11th of September, 2005

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The next biweekly issue will be published on the 25th of September, 2005

At any rate, the tune is not a story, but stories might lie behind the tune. For, as mnemonics, the names summon up a tangled web of circumstances; they not only help to summon the tune into being, but recall other times and other places where the tune was played, and the company there might have been. -- Ciaran Carson in Last Night's Fun

Zina Lee in the new issue of Le hérisson de sommeil, the in-house letter for Green Man staffers, has some thoughts on 'The Winter Queen' (also known as 'Jane Yolen's'), a reel which she writing with Will Harmon, a composer friend of hers. Now I know it's already being played by members of the Neverending Session, and apparently has been a favourite of theirs for years. Just keep in mind that like it was for Arthur and Merlin, time is a queer creature indeed here in this old building. So have a pint of Jenlain's Bière De Garde while I read you what she has to say . . .

Are they just a bunch of notes strung together, or is there actually some kind of meaning to them?

Irish traditional tunes are, after all, only notes strung together in time and tipped out of an instrument in long complicated strings, aided and abetted by that little push of a beat here, the drag off a beat there. A bow scratches a triplet out, the flute flicks out a cut, the piper slams the low D cran out on his knee. Musos attach stories and memories to the tunes they play: who they learned it from, where and when they learned it, where the person who taught it learned it from. But really, that's about all there is to it.

Some of the titles are fun, though: 'Old Hag You Have Killed Me', 'Put The Knife In and Stick It Again', 'Drag Her Round The Road', 'When Sick Is It Tea You Want?', 'Kitty Got A Clinking', 'Poor But Happy at 53'. It's so easy to imagine the jokes around the table: 'What do you call that one, then?' 'Ask My Father!' Was he saying to ask his father the name of that jig, or is that the name of the jig? (It's the name of the jig. At least, it is now.)

Add to that, many tunes have more than one name. 'Kitty Got A Clinking', according to Breandan Breathnach's Ceol Rince na hEireann (Dance Music of Ireland), is also known as 'Rolling In The Ryegrass', 'What the Divil Ails Him?', 'Love Among the Roses' -- you might be catching a trend here in the titles -- 'Boil the Kettle Early', and 'Punch for the Ladies', among others. But it's also the name for a totally different reel than the one I know as 'Rolling in the Ryegrass'. Did someone just mis-remember, far back in the mists of what passes for time?

Complicate it further: many tunes will also be commonly called by the name of the player who used to play it a lot in any given area. 'McCaffreys' is another name for the many-titled tune mentioned above, and you'll often see something like Danny Pearl's Favorite (which is a story for another time) for a tune like 'The Red-Haired Boy'. Sometimes it'll be called after the name of the person who wrote it: 'McMahon's', which is also known as 'The Banshee', that second name being a bit of an insult to the tune by someone slagging Mr. McMahon, I've heard.

As Ciaran Carson put it in his classic Last Night's Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music, 'the names of tunes are not the tunes: they are tags, referents, snippets of speech which find themselves attached to musical encounters.' Just before he wrote that, he also wrote, ' 'Last Night's Fun', to take an example, is a name or a label for a tune: it does not describe its musical activity nor impute experience to it. It is not about frolics revelled in on some particular night, although the name might put you in mind of them. In other words, the tune, by any other name, would sound as sweet; or as rough, for that matter, depending on who plays it, or what shape they're in.'

So when Cat asked for a new reel to honor one of our Winter Queens, Jane Yolen (one of my favorite authors), and I in my turn asked my friend Will Harmon (who once wrote a reel called 'Bang Your Frog on the Sofa', by the way) for such a thing, I can only really say that Will, upon hearing the intended title of the reel, 'The Winter Queen', put his fiddle under his chin and had the first half of a reel fall out from under his fingers.

And I can say that as I play the tune, all shiny and new, rubbing some comfortable wear into the corners, navigating the tune's twists and little surprises (that F in the B part catches me off guard every time!), I have been thinking of some of Her Majesty's books that I've read; recalling some of the catches and turns in the plots, as I listen to the tune garlanding its way out of my fiddle, finding its own new life and taking its first breaths of fresh air. As tunes naturally do, this one will morph and grow and change a bit with every playing any player gives it; as they pass it on to others, it will continue to gather its own life around it.

And I shall always think fleetingly of Jane Yolen and the enjoyment her books have brought me, whenever I play this tune.

