Category Archives: Music

One Toke Over the Line

Way back in 1970, Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley recorded “One Toke Over the Line”. Spiro Agnew called the two subversives because of the song’s drug references, but it was a really good song. Come on, Spiro, a little perspective. They were only singing about pot. Alcohol and refined sugar do a lot more damage, and they’re both legal, as is selling guns to deranged people. But I digress.

Brewer and Shipley 1970

“One Toke” is still a good song, and they’re still singing it. They look a little different, although I think Tom looks pretty hot.

Brewer and Shipley 2016

It was such a good song that Gail and Dale covered it on the Lawrence Welk Show.

One Toke Cream Cheese

Those two are so wholesome I could sprinkle them on my morning oatmeal. Where can I get myself a butterfly apron like that?

Maestro Welk referred to the song as “a modern spiritual.” He and the producers must have heard “sweet Jesus” and “sweet Mary” and assumed it was a gospel song. Too bad they were too lazy to ask someone what “toke” means. I’ll bet any of the musicians in the band could have told them. Maybe Gail and Dale knew, too, and that’s why they’re smiling. But those smiles strike me more as “Honk if you love Jesus” than “Pass me the bong.”

Wholesome, healthy family entertainment. Remember “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom”? Or “The Wonderful World of Disney”? Those programs made Sunday evenings the holy Mecca of the week. I remember being young enough that I was allowed to watch Disney but had to go straight to bed after it ended. I don’t remember watching Lawrence Welk, but I doubt champagne music would have appealed to me as a kid. As an adult, I can’t stand it and have always hated accordions, Welk’s chosen instrument of torture. Honestly, I’d rather listen to off-key bagpipes.

These days, the clock ticks past 8:30 and I am ready for bed. The word “weary” has taken on new meaning. From tomorrow, I have to push myself through three more weeks of radiation and then my poor body will finally be allowed to rest. I’ve been pumping it full of drugs and poison and nuclear fallout for ten months. Enough, already. It feels like I’m several dozen tokes over the line.

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Little known fact: Lawrence Welk talked funny because English was his second language. He grew up in the German speaking community of Strasburg, North Dakota. I had always assumed he was Italian, “A-one and a-two…”

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Amazing Grace

Karen and Ra
That’s Karen raising her magnificent voice toward the sky. Ra is standing at the back.

When I walked into the theater last night, Karen and Ra were in the hallway outside the dressing rooms. Karen plays Miss Watson and has all the heart and soul you might expect in someone from Northern Ireland. Ra is the gentle giant who plays Jim the escaped slave.

When I walked into the theater last night, Karen and Ra were in the hallway outside the dressing rooms. They were singing Amazing Grace, a song I have always loved. Karen has the kind of voice that reaches inside you and turns you inside out and Ra’s is deep and warm and flows like the Mississippi River. Everything shy inside me turned to quivery jello. My first impulse was to smile and walk away, leaving them in peace.

When I walked into the theater last night, Karen and Ra, both of whom I liked instantly when I met then, were in the hallway outside the dressing rooms singing Amazing Grace. I joined in and sang it with them.

The jello melted.

Twain quote

There’s one more performance tonight and two tomorrow. Last chance!

Lost in Translation

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I had to go to a meeting at the Shinjuku Mitsui building yesterday. It’s got a large lobby and an outdoor terrace, both of which are occasionally stages for mini concerts. This time there was a grand piano, a man in a tux and a woman in an evening gown. When I came in, she was singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, in English, and quite well, I might add but I can’t imagine why she chose that particular song. Then she sang a special Christmas medley including Joy to the World, Silent Night and Rudolph, all in Japanese.

I once saw a US military band performing there. No explanation, but I suppose it’s got something to do with neighborhood relations, except that the “neighborhood” is a bunch of other tall office buildings and a couple of ritzy hotels, including the Keio Plaza, where they filmed Lost in Translation, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

I tried to enjoy the concert, but it’s disconcerting (nyar, nyar, nyar) when Rudolph has an akai hana instead of a red nose. The whole experience gave me a brief reality jolt. I guess some things just get lost in translation.

Blown Away

Yesterday, we went to a shakuhachi concert held in a Catholic church during a typhoon.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAOur friend Alec, the one in the middle, invited us. The church was surreal, with a Japanese priest and a primarily Philippine congregation.  We arrived in time to catch the tail end of the afternoon mass and I realized I had never been inside a Catholic church before, except as a tourist, but we duly stood and sat as instructed and it was over soon enough.

I’ve always been fond of wind instruments in general, and the shakuhachi in specific. It’s just a bamboo tube with some holes drilled in it, and it’s played using only the five tone Chinese scale, yet by varying the angle they blow across the mouthpiece, wiggling their¬† heads around in weird ways and partially covering the finger holes, players can achieve variations of sound that are quite astonishing. A lot of it is based on sounds existing in nature, so if you close your eyes you can hear the wing flaps of soaring birds, the cajoling flow of water over rocks in a shallow river, the haunting, lilting cries of small animals in pain or fear, the wailing of high winds through mountaintop trees. The tones range from bottom-of-the-ocean deep to make-you-cringe shrill. Alec managed to create the sound of a nesting crane using the way you roll an R in Spanish.

They played a variety of songs. Some were traditional, although I wouldn’t be able to tell you if this is sheet music or a restaurant menu.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe tall guy, Chris, is a composer and arranged this somewhat less traditional piece.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAYup. Look closely. That’s I Feel Good by James Brown, highly stylized. I didn’t recognize it beyond “gosh, that sounds familiar”, until I saw the sheet music.

The only negative was the two little girls sitting two pews ahead of us stuffing their faces with potato chips and shrimp crackers all the way through the concert. They should consider themselves lucky that there was an old lady in the intervening pew, because otherwise we might have clunked their skulls together. Their mother was too busy playing with her phone to notice so we probably could have gotten away with it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty groovy way to spend a blustery Sunday afternoon. And when was the last time anyone got to use the words “shakuhachi”, “Catholic church” and “typhoon” all in one sentence?