Many are familiar with the composer and artist Brian Eno. But did you know that Brian has a younger brother, Roger Eno, who is also an accomplished composer, musician, and sound installation artist? Here is a beautiful piece, “Fleeting Smile,” by Roger Eno, from the Brian Eno compilation album of various composers’ work, Music For Films III (1988). It evokes for me a mashup of Erik Satie and Nino Rota, and is wistfully beautiful, like a fleeting smile.
Observations (& Inspirations)
This project began with modest ambitions: a casual examination of some band names that have inspired us over the years and their origins or creation myths. As we dove into this treasure trove of nomenclature, however, the scope escalated into an deep investigation of over a hundred years’ worth of band name etymologies. The first dozen or so entries are not band names per se, but stage names, nicknames, and pseudonyms of seminal artists that have shaped the course of music and the manner in which bands and musicians are branded.
Our goal here is not to be exhaustive and include every famous band you’ve ever heard of, but rather to be definitive without being overly obvious, and keep the emphasis on interesting and intriguing band names, or bands with name origin stories that illuminate different aspects of the naming process. See the bottom of the article for a postscript identifying some of the trends in band naming over the years, along with a list of links to sources we consulted during this project.
So let us introduce to you, the acts you’ve never known for all these years…
1900s — Blind Lemon Jefferson: The stage name for bluesman Lemon Henry Jefferson.
1900 — Jelly Roll Morton: Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton, was an American ragtime and early jazz pianist, bandleader and composer. His composition “Jelly Roll Blues” was the first published jazz composition, in 1915. At the age of fourteen, Morton began working as a piano player in a brothel (or, as it was referred to then, a “sporting house”). While working there, he was living with his religious, church-going great-grandmother; he had her convinced that he worked as a night watchman in a barrel factory. In that atmosphere, he often sang smutty lyrics; and took the nickname “Jelly Roll,” which was slang for female genitalia.
1903 — Lead Belly: Born Huddie William Ledbetter, there are several conflicting stories about how Ledbetter acquired the nickname “Lead Belly,” though it was probably while in prison. Some claim his fellow inmates called him “Lead Belly” as a play on his family name and his physical toughness. Others say he earned the name after being wounded in the stomach with buckshot. Another theory is that the name refers to his ability to drink moonshine. Or it may be simply a corruption of his last name pronounced with a southern accent. Whatever its origin, he adopted the nickname as a pseudonym while performing.
1918 — Fats Waller: Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was an American jazz pianist, organist, composer, and singer. Andy Razaf described his partner as “the soul of melody…a man who made the piano sing…both big in body and in mind…known for his generosity…a bubbling bundle of joy.”
1920s — Son House: Eddie James “Son” House, Jr. was a blues singer and guitarist.
1920s — Roosevelt Sykes: An American blues musician, also known as “The Honeydripper.”
1920s — Tampa Red: Born Hudson Woodbridge, he moved to Chicago and adopted the stage name from his childhood home and light colored skin.
1924 — Bix Beiderbecke: Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke was an American jazz cornetist, jazz pianist, and composer. His father was nicknamed “Bix,” as, for a time, was his older brother, Charles Burnette “Burnie” Beiderbecke. Burnie Beiderbecke claimed that the boy was named Leon Bix and subsequent biographers have reproduced birth certificates to that effect. However, more recent research—which takes into account church and school records in addition to the will of a relative—has suggested that he was originally named Leon Bismark. Regardless, his parents called him Bix, which seems to have been his preference.
1928 — Count Basie: The stage name for William James “Count” Basie.
1928 — Mississippi John Hurt: The great blues singer and guitarist was born John Smith Hurt in Teoc, Missisippi, and raised in Avalon, Mississippi. He learned to play guitar at age nine.
1928 — T-Bone Walker: Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker was a critically acclaimed American blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Walker made his recording debut with Columbia Records billed as Oak Cliff T-Bone, releasing the single “Wichita Falls Blues” / “Trinity River Blues.” Oak Cliff was the community he lived in at the time and T-Bone a corruption of his middle name.
1929 — Memphis Minnie: Lizzie Douglas, known as Memphis Minnie, was a blues guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. In 1929 she and Kansas Joe McCoy, her second husband, began to perform together. They were discovered by a talent scout of Columbia Records in front of a barber shop where they were playing for dimes. When she and McCoy went to record in New York, they were given the names Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie by a Columbia A&R man.
