Poetry should have rhymes

January 5, 2021 • 11:15 am

I’ve deliberately made the title provocative, and I don’t believe it 100%. Further, I know this is a personal view not shared by many others. But it’s come to me lately, when reading the Norton Anthology of Poetry that I keep by my bedside, that the poems that speak to me, that move me, are nearly always ones that have rhymes. Now they don’t have to have a rigid ABABCDCD. . . GG structure of a Shakespearian sonnet, nor does every line have to rhyme, but nearly every poem that I love has some rhyme, internal or not.

I suppose I feel this way because poetry, as distinct from a lot of prose (but not all) is supposed to be musical, and part of that musicality is rhyme, which adds a pleasing musical tenor to the work. The same goes for assonance and alliteration, which I guess haven’t yet gone out of style like rhyme has. For if there’s one trait that characterizes truly modern poetry, it’s a lack of rhyme, or even rhythm. (Yes, I know some current poets still use rhyme, but it’s not frequent.)

When I realized this the other day, I tried to think of more modern poets I like who didn’t use rhyme.  I already remembered that Yeats and T. S. Eliot used it, though the latter more sparingly in works like “The Waste Land”.  (The last stanza of “Ben Bulben”, by Yeats, also has no rhymes save for the implied rhymes of there/near and spot/cut; but the rest of the poem does.)

Dylan Thomas also used rhyme most of the time, though in some of his poems, like the lovely “Fern Hill”, the lack of rhyme is compensated by a surfeit of alliteration and the sheer musicality of the words themselves (Richard Burton’s recitation is much better than Thomas’s own).

There are exceptions. I like Seamus Heaney, but his rhymes are few. So are they in Wallace Stevens, one of my favorite modern poets, but they are there nonetheless. Although “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” is rhymeless, another favorite, “Peter Quince at the Clavier” has sporadic rhymes that buttress the work.  Ezra Pound used rhyme early in his career, but it’s absent in my favorite of his works, his translations of Old English and Japanese poems, including the gorgeous “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter”. His Cantos, which start off well but go downhill, are sans rhyme.

Still, a poem I discovered in the last few years, and one that, to me, ranks amongst the great works of our era—Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy“—is full of rhyme, mostly with the “oo” sound. And that rhyme is part of the reason it’s such a good poem.

What leaves me cold are rhymeless and music-less poems—the kind you see in The New Yorker, and which seem to comprise much of modern poetry. I can’t say that that kind of poetry is bad, because of course taste is subjective, but it doesn’t engage me. Nor will I aver that poetry has declined as an art form (though I maintain that both jazz and classical music have). But I will say that when I go back to read poetry, I tend to land somewhere between Shakespeare and Plath—avoiding at all costs Walt Whitman, Bill Clinton be damned.

Dare I say that the poetry of our era is concerned less with music than with thought? (Remember, I’m not an English teacher here, just a reader.)


Worst rock songs

January 2, 2021 • 1:45 pm

To complete today’s pair of splenetic rants, I’ll simply list what I’ve added, over the years, to my list of the Worst Rock Songs of All Time. (Well, some don’t qualify as “rock”, but they were all played on popular radio.) I’ll link each song to the original recording. .

You know what to do: add to the list!


Green Berets (Sgt. Barry Sadler).  What can I say? I’m a conscientious objector.

An Open Letter to My Teenage Son (Victor Lundberg)  A real anti-hippie song, the MAGA of the Sixties. You probably haven’t heard it, but it was popular.

Spill the Wine (Eric Burdon)  Burdon couldn’t recognize good lyrics if they bit him in the tuchas.

Brand New Key (Melanie) Sexual innuendo with roller skates.

I’ve Never Been to Me (Charlene) Don’t miss this one! Seriously! She’s been undressed by kings but is unfulfilled without a husband and baby.  n.b. lyric: “I’ve been to Nice/and the Isle of Greece”.  There is no “isle of Greece”!

Octopus’s Garden (The Beatles)  I know some people are gonna say this one’s good. . .

Macarthur Park (Richard Harris) Does anybody like this song?

