“Bang, Bang”

In my last post, I told the harrowing tale of a little lost uke and the odyssey of its nigh miraculous return. And I mentioned that, in what might have been our final performance together, the Guild baritone ukulele and I went out with a bang.

Above, is a recording of that bang. Specifically, Sonny Bono’s 1966 composition “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down). The late Bono vox populi (R – CA) wrote the song for the second of Cher’s solo albums, The Sonny Side of Cher, though the version I know is the one Nancy Sinatra recorded, also in 1966, for her album How Does that Grab You? (This is the version that later turns up in Kill Bill.)

It’s a great song. And, once a semester, I foist it upon the students taking a writing class I teach centered around issues of intellectual property and public culture. I play it as musical accompaniment to an ungraded quiz on the specific uses of copyrighted material excluded by Section 106 of U.S. Code Title 17, California’s 44th district. As I ask in my intro to the quiz:

The controversial 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, sponsored by the late U.S. Representative — and one-time songwriting half of Sonny & Cher — added 20 years to the length of copyrights. Until Bono’s compositions and recordings begin reverting to the public domain in the 2060s, which of the following can I do without the explicit permission of his estate, according to the “exclusive rights” outlined in section 106 of the U.S. Copyright Act (Title 17)?

Of course, as it turns out, not much.

NOTE ON THE RECORDING. This is not a live recording from the class in question. It was made when I was rehearsing the same song for the same quiz the previous semester on September 20, 2007. The recording was made using a Plantronics headphone mic hung from the fire extinguisher in the upstairs hallway of my house in Hyattsville, Maryland, recorded to the Roxio Easy Media Creator sound editor program. (This is really a program designed for minor editing of existing recordings for making home mixtapes — it offers single-track recording and some limited mastering effects.)


Take it if you dare. Again, the question is: which of the following things can I do with Bono’s music without anyone’s explicit permission? Note that the premise was to answer only with reference to section 106 of the U.S. Copyright Act (Title 17 of the U.S. Code), and without consideration of the exceptions outlined in some of the sections that immediately follow it. In other words, the question here isn’t what the law actually is. Rather, the question is what the law as written assumes as the default condition, the ideal working of copyrights for which exceptions need to be made to enable many of the everyday things we do.

So, can I…

  1. Make copies of my Sonny & Cher: In Case You’re in Love CD to sell at yard sales or to send to friends for Valentine’s Day.
  2. Rip my own back-up copy of the CD to carry with me on my MP3 player when I’m commuting.
  3. Let one of my friends borrow the original CD I purchased.
  4. Record a cover version of “I Got You Babe” with my band.
  5. Sample the oboe riff from “I Got You Babe” and record an original rap over a loop of the sample.
  6. Create a video montage of still photographs of my parents, using Sonny & Cher’s recording of “I Got You Babe” as the soundtrack, and post it to YouTube in time for their anniversary.
  7. Post a video of my friend and I wearing matching adidas tracksuits and lip syncing to “I Got You Babe” in his dorm room.
  8. Learn to play “The Beat Goes On” on ukulele and sing it at an open mic.
  9. Learn to play “The Beat Goes On” on ukulele and teach my 4-year-old daughter to sing the “la-dee-da-dee-dee” part at home.
  10. Whistle the chorus to “Baby Don’t Go” while I walk down the street
  11. Play a recording of “Baby Don’t Go” at a party
  12. Play a recording of “Baby Don’t Go” loud enough in my car for other people in traffic to hear.
  13. Make my MP3 of “Bang Bang” available on my computer to peer-to-peer file-sharing programs
  14. Perform “Bang Bang” in class in order to help illustrate a point about copyright laws.

He Would Always Laugh and Say “Remember How We Used to Play…?”

Thursday, January 31 might have been the last time I would ever see or play my baritone ukulele. This 1960s Guild uke has been my primary instrument since about 1996, the one for which I had to order from Brooklyn a custom-built hardshell case, the one used at just about every Viper & His Orchestra show ever played (see picture below), and the one to be heard on both Viper recordings. And it was almost lost for good when I left it behind in the classroom for my 8:00-9:15 class. At least we would have gone out with a bang — or, more accurately, a “Bang Bang,” as I’ll take up in my next post.

The Viper and his Famous Orchestra (baritone ukulele at right)
Costumed as an allegory of life under Das Capital
Halloween 1999, The Hideout, Chicago, Illinois

When I started writing this post on Friday, February 1, the fate of that uke was still very much up in the air. It wasn’t in the classroom when I checked first thing Friday morning, it hadn’t showed up at the university police department’s lost & found, and the pleading contact message I scrawled on the classroom blackboard when I came in on Saturday had been wiped clean by Monday morning. (I take this erasure as a function of teaching at a private university — at the state school where I did my graduate work, we RESPECTED the “do not erase” sign.)

