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Driving home from school. I’m in a good mood. A very good mood. I picked up the soundtrack to the Aviator, and was delighted to find “Happy Feet,” a Paul Whiteman tune I’ve always loved. I wrote many moons ago:

This is the sort of song that comes from a culture of adults. When adult sensibilities lose control of pop music? There was a time when the work of adults - real musicians, real arrangers, pros all around - fed the youth market. Somewhere on my playlist is a tune called “Happy Feet” by the Paul Whiteman orchestra. (The outfit that premiered “Rhapsody in Blue, as a side note.) At first it sounds like a silly song; it oompahs along like a jittery “Li’l Rascals” tune, but modern ears don’t easily hear everything that’s going on. The song is all over the road - as fits the period, there’s a long long instrumental intro, then some throwaway vocals, then a key change and a guitar solo, then back to full orchestra, everything played as fast as possible with half the band sweating hard to keep it together. Modern ears snicker; we associate this sound with nightclub scenes in 30s mobster movies - women in long shimmering white gowns dancing with tuxedoed dandies, the music fighting the hisssssss of the old film stock. But this stuff kicks - put it in a club, liquor up the audience, lay the lights low and let the band tear into this thing and you’ll blow out the doors.

And damn, I was right.

The Manhattan Rhythm Kings are listed as the artist, but they’re the singers; the real work is done by the band, and this is a note-for-note recreation of the original arrangement. (It comes in one second shorter than the original.) And it kicks, all right. Compare: here’s the original 1930 recording by Paul Whiteman. It sounds dated, right? It has charm, but it’s quaint. A bumpy rhino-mating dance.

Now, the revelation. This new version still sounds clichéd, because we’re used to hearing this sort of music in recent movies as a stand-in for the entire era. It was the Roaring Twenties, and Al Capone danced the Charleston on a flagpole, as a Simpsons episode put it. That sort of thing. Background music for “Johnny Dangerously.” It’s the banjo and cymbals that do it, I think. Well, empty your mind of your preconceptions. This is what it sounded like in a 1930 dancehall. Imagine you’re young and full of pep; it’s one AM, your best girl shows no signs of letting up, either. They play this, and she grabs your hand and hauls you on the floor.
Here’s the end, where they just beat the song within an inch of its life. At certain points you will be required to put your arms up in the air and shimmy your palms. This is why Prohibition failed; after dancing to this you simply must have a beer, or lots of champagne. Guzzling a bottle of carbonated celery tonic won’t do it.

The song ended, and was followed by another tune I didn’t want to hear. I don't know why I have it. "Apples, Peaches Pumpkin Pie" by Jay and the Techniques. It sounds happy and bouncy, but it's got to be number 2 on the Stalker's Hit Parade, after "Every Breath You Take." I mean, look at the lyrics. Jeez. We're talking about a guy who's fixated on a love object from grade school, and has devoted his life to finding her "hiding place." Shudder. I clicked NEXT on the iPod.

“How can you do that?” Gnat asked.

“Do what?”

“Find the buttons without seeing them.” She’d seen my manipulate the controls through the sock, as I described yesterday.

“I just know where they are, that’s all. See? Next song. And again.”

“Pause it.”

I paused it.

“Good. Now keep it that way because I’d like some peace and quiet.”

Yes, that’s what she said. So we drove in peace and quiet. Until she said:

“What’s inside our brains?”

“Water. Electricity. Proteins. Thoughts.”

“Electricity?” I could see I’d made a mistake. After a hundred dozen don’t mix-water-and-electricity lectures I tell her that her head is the equivalent of a toaster in the tub. “Your brain is full of cells. Special thinking cells.”

“Really? Can I see them?”

“They’re too small. Very very small.”

“Smaller than crumbs?”

“Yes.” And I gave her a little lecture about how all the cells work together, and make more cells so she can grow. Then, the daily mouth-of-babes philosophical megaton MOAB:

“Do the cells know they’re cells?”

“Uh – no.”


“They don’t have to. It’s not important. But they help you know you’re you by making your brain work. So you need lots of good food to grow, like vegetables! Spinach. Carrots.”

Dinner. Hamburger. By then she’d forgotten about brain food, and so had I.

Tonight is Despair Night, where I become convinced that the book is absolute crap; it follows last night’s Delirious Joy Night, where I was happy about it. I don’t have enough pictures, which is an odd thing to say about a book, but I always knew that would be the case here. The only problem is that there isn’t the sort of resources for this book as there was for its predecessors, and -

Ah, just shut up and write.

I have to write next Tuesday’s column tonight - thereby ensuring maximum topicality – because I am a helper at Gnat’s Friday morning play school tomorrow, and that’s usually column time. Then piano lessons. Then Target. Then, blessed Friday night. Pizza, coffee, and a consultation with that Glenmorangie (Port Wood Finish) that’s been sitting on the top shelf since Christmas. Before I go, some pictures.

A late entry into the Blog contest. Nothing photoshopped, just very sweet. She wanted to put Jasper to bed and read to him, pretending that “he is my dog brother.”

She also likes to take pictures. I’ve let her play with the camera, and this is what she shoots. I’m not kidding. Her favorite subject: Things The Dog Will Endure Having Placed on His Head. The first is some packing instructions from DirecTV; the second is a Barbie crown with a Polly Pocket pants stuck over the primary diadem.

That’s my dog. That’s my girl. That’s my life. If I complain, kick me.

(New Joe Ohio, of course.)