Friday, September 26, 2008

Obama's tin ear

I think Obama has blown any chance he might have had to win the election with a single ill-chosen word, which is revealed in my latest guest-post at


[Copied here for archival purposes on November 5, 2008, from the post linked above at]

(Guest Post by Bill Dyer a/k/a Beldar)

This is just so wrong!

Met at [his Senate office] door by a few reporters, [Barack Obama] answered a key question — at least for his generation.

"Beatles or Stones?" asked a Congressional Quarterly reporter.

"Stones," Obama replied.

(Hyperlinks mine.) I would have thought this was something on which, during this time of crisis, we could get cross-generational, bipartisan agreement. But Sen. Obama disappoints, yet again.

— Beldar

Posted by Beldar at 12:08 AM in Humor, Music/Arts, Obama | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Meanwhile, in the convention hall

As I type this, the sound system from the GOP convention floor is cranked up all the way, playing Heart's galloping mega-hit from 1977 (my college graduation year, yay!)  — "Barracuda."

All of the GOP delegates are transported with enthusiasm. This is classic rock and roll, but this is not your daddy's Republican Party. They're singing along with the Wilson sisters' harmonies, but kind of vague on the lyrics, except for the end of each verse, when they lip-sync along along: "Bar-ah-COO-dah!"

If you read the actual lyrics though, this clearly is a song to be sung by Barack Obama. He's just realized that he's about to be ambushed from the weeds by the Barracuda, and forced to his knees. Not long ago, he and "the porpoise" (Joe Biden, pre-hair plugs) were just "Selling a song," with "no right, no wrong" — just playing "a whisper game" involving a "name." This is clearly a reference to the "McSame" meme on which they were relying so much. And "sell me, sell you," the porpoise and the singer croon to each other in close harmony. Oh, yeah: It's about Obama and Biden, all right.

But the singer has to dive down deep to save his head, presumably from the Barracuda, which gives both him and the porpoise the blues. Sounds about right: I suspect last night, Obama's head felt like it was ready to explode as those zingers landed. Then they tried to flee by swimming "all that night and all the next" (clearly referring to Wednesday night's speech by Palin and tonight's by McCain) to the "western pools," but the singer recognizes they were "silly fools" to do that — Alaska being our western-most non-island state, with our longest shoreline and pools aplenty.

Finally, unless the "real thing" is a veiled reference to Coca-Cola, I suspect the lines about that, and burning "it" (i.e., their chances) down to the wick, are the singer addressing the porpoise again, rather than the Barracuda. The singer wants the supposedly older and wiser porpoise to "make up something quick" if the porpose's own limited powers of speech and debate can't carry the day in a verbal duel with the Barracuda. In which event, the repeated and final line, "Ooooh, barracuda" becomes understandable as a lament, a warning, sung by ... chum.

And to think just how many times I've listened to this song over the last thirty years without realizing how profound it would become! And the background in this video (from back when the Wilson sisters were both incredibly hot) shows that, yes, it's patriotic!

[Edit: I've deleted the You-Tube video I had originally embedded at this point in this post. Apparently, having now gotten old and cranky and (in Ann's case) fat, the liberal Wilson sisters, Ann and Nancy, regret having written their prescient song about Sarah Palin and the Obama-Biden ticket back in 1977, and they've proven themselves to be humorless twits, with their knickers (doubtless old-lady polyester ones now) all bunched up in a copyright-enforcement twist (h/t Snapped Shot). In my humble legal opinion, having failed to send take-down notices for any of the dozen or more versions of this song available on You-Tube for many months and maybe longer, they've long since waived their rights to object now. But the irony is that in all probability, Sarah Palin's poplularity is going to be responsible for Heart's current CD/download sales of this old classic song probably doubling or tripling in the near term. Morally and equitably, if not legally, they ought to be sharing revenue with her! As for my references to their lyrics in this post, they are certainly "fair use" for a non-revenue-producing politically oriented website like mine. They stay, because the song is clearly about Palin, Obama, and Biden! — Beldar, Fri Sep 5 @ 11:15am.]

