Friday, November 12, 2010

Falling Pianos. God's Great Fish. Duchess of Windsor's Pork Cake. Giant Space Bubbles.

Because it is Friday (cue Dave Edmunds), this post, which started out in a state of decided disquiet (last night I dreamt about falling pianos and being swallowed alive by God's Great Fish), is guaranteed to end well.


Before dreaming, I had simply planned to collect and share a few unrelated, delightful and interesting (to me, at least) things with you today.  Then when I woke (underneath the piano and inside the fish) at the usual palindromic hour of 3:33 am Eastern Standard Time, the first thing that came to mind was the news story I read yesterday about Britain's Got Talent (Jane likes it, but ugh!) singer Susan Boyle finally being given Lou Reed's permission to record the creepy song "Perfect Day" and filming a music video under the maestro's remote supervision (apparently, when you're a maestro, you can do that sort of thing) on beautiful Loch Lomond in Scotland.

Well, Ms. Boyle's rendition is just what you would expect (sort of pretty vocal histrionics) and  the song is as much of a miss (as in "hit and miss") as it ever was. Loch Lomond is glorious, but would look better in person, without the blue optical filter set between the viewer and the Highlands.

I hope this is the last we hear of  "Perfect Day" for a long, long time.  As a Velvet Underground fan, I was happy for Lou Reed when he achieved success with his "Transformer" record, but at the same time could never pretend that it was his best work.  Pop hits are unusual things -- lightning in a bottle, they always say -- and "A Walk On The Wild Side" captured listeners' imaginations so long ago, I think, because of Herbie Flower's insinuating bass guitar riff, the cool borrowed Nelson Algren title, the risque subject matter and the naughty words.  Lou's ability to sustain and maintain a successful career in the face of uneven material and terrible live performance problems is a testament to how very good and original his best work is.

However, nothing could possibly justify the bizarre veneration extended to "Perfect Day" by the BBC in their very, very weird "Perfect Day" advertising campaign, culminating in the star-studded viewer appeal (keep paying that tv license fee; thank you very much) based on the song.  Paraphrasing an old National Lampoon Radio Hour gag, it was a new low for both "rock" and "roll".

There are better "hands across the water" approaches to our UK neighbors than forcing a morbid, creepy lesser Lou Reed pop song on them.  This book, by Wallis Warfield Simpson, which I recently found on the excellent, highly valuable Cookbook of the Day blogsite written by "Lucindaville" of West Virginia, is one of them.  Considering the astronomical problems that the British caused Mrs. Simpson and vice versa, I think it was fine of her to share a valuable bit of her Southern U.S. hospitality and heritage with them, as she does in this very interesting, unusual (I've never seen anything like it), well-annotated recipe for:

The Duchess of Windsor's Pork Cake

1/2 pound fat salt pork, ground
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 cups raisins
1 cup currants, washed and dried
3 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon cinammon
1 1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Place pork in a mixing bowl and add boiling water.  Add molasses, brown sugar, raisins and currants and cool.  Mix and sift the flour, baking soda and spices together three times.  Add to the molasses mixture and beat until smooth.  Turn into long narrow bar pan (10 X 4 X 3 inches) and bake in a slow oven (325F.) 1 hour and 15 minutes.

"Lucindaville" notes that : "Rarely does one find a cake recipe that begins with the '1 1/2 pound of fat salt pork'.  Pork Cakes are a Southern invention -- you know in the South, when it comes to pork we eat everything but the squeal!  Who knew we had such fine ideas for porky desserts?   Pork Cake shows up in a few Southern cookbooks from the early 1900s, but doesn't seem to have caught on or survived.  Such a cake is not mentioned in Mrs. Dull's Southern Cooking, considered to be one of the most comprehensive chronicles of Southern tradition.  The recipe appears in Southern Living's encyclopedic Southern Heritage series culled from The Williamsburg Art of Cookery......the first American cookbook being printed at Williamsburg in 1742."

In a nice addition to better-known history, the Duchess herself also advises the reader that: "I have been very happy to help carry some of the well-known dishes of my native land to other countries, and especially to have served on my table Southern dishes which appeal to the Duke."

In other news, there's this:

Giant space bubbles baffle astronomers

Space Bubble Image (Source AFP)

"The two vast structures, stretching to the north and to the south of the centre of the Milky Way, are so big that a beam of light, travelling at 186,282 miles per second, would take 50,000 years to get from the edge of one to the edge of the other.

The previously unseen bubbles were discovered by astronomer Doug Finkbeiner, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, using NASA's Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope. He admitted yesterday: 'We don't fully understand their nature or origin.' 

They span more than half the visible sky, from the constellation of Virgo to the constellation of Grus, and are thought to be millions of years old. They were not noticed before because they were lost in a fog of gamma radiation across the sky. 

Astronomers' best guess is that the bubbles were created by an eruption from a supersized black hole at the centre of our galaxy. 

Mr Finkbeiner and his team discovered the bubbles by processing publicly available data from Fermi's Large Area Telescope. The space telescope, launched in 2008, is the most powerful detector of gamma rays, which are the most energetic form of light. 

Scientist David Spergel, of Princeton University, New Jersey, said: 'In other galaxies, we see that starbursts can drive enormous gas outflows. 

Whatever the energy source behind these huge bubbles may be, it is connected to many deep questions in astrophysics.'"

Artist's rendering of Black Hole

One person who would not lose sleep over the above story is Dave Davies, erstwhile lead guitarist, songwriter and singer for The Kinks, whose theories on metaphysics and extra-terrestrial life forms have aroused admiration and/or derision and sometimes ridicule in many who have followed his ultra-illustrious career.  Personally, I'm fine with everything Dave says and does because he's unpretentious, funny and always unpredictable.  It is true, however, that many years ago, while researching Dave's beliefs (he is an initiate of the Aetherius Society, an unusual spiritual community, and an acolyte of  their founder "Sir" George King, a London taxi driver turned medium and guru) in the Samuel Weiser occult and spiritual bookstore in Greenwich Village, I encountered consistent dismissive (at best) looks from the staff when I told them what I was searching for.  Because certain Aetherius publications consist of purported transcripts of interstellar transmissions from Jesus Christ across the lightwaves (in Aetherius terms, Jesus Christ was a Venusian warrior who once visited Earth to help us out), complete with static and other ham radio snap, crackle and popping, I suppose I can understand. I wear these incidents as something of a badge of honor.  Freaking out the tolerant staff at Samuel Weiser wasn't an easy thing to do. (The books, by the way, did not appear to be big sellers.)

"Sir" George King broadcasting an interstellar "medium" transmission.  

I think Dave looks great in the mid-1960s "Terylene" raincoat ad above -- cool and confident like Ina, the female model who holds her own with the man they called "The Rave". Here is a link to a song of Dave's  that's not nearly well enough known.  It is called  "Dear Margaret" and it appeared as a bonus track on the Kinks' U.K. Jive lp.  It's a very funny, crunching rock-y number and, for my money, is the outstanding contribution to the well-established genre of Anti-Margaret Thatcher rock songs. 

Finally, here is a painting I like by the late "hard-edged abstractionist" Larry Zox called "Green Diamond Drill" (1968), 

an image of a cupcake that Jane "fingerpainted" on her cellphone,

and a link to one of the most beautiful songs I know, "There's A Reward"  by Joe Higgs, the man who taught the Wailers and the Wailing Souls harmony singing.

The piano had to fall.   But I do get to climb out of the fish.

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