Evidently certain folks like to entertain themselves by writing “funny” lyrics to well-known folk and popular tunes.
This works very well as private amusement, I suppose, but isn’t it a bother when you find yourself faced with eight or ten stanzas supposedly “Sung to the Tune of the ‘Haircrofters’ Ball'”? Or some other ditty that the amateur lyricist remembers from a piano-book of his youth, but which is now lost to time.
That is annoying enough, but it’s even worse when you are given an alternate name for the tune, one with which you are unfamiliar. You may not be too befuddled when you see “Over Hill Over Dale” named as the tune to words that clearly have the meter of “The Caisson Song.” And you probably know that “O Maryland My Maryland” has approximately the same melody as “O Tannenbaum.”
But what are you to do when someone is thinking of “Little Brown Jug” but tells you sing to the tune of “Ha! Ha! Ha!”?
In my childhood there was a popular song about a Red Indian maiden, recorded by many a dance band, to which we had the sheet music in our piano bench. As I recall, its correct name was “Red Wing.” But recently, in our weekly newspaper, there were lyrics that seemed to have a similar cadence but which we were advised were written for the music of the song, “The Happy Farmer Returning from Work.”
My researchers tell me that “Red Wing” was a popular adaptation of that earlier work. But who in this day and age would know that?
Less forgivable, I feel, is the wordsmith who sent me a couple of stanzas that she insisted were to be sung to the tune of “There Once Was a Union Maid Who Never Was Afraid.”
Mark Mothersbaugh: MYOPIA at the Grey Art Gallery, NYU.
April 26 – July 15, 2017.
100 Washington Square East, NYC.
One of those rare multimedia installations worthy of repeat visits, and full of enjoyment for the entire family. Mom and Dad will like it because it will take them back to the heyday of the “Dada-Punk” new-wave rock combo called DEVO. The kids will love it for its funny cartoons and Dalek-like electronic calliopes.
In-betweens will rejoice over the surrealistic “We Are DEVO” video playing on the south wall. Popcult historians will be happy to find out who the hell was Booji Boy, hero he of decades-old cult video. See video also.
“Booji Boy” (pronounced “Boogie” for reasons too minuscule to go into) was an alias of Mothersbaugh himself, as we see from manic, fantastical, Burroughsesque journals and scrapbooks shown here. These go back nearly five decades, but he hasn’t been wasting his time.
We’re pinheads now, We are not whole
Kim Yong-Ik. April 27 – June 17, 2017. Tina Kim Gallery, 525 West 21st St, NYC 10019. 212.716.1100
New frontiers in oriental minimalism arrive with the new Kim Yong-Ik exhibition at the Tina Kim Gallery (no relation). Mr. Kim’s work appears in three basic motifs: his “dot paintings, which feature the repetition of regularly spaced circles,” according to the exhibition guide; constructivist cutouts, which put one in mind of the bias-cut construction paper collages one did in kindergarten arts-and-crafts; and pieces of unadorned burlap.
We are reliably informed that this is Kim’s “the first solo exhibition in the United States.”
Noted belatedly, but with pleasure, in the September 2008 issue of The New Criterion—that very 1950s-ish Little Magazine of cultural criticism that keeps hanging on, despite its resemblance to a vanity publication, mainly because it manages to produce at least one or two highly intriguing essays or reviews in each issue: a John Gross review of Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 (by David Kynaston), which contains such passages as the following:
Coward in the 1940s
Kynaston isn’t so wedded to the virtues of vox pop that he isn’t ready to use better-known names to spice up his story. “It might not be a bad thing for the Labour boys to hold the baby”—as the result of the 1945 election became clear, many Conservative supporters, thinking of the country’s looming problems, must have consoled themselves with the same thought. But it lends piquancy to this particular comment that it was made by Nöel Coward.
Ronald Reagan with Virginia Mayo, 1947
Many other well-known figures put in an appearance. One of the less expected ones is Ronald Reagan, who spent the icy winter of 1948–49 working on a movie in a studio outside London and undergoing many of the familiar ordeals of austerity, inadequate heating in particular. Some of the problems he encountered were the result of inherited problems which no British government could have put right in a hurry. But he was inclined to ascribe most of them to officialdom, inefficiency, and the abandonment of sound economic principles. In his memoirs, written thirty years later, he recalled his time in Britain as a defining moment in his political education: “I shed the last ideas I’d ever had about government ownership of anything.”
The trouble with entertaining reviews like this is that they are likely to be better than the books themselves. I do confess I’d never heard of the book, but back issues of TNC are fun to thumb through.
“Victor Stamp is convinced that beyond this brief biographical skeleton, the less that is known about him the better. Nevertheless he is willing to divulge that his favourite colour is grey, his favourite metal lead, and his preferred quality in a woman, broad shoulders.”