Old Rivers (Walter Brennan) This kind of grows on you, but it’s still a dreadful song.

Take the Money and Run (Steve Miller) This takes the prize for the worst rhymes in any song (e.g., “They headed down to, ooh, old El Paso/That’s where they ran into a great big hassle” or “Hoo-hoo-hoo, billy Mack is a detective down in Texas/You know he knows just exactly what the facts is”.) They don’t write songs like that any more—thank God.

Muskrat Love (The Captain and Tennille) Anthropomorphic muskrats fall in love (“Muzzle to muzzle, now anything goes.”) This song has a decent tune, and I always had a thing for Tennille, but the words are cringeworthy (n.b. to Toni: muskrats don’t eat bacon or cheese!)

The Name Game (Shirley Ellis). This was a huge hit, and many of my contemporaries can still do the name thing.

Drops of Jupiter (Train) For pretentious songs since 2000, this takes the cake. (“She checks out Mozart while she does tai bo”)

California passes law to test prospective cops for both explicit and implicit bias: a poorly written article in The Washington Post

October 29, 2020 • 10:45 am

This law sounds good in principle, but seems impossible to use as a way of detecting racism in potential hires. The law and its problems are described in a long and poorly-written article in the Washington Post; I’ll have more to say about the writing later.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Here’s the skinny, and I’ve condensed an article whose published version is at least three times longer than it need be:

An ambitious new law in California taking aim at potential biases of prospective officers has raised questions and concerns among police officers and experts who fear that if implemented inadequately, the law could undermine its own mission to change policing and the culture of law enforcement.

The law, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Sept. 30, will expand the present screening requirements by mandating all law enforcement agencies conduct mental evaluations of peace officer candidates to identify both implicit and explicit biases against race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual orientation to exclude unfit recruits.

Experts, police unions and lawmakers agree on the value of identifying whether those who aspire to become officers carry considerable degrees of biases, yet it is the lack of clarity on what tools and measures will be used to look for implicit biases that is raising concerns and prompting questions.

“If police departments start to reject applicants because they have implicit biases there will be no one left to hire,” said Lorie Fridell, professor of criminology at the University of South Florida and founder of the Fair and Impartial Policing program, one of the most popular implicit-bias awareness trainings in the country.

That’s one problem with the implicit bias test: it shows that nearly everyone has implicit bias (the article mentions that 88% of whites and 48% of blacks have an implicit bias for white people (when I took the test, it showed I was “race neutral”: the optimal outcome). Not only that, but the IAT (Implicit Association Test) has been widely criticized on many grounds, not the least that it doesn’t seem to translate into measurable behavior, which is the reason you measure it. You can see The Replicability Index‘s useful summary of all the analyses by clicking on the screenshot below:

From the article’s conclusions:

An unbiased assessment of the evidence shows no compelling evidence that the race IAT is a valid measure of implicit racial bias; and without a valid measure of implicit racial bias it is impossible to make scientific statements about implicit racial bias. I think the general public deserves to know this. Unfortunately, there is no need for scientific evidence that prejudice and discrimination still exists. Ideally, psychologists will spend more effort in developing valid measures of racism that can provide trustworthy information about variation across individuals, geographic regions, groups, and time. Many people believe that psychologists are already doing it, but this review of the literature shows that this is not the case. It is high time to actually do what the general public expects from us.

(See also this article from the British Psychological Society’s “Research Digest.”) Based on the widespread criticism of these tests, it’s simply not valid to claim that everyone has implicit bias.

Now onto the writing quality of the article. It’s long, tedious, and the prose is convoluted and abysmal. There are also some errors. I’ll give a few examples:

The law comes amid a moment of social upheaval where police departments across the country are facing scrutiny. . . .

WRONG. A moment is a period of time, and so it should be “when police departments” rather than “where police departments”. This is a common mistake, but an editor should have caught it.

None of the experts interviewed by The Washington Post claimed to know of law enforcement agencies that screen for unconscious biases — those that people are unwilling or unable to identify — as a hiring standard.

