Wednesday, November 22, 2017

things I've done

Some things I've done, that you might not have:
1. Had lunch made by Ursula K. Le Guin in her own kitchen. Dessert was a chunk of her Tiptree Award.
2. Worn a button at Worldcon reading "I know who won the Hugos, and you don't" - and it was true.
3. Circumnavigated an entire country, by foot. (And by that I mean, walked all the way around it outside its borders.)
4. Performed in a play using a live geyser as a prop.
5. Sat in Gerald R. Ford's office chair, in his office; and on the Woolsack, in the House of Lords. (No, Pat, no, don't sit on that!)
6. Made the sound of one hand clapping.
7. Survived riding in a car that rolled over and played dead on the freeway.
8. Visited a roadless Alaskan fishing village 50 miles from, well, anywhere.
9. Eaten a haggis. Eaten another one.
10. Stood right next to my three brothers in four different states.

Some common things I've only done once:
1. Ridden a roller coaster.
2. Danced to a rock song.
3. Gotten married.
4. Visited Scotland.
5. Worn a tuxedo.
6. Eaten sushi.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

an inner voice corrects

An inner voice speaks to me concerning the statement in my previous post defending John Corigliano's claim never to have heard any Bob Dylan: "I doubt I could pass any sort of test on pop singers three years younger than myself, as Dylan is of Corigliano, either."

"Don't be too sure of that," says the inner voice. "Considering who some of your favorite singer-songwriters are. Remember," says the inner voice, "that Suzanne Vega is two years younger than you, and Enya is four years younger, giving an average of three."

concert review: Redwood Symphony

A passenger, seeing the library book in my car, asked, "So why do you have a collection of Bob Dylan lyrics?" I thought for a moment how best to reply, and said, "Because John Corigliano had one."

John Corigliano is a distinguished American composer, known for his opera The Ghosts of Versailles. Commissioned to write a song cycle on an American text of his choice, at first he felt uncertain, but then remembered he'd been told that this Bob Dylan fellow was pretty good, so he got a book collection of Dylan lyrics, read them, and decided, once he got Dylan's permission, to go ahead. This is the work that I was engaged to review in concert last weekend, for which I wouldst prepare.

That Corigliano had never previously heard any Dylan songs - he says "I was [too] engaged in developing my orchestral technique during the years when Dylan was heard by the rest of the world" - has been widely disbelieved, but I don't find it incredible at all. I doubt I could pass any sort of test on pop singers three years younger than myself, as Dylan is of Corigliano, either. And of the seven Dylan songs that Corigliano set, I only knew two, and those in cover versions: "Blowin' in the Wind" by Peter Paul & Mary, and "Mr. Tambourine Man" by the Byrds.

Corigliano carefully avoided listening to the original songs until he'd written his own settings, and I likewise avoided listening to them until I'd heard his. I got a recording of a rather overwrought performance of the Corigliano cycle, and only then sought out cover versions of the other songs. Cover versions, because like most of the world with good taste, I like Dylan's songs but can't stand him singing them. I did go so far as to hunt down his performance of "Blowin' in the Wind" and was immediately sorry that I had.

I found to my surprise that the Roches had covered "Clothes Line Saga", but if I'd heard it before, I couldn't remember it. I can't remember it now, either. "All Along the Watchtower" belies any generalizations I could make about Dylan's folk-influenced style. Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix, the two cover performers I heard, use it as an occasion for an extended instrumental jam with a few words thrown in. Fortunately, Corigliano didn't know that. The one original new to me that I really liked was Ed Sheeran singing "Masters of War". The tune nagged at me until I realized that it sounded like the English folksong "Nottamun Town", which I knew from Fairport Convention. Then I looked it up, and discovered that it is "Nottamun Town". Dylan lifted the tune from a Jean Ritchie record, and had to pay royalties for her arrangement.

"Masters of War" is an extremely angry song. Sheeran even comments after his performance, "He's an intense guy, isn't he?" But compare Sheeran's version, linked to above, with Corigliano's scream of rage. (Told you it was overwrought.) This was key to my review's description of the difference between the two settings. Corigliano writes classical art song word painting. Dylan, at least in Sheeran's version, is very quiet, apparently belying the anger of the lyrics, but to my mind structuring the lines and stanzas of the verse to form a casing from which the message of the words can be heard outright, with only the quiet underlining of the bleak drone-like shape of the melody.

