Second Week of Advent

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour forth righteousness.

We have sinned, and are as an unclean thing,
and we all do fade as a leaf:
our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away;
thou hast hid thy face from us:
and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.

Back in my Episcopalian days they had a song meant to be used in the "folk" liturgy. The refrain, as I recall was

God likes me just the way I am
I turned out just fine

I don't know where they got that idea. 

Here's another setting, not however including the words above. This one is by William Byrd. I had never heard of the performers, who call themselves the Gesualdo Six. That certainly indicates good musical judgment on their part.


Get Back (Peter Jackson's Beatles Documentary)

If I didn't have, um, access to someone's Disney+ account, I wouldn't have paid much attention to this. Who needs another Beatles documentary? But I do have access, so I have watched part of it...and now I think, more or less, who needs another Beatles documentary? Or book, or re-master re-issue re-organization of their recordings, or collection of outtakes and scraps? 

If that sounds like I'm not really that much of a Beatles fan, I'd have to say "you're right." I admitted as much to a couple of people who said they had been glued to their TVs for the entire six (!) hours of the thing. Not me. I was bored after 45 minutes or so and stopped. then a day or two later went back and watched another hour. That still didn't finish the first of the three two-hour episodes. I will most likely eventually watch the rest, because it's somewhat interesting, and after all it is the Beatles. But it's not at the top of my to-do list.

When I say "not much of a fan," I mean "fan" in the sense of "fanatic." I do like the Beatles, and I do think their work is is one of the greatest achievements in popular music. But I don't revere them. Even back when they were an active band putting out new records, and I was young, I didn't hang on their every word or take them as gurus. If anyone had that kind of effect on me then, it was Dylan. And I had gotten over that by the mid-1970s. 

The movie does have a nice humanizing and demythologizing effect. If you've ever been in a band, or just in a group of people casually trying to play together, that first 45 minutes is pretty much the same thing: a bunch of guys sitting around playing bits and pieces of stuff, getting irritated, getting bored, trying to be funny, and so forth. It's just not very interesting to watch, even when I remind myself that they are going to end up with at least a few brilliant songs.

I guess I should back up a bit: this is basically a revisiting, at great length, of the Beatles' Let It Be documentary, released in 1970, covering the sessions that led to the recording of the album of the same name and to a rooftop concert. I saw it when it was originally released, and did not realize that it has mostly been unobtainable since then. It was, to me at least, not exactly an enchanting film. The group was falling apart--I think they had already broken up when the film was released--and the album was a mixed bag at best. Apparently a whole body of belief about the last days of the band grew up around that documentary: it was Yoko's fault, it was McCartney's fault, and so forth. The new one claims to provide a fuller and more accurate picture. Here's the trailer:

I will leave it to those who are more interested and knowledgeable to pick over what this film does or doesn't tell us about the breakup, the personalities, the relationships, the relative importance of musical contributions, and so forth. For what it's worth, my long-standing belief that McCartney was by far the most musically gifted of the group is confirmed. He also seems to be, at this point, the only one of the four who really wants to work, and to keep the band going. Watching him work out the title song is striking: he does it with just his bass, and if I'm not mistaken he's using the bass as a 4-string guitar--which of course it is, but typically it's only played one note at a time. McCartney seems to be strumming chords on it. I'm not a musician but I think that's pretty unusual. And of course he does it with perfect ease.

It also brings out something which I guess has been pretty obvious for a long time: by this point in their career, the songwriting had really declined. Both McCartney and Lennon sometimes seemed not to want to spend much time with lyrics. "Get Back" is great musically, and it has a great chorus, but the verses are throwaway. I'd say something similar about several of the other songs on Let It Be. "You can syndicate any boat you row". Whatever.

But if you are a real Beatles fan, you'll want to see it.


First Week of Advent

Drop down, ye heavens, from above,
and let the skies pour down righteousness.

Be not wroth very sore, O Lord,
neither remember iniquity for ever:
thy holy city is a wilderness,
Sion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation:
our holy and our beautiful house,
where our fathers praised thee.

This is the first section (verse, stanza, whatever the right word is) of the Latin hymn Rorate caeli in the old Anglican translation known as "The Advent Prose." There are four sections, each preceded by "Drop down...." Here's a setting of the whole thing, composed by Richard Lloyd. The text is a little different, adding "let the earth open and bring forth a Savior" to the refrain.