philosophymom (philosophymom) wrote,

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Rockin' it

This week's Friday Five are inspired by last week's Tesla launch, I'm pretty sure. Am I the only person who didn't find that launch inspiring? It struck me as clichéd "bro" behavior, Billionaire Edition ... but never mind. I was *very* inspired by this question set, so much that it took me two days to finish my answers. Posting late insures that no one will see them, but I'm cool with that, too. I really enjoyed just thinking about the two music topics.

Ready for my sometimes-lengthy responses?

1. What's your favorite instrumental hit song?
Can I pick from any era and/or corner of the pop charts; or am I meant, per the title of this question set ("Rockit"), to stick to classic rock? I hope it's not the latter, because when you say "instrumental hit" to my white-bread, middle-aged self, my thoughts turn to tamer groups like the Ventures and the Tijuana Brass, both of whose music I remember well from my formative years. Upon reflection, soloists like Chuck Mangione and (*gulp*) Kenny G. also come to mind, as do pastiches and adaptations like "Classical Gas" and "Fifth of Beethoven." And that's before we consider all the TV & movie themes (I'm looking at you, Henry Mancini) that got serious radio play back in the day when that sort of thing still happened. Gosh, there are plenty of choices, even without reaching back into the swing era (which would be cheating) or trying to venture deep into the albums of any serious rock bands (which would be most inauthentic of me).

I've actually known my answer since halfway through the second sentence of the above paragraph, but I'd first like to name an honorable mention that *might* technically qualify in this category (though we'd need the judges' ruling) but probably misses the question's intent. In 1999, the above-named Kenny G.'s Grammy-nominated holiday album (Faith, A Holiday Album) charted, as did one of the singles from it, his rendition of "Auld Lang Syne." But the album also included an "Auld Lang Syne" remix track, the so-called "Millennium Mix," which superimposed over the piece a continuous stream of iconic spoken-word audio clips spanning the 20th century. It has dated, of course, even for the only audience to whom it was probably ever relevant (middle class American Baby Boomers), but I still find it deeply affecting. Here it is, if you want to compare reactions:

And now my actual answer -- "A Taste of Honey," by Herb Alpert & the (aforementioned) Tijuana Brass. Dig this vintage fake-performance for vintage TV:

2. What's a good movie with rockets in in it?
This question gave me way more trouble than it should have. See, I have enjoyed me many Star Trek and other franchise space movies, but I'm afraid that, sitting here right now, I couldn't tell you which of the various sci-fi ships I've seen were rocket-powered, as opposed to employing some alternative futuristic propulsion method. Hmmm ...

Well, Wikipedia was no help. It tells me that a rocket is "a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle that obtains thrust from a rocket engine. Rocket engine exhaust is formed entirely from propellant carried within the rocket before use. Rocket engines work by action and reaction and push rockets forward simply by expelling their exhaust in the opposite direction at high speed, and can therefore work in the vacuum of space."

Yeah, no, sorry. I still don't know whether a spaceship can be a rocket if it doesn't look and work exactly like an Apollo something-or-other. A traditional NASA movie it shall be, then, in which case I'm gonna go with Hidden Figures. As I recall, it has a couple of dramatic launch scenes and is a terrific flick.

3. In 1977, Voyager I took off on its very long journey, loaded with two golden records containing sounds meant "to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or for future humans, who may find them," according to Wikipedia. The contents were chosen by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan, but if Dr. Sagan called you today (you know, from beyond) and said there was room for ten more minutes of music and he was letting you choose it, what would you fill the ten minutes with?

I have always found the idea of the Golden Record -- well, for the decade I've known about it (i.e., from whenever I first heard this RadioLab episode) -- to be charming and quixotic. Indeed, I would say that the *fact* of the Record's existence represents mankind far better than any of its content ever could.

Ten minutes, huh? I'm not sure it'd be fair to devote all that extra time to the exclusively Western music that I would inevitably choose (unless others are also being invited to balance me out), but who am I to doubt Carl Sagan?

The problem here is that I'm not simply being asked for ten awesome minutes of music, but rather for ten minutes to complement Sagan's original choices. So, while I might think that, say, "Ode to Joy" would be a good candidate, I'm not sure I should choose it, given that Beethoven is already on the playlist twice. Indeed, with him and all that Bach on there, plus Mozart and Stravinsky, should I be adding any Western classical music at all?

(I do have to wonder about Sagan's apparent bias against the full-on-Romantic, though. Did he think that aliens would have a better chance of "getting" our more formal, mathematical-ish pieces than they would of responding to great music's slushier alternatives? Why not include serial music, then? Afraid of starting a gallactic war?)

The Sagan playlist is jazz-weak, IMO, but maybe my 20th-C. American self is over-estimating the importance of jazz. And while "Johnny B. Goode" probably *is* the closest thing to the Platonic form of a rock-and-roll song, is there really *no* other commercial (if you will) music worthy of inclusion?

Another problem with the Golden Record as a playlist for me is that so many of the songs are slow or unmetrical, not to mention super-serious. Is our race not representable by up-tempo pieces? Are the best tunes across all eras and cultures really mostly chants, ballads, and adagios? I yield to no one in my willingness to go all deep and human condition-y whenever the chance arises, but there is an *awful* lot of pathos on that Golden Record.

Okay, I'm stalling here. That must be because I find Carl's request so humbling as to feel unworthy to begin. Still, Mr. Cosmos called *me*, so I am just going to have to work within my limited taste and knowledge to pick something that'll add some joy to the mix. With that in mind, I'm tempted to hand seven and a half of my ten minutes straight to Gustav Holst's "Jupiter." Yeah, it's Western orchestral, but it's big and joyful and very, very human. However, unless a credible abridged version exists, it wouldn't leave me much time for anything else.

Should I select some Copland, instead? I could go with "Fanfare for the Common Man" or "Variations on a Shaker Melody"; each clocks in at three to four minutes, depending on the performance. The former is expansive and stirring, while the latter is joyful and uplifting, so in either case I'd get at least some of what I was going for with the Holst.

What would I be making room *for*, though? My list of fun and/or life-affirming short pieces includes things like Nat King Cole singing Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" (not lively, but dance-able, and somehow overflowing with cheer), Django and Stéphane & co. playing "Minor Swing," Lester and Earl performing "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" (okay, that one's five and a half minutes, unless you excise the drum solo), and ... well, you get the idea.

One potential problem (besides parochial-ness, which would remain an issue even if I named the next hundred tunes on said list) is the scratchy vintage-ness of so many iconic recordings. Like Sagan's, my bias would be toward including original-artist performances where applicable, but I have to wonder: from the aliens' perspective, mightn't state-of-the-art, high fidelity recordings of top-notch contemporary covers be better? (Don't throw things at me. I'm just asking.)

I'm still stalling, aren't I? All right. I'm gonna go with "Jupiter" and "Stardust." Together, they run a tad over 10 minutes, but I think it's close enough for the spirit of the question. Also, they both have "space" names. What do you think?


4. What's something you know about constellations?
I know that constellations are christened (mostly? always?) for figures from Greek mythology -- many of whose names I can recite, though none of which I can match to their corresponding star configurations. That said, I *can* point out the Big Dipper, and I learned the song "Follow the Drinking Gourd" in school. And... that's pretty much it.

5. When did you last spend time in a rocking chair?
When my babies were babies. My last baby is now 16 years old; I'll let you do the math. :-)
Tags: friday five, memes, music
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