Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I am not certain when I became a fan of the Napoleonic Wars. I think that it all began when I started reading C.S. Forester's "Hornblower" novels. From there I went to Patrick O'Brian's novels and from thence to Alexander Kent's take on the same time period. I love the sea and the travels with these great fictional mariners turned out to be informative and entertaining. I ended up obtaining a series of books printed especially for sorts like me called the "Heart of Oak" novels. I was surprised how many otherwise reputable authors at some point in their careers opted to write a novel about the sea, and especially about the maritime wars between England and France. Eventually, however, the supply ran out and I went looking for something else in the same time frame. This is when I discovered Bernard Cornwall.

I had watched a couple of episodes on PBS, dramatizations of Cornwall's "Sharp" series. I think that I actually saw the pilot, "Sharp's Rifles", long before I discovered the books. The series traces the life of a commoner who, as a recruit in the British army in India, saved the life of an officer who would become Lord Wellington. Richard Sharp follows Wellington to Portugal, at the beginning of the battles against the French and Spanish that would eventually terminate in the great Battle of Waterloo wherein Napoleon would be defeated and exiled. Cornwall, a gifted writer, made each advancing step in the series a vibrant picture of early nineteenth century warfare, extraordinarily graphic, not intended for the faint of heart. As each advance through Portugal, Spain, and France transpires, Richard Sharp rises to the occasion and rises in rank until he serves as a field officer in Wellington's staff. It is a gripping and compelling history of a violent time.

In conjunction with the books I was reading, I was constantly reminded of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture", a piece that also evokes the same period of time. For whatever reason, I had always thought of the piece in conjunction with Waterloo, but of course, it was not written with that battle in mind. Tchaikovsky was celebrating the Battle of Borodino when the Russians defeated Napoleon's Grande Armee in the winter of 1812. The combined losses of the French and the Russians were in excess of 100,000, neither side obtaining complete success. With the onset of winter, however, what was left of the French army was literally decimated; only one tenth of the forces that invaded Russia survived to reach Poland on their return to France. The Overture was written in October and November of 1880, the premiere performance taking place
in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior (a church built to commemorate the battle) on 20 August 1882. Oddly enough, Tchaikovsky denigrated his own work by saying that it was "very loud and noisy, but [without] artistic merit, because I wrote it without warmth and without love". Ironically, it is one of the most performed and recorded of his works.

At this New Year's Eve, another connection with the Napoleonic Wars is possible. Years ago Dan Fogelberg wrote a song called "The Same Auld Lang Syne" a song that has currency to this day, even though a score of years have passed since he wrote it. Ostensibly, the lyrics are autobiographical. In Fogelberg's own words: "In 1975 or 76 I was home in Peoria, Illinois visiting my family for Christmas. I went to a convenience store to pick up some whipping cream to make Irish coffees with, and quite unexpectedly ran into an old high school girlfriend. The rest of the song tells the story." The girl was Jill Greulich with whom Dan Fogelberg had gone to high school. While the story line has some tenderness to it, the melody line was taken from the main theme of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture". I remember hearing Fogelberg confess that on that level, the song was a bit of a joke, a sentiment much like Tchaikovsky's. Again, ironically, there is probably no one song more frequently and consistently played on the air than "The Same Auld Lang Syne".

Same Old Lang Syne

Met my old lover in the grocery store,
The snow was falling Christmas Eve.
I stole behind her in the frozen foods,
And I touched her on the sleeve.

She didn't recognize the face at first,
But then her eyes flew open wide.
She went to hug me and she spilled her purse,
And we laughed until we cried.

We took her groceries to the checkout stand,
The food was totalled up and bagged.
We stood there lost in our embarrassment,
As the conversation dragged.

We went to have ourselves a drink or two,
But couldn't find an open bar.
We bought a six-pack at the liquor store,
And we drank it in her car.

We drank a toast to innocence,
We drank a toast to now.
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness,
But neither one knew how.

She said she'd married her an architect,
Who kept her warm and safe and dry,
She would have liked to say she loved the man,
But she didn't like to lie.

I said the years had been a friend to her,
And that her eyes were still as blue.
But in those eyes I wasn't sure if I saw,
Doubt or gratitude.

