Monday, June 17, 2002

Hi, Wackenhuts!

It�s Musical Six Degrees of Separation Sunday!

I know it's Monday but, again, pretend.

But first, a little business. It is with a (slightly) heavy heart I report that Taylor Hanson, 19, just got married. Taylor is extremely smart and cool and of course his cheeks are of the god-kissed peach variety that make you feel like a lecherous Greek philosopher of ancient times just looking at him.

(All my Hanson interviews got lost when I killed my laptop with whiskey. Dang. Otherwise I could prove to you how smart he is.)

(Except he's apparently dumb. You just don't get married at 19 unless it's 1834 and it's the only way you're going to make it to the New World. Or maybe you're facing a stone mob in the street, holding tiki torches and rocks and David Hasselhoff CDs, and they all really want you to get married. Or maybe aliens come down with some hippies and they're going to read Noam Chomsky out loud and make you wear Guatemalan stuff until you get married.)

Secondly, anyone who loves Neil Diamond and the Archies has to check out this vewwy spooky site, which proves that Neil and Archies songwriter Andy Kim ("Sugar, Sugar" et al.) are separated at birth. Which is Very Important.

Now, on to the Game!

The Musical Six Degrees of Separation task of the week (courtesy Maggie) is:

Clara Schumann and Max Martin.

An intriguing inaugural duo! Schumann was a 19th Century German pianist/composer, probably the most important female musician of her era.

Martin is a 21st Century Swedish pop songwriter/producer, certainly the best pop songwriter of his era. (Britney, Backstreet Boys, etc. I was horrified to learn tonight that he is only 31 years old.)

If you need some kind of proof he�s cool to like--uh, whatever. You�re really just willfully unfun, aren�t you? (So go dig this and that, and then check out the new Eminem single and compare the opening to BSB's "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" and "We've Got It Goin' On," just for kix.)

So here goes!

The Short Version:

Clara Schumann-->Robert Schumann-->J.S. Bach-->

The Toys-->Charles Calello-->Barbra Streisand-->Max Martin

(This may be seven degrees. You could easily cut Robert Schumann out of this chain, but I think I�m in love with him. I am sure that if they had had junkies back then, he would have been one.)

The Deep Version:

Clara Schumann (b. 1819) was a German child piano prodigy with a hard-ass piano-teacher father. The guy meant business: She had her first major European tour at age 12.

Unfortunately for Dad, Clara fell crazy in love with another one of his students, Robert Schumann.

Dad blew a monkey nut--Clara was supposed to be a star, not a housewife.

So for four exquisitely tortured years during Clara�s late teens, Clara and Robert carried on a hot psychic romance, unable to communicate, bumping into each other painfully on the street.

Ach jo, c�est l�amor!

Robert wrote countless pieces inspired by her.

The day before Clara turned 21, they married--without Dad�s blessing! (Robert was 30.)

But Robert had his own family "issues"--his father, a bookstore owner, died when he was 16. And so Robert had been compelled to pursue lame shit he really didn�t want to do--basically, his mom had wanted him to go to law school.

He once said, "My life has been for twenty years a struggle between poetry and prose, or, if you prefer, between music and law.�

Eventually, music won.

One of Robert�s lovelier qualities was that he was a huge, unabashed fan. He gushed over other people�s stuff--Mendelssohn, Chopin, Brahms. Sometimes he felt too much to speak:

"I never wanted to talk about Schubert, unless it was to the trees and the stars.�

(hm. maybe that's why I still haven't been able to write you that White Stripes report.)

During his struggling youth, he visited the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, where Johann Sebastian Bach had been music director. Schumann wrote: "One evening I went to the Leipzig Churchyard to look for a great man's grave: for hours I searched up and down -- I found no J.S. Bach. And when I asked the gravedigger about this, he shook his head at the man's obscurity and said, 'Bach's a common name.'"

Bach�s music, especially the precise counterpoint in his fugues, was a great comfort to Schumann in dark moods.

Schumann was obsessed with sound. He began to hear angels singing to him, and he heard entire symphonies in his head. But eventually the voices grew malevolent, and he feared he was going mad. Perhaps he suffered from schizophrenia. After a suicide attempt he entered an asylum.