This is awkward. Although the antecedent to “those that people are unwilling or unable to identify” should be “unconscious biases”, it could also be “law enforcement agencies that screen for unconscious biases.” The awkward sentence could easily be fixed to “None of the experts interviewed claimed to know of law enforcement agencies that hire using screenings for unconscious biases—those biases that people are unwilling or unable to identify.”

. . . . he is skeptical of taking implicit bias evaluations like IATs, as benchmarks of deep-seeded beliefs that would lead to discrimination.

IT IS NOT “DEEP-SEEDED” but “DEEP-SEATED”. Everybody should know this, but the mistake is common. But that doesn’t excuse it from appearing in a major newspaper.

These screenings vary agency to agency and often include review of social media postings for sexist or racist comments, interviews with acquaintances, past employers, family members and thorough mental evaluations.

That’s another awkward sentence implying that the review of social media posts includes “thorough mental evaluations”. This could have been solved by putting “thorough mental evaluations” before “review of social media postings.”
A shared concern among scholars is on the use of tools such as implicit association tests (IATs) — sometimes used in bias training — as a hiring tool or screening device due to the unreliability of its findings.
The bit after the second hyphen is confusing and hard to read. It would be easy to fix: “Because implicit association tests (IATs) have been found to be unreliable, scholars are concerned about their use to screen or hire applicants, or in bias training.” Further, the construction “a shared concern . . .on” is awkward and should be “Many scholars are concerned about. . . ” or some other construction.

Yes, these errors may seem minor, but don’t newspapers like the Washington Post employ line editors any more? What’s just as bad, or worse, is the painfully awkward prose, with long sentences, that pervades the entire article. Like this:

Kang said implicit bias tests provide useful, yet inexact information, which he compared to weather forecasts, about a person’s beliefs and stereotypes at a certain moment, but they ought to be used as road maps to help law enforcement agencies develop better methods and procedures, rather than as individual hiring tools.

UG-LEE! But examples are easy to find. One more and I’ll leave you:

Catafi said POST will be working with psychologists and law enforcement experts to incorporate these new required items to the current psychological screening manual, and they have until January 2022 to complete the process.

That one has a bad error as well: it’s incorporate INTO, not “incorporate to”.

But where are the editors? There ought to be editors. Well, maybe next year.

h/t: Luana

Another reason why modern pop and rock suck

September 19, 2020 • 2:30 pm

The link to this video came from reader Andrea, who said,

This may be one reason why you can’t stand today’s music… an insane overuse of the supertonic… the second note on the scale. BTW, the guy in this video has a cool keyboard.
Combine supertonic obsession with autotuning, and you get a bunch of songs that not only all sound alike, but are also boring, turgid, and unoriginal. This video by Andrew Huang gives a bunch of examples. If you think this kind of music is as good as the great rock and soul of the Sixties and early Seventies, you’re just wrong. Rock music is circling the drain, and survives solely because young people have to have some kind of music to call their own.

Words and phrases I detest

September 18, 2020 • 10:30 am

It’s time for your host—now even more peevish than usual because of the pandemic—to vent about his most-despised words and phrases. And you can add yours in the comments, or perhaps you’d like to inform me that language changes and these neologisms are fine. In that case, take a number and get in line.

As usual, my examples come from HuffPost, which is the fastest way to find examples of odious jargon. Click on the screenshots to read the articles.

Back in the day“.  Yes, everybody says this, but it annoys me because of its lack of precision. Exactly what day are you talking about? Back in WHICH day? If you mean “during the 1950s”, or “in my youth,” then why not say that? You will never find that phrase coming out of my mouth.

Bigly” marks the user as a clever person—supposedly. Actually, it marks that person as a sheep who follows ridiculous speech trends. “Bigly”, of course, means “copiously” or, as in the case below, simply “well”. If we’re going to use “bigly”, how about “smally” to mean “not much” or “not very well”?

I do have a “Yo Semite” tee-shirt thanks to a kind reader, and I enjoy it a lot, but I don’t enjoy it “bigly”.