1930s — Lightnin’ Hopkins: The stage name country blues singer Sam John Hopkins.
1931 — Skip James: Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James was an American Delta blues singer, guitarist, pianist and songwriter.
1935 — Dizzy Gillespie: John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was a jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer and occasional singer. Dizzy was christened John Gillespie, earning his nickname later in life when he was known for his sense of humor and practical jokes.
1937 — Sonny Boy Williamson I & Sonny Boy Williamson II: The recordings made by John Lee Williamson between 1937 and his death in 1948, and those made later by “Rice” Miller, were all originally issued under the name Sonny Boy Williamson. It is believed that Miller adopted the name to suggest to audiences, and his first record label, that he was the “original” Sonny Boy. In order to differentiate between the two musicians, many later scholars and biographers now refer to Williamson (1914-1948) as “Sonny Boy Williamson I,” and Miller (c.1912-1965) as “Sonny Boy Williamson II”
1939 — The Squadronaires: A British Royal Air Force band which began and performed in during World War II.
1940s — Howlin’ Wolf: Chester Arthur Burnett was a great Chicago blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player, from Mississippi. He explained the origin of the name Howlin’ Wolf: “I got that from my grandfather,” who would often tell him stories about the wolves in that part of the country and warn him that if he misbehaved, the “howling wolves” would get him. Paul Oliver wrote that Burnett once claimed to have been given his nickname by his idol Jimmie Rodgers.
1940s — Muddy Waters: The stage name of Chicago bluesman McKinley Morganfield. Waters’ grandmother, Della Grant, raised him after his mother died shortly following his birth. Della gave the boy the nickname “Muddy” at an early age because he loved to play in the muddy water of nearby Deer Creek. Waters later changed it to “Muddy Water” and finally “Muddy Waters.”
The NFL recently announced that it has suspended Tom Brady for four games for his “243-page, more probable than not” role in the Deflategate (AKA Ballghazi) scandal. The Patriots will also be fined $1 million and lose their first round pick in the 2016 NFL draft and their fourth round pick in the 2017 NFL draft. And so concludes yet another chapter in America’s long running love affair with gatesuffixing every scandal du jour, which originated in 1974 with two politically motivated burglaries at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, then located at the Watergate Hotel and Office Building. Ever since we have been awash in gates, or what sociologist John Thompson calls, “scandal syndrome.”
America, however, already enjoyed a deep and rich history of promoting, hawking and branding various forms of misconduct, long before Nixon’s bumbling henchmen had a chance to immeasurably disfigure the lexicon of scandal, going all the way back to our formative years as a country. Here is an abbreviated list of some of the more the noteworthy from a naming perspective:
1797 – The XYZ Affair: A confrontation between the United States and Republican France that led to an undeclared war called the Quasi-War. The name derives from the substitution of the letters X, Y and Z for the names of French diplomats in documents released by the Adams administration.
1801 – The Burr Conspiracy: U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr’s goal was to create an independent nation in the center of North America and parts of present-day Mexico.
1804 – The Pickering Affair: Federal Judge John Pickering was impeached and convicted in absentia by the U.S. Senate for drunkenness and use of profanity on the bench in spite of the fact neither act was a high crime or misdemeanor.
1831 – The Petticoat Affair: The husband of Margaret “Peggy” O’Neale was alleged to have been driven to suicide because of her affair with Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War, John Henry Eaton.
1872 – Crédit Mobilier Scandal: The scandal involved the Union Pacific Railroad and the Crédit Mobilier of America construction company in the building of the eastern portion of the First Transcontinental Railroad.
1875 – Whiskey Ring: Massive corruption of Ulysses S. Grant’s administration involving whiskey taxes, bribery and kickbacks ending with 110 convictions.
1919 – Black Sox Scandal: The Chicago White Sox lost the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, and eight White Sox players were later accused of intentionally losing games in exchange for money from gamblers. The players were acquitted in court, but nevertheless, they were all banned for life from baseball.
1919 – Newport Sex Scandal: Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated an investigation into allegations of “immoral conduct” (homosexuality) at the Naval base in Newport, Rhode Island. After the report, which revealed nothing, the investigators themselves were also accused of homosexuality.
