Sunday nibble #48: Five fart facts

Farts are an amusing subject, and jokes about them go back, well, about as far as jokes. In fact, the very first joke, c. 1900 BCE, was along the lines of “Something that has never happened: A young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”

Reading between the lines, I suppose there’s also a sex joke hidden in here, too. Those have also been popular from the beginning. If you’re interested, you can check out the ten oldest documented jokes.

But today’s article isn’t so much jokes about farts as it is interesting facts, so let’s let her rip.

  1. There’s actually a New York Times best-selling book about it called Does It Fart? The book itself has a fascinating origin story. Back in 2017, a teenage boy asked his old sister, zoologist Dani Rabaiotti, “Do snakes fart?” When she realized she didn’t know the answer, she asked Twitter, and the rest happened from there.

For one thing, she got her answer (“yes”), but her question also led to the creation of the hashtag #doesitfart, and soon experts were weighing in on the ability or inability of various living creatures to break wind.

Eventually, she collaborated with Nick Caruso — entirely via internet, they never met in person — and the book was born. Illustrations were provided by artist Ethan Kocak, and you can read all about the farting habits of eighty different creatures great and small.

  1. You’ve heard the term “silent but deadly,” I’m sure, but for one tiny creature, this is literally the case. The culprit would be the beaded lacewing, and it deals out a specialized form of toxic ass gas designed specifically to paralyze termites.

Adult lacewings lay their eggs near termite colonies, and then the larva proceed to use this weapon in order to hunt for food. They’ll back up to a termite, raise their ass to the termite’s face level, and open fire.

The deadly component of their flatus is an allomone, which is a signaling chemical, like a pheromone. The difference is that the latter are designed for a member of a species to use on another member of the same species for their mutual benefit.

And by mutual benefit, I mean it makes the target horny and ready to bone. Incidentally, it’s a myth that humans have or use pheromones. Sorry!

Once the allomone has paralyzed the termite, the larva digs in for a meal. And the chemical from this little anal cantata is so powerful that a single lacewing larva can take out half a dozen termites at once.

The ones that don’t get eaten will eventually die, either from exposure or predation, because they aren’t getting up again. It must be nice to have an asshole that’s also a superweapon.  

  1. On the other end of the scale, is the beloved sloth which, sadly, is the only mammal that cannot fart. This is entirely due to their slow metabolisms. They already only poop once a week at the most, so they’re very predisposed to not be able to build up enough gas to let off a thundering ripper.

All of the gas for those potential sloth farts is reabsorbed into the sloth’s bloodstream and excreted through the skin before it can build up. That’s probably good, though. Given the general pace of a sloth’s lifestyle, if they did fart, each one would probably last for at least half a day, and I’m sure no one else in the forest would appreciate that.

  1. Farts can be dangerous to more than just termites. Picture this scene: It’s a mid-autumn day in October 2015, and a Singapore Airlines jet, specifically a 747-400 freighter plane that had taken off from Adelaide, Australia was en route to Kuala Lampur Malaysia when potential disaster struck.

Fire alarms in the ship’s cargo hold went off and the plane diverted to Bali to make an emergency landing. Emergency services arrived at the scene, but determined that there was no fire and no smoke.

There was only a crew of four humans on board, but the cargo happened to be 2,186 goats. Their collective Capricorn-holes emitted enough flatulence that it tripped the alarms and altered the plane’s flight plan considerably.

I’ll let you imagine what it must have sounded like, as the bleating of over 2,000 goats intermingled with their reverberating farts.

  1. Finally, no article about farts is complete without a mention of this man:
Joseph Pujol. Both images are public domain

You probably won’t recognize the picture or know the name Joseph Pujol, but maybe you’ve been lucky enough to have heard his stage name: Le Pétomane. He lived from 1857 to 1945, and was born in Marseilles, France.

He discovered his super power accidentally when he was young. While swimming underwater, he held his breath and felt a sudden cold sensation in his lower abdomen. When he ran out of the sea, water started pouring of his anus.

Eventually, he determined that he could do this voluntarily with both water and air, and in his first career as a baker, he used to entertain his customers by doing impressions of musical instruments with his asshole, claiming to be playing them behind the counter.

The unique thing about him was that he was not actually farting gas from his intestines. Rather, he was sucking in air and shooting it back out. This and one good pre-rinse with water before the show kept his performances odorless, much to the benefit of his audience, I’m sure.

He made his professional debut in Marseilles at the age of 30. Five years later, he hit the big time when he became the star attraction at the famous Moulin Rouge, which had opened three years earlier in 1889.

In fact, he became a bigger draw than the renowned Sarah Bernhardt, with his shows pulling in twice as much at the gate as hers.

That’s the power of farts.

He would begin his act by performing a series of farts and naming them. A tiny, meek fart was “young bride on her wedding night,” while a drawn out rip was “dressmaker tearing two yards of calico.”

He could smoke a cigarette with his anus (well, via a long rubber tube, at least), as well as play a flute. Another part of his repertoire was a poem about a farm, and he would punctuate it with farts imitating the sounds of the animals.

I can only imagine how hilarious this all must have been, and the finale was spectacular. First, he would blow out a candle from a foot away, and then extinguish the gas lights at the foot of the stage one by one.

Eventually, after a tour of Europe and North Africa, he returned to Paris and decided to start his own theatre, which led to a falling out with Zidler of the Moulin Rouge, but Pujol’s continued success.

And then World War I broke out, and he retired, going back to being a baker in Marseilles, and then eventually running a biscuit factory in Toulon.

That’s actually kind of a fitting place for him to end up, though, making real biscuits, since he’d made his name and his fortune making air biscuits.

The Saturday Morning Post #47: The Rêves Part 25

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles. And brace yourselves for next week’s installment. As some of the characters might say, it’s a doozy.

Laughing boy

When Joshua and Simon saw the afternoon news about the famous Rêves showing up in Hollywood, they headed over as quickly as they could. Fortunately, the Metro was running again, although large sections of the platforms were still closed off for cleaning, and parts of the tunnel walls were still visibly muddy.

A lot of stores were still boarded up on the Boulevard, although many of them had “Come in we’re open” painted on the boards in neon colors.

It didn’t take them long after they’d come up onto the sidewalk to spot their first celebrity ghost. It was W.C. Fields, as he appeared in the film Poppy, with the long black frock coat over pinstriped trousers, and a tall, white top hat. He wore an ascot and carried a walking stick.

He probably kept showing up in this outfit because it was everyone’s most well-known image of him, and the one most frequently slapped up on murals around town. Like a lot of the older Rêves, his image was a ghostly grayscale, shadow of the black and white films he appeared in.

He noticed Joshua and Simon staring at him and wandered over, appearing to be completely drunk because that was his screen persona. (It was also his real-life persona, but that was a different story.)

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” he began in his familiar-side-mouthed banter. “I see that you clearly recognize me, and the memorialization of me with my aficionados via photography seems to be very popular nowadays. So, I will accommodate you and, for the mere price of the visage of Mercury, a mere bit of silver, one thin dime, I will pose for you both.”

They fished in their pockets, and Simon actually came up with a dime, handing it to W.C., who squinted at it askance. “Since when do they put a sitting president on money?”

“They did that right before you d — ” Joshua started to say, but Simon elbowed him, then the three of them moved together and Simon held up the “camera.”

“Oh,” he said. Forgot to take off the lens cap.” He removed the cover, and Fields whooshed into the trap, which Simon closed.

“What did you do that for?” Joshua demanded.

“I have my reasons,” Simon said. “Give our gay uncles a call, and ask Drew whether he knew W.C. Fields.”

“How would he possibly — ”

“He’s ancient,” Simon reminded him.

“Right,” Joshua said, dialing. After putting up with a bit of small-talk, he finally asked, “Look, did you actually know W.C. Fields?”

“Knew of him,” Drew replied. “Gigantic lush, so they said, but I never actually met him.”

“Oh,” Joshua replied, face falling. Simon gestured to him and took the phone.

“Drew, hi, it’s Simon! Yeah, fine, we’re doing great, wedding still on schedule… aw, thank you. Anyway, I don’t suppose you’ve seen the news about what’s… no, I guess there hasn’t been anything good on the news in over a decade now. But… let’s put it this way. Which famous Hollywood celebrities did you know pretty well and personally?”

“Well… Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty, Jack Nich — ”

“No, Uncle Drew… I mean dead ones?”

“Oh. God, I couldn’t possibly tell you all. Do you have any specific ones in mind?”

Simon looked around the crowd, seeing lots of Rêves, but not recognizing all of them, so he finally just turned on the camera and started transmitting live to Drew.

“Holler if you see one,” Simon said.

He scanned past a bunch of them with Drew offering his quiet “No’s,” until he finally said, “Wait, stop, go back.”

Simon panned the camera back to his left and stopped on Drew’s word on a rather striking-looking Hispanic man with a very intense gaze and a pencil moustache. Like Fields, he appeared as a grayscale phantasm.

“Him,” Drew said. “That one. I knew him rather well.”

“Who is he?” Simon asked.

“I knew him as Ramon Samaniego. The world knew him as the famous film star and Latin Lover slash Ladies’ Man Ramon Novarro. Gigantic fag who liked the younger boys, and that is how and why I knew him.”

