Tag Archives: music

High on music

When I started this blog, I set out to share periodically words of the good writers, including song writers.

Yesterday I heard an old favorite on the radio and, as I was alone in a well sealed car, I sang loudly along.

John Denver wasn’t among my favorite artists growing up–I don’t think he was much of a singer–but I have always admired him as a song writer. There are a few of his songs I’m not particularly fond of, but there are many more that are outstanding and have endured over the decades.

I do miss the guy. I wonder, if he hadn’t died so young, what inspiring works he might have created as he matured.

My favorite John Denver song is “Rocky Mountain High.” I can’t say why exactly, as I’m not as moved by the outdoors as many people are. I’ve seen the Rockies and they’re lovely. But it’s just not my scene. Either way, musically and poetically, it’s a beautiful song.

“Rocky Mountain High” came out about the time my good friend Cathy moved to Boulder. Cathy would be the first of us to see the Rockies, while the rest of us knew about them only from the song.

Each time I hear it, I hear something new in the lyrics. There was some controversy when the song first came out and the FCC tried to have it banned from the air for its possible drug reference. It has been written that Denver explained publicly—including in congressional hearings—that the “high” was simply the sense of peace he found in this mountain setting.

No matter, Denver can paint a picture with simple words and phrases that are easy to sing along to. I am a terrible singer, but don’t hold back in the car. Yesterday I was thrilled, after months of effort to heal my lungs, to be able to hold those long notes as long as John Denver did, even though I know I sounded awful. That’s the beauty of a Bose nine-speaker sound system that can drown out its owner.

Here, you try it. This isn’t the best version vocally, but the only other clip I found omitted my two favorite verses.

Rocky Mountain High
Words by John Denver; Music by John Denver and Mike Taylor

He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Comin’ home to a place he’d never been before
He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for every door

When he first came to the mountains his life was far away
On the road and hangin’ by a song
But the string’s already broken and he doesn’t really care
It keeps changin’ fast and it don’t last for long

But the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullaby
Rocky mountain high

He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below
He saw everything as far as you can see
And they say that he got crazy once and he tried to touch the sun
And he lost a friend but kept his memory

Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply
Rocky mountain high

Now his life is full of wonder but his heart still knows some fear
Of a simple thing he cannot comprehend
Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more
More people, more scars upon the land

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly
Rocky mountain high

It’s Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
Friends around the campfire and everybody’s high
Rocky mountain high

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Music

Pandora’s gift box

According to Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman. By some accounts, Pandora is “she who sends up gifts.”

We all know about Pandora’s box which, after some reading, I learned was actually a jar. No matter; it’s ancient mythology. But I’ve discovered a modern-day Pandora who also sends up some mighty nice gifts.

You may already know her. As a slow-to-moderate adopter of modern technology, it took me a while to get around to putting Pandora on my iPhone, but what a gift she has been. How she works just boggles my mind.

For those who aren’t familiar, Pandora Radio is an Internet music service associated with something called the Music Genome Project. Now I don’t know a lot about music and even less about genetics.

All I know is that Pandora knows what music I like or dislike and why. And it’s free.

This first got my attention when a friend described Pandora as her soul mate, which I interpreted as someone who knew her better and at a deeper, perhaps more cosmic, level than anyone. I was intrigued.

Pandora gets to know me by playing a song and asking me for a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Each of my thumb votes increases Pandora’s understanding of me and my musical tastes, but at a level even I may not know.

Naturally, this understanding is based on mathematical algorithms. It’s all mathematical algorithms these days.

I like to think that, like the Human Genome, the Music Genome has a human element; thus, its genetic approach. As soon as I give a song a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, Pandora considers more than 400 different musical attributes to select the next song. These 400 attributes are combined into some 2,000 traits, including rhythm syncopation, key tonality, vocal harmonies and instrumental proficiency.

I’ve barely unwrapped Pandora’s box, having had her for only 48 hours. She hasn’t yet achieved soul mate status after such a short time, but I have faith we’ll bond. She and her Acoustic Blues selections got me through a particularly grueling time Sunday evening. This is promising.