She said she saw me in the record stores,
And that I must be doing well.
I said the audience was heavenly,
But the traveling was hell.

We drank a toast to innocence,
We drank a toast to now.
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness,
But neither one knew how.

We drank a toast to innocence,
We drank a toast to time.
Reliving in our eloquence,
Another 'auld lang syne'......

The beer was empty and our tongues were tired,
And running out of things to say.
She gave a kiss to me as I got out,
And I watched her drive away.

Just for a moment I was back at school,
And felt that old familiar pain .........
And as I turned to make my way back home,
The snow turned into rain ..............

You can never go home, Dan; all you can do is become entangled in the history of the world.

Dan Fogelberg died on 16 December 2007 of prostate cancer. He was 56.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No Need to Say Goodbye

Music in films is a kind of magical synthesis of sound, rhythm, and feeling that amplifies visual meaning. Frequently the music of a motion picture becomes so identified with the story line that it is virtually impossible to think of one without sensing the other. Visual craftsmen, like Steven Spielberg, have sought for their musical counterparts, composers as talented as themselves in portraying the story in another medium. It is interesting to note that Spielberg has only released two films without a John Williams score. It should surprise no one that Williams composed all of the music for the first three "Harry Potter" movies, the "Indiana Jones" franchise, and the Christopher Reeves "Superman" movies.

It is hard to imagine a Tim Burton film without a score written by Danny Elfman: "Beetlejuice", "Batman", "Batman Returns", "Edward Scissorhands", "Mars Attacks", "Sleepy Hollow", "Planet of the Apes", "Corpse Bride" and others, including "Alice in Wonderland" to be released in 201o. Elfman's prodigious talents appear in other films as well, including "Mission Impossible", "Men in Black", "Good Will Hunting", "Spiderman", "Nacho Libre", "Charlotte's Web", "Kingdom", "Wanted", and, of course, the theme from the "Simpsons".

Jimmy Webb may not be as well known as Williams and Elfman, but his composing skills have made an indelible mark on the minds and hearts of those who remember the haunting melodies of "The Last Unicorn", the animated version of Peter S. Beagle's masterpiece. The title song, "Man's Road", "In the Sea", and "That's All I've Got to Say" convey the central wonder of the book and the film. They have become inexorably connected.

In the shadow of the forest
Though she may be old and worn
They will stare unbelieving
At the Last Unicorn

Mike Batt's "Bright Eyes", for the movie "Watership Down", particularly Art Garfunkel's rendition of it, is unforgettable.

Is it a kind of a dream
Floating out on the tide
Following the river of death downstream
Or is it a dream?

Does anyone remember the composer for the three "Lord of the Rings" movies? Howard Shore. But no one can forget "In Dreams". What a wonder it was to hear "Aniron" and "It May Be" for the first time, stunned at the performance. I stood in the theater throughout the entire rolling of the credits just to see if Enya really had been singing Shore's pieces. Howard Shore also scored the movies "Silence of the Lambs", "Mrs. Doubtfire", "Se7en", "The Last Mimzey", and "The Aviator", among others.

I had another "rolling of the credits" moment the other night as I watched for the first time the latest remake of "Prince Caspian". Regina Spektor's "The Call" snared me completely. I am not certain that I really like everything that Regina has done in her music, but "The Call" has become integral to my appreciation of C.S Lewis' masterpieces in the "Chronicles of Narnia". I listened to it over and over again, and then went on the internet to find out more about Ms. Spektor. What a powerful thing it is to have the senses blended together forever in a period of four minutes or less!

It started out as a feeling, which then grew into a hope.
which then turned to a quiet thought
which then turned into a quiet word.
And then that word grew louder and louder, till it was a Battle Cry
I'll come back, when you call me. No need to say goodbye.

Just because everything's changing
doesn’t mean its never been this way before
All you can do is try to know who your friends are
as you head off to the war.
Pick a star on the dark horizon and follow the light
You'll come back, when its over
No need to say goodbye
you'll come back, when its over
no need to say goodbye

Now we're back to the beginning
It's just a feeling and no one knows yet
but just because they can’t feel it too doesn’t mean that you have to forget
Let your memories grow stronger and stronger,
till they're before your eyes.
You'll come back when they call you
no need to say goodbye
You'll come back when they call you
no need to say goodbye.

