why should I have to do all the heavy lifting? exactly!
It’s been a while since I fobbed you off with something that’s not by me so that I can bask in unmerited, reflected glory. Thus, as I continue my phase of white-hot creativity—which is getting expensive, what with daily washing of the perspiration-soaked singlets and the purchase of giant tubs of styling goop so I can wrangle the few remaining wisps of fine, mouse-colored hair that aren’t sprouting from my auricles or nostrils—I take this well-deserved commercial break to share with you a piece of musical satire, a classic, and one of my favorites.
Classical pianist is just one of my protean guises, and if I didn’t exactly turn the world upside down with my not-quite-talented-enough talent, music is in my blood, my alveoli and my semi-collapsed internal organs, so, pretty essential to my existence.
Anna Russell, who wanted to become a singer but found that people laughed when she opened her mouth, wisely chose to make her almost adequate voice and plummy speaking manner into her minimum viable product. It turned out to be not only viable, but a worldwide sensation and her life’s work. A career, in fact.
Let The Guardian explain, in this excerpt from her obit:
… it was a disastrous experience as an understudy in a touring production of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana that first showed Russell what could be made of operatic parody. As the tragic heroine, she was supposed to be cast to the floor by the diminutive tenor; not anticipating her to be so heavy, he fell himself, bringing down part of the scenery, and causing such merriment that the performance came to a halt.The Guardian, 24 Oct 2006; byline: Patrick O’Connor
In fact, I’m doing sort of the same thing, just with a few frustrating, aimless decades in between the realization and the act. My Ph.D. in Procrastination, which I achieved Magna Cum Laude, or at least, I will when I get around to emailing my thesis to my advisor, which means I should probably decide on a topic, was a key factor in the success which I’m sure is just around the corner, someday.
“For the singer with no voice, but great artistry”
If you love classical music, if you hate classical music, or even if you’ve never heard of classical music – there’s something here for you. This excerpt from the late, great Anna Russell’s best known and best album will have you in stitches.
Russell skewers the German Lied and the French “art song” to devastating effect, and leaves a sophisticated New York audience of the 1950’s – possibly the last decade of the 20th century when knowledge of classical music was de rigueur for anyone aspiring to be considered educated and well-rounded – with, as they say, not a dry seat in the house.
Her German Lied takes the tired trope of “doesn’t German sound funny to English ears” and while not exactly making it less corny, takes it to hysterical new heights with a consonant-bristling climax, somewhere between an orgasm and a sneeze, on the word “Schnecken!!”; her French art song, with an accompaniment on the piano that wanders, like Debussy in the last throes of dementia, through a fog of confused, “Impressionist” harmonies, takes phrase-book French and pastes together a saucy collage from which we can glean that the artist has enjoyed a bit of home cookin’ followed by a bit on the side from the hotel cleaning staff:
"Go find the concierge
and politely ask him
to give this tip
to the valet de chambre..."
I give Anna 20% on the bill, and keep the change.
As Winnie the Pooh once said: buzy backson