The subtitle of the Parlando Project is “The Place Where Music and Words Meet”. As I mentioned last night, this project, which combines words sourced from a variety of sources with a variety of music, has now reached 100 available audio pieces since it’s official launch 11 months ago. Note that stress on variety. In terms of writers, I have my favorites, and the short format of our audio pieces strongly favors poetry, but the Parlando Project has featured words taken from other sources as well, and some of the poets featured were unknown to me until I ran across them looking for material, and I’m trying to vary the music as much as I can. Sometimes our pieces are as simple as acoustic guitar and voice, as in our most recent post The Oven Bird. Some pieces have full arrangements with multiple instruments, and some feature spontaneous performances by the LYL Band, a folk-rock band that’s been playing a rough and ready mix of electric instruments and literate lyrics since the early days of Minneapolis punk rock.
We’ve gotten thousands of downloads and streams so far, and though I don’t have the time to thank everyone personally for the likes and the shares, it’s been your passing on the existence of our audio pieces that has grown our audience from a few hundred downloads to thousands. I don’t have time for a social media presence myself. Researching, writing the majority of the music, as well as arranging, producing and recording these 100 pieces has taken an untold number of fascinating hours, but it leaves me little time to promote this work myself. So I’m very grateful for you, the readers/listeners who have done so.
Since we last did did a Top 10 in the spring, that growth in listenership has meant that there is only one returning piece since that list a few months ago. Which piece has the staying power? Lets start off the countdown in the traditional order, with #10.
10. Adlestrop – a late surge brought this piece with words by fateful British poet Edward Thomas into the top 10, just beating out Zalka Peetruza and Spring Grass as the final slot shifted back and forth this week. Adlestop’s download rate is noteworthy too in that its the newest post to make this list. Listening to this hazy slide guitar piece I still recall my own muggy summer unscheduled lay-over in Kingham a year ago, but that’s a private moment, though I feel somehow I’ve shared it with Thomas thanks to his words. In a more public way, this poem gains resonance from it’s connection to Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken and to the Centenary of WWI.
9. Grass – speaking of WWI, here’s the first of two placings of a Carl Sandburg piece on this Summer’s Top 10. My private memory is performing this with the LYL Band, spontaneously as usual, with no rehearsal or warning as I read Sandburg’s words, and having us stop on a dime for line that starts “What place is this…” as Grass approaches Sandburg’s ending. For other listeners, particularly those with friends, families, and even ancestors lost to war, Sandburg’s piece asks a powerful question of forgetfulness.
8. Intro to The Waste Land – One could say this continues our WWI Centenary theme, as T.S. Eliot deals with his personal depression in the context of the aftermath of The Great War in this poem, but it was instead intended as part of our April “National Poetry Month” celebration, which I will always link to the poem’s famous opening line “April is the cruelest month.” This is one of my composed pieces musically, were I get to write and perform all the parts myself, which means I get to fully realize my personal “vision” of the music (something the listener needs to care not a bit about) and to therefore be responsible for all my own mistakes. My personal memories of The Waste Land are two-fold, one a memory of reading it for the first time in college, and though mystified, feeling an intense musical thrust in what Eliot wrote, and then to a time more than a decade ago when I felt just past my lowest ebb emotionally and then performed the last sections of The Waste Land spontaneously with the LYL Band, and found it as musical as I expected it would be, but also was surprised at how it expiational performing it was. Publically, the downloads of this have been steady, and have continued long past #NPM in April, so it’s either due to your sharing of it, or the poem’s continued fame.
7. To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing – Irish poet William Butler Yeats is another writer whose work we’ve mined for more than one piece here. One thing I learned while looking at material for this blog was that Yeats too believed that poetry performed with music was a necessary combination. Another investigation, brought on specifically by this piece, was to find out just who the friend was whose work had been thwarted, and what that work was. This has been another piece with a steady listening rate since posted. My guess is that the experience Yeats was telling us about is common to many, and whenever it is encountered it is not easily forgotten. Weeks after this was posted, I watched the former FBI director James Comey testify before Congress, and thought if Yeats was his friend, he would have said the same things in verse to him.
