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Archive for the ‘Colonial Williamsburg’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Live Bait Vol 3 (2010).

This selection of free Phish songs is notable because of a couple of items.

  1. All of the songs were recorded at the Worcester Centrum in Worcester, MA.  Although the first three songs were recorded in 1993, the fourth song was recorded in 1997 and the final track was recorded in 1991.
  2. The first three songs were recorded on New Year’s Eve–technically on New Year’s Day.  The first track actually counts down the seconds until midnight, when the band bursts into Auld Lang Syne
  3. Probably the biggest deal of all: the band plays a version of “Runaway Jim” that lasts 58 minutes and 48 seconds.  That’s right, nearly an hour on one song.  I think if I went to see them live and they did that I’d be pissed, but it sounds great on this recording.  “Runaway Jim” is not one of my favorite songs, but this extended jam is really good–they break into several different sections and it doesn’t feel like a long version of this song so much as a bunch of different jams thrown together.  At one point it almost seems like the band thought they began with “Weekapaug Groove,” but they push back against that.  I’m very curious to know what happened after that song was over, but the end of the disc takes on an early recording of “Llama, ” a song I like quite a lot.

This is yet another great addition to the free Live Phish pantheon of music–I mean, an hour version of one song, how cool!

[READ: August 1, 2012] “Volumes of Knowledge”

Encyclopedias date back thousands of years–Pliny the elder tried to write everything he knew in Historia Naturalis and a Chinese emperor created a similar book Emperor’s Mirror in 220 A.D.  But the art and craft of creating books that contain all the world’s knowledge flourished in the 1700s.  Increased wealth and education in the French bourgeois, a flood of information and a decline of interest in religion all led to the desire to learn more.  The printing press helped to disseminate the information.

It was Denis Diderot, a French enlightenment polymath who best explained the concept of the encyclopedia:

the purpose of an encyclopedia is to collect knowledge disseminated around the globe; to set forth its general system to the men with whom we live, and transmit it to those who will come after us, so that the work of preceding centuries will not become useless to the centuries to come; and so that our offspring, becoming better instructed, will at the same time become more virtuous and happy, and that we should not die without having rendered a service to the human race in the future years to come.

But Diderot recognized the limits of a one-author encyclopedia: “I do not believe it is given to a single man to known all that can be known.”   From 1751 to 1772 he and his assistants edited more than 70,000 articles from 140 authors to create his first Encyclopedie.  Of course having many authors had drawbacks–differences in style, length and quality.  But Diderot shied away from nothing and in many locations the book was banned.  Some of the ideas in the book shook the very foundation of accepted ideas.  And many of the authors hoped to change the world.  Diderot himself even hoped to usurp religion with his knowledge: “It is not enough for us to know more than Christians, we must show them we are better.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DEER TICK-“Main Street” (Field Recordings, July 18, 2012).

NPR created a bunch of Field Recordings at Sasquatch Music Festival.  I picked this one [Deer Tick Among the Honey Buckets]  primarily because it featured Deer Tick front man John McCauley singing front of a bunch of porta potties.

I actually don’t know much about Deer Tick, so I don’t know if they normally sound folky or what.  But this song, in its acoustic setting is very good.  John McCauley’s voice works great here.  There’s even a nice shout out to MCA.

There’s not a ton to it, and this alone won’t make me a fan, but I’ll certainly check out more by them.  It’s also a nice video to watch, especially for the amusing encore.

[READ: August 1, 2012] “The Use of Myth in History”

Most of the articles in Colonial Williamsburg have to do with, well, Colonial Williamsburg.  This one, however, talks about myths that we as Americans have created and continue to believe, from colonial times to more days.

The article opens by explaining that Patrick Henry’s famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech was written down forty-two years after the fact by William Wirt.  And he wrote it down from memory, so who knows what words Henry actually spoke.  But no doubt Wird got the gist right.  So the Henry speech is a myth–not necessarily wrong but not exactly true either.