1923 – The Makropulos Affair: The Makropulos Affair is a play written by Karel Čapek and first performed in 1922 at the Vinohrady Theatre in Prague.
1924 – Teapot Dome Scandal: A bribery incident that took place in the United States during the administration of President Warren G. Harding. Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall had leased Navy petroleum reserves at Teapot Dome in Wyoming and two other locations in California to private oil companies at low rates without competitive bidding.
For no rational reason, I stumbled upon this particular Robert Frank photograph from his famous 1955 book, The Americans. Ordinary Americans drinking soda at a Detroit drugstore soda fountain in the mid-1950s. But I was struck by the incredible display of advertising overkill going on for a drink called “Orange Whip” — only ten cents a glass! The air is thick with Orange Whip signs, and the man in the foreground seems to be enjoying a glass of this marvelous elixir.
Wikipedia provides an succinct overview of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of Orange Whip:
An Orange Whip is a sweet cocktail, made with rum and vodka, containing the base alcohols mixed with cream and orange juice. It is typically blended to a froth like a milkshake, and poured over ice in a Collins glass.
“Orange Whip” has also been used as brand name for non-alcoholic drinks. In the 1950s, the Tropical Fruit Company marketed an “Orange Whip” concentrate to be served as a fountain beverage. Jeanne Carmen, an actress and pinup model from that period, was once dubbed “Miss Orange Whip”. The US Patent and Trademark Office lists various applications for the “Orange Whip” trademark to be applied to drinks and a chain of juice stores.
Jeanne Carmen (1930-2007) was known as the “Queen of the B-movies” back in the day. Here’s a picture of her, ostensibly in her official capacity as “Miss Orange Whip”:
Apparently Miss Carmen was also a virtuoso foot pianist. Who knew?
The non-alcoholic version of Orange Whip enjoyed one last hurrah in the Blues Brothers movie of 1980. Again, I’ll let Wikipedia tell the story:
The drink had a resurgence after the release of The Blues Brothers. In that movie, John Candy’s character, Jake’s parole officer, attends the film’s pivotal fund-raising concert in order to arrest the performing band, but decides he wants to see them perform first and orders drinks for himself and the uniformed state troopers he is with, saying: “Who wants an orange whip? Orange whip? Orange whip? Three orange whips!”
The drink was not in the original script. The costumer on the film, Sue Dugan, is the daughter of the late Kenny Dugan, Director of Sales for the Orange Whip Corporation. Mr. Dugan had been providing refreshments for the cast and asked if “Orange Whip” (the non-alcoholic beverage product) could be mentioned in the film. John Landis, the director, mentioned this to Candy, who improvised the exchange.
Here’s the “Orange Whip” clip from The Blues Brothers movie:
Sadly for fans of the soft drink, that particular Orange Whip is no more. But now you can groove to “a bounty of booty-shakin’ bliss” by the Minnesota cover band Orange Whip — who may or may not have recorded at Orange Whip Recording — while working out with your Orange Whip golf swing trainer. Another example of namevolution, I suppose, with new Orange Whips taking the place of the vanished Orange Whip soft drink brand that was.
- Road Show: The journey of Robert Frank’s “The Americans,” by Anthony Lane. The New Yorker, September 14, 2009
Brand Mascots 100
No.97: Procter & Gamble’s Mr. Clean (AKA Don Limpio, Maestro Limpio, Monsieur Net)
CREATORS: Harry Barnhart (concept), Ernie Allen (art direction)
AGENCY: Tatham-Laird & Kudner, Chicago
CORPORATE OVERSEER: Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati
AD SPEAK / SPIEL: “Mr. Clean leaves a sheen where you clean”
TAGLINE: “When it comes to clean, there’s only one Mr.”