Tarot decks as a literary device in fantastic literature are centuries old with recent fictions involving the use of them including Bull's Bone Dance, Zelazny's Amber Chronicles, Kotzwinkle's Fata Morgana, De Lint's The Dreaming Place, Brust and Lindholm's The Gypsy, and Crowley's Little, Big. Tarot decks themselves are just as interesting. Donna Bird who has used tarot decks for over thirty years asked for a review copy of Leon Carre's Tarot of the Thousand and One Nights which Llewellyn has the rights to distribute on behalf of Italian publisher Lo Scarabeo in the States. Bird's coda to her review is a cautionary note: 'I have a companion to The Thousand and One Nights on my Green Man shelf, along with a hard copy of Sir Richard Francis Burton's late nineteenth century translation of the tales. I think I will keep the cards with these books, with the hope that someday soon I will read enough of the stories to be able to make sense of the cards.' Read the rest of her review to see why she says this!

Dragons in literary works are even more ancient than the tarot. In contemporary fantasy, we can find these creatures in LeGuin's Earthsea narrative, Tolkien's The Hobbit, Gordon R. Dickson's The Dragon and the George and its sequels, Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and Anne McCaffrey's Pern series. Not to mention Christopher Paolini's Eldest (Inheritance, Book Two) which was eagerly anticipated by Denise Dutton: 'It's only been two years since Christopher Paolini's first book, Eragon, hit the shelves. Pretty quick work, especially for a book over 600 pages long! After such praise for his first novel, I wondered if his sophomore effort would pick up the torch and run with it. With Eldest, the author proves he's able to sustain a lengthy story. It's an enjoyable follow-up to what has gone before, and leaves the reader wanting to know what will happen next. Sure, that sounds like an easy enough thing to accomplish, but there are plenty of flat-out boring series out there that don't have the pull this one has.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning commentary to see why she wants the final volume now!

Puppets too have their place in literature. There is, of course, Collodi's Pinocchio (Le Avventure di Pinocchio), but more recently there is Gaiman and McKean's Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch as well as Jones' The Magicians of Caprona and Chesterton's The Surprise. And guess what Maria Nutick is reviewing this edition? Her shout of glee tells you all you need to know: 'Ooooo, shiny! I have a box of dragons here! Folkmanis makes the best puppets ever, and their dragons are some of the finest of their puppets.' Read her review to see which dragon she found the most appealing! Oh, did I mention they come complete with neat little tales?

Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World gets the once-over from Donna Bird this edition: ' A number of years ago, I read and greatly enjoyed John Dos Passos' USA Trilogy. In his jazzy, frenetic narrative style, Dos Passos provides a glimpse into the lives of several fictitious and as many real people who lived and worked and struggled during the years between the first and second world wars. That read provided my first memorable introduction to the Industrial Workers of the World, otherwise known as the IWW or the Wobblies. His newsreel chapters include biographical sketches about such Wobbly notables as Joe Hill and Big Bill Haywood. Some time after this exposure, I ran across a copy of Melvyn Dubofsky's meticulously-researched 1969 classic, We Shall Be All, A History of the IWW, in a local used bookstore known for carrying Marxist texts. While Wobblies! reminded me of the Dos Passos trilogy and of Dubofsky in subject matter, in style it is most like the Marx, etc. for Beginners series Pantheon initially published in the 1970s. It's thicker and larger in dimensions than the pocket-sized …for Beginners series, but it utilizes a very similar black on white graphic novel style to tell various parts of the history of the IWW.'

Judith Tarr's The Hound and the Falcon trilogy (as collected in an omnibus edition of The Isle of Glass, The Golden Horn, and The Hounds of God) has an intriguing concept according to Faith J. Cormier: ' Do the fey have souls? Are they creatures of God or of the Devil? Can a member of the fey be a devout Christian, and even a Roman Catholic priest? These are the weighty questions Judith Tarr examines in this trilogy.' Read Faith's review to see if this story was worth her reading!

April Gutierrez looks at the latest volumes in Fables, Bill Willingham's fascinating tale of fairy tale denizens exiled to our own world: 'Willingham continues to produce witty, sharp dialog and compelling characters as he guides the story ever closer to an inevitable clash with The Adversary. It's very handy that as the cast of characters grows, each volume includes pages at the beginning with pictures and brief bios of the key players. And while the art varies from story to story, in both style and quality, it remains consistently serviceable for the story. I can offer no higher praise than to say that the instant I finished The Mean Seasons, I went online looking for volume six to devour, which is regrettably not available for another six months or so (much to my dismay).'