Klein explains that some historians would like to remove the myths from history and focus only on the facts, but stories like Henry’s are so popular, so ingrained in our memories, that removing them would do more damage than the beloved myths do.  Indeed, some historians believe that myths are very important.  Micheal Gerson wrote, “We know that myths are not the same as lies” and John Thorn said “Historians have an obligation to embrace myth as the people’s history”

Klein writes that America’s mythology was largely created by writers from the early 1800s.  Pressure was building towards the War of 1812 and they needed support.  The mythology was designed to get people to forget about the ugly Revolutionary War.  And so stories were created just in time for the birth of public education in America to disseminate the stories.  And so mythological stories like George Washington and the cherry tree or the midnight ride of Paul Revere or Plymouth Rock or even Pocahontas became enshrined in textbooks.  Now, most myths are based on facts, but the truths were embellished and made more romantic and given a moral.  So, yes Patrick Henry did give a speech, the Pilgrims settled in Plymouth and Paul Revere did ride into the countryside to warn of the British invasion. but probably not exactly as we think they did.  So nineteenth century writers made George Washington the symbol of our country–a unifying power to embody a nation. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: METRIC-“Synthetica” (Field Recordings, June 20, 2012).

After playing the Sasquatch festival, Emily Haines and James Shaw of Metric went behind the stadium and played a beautiful acoustic rendition of the title song from their latest album.  This Field Recording [Metric In A Non-Synthetic Situation] is just so wide open as to be inconceivable–especially since they’d just played a festival.

Metric make beautiful music which is rocking and usually full of all manner of electronic noises.  To hear Haines’ voice stripped from any effects shows just what a great and interesting voice she has.   It’s always nice to hear the song underneath the song.  This is a great version of the song.  Watch it here.

[READ: July 25, 2012] “Putting the Red in Redcoats”

Have you ever thought about how the redcoats’ coats became red?  No, me either.  Well, amazingly, it came from the Cochineal, the same bug that is still used today to color foods.

Cochineal bugs are pretty bizarre.  The female lives her entire life on a prickly pear cactus.  When she hatches, she clamps onto the prickly pear and starts feeding.  She grows to the size of a head of a pin. but never leaves the spot.  The male flies around, but only lives for a week.  The female lays eggs and the babies continue the process.

Although she is immobile, she is also armed with carminic acid, which predators don’t like.  Carminic acid is a vibrant red colorant.  Aztecs first mined this amazing color, which naturally impressed Spanish conquistadores who wanted to take it for themselves.  And they made a lot of money selling it to Europe.  But the Spanish never told anyone that the color came from bugs–they kept the secret for themselves.

Of course pirates and privateers would often hijack ships (one score captured 27 tons of cochineal!). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NOW, NOW-“But I Do” (Field Recordings, August 8, 2012).

This is an NPR Field Recording, [Now Now at Graffiti Park]which means they brought equipment to Graffiti Park in Texas and recorded Now, Now playing this song live.  You can watch the video here.

The video opens with the band lugging their gear into the weird little foundation of space.  (This explains why there are no drums, clearly).  And so the band with two guitars and a xylophone (and a shaker) play their song and sound great doing it.  This is something of a stripped down version of the bands usually more shoegazery sound, but even in this format the band sounds great–the song is catchy, the melody is pretty and their harmonies are great.

I haven’t heard the original of this, but this is now the third Now, Now song that I’ve really enjoyed.

[READ: August 1, 2012] “Mecklenburg’s Declaration of Independence”

The previous issue of Colonial Williamsburg surprised me with several articles that I found really interesting.  Although this issue was filled with a little more about current local happenings (bulldozers and updates) they still managed to pack in a number of interesting articles.

According to this article, in 1775 Captain James Jack delivered a document to the Second Continental Congress.  On May 19, 1775, select officers from North Carolina, seeing the kind of fighting that was happening against the British in Massachusetts made up several resolves.  The fist stated:

We hearby absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British Crown, and abjure all political connection, contract, or association, with that nation, who have wantonly trampled on our rights and liberties, and inhumanely shed the blood of American patriots at Lexington.

This “declaration of independence:” preceded Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence by fourteen months.  The document never reached its destination in the intended form and it was almost forgotten.