A Cleaning Solution: “Mr. Clean was created by Linwood Burton, a marine ship cleaning businessman with accounts throughout the east coast of the United States. In the past, ships had to be cleaned using abrasives or solvents that were able to cut successfully through embedded grease and grime; however, past solvents were so dangerous to workers that Burton was motivated to finding a solution that was effective and less caustic. Burton, with fundamental knowledge in chemistry, developed Mr. Clean in an effort to clean ships without having to pay significant premiums in disability claims for his workers. He later sold the product to Procter & Gamble in 1958.” (SOURCE: Wikipedia-Mr.Clean)
Birth Of A Mascot: “The product’s mascot is the character Mr. Clean. In 1957, Harry Barnhart conceived the idea and Ernie Allen in the art department at the advertising agency Tatham-Laird & Kudner in Chicago, Illinois, drew Mr. Clean as a muscular, tanned, bald man who cleans things very well.” (SOURCE: Wikipedia-Mr.Clean)
Cultural Precursor: It would appear that Mr.Barnhart and Mr. Allen’s 1957 conception of a “muscular, tanned, bald man” standing arms akimbo might have been influenced by Yul Brynner’s character of The King from Rodgers and Hammerstein 1951 production of The King and I, which was based on the 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. Which was in turn derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of the actual fourth monarch of Siam, King Mongkut — AKA Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramenthra Maha Mongkut Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua — in the early 1860s.
Make A Wish: “According to Procter & Gamble, the original model for the image of Mr. Clean was a United States Navy sailor from the city of Pensacola, Florida, although some people may think he is a genie based on his earring, folded arms, and tendency to appear magically at the appropriate time. Hal Mason, the head animator at Cascade Pictures in Hollywood, California modified the existing artwork in print advertising to be more readily used for the television commercials written, produced, and directed by Thomas Scott Cadden. The first actor to portray Mr. Clean in live action television commercials was House Peters, Jr.” (SOURCE: Wikipedia-Mr.Clean)
Just One Word–Plastics: The Graduate by Charles Webb was published in 1963. That summer Mr. Clean became the first liquid household cleaner sold in a plastic bottle. Coincidence? Or conspiracy Hmm…
Obligatory Apocalypse Now Reference: Larry Fishburne was cast at age 14 to play Tyrone “Clean” Miller in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now alongside Albert Hall, Dennis Hopper, Frederic Forrest, Harrison Ford, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Sam Bottoms and a very Mr. Clean looking Marlon Brando.
International Aliases: Bulgaria: Mister Proper; France: Monsieur Propre; French Canada: Monsieur Net; Germany: Meister Proper; Holland: Meneer Proper; Italy: Mastro Lindo; Mexico: Maestro Limpio; Poland: Pan Proper; and Spain: Don Limpio.
Jingle: Original lyrics by Thomas Scott Cadden
Mr. Clean gets rid of dirt and grime
And grease in just a minute
Mr. Clean will clean your whole house
And everything that’s in it
More Brand Mascots 100:
Images from top to bottom: 1) Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Monolith with apes; 2) John McCracken, Nine Planks IV (1974), with viewer; 3) Led Zeppelin, Presence (1976) album cover; 4) a Nothing object (2013-present).
The artist John McCracken (1934–2011), who I had the privilege to know and work with as an undergraduate art student, began making his famous leaning “plank” sculptures and freestanding “monoliths” in the mid-1960s, before Stanley Kubrick’s famous monolith appeared in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). McCracken apparently didn’t care for the connection, as noted here in this William Poundstone review of the Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), November 1, 2012–June 30, 2013, which made the connection by including one of McCracken’s iconic planks:
LACMA has added a few more generally related works by better-known artists. A John McCracken plank sculpture, Nine Planks IV (1974) appears in the 2001 gallery in lieu of a monolith. McCracken produced his first planks at just about the time that Kubrick and sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke were adapting Clarke’s 1951 story, “The Sentinel,” into the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey. In Clarke’s original story, the alien artifact is a tetrahedron. In the screenplay it became a black monolith of 1:4:9 proportions. It’s unlikely that Kubrick/Clarke knew of McCracken, or vice-versa. For years afterward, McCracken was annoyed by comparisons of his art to the 2001 monolith. He was not the first L.A. artist to feel steamrollered by the movie business.
He may have been annoyed with the 2001 monolith comparison, but McCracken was very much into such topics as space and time travel, extra-terrestrial beings, and psychic phenomena. In his 2011 obituary of John McCracken, the art critic Jerry Saltz wrote:
[McCracken’s] remarkable exhibition at David Zwirner in 2006 consisted of tall, black, shiny columns that had the presence of sentinels or guideposts and seemed to mark some kind of landing strip for extraterrestrials or UFOs, both of which he spoke of often. These almost-perfect freestanding keepers-of-metaphysical-secrets and celestial-navigation devices made Chelsea slip away and other worlds seem possible, even probable, as I entered a blessed-out dimension where these obdurate things, with the bearing of basalt Egyptian columns, became abstract angels in the architecture. I thought of Wallace Stevens’s writing about “a geography that would be intolerable except for the non-geography that also exists.” A physical fullness filled the almost empty room.
