ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Discovering Darlingside

“Pesticide is used to kill pests. Fratricide is when you kill your brother,” explains Darlingside’s Dave Senft. “A former teacher of ours used to say ‘kill your darlings,’ which is to say, if you fall in love with something you’ve written you should cross it out. We like that idea and we thought a good name for it might be ‘darlingcide’, but we changed the ‘c’ to an ‘s’ because we’re not super into death.” (Source: Darlingside)

I would love to include a link to the Deerfield magazine (where band member Don Mitchell went to high school), but it’s not online yet. Good article. Intrigued me enough to troll the internets for their sound. Found that intriguing video/song above and was doubly hooked. Doodle dreams?!?! And those harmonies of voice and strings…

“Each song and set of lyrics are created by all of us together, a sort of ‘group stream-of consciousness,’” Harris says. “So we moved away from a single lead vocalist and started gravitating towards singing in unison, passing the melody around, or harmonizing in four parts through an entire song.” Live and on record, they present a unified voice by clustering around a single condenser microphone and blending their voices in the room before they hit the mic. (Source: Darlingside)

I’m wearing out the CDs as I wind my way through this Adirondack spring. My favorite song? Whippoorwill. Enjoy.

The Goose is Getting Fat

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.

Not sure what a psychiatrist would make of this admission, but “Christmas is Coming” was my favorite carol as a child. No, scratch that. It was my favorite Christmas carol to sing as a child, though I preferred listening to others. Does this distinction make sense? Think of “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”, for example. Fun to sing given the right context, but I’d gamble that most of us have a long list of songs we’d rather listen to…

Originally a nursery rhyme, “Christmas is Coming” is most enjoyable when sung in the round with your brother and sister while commuting an hour over icy roads to school, patient mother at the helm occasionally joining in for a round.

If you’re inspired, but can’t remember the words, here’s a pre-Christmas gift for you:

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!

If you picked up on a subtle deviation in the first line, the change is mine. I’ve always sung about a single goose rather than a flock. Stick to the original if you’re a purist.

About a week ago a friend told me, “I can always tell when it’s you because you’re a whistler.” I guess I am. Not a good whistler, mind you, but an enthusiastic whistler. Sort of like my dancing! Not fun to watch, but plenty funny! And enthusiasm isn’t the only common denominator, though I’m not sure how to put my finger on the other similarity. Freestyle, perhaps. I’d like to say innovative, creative, improvisational or even uninhibited. But I’ll surely be called to account if I gloss up the merits of my freestyle whistling and dancing. Melodies and rhythms are flexible, mere inspirations for extemporaneous experimentation. Ah-ha, I’ve got it. I’m a jazz whistler!

What? Your BS detector is buzzing? Hmmm… Must need a new battery.

What’s your favorite Christmas carol? Dare to whistle it?

A Brief History of Storytelling


Mesopotamia (image by harvest breeding via Flickr)

Storytelling is often thought to have originated in Mesopotamia, where shamans would tell stories orally as a means of teaching and entertaining communities. Before we had written language, storytelling was told through a combination of drawings, which were often prompters for the storyteller to then bring the story to life through voice, dance or music. When writing was adopted in societies, various forms of media were then used to record these stories, for example etching on bark, or drawing on pottery or bones. (Simply Zesty)

A bit slapdash, perhaps, but a tidy nibble at the bigger story… Check out the post, “Social media has evolved into the art of storytelling, and we must all become masters of it.” if this nibble’s made you hungry for more. Though I should warn, the post’s thin on history and long on latter day storytelling jingoism.

Welcome to Heathrow Airport

“Life’s for sharing” (T-Mobile advertisement)

Powerful, poignant and totally innovative storytelling! And a bit of a tear-jerker (of the happy variety) too… Long live the flashmob! Echoes of Improv Everywhere, don’t you think? Tell me you didn’t find yourself longing for this emotional welcome the next time you land at an airport?!?! Kudos to T-Mobile for super innovative storytelling.

Aside from the emotionally charged experience and story, the underlying idea that life is for sharing is compelling, timely and powerful. We live in the digital age when it is easier than ever before to share an event like this “spontaneous” welcome home concert in Heathrow airport. Indeed the video cuts repeatedly to travelers recording the event on their mobiles. Photos, videos, phone calls… this is the age of immediate, virtually universal sharing. And the powerful message underlying this advertisement for T-Mobile is that connecting with others to share beauty, to share happiness is magical and humanizing. It’s a universal desire. Too often we all fall into ruts of isolation passing through each others’ lives like ghosts, like passengers in an airport. But moments when our isolated, insulated bubbles pop and we are connected, even temporarily to others is what makes life worth living. We are inherently social creatures, but we’ve been socialized to wear blinders, to limit connection with those around us. Storytelling — and, in this case, T-Mobiles communication tools and network — bridge the divide between us. Okay, time to lay off! I’ve become gushy and repetitive. (The sign of an effective advertisement!)

