Monthly Archives: June 2014

Pleased as a Psychopathic Child’s Puppet

Hello Bologna readers. I hope you all had a great weekend. Here’s something to start your week off.

Pleased as Punch: when you hear it, it sounds like an expression that’s a little old fashioned, like “cool beans,” “that’s the ticket,” or some other phrase from the 1930s & 1940s. In reality, the saying, which is another way of describing how pleased you are, dates much further back than that.

In the 1500s, there was no TV, no radio & there were no movies. On top of the this, many people were illiterate, so entertainment had to be found in other things. Children, in particular, found much of their fun in puppet shows. The phrase “Pleased as Punch” has a history that goes back to one of these shows, which began in Italy as a marionette show. The original star was a character named Pulcinella. Always shown wearing a black mask, he was mean & conniving, often pretending to be stupid & inept to weasel his way into things. This proved to be extremely popular with children & it soon spread across Europe & into England, where the character’s name became Punchinello. In time, the character, Joan, was added as Punchinello’s wife & the comedy took off.

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The Italian Pulcinella, complete with black face mask. (Image in public domain)

Eventually, this transformed into an even more popular puppet show called Punch & Judy, & it quickly became a part of the youth culture in seaside towns. You can still catch performances in these villages today.

The show features an ugly, red-nosed puppet named Mr. Punch. He is joined by his wife, Judy, who usually doesn’t stick around for long. The scenes are quick & they change from show to show, constantly keeping children supplied with new stories.

There usually isn’t much of a story arc, which is an intentional tactic to allow people walking down the street to join & leave mid-show. Most of the stories focus on Punch, with his wife, Judy, playing a secondary role. A typical show usually starts with Judy asking Punch to look after their baby, a job at which Punch is terrible. Judy arrives later & in finding out the Punch has screwed up, gets very angry. Upon hearing the commotion, a police officer arrives, the plot becomes extremely open ended, & then everything just goes nuts.

Various caracters from Punch & Judy, including Punch, the baby, the Policeman & the clown (Image released into public domain by Immanuel Giel)

Various caracters from Punch & Judy, including Punch, the baby, the Policeman & the clown
(Image released into public domain by Immanuel Giel)

The reason Judy doesn’t stay in the show for long is because Punch is a hilariously sociopathic killer, who takes great pleasure unleashing his endless supply of serial-killing on people with a giant wooden stick called, you guessed it, a slapstick. Judy & the baby are, more often than not, the first to go. After each kill, Punch becomes delighted & very happy with himself, exclaiming in his high-pitched voice, “That’s the way to do it!”

You can watch a performance of Punch & Judy here.

So as it turns out, every time you say you’re pleased as Punch, you’re not referring to that fizzy, sometimes-alcoholic fruit drink you find at a party; you’re actually saying that you’re as happy as a sociopathic, baseball bat-wielding murder-puppet would be, after a fresh kill.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

 

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English Chamber Orchistra, Conducted by Johannes Somary: J.S. Bach- The Brandenburg Concertos (1-6 Complete)

Updates:
The Animals- Boom Boom EP (Columbia, reissued by ABKCO): This one was an interesting find. I bought it two weeks ago at Newbury Comics. I guess only about 1,400 were pressed. I was pretty lucky to find it.

The Decemberists- The King is Dead (Capitol): Back at Newbury again. The store near my parents’ house is small & doesn’t really have the best selection, but every once in a while, I find something I love. This is one of my favorite albums of all time, so when I saw it, I had to get it.

NOTE: After this post, I’m going to start doing my updates a little differently. I’ll posting a link to my page called, “The Record Collection.” Here, you can see my entire collection, complete with links to reviews I’ve written.

 

English Chamber Orchestra, Conducted by Johannes Somary: J.S. Bach- The Brandenburg Concertos (1-6, Complete):
I fell in love with these works about five years ago, in a music history class. The one that stood out to me was the Brandenburg Concerto N0.3 in G Major. I immediately went home sought out the entire collection on iTunes & since then, they’ve become my go-to classical pieces, when I feel like listening. Since then, they’ve continued to fascinate me the most out of any classical music.

Jump forward five years.

If I know there’s a used record shop around, I’m stopping in. Period. Northampton, Massachusetts is no different, with Turn it Up!. This place is absolutely great. As you walk in, it smells the way a record store that sells used vinyl should: like old dusty cardboard. Half the store consists of CDs & cassettes, while the other half is where you can find the LPs. If I were a kid, that half of the store would be my candy shop.

Anyway, during a trip to Northampton for a Stephen Kellogg show, we made a pit stop & I picked up three or four records. I was all set to leave, when I glanced over to see my lovely girlfriend at the dollar bin, holding an old, extremely dusty, ex-library-owned copy of a Sesame Street record. I smiled at the sight (she’s in school to be a children’s librarian) & in realizing I had forgotten to check there, I headed over.