That well?” Joshua chimed in.

“You have no idea,” Drew laughed.

“Thanks!” Simon said, hanging up, gesturing to Joshua. “Photo time.”

“And then what?”

“Trust me.”

“Of course.”

They headed over to Ramon, who didn’t seem to be getting much notice from the crowd, so Simon went into his best fanboy routine. “Oh my god,” he said. “Aren’t you Ramon Navarro?”

“Why, yes, I am, young man,” he replied in Hollywood’s version of the way an Hispanic person spoke circa the 1930s.

“Can we take a picture with you? Please?” Simon asked.

“Of course,” Ramon said, and they posed next to him. Simon popped up another trap, removed the “lens cap,” and captured Ramon, capping it and slipping it into his pocket.

“Now what?” Joshua asked.

“I’ll make the sacrifice and head up to visit Brent and Drew,” Simon said.

“You know you secretly love hanging out up there,” Joshua teased him.

“I know that I’d love Drew giving us a way to stop this war a lot more,” Simon replied.

“Oh. What about W.C. Lush?” Joshua reminded him.

“Right,” Simon said, taking out the first trap and removing the lid. Fields shot out, resolving from a puff of black smoke to wind up sitting on the street, looking very confused.

“Godfrey Daniels!” he called out to no one in particular. “Must have gotten hold of a bad batch of the old moonshine. I hereby reject the Demon Rum! Angel Whisky will have to suffice henceforth.”

Joshua and Simon took the Metro back home, then hopped into the Tesla and drove up to the top of the mountain to visit Brent and Drew. Drew had already laid out an enormous buffet lunch for them all — of course — and Drew was urging them to go swimming, but Joshua gestured to Simon.

“We have a present for you,” he explained and Simon took out the trap.

“Make-up?” Drew asked, confused.

“No. Old acquaintance. Maybe you can remind him about those days of yore.”

Simon opened the trap and Ramon appeared much the way W.C. Fields had — a wisp of black smoke that coalesced into human form leaving him standing on the poolside terrazzo, looking confused. He appeared to be in about his mid-30s, although Simon had read up on him on the drive over, and knew that he had died at 69 in 1968, murdered by a couple of hustler brothers who’d talked their way up to his Laurel Canyon home, promising sex but really hoping to steal the vast stash of cash they’d heard was hidden in the house.

Spoiler alert: There was no cash. Novarro’s career had slowed down considerably after he left MGM in 1935.

“Ramon…” Drew said quietly when he recognized the Rêve. At this moment, Ramon’s specter took on a pale wash of living color, but his appearance didn’t change as he turned to look at Drew.

“¿Nos conocimos, señor?” he asked. Noting Drew’s confused look, he continued, “Have we met?”

“Oh, you bet we have,” Drew replied. “You remember your house, on Laurel Canyon, about two miles up from Ventura?

Ramon shook his head blankly. “I don’t remember any such place,” he said.

“Where did you live?”

“I am Judah Ben-Hur,” he announced, suddenly appearing in the costume from that 1925 silent epic.

Joshua and Simon looked at each other, confused, but then realized that Brent had wandered outside, munching on a broccoli floret and staring.

“My god, is that — ”

“Sssh!” Joshua hissed at him, then whispered. “Yes, but stop thinking of him like that.”

“But — ”

“Drew knew him, and that’s what we’re counting on. Didn’t you know him?”

“Bitch, please. I was like… seven when he died? And I certainly didn’t learn about it until I read Hollywood Babylon.”

“This is a very delicate operation that could avert a war,” Simon explained calmly. “So… please?”

Brent rolled his eyes, but then retreated inside with a “whatever” shrug.

Meanwhile, Drew had approached Ramon. “That’s exactly what you said to me the first time we were alone together. Remember?”

“Who are you?” Ramon demanded.

“You said, ‘I am Judah Ben-Hur,’ and I said, ‘Who the hell is that?’ And the look on your face was so stunned that I just started laughing my ass off. And you smiled and said, ‘Well, at least you know that movie of mine.’ Of course, I didn’t.”

“So I’m not Judah Ben-Hur?”

“Well, yes and no. I mean, actors can be many different people.”

“I’m an actor?”

“Honey, what the hell did you think you were?” Drew laughed. “And, hate to tell you, but the way they’d put it on Wikipedia is ‘was an actor.’ Past tense.”

“So who are you?” Ramon practically spat the words at him.

“Oh… a little fling you had right after we met at your 42nd birthday party, which happened to be right after I turned fifteen, and we had our fun for a few months anyway. I probably never would have done it if I’d known you were famous. I mean, thrown myself at you like I did.”

Ramon just stared at Drew in silence.

“Do you remember what you called me?” he asked. Ramon said nothing. “That’s okay, it was a long time ago,” he continued. “After the first time, you called me ‘Little Dandy Andy.’ Ring any bells?”

The image of Ramon collapsed to the terrazzo in a tumble of black smoke. Drew tried to move toward it, but Joshua and Simon held him back.

“Trust us,” Joshua said. “I think you’re on the right track.”

After a moment, Ramon solidified out of the black smoke, lying on his side, facing away from Drew. At the same time, gray smoke drifted toward Drew and then coalesced into another manifestation of Ramon, this one a bit older, and not dressed in a fanciful costume.

Real Ramon materialized, staring at Drew. “Andy!” he finally said, rushing to embrace him. Famous Ramon stood and also stared, not sure what to think or do.

What none of them except Real Ramon knew was that he was seeing Drew has he’d been on that night in mid-winter of 1941, when they’d first met.

Simon looked about over the moon, smiling at Joshua, but Joshua didn’t seem so sure.

“What?” Joshua said when he noticed Simon staring at him.

“I think we’ve found the key to preventing the war!” he said.

“You really think so?” Joshua replied. Simon gave him a “duh” look, but then Joshua gestured back to the others. “Think again,” he sighed.

Simon looked. The two Ramons were facing off, insulting each other left and right in Spanish before starting to physically grapple, finally blasting off into the sky in two different directions.

Joshua gave Simon a smug look, to which Simon replied, “Hey, Danny and Preston did that, and they seem to get along now.”

“How the hell would you know that? We haven’t seen them since they flew off.”

“We haven’t…?” Simon searched his mind, and then realized that Joshua was right. And yet he had a vivid memory of Preston and Danny returning, both of them working together. This was followed by a weird moment of vertigo and he had to find a chair to sit on immediately.

“You okay?” Joshua asked as he hurried over.

“Yeah,” Simon answered. “Fine. Just a little head rush.”

“Hm. Lose one word from that sentence, and you may have found the cure.”

“Stahp!” Simon fake-demurred.

“Let’s get you home anyway,” Joshua said, helping Simon up, only to see Brent standing in the doorway.

“You all are taking some of this home,” he said.

“We really don’t — ” Simon started, but Joshua pinched him.

“Of course, Brent. Not too much, because we’ve got limited freezer space, but definitely the good stuff.”

Sure, it was a lie. They had enough freezer space to store ten dead elk. Not that either of them would condone killing elk, of course. They wound up leaving the place laden down with half a dozen grocery bags full of disposable plastic containers stuffed to the gills anyway.

Good thing that Teslas had trunk space front and back, since it didn’t have a traditional engine. They wound up stopping at the 170 and Tujunga underpass on the way home and dropping off most of the food for the homeless camp there.

Waste not, want not.

And, more importantly, how were they actually going to prevent this damn war?

* * *
Image source Ramon Novarro in Mata Hari by kndynt2099, (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Friday Free for all #45: Olympics, techie, weird, types

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website, although it’s been on hiatus since the Christmas Countdown began. Here, I resume with this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

If there were internet Olympics, what sports would be in it?

Oh, there are so many potential sports for the Internet Olympics (IO). Here are a few I can think of.

  1. Trolling

Competitors would face off, with one team designated trolls and the other defenders. Trolls would be scored in various areas, including most opponent time wasted, best Poe, number of logical fallacies used, and farthest move of the goalposts. Violations of Godwin’s Law and ad hominem attacks in response to trolling would cost the defenders points. Meanwhile, defenders would score points by making well-formed arguments in response to the trolls and providing valid citations. (Wikipedia is not an accepted source, which instantly makes this entire description ironic.)

  1. Unboxing

No, I’ve never figured out the appeal of these videos, either. This event would be single competitors acting on their own, with various categories, including most drawn-out unboxing of the simplest packaging, greatest degree of hyping each new level of reveal, and greatest feigned excitement at each new level.

  1. Famewhoring

This is the equivalent of the marathon, or maybe even a triathlon. Starting with only a specially-created @players.io email account, each competitor would work throughout the two-week span of the IO, building and hyping an online presence, creating a website and social media accounts, and then exploiting them. Uniquely, this competition would receive no coverage during the IO until the final day. The competitors would be on their own online. Scoring is based on the combined number of followers, views, likes, comments, and shares that all of their posts across all social media platforms get before the final day of competition. Snapchat and Only Fans are banned from the competition, though, per a ruling by the IIOC. There is a special medal, however, for anyone who can get at least one follower on MySpace. 

