web analytics

Happy Hanukkah, y’awl

Here’s a first-day-of-Hanukkah treat: Tom Lehrer has released his entire catalogue into the public domain, no strings.

I, Tom Lehrer, and the Tom Lehrer Trust 2007, hereby grant the following permissions:

All copyrights to lyrics or music written or composed by me have been relinquished, and therefore such songs are now in the public domain. All of my songs that have never been copyrighted, having been available for free for so long, are now also in the public domain.

It’s a very Tom Lehrer sort of thing to do.

The site opened November 1st and a notice says it won’t be up for long, so download ’em if you want ’em. (Note: if you go to download the albums as .rar files, The Remains of Tom Lehrer (disc 1) is missing. I’ve tried writing to them about it, but I can’t find contact info).

If you don’t know him (and we’re all a bit young for it) he was a mathematician who had success in the Fifties writing and performing biting and seriously funny satirical songs. There he is above singing National Brotherhood Week.

By the Seventies, he decided he didn’t want to do it any more and vanished, stage left. Went back to teaching math, leaving (barely) a trace. He’s 94.

A Christmas Carol

Christmas time is here, by golly,
Disapproval would be folly,
Deck the halls with hunks of holly,
Fill the cup and don’t say “when.”
Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens,
Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens,
Even though the prospect sickens,
Brother, here we go again.

On Christmas Day you can’t get sore,
Your fellow man you must adore,
There’s time to rob him all the more
The other three hundred and sixty-four.

Relations, sparing no expense’ll
Send some useless old utensil,
Or a matching pen and pencil.
“Just the thing I need! how nice!”
It doesn’t matter how sincere it
Is, nor how heartfelt the spirit,
Sentiment will not endear it,
What’s important is the price.

Hark the Herald Tribune sings,
Advertising wondrous things.
God rest ye merry, merchants,
May you make the Yuletide pay.
Angels we have heard on high
Tell us to go out and buy!

So let the raucous sleigh bells jingle,
Hail our dear old friend Kris Kringle,
Driving his reindeer across the sky.
Don’t stand underneath when they fly by.

December 19, 2022 — 7:50 pm
Comments: 11

Behold, I have found it!

The ultimate redneck song title: Heart Like a Truck.

I got a heart like a truck
It’s been drug through the mud
Runs on dreams and gasoline
And that old highway holds the key
It’s got a lead foot down when it’s leavin’
Lord knows it’s taken a hell of a beatin’
A little bit of love is all that it’s needin’
But it’s good as it is tough
I got a heart like a truck

Though for the ultimate redneck song lyric, I’d go with Garth Brooks: “Papa loved Mama, Mama loved men/Mama’s in the graveyard, Papa’s in the pen.” (Heard that when I was driving across Nashville years ago and almost went off the road).

Yes, I’ve been listening to country music radio lately. Our kitchen radio is tuned to Classic FM, which is middle- to low-brow light classical. (“They play movie music,” sniffs Uncle B). Lately, though, they’ve been playing lots of mawkish tinkly piano music – the kind of thing they use as background music for mindfulness meditation apps. No thanks.

Radio 3 has got a more sophisticated playlist, but they’re also the station most likely to indulge itself in the occasional hour of atonal mood music on the Peruvian nose flute.

Thanks to the Internet, I have choices! There was a country station in Providence I really liked. I’ve been frustrated trying to find it again, but I have just found it at last: WCTK-FM Cat Country. The fun part of that is trying to remember all the places in the traffic reports and all the stores in the ads. It’s fading fast, y’all.

Oh, but I have even older braincells! Been streaming one of my favorite old stations from Nashville: 103.3 WKDF. Though I have a strong feeling it was a rock station in my youth. I wouldn’t have been caught dead as a 16 year old Nashvillian listening to a country station.

I can occasionally remember some of these places, though Nashville has changed enormously, especially in the last twenty years. The last time I tried to drive there it scared the poop out of me.

Have a good weekend, everyone. Going to be viciously cold in Old Blighty.

December 9, 2022 — 8:16 pm
Comments: 13

This is cool!

No, no…not VR this time. Well, kinda, but not *my* VR.

