“And a one, and a two…” anyone of a certain age recalls that iconic kick-start to a Lawrence Welk band number. I was incredibly lucky as a child because Saturdays (quite often) — I got the Texaco Metropolitan Opera, and the Grand Ol’ Opry and Lawrence Welk — an entire day filled with music.
That’s the use of “and” with which most of us are familiar. We think of “and” in its conjunction junction form uniting disparate objects — think peanut butter and jelly, kisses and hugs, singing and dancing, or even reading and writing.
A warm, cozy thought on a wild, rainy evening. As I snuggle under an afghan, cup of tea in hand — preparing for work “and” returns to the discussion. Whether you are helping a curious five-year old find a book about dinosaurs, dancing, that’s not scary or a college student craft an essay juxtaposing duality of dinosaur portrayals in science and pop culture — you end up using “Boolean expressions”. And that is, you ask?
George Boole is one of those math/science people that if you are reading this on a computer — you might want to light a birthday candle to him (11/2 in case you do), to Hedy Lamarr (11/9) and definitely to Grace Hopper (12/9) — there are many others, these folks just came to mind as I was thinking about “and.”
George was a largely self-educated, brilliant man who developed a way of thinking about information/numbers/life that could be largely answered “true” or “false”. For him, it all boiled down to math. His wife, much more mystical, contended that he had a flash of insight in his teens that left him struggling to pull all knowledge into its most basic form — she also believed that like the Beatles of the following century, he got loads of enlightenment from India. Hey, they did something right: they had 5 daughters — one of whom was the 1st female professor of chemistry in England, another a force in the field of geometry, and a novelist. Just to throw in a couple of the “begats”, one of George & Mary’s great-granddaughters worked on the Manhattan project and my favorite bit of Boolean trivia is that his grandson, Sebastian invented the Jungle Gym!!
What does fascinating life of the Boole family have to do with my simple conjunction? As we noted above, in your daily life “cheese & crackers” is connective, uniting and making a “we”, a “them”, a “together”. Using the Boolean “and”, becomes an excluder, denying entry to those not answering true. For example, take the curious 5-yr old who loves dinosaurs and dancing. In everyday conversation, you shift between them bringing the disparate elements together — there are books that are wonderful about both dancing and about dinosaurs. Using the Boolean operators, “AND” will find results that contain both words. “OR” finds results about either word and “NOT” excludes. For example, “dinosaurs AND dancing,” would bring up books that must contain both dinosaurs and dancing (raising the horrifying possibility of a “Barney” resurgence), while dinosaurs OR dancing offers resources about either topic, whether it’s a Gene Kelly retrospective or The ultimate dinopedia: the most complete dinosaur reference ever by Don Lessem and published by National Geographic. As you can imagine, there would be a lot more results under the “or” canopy. So, in library language per the logic of Boole, “and” is exclusive, while “or” is broadening – that’s fantastic for focusing or gaining scope on a research topic. Yet, I prefer the warming unity linking dreams, ideas and passions…. always the possibility of addition, bringing more delight and abundance.