  1. Vaguebooking

For this challenge, competitors must create a post on their Facebook account that reveals the least information while gaining the greatest number of views, likes, and comments. Enormous bonus points if it inspires someone to create either a Kickstarter campaign or MoveOn petition in response.

  1. Banhammer

The goal in this competition is for each player to be either permanently or temporarily banned on as many social media platforms as possible, again starting with a specially created email address so that their real social media identities are not damaged. However, these addresses would not be hosted at players.io, because that would give away the competition, and could incentivize social media hosts in competitor nations to cheat. This would probably be a co-op venture with gmail or another “everybody’s got one” email host.

  1. Thirst trap shooting

This one is simple, but has multiple categories. The idea is that competitors choose and post exactly one revealing but non-explicit photo of themselves to various social media platforms, and the one that gets the most inappropriate comments, requests for racier shots, unsolicited dick picks, and general creepiness wins. This one is broken down by gender into male, female, and non-binary, with each of those categorized into straight, gay, bisexual, as well as cis- or transgender. Secondary competitions include medal categories for person getting the most thirst reactions from the category least appropriate to their declared status — i.e., lesbians hit on by a lot of straight cis-males; straight cis-males hit on by a lot of gay and bisexual men; and gay men hit on by straight and transgender women. Point scoring is also weighted by age-difference, as in the older the creeper is relative to the competitor, the greater their posts count in the overall scoring.

I’m sure there are a lot more events, but those were the most obvious. What are your ideas?

How techie are you?

About as techie as you can get. I met my first computer when I was barely a teenager, and fell in love with the concept immediately, so started learning coding very early on, as well as did some amazing things with hardware.

I remember one early experience when I had the opportunity to upgrade the keyboard on a computer, but this was back when things weren’t all USB and sunshine. The keyboard I ordered happened to be wired differently than the previous one, so keystrokes made no sense.

But, somehow, I had the insight on how keyboards worked. Each row has a unique voltage running across it, and each column has a unique voltage running down it. When you press a key, it connects voltage A with voltage B and creates voltage C, which is unique to that character. Adding shift, alt, or ctrl just tosses in another voltage.

And so I opened up that new keyboard, rewired its guts, and it worked perfectly.

BTW, this is still how keyboards work. They just might not do it with actual wires but instead via the circuit board that the things under the keys sit on.

On top of that, I’ve built or rebuilt more computers that I’ve used than ones I’ve bought off the shelf, and have done my own emergency IT more times than I can count on both hands, both feet, and a pair of abacuses. (Abaci?)

I am also really good at learning the hell out of any piece of software you toss in front of me, but that’s not as hard as it seems, because they all use the same sort of general conventions. Well, the good ones do. The bad ones, not so much, but those tend to be so specialized that they’re rare. Not unheard of, and I do use a few, but rare.

A big consequence of this, though, is that in every job I’ve ever worked, I somehow became “That guy that people go to when they fuck up something on their computer and don’t want to call IT.” This has given me one really scary insight.

Despite computers having been ubiquitous office tools for nearly the last forty years, most people barely understand them beyond using them as glorified typewriters, and that makes me sad. This ain’t rocket surgery, people.

What do people think is weird about you?

If anything, it’s probably my sense of humor. It is rather dark, twisted, irreverent, and adult. Of course, people who share my sense of humor tend to become fast friends immediately. As long as you’re punching up, you can never get too inappropriate with your humor.

I mean, here’s a really funny one that’s basically on my own community, but there’s also some reality behind it. “Q: How many gay guys does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

You: “I don’t know. How many?”

“Only one. But it takes half the ER staff to get it out.”

Of course, this one is extra funny because it’s based on the truth, because ERs and A&Es spend way too much time pulling things out of people’s asses.

Pro-tip: If you ever do wind up seeking medical attention for something stuck in your ass, don’t lie to the docs, because they’ve seen it all before and they don’t care. So dispense with the “I slipped in the shower and landed on it” bullshit, and just say, “I wanted to see what it felt like to shove (object) up my ass.”

There are two types of people in this world. What are the two types?

Those who think there are two types and those who don’t!

Nah, that’s the joke answer. The real answer is this one: Those who accept that there are all kinds of people in the world, and those who don’t. So maybe it’s a one type vs. every type dynamic?

Another way to put it is there are people who embrace the new and different and those who fear it. The former bunch lives in a hopeful world where everyone they meet has value, no matter what their backgrounds, abilities, and identities are. Well, unless they belong to the other group, which dumps those values because of their beliefs: Only people exactly like me count. Everyone else is a threat.

Group 2 accuses Group 1 of being just as hateful, and while the “just as” part is true, the reasons why are far, far different.

Those of us who tolerate accept people for what they are and what they believe. We only despise people for how they act, meaning what they do. Meanwhile, the intolerant hate people for what they are and what they believe, and don’t care how they act if they happen to look exactly like the intolerant.

So yes, there are two types of people. Those who accept the fact that there is only one Human species that lives on this planet, and all other divisions — nationality, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, language, etc., are just so much decoration on entities that are otherwise identical in every way when it comes to emotional needs and inner lives.

One planet. One people. Please.

The other type has bought into the illusion, and would continue to divide their lives, their worlds, and this planet into “Us” vs. “Them.”

The only problem, of course, is that there is no us and them. There is only and ever We.

Theatre Thursday: Sometimes, the movie is better part 1

In the cases of adaptation, a frequent lament of fans of the original is that the movie version just wasn’t as good. We most often hear this about adaptations of novels, both graphic and non, but the same is true of plays, particularly musicals.

The big trick in adapting live theatre to cinema is that the latter is a lot more literal whereas the former has no need to be literal or realistic at all. This is why some shows that work so well on stage fall kind of flat on film. The Fantasticks is a really good example. Being a sort of reverse fairy tale — in which a pair of neighboring fathers conspire to have their children fall in love by forbidding them from seeing each other only to succeed in that to see the relationship go sour — the less literal and, well, more fantastic, the staging is, the better.

A more recent and spectacular example of how film’s need for realism can destroy an adaptation is Cats. Not that that show works on stage at all. In my humble opinion, it commits the cardinal sin of being boring, with no one to really root for. It’s my second least favorite musical, right after the mess that is Rent.

As with any adaptation, changes in the plot or other elements may be necessary for various reasons. When novels are adapted, this often means combining characters and dropping subplots, since a full-length novel is really enough material for a mini-series rather than a single film. (Novellas fare better at more direct adaptations.)

While stage works may more often than not follow a similar structure to film, there are still cases where storylines are dropped — or added — and there’s also the issue of changing times. For example, the original stage version of The Fantasticks, which premiered in 1960, includes a number called “The Rape Ballet.”

Now, it’s explained in the song that this is “rape” in the ancient sense of abduction, and since the character who leads in it has been hired by the two fathers to fake the abduction of the daughter in order to allow the son to be the hero and end the “feud” between the fathers, and he explains that he’s using the word in that sense, that’s how it was originally justified.

Yeah, that fell by the wayside eventually. By the time the movie came out in 1995, the number had been replaced with “The Abduction Ballet,” with none of the connotations of the earlier version.

(Oddly enough, I was involved with a theatre company in the ‘00s that produced the show, premiered it on September 11, 2002, and used the “rape” version of the number. And the artistic director was an old hippie woman. Go figure.)

A lot of the time, the original is better. But, every so often, the changes, particularly when they involve story or focus, can make an okay stage musical into an amazing film. Here are some of my favorite examples.

Cabaret (1972)

The film version of Cabaret is actually a fourth generation adaptation. It was based on the Broadway musical of the same name, which was based on the legit play I Am a Camera by John Van Druten, which was in turn based on the short novel Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood.

Oddly enough, Isherwood played the character based on himself in the original Broadway run of the play in 1951. And while there’s a gay couple in his original novel, his character is apparently not and he pursues a relationship with Sally Bowles — who is British. There’s also not a hint of gay in the first film adaptation of the non-musical stage adaptation, and certainly not in the Broadway version.

The whole thing gets pink-washed, although Isherwood bears some of the blame for that. So it’s kind of a surprise that when notorious heterosexual womanizer Bob Fosse gets the project, one of his big innovations is restoring the homosexuality of the male lead. The other is making all of the songs in it diegetic. That is, the musical numbers are moved into the Kit Kat Club, where Sally Bowles (now American) performs, with the two exceptions being a record that Sally puts on in her room and a sudden nationalistic Biergarten rallying song begun by a member of the Nazi Youth.

The other big changes are in the treatment of the secondary couple, and the relationship between Brian (aka Isherwood), Sally, and Max — a character dropped from the stage musical, but brought back.

In the stage musical, the secondary couple is largely played for comedy and are cast as much older. The woman is Sally’s landlady and her suitor is also an older gentleman. A lot of the numbers that got dumped in the transition were theirs. Oh — a word about “secondary couple,” for those not up on musical theatre conventions.

Quite often, although not as much in the modern era, every musical would have two couples, the leading couple and the secondary couple. Both of them would fall in love, with one couple’s story mirroring the other. Usually, one half of each couple would be connected. Most often, it was divided into the boys and the girls. The most common relationships would be either siblings or best friends, with either set being one or the other or a combination of both.