Clara wasn�t allowed to visit him for two years, until he was close to death.

Finally, sitting next to him in the hospital, Clara poured a cup of red wine. It spilled on her fingers, and Robert licked it off them.

He died the next day.

The uniquely comforting style of Schumann�s hero, Bach, is evident even in the teeny-tiny five-finger exercise, �Minuet In G� from the �Little Notebook For Anna Magdalena Bach.�

Anna Magdalena was Bach�s second and last wife, a singer, whom he married when she was 21 and he was 36. (His first wife had died.)

After his death, she wrote an open letter to the comunity at large, in which she recalled highlights of their life together:

�After we had been married a few years, Sebastian surprised me on my 24th birthday with a beautiful green leather notebook with my initials imprinted in gold on the cover. Inside were beautiful songs he had written just for me!...�

Bach made an OK living as a private teacher and music director of Leipzig�s St. Thomas Church, but he never �made it� on the rock-star level Beethoven and Mozart had to deal with. He didn�t have crazy tours and mad groupies.

As Anna Magdalena says, �Most evenings we had a family concert. There were frequent visitors in our home to hear Sebastian play. Once I overheard him modestly say, �I have had to work hard; anyone who works just as hard will get just as far.�"

Bach died in 1750 after a bum operation on his eyes. He died more or less in obscurity, without even a headstone. With six kids still at home, Anna Magdalena was flat-broke, though Bach had given 27 years to the St. Thomas Church.

She hoped that one day his manuscripts might �perhaps be priceless!�

She died one year later in a poorhouse.

And, decades later, Mendelssohn began the movement to recognize Bach.

But see, if the Bachs could have earned futuristic royalties, they would have been living large.

Bach�s �Minuet in G� for Anna Magdalena was turned into a pop hit in 1965 by three girls from Jamaica, New York.

Called �A Lover�s Concerto,� the minuet-with-a-beat made June Montiero, Barbara Harris, and Barbara Parritt--better known as the Toys--famous for about 40 seconds. So famous, in fact, people thought they would be the next Supremes.

�A Lover�s Concerto� was certified gold in 1965, peaking on the Billboard pop chart at #2.

The great jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughn covered the song, as did the ever-competitive Supremes.

The Toys� arrangement was by Charles Calello, a former Four Season who was becoming a successful arranger and producer. He apparently went on to arranged Neil Diamond�s �Sweet Caroline� (uncredited), for example, and also did the string arrangements for Springsteen�s �Born to Run.�

Calello also produced or arranged a weird collection of people who would make their own demented series of �Six Degrees� games: Ritchie Havens, Juice Newton, Merle Haggard, Janis Ian, Helen Reddy, Gloria Estefan, Laura Nyro, on and on.

Like I said, weird.

He�s one of these guys where, say, you randomly go to a party at his rich grandson�s house, and there�s a shitload of gold records or awards on the walls, and you�re going, �Who the fuck?�

One of Charlie Calello�s biggest collaborators was Barbra Streisand. He did a ton of work on her album �Streisand Superman.� (Remember �My Heart Belongs to Me�? Yeek!)

I remember when I was 9 years old and my friend Samantha�s hip young divorced mom bought the new Streisand album with Barry Gibb (�Guilty�).

We dug it.

We especially dug the big song, �Woman In Love.�

Do you remember?

I am the woman in love/and I�ll do anything/to get you into my world/and hold you within/ It�s a RIGHT I defend!...

Over and over again!

We so dug that, we were so singing along to it in the living room, even though I kind of feared and loathed the Bee Gees at the time. At Samantha�s house I could indulge my Bee Gees side without shame.

So imagine my delight a couple years ago when Britney came out with her second album, "Oops! I Did It Again" and, on the title track, writer/producer Max Martin had ripped off Barry Gibb�s "Woman In Love"! (Or try this clip--they're all a bit short.)

Two of my favorite pop songwriters, having ahistorical sex on Radio Disney!

Don't you live for this stuff?

The End.



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