The Viper’s seasonal side project, The Reds and the Blues, are back — this time performing James Lord Pierpont’s winter classic from 1857 originally titled “One Horse Open Sleigh.” As usual, Irene Vipersdottir Jerving sings while The Viper plays ukulele (here, doubling on jug).
Last month, I relocated to Milwaukee from the Washington, D.C. area. Surprisingly, given the rare gift of unemployment I’ve been enjoying, this is my first post-move post.
Or not so surprising, since I’m not yet making music with anyone here. That’s not untypical for me. It took me two years in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois to first play out as the Viper act. And four years in Maryland to luck into the Paint Branch Ramblers. I never really got anything together during my two years in Turkey, apart from one two-song set at the Faculty Club Christmas talent show (I played “The Lawson Family Murder,” and “Daddy’s Drinking Up Our Christmas”), and one faculty party at which I played/sang “Too Much Heaven On Their Minds” from Jesus Christ Superstar on a borrowed saz.
In any case, it’s always a good opportunity to let the barrel fill itself back up. So to celebrate my refound love of self, here’s a solo recording of the Viper playing “Pennies from Heaven,” taken from the Everything for Everyone CD.
As far as I can remember, this was recorded in a single take using just the room mic we’d set up to get “coverage” sound of the whole band. Jay Bennett is doing the engineering/producing.
That stuff you don’t recognize at the beginning is the verse of this 1936 Johnny Burke and Arthur Johnston standard. You don’t hear the verse much. But Vernel Bagneris lip synchs to the 1937 Arthur Tracy recording of it in the great 1981 film of Pennies from Heaven. And Steve Martin actually sings it at the end of the movie, just before he’s hung. I learned it — since I’d never heard it anyhere else — by rewinding these two scenes over and over.
It’s a nice little piece, and here’s the lyrics if you want to sing along:
A long time ago, a million years B.C.
The best things in life were absolutely free
But no one appreciated a sky that was always blue
And no one congratulated a moon that was always new
So it was planned that they would vanish now and then
And you must pay before you get them back again
That’s what storms were made for
And you shouldn’t be afraid, for…
Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven
Don’t you know each cloud contains pennies from heaven
You’ll find your fortune falling all over town
Be sure that your umbrella is upside down
Trade them for a package of sunshine and flowers
If you want the things you love, you must have showers
So when you hear it raining, don’t run under a tree
There’ll be pennies from heaven for you…
Pennies from heaven for me…
Pennies from heaven for you and me
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.)
AND NOW…THE QUIZ
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…
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.
Rip my own back-up copy of the CD to carry with me on my MP3 player when I’m commuting.
Let one of my friends borrow the original CD I purchased.
Record a cover version of “I Got You Babe” with my band.
Sample the oboe riff from “I Got You Babe” and record an original rap over a loop of the sample.
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.
Post a video of my friend and I wearing matching adidas tracksuits and lip syncing to “I Got You Babe” in his dorm room.
Learn to play “The Beat Goes On” on ukulele and sing it at an open mic.
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.
Whistle the chorus to “Baby Don’t Go” while I walk down the street
Play a recording of “Baby Don’t Go” at a party
Play a recording of “Baby Don’t Go” loud enough in my car for other people in traffic to hear.
Make my MP3 of “Bang Bang” available on my computer to peer-to-peer file-sharing programs
Perform “Bang Bang” in class in order to help illustrate a point about copyright laws.
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 kind of music your great-great-great-grandparents warned your great-great-grandparents about