David Kidney, who keeps a journal, found a kindred spirit in Jennifer New and her book, Drawing From Life: the Journal as Art: 'Although Bridget Jones maintained a fascinating, albeit single-minded record of her life . . . there are other reasons for keeping a book with you on a daily basis. Some keep a journal to remind them of appointments; others use it to document their thoughts, feelings and activities. Jennifer New, in this marvelously entertaining new book, documents dozens of celebrities (and non-celebrities) who use paper and pen for this most personal of purposes.'

Liz Milner has a warning for the general reader interested in Angela Carter, writer/playwright/critic, as concerns Charlotte Crofts' Anagrams of Desire: Angela Carter's Writing for Radio, Film and Television: 'Given its use of lit-crit jargon, its reliance on texts that now exist only in archives or not at all, its frequent citing of obscure academic controversies and its sketchy information on cultural context, Croft's book is of limited appeal to a general reader and is best suited to academics interested in Media Studies and Feminism.' Damn, it's too bad when bleedin' academics take an interestin' person and reduce her to something less than what she was! Read Liz's Excellence in Writing Award winning review for where this academic went terribly wrong.

Art lovers please take note: 'One thinks of Mary Cassatt as an impressionist painter, which is correct, and as one of the few woman painters of note in the nineteenth century, which is also correct. One also thinks of Mary Cassatt as a painter who rendered studies of domestic life, specifically mothers and children, serene, sweet (although she avoided the saccharine, unlike at least one of her male colleagues), intimate, and ultimately, neatly pigeon-holed. Unless, of course, one is an art historian who is tuned into the history of feminism both in Europe and the United States, and who has spent a number of years researching one of Cassatt's most notable paintings, now unfortunately lost: Modern Woman, a work commissioned by Bertha Palmer (that's Mrs. Potter Palmer, for those who are up on their important nineteenth-century art collectors) for the Woman's Building at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.' Read Robert M. Tilendis' insightful look at Eve's Daughter/Modern Woman: A Mural by Mary Cassatt for the rest of this story!

Peter Faulkner and Peter Preston are the editors of William Morris -- Centenary Essays which gave Robert a slight fit: 'Don't ask me how to discuss a book of essays on the life and work of a figure who was surely among the last Renaissance men. William Morris was a poet and polemicist, artist and designer, politician and businessman, and was tremendously influential on the way we think about the objects in our lives, and I am hard put to give any sort of adequate discussion of the essays contained in this discussion. I can't confess to more than a passing acquaintance with Morris, and so I endured all the pleasures and frustrations of a reader who can claim some knowledge but not a thorough knowledge of the subject. He was indeed a fascinating character, particularly, from my point of view, in his work as an author and designer. The Arts and Crafts movement was his, pure and simple, and, as one reads through the essays in this collection, one realizes that his ideas on the subject grew from his heartfelt socialism, a movement for which he was one of the chief voices in England.' Given his stated limitations, the Editors were impressed 'nough to give Robert an Excellence in Writing Award for this review!

Robert is feeling more than a bit old as Ursula K. LeGuin's Gifts reminded him all too well that the YA literature of today is grimmer, more disturbing than it used to be, or at least that's how he remembers it: 'I find myself sometimes genuinely shocked at the books being written and published for children and teenagers in recent years, but then, I grew up in perhaps less trying times, with the likes of Heinlein's Red Planet and The Rolling Stones as my fallbacks. In the past couple of years I've read science fiction and fantasy for juveniles and young adults that deal with divorce, dysfunctional families, spouse abuse, attempted suicide, not to mention the complete collapse of human civilization. Of course, thinking back, by my late teens I was chomping my way though Thomas Pynchon and Henry Miller, so perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised at what kids are reading. I'm just somewhat taken aback at the overtness of it all.' His disappointment in Gifts reflects that remembrances of reads past.

As he sipped a particularly fine Turkish coffee in the Editors lounge the other day, Robert declared every review zine should have a review of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein so here's his review. As he notes in his review, 'I've all seen the movies (including the Andy Warhol version, notable for lots of skin, a gorgeous monster, and a fair amount of gore), the take-offs, the parodies (some of them unconscious), so I thought it was time I went back to the original, somehow never having actually read it before.'