And that's the best answer I can come up with for a question that's nagged me for a long time, and which I went out on a reviewing limb by using it to frame my review. The question is, if your song is a "message" song, one that exists for the sake of its text, why is it a song? Why not just write poetry? The obvious answer, "Because nobody will read poetry, but they'll listen to songs," only reinforces the question. What are they getting out of the music that they wouldn't get out of poetry?

It must be something, and the best writers, including Dylan, recognize this. it's a shame if they ignore it, using the music as just something to plop the words on top of. I think of the Indigo Girls, who have said, "It's not about the music," but perhaps that's why, though their style lies right in the middle of a women's music idiom I usually like very much, I've never much taken to the Indigo Girls. There's nothing to their music; it's just there to sing the words to.

Corigliano, though he has nothing you'd normally call a tune, and is totally in contrast with Dylan's music, is dedicated to making his music say something. I found his settings stuck with me, so I count this work, however strange-sounding, a success.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Randy Byers

A few days ago, I saw in the grocery store some bottles labeled "Not Your Father's Root Beer." On inspection, they proved to be beer with the flavor of root beer. I bought some, and had just opened the first bottle to have with dinner tonight when I heard that Randy Byers had died.

So I drank it in his memory. Randy was a great connoisseur of beer, and I'd have loved to tell him about this one.

Randy was also a great many other things, most notably one of the writers who make the best science-fiction fanzines some of the finest personal writing to be had. You can find much of it at the download sites for his fanzine Chunga and his TAFF trip report. He also posted a lot online, much of it on DW as randy-byers, also keeping a separate blog for film reviews and other writings. I knew him in person, casually, but I found we really connected online.

Over the last couple years, a lot of his DW writing was about treatment for his brain cancer. Although he didn't hide that this was a grueling process to live through with a depressing prospect ahead, I was impressed with the fortitude with which he faced it. He quietly retired from his job in administration at the University of Washington, and set about living the rest of his life with fullness and dignity. He took one last trip to Micronesia, where he'd spent some colorful years of his childhood - and wrote about it, of course - but didn't frantically try to stuff experiences in. He just kept on going, and when the news hit that no more curative treatments were available, he wrote of the life he now found himself leading, "Let it roll, baby, roll. Until about 8:30, or whenever I'm ready to go to bed. Quality of life, that's what I'm all about!"

And so he kept on doing what he did, as long as he could do it. He'd been re-reading classic SF novels, especially ones by women, and writing thoughtful considerations of them. His last DW post, two months ago, considered Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler.

Let us honor and remember him by doing the ordinary little things that give us pleasure with the same rich and full appreciation that he gave to his.


1. I've finally started watching The Handmaid's Tale. Not trusting Hulu, which makes you sign up before it'll even show you what it has, I found the series as a purchasable item on YouTube, $19 for the season, which is more than a Hulu monthly subscription, but it doesn't make you sign up and then, if you don't want any more, cancel. Besides, it will take me more than a month to get through this, I'm sure. More on this then. Interesting music choices.

2. Alabama, living down to its stereotypes. Remember Weird Al's "A Complicated Song" and the verse in which he learns that his girlfriend is his cousin? "Should I go ahead and propose and get hitched and have kids with eleven toes and / Move to Alabama where that kind of thing is tolerated?" That sort of stereotype.

3. Blaming city development policies for the Silicon Valley housing shortage. This is backwards. Cities are actually eager to approve new housing; it's residents who are protesting, and their protests are mostly based on the lack of transport infrastructure to handle additional traffic. Of course, those residents are also opposed to transport improvement proposals, but then those proposals are mostly stupid. Fact is, building more homes won't solve the crisis, it'll only increase demand. Which isn't to say we shouldn't build them, just ... it won't solve the crisis.