These GOP delegates are not a-skeered anymore about the notion of their Veep nominee debating Joe Biden, or Barack Obama for that matter. No, indeed, they're ready to start the pre-debate tail-gate party. Right now. Bring it, Slow Joe!

Many of us didn't even know how politically comatose we were. This is like being brought back from a long period of drugged unconsciousness, only to find out that while we were asleep, we all won the lottery! Pardon us if we feel a little bit giddy.

Ooooooooh, Sarah-Bara-COO-dah!

[Further update: The RNC says it "paid for and obtained" all necessary licenses. Re-reading the Wilson sisters' notice, it appears they are asserting only a "taste" objection, as in "We don't like Republicans and it makes us feel icky if they use our music." Sorry, sisters, but if that's all you got, you got nothin'. Rock on, Sarah Barracuda! — Beldar, Fri Sep 5 @ 7:00pm.]

Posted by Beldar at 07:24 PM in 2008 Election, McCain, Music/Arts, Obama, Palin, Politics (2008) | Permalink | Comments (19)

Monday, July 21, 2008

And the band marched on

On Outside the Beltway, Dr. James Joyner posted today a story (with an embedded video clip that, alas, appears to have already been zapped from YouTube) entitled Army Band Hit By Skydiver, Marches On. It reminded me of an incident that I witnessed in Austin at the Texas/Texas A&M football game during Thanksgiving Weekend in 1974.

I was a high-school senior visiting the UT-Austin campus where I planned to enroll the next year. And I already had my application on file to join the Longhorn Band's trumpet section (following in the footsteps of my older brother), so I was certainly looking forward to the halftime performance of the Showband of the Southwest (not pictured below!).

Fightin' Texas Aggie Band, 2007

It was a cold, blustery day, and the portents were grim. A&M entered the game as heavy favorites with only one prior Southwest Conference loss (to SMU) and a high national poll ranking. The Longhorns' season, by contrast, was already a comparative disappointment that included a remarkable loss to Baylor in Waco. Eaking out a tie for second place and spoiling the Aggies' post-season bowl plans was the best we UT fans could hope for. But the Texas/Texas A&M game was, after all, a yearly rivalry that dates back to 1894, the third-longest among NCAA Division 1-A teams. Whatever's happened earlier in the year, neither school ever has any difficulty in gathering up enthusiasm to play the other.

If I recall correctly, the Ags fumbled the opening kickoff and it was returned by UT for a touchdown. The Horns kicked off again, and on the Ags' first or second play from scrimmage, Texas intercepted and ran it back for a TD. Again Texas kicked off, but after another Aggie fumble, their stunned defense managed to hold the Horns to a field goal. Thus was the highly-favored A&M team down by 17-0 less than two minutes into the game. The game went on to be a UT rout, 32 to 3. With the loss, the Aggies' Cotton Bowl plans evaporated, and in fact they went to no bowl game at all that year. (The Horns went on to the Gator Bowl, which but for the lesser bowl prestige, the LHB vastly preferred to yet another trip to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl anyway).

The Aggie Band, however, insists that they have never lost a half-time, no matter what the scoreboard reads.  And by some very specific and narrow standards, that's probably true. Although we in the Longhorn Band often kidded and teased the Fightin' Aggie Band, beneath that we held a genuine respect for their great tradition and their marching precision. As to their creativity and their overall musicianship, eh, not so much. But they did the particular things which they prided themselves on doing very well indeed.

In particular, the Aggie Band drills and drills on marching in big, traditional block-band formations — none of this modern stuff with curved lines! Precise six-to-five strides, straight lines, and sharp corners are their stock-in-trade every year. Per a Wikipedia entry:

The Fightin' Texas Aggie Band (also known as The Noble Men of Kyle or the Aggie Band) is the official marching band of Texas A&M University. Composed of over 400 men and women from the school's Corps of Cadets, it is the largest military marching band in the world. The complex straight-line maneuvers, performed exclusively to traditional marches, are so complicated and precise that computer marching simulations say they cannot be performed.