McCracken kept what he called a diary of “Remote Viewing & Psychic Traveling,” in which he recorded contacting “aliens,” “high-minded beings,” “the ghost of my grandfather,” and of being “in a spaceship with a female copilot…approaching earth,” seeing “huge, spider-like creatures.” He concluded that these creatures were “expressions of fear coming from the human race.” All this, he wrote, had “the feeling of home, a good feeling.” It’s no wonder that many thought that the monolith featured in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey was a McCracken sculpture.
Eight years after 2001 came the Led Zeppelin album Presence, with a cover by Hipgnosis, the art-design collective that created the cover art for many rock albums from 1968-1982, including the Pink Floyd’s iconic Dark Side of the Moon album. The Wikipedia page for the Presence album tells the story of the album design and the mysterious “object” featured in multiple tongue-in-cheek photographs:
The cover and inside sleeve of this album, created by Hipgnosis, features various images of people interacting with a black obelisk-shaped object. Inside the album sleeve, the item is referred to simply as “The Object.” It was intended to represent the “force and presence” of Led Zeppelin. In the liner notes of the first Led Zeppelin boxed set, Page explained:
There was no working title for the album. The record-jacket designer said ‘When I think of the group, I always think of power and force. There’s a definite presence there.’ That was it. He wanted to call it Obelisk. To me, it was more important what was behind the obelisk. The cover is very tongue-in-cheek, to be quite honest. Sort of a joke on [the film] 2001. I think it’s quite amusing.
The background used in the cover photograph is of an artificial marina that was installed inside London’s Earl’s Court Arena for the annual Earl’s Court Boat Show that was held in the winter of 1974–75. This was the same venue where the band played a series of concerts a few months after the boat show, in May 1975.
In 1977 Hipgnosis and George Hardie were nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of best album package.
Ultimately, this scenic detour into the world of the monolith arrives at Nothing, a smallish, nicely-finished black rectangular block of sculpture, with a perfect name. The promise of presence has arrived at the evocation of absence, of Nothing.
Let’s conclude this journey with another Kubrick-McCracken pairing. Top: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Monolith in the Louis XVI-style bedroom in space; Bottom: John McCracken, three column sculptures, from left to right: Luster (2006), Stardust (2006), and Ring (2006), installation view of the 2009 solo exhibition John McCracken at Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh; image courtesy David Zwirner gallery.
Bodhidharma left his robe and bowl to his chosen successor; and each patriarch thereafter handed it down to the monk that, in his wisdom, he had chosen as the next successor. Gunin was the fifth such Zen patriarch. One day he announced that his successor would be he who wrote the best verse expressing the truth of their sect. The learned chief monk of Gunin’s monastery thereupon took brush and ink, and wrote in elegant characters:
The body is a Bodhi-tree
The soul a shining mirror:
Polish it with study
Or dust will dull the image.
No other monk dared compete with the chief monk. But at twilight Yeno*, a lowly disciple who had been working in the kitchen, passed through the hall where the poem was hanging. Having read it, he picked up a brush that was lying nearby, and below the other poem he wrote in his crude hand:
Bodhi is not a tree;
There is no shining mirror.
Since All begins with Nothing
Where can dust collect?
Later that night Gunin, the fifth patriarch, called Yeno to his room. “I have read your poem,” said he, “and have chosen you as my successor. Here: take my robe and my bowl. But our chief monk and the others will be jealous of you and may do you harm. Therefore I want you to leave the monastery tonight, while the others are asleep.”
In the morning the chief monk learned the news, and immediately rushed out, following the path Yeno had taken. At midday he overtook him, and without a word tried to pull the robe and bowl out of Yeno’s hands.
Yeno put down the robe and the bowl on a rock by the path. “These are only things which are symbols,” he said to the monk. “If you want the things so much, please take them.”
The monk eagerly reached down and seized the objects. But he could not budge them. They had become heavy as a mountain.
“Forgive me,” he said at last, “I really want the teaching, not the things. Will you teach me?”
