Tubby Boy with a Microphone Makes Eyebrows Touch, Releases Wonderful Sound

Posted by on October 24th, 2010 at 8:03 AM

Don’t Stop Believing. Click here for the song as performed by the kids at PS 22 in New York; someone had their cell phone recording the action during a rehearsal.

The school’s chorus has attracted attention, but the other clips I’ve seen by it haven’t been good. This is the standout. The soloist does a fine job, a very moving job (highly unusual for PS 22), and behind him you see a chorus of kids who seem to be singing the song to themselves, one by one, and loving it. That’s the key to the clip’s appeal. The kids, as singers, are just good enough for their voices to hang together and produce a song instead of a shambles. But look at them face by face and you see people living a song the way you live it when you’re by yourself and can give your heart away. Then the boy with the microphone steps forward and delivers.

It’s nice to think that Wesley Clark, Tony Soprano and these kids could all agree on something and be right. They all recognize that “Don’t Stop Believing” is a beautiful song that folds the moment so that us dumb schmucks suddenly find our feet touching the tops of our souls. We don’t know if we’re facing up or down, but there we are, sizing up life’s pain and feeling what makes life worthwhile. This happens because of Journey, a gang of hacks that now trucks itself around the revival circuit. There’s no cachet behind “Don’t Stop Believing.” People love the song because they have heard it and lived the moment that no other song delivers.

For years the only late ’70s/early ’80s power ballads I cared about were by Boston and (a much milder preference) Asia. When the “Don’t Start Believing” boomlet started a few years ago, I kept assuming that the song in question had to be one of the Boston numbers that I liked. Then I saw the last episode of The Sopranos and learned the truth. But I found I liked the song, and because of the PS 22 clip I love it — the school’s version and Journey’s too, because it’s good to hear the song proper as well as watch it in action.

Larkin poem. “How to Sleep,” dated March 1950. It’s for insomniacs:

Child in the womb,
Or saint on a tomb –
Which way shall I lie
To fall asleep?
The keen moon stares
From the back of the sky,
The clouds are all home
Like driven sheep.

Bright drops of time,
One and two chime,
I turn and lie straight
With folded hands;
Convent-child, Pope,
They choose this state,
And their minds are wiped calm
As sea-levelled sands.

So my thoughts are:
But sleep stays as far,
Till I crouch on one side
Like a foetus again –-
For sleeping, like death,
Must be won without pride,
With a nod from nature,
With a lack of strain,
And a loss of stature.

Does he really mean that falling asleep humbles you? I imagine him lying there in suit and tie, like Nixon at the beach.

Larkin was 27 when he wrote it, which is impressive both as to his talent and his degree of messed-upness. (“One of those old-type natural fouled-up guys,” as his poem puts it; see also Martin Amis’s crack about Larkin as a “clear example of UK toilet-training run amok.”)

When the Russian tanks … I always liked this ditty by Larkin. He wrote it because of a newspaper quote by some worthy who thought it was a fine thing to spend money on education and culture instead of the military:

When the Russian tanks roll westward, what defence for you and me?
Colonel Sloman’s Essex Rifles? The light horse of L.S.E.?

With the “L.S.E.” being the London School of Economics. The poem is dated 1969, two decades into the US nuclear deterrent. Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis had a neurotic terror of the Soviet forces in Eastern Europe. Everyone else knew that the forces were there to keep the Eastern Europeans down and the Americans out; reaching into Western Europe was impossible as long as the US had nuclear weapons targeting Russia. But the thought never penetrated with Larkin and Amis, the way aviation safety statistics don’t penetrate with people terrified of flying. Which Amis, at least, was; the question didn’t come up with Larkin because he didn’t want to go anywhere.

I suppose it’s just as well that Amis (possibly with Larkin tagging along) didn’t set up as an authority on transportation policy and start haranguing us about our weak-willed blindness to the deadly wager society has staked on the anti-scientific abomination of heavier-than-air flight. But Amis and Larkin did decide they knew more about defense policy than us gutless liberals and launched into a decades-long snit fit because saner people did not share their bogeyman. Typical.

Daily proverb. Words are reality’s prettier cousin.

Stan says. Just when you thought we’ve run out of titles –- We come up with War Is Hell! Capture it right now!

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2 Responses to “Tubby Boy with a Microphone Makes Eyebrows Touch, Releases Wonderful Sound”

  1. Jeet Heer1 says:

    One of my favourite Amis anecdotes has him talking to Margaret Thatcher. She asks him what his book Russian Hide-and-Seek is all about. He said its about a Russian take-over of England. Thatcher replied: “Can’t you do any better than that? Get yourself another crystal ball!” Amis, Memoirs, p. 318.

  2. Tom Crippen says:

    I ran across that in the Leader bio. There my impression was that he saw the remark as an example of how ringing and stalwart she could be. Whereas you and I might see it as her telling him to wise up a bit.