But then in 1819, the editor of the Raleigh Register and North Carolina Gazette wrote about this “Mecklenburg Declaration.”  The news surprised John Adams who had never heard of the document.  Adams praised the document (Adams didn’t really like Jefferson).  But Jefferson called it questionable: “I believe it spurious.”  This led to an intrastate rivalry with Virginia claiming the Declaration of Independence as the true one and North Carolina claiming the Declaration of Independence a plagiarism!  Jefferson even went as far as to question the patriotism of North Carolinians.

The controversy is complicated by a document from May 31 a facsimile of which seems to show signatures cut from court records and imitations of the designer’s handwriting.

It’s all somewhat moot as the Continental Congress applauded the intention of the letter but felt that adopting the Mecklenburg resolves was premature.  And therefore it was not a usurper of the actual Declaration of Independence.  But in North Carolina, the document is held up as official.  It became a page of official North Carolina history in 1831 and in 1861, the state voted  to add the date to the state flag.

American history caught up in 1954 when President Eisenhower acknowledged the men who signed the “Mecklenburg Declaration.”  Who knew?

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SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT AND THE NATIONAL-“Sleep All Summer” from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

This cover is by The National with St. Vincent singing a duet with The National’s singer.  The original, by Crooked Fingers, is also a male/female duet, so this works nicely.  Indeed, having listened to the original, there’s not a lot of difference between these two versions.

The singer from The National has a distinctively deep voice.  And I really like St Vincent, although on this song, she’s not really doing anything amazing, she’s just singing (very nicely, but she could be anyone).

It’s a perfectly nice song, in both versions.  The original is a bit more interesting musically, but I like the vocals in the new version better.

[READ: March 15, 2012] “Gentleman’s Servant”

If you have read my other three posts about articles from Colonial Williamsburg, you have seen the cover of this magazine.  And, man, does it make me uncomfortable.  About as uncomfortable as I feared this article was going to make me.  I almost didn’t read it.  In the previous article I mentioned how the photos look…wrong.  And none look more wrong to me than the series of pictures for this article.

However, this article was not about slaves exactly.  It was more about servants or valets.  The article immediately puts us at our ease by telling us that there are schools today that teach how to be a valet, primarily in England.  And they make it out to be not such a bad gig.  It puts me in mind of Jeeves and Wooster, and what a lark it must all be.

Of course in the 18th century things were quite different (although it is described as similar duties–caring for the master and the master’s clothes and horse and such).  This paragraph tucks in a key phrase as it tries to make it all seem casual: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RYAN ADAMS-“Like a Fool” from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

I don’t particularly like Ryan Adams’ songs, so I was surprised how much I liked this cover of a Superchunk song.  The cover has an interesting vibe, a kind of Pearl Jam (in the guitars) meets Radiohead (in the vocals) sound.  It’s not too different from the original, although, as with many of these covers, I like the recording quality better.  I know I love my lo-fi world, and I love Superchunk but these newer versions just sound better.

Adams has a good voice, and he adds just enough orchestration to make the song a wee bit more interesting than the original.

[READ: March 15, 2012] “Department of Deportment: Stances and Dances Made the Eighteenth-Century Man–and Woman”

This article was intriguing but wasn’t quite about what I wanted it to be about.  Also, what was weird about this article–not so much with the others in the magazine so far, is that the photographs look simply too modern.  Usually for period pieces there is a hint of aging done to the film.  Obviously for the magazine they want the best possible quality photo, but it just looks really…fake?  Obviously modern people in old homes and dress.

The other thing that is odd to me about this article is that it begins with the idea that the reader doesn’t know what deportment means, or  that we misunderstand its meaning.  The true meaning–upright behavior and moral uprightness–doesn’t seem that hard to grasp.

However, despite these criticisms the article has some interesting history to impart.  The idea was that Gentlemen and Ladies were educated and would act with honor.  And part of that honor was the way one stood and acted.  Thus, Gentlemen had to maintain deportment.  Etiquette books also taught how to treat people of equal–and lower–standing.  Some people tried to appear gentlemanly by quickly learning deportment–but rules were complex and fakers were easily caught.  And those who were caught were punished by being thrown out of  a party or by public ridicule. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: QUASI-“Beautiful Things” from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

I’ve had this CD for a pretty long time just waiting for me to devote some time to listening to it.  The collection is a compilation of non-Merge label bands covers songs by Merge bands.

