Thursday, February 22, 2024

"He prophets most who bilks the best” (“Finnegans Wake”, 305.1-2)

"He prophets most who bilks the best": This line from James Joyce's “Finnegans Wake” (1939, 305.1-2) parodies the Rotary Club's 1911 motto, "He profits most who serves best." Instead of coming from service, Joyce's profit comes from fraud. And it is not just being the best fraud, but also defrauding the best people. Then, "profits" as "prophets" makes prophets not servants of the divine but rather frauds themselves, and prophecy becomes being "practiced at the art of deception" (to quote Mick Jagger in a Rolling Stones song from thirty years after "Finnegans Wake"). The combination of profit and prophecy – of capital and religion – thus makes for the best deception of all. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 22 February 2024)

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

After The Grateful Dead broke out “All Along the Watchtower” at Berkeley’s Greek Theater in June 1987

The Grateful Dead did a six-show tour with Bob Dylan in July 1987, first playing one or two sets and then backing Dylan for a final set. One way they began to prepare to be Dylan's band was to introduce "All Along the Watchtower" into their repertoire on 20 June 1987 at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, California. As I was walking out of that show, I overheard a young woman say to a friend that it was cool they had played "that U2 song". A young man next to them piped up that it was "a Jimi Hendrix song". I chuckled and told all three it was a Dylan tune. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 21 February 2024)

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Andreas Schärer & Kalle Kalima in Romanshorn, 18 February 2024

On Sunday, 18 February, I went to Romanshorn to hear singer Andreas Schärer and guitarist Kalle Kalima perform as a duo. When Kalima took solos, Schärer would often become a percussionist with his multifaceted beatboxing mixed with other sounds – and again and again, I found myself laughing at the joy and humor of it. That in turn reminded me of my thoughts last year about listening to jazz as a comic rather than a tragic form. (For an excellent example of Schärer's mouth percussion, go to the five-minute mark of "Ukuhmaba" on the 2017 album "Out of Land", by Schärer, soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien, accordionist Vincent Peirani, and pianist Michael Wollny.) (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 20 February 2024)

Monday, February 19, 2024

When the right-wing militia suddenly came down from the hills

When the right-wing militia suddenly came down from the hills and swarmed through the town, I was home alone, and taken by surprise. All I could do was put on my shoes and a warm coat and grab my phone, my passport, and my allergy medication. I had no idea where my family was. I slipped out the back door of the apartment building and saw pillars of smoke rising in several places toward the Rhine, with flames sparking through some of them. Slipping through the allotments and past the psychological clinic, I walked the half-kilometer to the border and made it across minutes before French soldiers began to close it. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 19 February 2024) 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Ages Hence

Ages Hence


At the corner of the bar, an old man in a gray suit and blue tie sits upright on his stool, a tall beer between his hands. Although he's by himself, his voice is loud. His patter shifts from the weekend's football games to a singer whose voice he's never liked, from long-lost bands he once loved to stories from his life, which all seem to come down to how he lived on a farm when he was younger and rode his horse down country roads. Each story ends with him sighing and wondering about moments when he had to make decisions that, he says, "made all the difference." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 18 February 2024)

Saturday, February 17, 2024

The parody of small-town Christmas movies in Taylor Swift’s “’tis the damn season” (2020)

Taylor Swift's "'tis the damn season" (from "evermore", 2020) reads like a parody of Christmas movies where a big-city professional goes to her hometown for the holidays and discovers wholesome smalltown values and true love. The woman in Swift's song does return to her childhood home and an old boyfriend from her school days: "I'm staying at my parents' house / And the road not taken looks real good now / And it always leads to you and my hometown." But she's not going to change what road she's taken: "I won't ask you to wait / If you don't ask me to stay / So I'll go back to LA." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 17 February 2024) 

Friday, February 16, 2024

Two perspectives on a dress: Greg Brown’s “If I Had Known” (1990) and Taylor Swift’s “Dress” (2017)

One of my favorite songs by the folk singer-songwriter Greg Brown is "If I Had Known", the opening song on his riveting 1990 album "Down in There". The third stanza contains a wonderful image embedded in the story of a night of sex on the roof under an August meteor shower: "Summer was invented for her to wear that dress." I like that line so much that sometimes, when I play the song, I stop there and sing the line unaccompanied. Taylor Swift's "Dress", from her 2017 album "reputation", offers a possible flip side of the man's perspective in Brown's song: "Only bought this dress so you could take it off." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 16 February 2024)