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Sunday, 29 October 2017

Spotlight on a Website (10): Big Think

The Big Think site is a little bit like a broader version of TED Talks. (See my article about TED here.)
Big Think has been described as a You Tube for ideas and it has sections such as Videos, Playlists, Articles, Experts and Podcasts. It's the kind of Website where you might drop in to have a quick look at what's happening in current thinking and be drawn into reading articles and watching videos and then an hour has gone by....and then another...
Recent articles have included "The Universe May Be Conscious, Say Prominent Scientists" "Addictive Behaviour Isn't Just for Addicts. We May All Be Hooked" and "Why Poetry is a Refuge for Your Brain"
And how about these video titles?: "Download Your Brain into Another Body? To No Longer Die Changes Everything", "Why A.I. Might Run the World Better Than Humans" (by Richard Dawkins) and "What Does it Mean to Fully Be Human? Opening Yourself to Uncomfortable Truths" - this video is by Bryan Cranston, yes Breaking Bad's Walter White!
I believe that most people who visit this site are thinkers who are curious about the world and possess a certain level of intelligence and so would be enthralled by Big Think.
Find it here and I hope you enjoy it.

I'm listening to The Grateful Dead. Currently its Uncle John's Band; an absolute classic that you can listen to here.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Painting of the Month (75) October 2017: Bazza

I am amazed to realise that this my 75th Painting of the Month. I posted the first one in February 2010 and have published one most months since then. 
OK, this isn't exactly a painting in the usual sense but I had some fun making it by copying from a photo using the Microsoft Paint programme. It's very time consuming but it's something I enjoy doing. I am about to get my new computer so I have been dredging through my Documents folder looking for things to delete and came across this from a couple of years ago. And now, you lucky people, I decided to share it. Vermeer or whoever, will just have to wait until next month! Below I have shown a couple of earlier efforts from when I was still trying to get the hang of it.
I would to mention that I have had some some technical trouble posting on some Blogs but I always read them and should be back to normal shortly.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Great Popular Songs (3): Stormy Weather

Stormy Weather was written in 1933 by Harold Arlen 1905-1986 (music) and Ted Koehler 1894-1973 (lyrics). It was first performed in that year by Ethel Waters at The Cotton Club in Harlem, New York City and she recorded it later that year. It was sung in the same year in London by Elizabeth Welch who sung it forty-six years later at the age of 75 at the end of Derek Jarman's film of The Tempest. Since those days it has been recorded many times.
Notable versions have been sung by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington and famously by Lena Horne in the 1943 film Stormy Weather.  There are many other great versions also available- too many to name here!
But I have to say that my personal favourite is the version by Etta James. Listen here.
Etta James 1938 - 2012, not a natural blonde.

Don't know why
There's no sun up in the sky
Stormy weather
Since my man and I ain't together
Keeps raining all of the time
Oh, yeah

Life is bad
Gloom and misery everywhere
Stormy weather, stormy weather
And I just can't get my poor self together
Oh, I'm weary all of the time
The time, so weary all of the time

When he went away
The blues walked in and met me
Oh, yeah if he stays away
Old rocking chair's gonna get me
All I do is pray
The Lord will let me
Walk in the sun once more

Can't go on
Everything I have is gone
Stormy weather
Since my man and I ain't together
Keeps rainin' all the time
Keeps rainin' all the time


The song is heavy with the weather as a powerful metaphor for the singer's feelings as she moves from "gloom and misery everywhere" and eventually aspires to "walk in the sun once more". There is plenty of space within this song for a singer to display strong feelings and express emotions.
Harold Arlen wrote more than 500 popular songs. His most famous composition was Somewhere Over The Rainbow, voted the twentieth centurie's number one song. Ted Koehler  was  inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1972.
I'm in Crete for a while so will respond when I get back home.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Great Popular Songs (2): Hallelujah

Hallelujah is a Hebrew word meaning "Praise you, Jehovah" or "Glory to the Lord". Leonard Cohen, the late Canadian singer, wrote the song for his 1984 album Various Positions but it really became popular after it was featured in the 2000 film Shrek. It has been much recorded including versions by John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Willie Nelson, Rufus Wainwright, k.d.lang, Susan Boyle and Alexander Burke. But, after Leonard Cohen's own version, my favourite one is by the fragile-voiced English folk-singer Kathryn Williams.  There have been over 300 recordings of the song and Bob Dylan has performed it on stage.
Leonard Cohen, 1934 - 2016
Cohen's version really emphasises the poetical nature of his work. As with Bob Dylan many of his lyrics stand up on their own as poetry. The song was voted into the top ten of greatest songs by songwriters in the British magazine Q. 
It is often stated that lyrics and poetry differ because lyrics were written to be sung and it's true that reading aloud the lyrics of many wonderful songs just doesn't work as poetry. I think there should be a newly-coined word for song-lyrics that are somewhere in between because great lyrics are often underrated. I hope recognition of Bob Dylan as a Nobel Laureate brings acceptance of this closer.
Cohen, a notorious perfectionist, is said to have originally written 80 verses for the song and has performed almost totally different versions on stage. This variety is reflected in many of the cover versions which allows the song to be interpreted in an assortment of ways from religious iconography to explicit sexual meanings. I would say that Cohen's recorded version contains both of those elements at once.
Probably my favourite verses are the fabulous first and second ones:
Well I heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this: the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah.

Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to her kitchen chair
And she broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

The second verse contains reference to a pair of notorious biblical women: Bathsheba ("You saw her bathing on the roof") and Delilah ("....she broke your throne and she cut your hair.") I find it unsurprising that so many singers have recorded this song and sing it live on stage because it is so immaculately constructed - perhaps I should have said 'conceived'. Leonard would have known what I meant by that......

Interestingly the fourth and fifth lines of the first verse actually describe, musically, what the song is doing as those lyrics are sung. The accompanying chords are often used in hymns. Also, it's in the relatively rare 12/8 time signature. That is, if you like, a regular four-beat bar with each beat divided in a triple rhythm.