligned sector of American music.
And so, with results both enormously entertaining and eminently enlightening, he has. From Loretta Lynn and Garth Brooks to Merle Haggard and k.d. laing, he listens– really listens.
Readers might dip into his essay on the extraordinary Lyle Lovett, “illustrated” with videos of the examples Rabin discusses…
Or, for a more esoteric– indeed, even exotic– treat, readers might consider “The Louvin Brothers’ tragic songs of Satan’s realness” (again, punctuated with audio tracks of the tunes discussed).
The rewards (and pleasures) of accompanying Rabin on his journey are plenty… but the real pay-off is the example it sets– an object lesson in discovering the riches that lie beyond the horizon lines of our habits:
…I am striking a forceful blow against the tyranny of essays written by people who “know what they’re talking about” and “aren’t completely ignorant.” I will be writing not as an expert, but as a passionate amateur. Isn’t that what all critics are? We just participate in the culturally mandated charade of being experts because it flatters our fragile egos. Ultimately, William Goldman’s famous aphorism about Hollywood—”Nobody knows anything”—holds true for the rest of entertainment as well. As the co-screenwriter of Dreamcatcher, Goldman knows an awful lot about not knowing anything.
I am going into this project full of idealism and hope. I’ve devoted much of my life and career to writing about subjects dismissed, demonized, and/or reviled by big segments of the population: cinematic flops, direct-to-DVD movies, silly little show-biz books, gangsta rap, pop-rap, and now country music. I am fueled by curiosity and an utterly uncharacteristic sense of optimism…
“Curiosity and an utterly uncharacteristic sense of optimism”– an altogether appropriate recipe for our times.
As we agree with Charlie Parker, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 the “the British Invasion” began in earnest, as the Beatles landed (at Idlewild Airport in New York) for their first American tour.
The British retake America (source)…
…while airport police struggle to manage the crowd (source)
In his blog Making Light, under the headline “The return of the final serial comma’s vital necessity,” Patrick Nielsen Hayden reproduces this clipping from the July 21 edition of the Los Angeles Times:
As Michael Quinion observes in World Wide Words, it’s reminiscent of the famous [but apocryphal] book dedication, “To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”
As we recommit ourselves to curly clarity, we might recall that on this date in 1897 the first free-standing Library of Congress– the Jefferson Building– opened its doors to the public. The Library had until then been housed in the Congressional Reading Room in the U.S. Capitol.
The Jefferson Building under construction (source)