6. Clark Street Bridge – Carl Sandburg gets his second appearance on this Top 10 with this wistful story of day and night on this busy downtown Chicago river bridge. As a personal experience I got to see the Clark Street Bridge this spring on a visit to Chicago, and though the current bridge is almost 100 years old, it’s not the one Sandburg watched and wrote of. Another thing I learned during my trip: his night scene with silver singing stars equal in number to all the broken hearts in Chicago contained a larger number than I would have estimated from modern urban nights, as the poem was written before the widespread adoption of all-night electric lights. What are, or could, the listeners be attracted to? Well, broken hearts remain as numerous as the stars in a dark sky for sure, and Chicago has taken Sandburg to it’s heart; despite, or because, he says that that heart is broken.
5. The Death of Col. Bruce Hampton – I’ve written a number of direct tributes to musicians that I’ve featured here, but this is the most popular. Particularly now as the main lot of musicians fall back into the lower levels of the “gig economy” they gave their name to without additional payment, I see them as retaining the heroism of artists in general, who do what they do to general indifference, but now with a much lower chance of professional earnings. This is the only piece in this Top 10 where I wrote the words and the music, but that’s about the right amount, as the Parlando Project is about appreciating “Other People’s Stories” after all. The defensive shells and double-ended poison stingers that artists grow don’t always lead to happy lives, but those who knew Bruce Hampton have grateful things to say about him as a person and collaborator. And by chance, he got to come to the end his life with some of those folks thanking him, while he encouraged the creation of even more spontaneous art. I assume that’s the reason for so many people listening to this piece.
4. These Fought – Here’s one I’m a little surprised about. Ezra Pound may have done more than any other person to create modern poetry, but he’s less read today than many he influenced and championed. And though other modernists dabbled in between-the-wars nationalism and racial theories, Pound became America’s most notorious fascist apologist. And this piece, posted around Memorial Day is an uncompromising denial of the honor in the sacrifices of WWI. If you like your poetry feel-good and inspirational, if you like your poets cuddly and full of civic pride, this piece is not your choice. The LYL Band tries to equal Pound’s fierceness in this performance.
3. Love and Money – Unlike many other poetry and spoken word blogs, we feature other people’s words almost all the time in the Parlando Project. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with self-expression, but in following the Project’s dictum “Other People’s Stories,” we don’t do that often. Perhaps in consolidating that stated aim with the catalog of thought-provoking words that Dave has written over the years, many of the Dave Moore pieces I’ve posted so far have been performances where I perform Dave’s words–a mixed blessing that–because, to steal an old Columbia Records ad from the 1960s “No one sings Dave Moore like Dave Moore.” I was sold on this one the moment I heard Dave sing the first line of this piece as we spontaneously performed it, and there’s no way I could do it justice. The popularity of “Love and Money” probably has the same private and public reasons, it’s just a good song. Oh, and Dave’s pounding electric clavichord performance might have something to do with it too.
2. Up-Hill – Here’s an example of a poet I knew close to nothing about before looking for material in the public domain to adopt for Parlando performance. Having a long time love of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and knowing that poetry and poets were part of their artistic circle, I went looking for Pre-Raphaelite poems that I could relate to musically. I kept striking out. I really wanted to find something by Algernon Charles Swinburne, because, well, “Algernon Charles Swinburne”. Is there any name that says more clearly that you don’t give a damn about sounding cleanly modern and approachable? Only Ezra Pound’s invented persona “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” comes close. Alas, I could find nothing I felt I could inhabit–and then I came upon some of Christina Rossetti’s shorter poems. Read this on the page just once, and you know it’s crying out to be sung. Perhaps Up-Hill draws listeners because it’s a Christian religious poem, but Rossetti’s writing personally connects with me because it’s imagery and expression is so non-abstract and modest.
1. Frances – Here’s the only repeat from last Spring, and it’s still on top, with almost double the total listens since released of the any of the others on this list. I released Frances on a lark to mark US President’s Day last February. I suspect it got picked up and linked somewhere more popular than other pieces that have been linked from here, but I haven’t been able to find out where. Here’s an example of how relatively popular it’s remained, long after it’s author’s, the first US President George Washington’s, birthday this winter: it was the 8th most listened to piece from the Parlando Project in May, still 19th in June, and currently it’s the 13th most listened to song in July, with a hundred alternatives competing with it. What accounts for this? Well it’s a love song for one thing. Maybe it’s the pared back Pixies soft/loud arrangement? It’s a mystery.
So that completes the Summer 2017 Top 10. I plan to do another one next Fall. If you’ve got a favorite you’ve found here, do what someone must have done with Frances, and go ahead a link to it to see if it can get more listeners.