So on Monday, I started trying to track down the information on everyone else who’d taught in that same classroom after me, and emailing them my sob story. The first responses that started trickling back weren’t encouraging, though one of them indicated at least that the uke had still been in the classroom as of 12:25. It wasn’t until 9:18 on the morning of Tuesday, February 5 — after four rather depressing days — that I got a message from a faculty member in the Philosophy department named Chris Venner that he had the instrument, that I could pick it up in his office, and that “Charley Patton’s ‘Jelly Roll’ sounds pretty good on it” (the which I don’t doubt).

Reunited and it feels so good. Chris, I will always be in your debt. And in the next post, I’ll put up my recording of what otherwise might have been the last Viper performance ever on this instrument.

The Revenge of Myndryll Leavesfall

Riley Broach, bassist for The Viper and His Famous Orchestra, and currently the Orchestra Director at Lake Zurich Middle School North in Illinois, passes along the following.

Just wanted to share the last two concerts of mine. I have a few recordings up on my orchestra website. The first is of the concert last night, December 17, featuring the Atomic Strings performing “Aloha ‘Oe” with me singing.

…and playing the ukulele. Listen especially in “Aloha ‘Oe” for the talking parts, where Riley pesters the audience with “You know this part” and (in apparent Yiddish) “Now you do it, ‘Aloha Oy!'” And on “Rhythm ‘N’ Blues,” we discover that clapping on the 2 and 4 doesn’t necessarily come naturally to the children of Lake Zurich.

The second is of the Halloween concert on October 30th with the Atomic Strings performing an original song, The Quentin Witch Project, with me singing again. It’s the beginning to an epic tale about five viking heroes getting lost on some river off of Lake Zurich.

It is, indeed, epic. Have your lunch and your coffee ready in front of you before you click play, because if you get up in the middle to do this stuff, you’ll miss quite a bit. I’m still not entirely clear on the plot, but Riley does offer helpful meta-commentary throughout. Photos are available here.

We’re in the phone book! We’re in the phone book!

…or at least we’re finally on CD Baby. After much gentle prodding from Tangleweed‘s Kip Rainey (source of many of the most delightful TweedBlog posts), I finally got my act together and sent in the 5 CDs of 2002’s “Everything for Everyone” that the site needs to start enabling self-distribution.

On our CD Baby page, you can hear significant chunks of all the songs, read a description of the band which, hands down, wins for the highest density of compound adjectives of any of the descriptions I’ve seen, and link to other examples of bands in the Avant Garde: Avant-Americana, Folk: Skiffle, and Lo-Fi categories. As you’ll see, we come in as both a top-7 editor’s pick and a top-7 best seller in the Folk:Skiffle category. Largely because there seem to be only 7 records in that category. Feel free to review the CD if you’ve heard it, and feel even freer to buy it!

I held off actually sending things in until I’d at least tried to cross some of the legal t’s and dot some of the copyright i’s that would make it ok for a commercial CD and downloads to include the covers we did on that recording: “Rhapsody in Blue,” “Pennies from Heaven,” Angie Heaton’s “Pretty Is as Pretty Does,” and Liz Phair’s “Dance of the Seven Veils.” It’s somewhat obscene that Gershwin’s 1924 piece is still under copyright, 88 years after publication, and (given that he died in 1937) now exceeding even the life-plus-70 years of protection that authored works are supposed to get.

Good Morning, Irene

“Good Morning, Irene”

As I suppose is obvious, this is an answer song to Leadbelly’s “Goodnight, Irene,” inverting that eve’s hope-tinged despair for the new morn’s despair-tinged hope. I needed a song to help my three-year-old daughter, Irene, wake up as the mornings got colder and darker. I also needed a song for the Paint Branch Bluegrass Boys to learn that we could call our own. Leadbelly’s song is a waltz; this one is in four.* Written during the week of October 21-27, 2007.


Irene, good morning; good morning, Irene
The sun will soon come creeping through
The day ahead I know will be
A day just for me and for you


I told your mother that you were the one
I loved you with all of my heart
I’d love, honor, cherish, obey
And keep you ’til death did us part

I’ll stop all my rambling and staying out late
I’ll sit by the fireside bright
No rambling, no gambling, no bounding, no rounding
No staying away half the night

I’ll live in the country, I’ll live in the town
I’ll live in a land far away
And if I don’t jump in the river and drown
I’ll live anywhere that you say

I’ll take you to Georgia, I’ll take you to Rome
Far from these hills of Tennessee
I’ll take you to Georgia and we’ll make a home
In the land of the sweet what’s-to-be

I love Irene, the Lord knows it’s true
I love her with all of my might
I’ll pack up my morphine and put it all away
‘Til the day that Irene says goodnight

* The chords follow the Leadbelly changes (I-V-V-I, I7-IV-V-I), and the melody approximates his, though in the first half of each verse/chorus the lines are halved and double-timed (i.e., the same rhythm as the lines in the second half).

the kind of music your great-great-great-grandparents warned your great-great-grandparents about