“Sorry not sorry”.  Now this one really burns my onions.  What it means is that you’re not sorry at all. I suppose that someone who was clever (and that doesn’t include those who use this phrase) could construe it as “I’m sorry, but I’m not apologizing for what I said/did.” But it’s used, like the phrase just above, to mark yourself as a clever speaker, which it doesn’t do at all.

“Slay”.  This means “amazes” or “wows”, but it’s both overly cute and macabre at the same time. A classic use would be “Beyoncé slays with new album,” but here’s an article from Huffpost that I found in about five seconds. In so doing, I discovered something new to me: “slay” can be used as a noun as well as a verb. And that’s even worse!:

Rap converges with religious glossolalia

September 10, 2020 • 2:30 pm

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of rap music, which has replaced soul music, a fantastic period of song, as the African-American pop music. I do like some rap songs, but only when the rapping has a melody interspersed.

Here’s Iggy Azalea “freestyling”, which is improvised rap. She’s not very good at it, and this almost seems to be a form of glossolalia, or religious speaking in tongues. And, just like for those who do this in church, the crowd goes wild.

You can have it.

Is that any different from this?:

In which I deconstruct a NYT profile of Steve Pinker

July 16, 2020 • 12:00 pm

The New York Times has a new profile of Steve Pinker, with a photo that, while nice, doesn’t include his cowboy boots. It concentrates mostly on the letter signed by 550+ academics calling for the Linguistic Society of America to rescind Pinker’s “distinguished fellow” and “media expert” status. Since I’ve discussed that letter in detail, I won’t go over it here, but simply give my take on some of the statements in the NYT’s generally fair profile. I’ll just add, by way of self-aggrandizement, that you read about that here  (as well as the letter in Harper’s that Pinker signed) well before it appeared in the paper of record. And the NYT’s report adds little to what I said. Further, you can read me for free!

Click on the screenshot to read.

The Times comments are indented, while mine are flush left.

The linguists demanded that the society revoke Professor Pinker’s status as a “distinguished fellow” and strike his name from its list of media experts. The society’s executive committee declined to do so last week, stating: “It is not the mission of the society to control the opinions of its members, nor their expression.”

Good for them! That’s a slap in the face to the letter signers. But then there’s this:

But a charge of racial insensitivity carries power in the current climate, and the letter sounded another shot in the fraught cultural battles now erupting in academia and publishing.

What power did it carry if it didn’t accomplish what it set out to do? The “power of Twitter”? (I’d add that “sounded another shot” is bad writing. “Fired another shot” would be better.)

In an era of polarizing ideologies, Professor Pinker, a linguist and social psychologist, is tough to pin down. He is a big supporter of Democrats, and donated heavily to former President Barack Obama, but he has denounced what he sees as the close-mindedness of heavily liberal American universities. He likes to publicly entertain ideas outside the academic mainstream, including the question of innate differences between the sexes and among different ethnic and racial groups. And he has suggested that the political left’s insistence that certain subjects are off limits contributed to the rise of the alt-right.

This is the kind of wording that I read differently from others, perhaps because I think the Times has an agenda.  Why does somebody have to be “pinned down?  What are the “pins” on which we’re to be impaled? “Progressive woke leftist,” “Liberal”, “Centrist,” “Conservative, and “Nazi”?  Pinker is a left-centrist, I suppose, but one who thinks for himself and is unwilling to accept “received wisdom” without data behind it. The description of his intellectual independence is positive to me, not “something hard to pin down,” and why bother to pin someone down in the first place? All they had to say is that he’s a liberal but has independent opinions that often don’t jibe with the mantras of progressive Leftism.  The Times would prefer somebody to be pinned down because it fits better into their Manichaean ideology.

The origin of the letter remains a mystery. Of 10 signers contacted by The Times, only one hinted that she knew the identity of the authors. Many of the linguists proved shy about talking, and since the letter first surfaced on Twitter on July 3, several prominent linguists have said their names had been included without their knowledge.

Several department chairs in linguistics and philosophy signed the letter, including Professor Barry Smith of the University at Buffalo and Professor Lisa Davidson of New York University. Professor Smith did not return calls and an email and Professor Davidson declined to comment when The Times reached out.