4. A commenter elsewhere on a link to my Tolkien filming rights post says that the rights question isn't in doubt. But that's because the post that I'd linked to just finished establishing that.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

once more unto the Beagle

I wrote about the legal suit between author Peter S. Beagle and his former manager, Connor Cochran, nearly two years ago when it first appeared, but apart from one follow-up, I haven't had anything to say more recently.

Until now, when a pair of dueling statements from the two, on the question of whether Cochran co-wrote any of Beagle's work, appeared. And it occurred to me that, while they appear to be directly contradictory, I don't think they're necessarily incompatible.

Cochran reacts angrily to what he says is Beagle's statement that Cochran claims that he [Cochran] "wrote his [i.e. Beagle's] stories." (Are you lost yet? Good.) Cochran says that what he's been saying is that he "CO-wrote" (his emphasis) several stories published under Beagle's name.

But while Beagle's previous statement does say of Cochran, "But he did not write my stories, as he is now claiming publicly," the unsigned introduction which appeared with it clarifies that "Cochran is publicly claiming co-authorship." If the dates given by F770 are correct, this all appeared before Cochran's reply, and Cochran would have been better off treating Beagle's actual words as a misstatement rather than a lie.

What Beagle says Cochran was, was his editor. Cochran also says he was the editor of even the material he didn't co-write. Well, there are editors and there are editors. Some are very hands-on. I remember Isaac Asimov's account of his classic story "Nightfall," saying that there was one paragraph written and inserted, without Asimov's prior knowledge, by his editor, John W. Campbell, Jr. Asimov thought this paragraph clashed badly with its context in style and point of view (it contains the only reference to Earth in the story), but he accepted it as part of his story with his name on it.

That's a lot smaller of an intervention than Cochran says he did, but it shows what can be done and how it's credited. It's still Asimov's story even if that paragraph came from another hand. It was also Campbell who suggested the idea for the story and dictated its ending, as Asimov openly acknowledged, so "Nightfall" is part of the web of co-operation and collaboration that's true of almost all serious writing. It's still Asimov's story, though, his work and no one else's, as Beagle says about his own work.

Beagle says he got a lot of help from Cochran as an editor, that he's gotten a lot of help from a lot of editors over the years, but that his work is his work. He's very defensive about this, staking his claim even to his first novel from 1960, a work which is not in dispute in this case. Well, sure. Beagle's work is his, just as Asimov's is his, even if Cochran made major contributions to it. But Beagle's defensiveness is not proof that Cochran is right. In his place I'd feel even more defensive in reaction to an outright lie than to something with a grain of truth in it.

The clue, I think, lies in the paragraph Beagle quotes from the formal legal correspondence by his lawyer, Kathleen Hunt. This says nothing about the actual writing process. It's about copyright claim, the intent of Beagle and Cochran when working together, regardless of who actually did what. Hunt says, "there was no objective manifestation to create a work of joint authorship, [and] that the parties' conduct at the time the works were created suggests a clear intent not to create a work of joint authorship." And, as long as you read that as being about authorship credit and not about contribution to the product, it perfectly meshes with Cochran's statement, "Peter and I both thought that keeping my contribution to certain stories under wraps was the best thing for the Beagle literary 'brand.'" As I'm sure it was, if Cochran's claim is true. Even outright ghostwriting - which is not being claimed here - is kept under wraps; that's why it's called that. (If a book published under a celebrity's name has "As told to ..." on the t.p., it's not technically ghostwritten.)

But by doing that, by subsuming his contributions - whatever they may actually have been - under the mantle of editor, Cochran was consciously and deliberately giving up any claim to be the co-author of the story. He has no claim to moral ownership of the work. This is a matter of copyright law: if it has Beagle's name on it, it's Beagle's work. You can see the point by contrasting it with work for hire. In work for hire, nobody's arguing over who wrote the words, but the writer has given up any claim to own them. Unless there's a charge that the owner didn't abide by the contract, the writer has no further claim over the words.

That leaves the question of, so why is Cochran making this claim now? Why is he spreading around more widely what had previously been, in his words, "never public" and merely "not ... a strict secret"? Cochran made his public statement in reply to Beagle's defense, but Beagle isn't just reacting to a slightly wider rumor; there's Hunt's already-written letter to Cochran's lawyer to consider: it's a defense against a claim made in correspondence by the other lawyer.