Almost always, the final rank of the Aggie Band is filled with spectacularly polished sterling silver-finished sousaphones (which are basically tubas reshaped by John Phillip Sousa for marching) that gleam in the sunlight. All the members of the Aggie Band make crisp military turns, but the sousaphone players execute two exaggeratedly sharp 90-degree turns during every counter-march: Stomp-WHIRL!-stomp-WHIRL!

The photo above is from the 2007 Texas/Texas A&M game, and I think their uniforms as shown there may have changed substantially since 1974. But this photo gives you some idea of how impressive their merging rows of marching brass can be — especially those sousaphones, which are generally carried by especially beefy young men.

On this ill-fated day for the Aggies in 1974, however, one of their bandsmen — a senior, so identifiable by his beautiful and highly polished riding boots, and by his position on the far west of his rank, closest to the home-field press box — had apparently failed to tighten carefully the set-screws that attached his sousaphone's bell to the rest of the instrument. Or perhaps he had assembled it perfectly, but there was a materials failure in the screws or the flange. In any event, as his rank finished one of the Aggie Band's signature counter-march maneuvers, he snapped off one crisp 90-degree stomp-and-pivot, performed the second stomp, and immediately executed the second whirl — at which moment his instrument's entire bell detached itself from the rest of the tubing that wrapped around his body and was flung violently into the air.

The bell sailed a good ten yards in the air, vivid silver flashing against the green astroturf. It landed on an edge, twirled in a circle, and finally rolled to a rest. The entire Aggie Band continued marching down-field without it. The poor senior remained on that same exposed, trailing corner of the block formation, looking oddly decapitated. The 60,000+ Texas fans rose as one, howling with laughter and pointing. But to the Aggie senior's credit, he kept his composure, pretended nothing had happened, and finished the rest of the performance without a missed turn or any other screw-up.

After the Aggie Band finished in its traditional manner — a mass, screaming charge to the sidelines upon an abrupt cut-off in the "Aggie War Hymn" — that silver sousaphone bell still remained on the field, just outside the near hashmark at about the 20 yard-line. The crowd waited. And waited. Wally Pryor, the Memorial Stadium announcer and the Voice of the Longhorn Band, waited too. The Longhorn Band, as representatives of the home team, was to perform next, but the LHB drum major was not about to lead it onto the field while that silver bell remained. The Aggie Band had put it there; the Aggie Band was going to have to see to its removal, and there weren't going to be any distractions permitted.

Finally, some poor Aggie Band underclassman was dispatched to run out onto the field and retrieve the bell — again to laughs, jeers, and cheers from the hugely amused and highly partisan fans. The competition with the Aggie Band always sharpens up the LHB's own marching, and on this day, they both entered and left the field triumphant.

"Pooo-oooor Ag-gies," the Longhorn crowd sang near the end of the game. I sang along and laughed too, but I certainly empathized more with the poor Aggie sousaphone-playing senior than with the Aggie football players. I hope that guy, whoever he was, went on to a great career and a great life, and that he has a great sense of humor. If, as is likely, he served as an active-duty military officer, I would bet that everyone and everything under his command remained button down and screwed on tightly.

Posted by Beldar at 09:49 AM in Family, Humor, Music/Arts, Sports | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mariachi Llaneros de Houston

The guitarronista asked me as I was leaving: "You play the trumpet?"

I think he must have noticed the middle three fingers of my right hand twitching in unconscious valve-movement patterns over the course of the preceding 2-1/2 hours. Or maybe he noticed that I was just paying more attention to the two trumpet players than to any of the other members of his mariachi band.

"A little," I admitted, "but not like them." I banged my fist to my chest, then held up my index and middle fingers, twisted together, to point to the trompetistas. "They must be brothers — they play together so tightly, tan fuertemente  y dulcemente, just like they're one!" I said. "But you're all terrific, thank you all so much!"


I guess there may be one or two first-rate mariachi bands in Des Moines or Grand Rapids; it wouldn't surprise me too much if there were a half dozen really good ones in Manhattan.