Well, another season has come and gone. And while for me the best part of the cooling weather is the fact that the big 'Oscar worthy' films are hitting town, it's a shame that the summer had to end. It only seems like yesterday when Revenge of the Sith came out. Though I don't think there was a huge blockbuster this year (though many tried, with lackluster results), I think Cinderella Man was the best of the lot, while I still have a soft spot for Michael Bay's slam-bang morality play, The Island.

Elizabeth Vail stopped by my office the other day and gave me her summer favorites. She said, 'For me, my absolute favourite films were Batman Begins and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Batman was intense, intelligent, intricate and layered -- a truly compelling story with engaging characters and villains. The 40-Year-Old Virgin is something I consider a rarity -- a sweet-natured, wholesome sex comedy. While the title may imply a one-note premise, it does so much more than that. More than a mere laugh at a man's sexual inexperience, it is instead a hilarious study of sexual culture itself.' I have to admit I figured that movie's best joke was the movie poster, but Elizabeth isn't alone in her praise; it's been getting some pretty good reviews. Not particularly GMR-ish, but a good film is a good film. It's difficult to stay inside (or, in some instances, out of the pub) on a warm summer's night, so sharing a word or two about summer's bounty -- in any form -- is always a welcome exchange.

And so with that thought in mind, I'll share one last piece of summer, The Brothers Grimm. Is it an amazing, fantastical adventure? Does Terry Gilliam and his cast of performers pull us in with a tale well told? Well . . . you'll have to read my review to find out. Meanwhile, I'll be in my cedar closet, pulling out a few more sweaters. The days may still be warm, but the evenings have taken a bit of a chill. Pretty soon I'll be wearing a sweater into the theater instead of carrying it with me. See you after the Equinox!

Our dynamic reviewing duo, Chris White and Barb Truex, attended Brunswick, Maine's Saltwater Festival. The event featured an ecclectic lineup that included Solas, Olabelle, Chris Smither, plus rockers, country musicians and a reggae band. In addition to a beautiful site and impeccable sound, Chris says the festival was 'well planned, nicely programmed and very capably run.' Barb adds that she was 'completely engaged by each set of music. Most of the performers left me wanting more, but with the start of another act I was always re-energized and grooving to something new. The day had a great variety without being schizophrenic. Kudos go out to the festival organizers for such thoughtful programming and superb organization.'

Oy! It's me, SPike, back from Neverland, where I've been workin' on me memoirs. I think I'll call 'em SPike Remembers, or Life of SPike . . . somefin' like that! The summer seems to be quickly comin' to an end. Hurricane Katrina made short work of New Orleans, and some folks around 'ere were worried about legendary musicians like Fats Domino and uvvers. But most of 'em showed up. The real tragedy is the poor people who 'aven't got a #$%^in' home, or two coins to rub together, but I think people need to put a familiar face to tragedies, to really understand 'em. Anyway, music itself 'as healin' qualities . . . and today we 'ave quite a $%^&in' selection of medications!

Me mate David Kidney, who's been helpin' me put me notes together, reviewed a new anthology of Rory Gallagher's sizzling guitar work! Big Guns  is the first such collection an' it's a stunner! Dave says, 'County Cork, Ireland. That's where me ol' grandad came from. And when I visited Blarney Castle a couple of years ago, I found an aging Irish poet with my surname. Rory Gallagher grew up in County Cork too. This double CD career-spanning anthology of Gallagher's oeuvre makes a great case for County Cork being the centre of Irish blues.'

Dave also fell 'ead over 'eels in love wif a young female banjo player named Abigail Washburn. Listen to him! 'Abigail Washburn may not change the face of banjo music in the way Scruggs, Boggs or Stanley did . . . but she provides a wonderfully involving hour of music on this CD. And if she travels nearby, I'll be making the journey to see her. Until then, Song of the Traveling Daughter will accompany me.' He does go on!

Then Dave reviewed three new CDs of music which someone filed in 'blues' but Dave argues that they might be better off filed somewhere else. Chris Whitley, Brian Blain and Eric Bibb. are the guitarists in question. 'These three new albums stretch the parameters for 'blues' music even further than it's been stretched before. The promotional material for them makes reference to Robert Johnson, Mose Allison, Randy Newman, J.J Cale, Nick Drake, Chet Baker, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and more. I'm not going to tell you who is supposed to sound like (or be influenced by) whom. But listening to them, one wonders at how you might get a creative job like writing promo sheets.' At least Dave DID listen to them . . . how'd he like 'em? Read the review!