Of course, there are other ways to mix and match. In Cabaret, the film, the couple are Fritz and Natalia, and Natalia is an English student of Brian’s. She’s a member of a wealthy Jewish family. Fritz is apparently a Protestant, so Natalia’s parents won’t allow them to marry. This leads to one of the most poignant moments in the film when Fritz shows up on Natalia’s doorstep at night, then hesitantly announces “I am a Jew.”

As for the other relationship in the film between Brian, Sally, and Max, who is a wealthy Baron, it turns out that Brian and Sally are both… as Natalia asks in a language question and Sally answers to Brian’s horror, “How do you say ‘screwing?’” Bumsen.

I’ll be polite and translate that into Yiddish instead of English: Max was shtupping both Brian and Sally, although neither of them knows that up until a confrontation between the two that has one of the most darkly funny dialogue exchanges in film in three sentences.

All the while, by placing the musical numbers in the club, some performed by Sally but a lot of them headlined by our Emcee, who serves as a Greek chorus, those songs entertain and distract the in-film audience while commenting directly on what’s going on in the film.

One of my favorite numbers in the whole film speaks directly to Max’s attraction to Brian and Sally: He’s rich.

Some interesting notes on this number: First, it’s the only one in the film that Joel Grey and Liza Minelli really have together, because there had to be that star moment, and it replaced a number that, in the stage show, is performed only by the Emcee and Kit Kat Girls.

Second, there is a strong hint that the Emcee is creeping on Sally Bowles and, while she doesn’t appreciate it, she kind of has no choice, so the more intimate moments in the choreography here are colored by that and add an extra layer to the whole thing. If she doesn’t perform with him, then she’s not going to make any money.

Finally, note that a lot of the Emcee’s choreography here is based on traditional dancing that would have been done by Jewish men during things like weddings, especially during the silhouette part behind the scrim at the end. Nothing is ever said about the Emcee’s religion in the film and, in fact, there’s the strong implication that he’s a staunch supporter of the Nazis, but this idea will color later adaptations, more on which below.

This diegetic music idea is one that the film adaptation of Chicago will pick up in 2002 and, while the film and stage versions of that show are equally good, Chicago won the Oscar for Best Picture along with five others. Cabaret won eight Oscars total, but not Best Picture. The only reason I won’t insist that it should have is that it lost to The Godfather.

By this point, full disclosure. I discovered Cabaret as a tween because my paternal grandfather liked to collect records by buying up lots from garage sales and antique and thrift stores and the like, but he was only looking for jazz music from the 1950s and before.

So anything else — which included rock, pop, and musical soundtracks — went into boxes that were fair game to me and my three cousins whenever we visited. My oldest cousin (seven months younger than me) was only into hard rock and that kind of crap, which I never was.

The other two were really too young to care. So that left me to dive into all the weird shit — meaning musicals and stand-up and so on. Grandpa also apparently didn’t like big band, swing, and classical. Score!

So I found the original Broadway soundtrack of Cabaret, gave it a listen and immediately wanted to play the Emcee. This was long after the film had come out, actually, but I eventually learned that it existed, although I didn’t actually see it until a screening in a college class on film musicals.

When I finally saw the stage show, a year after I graduated from college, I realized, “Wow. The movie was so much better.”

Flash forward. When Cabaret was restaged by Sam Mendes in 1993, it picked up elements from the film, made Brian/Cliff’s bisexuality even more explicit, and hypersexualized the emcee, now played by Alan Cumming. And the biggest change to that character also makes for a really chilling ending.

In text and song, not much different from the original. In context… hang onto your socks.

I can’t help but think that this update was informed by the movie musical and Fosse’s choreography of his Emcee, which Mendes and Cumming ran with. And the last little bit here takes it on to a whole other level, just like the movie did in the 1970s.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment

Image author IsarSteve, licensed under (CC BY-SA 3.0), used unaltered.

Uncommon language

As Oscar Wilde wrote in The Canterville Ghost, “Indeed, in many respects, she was quite English, and was an excellent example of the fact that we have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.” (This was an observation by the narrator, by the way, concerning an American woman who has been in England so long that she has gone native, so to speak.)

Wilde wrote his tale 133 years ago, and you might think that in all that time, the interconnectedness of the world, the exchange of media and culture, and the common language would have brought British and English (okay, sigh, American English, if you insist) closer together, but you’d be wrong.

Okay, so the big divide happened a couple of centuries ago, when British dictionary guy Samuel Johnson decided to go all fancy and pretentious and base spellings on where words came from, so that British English wound up with ridiculous things like flavour, colour, tyre, kerb, programme, and so on.

Meanwhile, a couple of generations later, Noah Webster got busy with his real English dictionary, and he preferred simplified spellings — flavor, color, tire, curb, program, etc.

But the differences go beyond that, and it comes down to word usage, with some of the differences being unfortunate. For example, it might be quite common in Britain to ask a co-worker or schoolmate, “Can I borrow a rubber?” or “Did you wear your rubbers today?”

In America, not so much. Instead, we’d ask, “Can I borrow an eraser?” or “Did you wear your galoshes today?”

Bit of a difference, eh?

If you’re American and you hear “cooker,” what do you think? Most likely, it’s some large, specialized device, frequently found in a backyard, and used to smoke or cure meat, and not something that everyone has. In Britain, there’s probably one in every kitchen, and you cook on it because it’s a stove.

Also note that stove, oven, and range are not the same thing. A stove is generally just the cooktop, meaning the bit with the burners (also known as a hob in the UK); an oven is the enclosed box that cooks stuff without open flame; a range is the combination of both — presumably because it covers the full range of options.

Meanwhile, in America, you’d assume that a gummy band is some sort of German candy that’s maybe in the shape of One Direction or some other group. In the UK, you’d wrap it around your newspaper, or use it to tie off a plastic bag.

Of course, our rubber bands probably sound like something made out of erasers to them.

One of my favorite weird British expressions is “dummy.” It has nothing to do with ventriloquists and everything to do with babies. In America, it’s called a pacifier. There’s  a wonderful British expression, “spit the dummy,” which specifically means for an adult to react in an overblown, angry, and infantile manner to a situation.

Actually, when it comes to babies, this is where there are a lot of differences in standard terminology between the two variations of English. For example, what’s called a diaper in America is called a nappy in Britain, while nappy in America happens to be a very derogatory adjective used to describe black people’s hair in a negative way. The two words have very different derivations, with the diaper version not appearing until 1927, and being slang for “napkin,” presumably because folding a diaper around a baby’s ass is as complicated as folding a napkin for a formal dinner.

The word diaper, by the way, goes back to the 14th century, and refers to a very expensive cloth. To hear parents tell it, diapers of either the cloth or disposable variety are still expensive. Damn. Just like feminine hygiene products and razors, that shit should be heavily subsidized and practically free.

Two more that are also odd because the British words exist in American but mean something completely different: cot and flannel. In America, a cot is a light, simple, and portable bed, quite often consisting of a foldable frame, often in metal, that locks into place to keep a piece of canvas taut enough to support a sleeping adult. Americans would expect to see cots in summer camps, military barracks, field hospitals, and emergency evacuation shelters.

In Britain, a cot is what a baby sleeps in — an enclosed bed designed for infants too young to not be trusted to roll out of a regular bed. In America, that’s called a crib. Oddly enough, in Britain crib can refer to what Americans would call a crèche (we cribbed that from French, see what I did there?) which is the traditional nativity scene commonly set up around the holidays.

As for flannel, in America it’s most associated mostly with either a generally plaid shirt worn by lumberjacks or lesbians, or a gray material that was commonly used to make suits in a bygone era — and, slight detour, having only known the expression because I’m a film nerd, looking up its origin gave me an “oh, wow” moment. Definitely check out the book that the movie The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit was based on, because it continues to speak to now even though it came out in the 1950s and its protagonist would have been the parent of a Boomer.

But I do digress. The American flannel is a British washcloth.

One that’s a really big difference is pram. In America, that sounds like a mispronunciation of an annual high school tradition, the prom. Ironically, Britain, proms are what the BBC does every year to introduce their new programs. In the U.S., those events are called upfronts. The British word is short for promotionals.

The British pram is the American stroller (or baby carriage if you’re fancy), and it’s basically short for the word perambulator.

One of the more unfortunate British words that really doesn’t cross the pond well is the colloquial term for a cigarette, although as that filthy habit dies out, maybe the word will, too. That word, of course, is the other F-word: fag. “Bum me a fag, mate,” is an innocuous request to borrow a smoke over there. Here, in America, not so much.

And don’t get me started on the weirdness of the word “bom” meaning to loan in this context when it means “arese” in others, and winds up next to the word “fag.” It’s almost like they intended it.

But note how both slang terms — fag and smoke — use synecdoche, with a part standing in for the whole. Now, to Americans it’s obvious that “smoke” refers to what comes from a cigarette. Another slang term that uses the same literary device is “butt.” So how does “fag” come to be a partial stand-in for a whole cigarette?

Well, simple, but you have to go back to an older expression and a meaning that predated its derogatory and homophobic intention. The expression was originally fag-end, and this referred to any sort of loose bit or remaining piece still hanging around.