These people are a bunch of yellow-bellied cowards. Why would they sign such a strong letter and then refuse to talk about it, or decline to comment? I suspect it’s because their “accusations” proved to be a bunch of nonsense and that many of them are embarrassed to have signed it. I’d love to chat with some of them and ask them, for instance, why referring to Bernie Goetz as “mild-mannered”, when several liberal media did at the time he shot people on the subway, is such a sin. And who included people’s names without their knowledge?

The linguists’ letter touched only lightly on questions that have proved storm-tossed for Professor Pinker in the past. In the debate over whether nature or nurture shapes human behavior, he has leaned toward nature, arguing that characteristics like psychological traits and intelligence are to some degree heritable.

The heritability of the traits mentioned, like IQ, is not in question. IQ is at least 50% heritable within populations, becoming more heritable with age—up to 80%. What you do with those data is contentious, but the NYT implies here that the data simply reflect Pinker’s “arguments” rather than real scientific evidence. It’s like saying this: “In the debate about whether evolution or creation is true, Pinker has leaned toward evolution, arguing that observations like the fossil record and biogeography support evolution.” This way of describing real data as a sort-of-opinion is implicitly anti-science.

The clash may also reflect the fact that Professor Pinker’s rosy outlook — he argues that the world is becoming a better place, by almost any measure, from poverty to literacy — sounds discordant during this painful moment of national reckoning with the still-ugly scars of racism and inequality.

Partly, I’m sure, but note that Pinker was demonized by the far Left long before George Floyd was murdered. And his claims about the moral improvement of humanity are more than arguments, as they’re based on data. That’s why Better Angels is filled with graphs. Many of his claims about things getting better are simply uncontestable.

Finally, a telling omission:

The linguists insisted they were not attempting to censor Professor Pinker. Rather, they were intent on showing that he had been deceitful and used racial dog whistles, and thus, was a disreputable representative for linguistics. . . .

Umm. . . here’s what the original said (my emphasis):

We want to note here that we have no desire to judge Dr. Pinker’s actions in moral terms, or claim to know what his aims are. Nor do we seek to “cancel” Dr. Pinker, or to bar him from participating in the linguistics and LSA communities (though many of our signatories may well believe that doing so would be the right course of action). We do, however, believe that the examples introduced above establish that Dr. Pinker’s public actions constitute a pattern of downplaying the very real violence of systemic racism and sexism, and, moreover, a pattern that is not above deceitfulness, misrepresentation, or the employment of dogwhistles. In light of the fact that Dr. Pinker is read widely beyond the linguistics community, this behavior is particularly harmful, not merely for the perception of linguistics by the general public, but for movements against the systems of racism and sexism, and for linguists affected by these violent systems.

There’s more than just “censorship” here; in particular there’s the claim that they aren’t judging the morality of Pinker’s actions. That claim is laughable in view of the letter’s repeated accusations of racism and sexism against Pinker, and the implicit accusation that Pinker knew exactly what he was doing with his “dog whistles”. Aren’t those connected with morality? I think the funniest sentence in the letter, and the most duplicitous, is the first sentence in the paragraph above.

As I said, I think the profile, by and large, is pretty good and objective. But it leaves out crucial parts of the kerfuffle, and irks me by implying that data-based claims are simply “arguments”.


The unappreciated greatness of Steely Dan

June 28, 2020 • 1:45 pm

The article below just appeared in the Boston Globe, written by Ty Burr, and it’s about how some young people are coming to appreciate the music of their elders, which they call “dad rock”. Oy!

Click on the screenshot to read:

The intro:

One of the more satisfying cheap thrills that comes with getting old is watching the discombobulated expression on someone young when they realize something they’ve dismissed as hopelessly parental is actually something rather . . . good.

Translation: Today’s sermon will be on Steely Dan and the vicissitudes of dad rock.

It’s prompted in part by a June 18 New York Times article in which writer Lindsay Zoladz admitted with a degree of chagrin that the music of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, long derided from her back-seat position on family car rides, has in her early 30s taken up permanent residence in her headphones.