Illustration rather than Fine Art (if there’s a difference anymore), but very entertaining for the NYTimes. It’s a show mounted to open for the Tribeca Ball a few days back. This one’s wittily entitled “Untitled.” Story here.
From American Art Archives about the Russian-American surrealist illustrator:
Fought with anti-communist White Russians before immigrating to US (he spoke no English and arrived with 14 cents). A chameleon, able to adapt different styles, from children’s books to portraits. Renowned for his ability to turn machines into living beings (and living beings into who-knows-what). Advisor to the Psychological Warfare branch during WW II. A profuse illustrator for the majors: Life, Fortune, and Time (producing 200+ covers for the last). Illustrated 50 books, including those he wrote himself, notably “As I See.” Plentiful ad work for Xerox, Shell Oil, Pan Am, Casco Power Tools, Alcoa Steamship lines, Parke Davis, Avco Manufacturing, Scotch Tape, Wickwire Spencer Steele, Vultee Aircraft, World Airways, and Parker Pens. Mechanics Illustrated profiled him with a cover story in 1954, “When Machines Come to Life.”
Always entertaining when recounting his adventures as a Lower Slobbovian living in Paris, Adam Gopnik has lost his appeal since moving to America. Of late he has sidled off into political commentary, a field for which he is as richly equipped as a blind racing tout. In his most recent column in The New Yorker, he goes completely bonkers and actually calls for a coup against President Donald Trump. I won’t reproduce the most lurid bits of his imagining—read it yourself here—but the send-off paragraph is enough to give you a general idea:
Perhaps the most tragic sins against democracy, to which we have already become accustomed, are Trump’s lies. When you have a President who lies as he breathes, for whom lying is simply the normal way of dealing with any difficulty, democratic governance becomes close to impossible. We all forgive fantasy, storytelling, self-justification, faulty memory, mythological insistence. America has survived them all. But telling malicious and scurrilous lies without remorse or regret is a venom that paralyzes the entire political system, for the simple reason that democratic politics are really just a proceduralized form of argument—my evidence here, yours there; our side’s claim like this, yours like that—and when lies are the first premise, the back-and-forth of rational contention becomes impossible. No sane response is possible to an egregious lie except silence, and silence lets the lie win. Trump accuses Barack Obama of wiretapping him, an obvious lie, but the lie becomes part of the fabric of the event, to be adjudicated rather than exploded. He blithely says that he thinks Susan Rice, Obama’s national-security adviser, may have committed a crime, and Rice, playing by rules that were suspended three months ago, says that she “won’t dignify” the remark with a counter-remark. The appeal to dignity is the classic appeal of those who live in an honor society where conduct and credibility are assumed to be inseparable. We are three months past dignity now. That’s the tragedy, and it has already happened.
DRAWING BY DAVID LOW
Heavy-handed enough to have done an ad for Conjecturism.
None too subtle was Theodore Shaw, the inventor of Conjecturism, a theory of art criticism that he invented, and continued to peddle via double-truck ads in newspaper supplements and various sectarian-intellectual journals of the 1940s-60s (Commonweal, Commentary, Partisan Review). Many people heard of Conjecturism the first time when someone at the National Lampoon (Sean Kelly? Henry Beard?) did a full-page parody of the ads. This would have been about 1973, by which time the train had left the station. “Don’t Learn About Art This Way!” The visual was an extremely heavy-handed cartoon in the charcoal-and-crayon style of the 1930s. That’s all I can tell you.
Originally published December 28, 2014. Updated February 27, 2016.
Meta-art: In London, an “alt-right” art show is staged by a provocateur as a joke. But even as a joke, it won’t fly with the Commie element.
From the New York Times, Feb. 25.
Slightly more unhinged is this London artsy blog.
POSTSCRIPT: Rioters finally shut down the gallery in March.
Currently my favorite vademecum is this funny little website called Bad Art Museum Reviews. I’ve linked it, so you can go right to it when you’re finished reading my pearls of wisdom.
Somebody was actually complaining that Andy Warhol wasn’t much of an artist, since he had someone else do his silkscreens and really only wanted to hang out with famous people. I mean, this person had just found this out and was actually whinging about it! (Personally I always admired Andy for this, and I think the same accusation can be made against many big names of today. The photographer Nan Goldin for example. She did some good work way back in the 80s, but that was about it. Cindy Sherman too. But I digress.)
That Warhol thing was inadvertently funny, since the writer was so full of himself. But sometimes the reviews are meant to be nothing but rude fun. In particular, check out the remarks about the museum in San Jose, which seems to be about the worst excuse for an art museum. Okay, you can go click on that link now. I’m done.
The story is told about a little child who was so tiny he was no bigger than the end of your little finger. Hence he was named Little Pinky-end. His parents were poor CPAs and couldn’t support their teeming brood, so they sold them to the wolves.