Bone and Blood is the Price of Coal

At Cypher’s Mine camp at Philmont Scout Ranch, they sang a lot of mining songs, including 16 Tons, but the one that came to my mind was Ballad of Springhill about the Springhill mining disaster in 1958. It was written by Peggy Seeger, with some help from Ewan McColl.

Luckily, I could only remember a few lines, because it probably would have caused some sleepless nights for our Scouts. Maybe for me, too. The words alone are enough, but when you hear the verse end on that unresolved chord …

In the town of Springhill you don’t sleep easy
sometimes the earth will tremble and roll
when the earth is restless, miners die
bone and blood is the price of coal,
bone and blood is the price of coal

Or the this verse:

Eight days passed and some were rescued,
leaving the rest to lie alone.
All their days, they dug a grave,
two miles of earth for a marking stone,
two miles of earth for a marking stone.

I remember it from Peter, Paul & Mary, but they trimmed a few verses. Here are two full versions, one from The Dubliners, which I think works better overall, and one from Peggy Seeger and Ewan McColl, more spare with better phrasing and harmonies. You choose. But don’t forget the cost.

Two YouTube links:

The Ballad of Springhill by The Dubliners

The Ballad of Springhill by Peggy Seeger & Ewan McColl

And thinking of 16 Tons, is there anyone today who sounds like Tennessee Ernie Ford? Listen to Shenandoah or Children Go Where I Send Thee.

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CPR Rhythm

A study at the University of Illinois medical school had success using “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees to maintain the proper 100 compressions per minute.

Yuk. Way too cute. And listening to that song would sap my will to live.

My CPR instructor (USCG Retired) suggested any Sousa march. March tempo is around 110-120 and you’ll be slowing down, so that tempo helps keep you moving. Given the low success rate of bystander CPR (~5%), I’d really rather send someone out to “The Stars and Stripes Forever” than to disco. After all, that duck may be be somebody’s mother.

For the emo or contrarian rescuer, an alternative is Queen‘s “Another One Bites The Dust”. Whatever keeps you going.

My TVC 15

My wife and I were looking through lists of hit singles from our high school and college years and she didn’t know David Bowie’s TVC 15. A quick search found a video of that, but not just any performance. It was on Saturday Night Live, with Bowie in a skirt and pumps (very sharp!), with a stuffed pink poodle, with Klaus Nomi singing backing vocals, and the pink poodle has a TV monitor inside its mouth and the monitor is showing Klaus Nomi. Wow.

The YouTube commenters who say he looks like Janet Reno are just wrong. David is a much sharper dresser than Janet.

He also performed (“sang” just doesn’t seem to be enough) The Man Who Sold The World (video) while in a rigid column painted to look like formal wear.

You’d think that those two would be memorable enough with their “Bauhaus meets Dada” styling, but the one I remember from December 15, 1979 (I was working a shift at Willy’s Pub as my college job) was the the third song, Boys Keep Swinging. The other pieces were odd and fun, but this one was playing conceptual games with TV. Bowie was controlling a stick figure, and the TV monitors were only showing the figure. The studio audience was looking back and forth between the performers and the monitors. SNL had very straight camerawork, like a news show, so this was very different. We had live performers, the studio audience was watching the them and the TV version of the performers, the camera was going back and forth between the live version, the TV monitors, and the audience, and I was watching it all on TV on a show labeled “Live”. It was clear that Bowie was hacking media at a conceptual level and having a great time. If it had gotten any more meta, we would have needed Douglas Hofstadter to talk us back down to the ground.

Back to the 70’s

I’ve been listening to music from the 1970’s the past week, though it might not be the same as your 70’s music.

Tracy Nelson, Homemade Songs (1978): My favorite tracks are “The Summer of the Silver Comet”, a love song about a locomotive, and “Friends of a Kind”, a hurtin’ song for grown-ups. If you haven’t heard Tracy sing the blues, this is a good place to start. I like Doin’ it my Way (1978) a little better because it’s a smaller production and because “Time is on my Side” and “Down So Low” are so fine, but that is a vinyl release that is not on CD. Maybe you should check eBay (wow, two copies!) and dust off that turntable.

Pere Ubu, The Modern Dance (1978): You’ll either like this or hate it with the first track, guaranteed. This pretty much defines the genre “wife-annoying music” which is why it lives at work. I love it. A friend of mine used that intro as one of his “world’s most annoying ringtones”.

Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert (1975): This was my music for must-get-done studying in college. There’s something about the piano-killer percussive playing and the sweet melodies that keeps my brain ticking over. I just did my CD replacement buy and I still know exactly where all the moans and groans are even though I hadn’t listened to it for twenty-five years. I only have one reservation about this record — it just seems wrong to have nearly memorized an improvised concert.

Cat Stevens, Catch Bull at Four (1972): You’ve probably heard of this one, since it sold a zillion copies. Most people like the hippie stuff on side 1, but I’m fond of the darker side 2 tracks, especially “18th Avenue” and “House of Freezing Steel”.

Looking at the dates, it is clear that I was exposed to a bunch of new music when I got a DJ shift at KTRU in 1978.

Weisse Streifen, grüner Rand

A Christmas present from my in-laws was a new car radio for my fifteen year old Miata, with personal installation by my father in law who is far more skilled around cars than I am. Now I can listen to my iPod on my slightly longer commute.

Today it was Autobahn by Kraftwerk. Even keeping under the speed limit (easy in the rain), my time in the car wasn’t quite long enough for the full 22:40 song, I parked at just over 19 minutes. Maybe I’ll fast forward over the beginning on the way home.

The commute is just about right for those classic full-album-side compositions. Now I need to hunt down Fare Forward Voyagers by John Fahey and maybe some 18 minute art rock masterpieces. Or I could just get more Bevis Frond.

Goodbye, Liz

A dozen years ago, I heard one Liz Phair song on the radio and bought the CD. I’ve bought every one since. I heard the first song on her most recent CD, and I think this may be my last. I listened all the way through, but it was painful. By the end, I was making guesses about the next tired rock cliche, will she say “Baby” in this one? Yes.
As one Amazon reviewer said, “It is OK if she wants to be Sheryl Crow, but this isn’t even good Sheryl Crow.”

What the heck happened? Selling songs and making a living is good, but do they have to be so bland? Exile in Guyville is in the past, I don’t expect another one of those, but Somebody’s Miracle is just lame. Liz can write pop, I’m sure of it. “Polyester Bride” from whitechocolatespaceegg has a monster hook. The chorus will be stuck in my head for two days just from typing that sentence.

It’s been a fun ride, but I’m getting off now. Spread your wings and fly away, Liz.

That Game Boy Groove

I just got hooked on 8-bit music, made with sequencers on reprogrammed Game Boys, like Nanoloop and Little Sound DJ. I’ve never been that interested in video games, but this is some fun music, with a Zelda Dance Party groove.

Right now, I’m listing to “In the Dark” by Boy vs. Bacteria. The band seems to be one guy in Sweden. Whee!

For a sampler playlist, check out DJ Octobit at This Spartan Life.

Some of the musical transitions don’t quite make sense to me, but that is probably because I haven’t played the game. Everyone knows the music changes when you leave the meadow. Or something.