Wrote Zoladz, “My recent embrace of Steely Dan has helped me settle into a newfound level of self-acceptance. I am a discerning, feminist-minded millennial woman. I also love dad rock.’’

Here’s Zoladz’s article:

Back at the Globe, Burr first pushes back at the demeaning term “dad rock” (why not “mom rock”?), and then goes on to explain why the Dan are so great. I’ll skip the second part, and give my own brief take. The argot:

But, first, a word about “dad rock,’’ a term coined (as the Times article points out) in a 2007 Pitchfork review of a Wilco album. The phrase is, of course, profoundly insulting while remaining absolutely undeniable, the end result of generations of boomers and Gen Xers treating the music of their youth as catechism for their children. Apostasy is guaranteed.

Dad rock takes its place next to dad jeans and dad jokes as an endearing diminution — you’re corny as hell, old man, but I guess we’ll keep you — but what kind of music actually qualifies? In practice, it’s whatever you play to your kids as important cultural education (disguised as fun) until they retaliate by going over to K-pop, Katy Perry, or industrial death metal. In theory, it’s all the classic rawk from your adolescence that you now hear in Starbucks and the aisles of Whole Foods. More damage has been done to Van Morrison’s career by the overplaying of “Moondance’’ than by his worst-charting album.

The Beatles don’t count as dad rock, because they’re foundational — a bouncy pop bedrock best introduced early. But the Stones, the Who, and (sob) the Kinks qualify. So does Springsteen, which I know is tough for a lot of you. So do the laid-back LA rockers of the 1970s — the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne — and Southern rockers like the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Marshall Tucker Band. The prog rock that was so rad in 1974: Yes and ELP and all the rest? Don’t even try. My personal induction into the dad rock hall of shame came when a group of my guy friends and I started singing Jethro Tull’s album-long “Thick as a Brick’’ at a barbecue — and we knew every word.

I’m not sure what Burr means by “foundational,” because if you’re talking about the roots of rock, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis were also foundational, but surely they’d be classified as “dad rock”. Like the Dan, the Beatles were sui generis—though the Beatles began heavily influenced by the rock of the late Fifties and early Sixties. Both bands developed their own style that, well, didn’t reflect earlier influences nearly as heavily as other groups. I mean, “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Blackbird”—where did they come from? I’d also disagree that Fleetwood Mac and the Allman Brothers were dad rock: they were great bands that can still be appreciated not as a marker of your youth, but as great music on its own, just as we can appreciate Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, and Charlie Parker. Are Parker, Basie, Ellington, and Billie Holiday “dad jazz”? I don’t think so. And that’s where Burr goes wrong:

I could go on; the point is that the process is a natural state of evolution. No growing person can develop their own taste until they overthrow their parents’ tastes, which means cherry-picking selected parental pop while making independent forays into their generation’s musical present and a self-curated past. Such rejection has gotta hurt, but it opens the floodgates for the tide to come the other way. My 20-something daughters send me their playlists now, and they’re fantastic. And you know who turns up on them a fair amount?

Perhaps my beef arises because this view doesn’t reflect my own musical journey. When I was a kid, I listened to my parents’ LPs, including Sinatra, the great Broadway musicals like Oklahoma and My Fair Lady, and White Folks’ Jazz: Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, et al.: the music my parents danced to, live, at Penn State dances. And I still love that music. I never overthrew my parents’ taste, but simply added to it my own tastes beginning when rock took off when I was about five years old. That’s when I first heard “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets, often regarded as the first true rock song.

I’ve always said—and I stand by this still, and have defended it with examples—that somebody had to grow up during rock’s halcyon days, and those lucky people happened to be me and my contemporaries. For as I was finishing high school, the Beatles were surging, along with the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Santana (NOT dad rock), Janis Joplin, and so on ad infinitum.  You’d have to be pretty tone deaf, or lack taste, to say that today’s rock and pop music is just as good as the music of that era. (I can hear blood pressures rising!). Well, somebody had to say it, and I did.

