On the Biography Shelves

A few days ago I was browsing in the biography section of the Provo City Library, when I noticed a small section of biographies and autobiographies of Michael Jordan. Since this is the only part of a library that is organized alphabetically by subject, the very next book was an autobiography by a Pete Jordan. Yeah, I'd never heard of him either. Turns out, his claim to fame is washing dishes in all 50 states. A no-name dish washer--shoulder to shoulder (or spine to spine) with the greatest athlete in modern history. It was too much. I had to write a poem.

Forget the fiction stacks; truth is stranger

On the biography shelves.

Here strange bedfellows, ironic twists,

Are wrought by the English alphabet.

One can only imagine the conversations

Between neighbors Brad Pitt and Pius XII,

Steve Jobs and Joan of Arc,

Leonardo DiCaprio and Dickens.

Beethoven, if he were not deaf,

Would have two ears-full of Zionism,

Sandwiched as he is between

Menachem Begin and Ben-Gurion.

Houdini lends some tardy wisdom

To Sam Houston regarding the Alamo.

It was the perfect chance, he says,

For a disappearing act.

Irving Berlin and Leonard Bernstein

Swap conducting stories

While Yogi Berra sagely inserts:

"It ain't over till the fat lady sings."

Keeping up with the Joneses

Is no small task, what with

Marion's and Smarty's races,

And George's and John Paul's songs.

Lance, Louis and Neil hold a strong arm contest.

It takes muscle to cycle 2,000 miles, yes,

But also to make that trumpet sing,

And to plant a flag in the moon's surface.

The Jackson boys (Bo and Andrew,

Alan and Michael, Peter and Stonewall)

Spend quiet nights researching genealogy,

And find their common ancestor climbed a beanstalk.



Just the other day I had one of those "aha!" moments when a song lyric you have heard a hundred times suddenly makes sense.

I have listened to Johnny Cash since I was 6, and his song "One Piece at a Time" is a favorite. It's the humorous narrative of a guy who gradually builds his own car with parts he sneaks out of the automobile plant where he works. But it took 18 years for me to figure out that the words are "I've never considered myself a thief/But GM wouldn't miss just one little piece..." For some reason I'd always thought it was "But gee, they wouldn't miss just one little piece." The accurate rendering is so much better. I'm glad it hit me.

I remember singing " I Will Praise Him" as a young kid in church services, but I could never understand why we were glad that sinners were being put to death. It was a long time before I realized the prepositional phrase in the lyric "Praise the Lamb for sinners slain" was modifying the proper noun (i.e. Jesus), not the verb. Again, accurate interpretation: soooo much better.

The first misunderstanding was a result of faulty hearing, the second of faulty interpretation. Both cases illustrate the importance of a song's words.

"Enunciate, enunciate!" has been the cry of every choir director I've had since grade school. Funny, I never heard that from my band conductors. That's because words carry very specific meaning, and the job of the singer is to communicate that specific meaning to his audience. Yes, instrumental music can (and should) convey "feeling" and bring about an emotional response. But lyrics impart a message that appeals to our emotion and intelligence.

It is worth noting that when God desired to reveal Himself to mankind, He chose to use words--not the music of a song (or a dance or a painting, for that matter). He doesn't want us to just feel something, He wants us to know something.

That Something could be a whole post by itself. Or you can read a pretty good explanation of it here.


By way of explanation

My spare time is occupied by two things: A Considerable Speck and A Big Exam.

The former is my new-ish apartment. It's taking me awhile to get settled. But the settling is almost finished and soon A Considerable Speck will be open for business. Business as in game nights, debates, jam sessions, movie screenings, pie eatings, and anything else that tickles the fancy in an edifying sort of way.

The big exam I mentioned is the ABO (American Board of Opticianry) National Certifying Exam for Spectacle Dispensers, on November 15. Some of the content is about how to straighten crooked glasses, for example. But a lot of it is more like this: F = Fcyl (SIN(I))2 . Yeah. Pray for me.

All of that to explain my recent absence from the world wide web. And in the immortal words of Douglas MacArthur: "I shall return."