Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Off-Beat Path

     I don't often recommend articles from The New Yorker; while the writing is of indisputably high quality, the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency drove their editorial staff into a frenzied zeal that had the man showing up multiple times in every issue, simultaneously evil mastermind and bumbling moron.  It got to be too much; it would have been even if they loved him because, well, the amount of Presidency I enjoy in my lit'ry reading is somewhere between a pinch and a dot at most.  POTUSes loom large in the news cycle and you can pick up news about 'em most anywhere.

     Conversely, really good writing, writing by people with a crazy love for the color, heft, texture, taste, scent and sound of words like a kid with a bag of licorice allsorts and an open account at an old-fashioned candy store, that's a thing you can hardly find; I've been known to unearth moldy old essays by Buckley and Vidal* just for the joy of reading words from men intoxicated by the language.

     The Trump-Era New Yorker serves up mainly absinthe.  Straight.†  But not always and not today.  Today, they've poured the good stuff, bottled in bond.

     There was a fellow named Stephen Cheng  who emigrated from Shanghai to the United States after World War Two, ending up in New York.  He was a classical Chinese singer, who studied at Juilliard, worked on Broadway, and by the 1960s was touring widely, with occasional television appearances, performing both pop and traditional Chinese music.  He passed away in 2012.  A working musician who moved to teaching later in life, he raised a family and you can find a few of his recordings of Chinese folk music on YouTube.

     You can also find this: "Always Together:"

     It's a minor gem of Rocksteady (a Reggae precursor), recorded in the late 1960s, copies passed from hand to hand since then and reissued as recently as 2010.  It was a minor mystery to Reggae scholars: Stephen Chen was only in Jamaica once, recorded only the one song, and didn't leave much of a trail there.

     He apparently never mentioned the recording to his family, either; in 2017 his son Pascal was looking up his father's recordings on YouTube and the site's algorithms recommended "Always Together;" as he writes, "...until recently, [I] had no idea that he had recorded this song. I accidentally discovered it on YouTube. I am pretty sure that he was not aware of its popularity as a rocksteady classic."

     As we move through life, we leave ripples.  We don't always know what shores they will reach.
* Which man, do you suppose, wrote, "Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could," and which of them wrote, "Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so."  Among their better shared attributes was their deep loathing for one another.  One doesn't often see feuds of that quality and longevity.

† I'm not going to explain this.

1 comment:

Drang said...

Interesting, and for once, the comments on YouTube are as well.

Absinthe straight. *shudder* Bavarian style isn't much better. Parisian style can be pretty darned good.

As for Trump, as I said to someone the other day, the only thing more tedious than listening to Trump being Trump, is listening to Trump haters hate Trump.