Rivers Are Damp

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Zippo Songs

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On Saturday, three friends and I went to Philly’s Kimmel Center for the last installment of this season’s Fresh Ink series, which features crazy weird strange “new” music. I’ve been a subscriber of the series for several years because, well, I like to experience, er, “new” things. Saturday night’s concert was my favorite of the season.

The program featured works of contemporary composer-guitarist Phil Kline. I was particularly looking forward to Fear and Loathing, a song cycle built around the writings of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. (Remind me to explain sometime how/why HST’s Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 changed my life.) But it was a different piece, Zippo Songs, that really captured my attention.

Zippo Songs is a song cycle of poems written by Vietnam-era American GIs and engraved on their Zippo lighters. The texts are shrewd, funny, profound, imaginative, crisp. As an example, here’s a snippet from one poem that seems to summarize, in an incredibly cogent way, the American experience in Vietnam:

We are the unwilling
Led by the unqualified
Doing the unnecessary
For the ungrateful

An amazing vocalist, Theo Bleckmann, sang the Zippo Songs. At once ethereal and soldierly, Bleckmann’s vocal performance was the talk of the theater at intermission. And it’s what my friends and I talked about during an after-concert debriefing over beer, wine, and Italian food. I’ve been checking Bleckmann’s website out tonight, and I’ll be investigating his CDs soon. In a single night, I developed a real music-crush on him….

If you’re interested in Zippo Songs, and you ought to be, check out this NPR story from 2004. On that same page, you can listen to three of the songs, performed by Bleckmann. Highly recommended.

Written by Jimmy

April 7th, 2008 at 11:07 pm

Posted in Music

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