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Morning Song – Walk Away

In “Walk Away” Kelly Clarkson’s character is singing about a romantic relationship that’s not working out because her lover won’t stand by her through the hard times.  Listen between the lines though, and she’s also singing to herself not to keep going back to that guy.

I know you know I know
So what’s the point in being slow?
Let’s get the show on the road today…Just walk away.

Morning Song – Matt’s Guitar Boogie

If all you know of Matt “Guitar” Murphy is his role as Aretha Franklin’s henpecked husband in The Blues Brothers movies, then it’s long past time to learn some more.

One of the great blues guitarists, here he is with Memphis Slim’s trio in the early ’60s, playing “Matt’s Guitar Boogie” to help get you started on a Monday morning.

A History Of The World In 12 Maps

HistoryWorld12MapsMaybe it’s a legacy of the once-mighty British Empire (on which the sun famously never set), or maybe it’s just coincidence, but there’s something of a trend out of England in recent years of “A History Of The World In (Some Numerically Limited Number Of Items)” creations.  The British Museum and BBC Radio 4 produced A History Of The World In 100 Objects as an exhibit, a radio series and a book (by Neil MacGregor).  Journalist Tom Standage’s charming and intriguing A History Of The World In 6 Glasses is about the ways in which beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and cola have shaped and reflected changes in human society.  Author Julian Barnes may have kicked off the trend with his absorbing and provocative 1989 novel, A History Of The World In 10 1/2 Chapters.

Comes now Renaissance Studies professor Jerry Brotton with his own contribution to the genre, the wide-ranging, well-written, persuasively argued and beautifully illustrated A History Of The World In 12 Maps. Brotton is a historian by training and a map-lover by avocation.  In his A History, he combines the two to brilliant effect and builds a powerful argument that maps, no matter how much they may illuminate one’s understanding, are always limited, necessarily inaccurate reflections of reality, and a means for advancing an agenda—be that scientific, political, military, economic, religious or other. Read more…

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Beauty All Around Me: Three Waves On A Wall

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Morning Song – Amen, Brother

Let’s face it.  If you’re going to do an instrumental cover of “Amen”, you don’t have a lot to work with.  It’s an old folk gospel song, written to be easily sung and memorized.  Jester Hairston arranged it as the theme for a 1963 Sidney Poitier film, Lilies of the Field.  Curtis Mayfield saw the movie, loved the song and rearranged it for The Impressions who popularized it in 1964.  But perhaps most importantly, it’s a song that has one word for its primary lyric line.

So when The Winstons went into the studio in 1969 to cut an instrumental funk version (that they titled “Amen, Brother”) to fill out an album and release as a ‘B’ side single, they added a drum break (right there at 1:26) to stretch it out.  Those six seconds—now know as the “Amen Break”—with drummer GC Coleman’s driving, exhilarating, slightly-out-of-control-but-completely-on-the-beat rhythm are now the most sampled piece of music in the world, having been used on over 1,500 recordings by everyone from N.W.A. to David Bowie.

In much of the Christian world, today is Palm Sunday, commemorating the entrance of Jesus and his followers into Jerusalem in advance of Passover.  They thought they were going to change the world.  Whatever they were drumming and singing that day, you can hear echoes of it in “Amen, Brother”.

h/t: MPH

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China

EmpressDowagerCixiIt’s often called the Victorian Era, but the Queen of England couldn’t hold a candle the Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi when it comes to imperial power politics in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Despite there being no tradition of female political leadership within the Qing dynasty, Cixi seized and wielded power as de facto ruler of China not once, but three times in the course of her long life.

Born in 1835 to a Manchu family of Beijing officials, Cixi was selected at age 16 to join the royal household as a consort.  Her son, born in 1856, was the only surviving male heir of the Xianfeng emperor and this distinction led to Cixi being raised to a status just below that of the emperor’s wife (and her good friend), Ci’an.

When Xianfeng died five years later, the two women successfully conspired to seize power and ordered the execution of the three leading regents appointed by their late husband.  Ci’an had no appetite for politics, but Cixi effectively ruled China until her son, Tongzhi, turned 18 and became emperor.

He died two years later and, in the absence of any sons, his four-year old nephew was named the Guangxu Emperor and Cixi returned to power as regent again, a position from which she retired a second time in 1889.

Less than a decade later, in 1898, Cixi again retook power in a coup d’etat that stripped the emperor of all powers and left him a virtual prisoner in his palace.

Jung Chang’s unabashedly pro-Cixi biography, Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China, tells the fascinating story of Cixi’s tumultuous life and China’s rapidly changing place in the world near the end of the Qing dynasy.  (After Cixi’s death in 1908, the two-year old Xuantong Emperor served less than four years before abdicating the throne.)

Chang is clearly writing a revisionist history—making the case that Cixi was a forward-thinking, proto-feminist, national leader who laid much of the groundwork for China’s resurgence as a world power in the 20th and early 21st centuries.  I don’t know enough about late imperial Chinese history to assess how accurate her interpretation is, but given her extensive use of primary sources in both English and (more importantly) Chinese, it’s a persuasive argument that deserves to be taken seriously.

Morning Song – The Cat

It would be wrong to say that Jimmy Smith single-handedly made the Hammond B-3 organ a jazz instrument.

Because, in truth, it required both his hands—as well as both feet, his great talent and a prolific output fed by his incredible appetite for work (e.g., 40 sessions in eight years for Blue Note Records starting in the late ’50s)—to build the bridge between bebop and soul.

Here’s the title cut off one of his first albums for Verve Records, “The Cat”.

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