- Bend & Snap (Legally Blonde), Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered (Pal Joey), and Big, Blonde & Beautiful (Hairspray) — so lesson 1 — Broadway likes the letter B, often the more the better. In all three songs, the women are explaining their “assets”, and how to use them in an efficacious manner. Whether as Rita Hayworth’s leggy Vera (voiced by Ann Greer), Elle Woods (Laura Bundy) picking up a pencil in a way that certainly shows it’s mightier than the sword, or Maybelle (Queen Latifah) celebrating everything that makes her beautiful — these songs share delight in being female
- Guns & Ships (Hamilton) and Guys & Dolls (Guys and Dolls) — Broadway alliterates more than the letter “b” — In Guns & Ships, hip-hop virtuoso, Lin-Manuel Miranda sets the stage for the decisive battle of Yorktown in a manner that has made Hamilton the hottest ticket on Broadway. Time travel back to the ’50s for a treatment of Damon Runyon’s short stories of the saints and sinners in NYC — Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls” makes you want to sing even if you’re disagreeing with the premise that the gentleman has to sacrifice all for his lady love
- All things bright & beautiful(a million Episcopal children’s choirs) – whether it’s the tradition that echoes or the James Herriot book covers I picture – this simple hymn of praise warms like a cozy fire pit, friends and family gathered, murmured conversations and little flame flickers lighting the inky sky
- Crimson & Clover(Joan Jett), Leather & Lace (Stevie Nicks & Don Henley), Diamonds & Pearls (Prince) – While Prince, Joan Jett, the Shondells and the Stevie Nicks/Don Henley duo are classics — their combinations of textures, jewels and colors and/or botany (truly it’s both) challenge the senses. Lyrics like: “Yeah, my mind’s such a sweet thing/I wanna do everything, what a beautiful feeling/Crimson and clover, over and over”, “There will come a time, when love will blow your mind/And everything you’ll look for you’ll find/That will be the time, that everything will shine/So bright it makes you colorblind” and “I have my own life and I am stronger/Than you know/But I carry this feeling/When you walked into my house/That you won’t be walking out the door” pour like a synesthetic glass of wine — sparking tastes and colors.
- Atom & Evil(the Golden Gate Quartet) and Over the Hills & Far Away (John Tams) – Novelty songs are some of the best resources you will ever find to explore pop culture. Formed in 1934, the Golden Gate Quartet had some doozies including a lovely little number from WWII about Russian participation on the Eastern Front called, “Stalin wasn’t stallin’”. In the wake of WWII, this misogynistic gem of a song reflected America’s fears of the new atomic age. It tells of a romance between simple Atom and the glitzy seductress that is Evil. If “we” allow the love to exist, we’ll all fall down and go “boom, boom”. Another “war” song that has been around since the 1600s, is one most people know from the “Sharpe” series on the BBC. Originally, there were two versions of the song, one lamenting a fair love and the other going off to fight. John Tams (Dan Hagman in the movies) adapted the latter version for the show using it as an abstract for the episode set to the traditional tune.
- Body & Soul (Coleman Hawkins) and Night & Day (Django Reinhardt and Stèphane Grapelli)– small confession, I love Amy Winehouse and almost listed her duet with Tony Bennett for this song (2 ands for the price of 1), but there is something transcendently magic about the Coleman Hawkins 1939 recording. Paired with Django Reinhardt & Stephane Grapelli — this would be a lovely start to a fireplace and jazz night.
- Shut Up & Kiss Me(Mary Chapin Carpenter) and Shut Up & Dance (Walk the Moon) — One of my favorite songs for about a million reasons, Shut Up & Dance describes that moment when the music elevates you just about perfectly, “We were victims of the night/The chemical, physical, kryptonite/Helpless to the bass and the fading light/Oh we were bound to get together/Bound to get together”. I love Mary Chapin Carpenter, and this is one of her more delightful songs, although in many ways it’s just a folky retelling of Lerner & Loewe’s “Show Me” from My Fair Lady, another favorite.
- Live & Let Die(Paul McCartney & Wings) and The Long & Winding Road (the Beatles) — So, I didn’t know that originally the producers of Live and Let Die, wanted Shirley Bassey to sing the title track instead of Wings — Paul not so keen on that, as you can imagine considering it went on to be one of the band’s biggest hits. Speaking of Paul, I always thought he had a streak of melancholy that edges both the Beatles and his solo career. It was neat to hear him talk about the sadness in “Long & Winding Road” — in a 1994 interview, he noted that “it’s [sad songs] a good vehicle, it saves having to go to a psychiatrist” In other words, the blues really are a cure-all…
- And it stoned me (Van Morrison) and Love & Happiness (Al Green) –> speaking of the blues, there’s a lovely shout out to Jelly Roll Morton in the song — Van Morrison, can sing about fishing and it seems like the most joyous thing in his grumpy, green world. Likewise, Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” radiates sunshine. Often considered one of the greatest songs of the 20th century, I adore this description Al Green gave of the recording session, “I wouldn’t say it was a return to the old style soul of my early days, but I definitely pulled it from the same source of raw and gritty need. The result was like a slow fever, building on the beat, pushing up the temperature with each breath of the staccato horns and pushing through to delirium as we came up on the fade”. Wow and wow again!