I had hoped my husband would share my enthusiasm. Last night, as I was reading more about the application online, he walked by my office. I shouted, “Hey, did you know we can stream Pandora through the Blu-ray?” 

He just looked at me as if I had asked, “ξέρατε ότι μπορούμε να ρεύσουμε Pandora μέσω της blu-ακτίνας μας?”

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Filed under Family and Friends, Movies, Television and Radio, Music, Technology and Social Media

Sing me a story

Attention MP3 users: Do you have a unique, themed playlist in your music library that you think is really nifty?

Recently a friend and I were comparing notes on how we collect and organize music. In so doing, we discovered a shared fondness for songs that tell stories.

Some might call these ballads but the pop music scene of decades ago really expanded the definition. I was a product of the 1960s and 1970s and, as such, I am only slightly ashamed to lay claim to some of the corniest and most obnoxious “music,” as well as time-honored and clever classics, as the soundtrack of my formative years.

My iPod library houses more than 50 themed playlists, but one I especially enjoy is called, simply, “Stories.” As someone who enjoys words put together artfully, along with good narration, my love of stories should come as no surprise.

“Stories” begins with one of the most famous, “Alice’s Restaurant.” I know people who listen to it once a year as part of their Thanksgiving traditions. Personally, I need it more often. If you’re having a rough day and have 18 minutes and 37 seconds to spare, perhaps on your commute home, give it a listen. It’ll take you way back and give you a chuckle at the same time. And I suspect you have at least parts of it memorized.

Here are a few others, old and new, and at least one added at my friend’s suggestion. I am betting there are some you haven’t thought about in 30 or 40 years, or maybe haven’t heard altogether.

“A Boy Named Sue,” Johnny Cash

“Big John,” Jimmy Dean

“Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road,” Loudoun Wainwright III

“Henry,” New Riders of the Purple Sage

“Junk Food Junkie,” Larry Groce

“King Tut,” Steve Martin

“Sic ‘Em on a Chicken,” Zac Brown

“Smoke! Smoke! Smoke!,” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen

“The Streak,” Ray Stevens

“Uneasy Rider,” The Charlie Daniels Band (one of my favorites)

“When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” Jerry Reed

“30,000 Pounds of Bananas,” Harry Chapin

I am still building the playlist.  Have any suggestions?

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Apostrophe awareness

It was a sign. Literally.

I had apostrophe abuse on the brain, after my next door neighbor had sent me an entertaining video on the topic, along with a message asking, “Will this be the next Schoolhouse Rock?” Who can forget this 1970s classic? Wasn’t everyone’s favorite “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?” Or did you prefer “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here?”

We’ve talked so much, maybe too much, about apostrophe abuse lately. Still, it’s epidemic. As I considered whether to wax critical on this overdone topic yet again, I saw a sign. 

While taking a walk yesterday afternoon, The Apostrophe Song bouncing in my head, I almost literally stumbled on this placard, as if it had come up to greet me.

Considering I believe in signs, I knew this one was telling me to share the video my neighbor had shared. I think of it as a public service announcement of sorts, increasing awareness of an abuse that still goes unchallenged and giving us the tools to fight it.

It turns out that the video was produced by Adelaide, Australia-based company Cool Rules, which produces learning tools for children. If you’re looking for an easy way to remember when the apostrophe is appropriate and when it is not, or need a fun way to teach others, or even if you just like a catchy tune, give it a listen. And if you don’t care for the pop version, Cool Rules also offers the ditty in hip hop, rock and acoustic varieties.

It’ll make you nostalgic for Schoolhouse Rock.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Movies, Television and Radio, Music, Technology and Social Media

Plane folks

Do you think airlines intentionally seat well-known people beside people who don’t know them? Sometimes I wonder.

I don’t think this is the case with politicians. I’ve been seated beside former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, former Ohio Senator Howard Metzenbaum and current Texas Congressman Lamar Smith and I knew them all. There’ve been more, but these are the ones who made memorable impressions.

Many years ago, I was making chitchat with my neighbor on a flight from Dallas to Washington. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked what took him to Washington.

“I have some interviews,” he said.

I asked, “Job interviews?”

“Press interviews.” He went on, “I wrote a book.”

“Oh, what’s it called”?