While no one is definite on it, the conjecture is that it could have referred to the loose bits of tobacco sticking out of the end of a hand-rolled cigarette. Alternatively, it could refer to the part left over when most of the cigarette has been smoked, and this is what would have been bummed, so the query would literally mean something like, “Hey, can I have the rest of that?”

Or not. And probably the most interesting thing about these linguistic differences is that context is everything, and an uninitiated American who can get over the accents (apparently, that’s hard for a lot of Yanks to do) will pick up on the meaning of these strange words, and it works vice versa.

Still, I think that Wilde’s observation was as spot-on over a century ago as it is now. The U.S. and the British Common wealth have everything in common… except for the language.

The most classic: Mozart and Beethoven

UPDATE: When I wrote and scheduled this article to post on Tuesday, January 26, I hadn’t even realized that the next day, January 27th, was Mozart’s birthday, so my timing was very appropriate. 

Last week, I wrote about Franz Joseph Haydn, considered the father of the symphony. He was the composer largely responsible for taking us from the stair world of the Baroque to the soaring world of Classical music.

Haydn lived from 1732 to 1809, so he came long before today’s subjects, Mozart and Beethoven.

Commonly known as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the boy baptized as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart was born in Salzburg Austria, although at the time it was still part of the Holy Roman Empire. He was born twenty-four years after Haydn, in 1756. A child prodigy, he would have grown up on the forms that Haydn created and perfected.

Although the film Amadeus is now almost thirty-seven years old, it was enough of a hit and Award-winner at the time that it’s still in circulation, and it’s probably the one source for everything that most people thing they know about Mozart.

The film is accurate… and not. When it comes to Mozart’s personality, it pretty much nails it. When it comes to the whole Salieri thing, that’s all made up.

If you’re not familiar with the film, our narrator and villain is the composer Antonio Salieri, and in the film’s version of history, while Salieri has a little success as a court composer, Mozart is a superstar, and the fact that he’s also an immature and foul-mouthed little shit drives Salieri crazy, so he conspires to drive Mozart to an early grave.

Yeah, that never happened. But it’s definitely true that Mozart put the “ass” in Classical Music. I mean, this is the guy who wrote a Canon for six voices called Leck mich im Arsch. In case your German is rusty, that title literally translates to “lick my asshole,” although it’s colloquially translated to “kiss my ass.”

The former is funnier, though.

Of course, when it was finally published, the lyrics were bastardized as Laßt froh uns sein, or “let us be glad,” which just doesn’t have the same ring to it, pun intended.

Although he died at only 35, Mozart was a composer admired by other composers, and studying his scores became a standard part of musical education. All of his works, from symphonies to operas, were wildly popular in his lifetime. He certainly knew how to write a catchy melody, play with it joyously, and create rich and complex orchestrations unlike anything else being done at the time.

He also broke with the “rule” of the era: Operas were only written in Italian. While he did compose many of them with Italian librettos (Le nozze di Figaro, or The Marriage of Figaro, being the most famous example) he also composed them in German, which was a scandal at the time. The most famous of his German operas is arguably Die Zauberflöte, or The Magic Flute.

Meanwhile, while Mozart was at the height of his fame and approaching his early demise, a teenage boy who himself was born when Mozart was fourteen was listening to his music and was a huge fan.

His name was Ludwig van Beethoven. A German composer, he was born in 1770 and died in 1827. Mozart was a huge influence on his music, and Ludwig van went on to become a bridge from Classical music — which was still about form and style — and bring on the Romantic era, which was all about emotion.

Although he only wrote nine symphonies (Mozart composed 50), Beethoven was basically doing the concept albums of his time, and almost all of his symphonies had a theme. One of the more controversial in that regard was his Third Symphony in E-flat Major, titled Eroica, or “Heroic.”

He originally dedicated it “to Bonaparte,” as in Napoleon, in 1804, when he was still First Consul. The composer later withdrew that dedication when Napoleon declared himself Emperor and Beethoven’s lofty opinion of him changed quickly.

But one of his more controversial moves, style-wise, was in his Sixth Symphony in F Major, dubbed Pastoral Symphony. Now what was the big deal about this one?

He had the sheer audacity to write it with five movements instead of the standard four, and each movement had its own scene-setting.

It was clear by this point that he was writing his music with the intention of creating specific images and feelings in his audience’s minds and hearts.

Interesting fact: He only wrote two of his symphonies in minor keys, but the happen to be two of his most well-known. These are his Fifth Symphony in C minor, which is famous for its “da da da DUM” phrase, and his Ninth Symphony in D minor, titled The Choral Symphony.

There’s a further little detail about the Fifth Symphony as well: later on, when Samuel F.B. Morse created his Morse Code, the pattern for V was dot dot dot dash, which exactly matched the rhythm of the main theme in this symphony. Timing-wise, the first three notes collectively play out in half the length of the second note.

But… this came back with ironic effect in WWII, because the letter V, for the allies, became associated with Victory. Churchill was flashing the V sign long before it came to mean “peace” in the 60s. So, this musical motif that spelled out V in Morse Code became a very popular symbol for the allies, who were fighting the Germans.

You know — the folk from the same country as Ludwig van.

My music history teacher in high school did tell us a story about the Ninth that, thanks to the internet, I can’t confirm, which is a bit of a disappointment. In his version, the original performance bombed because the copyists rushed to prepare the scores and Beethoven was too hearing-impaired by that point to hear the mistakes, so the piece was not performed for years.

Then, at the end of WWII, a young American soldier was in Berlin, doing a house-to-house sweep to find any hiding Nazis, and in one attic he ran across a musical manuscript he immediately recognized as the score of the Ninth, but as he looked at it, he realized it was different than the version he knew because it was the correct one.

This was how the symphony was saved, and that young soldier was Leonard Bernstein.

Except that story was total bullshit. Dammit. Because it’s one I wanted to like. The simple truth is that the piece was a hit from the beginning, although some fuddy-duddies thought it was too loud and complex.

It’s big innovation — and hence the name of Choral Symphony — was that it did, indeed, involve a group of soloists and a choir, something that hadn’t been done before in a symphony.

The fourth movement incorporates a poem by the German poet Friedrich Schiller, An die Freude or Ode to Joy, and the entire movement builds on that theme remarkably.

Honestly, Beethoven’s Ninth is my favorite piece of classical music ever, period, and especially that fourth movement. If you ever have a chance to see it performed live by a reputable professional orchestra under a name conductor, do it.

You will not be disappointed. One of my favorite concert experiences of all times was years ago, when we still had live concerts, and I went with friends to a Hollywood Bowl classical marathon.

I don’t remember now whether the show ran from noon to midnight or if it started later, like at two or four. I just remember that they wisely programmed about half an hour of original compositions by the conductor (who was not known as a composer) around six thirty in the evening, which gave people a convenient excuse to sneak off and grab food and take a bathroom break.

But at the end of the evening came the Ninth, and at the end of the Ninth came the fourth movement, and by the end of it, everyone was on their feet, cheering and jumping up and down and clapping and crying tears of joy.

It’s that powerful of a piece, really. And by the time it rolled out in 1824, Beethoven had changed the face of Western music forever.

I’ll leave you with just the finale of the movement, conducted by the great Dudamel himself.

Image source: Mozart, Barbara Krafft, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Beethoven, also public domain.

Sunday Nibble #47: Music really is just math

In which your humble narrator goes off on the subject of music theory and turns a nibble into an elaborate seven course formal dinner prefaced by a catered luncheon and a two hour open bar mimosa brunch. Sorry…? Not sorry. Dine away!

I ran across an interesting little product this week, Theo — the Music Theory Wheel. Full disclosure: It showed up as a sponsored link on my Facebook feed, but I have nothing to do with the company and am not making any kind of paid endorsement here.

It’s just that it struck me as such a simple and elegant device that packs so much music theory into a compact space that it’s ridiculous. It’s not anything I’d ever need because I’ve had all of this information living in my head since I was about seven years old.

But there’s a reason that music theory can fit into such a simple, elegant, and geometric space, which is made up of two arcs of 210 degrees each, offset by ninety degrees. This is just a mask for the real action, which happens on the disc inside as you turn it to your selected key.

My only question is why they decided to set the starting window on IV in the tonic key, rather than on I, but otherwise, it is beautiful.

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/2609/7110/products/green-theo_800x800_crop_center.jpg

The basis of musical theory is the Circle of Fifths, and that’s what you’re looking at above. Western music is based on seven notes and eleven tones, and the Circle of Fifths arranges them in an order that teaches us how to create harmonious melodies out of them.

The seven notes are identified by the first seven letters of the alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Of course, you may also know them from a certain cloying musical in which they are called Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do, although these words do not refer to the aforementioned letters.

Rather, each one stands for a particular place in the scale based on whatever note happens to be Do, number 1. The full do-re-mi cycle covers eight notes, and we generally identify them by Roman numerals, which gives us I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII. If you did click the link above, you’ll see them very prominently displayed.

Those weird note names came from an 11th Century monk, Guido d’Arezzo, who basically created the idea of the musical staff as we now know it. But that’s not important now.

How do we go from seven notes to eleven tones? That would be because of the accidentals. These refer to either sharps or flats. The former raise a note one half step, and the latter drop a note one half step.