- Me & Bobby McGee(Janis Joplin) and Me & Julio down by the schoolyard (Paul Simon) — These are kind of like road trip songs — and they evoke radically different journeys — Kristofferson’s dusty, stripped down to the axle trip fits so perfectly with Janis Joplin’s voice, while Paul Simon’s neighborhood anthem lingers with coffee and exhaust fumes.
- And She Was (Talking Heads) –– If I were ever trapped upon pain of something awful to choose only 10 songs to listen to — this would probably be in the mix. The music, lyrics and effervescent joy leave me smiling and often pressing repeat
- Kings & Queens (MisterWives) and Lawyers, Guns & Money (Warren Zevon) –> MisterWives is a new-ish indie band from NYC, and shallowly I really love that one of the guys is “Etienne,” (such a throwback to HS French class :). There’s a lyric that says, “Resonate what lies between good and sin,” that’s a lovely thought…. not new, and not shallow — the late and much loved (ok loved by me) Warren Zevon commented lyrically on nearly everything, sometimes profoundly and sometimes in sheer fun! His one nightstand that leaves him a desperate man, between a rock & a hard place, innocent? — or as MisterWives noted between good and sin.
- I & Love & You (the Avett Brothers) and Let’s Face the Music & Dance (Fred Astaire or a billion others) –> the Avett brothers are an incredible NC band that had the misfortune to hit popularity at the same time as Mumford & Sons — which diluted their appeal. They are loose, yet controlled and paean to love’s vagaries plays well with “face the music,” — both wryly accepting, and Fred Astaire’s “sing-talking” echoes “the highway sets the traveler’s stage/all exits look the same,” saying, “Soon, we’ll be without the moon, humming a different tune” — in other words, life is not always delicious but so what?
- Safe & Sound (Sheryl Crow) and Safe & Sound (Taylor Swift with the Civil Wars) and Safe & Sound (Capital Cities) and Safe & Sound (Shane Nicholson) — You know that song by 10,000 Maniacs, Candy that everybody wants? Like that candy, the notion of being “safe and sound” permeates literature, life and of course, music. Whether an old rock is cleft for you, you’re kissing slowly or staying just a little bit longer — connecting makes you feel cozy and comforted. A cursory search finds at least twenty songs that are titled, “safe and sound”. Though the refrains offer repose, the verses reveal fears, dreams, and stories of trial and triumph. There are four that I’ve really loved over the years. Sheryl Crow had a incredibly heart-full “safe and sound” on the album, C’mon, C’mon — dedicated to Owen Wilson, it offered the promise, “Could you not break down/After all I won’t let go/Until you’re safe and sound”. Taylor Swift and the Civil Wars (hate they broke up!!) created an oasis for the soundtrack of the Hunger Games, “Just close your eyes/The sun is going down/You’ll be alright/No one can hurt you now/Come morning light/You and I’ll be safe and sound”. One of the most famous versions is that of Capital Cities, and Indie pop/rock band from LA, founded by two guys who met through Craig’s List (yeah for commerce?). It offers a prettier picture, the chorus offers, “You could be my luck/Even in a hurricane of frowns/I know that we’ll be safe and sound” — the hurricane line is my favorite even though they are also safe & sound with a falling sky, a tidal wave of mystery or evidently buried 6 feet under”. However my favorite comes from Shane Nicholson, an Australian musician once married to the amazing Kasey Chambers. It’s warm and the melody envelopes you echoing that universal desire, “Under the sunlight and over the ground/Maybe we’ll all be safe and sound/Maybe we’ll all be happy again/If everything seems to be out of control/Losing the heart in search of the soul/Just keep us all safe and sound”.
I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult –> EB White