In my view (this is a theory that is mine) most art forms describe a flattened parabola. Classical music began reaching its apogee with Bach and Beethoven, and has gone downhill ever since Stravinsky. Painting, too, is now debased, so that visits to art galleries are dutiful rather than exciting. And as for opera, well, let’s not talk about it. (I shouldn’t have to say here that all tastes are subjective, and that I’ll get angry responses by people who say that classical-music adepts, for instance, find much to admire in the modern genre. But if that’s the case, why do symphony orchestras still present “the greats”, throwing in a little classical modern music to try to get people interested in newer stuff?)

And so rock further declines, and perhaps some day will give way to another genre of music. As for me, I do try to listen to good rock music—and yes, there’s some—but I never hear anything as good as the music that enveloped me when I was a teenager. Further, well into my forties, I developed a love for “real” jazz, the jazz of black people, beginning with Louis Armstrong and extending through Ellington and Basie to Parker, Gillespie, and John Coltrane. I have no truck for contemporary jazz, so I guess I like “Dad Jazz,” except that a). my dad didn’t listen to black people’s jazz, and b). jazz is pretty much moribund.

Now that I’ve angered many, I’ll just add that Steely Dan is great because their music is complex—the first real rock that was inextricably bound up with jazz.  The more you hear it, the more you’re attracted (if you have taste). It bears repeated listening, and each time you listen you hear something more. Here are ten reasons why the Dan is not “dad music (click on the song to hear it on YouTube):

1.) Dr. Wu
2.) My Old School (fabulous ending)
3.) Only a Fool Would Say That
4.) Haitian Divorce
5.) Deacon Blues
6.) Kid Charlemagne
7.) Midnite Cruiser
8.) Dirty Work
9.) Bad Sneakers (one of my favorite, with a great guitar solo), link below
10.) Peg

Have a listen to this, particularly the off-tempo break starting at 1:55, and tell me this is “Dad rock”. (As for what the words mean, that’s your guess.)

The Dan: Becker and Fagen:

Photo: Chris Walter

I’ll close by thanking my old friend Tim for the article (I’m not sure whether he’s a Dan fan), and for suggesting the last of the “unappreciated groups” I’ve put below. And here they are: fantastic groups or musicians (not “dad music”) that I consider underappreciated:

  1. Laura Nyro
  2. Buffalo Springfield (CSN and CSN&Y are pretty well appreciated)
  3. Blood, Sweat, and Tears (only the “Child is Father to the Man” album)
  4. That Allman Brothers (pretty well appreciated, but not nearly as much as they should be)
  5. The Band (pretty well appreciated again, but not enough)
  6. Tim’s suggestion: Gordon Lightfoot (I recommend only his first album, Lightfoot!, which is a masterpiece; it’s not rock but folk/country).

h/t: Tim

Words and phrases I detest

April 29, 2020 • 1:15 pm

Yes, it’s that time again—time to take out all your pent-up, pandemic-induced frustration on those who use odious and reprehensible language. As always, nearly all of my examples come from HuffPost. I have to say that I don’t find them by reading HuffPost; I simply hear something I don’t like and google it along with HuffPost. Sure enough, it’s nearly always there!  Here are five—count them, five—examples of the latest words and phrases that curl the soles of my shoes.

1.) “Mic” for microphone.  Yes, I know that “mike” isn’t part of the word, but “mic” looks like it’s pronounced “Mick”, while “mike” for “microphone”—which, as I recall, used to be the contraction—sounds like it’s supposed to sound. Below is one example of the odious “mic”, even using the with-it phrase “mic drop” (more about that on another day). Click on screenshots to see the articles:

If you use “mic”, I will castigate you (or if you’re a male, replace the “ig” with “r”).

2.) “Hilariously relatable”. This combines two ridiculous words into one phrase. First of all, there’s the “relatable” bit, meaning “you can relate to this”. I’ve talked about that one before, so let’s move on.

“Hilariously” is part of an increasing trend, especially on clickbait sites like HuffPost, to tell the reader how he or she should feel. Increasingly, words like “hilarious” or “burns” (as in, Chrissie Teigen burns Trump with a tweet”) tell you how you’re supposed to react.