Then try Sophie's article about Norwegian traditional music! Kirsten Braten Berg, Marilyn Mazur and Lena Willemark performing Stemmenes Skygge. #$%^ ME! I c'n 'ardly believe I typed all that! Anyway, Sophie claims that '[while] it would be fair to conclude that this entire album is far from an easy listen... [since it is] a performance piece, it probably was not conceived in order to join the listeners together under a banner of lighter waving and ecstatic singing. On stage, though, I should imagine Stemmenes Skygge is a wonder to behold, especially from such authoritative figures in traditional music.' Exackly!

Lars Nilsson looks at two different records of traditional songs by English singers. 'Gail Williams has been singing in public for about a quarter of a century, gaining many friends, among them Martin Carthy and Tom Paley, who both contribute with sleeve notes. Steve Tilston has been playing even longer; my first encounter with him was in 1972. As well as being an accomplished guitar player and a fine singer, he is generally considered to be one of Britain's best songwriters.' Hmm.

Mike Stiles adds his two cents in a review of Streets of Salvation by Greenland Whalefishers. Now there's a band name for ya! Mike states, in no uncertain terms, that this album 'is definitely worth its weight in Euros. It's a grand milestone on the twisted road of this group's abnormal development. And their Web site has come a long way too, so what the fuck have you got to lose by ordering this CD?' Hey! Watch the #$%^in' language mate!

Robert Tilendis joins in wif one of 'is esoteric an' totally erudite reviews of Indian music. This time it's Ustad Shahid Parvez's Magnificent Melody: a Tribute to Dulal Babu. Don't ring a bell? Robert explains, 'Shahid Parvez began studying the sitar at age four, and gave his first performance at age eight. He belongs to the seventh generation of the Etawa gharana, a tradition begun in the early nineteenth century by Sahebad Khan. In Shahid Parvez' hands, the tradition combines the so-called vocal and instrumental styles of performance to create a fluid and versatile idiom.' I can hear everybody goin' 'Aaaahhh!' now! But since Robert claims that Parvez's playing is, 'indeed, fluent, fluid, and masterful.' I'm sure everyone will want to get this CD!

Maestro Tilendis also looks at a CD of Mahler's 4th Symphony. Believe it or not your faithful SPike went to hear this symphony live one time. I've never been the same! What did Robert think about this version? Well . . . 'Regarding the interpretation, we're talking about legends here: Della Casa, Reiner, CSO. Reiner himself noted his 'conversion' to Mahler, which I take as perhaps merely a natural progression toward maturity: like many people, Reiner initially rejected Mahler's music, finally coming around to a real appreciation which shows brilliantly in this recording. Della Casa is flawless, and the orchestra -- well, it's my home-town band, so forgive my enthusiasm.'

Gary Whitehouse takes a listen to the new double-disc by Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Cold Roses. He says 'The discerning listener could probably make one really strong album out of the songs on these two discs, but no two would probably agree on which ones to leave off, because when it's good, Cold Roses is very good ... if you want to hear what Ryan Adams has been up to so far this year, the only way right now is on this album.' It's worth a listen I'd say!

Gary rounds things off this issue with Jeffrey Frederick's Clamtones B.C. Don't know who that is... 'Jeffrey Frederick and the Clamtones is the best hippie jam band you've probably never heard of. The real deal, that is, original 1970s hippies, not any Phish or Blues Traveler or Donna the Buffalo-style late-coming wannabes. This generous two-disc set captures them in all their glory in a live radio show in British Columbia in 1976, churning out more than two dozen of Frederick's twisted ditties.' Real #$%^in' hippies!

That's about it for this issue -- The sky outside is black over the GMR offices. Remnants of the latest storm passing this way. Everybody out there take special care, go to the high ground, and stay dry! First drink in the Pub tonight is on the house, so join us for music, conversation, and drink! Just don't bother Jack Merry who's sitting near the fireplace with a pint of Ryhope Wood Hard Cider in hand as he's quite contentedly reading his way through the forthcoming Patricia McKillip collection, Harrowing the Dragon.

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Updated 11 September 2005 at 14:35 GMT (JM)