10 Best: Symphony movements, no. 10


Symphony no. 2 “Mysterious Mountain”, mvt. 3 by Alan Hovhaness

Mysterious Mountain is one of the absolute apexes of twentieth-century music. In a way it seems like the musical equivalent of hipsters who like PBR and shitty hats, damn near dripping in what you’d like to think is irony for things like “tonal harmony” and “Baroque form.” But perhaps more than any composer not named Anton Bruckner, Hovhaness was a genuinely spiritual man whose compositions ultimately manifest the simple worship of life, nature, and beauty. Continue reading


Follow up: Catching lightning in a bottle and killing the joy of which the Ode speaks

A perfect excuse to show a picture of one of the coolest places in America – Mount Rainier.

There are thousands of examples throughout history of otherwise “normal” people stepping up their game and achieving a greatness normally reserved for those who we ascribe “legendary” status to. This happens all the time in one of my other favorite interests, sports – perhaps the most famous is Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Any Golden State Warriors fan can tell you about “The Sleepy Floyd Game,” where Floyd dropped 51 on the mighty 1987 Lakers in the playoffs and set a record for points (29) in an epic 4th-quarter comeback that still stands (all against the greatest defensive wing player of his generation, Michael Cooper). The greatest comeback in NFL Playoff history was executed by Buffalo’s backup quarterback, Frank Reich. What makes someone a legend is that these moments occur with startling regularity, but anyone can be legendary in a given instance. Bob Dylan is perhaps the greatest folk songwriter that ever lived, but Don McLean wrote “American Pie.” Continue reading

Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and art of the remake


The American moviegoing public has been “treated” to an array of remakes over the last ten years or so.  Some probably come with the best of intentions, like taking Clash of the Titans from effects that can gently be described as “kids educational programming about dinosaurs” to action-packed if still awful CGI bonanza.  Some are intended to be vehicles for contemporary actors, like Steve Martin in The Pink Panther, even though we’ll find ten Michael Jordans before we ever find another Peter Sellers.  Many of them have been updated accounts of classic horror movies, like the one where the Green Lantern guy was in The Amityville Horror.  Occasionally the remake is an unquestioned improvement on the original: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Ocean’s 11, Scarface for instance.  Sometimes a debate rages as to which version is superior: The Seven Samurai vs. The Magnificent Seven is the one I will fight a man over (hint – one of them has Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn and Horst Buchholz in it…end of debate).  Most of the time, though, the remake is not an improvement, and in fact is a cataclysmic waste of time and resources, with Tim Burton’s miserable Planet of the Apes being the worst of the bunch in spite of Marky Mark’s presence in the film.  Music has its share of remakes too, from the good (“All Along the Watchtower” for example) to the dreadful (Limp Bizkit’s cover of “Behind Blue Eyes” for that shitty Halle Berry movie). Continue reading

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”

Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by mountains.  I remember reading books about all the ranges and peaks of the world, and I could probably still rattle off the list of the highest peaks by continent that I took great pride in knowing (much like Rosie Perez in “White Men Can’t Jump,” I am overwhelmed with more useless goddamn information than any human being on this fucking planet).  Having used to live in the Pacific Northwest, I miss having mountains around; it was nice to be able to just look through your windshield at Mt. Hood or Mt. Adams or Mt. Whatever (although I must confess that the trade of beautiful mountains for epic Midwest thunderstorms might be a push).  Most of my family still lives in Tacoma, WA, where on any reasonably clear day you can get a look at what is easily the coolest yet most uncomfortably terrifying mountain in the world, Mt. Rainier.  The Cascades have a remarkable number of gorgeous peaks.  Small wonder, then, that the Northwest would be the settling place for music’s all-time mountain lover, Alan Hovhaness.

Mt. Rainier with Tacoma, WA in the foreground

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