But on a spring Friday night like this one, I'm awfully glad to be a Texan, and to live in a big cultural polyglot like Houston. I wandered into my favorite Mexican restaurant tonight and just lucked into hearing an extended and very spontaneous mariachi jam session.

The seven members of the band — two players each for the trumpets and violins, and one each for the Mexican guitar, vihuela, and guitarrón — I'd heard, and much enjoyed, on many other occasions. They're very polished, very precise, and very good musicians. They wear traditional costumes and they stroll, playing customers' requested favorites for tips. But this is not a touristy restaurant at all; most of the regular patrons are locals, and probably 80% of those are Hispanic. The food ranges from traditional Tex-Mex to deep-interior Mexican dishes. And if you think all mariachi bands are hokey clichés out of 1960s American south-of-the-border movies, then you're very badly mistaken.


Tonight, however, there were four customers at the bar — friends who arrived and left together, I think on a guys' night out — who'd arranged themselves on a semi-circle of barstools, around which the band members had then arrayed themselves. One customer — a large and robust man, at middle-age the oldest of the four, and sporting a proud Pancho Villa mustache that flaunts Anglo stereotypes of Hispanic men — must have been a mariachi himself in his heyday: With the accompaniment of the band and his friends, he was belting out a fabulous assortment of heartfelt vocals that I'd never heard before. The band members listened carefully to him between songs; although my own Spanish is rusty and weak, he seemed to be giving tips not on technique, but on impassioned musical charisma (which he certainly has himself in spades).

The other three customers in his group made up in matching enthusiasm for what they lacked compared to his musical talents. But all eleven of them together were just having a blast, playing and singing stuff that clearly was not from the band's regular repertory, and that they half-knew only by ear at best.

I could tell it was a special night for them too, because the four customers kept holding up their open-flipped cell phones mid-song. I presume that they were transmitting and/or recording for their special someones far away to hear and maybe see them. The musicians and their avid audience shared cheers and tears and upturned bottles and mugs all around.


Mariachis_2Fortunately for them and for everyone else in the restaurant, my own trumpet was safely tucked away at home in my den. I'm just good enough a trumpet player that I can improvise along with most kinds of music — jazz, pop, rock, blues, gospel, classical, military band, or just about whatever (and I like all those and more) — without embarrassing myself in front of tolerant friends or even strangers. But nobody will ever mistake me for a pro, and I'm sure I would have embarrassed the real musicians if I'd asked to sit in with them tonight. (I suspect they might have politely plied me with enough free drinks until I stopped trying.)

I'm no guitarist, but I can mostly grasp how the string players could fill in and complement each other seamlessly once they'd picked up the key and time signatures and the tempo and the basic chord structure from the vocalist; they were doing mostly rhythm background and sometimes tentative vocal harmonies with the lead singer.

Mariachis2 But mariachi trumpets are alternately dominating or accompanying, staccato or legato — and they're almost always very exposed and paired in close, brilliant harmonies. You've got to have range, you've got to have volume, you've got to have chops of steel, and above all else you've got to have brazen confidence in yourself and your compadre. For the life of me, I can't guess how these two trompetistas managed to improvise so tightly, keeping all those qualities even through syncopation, irregular measures, and fast, difficult articulations.

This was like listening to someone dictate spontaneous poetry, the words of which nobody else in the room knows — but with ten other people interjecting their simultaneous and closely interwoven dictation of all the punctuation. I've seen and heard jazz and blues bands, rock and Dixieland bands, all do something similar before. But I just hadn't seen or heard really talented mariachis jam before tonight.

It was just a treat. My cheek muscles are sore from grinning almost continuously for 2-1/2 hours.


Unpaid and unsolicited endorsement: If you happen to be in the Houston area and need a mariachi band, call Pedro Duran at 832/687-0842 for "Mariachi Llaneros de Houston."

I write this kind of post mostly to record my own memories, rather than out of any expectation that anyone else will find them interesting. However, I do particularly like the opening line of this one.

Posted by Beldar at 10:49 PM in Music/Arts | Permalink | Comments (7)