Sunday, April 29, 2012

We Used to Know

By Chris Vosburg

As Mitt Dullard Romney rejuvenates the cold war dreams of the Reagan years in his campaign speeches, I thought it might be worthwhile to remind us all that there are those of us who were never quite down with the whole “evil empire” thing, even back in the “space race” days—we thought the world of Yuri Gagarin and his brave venture into orbit in the Vostok spacecraft, and it tickles me to remember that his biggest fans were the American astronauts assembled for the similar US effort.
International Space Station resident and flautist Colonel Catherine Coleman is one such brave new worlder, and last year, perhaps as the result of a Craigslist ad (“looking for musicians to jam with—have rehearsal space”) found someone to play flute with—an aging popstar fellow who shared her appreciation of the cosmonaut’s journey and “our rocket heroes”, and they performed a duet:
 Coupla notes:
Awesome hair, babe. This was, by the way, in April 2011, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Gagarin’s trip. There’s been on TV since a series of ads for a sexual stimulant that promises to “blow your hair back”, with resultant hairstyles to demonstrate, so, yeah, okay, comedy.
Cady Coleman confirms: it’s much easier to play flute standing on one leg in zero gravity.
Yuri Gagarin bumped in ‘68, crashing a jet he was test-piloting. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?
“We Used To Know”, is the title of an old Jethro Tull song, which has some notoriety as a result of the fact that the Eagles, which toured with Tull in ‘72, used the same chord progression in “Hotel California”. Different key, different time signature, but Ian Anderson noticed as well, and graciously said in an interview that he considered it “a tribute, much in the same sense as the tribute Rolex watch I’m now wearing.”
And lastly, I salute our “Rocket Heroes” often, as I watch the ISS sail overhead. Yes, it’s visible from the ground, and NASA has a web page which gives time, duration and direction (page is for Los Angeles, select other location as required). It’s typically the brightest object in the sky, and you might mistake it at first for an aircraft-- but it has no blinking lights, so there you go. If in Los Angeles, by the way, note that we have a nice one coming up tonight (Saturday), appearing on the Northwest horizon at 8:43 PM and traveling directly overhead, departing in the Southeast horizon three minutes later. Cool, huh?


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

“We Used To Know”, is the title of an old Jethro Tull song, which has some notoriety as a result of the fact that the Eagles, which toured with Tull in ‘72, used the same chord progression in “Hotel California”.

I never knew that!

One more reason...

Keith said...

Hey Chris, awesome duet there. Glad Ian is still kickin' it and also that micro-gravity is fun for musicians. Hadn't considered that one.

When in Moscow in 1981 I stumbled upon the official Yuri Gagarin tribute that is located in the suburbs. It's really over-the-top Soviet-era kitsch and must admit I was stunned. Fortunately it has not been dismantled and sent to the Communist Martyrs "Statue Parks" and you can check it out here.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I gave up on Tull after Thick as a Brick, so I've not heard this before. Rock history has a lot of this kind of thing. Jimmy Page copping the opening bars of Stairway to Heaven from Randy California's Taurus, and taking Bert Jansch's arrangement of the traditional Black Water Side virtually note for note, allegedly shown to him by Al Stewart, and renaming it Black Mountain Side. That's when he wasn't stealing Willie Dixon tunes. Neil Young unconsciously copped Ambulance Blues from Bert Jansch's Needle of Death, but when it was pointed out he acknowledged the debt.

ELP lifted whole movements from Janacek and Bartok, and only credited them when it turned out Janacek's widow was still alive and was threatening to sue.

The funniest one of these stories I've heard is how when Paul Simon was hanging around Soho's folk clubs in the mid '60s, Martin Carthy kindly taught him his arrangement of Scarborough Fair, which he'd already recorded, only to have Simon take it and copyright it. A few years later, Carthy rang up Simon asking if the payment had come through. He told Simon he wanted to buy a house and needed 1800£, to which Simon said that's amazing, the payout is exactly 1800£.

At the other extreme, we have Fred Frith who acknowledged on the sleeve of Henry Cow's Unrest that Bittern Storm Over Ulm owed something to Gotta Hurry by The Yardbirds. Had he not mentioned it I doubt anyone would have noticed, as they're radically different tunes. Gotta Hurry is credited to O. Rasputin, thought to be a pseudonym for Giorgio Gomelsky, as at the time producers commonly took the copyright on the b sides even though they hadn't actually written them.