I think that is what music does to us... the memory of that wonderful synthesis between sight and sound... no need to say goodbye.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Two Gigs and a Byte

Over forty years ago, Pat Simonson, Linda Benson, and I formed a folk group that we called the "Antiquities". The name was supposed to be ironic; all of us were in our early twenties. It was a time of folk music; we were sort of on the leading edge of the whole movement. We sang songs from the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bud and Travis, Ian and Sylvia, and Bob Dylan, among others. We performed all over northern Wisconsin and Central Minnesota. We did a little bit of television and radio, and a lot of concerts. We actually got paid for our efforts at times. If I may say so, we were really quite good. We won talent contests and were featured performers at folk fests of one sort or another. The whole thing came to an abrupt end when Linda got married and I headed off to southern Mexico for two years. During my absence Pat kept performing and by the time I returned home, she had made a name for herself in St. Paul. We had a couple of agents hankering for our talents, but I decided to get married and go to Utah to go to school.

Rocky Mountain Water tastes so fresh and fine
Rocky Mountain Water tastes so fresh and fine
Well if I don't get some of that Rocky Mountain Water
I declare I'm going to lose my mind
Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine
"The Antiquities" (by way of the Upper Noblick Ten Thousand)

About seventeen years ago, Jon Woodhead and I collaborated on a number of songs and performed around Simi Valley, California, for a time. We called ourselves "J.P. Legrande". The name was derived from our first initials and my dad's middle name. Jon is an accomplished musician, having been on the road with the likes of Leon Russell and Mariah Carey. We genuinely liked each other and spent hours working on several songs which we recorded in his front room using my Fostex recording equipment. A few years ago I resurrected the best of our work and produced a CD called "Rolling Home". In 1993, I was transferred to New Mexico and he eventually ended up performing just outside of Denver, Colorado, playing the blues that he loves so much. Jon had all the right connections, but for the second time in my life, I avoided entering into the profession.

Hear her cry, hear her moan
Rollin' by, going home
Through the lonely, clouded darkness
Rollin' home
J.P. LeGrande (by way of PNH)

During the time that I worked at UVSC, Shydandelion and I had the opportunity to perform publicly at various talent shows. We did songs from Nanci Griffith, Cat Stevens, and others to entertain the troops. We had a lot of fun. I retired and SD got married and began to have children.

Oh, trouble set me free
I have seen your face
and it'd too much, too much for me
Zaphod and Shy (by way of Cat Stevens)

About four or five months ago we found out that Jen and her family were coming to Utah, and actually ended up less than a hundred yards from our home here in Orem. We decided to do something that we had not done before. We formed a singing group, which we are calling "The Forest for the Trees". We have been practicing traditional Christmas songs for the past six weeks or so, and last Tuesday night we made our first performance at a Church Christmas party. I guess it was okay, for all that I could tell. Last night we went to the hospital to perform for T-ma. We sang the same set that we did Tuesday. Several of the nurses complimented us on our music. I was actually standing so I could here the others, and so I could heartily agree. The doctor on duty, a tall, gangly, grey-haired fellow stuck his head in the room and said, "Hey you guys are really good. Are you recording artists?" I said that we were going to lay down some tracks in the next week or so. "So are you guys performing somewhere? Are you on tour?" I had been waiting for this setup for a month.

"No," I replied. "We probably will never perform professionally; so it really is impossible to see 'The Forest for the Trees'." Goooooood onnnnne!!!!

Sleep my child and peace attend thee
all through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee
all through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
hill and vale in slumber sleeping
God His loving vigil keeping
all through the night
The Forest for the Trees (by way of Nick Reynolds)

I am really glad that I have never made it big performing. I know and understand the attraction of singing well before an audience of 10,000 and have them all be appreciative. I also know what it feels like to sing at a dinner club where most of the customers have had far too much to drink. I also have performed when everyone else was preoccupied with their neighbors and when I packed up my guitars and slipped out of the room, no one really noticed.

What I do enjoy, is singing with others who really like to sing, who enjoy harmony as much as they do singing lead, who can take advice from individuals outside our foursome so that we sound better together. We sang well enough last night that we went to Village Inn to celebrate. I had French toast. I felt like toasting us all.