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  • Writer's picturejim lenz

OLLI Pirate Radio 212

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;

And somewhere men are laughing,

and somewhere children shout,

But there is no joy in Mudville—

mighty Casey has struck out.

 

 

But enough about politics. It's time for

 


 

OLLI PIRATE RADIO!

 



 

Killer heat waves, dark skies, distant thunder but no real rain—or so much rain that the floods sweep away roads, bridges, even towns—you'd think we were in the End Times or something. It puts me in mind of apocalyptic music, which is a pretty cool niche genre that goes back quite a ways. One of the earlier examples is also one I still think is the best.

 

The inspiration for this piece comes from a series of poems and songs written mostly by clergy and religious students in the 11th and 12th centuries—and most of them are pretty bawdy. (Plus ça change . . .) They were set to music in 1936 by Carl Orff, and while the musical themes cover a wide variety of moods and situations, this passage is definitely apocalyptic, so much so that the film Glory--the story of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteer Infantry in the American Civil War--used it as the soundtrack for the heroic and tragic final assault on Fort Wagner. If you've never seen Glory, you should, but be advised: first, it will inspire you, and then it will break your heart.

 

Please enjoy the Munich String and Percussion Orchestra under the direction of Adel Shalaby, with the Madrigal Choir of Munich, performing "O Fortuna" from the movement titled "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi" of Carmina Burana.

 

 

 

You know, last week I played the David Sanborn recording of "Hard Times," and I made a point of saying it was not the Steven Foster classic of the same name. These days it seems strange to hear the word "classic" appear in the same sentence as Steven Foster and expect it to mean anything but a hopelessly outdated piece of exploitation minstrel music. But "Hard Times" continues to have a life long after "Camptown Races" and "Massa's in de Cold, Cold Ground" have been relegated to the status of embarrassing museum pieces.

 

Don't believe me? Get a load of this recording from 2009 by Bruce Springsteen and friends who live in Hyde Park, London.

 

 

 

Man, that is great!

 

 

Speaking of apocalyptic, this next song is by any measure a real downer, but only because it tells a true story without blinking. It was written by Australian singer/songwriter Eric Bogle and recorded by him as well, but the version I am more familiar with is the one recorded by the Irish band The Pogues on their 1985 album Rum, Sodomy & the Lash.

 

One of the reasons this version of the song sticks with me is simply the title of the album, which (as I'm sure all of you already know, because who doesn't?) is a quotation credited to none other than Winston Churchill, famous British prime minister and before that First Lord of the Admiralty. He reportedly once dismissed British naval tradition as "Rubbish. Nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash." The Pogues picked it because "It seemed to sum up life in our band."

 

Another reason I like this album is that it was produced by Elvis Costello, husband of Diana Krall. Talented guy. (Or is it all just luck?)

 

Yet another reason I like this album is its cover. The cover is, at first glance, a reproduction of Theodore Géricault's painting "The Raft of the Medusa," which currently hangs in the Louvre. I say "at first glance" because the faces of the band members have been very carefully painted on several of the figures on the raft.

 

I've always liked that painting because it’s about a remarkable shipwreck story that ends up in bloody violence. At first, it simply seems like a typical story of mounting tension turning to murder as the situation becomes more desperate, but once you peel back the history, you see something much uglier. You see class barriers in Restoration France, where common soldiers were often Napoleonic veterans, and their officers were newly returned royalists with little experience or concern for their men's welfare. Put a bunch of them on the makeshift raft of a sunken troop transport, and what could possibly go wrong?

 

There's a novel in that story, but unfortunately, it has a very unsatisfying and depressing ending—not my kind of project.

 

But back to the song. This tells the story of Australian troops in the First World War shipped to Gallipoli, where a bold series of amphibious landings were supposed to seize and open the Turkish Straits, an operation which was--by a remarkable coincidence--the brainchild of none other than First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill. (As Emo Phillips once said, "It may be a small world, but I'd hate to have to clean it.") The landings at Suvla Bay were a bloody fiasco and ended Churchill's political career—temporarily. They ended a great many other things permanently.

 

Please enjoy—or maybe appreciate-- the Pogues performing "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda."

 

 

 

Beautiful but heartbreaking.

 

The composer, Eric Bogle, is Scottish/Australian, but there is also a large Irish immigrant community in Australia. A lot of Irish music shares the sense of estrangement from Imperial Britain that this song does, so the Pogues are a better fit for it than you might initially think.

 

 

I know I sometimes play a song that can bring you down, but I try not to leave you there at the end of the night. So now we come to the part of our show dedicated to featured artists (or theme) of the month. This month we're listening to the late, great saxophonist David Sanborn, and this is not only one of his better-known songs, but one that always brings me up as I listen to it. This is a live recording from 1990 and features the late Hiram Bullock on guitar, Tom Barney on bass, Ricky Peterson on keyboard, and Don Alias on drums.

 


So that's it for this week. Have a wonderful week, and if you use fireworks on the Fourth, please do so responsibly. Don't blow any of your fingers off. (Next time I see you, I'll count them.)


See you next week.

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