And just to be fair, Ian Anderson copped his whole style of physical performance and flute playing from Roland Kirk.


Carl said...

I know "flautist" is the correct term, but that always sounds like someone who walks around in a dirty raincoat and boots...

Re: Cribbing songs/lyrics. Sting claims the line "every breath you take, every move you make" came to him one night in a dream, but lair claimed he was paying homage to Gene Pitney's "Every Breath I Take."

But...if you listen to Zep's "D'yer Maker"...

Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Every breath I take oh oh oh oh oh
Every move I make oh oh oh oh oh
Baby please don't go.

Right down to the same bass progression.

Carl said...

Er, later claimed, not lair

Nadine said...

So cool, Chris; but then you are the coolest of cool cats (next to the wonderful Snoozing Like Commas Biddy & Boy on The Other Side AND Her Ever-Regal Bitchiness Riley & his ever-mellowness Moondoggie on THIS Side). Thank you. I adore the funnies and the snark, but this touched me in a way that I can't describe. But not in a Mr. Bad Touch kind of way. Just thought that I should clarify.

~The Minx!~

Chris Vosburg said...

Carl writes: I know "flautist" is the correct term, but that always sounds like someone who walks around in a dirty raincoat and boots

..and let's don't even get started on "pianist". Now I'm wondering what a guy who plays a horn-- French or otherwise-- is called.

Chris Vosburg said...

Bidz, I should clarify that I excerpted from Ian's interview a joke he made near the end of his comments. He understood and made clear in the interview that it was not conscious on the part of Eagles songwriters, and happens to any songwriter.

And your "funniest story" reminded me of my own favorite:

Composer Mike Batt placed on one of his records a track called "A Minute Of Silence" which was in fact just that and was sued by the John Cage Estate for infringement of Cage's well known "4'33''," which was four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence (in three movements, no less).

Avant Garde composers, what are ya gonna do.

Best comment was that made by Mike's mum, who wondered which minute they were alleging he stole.

Amicable donation in six figures was made to the Cage Foundation and everyone had a good laugh.

TBP said...

Composers, classical and pop both, have always taken inspiration from each other. Stravinsky supposedly said, "Good composers borrow; great composers steal."

Indeed, there is the idea that all art progresses by "misreading" the art of the past in ways that end up making new art. It isn't always done consciously and it's often very difficult to know where "homage" ends and "actionable plagiarism" begins.

One of the music history professors at my grad school offered a whole course in musical borrowing that sounded like it was going to be fascinating. (Sadly, I wasn't able to fit it into my curriculum.)

TBP said...

And of course there are things like the 12-bar blues progression (with 8- and 16- bar variants) and that four-chord progression that makes up lots of doo-wop songs (and other pop songs, too, including perennial piano duet Heart and Soul) that are simply there. As far as I know, no one really knows their origins.

gidouille said...

Chris, yes, I'm familiar with the Cage piece and the silly infringement claim, but estates are all about maximizing financial return. Gail Zappa is probably the poster child for frivolous lawsuits, allegedly to protect Frank's legacy, but everyone knows its's all about the money. I'm guessing Batt must have had deep pockets. I can think of others who have put silent pieces on their recordings without being sued, but they were obscure acts unlikely to become a cash cow for lawyers. In any case, Cage himself would certainly never have made such a fuss.


Li'l Innocent said...

I suppose the "He's So Fine"/"My Sweet Lord" case is too obvious and well known to add to this compilation.

Heck, Bach nicked stuff from Vivaldi. And if it weren't for Stravinsky, there would be no 20th C. thriller movie music.

Mentis Fugit said...

Mike Batt admitted the whole thing was set up.

And the "six figure sum" was 1,000.00 pounds.

Chris Vosburg said...

Gratefully-- and my apologies for it being somewhat belated-- acknowledged, Mentis. Nice catch, man.

Chris Vosburg said...

Yeah, I suspected that was true-- those fucking scamps. Thanks Mentis, nice catch.

Nice publicity for the John Cage Foundation, dedicated to supporting up and coming musicians who could use a hand.