Run, Bullet, Run.”

“What’s it about?”

‘It’s about football.”

When I got home I told my husband I met a man, and something about a football book, bullet something.

My husband gasped. “You met Bullet Bob Hayes?” Only a two-time Olympic Gold medalist, Super Bowl winner and once considered the fastest human being on the planet.

By the way, I still don’t know what hockey legend I met in an airport in April.

Now that I’m a more seasoned traveler, I rarely take airplane conversations past the hello half-smile as I am squeezing into the seat and reaching under my neighbor’s cheek for my seatbelt.

Yesterday I walked into it again. Just a little.

About midway into the flight, after she and I rolled our eyes at each other over some boisterous passengers behind us, my neighbor thanked me for having been quiet during the ride.

We started talking, I asked what took her to the cities she was visiting and she said she was a musician.

Later in the conversation (which she probably regretted starting), I mentioned I wrote a blog. She asked the usual, what do you write about, I said language and life, and then somewhere in there I said I enjoyed writing about song lyrics.

She said she enjoys writing song lyrics and she shared how she approaches putting her lyrics with the music she writes. She shared with me some of her language peeves and gave me some ideas for future blog posts.

She was lovely and I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a plane chat more. I hope she felt the same.

She gave me the name of her group and I gave her the name of my blog.

You may have noticed Word Nymph typically doesn’t mention people by name. I will say I had never heard of my neighbor and chances are you haven’t either. Maybe one day we all will. Perhaps she’ll read my blog and introduce herself by way of a comment.

Granted, in my opening I mentioned four people by name. That’s all right because they’re famous and three of them are dead.  Now if they comment…

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Filed under Foibles and Faux Pas, Music, Reading, Sports and Recreation, Technology and Social Media, Travel

Record time

Road trips always get me thinking about music.  So I hope you will indulge me in another reflection brought on by time spent in the car with Rosebud, my trusty iPod. 

To put this one in proper perspective, I go back to the Spring of 1969.  I was in the third grade.  My father came home from a Washington, D.C., record store with two albums that changed my life.  Well, at least made a deep impression.

The first was Bill Cosby’s comedy album, To Russell, My Brother Whom I Slept With, and maybe one day we will get back to that.  I still have the whole thing memorized.

The other album was extraordinary for so many reasons.  First, it was the first double album I had ever seen.  Two whole records in one cover that split into two parts.  Pretty amazing.  Second, the cover was entirely white, including the title, The Beatles, in raised white lettering.  I had never seen anything so radical in my lifetime of nine years, especially in the 1960s when everything was shocking pink and lime green.  Finally, the album came with four 8×10 glossy head shots of the long-haired musicians.  When I discovered these, I swiped them and tacked them up on the brand new yellow and green daisy wallpaper in my room.

At age 9, my friends were listening to The Archies.  I don’t know what their parents listened to, likely Pat Boone or maybe the New Seekers, but I can guarantee no one’s parents listened to The Beatles’ so-called White Album, released in late 1968.  Mine did.  We all loved it.  Maybe it was the snappy piano intro of “Martha My Dear,” the show-tuney sound of “Honey Pie,” maybe the animal noises sprinkled into “Blackbird” and “Piggies.”  Or the simple melody and chord changes of “Mother Nature’s Son.”

The first song I memorized was “Rocky Raccoon.”  What a great story.  It was the first time I had ever heard of Gideon’s Bible.

At 9, I understood very little about what was going on in the world and didn’t understand intellectually what most of the lyrics meant.  Still, the music made me aware on some level.  As it does now, the song “Julia” tore my heart out, even though I had no concept of the nature or depth of the romantic angst the song captures.

When I listen to the White Album, as I did on a recent long car ride, the images of the 1960s flash before me.  The music and lyrics are relatively simple, but they evoke vivid memories.  Volkswagen Beetles, avant-garde displays in Georgetown storefront windows, the psychedelic pattern of my diary cover.  Men with long hair.  Incense.  Laugh-In, which I only saw in black in white until we got our first color television in 1970. 

There really is no point to this.  Except maybe to suggest you pull out your copy, pop it in (or on) and see where it takes you.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Music