The Standards

Songs That Make You Long For
What You’ve Hardly Experienced

For the generation that grew up during the cultural turmoil of the 1960s, a lot of what it was determined to break free from was the placidity, conformity, and political conservatism of the U.S. in the 1950s. The rock’n’roll explosion only made that rupture more visible.
But there was a world that preceded it, marked by two wars, where ideological conflict, social hardship, and technological impact, helped shape a musical tradition that proved itself as one of the greatest cultural achievements of our era: the American Standards.
2015 may turn out to be a landmark year, as milestone anniversaries are bound to shed light on such a rich tradition and its main protagonists. Billie Holiday, Billy Strayhorn, and Frank Sinatra, are just but three of such luminaries who would’ve been 100 this year.
And so would Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and Les Paul, all giants on their own, whose association with early country, blues, and jazz insert them, permanently, into the mainstream of American music. But it was the deceptively lowly popular song format what helped usher the Standards into an art form.
To many, the addition of Eastern European Jewish melodies, the Klezmer and other Gipsy traditions, to rhythms and syncopations of African tribal beats, converging for two centuries to the U.S., was what created the two main streams of American music, Blues and Jazz. The Great American Songbook is a worthy heir to those two.
It was also a rare combination of a few generations of extremely talented composers and musicians, with race and immigrant blood running in their veins, that took advantage of a nascent record industry, and offered the perfect antidote to the bleakness and economic despair of the early 1900s in the just industrialized world.

ALT-PORTRAIT OF A WORLD AT WAR
Armed conflicts helped spread that sense of urgency – French songbird Édith Piaf would also be 100 this year – with vaudeville, music hall, variety theater, and a general cultural miscegenation of sorts, all fit snugly into 3-minute songs that encapsulated a badly needed sense of hope for the era.
Even though such gems were not exclusively American, it was in the U.S. that the genre thrived and produced some of the most memorable and enduring melodies and lyrics ever written in English. Then, they were supposed to be about escapism and romance. Now, they can be enjoyed for their distilled wisdom and artistry.
Which is odd, since those Tin Pan Alley composers were working overtime to meet an inflated demand for hits. But what their produced then, under pressure, now betrays none of the rush with which they were writing them at that time; the craftsmanship of some of these songs still has few peers compared with much of those that came after.
The songwriters created an alternative universe, where longing, redemption, and the allure of romance is always within reach, even when they refuse to concede the singer the grace of happiness and fulfillment. At times, the world these songs promise or allude to was the only world worth living for, even if only for a few minutes.

AN ENTIRE NOVEL IN A FEW VERSES
Lovers who wished to be reunited with their dears, warriors whose losses made them cry silently for the first time, common people who saw their world coming apart right in front of their eyes, found comfort in these lyrics that invite them to dance, to dream, and to remain hopeful for another shot at life.
Thankfully, the great majority of American Standards stayed clear of any exacerbated patriotism or xenophobic Continue reading

Two Minutes to Go

Elle Jane Townsend, U.K.

When There’s No Time to
Pick What You Really Love

Few events present a more dramatic picture of the absolute temporality of our experience on earth than the eminence of an unavoidable disaster. Except, of course, the moment of our last breath, in which case, such concepts as time and disaster are really beside the point.
Otherwise, at that crucial realization that we must get out in order to survive, our very next thought may be about what to take with us. Not being quite our final trip, we may be allowed to pick some beloved possessions before we go. But how to know what that would be?
Naturally, the Internet is full of disaster preparation guides, designed for those who’d rather be on the lookout for a possible early call towards destiny. Those who live in areas prone to ‘acts of god,’ in plain insurancenese, may be familiar and even have already a kit, with a few necessary items to take.
We’re not talking about that sort of situation, which in most cases can be well addressed with a simple permanently packed suitcase. What we mean is the kind of unexpected catastrophe that, ironically, would give you just enough time to go insane, imagining what you’d really need to take with you.
For most of us, it’d be a losing proposition, and we’re bound to choose exactly what we’ll never need. In a hurry, we most definitely forget a number of irreplaceables, which we’ll spend the rest of our lives regretting having left behind. If we’re lucky, eventually we may learn why those trinkets were so dear to us, and why it was all so silly.
At the same time, we may find ourselves treasuring previously useless items, such as a pair of socks only heaven knows why we actually took the time to salvage, almost as a reminder of that aforementioned Continue reading

Checking In

Need a Hotel? Good
Luck Booking These

As vacation season in the north hemisphere approaches, many among the lucky are planning what to do and where to go. Some consider a trip to the Caribbean, while others may finally get to visit Uncle Bob who, since he’s moved to Alaska, no one has ever heard from. Gosh, he hasn’t even met the kids yet.
However you plan your time off, though, there are a few famous hangouts you’ll probably never get to sleep at: the Chelsea Hotel, in New York, and the Stanley Hotel, in Colorado, both celebrated in film and song, the Netherlands’ Divorce Hotel, and the fantasy-themed Balade de Gnomes, in Belgium.
The Chelsea Hotel, which is now operated by a chain and has lost much of its gritty appeal, was the home, temporary and permanent, of some of the most influential artists of the 20th century. You probably know the Stanley by its fictional name, the Overlook Hotel, made famous by Stephen King’s novel, and Stanley Kubrick’s movie, The Shinning.
If you think that none of these are appropriate to take the kids, the brainchild of Dutch entrepreneur Jim Halfens is even less so. Advertised Continue reading

Chelsea Hotel

New York Landmark
Seeks a New Owner

Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen slept there. So did Andy Warhol. Robert Mapplethorpe and Quentin Crisp had a few loud arguments. Arthur Miller was once heard screaming on the first floor, while Eugene O’Neill and Charles Bukosvski used to get drunk but kept to themselves. Unlike Sid Vicious, who stabbed his girlfriend to death in his room, and passed out waiting for a drug delivery.
Now the Hotel Chelsea, as those who know little about it call it, is up for sale, squeezed by the new realities of stratospheric real estate values Continue reading