Natalie Merchant’s Lyrical Poems

I’m back on The Lyrical Merchant again. After posting “Natalie Merchant sings old poems to life“, I jumped in my jalopy and zoomed off to Plattsburgh where I purchased her new album, “Leave Your Sleep“. I spent the afternoon meandering slowly homeward through the Champlain Valley, up and over Willsboro Mountain and finally into Essex. I took the most roundabout routes, was passed again and again by racier drivers, savored each velvety word Natalie Merchant sang.

Wow! This is a whole new chapter in this highly capable singer/songwriter’s career. Each song, each poem, opens up a new world, a new sound, a new rhythm. Her energy is so fresh and unique. She seems so comfortable in her skin, not straining to deliver something pop and flashy. Frankly this double CD album feels more like swinging by her home on a rainy afternoon and hanging out in sock feet and wool sweater and drinking tea (or an old Burgundy) and musing on life with an old friend. I don’t mean to suggest that the songs are all melancholy or low energy. Some are both. Most are neither. But they are comfortable and accessible. A funny description for a collection of poems since poetry can sometimes feel contrived, self-conscious or inaccessible. In a recent PBS interview Merchant talked about how she tackled the potential ungainliness of poetry in new album. (Watch the video.)

“Poetry comes alive to me through recitation. Even when I was working on this project… I couldn’t comprehend the meaning, and I couldn’t really understand the structure, the internal rhythms and rhymes… I would have to recite it or speak it, hear the words, and feel the words in my mouth.”

This idea of recitation, of speaking, mouthing, tasting poetry to understand it is helpful. I think of wine. To fully appreciate wine — its nuances, structure and narrative — you have to open the bottle, take a swig and slosh it around a little bit. Chew on it. See how it tastes and feels even once you’ve swallowed it. Sometimes the title of a poem or the label on a bottle of wine will mislead us, offer false expectations or undersell the contents. Sometimes a quick read or a swig with a mouthful of steak will get the job done. But why? To what end? Slowing down and biting off a verse of poetry, a mouthful of fermented grapes and letting it roll around in your mouth, slowly is what works best. Natalie Merchant seems to be reminding us of this. “A poet transports you to a place where you can experience what they saw, what they felt, what they smelled, what they touched,” she reminds us in this video and in every single song on “Leave Your Sleep“.

So why the dramatic departure? Well, she had a baby, became a mom, took a half-dozen years reprieve from the pop scene. Or maybe this album is a smaller leap than it initially seems. I’ll leave that judgment up to you.

“I started talking about the plan to age gracefully in this field fifteen years ago… I could see my future: I’m going to be shaking my booty when I’m fifty five. I need to come up with a way, and there’s so much music I’ve wanted to write and that I’m interested in that didn’t really fit into a pop album format. And now’s my time to start exploring that.”

If this is the first chapter of that exploration, then I am optimistic. It promises to be a great journey!

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Natalie Merchant Sings Old Poems to Life

Spectacular! Emotion-bending. Destiny changing… Have you watched (listened to) Natalie Merchant’s TED performance? She performed a sampling from her new album, “Leave Your Sleep”, the culmination of six years spent adapting 19th-century children’s poetry — some obsolete and all but forgotten — to music.

Merchant’s seven-year sleep has blossomed into this double album of poems set to music that traverses the whole range of American vernacular, from Bluegrass to Cajon to miniature chamber music, and beyond.”(Financial Times)

Merchant awakens Charles Edward Carryl’s “The Sleepy Giant” observing, “Little boys do not like being chewed.” The album includes poetry from Rachel Field, Robert Graves, Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ogden Nash and Edward Lear. In the video she performs Nathalia Crane’s “The Janitor’s Boy”, E.E. Cummings’ “maggie and milly and molly and may”, Laurence Alma-Tadema’s “If No One Ever Marries Me” and Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall: to a young child”. Each sung poem is fresh, inviting and peppered with poignant asides. A comment beneath the YouTube video captures Merchant’s beguiling potency:

“Here she goes again! The angel of sound, rewiring more minds. Once she gets in there, you’ll never get her out again. Just shut it out! Don’t listen! If you do, she’ll make you more human! Run!”

Returning to the stage for an encore, Merchant introduced her final rousing performance: “I’d like to thank everybody… everyone that blew my mind this week. Thank you.” Then she launched into a rousing rendition of “Kind & Generous”, so rousing that she actually interrupted the song and asked the audience to sit, to listen, to consider.

“I still have two minutes… That’s innovative, don’t you think? Calming the audience down… I’m supposed to be whipping you into a frenzy and I… that’s enough… Shhh.”(Natalie Merchant)

So, destiny changing? A stretch, maybe, but Merchant is one of so many voices leading me back to poetry recently. I’m following the siren call, wondering where I’m being lead. And maybe I’ll manage to squeeze in a Natalie Merchant concert along the way…

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Audiences Don’t Pay for Content

Where to Look for Opportunities

When we start with the premise that consumers haven’t paid for content in the past, we gain visibility into new ideas that make sense for the digital era.

