Roots, Records, Etc. | National Review

Roots, Records, Etc. | National Review


E. Power Biggs (1906–77), the English-born American who established the organ as a concert instrument (Bettmann / Getty Images)

In Impromptus today, I lead with our vax wars, mask wars — our pandemic wars, let’s say. I also have a note on “gridlock” in Washington. And bathroom politics (yes). And more. Anyway, a variety of issues, most of them contentious. Here on the Corner, let’s have some mail, concerning language, sports, and music. We can leave politics aside for a moment.

Last Friday, I referred to a “pop machine.” A reader writes,

Your Michigan roots were on full display this morning. When I moved to California from Michigan years ago, “soda” instead of “pop” was perhaps the biggest language change I noticed.

Our reader adds,

What about Sweetest Day? To my knowledge, it is a purely Midwestern thing. I assume Hallmark tried, unsuccessfully, to spread the day to the East and West coasts. Relatively few people know what Sweetest Day is, or why anyone would want a second Valentine’s Day.

In a post, I wrote, “It occurred to me the other day: Doesn’t ‘E. Power Biggs’ sound like the name of a gang leader, rather than an organist?” A reader writes,

Years ago, there was as superb morning host for a classical-music program on Boston’s WGBH: Robert J. Lurtsema. His show was Morning Pro Musica. Lurtsema raised the question, “What do people call E. Power Biggs? ‘E’? ‘Power’? ‘Biggs’?” According to Lurtsema, he was called “Biggsy” by his friends. Lurtsema had a sly sense of humor, so he could have been putting his listeners on.

In that Friday column, I talked about words and phrases misheard — song lyrics, for example. A reader writes,

My favorite is from a college friend of mine. When he was ten, the Rolling Stones song “Beast of Burden” came out. The first line goes, “I’ll never be your beast of burden.” He heard it as, “I think I smell your pizza burning.”

I always think of that when I hear that song. Cracks me up to this day.

Another reader writes,

Jay, here’s one: In the late ’70s, my friend Ted and I were on our third cup of JFG coffee at an all-night diner when the jukebox began to play “You Sexy Thing,” by Hot Chocolate. I think the song had recently charted.

Ted was a philosophy major at Emory University and had been steeped that semester in British ordinary language philosophy. When Hot Chocolate sang the line “Where do you come from, angel?,” the word “angel” was so stretched out and unintelligible that Ted convinced himself they were singing “A. J. Ayer,” the name of a prominent ordinary language philosopher of the day.

Part of me thought Ted had lost his mind, and part of me wasn’t quite sure . . .

Also on Friday, I spoke of sports records, breakable and unbreakable. A reader writes,

The two insurmountable records in baseball are Cy Young’s 511 career wins and Ty Cobb’s 23 consecutive seasons batting above .300. Yet these two formidable achievements rarely get a mention in debates about the most enduring records. Some batter may get hot for a few months and break Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, but no one is going to break Cobb’s hitting streak.

My friend and colleague Nick Frankovich sent me a striking, and somewhat touching, note about music. It was in response to a piece of mine published on Monday.

You reminded me that I do like music. I’m so used to complaining that the world we live in has too much of it. I mean the amplified sound in just about every supermarket, restaurant, coffee shop, department store, you name it. The use of music is promiscuous. The one piece I could listen to all day is John Cage’s 4’33”.

(This is kind of a stunt piece, in which the player or players play nothing for four minutes and 33 seconds.)

One final note, in response to my latest Music for a While, a Christmas episode:

I enjoyed every selection, but “The Last Month of the Year,” from the Blind Boys of Alabama, made me almost jump out of my skin. So beautiful and happy. In my old age, I find that there are times when I listen to music and start to weep. Not from sadness, necessarily. Often from joy. But mostly from being deeply moved. “He Shall Purify the Sons of Levi” had that effect on me this morning.

Thank you, my friends, and merry Christmas. See you later.





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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.