I was searching YouTube for a version of Hungarian Rhapsody (yes, I’m that bored. I must be getting better) and I found this guy’s channel. He plays piano, and the music unspools above him like a glowing player piano roll.

Seriously, go look. It explains itself. Start with a piece of music you know well and then try one you don’t. I almost feel like I could read the notes after a while.

I failed badly at piano lessons. People who can read music are witches, simple as that.

I tried to work out how he does this. He mentions at one point that his LEDs had failed him, but I think the stuff at the top is post-production voodoo. He linked to a friend’s channel who does the same thing, but on a much smaller scale.

I’m kind of hypnotized by it, to be honest.

Feeling much better today. I’m sure I’ll be back hard at it Monday. Have a good weekend, everyone!

March 25, 2022 — 6:40 pm
Comments: 15

Goodnight, Miss Kappelhoff

I know what you’re thinking — that doesn’t look like Doris Day! I nicked it from the Wikipedia article (which also says she’s 97, though most of the articles I read said 95).

She’s gone, anyway. And a very decent sort of lady she seemed, too.

Once upon a time, I collected 78 rpm records. One day, I picked up a few of Doris Day’s thinking, “ha ha — it’s Doris Day!” Ignorant little minx, me. In fact, she was a highly successful torch singer before she went to Hollywood and seriously debated with herself whether she’d rather sing than act.

I won’t opine on the debate, but I’d like to share my favorite Doris Day record: Say Something Nice About Me. A superficially sweet song with a deeply bitter aftertaste.

And, of course, Uncle Al won the dick. I expect to see you all back here Friday. 6pm WBT. DEAD POOL ROUND 121.

May 13, 2019 — 9:28 pm
Comments: 14

Presented without remark



This song came across my feed today. I present it without comment. Never heard it before, not going to favorite it, but I am — I admit this — an unironic, unapologetic fan of R Crumb and the Cheap Suit Serenaders.

Yes, I have some inkling what a perv Crumb is. Please not to be telling me details. I like this music.

I have all his albums but the first one which, as far as I was aware, was never re-issued on CD.

But wait — I’m wrong! Looky here. It was reissued. In 2002. In…Japan?

Oh, Japan! I ain’t paying £250 for a Robert Crumb album.

January 15, 2018 — 8:58 pm
Comments: 13

…and then the band…


The Morris dancers were dancing to this snappy quartet. I have to assume the tuba is not generally a part of English folk music.

Is that a tuba? Or is it one of the odd ones, like a ‘baritone horn’ or something? My dad played a mystery horn of about that size toward the end of his life. He was very deaf. Said it helped him with his breath. Ye gods, was that fun to be around.

Short shrift again tonight. I’ve been cleaning closets. This is a bit of a lie, as they don’t have closets here.

They don’t have closets here. Let that sink in a moment.

But we have several funny little dead-end alcoves where shit gets stuffed haphazardly, waiting for the inevitable shit avalanche. It is now sorted into varieties of shit and stacked in neat boxes.

October 25, 2017 — 9:29 pm
Comments: 15

Physics. Huh.


Here’s an article about the physics of the banjo. Specifically, why it twangs.

It starts thusly: “Today, we get an answer thanks to the work of David Politzer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who in his spare time, is a Nobel prize-winning theoretical physicist.” Call me crazy, but I’m guessing theoretical physicist is his day job and this banjo thing is something he does in his spare time, but that’s about the last thing I understood.

It’s fucking physics, man. Of course I didn’t understand it.

This I got. I think. If a sound vibration is matched with a vibration that is similar and several tens of hertz higher, it sounds plinky. You can (apparently) make this happen in Audacity by making a sound and screwing with it. It doesn’t apply to things like guitars and violins because wood tops aren’t as springy as a banjo head.

But I got all tangled up in the difference between the frequency of the sound and the frequency of the vibration. And that made me feel stupid. And that made me sad.

Don’t be sad, Weasel! It’s the weekend!

February 24, 2017 — 8:41 pm
Comments: 18

RIP Dr Stanley


Ralph Stanley died last week, and that’s an end to all the original men of Bluegrass, I suppose.