It’s not micro-payments alone that will save the future for professional quality media content. On the other hand, the idea that the consumer will always pay for distribution that massively over-serves their needs is not a foregone conclusion either. Paying $2500+ per year for cable/broadband/telephony/mobile in order to gain access to a million times more content than you could ever possibly need is not going to work out so well for the media industry either.

We need solutions that improve the relevance of content for individual consumers without expecting individual consumers to be able to predict exactly what they want. The Internet has exploded the supply of content but digital technologies have only just begun to filter and sample that content for the consumer in an effective manner.

Content providers who used to enjoy control over the method of distribution are feeling a lot of pain but their content remains vital and appealing to consumers. Rather than stomping our foot like Mr. Isaacson, it is better to focus on new solutions that tie content and distribution together in ways that create great consumer experiences.

We don’t know what the other side of this transformation will look like but we have guidance;

  • Look at what the iPod did for music. Think about the critical role of sampling in the success of the micropayment model for songs.
  • Look at the potential of what Kindle can do for print publications.
  • Study the legacy of syndication that makes business partners of the content distributor and the content provider.
  • Look at the popularity of expensive sets of DVDs for old TV episodes.
  • Anticipate what the near-future DVR will be capable of doing.
  • Think of what GPS will mean for the distribution of local and timely content.
  • Think about what Twitter and search are doing to reveal the consumer’s need for specific content at precise moments in time.

It is time to think about distribution and content holistically. Digital technologies are not the enemy, they are an enormous opportunity to improve the relevance of content to the individual consumer. Don’t think so small as micropayments for one article at a time and don’t take for granted the current ability to charge a big fee for massively over-delivering irrelevant content. Look in the middle.

Somewhere in between asking the consumer to buy content “al a carte” and asking the consumer to pay for the whole menu, new “prix fixe” solutions are going to mature.

A Final Word from Our Sponsor

While we are at it, let’s not lose sight of the value of the advertising supported model. We are in the middle of a complex media transformation and a brutal recession. At times like this, pundits like Bob Garfield want to convince us that advertising is dead.

Advertising works. In the digital era, the consumer finds it very easy to ignore irrelevant advertising but they are quicker to engage with relevant advertising than ever before because the Internet makes engagement easy.

Be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water in pursuit of the goal of getting the consumer to pay for the content. The advertiser remains happy to assume that role so long as we can offer a reasonably scaled and engaged audience. We just need to apply our new resources to help the advertiser better align their message with the right consumer at the right time.

Media companies can create new and better advertising values and it will still command a premium relative to the costs of distribution. Now that digital efficiencies have greatly reduced the cost of distribution, media companies need to look hard at the overhead that is a hangover from the analog era.

Some legacy media executives complain that they are trading analog dollars for digital pennies as advertising moves online. That is a valid concern so we can’t drag our feet when it comes to rethinking overhead costs from analog dollars to digital pennies as well.

We can reduce overhead, improve advertising value and find new consumer revenue models built on interesting combinations of content and distribution all at the same time. We need to be more disciplined about who the consumer is and what they really want as we build our new solutions, but the solutions are just waiting for the imaginations of new media moguls to find them.


I excerpted this from an informative piece with sound thinking that I’d recommend to anyone creating content (word, video, music, etc.) for an audience. A few highlights:

#1. “We need solutions that improve the relevance of content for individual consumers without expecting individual consumers to be able to predict exactly what they want.”

#2. “Study the legacy of syndication that makes business partners of the content distributor and the content provider.”

#3. “Think about what Twitter and search are doing to reveal the consumer’s need for specific content at precise moments in time.”

4. “We need to be more disciplined about who the consumer is and what they really want as we build our new solutions, but the solutions are just waiting for the imaginations of new media moguls to find them.”

Friday Flaneur: Munching Music

Photograph courtesy of Sydney Eye

An earnest folk-singer, in cavernous Martin Place, competes with a “burger with-the-lot”, for the attention of lunch time strollers. Better were she a plate juggling sword swallower, than guitar player.

Flaneur (n). A person who strolls the city in order to appreciate it.
Are YOU a flaneur – a la Baudelaire or Sontag?

View original post at Sydney Eye

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The Sad Song of ‘Everett Ruess’


Alvin wrote a song called “Everett Ruess” for his 2004 album Ashgrove, and it’s a beautiful tune, sung from the perspective of Ruess himself. A delicate, ambling song, it’s the sort of thing you’d want to hear while driving through the dry, mountainous terrain Ruess wandered decades ago.


If you’re an Everett Ruess fan, you may find it interesting to listen to the interview with Dave Alvin even though it’s dated. This was recorded before the DNA tests were abandoned. Everett Ruess may still be wandering the hills… At least his spirit lives on.

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Hear a Little Music, Read a Little Poetry

A timely end to a long week. Or two or ten. And an even more timely reminder:

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

Right. Haven’t been doing enough of that. And ready for the reminder. Next week…

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