Quasi was a great band (I guess they are still together, so they are a great band).  I have their records from around the turn of the century (I love writing that!).  Sam Coombs and the wonderful Janet Weiss comprise the band (there’s a bassist, Joanna Bolme, added in 2007). And they sing wonderful, political alt-pop.

This is a cover of a song by the New Zealand band The 3Ds.  I don’t know the original (although I do know (and like) a few songs by them–mostly from the Topless Women Talk about Their Lives soundtrack.  This version has heavy keyboard prominence, but he sweet verses (sung largely by Janet with Tom doing backing vocals) are interspersed with some cool buzzy guitar solos.

  I just found the original online, and the cover is pretty accurate–although the Quasi version is a bit more dynamic.  Nevertheless, it makes me want to listen to The 3Ds a bit more.

[READ: March 15, 2012] “A Cup of Hot Chocolate, S’good for What Ails Ya”

Have you ever wanted to read about the history of hot chocolate?  No, of course not.  No one has.  And yet, when I started flipping through this article, Theobald introduced plenty of ideas that I found not only interesting but compelling.

Theobald explains how the Aztecs called this (at the time) very hearty, spicy and bitter) drink cacahuatl.  The Aztecs got the drink from the Mayans, who got it from the Olmecs.  The first Europeans to try this drink loathed it (one even called it a drink for pigs).

It was the conquistadors who mixed cacahuatl with sugar to make what we now know as chocolate.  Chocolate was a luxury back then–time consuming and difficult to make.

The Spaniards found the drink very hearty–hearty enough to be considered a meal.  This put Catholics in a tizzy about the state of the item.  They feared that if it was food it could not be consumed on fast days–it was ultimately deemed a drink.  The drink made its way through Europe and into England.  The first known English recipe called for sugar, long red pepper, cloves, aniseed, almonds, nuts, orange flower water and cacao. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEN FOLDS-Free Folds Five E.P. (2011).

With the purchase of Ben Folds’ Imitation of Myself, I received a free download of this E.P.  It contains five tracks: three demos and two live tracks.

The demos are for “Underground” (1992), “Stevens Last Night in Town” (1994) and “Song for the Dumped” (1994).  Demos are a strange thing.  For fans of a song it’s interesting to hear an original version, especially if it is radically different.

These demos are not radically different although there are certainly some differences.  “Underground”‘s opening spoken bits sound more comical and less sung (it’s clearly just not mixed well).  And “Steven” has a strange spoken word section during the instrumental break.  It’s also less manic than the official release.

The most drastic change is in “Song for the Dumped” in which the chorus ends not with the humorous “and dooooooon’t forget my black T-shirt” but with the more abrasive (and Ben said harder for him to sing) “you fuuuuucking whore.”  So these demos are interesting for knowing that these songs were pretty much always meant to sound a certain way (and that even Ben has limits for how much he’ll curse).  But the official releases are better.

The live versions are both from solo shows.  “Narcolepsy” (1999) and “Dr Yang (2008).   Ben live is always a fun prospect.  He puts on a fun show and often stretches the songs out with fun jams.  “Narcolepsy” is notable for the incredibly buzzy bass guitar that they’re playing.  Neither one of these songs features any jams, but they both have a heavier, more intense feel than the studio versions.

Since the Imitation of Myself included live songs and demos, these make a nice addition to the set.  Although they’re certainly not essential.

[READ: March 15, 2012] “ΦΒΚ: Love of wisdom, the guide to life”

My family has traveled to Colonial Williiamsburg for our last few vacations.  We don’t spend all of our time there (Busch Gardens is just down the road, after all), but we have really enjoyed the history.  So last year I sent them a nominal fee and got some kind of membership coupon.  And then about a week ago, we received this magazine.  I don’t know why it took so long to get to us and I don’t know how many more we’ll receive.  I wasn’t even sure if I was going to read anything in it (I like Colonial Williamsburg, but probably not enough to read a whole magazine about it).  But I was delighted by the content of the magazine.  And I’ll mention a few of the other articles in the near future.

This one is about the origins of ΦΒΚ, Phi Beta Kappa.  It’s something I never even thought about, but once I started reading it, I found it really interesting. (more…)

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