Cochran says, as already quoted, why he "was never public about co-writing at the time," but he doesn't say why he's being public now. And what comes to my mind is, in Kathleen Hunt's legal language, "there can be little doubt that the sole purpose of your Correspondence was to fraudulently obtain authorship credit in the 27 Works in order to acquire leverage over my client in pending litigation."

And that's how I see it at the moment.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

two concerts reviewed

1. New Century Chamber Orchestra. This was a late call. When I looked at the program list, I didn't know what Stravinsky's "Concerto in re" - which is what they called it there - was. I thought it'd be his Violin Concerto of 1931, which is in D and which I could happily go a while without hearing again. On investigation I found a quite different and much better piece. At the concert itself, I was pleasantly surprised to find a performance at Oshman that didn't sound awful. It's been a while since I had one of those.

2. Morgenstern Trio. Pure happenstance that my annual DJ review at Kohl has been of a piano trio two years in a row, but this one fit my schedule, and I was curious about the Martin piece, new to me, and pleased to hear the others. As a fan of the Schubert Op 100 Andante, I've been inclined to dismiss that of Op 99, but this was a honey of a performance. I'm converted.

Having a live painter working to some of the music was quite the novelty. She was placed in such a way that probably only half the audience could see her, and most of them were not actually watching: painting isn't really as dynamic a process as playing violin, cello, or piano (not that most of those who could see the painter could also see the pianist). Half an hour is not long for work on a painting; fortunately, some of the painter's finished works were in the foyer, so at least I could see what sort of style she was aiming at.

Friday, November 17, 2017

not quite about Tolkien

I suppose I should say something about the recent spate of news articles to the effect that Amazon has contracted to make a tv series based on The Lord of the Rings.

I'm not really your go-to expert on matters like this. I got into Tolkien studies to study Tolkien and his works, not media spinoffs. Willy-nilly they have intruded themselves on my attention, and I've been warned that I count as an expert on the Jackson movies even though I really don't want to be one.

But I can say that the news reports have conveyed that this will not be a remake of The Lord of the Rings itself, but fan fiction prequels. Oh wacko. I shall probably have to avoid this. I'm a scholar; I already have to mentally juggle all of Tolkien's varying drafts and outlines. I can't deal with all of this as well. The human brain's multitudes are finite. Once in the back of John Rateliff's car I found a card deck for some Tolkien-based RPG. I started flipping through it idly, but when I realized it contained characters the deck-writers had made up, I hastily put it down. I cannot afford to have miscellanies like that cluttering up my head.

As for what the result will be like, I fear that this is less of a parody than it looks. Tolkien's legendarium is an enormous, widely-known, and even widely-loved creation; there's much that could be mined out of it.

The most curious question is, what authorized entity is responsible for conveying the rights to do this? News articles in the past have often confused the Tolkien Estate - the family-controlled entity that owns Tolkien's writings - with Middle-earth Enterprises (formerly Tolkien Enterprises), the company which owns the movie and associated marketing rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and which licensed them to New Line to produce the Jackson movies.

They're not associated. Tolkien sold the movie rights outright in 1969, and they eventually wound up in the hands of the late Saul Zaentz, who was the producer of the 1978 Bakshi movie and the creator of the firm that now owns those rights. It's this firm which is responsible for most of the trademark defense that's hit the news over the years, but it's the Estate that sued New Line for shafting it on royalties owed.

Since the Estate has no control over the LotR movie rights, its opinion on the topic is moot, though Christopher Tolkien, head of the family and his father's literary executor, has expressed his distaste for them. Because of this, and because of the historical confusion between the entities, the assumption was that the new project came from Middle-earth Enterprises, despite news references to the Estate.

But that apparently is wrong, and it has to do with the fact that the new series will be television, not movies, and will be inspired by other writings by Tolkien. Middle-earth Enterprises does not own rights to either of these aspects; the Estate retains that.