For those of you who haven’t seen a record store dollar bin, this part of the shop is a small shelf which is full of records that most people aren’t looking to buy & ones that aren’t in very good condition. Needless to say, my hopes weren’t too high. I flipped through the old records & found a US release of Rubber Soul. The cover was ripped & the record was in atrocious condition, so I moved on.

After a few minutes of rummaging through the seemingly bottomless pile of vinyl & cardboard, I finally came across a fairly inconspicuous looking double album. For some reason, instead of flipping past it, I picked it up. To my surprise, it was a recording of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos in their entirety. My favorite classical pieces for a dollar? Absolutely. I scooped the record up immediately & added it to the bunch of records I was about to buy.

 

History:
I’d be lying to you if I were to tell you I’m an expert on any classical music from any era. I never studied it in any depth & I sure don’t know how to play it. That being said, here’s a little history on my favorite composer & my favorite of his collections.

The Brandenburg Concerto collection was given & dedicated to Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg, which was then a region of Prussia. Originally, titled, Six Concerts avec Plusieurs Instruments (French for: Six Concerts with Many Instruments) was presented in 1721, but most likely written beforehand.

Some sources claim that, despite their widespread acclaim today, Bach may never have heard the works performed. Shortly after presenting them to his commissioner, he took up a position as music director in the city of Leipzig. The composer would remain there until his death in 1750. Once there, the music he made in the many of the prominent churches began to overshadow is previous compositions & much of the early sheet music was stored away.

It wasn’t until almost a century later, to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of his death that these concertos were rediscovered & became known as game-changers. Bach used many instruments, often in very unorthodox styles. For example, the music we listened to in my class, No. 3 in G Major, was the first piece to feature a harpsichord in the forefront. Up until then, the instrument was mainly used to play chords & less intricate parts to the music. Harpsichords were almost strictly accompaniment instruments. However, in this piece, Bach wrote a solo for the instrument. The world now saw that harpsichords were much more versatile than previously thought.

Either way, the Brandenburg Concertos have become known across the world as some of the best Baroque pieces ever composed. I’d have to agree.

If you’d like to dive further into the history of these works, you can get a very detailed explanation here.

 

Cover Art/Vinyl Quality:
There isn’t much artwork on this one. The gate-fold record jacket is blue with swirls of purple. There’s no real design.

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Cover Art for The Brandenburg Concertos

It’s a double album, in the same format as Hanson’s Anthem or The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife. The two discs have three or four tracks per side. This one is a little different than the others, though & the difference is in the length of the track. Baroque pieces tend to be quite a bit longer than rock songs, so even though there are only three to four tracks on a  side, one side of this album works out to be about the same length as a side on a seven-track-per-side rock record. All in all, the entire collection runs for about an hour & forty minutes, or about double the length of a standard LP.

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The Double LP

The vinyl discs are in surprisingly good condition for spending time in a dollar bin for who knows how long. Most of the other records were stored in the same way & were scratched, gouged & their covers & sleeves were falling apart. On the other hand, The Brandenburg Concertos’ discs were among the few that were only a little dusty from sitting unplayed in their sleeves for a while. When I got home, all I had to do was wipe the vinyl down with my record cleaning kid, making the album was good for a spin on the turntable.

 

Sound:
Just a little disclaimer here: When it comes to classical music, I am not an audiophile, but I can point out a few things. Being a different recording than the one I had from my course, I could pick discrepancies between this recording & the one I had from school, almost right away. The audio mix was a little different, with some noticeable differences between the way the prominent instruments were presented, which made the sound of the mix (despite the fact that a record always will sound fuller, it was definitely the mix & not the fact that it was a vinyl recording) a little warmer. The overall tempo was also slower. All of these things were just fine with me;  you have to expect some elements to change from recording to recording. They’re different performances, with different key elements, such as the musicians, the producer & the conductor, all of whom have personal artistic visions. There isn’t a ton more I can speak to, but I will say that the sound of the music filling your bedroom as you try to relax beats the tinny sound from ear-buds or computer speakers any day.

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The Vanguard label

Final Thoughts:
I was really lucky to find this double album & am glad I decided to pick it up. I really enjoyed listening to these pieces & am looking forward to playing them many times to come. Finally able to listen to them through real speakers is quite the musical experience & I’m grateful to be able to have access to a sound which is as close to what Bach had intended.

You can find different versions of The Brandenburg Concertos on CD & mp3, anywhere, really. This specific vinyl release from Vanguard can also be found on eBay, for between five & twenty dollars, but don’t forget to check your dollar bin!

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Cleaning Clocks on the Rails & Taking a Punch in the Face

Cleaning someone’s clock is an expression mainly used by sportswriters, when they’re referring to an huge defeat. The phrase can also be used to describe someone being punched in the face. In any sense of its use, the implications are the same. The clock is the sufferer of some sort of defeat, while the guy with the rag & the Windex is the winner.