Now, you’d think that this would give us fourteen notes, but it doesn’t work that way because not all notes start out a step apart. Welcome to B and C and E and F, which are already a half step from each other.

For proof of that, look at a piano keyboard. Ever wonder why there are two spots with white keys that have no black key between them? Well, the two below the pair of black keys are B and C, and the two below the trio of black keys are E and F.

Or, in other words, C is already B sharp and B is C flat; F is E sharp, and E is F flat.

Confused yet? Well, let’s write out the eleven tones, known as the chromatic scale, and do it using the sharp sign, #  — which existed long before it meant hashtag, thank you. Starting on A…

A, A#, B, C, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#

Sidebar: This is actually a twelve-tone scale. It just need another A on top. Same thing with the original A to G. The full pattern has an A at the end as well, making it eight notes, which we call an octave.

Of course, we don’t build things out of that chromatic scale, unless we’re some freak like Schoenberg and company, who actually thinks that atonal shit — composed by picking notes at random no less — sounds good.

No, in western music, the Major scale starts on a particular note and follows a pattern. The pattern is this: Whole step, whole step, half, whole step, whole step, whole step, half.

So, if we start on A and follow the steps and half steps above, we get:

A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A

It’s probably a little clearer in the key of C, though, because that’s the one key that doesn’t have any accidentals. Advanced technical term. Short version: the key of A, as shown above, naturally has three sharps in it. The key of C has no sharps and no flats.

It’s a thing.

So, if we start on C, it goes like this: C to D, whole step. D to E, whole step. E to F, half step. F to G, G to A, and A to B, your trio of whole steps, then B to C your last natural half step.

There’s a hidden effect in here, and it’s this: the first and next to last steps, which are II and VIII on the scale, don’t matter that much (until we get to insanely advanced jazz theory) but the next four steps are all important in harmonizing on the dominant note for various reasons.

They are III, IV, V, and VI. Two of them (IV and V) create the Circle of Fifths, three of them (I, III, and V) create all Major chords, and one of them (VI) is the most important sibling of the main key, because it creates the relative minor.

I’ll plop in the C Major scale again for reference:

C D E F G A B C

And, in terms of relative tone:

I II III IV V VI VII VIII

Here are the beginnings of the arrangement of the Circle of Fifths. Start with any arbitrary note, in this case, C, and stick it on a circle divided into twelve sections of 30 degrees. Next, clockwise from C, put the V tone, which is G. Counterclockwise to C, put the VI tone, or F.

Fun fact: If we start our scale on F, C will be V. Here we go, using flats instead of sharps:

F G A Bb C D E F

If we extend the Circle of Fifths clockwise from C and G, then the next steps go D, A, E, B, F#… and this is where it takes an interesting turn.

Normally, the next note up from F# would be C#. However, that’s an icky key signature in which every note is sharp, so it was decided long ago that this was where things would swap out to Db, which is the same thing.

And the best part is that once you hit Db, you get to go backwards up the scale — Db, Ab, Eb, Bb, F… and F brings us right back to C.

And there is your circle, twelve notes, five steps apart going clockwise, four steps apart going counter clockwise.

As for the importance of I, III, V, that’s simple. Put those three notes together, you get a Major chord.

Then there’s the VII, which is the III to the V of the chord based on the tonic I that will wrap up in the aforementioned II in order to create the perfect chord to transition back to the original key.

And yeah, that probably sounded totally opaque. In simple terms, B is VII in the key of C. In the key of G, it’s III. Add the II of C, i.e. D (which is V in the key of G), on top of that, and you get G B D.

Now here’s the final mind bender. Add the IV of C onto that, which is F, and you get what is called a G7 chord, since F is VIIb in the key of G. And what does this chord do? Like I said, it leads your ear right back to the C Major chord.

A quick recap on the notes in that G7 chord relative to the key of C Major: V, VII, II (actually IX) IVb (technically XIb). In the key of G, those notes are I, III, V, VIIb. You’ll notice that the difference in every case is four.

By the way, the F7 chord in the key of C consists of the IV, VI, VIII, and IIIb (technically Xb) in C, the notes being F, A, C, Eb. In the key of F, they are I, III, V, VIIb. In this case, the difference in position is three in the opposite direction, although if I raise each note in the F chord an octave (i.e. add 7 to the number) then they all happen to be… four above the corresponding note in the key of C.

So, like I said, music theory is nothing but math, and I haven’t even gotten into notation and time signatures and all that good stuff. But, to me the most amazing part of all of this is that we somehow took the only natural language — math — and teased out of it one of our greatest and most enduring art forms.

Somewhere along the way, someone noticed that if you had, oh let’s say the thigh bone of an animal left over from dinner, and you hollowed it out and blew through it, it made a note.

And if you randomly punched a whole somewhere along its length, it would make a different note. So, you could now play two notes by covering and uncovering the hole. Let’s make more holes!

But the willy-nilly approach probably led to some god-awful sounding bone flutes and it didn’t change until some genius came along and said, “Hey… let’s make one hole right in the middle.”

So they did, and that worked because the two notes it could play were just the same note an octave apart. Hooray, primitive man discovers the bassline to My Sharona! But they clearly progressed from there, probably starting by drilling the next holes midway between the first and either end, and so on, adding holes and notes.

Eventually, after humans had discovered they could do similar things with vibrating membranes (drum solo!) and strings (cue violins) scientists studied the relationships, discovered that sound came in waves and frequencies, and the length of a wave determined the frequency, or note.

This is when it got exact, so that math could tell us the proper places to drill the holes in the flute were. Totally made up examples: The first two an equal distance from each other and the blow-hole on the flute, the third at half the distance between the first two, the next three at the same distance from each other and the third as the first two, and the last one the same distance from the previous but half distance from the end.

Cover all the holes and you get I in whatever key the flute was cut in. Uncover them, and you get VIII. Seven holes give you each note in the Major scale if the physical intervals are right.

Which brings me to things like modern flutes, piccolos, and saxophones, which are still just basically tubes with holes in them, right? So why are they so damn complicated, with all the extra holes and pushy bits and valves?

Simple. They don’t just play 8 notes, and a lot of them don’t just cover one octave. All those extra fiddly bits are there to create those other notes in the whole 12 tone scale.

Funniest conversation I ever had with a fellow musician as he watched me improvise on the piano. Keep in mind that he played clarinet and saxophone.

Musician friend: “My god. How the hell do you know where to put all your fingers to play that?”

Me: (Blank stare, blink) Dude… I’m looking at a map. How the hell do you know where to put your fingers?”

I think that gave him a huge “A-ha” moment.

The Saturday Morning Post #46: The Rêves Part 24

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.

Shot in the Dark

Danny and Preston had realized that they liked being up here in a forest on top of a mountain, and during the early mornings when everything was shrouded in mist and fog, they would go for long walks, not bothered by cold or fatigue or any of that human shit.

By their second day there, they had also gotten quite adept at being able to walk right up to random deer and other wildlife without freaking them out and sending them running.

“Goddamn,” Danny had pointed out at one point. “If we were still alive and could TikTok this shit, we’d be viral billionaires.”

“Tell me about it,” Preston replied. “Or we could just film some fucking in the forest.”

“Hm. The world’s first combo twincest/necrophilia OnlyFans. I’m sure that would make us billionaires, except… oh, right. How do we hook back into meatspace?”

“Heh heh. You said ‘meatspace,” Preston replied.

“Heh heh, you’re a dick,” Danny said.

“Right here, ready and waiting!” Preston told him, slapping both his thighs and helicoptering.

“Can you like maybe just try to imagine pants or panties or… something?” Daniel replied.

“Can you like maybe just give me one good reason I should?” Preston snapped back, and Daniel realized that he had nothing. “’Cause it’s your dick, too, and I know you don’t mind looking at it at all, or playing with it. A lot.”

They had hiked a good ways up a trail into the wilderness when both of them began to sense something unsettling, and then sickening, and then they both stopped abruptly.

“What is that?” Daniel asked.

“Hell if I know,” Preston replied. “I’m kind of new here.”

“Duh…”

They grabbed each other, grateful at least for the fact that they could touch each other, and both felt a ridiculous sense of vertigo, both of them spinning to their left and trying to hang on, and then before they almost fell over feeling two strong hands grabbing their right and left shoulders, respectively, and pulling them back onto their feet.

They turned and looked to see the figure of a kind-looking older man with silver hair, glasses, and a moustache. There was a weird kind of red mark on his forehead and a jagged line below it, but otherwise he seemed normal, albeit transparent.

“Sorry,” the man announced. “Sorry, sorry, just saw you, you seemed friendly. Hi! Who are you?”

“I’m Danny,” Danny said.

“I’m Preston,” Preston added, “Although it’s kind of he is me and I am him and… what was that Beatles song, anyway?”

“Goo-goo-g’joob,” the spectre replied. “Come Together. I’m not really sure who I am actually. Do you know who you are?”

“Like we said,” Preston chimed in. “I’m Preston.”

“I’m Danny, but we’re kind of the same person, really.”

“Oh, how good for you,” this entity replied. “See, I still have no idea who I am. I was hoping you might know.”

“Well, it depends,” Preston replies. “How did you get here?”