This article on a Tolkien bulletin board is the fullest I've seen, and looks the most reliable to my eye. It cites scholar Kristin Thompson on this. Despite Thompson's lack of comprehension of criticisms of the Jackson movies, I've found her well-versed on the facts of the history of the movie rights, so if she says this, I accept it.

That means, in turn, that the Estate did authorize this, and that brings up the other big news, which occurred nearly three months ago, but nobody noticed it until now. This is that Christopher Tolkien, who after all turns 93 next week, has resigned - retired, presumably - from his co-directorship of the Estate. There are six officers today, two lawyers from the firm that handles the rights, and four family members: Christopher's wife and elder son (the novelist Simon Tolkien), Christopher's sister Priscilla, and the son of Christopher and Priscilla's late brother Michael. Presumably some of these are less opposed to filmic enterprises.

It's worth remembering that the late Rayner Unwin, for many years Tolkien's extremely loyal publisher, with a great respect for the integrity of the works, nevertheless maintained, as a publisher with his eye, as it should have been, on profit, that to continue to sell Tolkien's works need be continually repackaged. New editions, new formats, new packaging, etc. This has continued since Unwin's time, and the licensing of new media productions could be seen as an extension of that.

Enough, however, of the quotation from one of Tolkien's letters to the effect that he wished for his mythology to "leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama." Nothing Tolkien ever wrote has been more selectively and misleadingly read. As for why this isn't the easy defense of media colonization that it looks, that will have to wait for another post.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

English suites no. 11

We've already had a suite by Elgar commissioned in 1930 in the names of the little princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. But they're not the only royal infants to be immortalized in this way. Let's move down a generation to 1948, when Michael Tippett wrote a Suite for the Birthday of Prince Charles. Not the birthday anniversary, the birthday.

Tippett was a modernist composer, but he could have a surprising populist side, such as the beautifully arranged American spirituals he inserted into his magnificent oratorio A Child of Our Time. This suite is a slightly spicy stew composed of a series of medieval religious and folk tunes of various origins. It's in five movements, identified on screen.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Santa Rosa and San Francisco

On my last trip to Santa Rosa, for a concert about six weeks ago, I took some extra time and drove around the hill residential areas above the town. I had a specific reason but that doesn't matter now. This was before the destructive fires swept through, and afterwards I wondered how well what I'd seen had survived. Tuesday I finally had a chance to go back. Big rains were expected to come through on Wednesday evening, so it was my last chance to get a pristine look (and, it turned out, to still smell the ghost of the ashy air). I no longer had access to the material by which I planned my earlier trip, but I followed my route by memory as best I could remember, and spent as many tourist dollars as I could reasonably manage.

Much of the lower hills had been untouched, and even when I entered the fire area within the rural zone, the damage was scattered. Trees and vineyards looked untouched, and while some homes were gone - invariably identifiable as home sites by the lonely stone chimneys sticking up - others were intact.

Only when I came down on Mark West Road to the flatlands did I find entire neighborhoods where all the homes were gone. That was a hideous spectacle and I passed through quickly. But across the major road, no apparent damage, even though the fire map suggested it was hit.

Strange patterns emerged. The Fountaingrove resort hotel, famously gone. The trailer park kitty-corner at the same major intersection, also (mostly) famously gone. The other two corners of the intersection, untouched. The supermarket where I'd bought lunch on my previous trip, on the edge of the fire zone, intact with a big sign saying it was open. The condos on the hill above it, apparently intact except for one building that appeared to have collapsed more than it had burned.

Around here, also, I saw the only scorched hillsides. This fire ignited more by floating cinders than by walls of flame, and that showed in the results.

I was back down in San Francisco in time for another event sponsored by Slate, my favorite political webzine. This one was less successful than the last. Apparently an attempt to produce a live version of a podcast - I hardly ever listen to podcasts; they just don't fit into my day - it consisted of four writers sitting around and chatting about current events for 90 minutes. Although I know their work (when they're not doing podcasts) and they're good writers, their remarks were neither so polished nor so witty as their writings, on top of the fact that none are trained speakers and it was often hard to make out what they were saying, and they jumped around between topics so much I couldn't remember much of what they said when I could deduce it. I'll be more selective of future offerings when Slate brings them to my city.