I know it doesn’t seem like it, but Bluegrass was strictly a Twentieth Century musical style. It borrowed heavily from traditional music, of course, but it was a highly formalized and particular form that started with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys (hence the name), particularly when Earl Scruggs joined them in 1945.

Stanley and his brother Carter had performed together since the late Forties, though Carter drank himself to death in the Sixties. Their sound was very heavily Appalachian. Ralph’s singing style was typical of the genre — a high-pitched, whining sort of sound called “high lonesome” and often compared to a ghost wailing through a forest. It’s eerie. And probably an acquired taste.

Listen to the chorus of The Fields Have Turned Brown to hear what I mean.

Stanley’s career had a sudden resurgence late in life when he did the soundtrack for the Coen Brothers’ film O Brother Where Art Thou. The album — particularly the song Man of Constant Sorrow — was a surprise hit.

As a personal aside, I hated that fucking film. It was the beginning of the end for me and the Coen Brothers. Films like Fargo poked fun of people but seemed to do it with affection, but O Brother was full of tone deafness and sneering contempt. But good on Ralph for ending his life on a high note (oh, pun, I suppose).

And thus a sad footnote to a strange week. Good weekend, everyone!

July 1, 2016 — 9:17 pm
Comments: 13



At the stroke of midnight I made my deadline! I hate to take on freelance work and never solicit it, but when I get axed I don’t know how to say no. Particularly as it’s a display for a local charity.

Charities. Making you feel guilty since…forever.

Anyhoo, in the comments to the previous post, the question came up — why does that banjo have four strings, but six tuners? See, this is why I love British banjos. They’re so gosh-darned weird.

That is actually a five-string banjo, and it’s strung typically for a zither banjo. Observe the headstock in the picture above (a banjo of mine, and one that I’m convinced was made out of a piano stool).

Four strings go directly from the headstock, across the nut to the bridge. One goes into a little hole (indicated by the arrow), under the fingerboard in a tube, and pops out at the fifth fret. That’s called a ‘tunneled fifth.’

And the sixth peg? Just for show. Some British banjo makers claimed that three pegs on one side and two on the other just wouldn’t look aesthetically pleasing, so they made the tuners pointlessly symmetrical.

I once suspected that this was boolsheet and they did it because standard three-on-a-side tuners were mass produced and cheaper, but you sometimes see this arrangement on the fanciest and most expensive of zither banjos. So…artard, I guess.

Sorry I gave you short shrift this week. What the hell is shrift, come to think of it? Oh. Google says it’s confession, like to a priest. If you give shrift, you are shriven. Okay. Back here tomorrow, 6pm WBT — DEAD POOL ROUND 86!

June 9, 2016 — 11:10 pm
Comments: 7

Mine! All mine!


Look at this fugly beast. JUST LOOK AT IT! This is probably the ugliest banjo I’ve ever seen, and now it belongs to me.

Well, it will do, if the eBay seller ever puts it in the post. The suspense is killing me.


If I’d known Britain was the Land of Goofy Banjos, I’d have moved here years ago. This will be goofy banjo number ten, if anyone is keeping score (eleven, if I manage to pull off the ukulele conversion I’ve been playing with). Though technically, this one is (probably) Swiss. From the description:

Here is my uncles old banjo he had in his shed I don’t know exactly how old it is but I’m 50 and remember he had when we were kids my auntie said that he bought it backdrop abroad before she knew him when he was in the army and she thinks it was Switzerland and can only remember him say he got it off an old man on a farm who made it for his loved one

That’s right, it’s a lurve banjo.

It’s a proper five string. Four store-bought ones either side, and then see that peg in the middle? The one that looks like it was chewed out of a rutabaga by a frenzied mink? That’s the fifth string peg: the string goes under the fretboard below the nut and pops out again at the fifth fret (that little white dot is the fifth-string nut). Very common feature in goofy British banjos (actually, a tunneled fifth is now an option on custom-made fine American banjos, one of which this emphatically isn’t).

These old things often don’t age well, owing to some of their more eccentric design features. But, then, they don’t cost much, either. And it’s not like they’re musical instruments or anything.

March 1, 2016 — 9:15 pm
Comments: 13