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Fenway Park during the 1914 World Series. During game 1, The Boston Braves would clean Philadelphia Athletics’ clocks, 7-1. (Image in public domain)

On written record,”cleaning someone’s clock,” is still a baby. It was first published in its entirety in 1959, but this is just its written history. As I’ve said before, written traditions are way younger than oral ones, so this one most likely goes back a bit more. Without further delay, let’s look into the few ways the phrase may have come to be.

The first is extremely easy. It’s such a simple idea, that it fits in two lines. It’s this:

The word “clock,” when used as a verb sometimes means to hit. The phrase we know may be nothing more than a simple variation of that meaning.

The second meaning comes from the days of steam locomotives.

Pressure gauges on the engine were called clocks because of their slight resemblance to the timepieces. They were circular & had needles, which looked like the hands of a clock. These needles indicated how much steam pressure was in the different systems of the engine. “Cleaning someone’s clock” is a reference to the brake gauge. This is because when an engineer needed to execute an emergency stop, he would pull a lever, emptying the steam out of the breaking system. The needle on the “clock” would then indicate that the steam pressure was at zero. Zeroing the needle was also called cleaning. It’s easy to draw the connection from this use of the phrase, to sportswriters’ usage: When you clean the clocks on a train, it comes to a complete stop. Likewise, when you clean the clocks of a sports team, the scoring momentum comes to a complete stop & they have no chance of winning.

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A Pressure gauge, or clock.                     (Image in public domain)

The third is a simple combination of two different slang terms.

Londoners who speak English with a Cockney accent use the word “clock” as a nickname for a person’s face. On the website, The Phrase Finder user, The Fallen confirms this in a post, where he claims that it comes from the fact that we refer to the part of the clock with the numbers & hands as the face. He remains at a loss as to why cleaning one of these clock faces has come to be a reference to a punch.

Let’s examine the verb “to clean,” as a slang word. According to the website, The Word Detective, it’s quite easy. On this side of the pond, it has been linked synonymously with the verb, to defeat. Most sources date it to the early Nineteenth Century.

Take clean, when used in the above context & put it next to the word clock, meaning face, & you have an expression which means “to defeat someone’s face.” I’d say punching someone in the face would definitely defeat it.

Out of all three options, I would have to pick the last two. There isn’t much to the first one, but then again simplicity might be the key, as it has been before. At any rate, I have always liked this expression & it’s cool to know where it may have come from.

Have a good week & I’ll see you next Monday.

For now, though, now you know; you’re welcome.

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Show Your True Colors: Pirates & Warfare

Hello bologna readers! Happy Tuesday. This one’s a day late, so you have my apologies, but if it’s any concession, this one’s a good one.

Showing your true colors. You think you know someone, right? The phrase refers to someone who reveals their real intentions through some form of deceit. Why is it colors? Why don’t just use the word motive instead?

Well, as with many of these expressions, this one goes back to the high seas, so, let’s go along with it.

What do you think of when you hear the word Pirate? I’ll bet most of you are thinking the same thing: that peg-legged, eye-patched sailor who sails the seven seas with his swashbuckling friends, finds buried treasure & engages in heroic ocean battles while yelling, “Avast!” & “Arrrrrrr!”.

That’s the notion that Hollywood has put into our heads. Who doesn’t like a dramatic story, & if the leading character is a pirate, well, he has to be the good guy, right?

Not so fast. Pirates were a despicable bunch (think of the horrifying pirates of today, only with technology of the Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuries). They were nasty & weren’t afraid to steal, kidnap, rape, capture ships, spread disease & any other awful thing you can think of. Don’t believe me? Just read this Cracked article by Eric Yosomono & Jean Flynn. One of the entries from this list of terrifying pirates is about a guy who took a bite of a human heart before shoving it into another prisoner’s face & threatening to do the same thing to him. So, needless to say, these guys were not people you wanted to mess with.

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A pirate murdering the crap out of someone. (Image in Public Domain)

After hearing that, it might not surprise you to learn that dishonesty was a also common trait among pirates. Law abiding sailors, especially merchants & explorers, were always fearing pirate attacks. These ocean-going outlaws were much harder to detect & combat back then. This caused many ships to be tricked, & seized or sunk. This is due to one pirate battle tactic, which blatant flew in the face of contemporary rules of naval warfare.

In the days of sailing ships & cannon battles, “colors” was just another word for flag. Warships were required to display the flag of their respective nation.  A lowered flag meant a surrender (This is also where the phrase, “nailing your colors to the mast” comes from: if the ship had absolutely no intention of surrendering, a flag nailed to its mast would negate the chance of it accidentally being lowered). It was simply a way of identifying a ship’s allegiance & a way to distinguish it from its enemy. Here’s where the pirate’s tactic came in. They would fly the flag of the nation to which the ship they were ambushing belonged. Now that the outlaws had their prey believing they were friendly, they could sneak up really close. Just before attacking, they would lower the flag & replace it with some form of the Jolly Roger, showing their true colors, & therefore, true intentions.

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The true colors of pirate ships: the Jolly Roger (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user, WarX)

Pretty sneaky, huh?

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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