Yeno replied, “Stop thinking this is mine and stop thinking this is not mine. Then tell me, where are you? Tell me also: what did your face look like, before your parents were born?”
*Yeno (Hui-neng, 638-713), traditionally considered the Sixth Patriarch of the Zen sect in China
“Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.”
This was a 1970 ad that appeared in National Geographic magazine. We have come a long since the days when the sugar industry could so blatantly advertise the lie of sugar’s “nutritional value,” yet most people still consume way too much of this stuff, often without even being aware of it.
Here’s another great vintage sugar ad, from 1966, where sugar is being marketed as legalized speed — Mary “needs energyless, artificially sweetened foods and beverages like a turtle needs a seat belt”:
The “Note to Mothers” in the box is especially disturbing, as it plays on a mother’s desire to protect her children from harm (the “bugs and ailments that are always lying in wait”) by suggesting they feed their tots a substance that could kill them in the long run:
Note to Mothers:
Exhaustion may be dangerous — especially to children who haven’t learned to avoid it by pacing themselves. Exhaustion opens the door a little wider to the bugs and ailments that are always lying in wait. Sugar puts back energy fast — offsets exhaustion. Synthetic sweetners put nothing back. Energy is the first requirement of life. Play safe with your young ones — make sure they get sugar every day.
Such is the legacy of the “Mad Men” celebrated today. Here are more vintage sugar ads, from which I’ve excerpted the following grains of pure, Orwellian gold:
- Are you getting enough sugar to keep your weight down?
- Sugar can be the willpower you need to undereat.
- YOU NEED SUGAR
- Lisa needs a sugarless, energy-less soft drink like a kangaroo needs a baby buggy.
- SUGAR — a Builder of the West
- Tommy needs a sugarless, powerless soft drink like a moose needs a hatrack.
- Sugar puts the musclepower in sweetness.
- Judy needs a sugarless, go-less soft drink like a kangaroo… [you already know the rest — this copywriter got lazy]
- How sugar helps the weight you lose stay lost
- Why do they put sugar in the pickle jar? It’s not just to sweeten the pickles. Recent experiments show that sugar brings out the natural flavor. Pickles taste “picklier,” fruit tastes “fruitier,” even soup tastes brighter. Next time you make vegetable soup, add a little sugar and see for yourself.
I like that, “recent experiments show,” like something out of Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. These ads, by the way, were “Published in the interest of better nutrition by SUGAR INFORMATION, INC. a non-profit organization.” The copywriting is priceless, and I find especially fascinating all the strange, mash-up word coinages: energyless (which is “energy-less” in another ad), undereat, musclepower, and the especially awkward hyphenate, “go-less.” The ads feel as though their creators were definitely hopped-up (“hoppedup”) on a superpowerful, energypacked magicalnectar — i.e. sugary soft drinks.
As a counter example, Sami Inkinen and Meredith Loring are currently rowing across the Pacific Ocean to raise money and awareness in the fight against sugar. They call their project, brilliantly, Fat Chance Row, which both mocks the hubris required to row all the way across the ocean, as well as being a forum for “chewing the fat” about obesity-causing sugar. Brilliant. It recalls for me another use of “fat chance” in a title, this time playing off the word “chance” and the indeterminacy of John Cage: Bruce Nauman’s installations, Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage) and Mapping the Studio II with color shift, flip, flop & flip/flop (Fat Chance John Cage), 2001.
The world has lost a great, deep musical and humanitarian soul. Jazz bassist Charlie Haden (August 6, 1937 – July 11, 2014) created an amazing body of work over six decades of work with the likes of Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Carla Bley, Hank Jones, Pat Metheny, and many, many others. Take a listen to Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, with Charlie Haden on bass and Hank Jones on piano, from their amazing 1995 Grammy-nominated album Steal Away:
The Atlantic has a nice appreciation of Haden by David A. Graham, complete with video song selections from throughout his career. Graham writes,
No one wants to be remembered most for what they did at 22, but history will forever recall Charlie Haden for his role in Ornette Coleman’s great quartet of the late 1950s…. Coleman remains surprisingly controversial today, but he and Haden and Don Cherry and Billy Higgins had incontrovertibly changed the direction of music.