“Last thing I remember is a bunch of stars. And, no, there’s a sense of betrayal. But I think that my body is right around here…”

He led them to a patch of ground that was obviously a recently filled in pit, possibly a grave.

“Well, you remembered this,” Preston said. “Why can’t you remember who you are?”

“Maybe because no one knows he’s dead yet, you silly cunt?” Danny suddenly piped up, making Preston shoot him a dirty look.

But the old man seemed to take heart in this. “Of course!” he said. “No one knows I’m dead… is that kind of a requirement for… you know?”

“Who told you that?” Preston demanded.

“I… no one… it just… came into my head.”

“Interesting,” Danny said.

“But, if it’s true… give me a minute…”

Preston looked impatient, but Danny shot him a look and restrained his arm. After a long moment, the old man stopped staring and looked at the two of them.

“Oh,” he said. “My name is Jerry, I was coerced up here by someone pretending to be my friend, but then was betrayed and killed, and I’m buried over there.”

Needless to say, Preston and Danny greeted this with a bit of silence, and then a long look at each other before either of them spoke.

“Do you know who killed you?” Preston finally asked.

“Oh. Oh, yeah, it was… he used to be my boss… tip of my tongue. Dr. Schliemann.”

“That doesn’t ring any bells,” Danny said.

“You wouldn’t know him. He’s from down in the city,” Jerry explained. “Scientist at JPL, mostly works in his secret lab.”

Danny and Preston just stared at each other, jaws dropping, then they hurried right up to Jerry.

“This is the most important question we’re going to ask you — ”

“Two questions,” Danny interrupted.

“All right two. Mine is, do you remember this Dr. Schliemann’s full name?”

“Um, sure. Yeah. Give me a minute. Getting shot in the head can fuck with your memory, you know?” He laughed and then blurted out, “Ausmann. Dr. Ausmann Schliemann.”

If either Danny or Preston had actually been breathing, they would have held their breaths as Danny asked the other question. “Do you know where he is right now?”

“Well, my car is still parked over there, so I’m guessing that he’s in his cabin.”

“His cabin?”

“Yeah, right there.” Jerry pointed. “But it’s all kinds of crazy fortified. No one’s getting in.”

“Not even if they can walk through walls?” Preston asked.

“We can do that?” Jerry asked.

“We’re dead,” Danny said. “We can do a lot.”

“Thank you very much for your help,” Preston said, taking Danny’s arm to lead him away, but Danny stopped and turned back.

“Do you know why he killed you?” he asked.

“Sure, I remember now. He told me he’d killed his wife and knew I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Which is probably true.”

“Thanks,” Danny replied as Preston pulled him away. “What’s the rush?” he asked him.

“You recognize the name.”

“Sure. But?”

“Dude, we’ve got him and he doesn’t know it. We could win the war right now, right here, before it even begins.”

“I thought it had started, with that storm.”

“That? I’m guessing that was nothing,” Preston told him, then he stopped and raised his arms above his head. “Pearl. Pearl. Pearl!” he called.

She appeared immediately. “That’s our name, don’t wear it out, and what can we do ya for?”

“We… we’ve found Ausmann,” Preston said.

“No shit?” Pearl replied.

“No shit,” Danny told them.

“Where is he?”

Preston turned and pointed at the cabin.

“You’re sure?” they asked.

“Well, we haven’t actually seen him,” Danny demurred, “But the guy he murdered told us that he has to be there because that car is.”

“Interesting,” Pearl muttered, closing their eyes for a moment, then opening them and smiling. “You’ve done very well, boys,” they said, gesturing briefly, sending waves of peaceful thoughts and a feeling of being appreciated up and down their bodies. “Now what shall we do?”

The wind started to pick up, and it was immediately chaotic, though still light. The leaves on the trees would flutter one way and then the other and then calm down, only to start up again. And then, smoky wisps flew out of the forest and coalesced into various Rêves. Preston recognized some of them whom he’d met in passing, and more than a few who were definitely Class II, although he had heard the rumor that the Class II’s were on Ausmann’s side.

Well, apparently not all of them.

The Hadas were also there, but as more of a presence that was sustaining the wind, and then Anabel appeared out of a dark blue wisp, to stand next to Pearl. Pearl didn’t have to make an announcement because they all already knew the news.

“What are we waiting for?” Anabel asked.

“Well, now, it’s a tricky thing,” Pearl explained. “We can’t exactly kill him, because that’s just letting him loose with our powers.”

“What says he’s going to show up as a Rêve?” Anabel demanded.

“These boys saw a brand-new Rêve just now,” Pearl said, indicating Danny and Preston. “And if it can happen up here right after he’s murdered… Well, let’s just say we don’t want to hand our enemy that kind of power.”

“Then what do we want?” Anabel asked her, then shouted it to the crowd. “What do we all want?”

Pearl smirked at her. “Dear, don’t try to play that rally the crowd shit on me. The Hadas could take out you and any kind of army you could muster in a snap.”

“All right,” Anabel replied, suppressing her fury. “What do ‘we’ want?”

“We’re going to drive him back down to L.A. and see where he goes next. With any luck, that will give away his strategy. Agreed?”

After a long moment, Anabel finally relented, reluctantly saying, “Agreed.”

Pearl raised their right arm and gestured, and then the weather started to intensify. Meanwhile, the Rêves strolled over and surrounded Ausmann’s cabin.

The sky darkened as deep gray clouds started to form above the treetops, growing grayer and then finally fully black as they shut off the sky. Lightning without thunder flashed through them, illuminating large chunks of their undersides in surreal blue-white bursts.

The first bolt to come down struck the satellite antenna on the roof of the cabin, shattering the dish into bits in a hail of blue sparks and sending up a black plume of smoke as the PVC mounts below burst into flames. The thunder came with it immediately.

Inside the cabin, even in the underground shelter, Ausmann had sensed the heat of the strike and definitely felt the rumble of the ensuing thunder, hearing a slight bit of it. That was also when his TV screen burst into static.

“What the fuck?” he said to himself as he switched over to display all of the outside cams on the main screen Zoom style, nine by six, showing his property from every angle — and what he was seeing he didn’t like.

First off, it looked like he was surrounded by those goddamn ghost things, no famous faces among them, and they were just standing there, about fifty feet from the cabin, doing nothing.

Second, it had started to hail, but only in one very specific spot that was about three meters on a side, and directly over the septic tank cover, since no sewer lines had ever been brought up here.

Third, one of those infernal ghosts stepped from the crowd, walked up to his front door and pointed, and he recognized that face. It was Anabel.

“Yeah,” he thought to himself. “None of this is good.”

He went to one of the smart panels in the wall and tapped the screen to activate the speaker in the front doorbell, surprised that it seemed to be working. “What do you want?” he demanded.

“We want you to leave these sacred lands,” Anabel explained.

“Sacred to whom?” he scoffed. “A bunch of low-life ghosts?”

“Sacred to something you’ll never understand,” Anabel replied.

“Like what?”

As if to answer, lightning smacked into the ground ten feet in front of the door, and the lights downstairs, which weren’t even connected to any outside power source, still flickered.

“We can put the next one wherever we want to.”

“Well, good for you, Zeus,” Ausmann sneered.

Anabel restrained her annoyance, but turned back toward Pearl. She didn’t have to say it because Pearl could read her thoughts anyway, but all she could think was, “How goddamn arrogant can this mortal asshole be?”

Appeal to his ego,” Anabel heard Pearl’s voices in her mind, wondering how she was going to do that when she remembered the car waiting nearby.

“How about a challenge?” Anabel announced.

“Like what?” Ausmann replied.

“Like… you manage to make it to the bottom of the mountain before we can catch you, then we let you go along your way.”

“Catch me with what?” he asked.

“With whatever we’ve got,” Anabel said. “And we’ll even give you a fifteen minute head-start? Twenty?”

“Make it ten, bitch,” Ausmann replied.

“So you accept?” Anabel asked him.

“As long as I get to bring along whatever I need.”

“Knock yourself out,” she said.

Over the next half hour, after Anabel and the Rêves had retreated beyond the property line so as to not present an immediate threat, Ausmann dragged an impressive arsenal out to the car, not all of it recognizable as conventional weapons. He also brought out two satchels that Pearl recognized as “Go Bags,” or as friends of theirs way back in the day had described them, “Hippie Helpers.”

After he’d loaded the car, he turned to address the air in general, because he, himself, could not see the Rêves standing there. “Fifteen minutes, then?” he announced.

Anabel chose to not call him out on his change of terms, but forced herself visible and said, “All right. And your time starts… now.”

Ausmann dove into Jerry’s car, started it up, backed around and drove down the dirt road to the highway, and almost immediately cursed the fact that he was stuck with the typical Old Man’s car — a Toyota that they’d bought new the last time they had money (in their late 50s), but which was now so old that it ran on hopes and dreams.

California version of the rule: “Never trust a car with a license plate that starts with less than 4.”

So Ausmann went chugging down the hill, while also discovering that the brakes and steering were pretty much shit, and one of the rear shocks was bouncing its tire like a basketball.

His one consolation was that just before he’d left his cabin he’d pulled the “Kill Switch,” setting the timer so it would go off around dawn. At that point, the underground propane tanks would have been opened long enough to allow all of the gas to seep through the lowest level, although the power down there would also have been shut off.

