Thursday, June 23, 2011

Funny Things About Serious People: Son House, Skip James, and H.C. Speir

Unlike most bluesmen, Son calls each of the standard tuning keys by their right names, save for C, which he calls F. (Booker White calls E G, C cross-G, and A Ab or Db; Robert Pete Williams, Rubin Lacy and Skip James all refer to E as C natural.) However, in other matters Son approaches the delta blues norm. For instance "minor" means any note or chord on or above the fifth fret, and "major" any note or chord below it. . . . In addition, Son uses a rather vague system of string classification, using soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Skip is more definite; from the sixth string to the first they are 6) bass or subtone, 5) baritone, 4) alto, 3 + 2) tenors, 1) soprano. Skip also refers to triplets, 16th, 32nd, and 64th notes, tonics, subdominants, and 2/4 and 4/4 time, all incorrectly. It turns out he bought an "Exegesis of Musical Knowledge" from H.C. Speir in 1931 and skimmed it.

-as told by Al "Blind Owl" Wilson, 1960s

Friday, June 17, 2011

Something like Something: The Face of Shame

Even people in Mexico City are talking about Anthony Weiner. It might have something to do with his name.

But the incident reminded me of this old post about the face of shame in America. Same face! Is there some Manual of Press Conference Facial Expressions for Modern Political Figures that these guys are all reading? Do they all have the same publicity coach? Is it instinctive? Cultural? Ladies, if your man—employees, if your boss man—people in emergency rooms, if your doctor man—comes to you with this face, prepare for the worst. And try to hack his email account because he's probably still hiding something.

Antiquariana: Mexican Industry

It is almost incredible to speak what some write of Mexico and the cities adjoining to it, no place in the world at their first discovery more populous.... We have the same means, able bodies, pliant wits, matter of all sorts, wool, flax, iron, tin, lead, wood, etc., many excellent subjects to work upon, only industry is wanting.

-Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mexico City: Scenes—Mexican Humor

Yesterday I was leaving my building when a neighbor whom I had a met a few times stopped me.

You look very serious, she said in Spanish.

Oh, I said. She was almost middle-aged, which I hadn't noticed before.

Phlegmatic, she said. That's what we say.

That's funny, I said. We don't really say that in English.

About the English, she said. We say they're very phlegmatic.

Actually I'm not English, I said. I'm American. We're happy.

Yes. But we say they're phlegmatic, the English.

Well, I said. I'm not English. Goodbye!