Haden—who died Friday at 76, from complications of the polio he contracted as a child—was perhaps the least likely revolutionary in the bunch. Born in Shenandoah, Iowa (a town that shares a name with a famous folk song), Haden grew up playing country music in a family band. Despite making his name in a genre that often rewards flashiness, he was a resolutely unpretentious player, notable for the notes he didn’t play and for always being in the right place. Haden and his most frequent and fruitful collaborators during a long career were musicians steeped in American traditions, who synthesized a range of musical genres and spat them back out in varyingly eccentric and original ways. While Haden may have seemed like an unlikely revolutionary, his firm grounding in the roots seems to have been what enabled him to be such an effective radical.
Here are some words to live by from Haden himself, from one of five interviews he did from from 1983 to 2008 with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, talking about the value of improvisation and being in the moment:
“I think it’s very important to live in the present. One of the great things that improvising teaches you is the magic of the moment that you’re in, because when you improvise you’re in right now. You’re not in yesterday or tomorrow — you’re right in the moment. Being in that moment really gives you a perspective of life that you never get at any other time as far as learning about your ego. You have to see your unimportance before you can see your importance and your significance to the world.
“The artist is very lucky, because in an art form that’s spontaneous like [jazz], that’s when you really see your true self. And that’s why, when I put down my instrument, that’s when the challenge starts, because to learn how to be that kind of human being at that level that you are when you’re playing — that’s the key, that’s the hard part.”
The New York Times obituary concludes,
At the heart of Mr. Haden’s artistic pursuits, even those that drew inspiration from sources far afield, was a conviction in a uniquely American expression. “The beauty of it is that this music is from the earth of the country,” he said. “The old hillbilly music, along with gospel and spirituals and blues and jazz.”
Since the world has lost a deep soul of music, it seems appropriate to conclude with a Hayden track called “Silence,” with the also late, and also great, Chet Baker on trumpet:
“Look, I don’t want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you’re alive you’ve got to flap your arms and legs, you’ve got to jump around a lot, for life is the very opposite of death, and therefore you must at very least think noisy and colorfully, or you’re not alive.”
I first encountered the X modifier in my youth. As an aviation enthusiast I was introduced to the radical X-3 Stiletto. The X-3 Stiletto was an experimental jet aircraft designed and manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company for the U.S. National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The NACA was the precursor of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The X-3 looks like a personification of the beaked-nose white spy from Mad magazine’s Spy vs. Spy, with its a slender fuselage, a long tapered nose, and ultra-modern white-on-white paint scheme. The X-3 was part of a series of experimental United States airplanes, helicopters and rockets used to test and evaluate new technologies and aerodynamic concepts, referred to as “X-Planes”:
The majority of X-Plane testing has occurred at Edwards Air Force Base. Some of the X-planes have been well publicized, while others, such as the X-16, have been developed in secrecy. The first, the Bell X-1, became well known after it became, in 1947, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight. Later X-planes supported important research in a multitude of aerodynamic and technical fields, but only the North American X-15 rocket plane of the early 1960s achieved comparable fame to that of the X-1. X-planes 7 through 12 were actually missiles(used to test new types of engines), and some other vehicles were un-piloted (some were remotely flown, some were full-on drones). (Wikipedia: X-Plane)
X has many other uses in addition to designating an experimental aircraft: it is a common variable for unknown or changing concepts in mathematics; in astronomy, X stands for a comet of unknown origin; X is a symbol on a treasure map to mark the spot where the treasure is buried; in bowling X signifies a strike; and X is a placeholder for the legal signature of an illiterate person. On a more romantic note, Xs symbolize the kisses paired with the Os of hugs in warmhearted salutations.
Besides these common uses, the X modifier is often deployed as branding shorthand to differentiate some person, product, or service as being advanced, audacious, bleeding-edge, bold, contemporary, daring, earth-shattering, forward-looking, fresh, game-changing, genuine, ground-breaking, gutsy, innovative, modern, newfangled, novel, original, pioneering, rejuvenated, sophisticated or unique. The use of X is everywhere, and seems to be the gift the keeps on giving. So I decided to look into the origins of the X that so often marks the spot. Here is a brief summary of my findings.
A Brief History of X (1895 -2014)
1895 | X-Rays: Physicist Wilhelm Röntgen discovers X-rays. Röntgen named it X-radiation to signify an unknown type of radiation. [Read more…] about A Brief History of X (1895-2014)