The real fireworks happened when all of the C-4 hidden around the place was set off. Combined with the propane, that should destroy the place and give the ghosts a good jolt. Ausmann had never worked the physics of it out all the way, so he wasn’t sure whether there’d just be an underground thwump that would create a sinkhole that swallowed the cabin, or if there’d be a glorious explosion that would send a fireball into the air and give a whole new meaning to the phrase “Cabin in the Sky.”

Not that this would hurt the ghosts, either, but if it started a major fire in the forest, it might keep them busy trying to stop it. They seemed like the type.

Half an hour down the mountain and with the storm and lightning clearly a couple of miles behind him, Ausmann began to despair. Were these assholes letting him win?

And the farther he went and the slower, he really had to wonder even more — were they just being lazy and hoping that Jerry’s shit-ass car would kill him first, or was it just some ruse?

Once he’d actually hit the bottom of the mountain by any definition, he found the nearest auto shop and parked. He had enough supplies in the car to wait out until they opened in the morning, he’d fulfilled the ghosts’ deal, and he’d brought a briefcase stuffed with cash, so whatever he needed repaired on this junker, he could do.

Then again, there was a used car lot across the way, so that was another option.

While he waited in the dark in the car, he worked on his own Plan B. He needed his ghost hunters, needed to find them, and also figured out the perfect incentive for them.

But the finding was the hard part, and as dawn was breaking, he still had no idea where those steampunk assholes were.

* * *

Friday Free for all #44: Flavor, tech, and the truly visible

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website, although it’s been on hiatus since the Christmas Countdown began. Here, I resume with this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What flavor combination is kind of weird but you really like it?

Okay, this probably isn’t that weird because I’m sure a lot of people have discovered it, but maple syrup and bacon. I mean, it’s basically dumping a ton of fructose (yes, I’m talking real maple syrup, thanks, not that high glucose crap) on top of cooked, processed meat.

But it’s a collision of sweet and savory that works. Then again, since maple syrup invades everything that shares a plate with the pancakes, I’ve also tasted it with scrambled eggs, sausage links, hash browns, and wheat toast, and it works with them all.

Maybe that’s because maple syrup, having Canadian roots, is just polite like that and gets along with everything. I don’t know. But if you never have, make sure it hits every part of your next classic American diner breakfast — except the beverages, of course — and see what you think.

What is your favorite piece of technology that you own?

This is probably going to sound trite, and will be the answer that most people give, but hands down it is my phone. How could it not be? It’s a device that I can carry in my pocket that replaces so much other bulky tech that it’s ridiculous.

If you took a time machine back to thirteen-year-old me, then gave me a tour of my phone and said, “One day you will own this,” I would have probably cum in my pants and then passed out from the huge nerdgasm on the spot.

I mean, come on. It’s a super computer, for one thing. Your phone is more powerful than probably any office PC or Mac you’ve worked on since the early aughts. It’s a communication device that can do audio, video, text, and email.

And when it comes to revolutionizing making phone calls — as if any of us really do anymore — one of its biggest innovations was the complete destruction of the concept of toll calls and long distance, as well as the relevance of area codes.

Once upon a time, if the person you were calling lived a certain distance away, then it was a toll call, and incurred extra charges per minute. And if they were farther away, it was long distance and the charges were bigger. Also, you could always tell where someone lived by their area code.

You could also tell when you’d made too many toll calls by Dad bitching at you and Mom about the current phone bill, but those days are long gone.

Nowadays? Nope. You can call anyone in the North American Numbering Plan as if they’re local, and all that someone’s area code will tell you now is where they’re from (probably) and not where they live.

Your phone is also your music collection and player, a still and video camera, a calendar, alarm clock, timer, voice recorder, universal translator, GPS navigator, and so much more.

And, since they follow Moore’s Law as well, they’re only going to get more powerful and amazing as time goes on.

What do most people think about you that is absolutely not true?

Over time, I’ve found out from people, directly and indirectly, that they often think that I’m the smartest kid in the room. Honestly, when I hear this assessment, it kind of blows me away, because I have a ton of friends whom I consider to be a lot smarter than me in ways where I’m just dumb.

Like… adulting. And motivation. Yeah, technically, I’ve got a ridiculously high IQ, but that really means nothing. Well, not nothing… it just means that at seven years old, I was really good at taking tests designed by upper-middle-class white men.

Yeah, no big deal when you’re the seven-year-old son of an upper-middle-white-class father. It’s called privilege, and I fucking hate having been born into it, goddammit.

Now, what I am good at is learning things fast and remembering trivial shit forever. I think that if I ever decided to go on to Jeopardy! that I could Ken Jennings the shit out of it. But, again, that’s not intelligence.

That’s just a brain that assimilates new information quickly, and then holds onto it for easy recall for whatever reason. But there are so many ways in which I’m just stooped and rely on friends to bail me out.

What’s invisible but you wish people could see?

This one is easy, because it’s something that would save (and would have saved) me and a lot of people I know a lot of grief in our lives. Hell, it would even save the world the same.

It’s this: make toxic people visible from a mile away in some manner. I don’t know… maybe they glow green or something?

But can you imagine how much better all of our lives would be if we could just see and avoid them from the outset? The liars, abusers, users, gaslighters, incels, haters, rapists, killers, Karens, Trumpers, Berners, cultists, fanatics, and other dross that we’d all be better off without?

There’s an old, old comic hero catchphrase I had to look up, but it goes like this: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” Now imagine if we did all have that super power.

How many of your exes would be people you never even dated? How many jobs would you have passed up, probably for the better, if you’d had warning? How many people would you not have voted for?

Yeah. Our lives would be a lot easier if everything kind of looked like The Sims, and everybody had a little twirling status crystal above their heads that clearly indicated, “TOXIC! Avoid.”

Or, conversely, “GOOD PERSON! Say hi!”

And if it were that easy to initiate Woo-Hoo…

Of wigs and words

I ran across a very useful and interesting phrase in Spanish today — interesting because there are actually various versions of it. It is: “ni calvo ni con dos pelucas,” which literally means “either bald or with two wigs,” although I’ve seen it with varying numbers of wigs, at least up to seven. (Another fun fact: Unlike English cats, which have nine lives, Spanish cats only have seven.)

But the meaning of the phrase is simply that neither extreme — having too little or having too much — is good, and you should aim for the middle. And now that you know the word for wig, peluca, you might be able to recognize another word you may see on businesses: peluquería, which is derived from it; the c to q change is very common in Spanish. And no, this word does not mean wig-maker. It means hairdresser or barber shop.

The word for bald, calvo, might remind you of another Spanish word you may have seen: calavera, which means skull, or calvario, which refers to Calvary, the Latin word for the hill Jesus was crucified on and which was known as Golgotha, or Gólgota in Spanish, from the Greek word Γολγοθᾶ. This gets really interesting, because that word came from Aramaic, Gûlgaltâ (obviously not in the original characters) and wound up also being translated into Greek as Κρανίου Τόπος.

Now if you transliterate that Greek into the Latin alphabet, it might be more obvious: Kraniou topos. “Cranium” is pretty clear in the first word, and topos means place — hence the word “topography,” or writing about places. All of the words above refer to “Place of the Skull” and, apparently, that hill sort of resembled one.

In case you’re wondering, yep. The name “Calvin” comes from the same roots and originally meant “Little Bald One.” Same goes for the author Italo Calvino, whose name rather unfortunately meant “Little Bald One from Italy.” Ironically, he never really went all that bald. But we can now see that using somewhat negative terms to refer to people losing their hair goes back quite a long time in human history.

Finally, here’s a nice twist on it showing how strong the influence of Latin has been on most Western European Languages. The German word for bald is kahl, and you’ll find similar-sounding words for it in a lot of other European languages. Interestingly, even a language as unrelated as Finnish has “kalju,” which is clearly related. The common thread seems to be the hard “K” and the “L” ending. Play around with that long enough, and “skull” just pours itself right out of the sounds.

This does make me wonder whether George R. R. Martin wasn’t playing around when he named a character Khal Drogo, although khal also means “vinegar,” hence “bitter,” in Arabic, as well as “canal” in Bengali, more on which below. Although it also evokes Genghis Khan, who could certainly be taken as a role model for the character in every way, and which may have been more what Martin was going for.

As for the Drogo surname, on the one hand, it invokes the Latin draco, dragon (and hence Draco Malfoy, whose last name means “bad faith” in French), on the other hand, Drogo is also the word for “expensive” in Polish.

And this is why languages fascinate me, because it’s just so damn fun to look at how they’re connected and how they influence each other, and how long-dead empires and cultures can still have an impact to this day because of the literature and influence they left behind. It’s also interesting to see how similar sounding words have no connections whatsoever. For example, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, was named after a city on the Scottish Isle of Mull, which came for the Norse words kald and gart, for “cold garden.” And Kolkata, in India, was either named for the goddess Kali or for its original location on a canal, or khal. Although they both sound like it, neither one has anything to do with Calvary. Or, for that matter, the cavalry, but let’s not horse around with that one right now.

And that’s enough PUNishment for the moment.