In fact, what happened in the piece below isn’t hilarious at all, and doesn’t even deserve a snicker, much less a chortle. The pitcher was practicing by throwing against a screen in his backyard and accidentally broke a window in his house. Isn’t that hilarious? Nope. Is it “relatable”? Not unless you’re a major league pitcher!


3.) “Inspo” for “inspiration”. What moron thought up this contraction? If there is to be a short neologism, why not “inspi”, pronounced “in-spee”?  This word is used only to show that the user (and reader) are in the same tribe, the tribe that uses ridiculous contractions. Example:

Gag me with a spoon!

4.) “Social” for “social media”. I hear this on the local news almost every night. The announcer says something like “Follow us on social,” which of course makes me want to do the opposite.  “Social” IS NOT A NOUN, it is an ADJECTIVE. People use this either to be lazy, au courant, or both. Here’s one example:

It’s not easy to find this in print, but here’s one example:

5.) “Preventative” instead of “preventive”.  These two words mean the same thing, and I suppose “preventative” may even be in the Oxford English Dictionary (I can’t be arsed to look). But why put in that extra syllable? I tell you why: it makes you sound smarter to use a longer word. But language mavens won’t think you smarter; they’ll think you pretentious.

Now get off my lawn! But first give your own language triggers in the comments.



Words and phrases I detest

March 31, 2020 • 12:45 pm

You’d think that during the pandemic, people might be at home brushing up on their grammar; but of course you’d think wrongly. I never seem to run out of phrases that I detest, and, in this latest installment, all of them come from HuffPost, a reliable source of bad writing by eager but unlettered and underpaid youths just out of college. (You don’t get “lettered” in college any more.)

Read and weep. (No need to tell me that you have no problem with these; the point is that I do.) And feel free to add your own peeves in the comments.

If you must see the article, click on the screenshot, though the headlines in the click-through post aren’t always the same as on these front-page teasers.

1.) “Vibe”.  I have no problem with “good vibes” or “bad vibes” or “vibes” used as an abbreviation for “vibraphone”. I do have a problem with its use this way:

Note: it’s not a “good vibe” or a “bad vibe” or any kind of “(adjective) vibe”.

Here we have the latest with-it noun meaning, I think, “a created atmosphere or emotion”, similar to the odious use of the word “mood” without any adjectives. In this case, they don’t even tell you what kind of “vibe” you’re supposed to feel when Kris Jenner fumbles when trying to use Instagram. In fact, the word is completely superfluous in the headline above; they could have said, “Kris Jenner attempts and fails to livestream Kim Kardashian.”  But then, of course, the headline wouldn’t look cool and edgy.

2.) “AF”. The first time I saw this, I didn’t realize that it means “as fuck”, for example, “I’m mad AF at Trump.”  It’s a way to use obscene words without having to write them out. And, like “vibe”, it’s lazy and annoying. Here’s one example:

Tell me, friends: what, exactly, is added to his headline by using “AF”? Why not just say “really relaxing”? Because of course (see below). You look au courant when you use those two letters—but only to morons, like those people who staff HuffPost. I see that I’ve excoriated the use of “AF” in a previous post, and that makes me angry AF at myself.

3.) “Journal” as a verb. This word, which is short for “keeping (or writing in) a journal” is part of the noxious trend in which nouns become verbs, like saying “gift” for “giving a present” or “medal” for “winning an Olympic medal.” To wit:

What’s next with this trend? “Stephen King is booking”? “It’s about time to start Christmas carding”? “I have to go to the grocery store, so I better do some listing”? The mind boggles.

4. “Because of course.” I’ve already had my Hour of Detestation with the phrase “Because X”, which is gaining in “with-it” journalism. (The example I used before, from HuffPost, of course, was the headline “Which airline to fly based on the free snacks, because free snacks.”)

The possibilities are endless for “X”. But this new variant is even more obnoxious.  In fact, when used as intended, all it says is “read what was written before.” In the following, the “because of course” means “Meghan Markle always inspires the perfect look.”  Well, for one thing she doesn’t, and for another the wording gives me a pain in my lower mesentery. Finally, on what grounds is Megan Markle even an “influencer”? People who read articles like this need a life!