This is a sanity-preservation day, and will be short. Except for the update, which is seven pages. Why?

1. We have a houseguest, so I can’t hole up in my room and write. I could, but it’s not advisable.You get a reputation. I probably have one already, but that has to do with the pants incident. Nevermind.

2. I am exhausted: the guest came in at midnight. It was fun to drive to the airport at the witching hour, though - light rain, the smell of spring, and the suite from “Spellbound” on the classical musical station. It’s overrated. I swear I just wrote about this a few months ago, but it’s as if he extracted the theme somehow from Hanson’s second symphony; I’m convinced it’s in there somewhere.

3. Have to finish the novel tonight. I almost finished it last night. Almost. What stopped me? It was 2:30 AM, and I generally need six hours of sleep, minimum, so I had to cry uncle. It did not actually cry uncle. I’ve never cried uncle. I’ve never heard anyone cry uncle. I don’t know what good it would do. If you’re trying to make someone stop hitting you, the words “stop hitting me” would seem to carry the message much better than “uncle.” Even if your uncle is hitting you. If you said “uncle” to your uncle he might well pause, expecting additional communication, but when you had nothing more to say, the beating would resume.

Where did the term come from? Well, “the balance of probabilities is heavily weighted towards the American idiom being derived from an English joke,” says this site. This seems to be nonsense. Here’s the joke, which appeared in publications at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th:

A gentleman was boasting that his parrot would repeat anything he told him. For example, he told him several times, before some friends, to say “Uncle,” but the parrot would not repeat it. In anger he seized the bird, and half-twisting his neck, said: “Say ‘uncle,’ you beggar!” and threw him into the fowl pen, in which he had ten prize fowls. Shortly afterward, thinking he had killed the parrot, he went to the pen. To his surprise he found nine of the fowls dead on the floor with their necks wrung, and the parrot standing on the tenth twisting his neck and screaming: “Say ‘uncle,’ you beggar! say uncle.’”

So . . . kids, who read the paper, would use the word with friends, who also knew the joke, and this happened all over the country with sufficient frequency to enter the word in the slang vocab. But kids wouldn’t cry uncle to ask for mercy, because there’s nothing in the story that equates the use of the term with mercy. The other meaning of the term, of course, is the bully’s insistence that you submit and cry uncle, and that fits the story better.

The article also gives this explanation:

The speculations are ingenious: one from American Speech in 1980 was that “Uncle in this expression is surely a folk etymology, and the Irish original of the word is anacol ... ‘act of protecting; deliverance; mercy, quarter, safety’ ”. If that sounds unlikely . . .

Unlikely? Seems a damned sight more likely than the punchline origin.

Anyway. When it got to be 2:30 I said “no mas,” which is a quote from Roberto Duran, I believe, after he’d been punched into next Tuesday by Sugar Ray. Do I have to google that? Can’t I just say it? No: because there is a google, there’s no excuse for not getting something right. So, googling . . . yes. Okay. Criminey, I had no idea: Duran won fights in FIVE decades; the first was in ’68, the last in ’00. (If you want to be technical and say “00 wasn’t a new decade, he fought Hector Camacho in 2001.) (He lost.) It was galling, in a way, because I was so close to the end, and if my experience mirrored Duran’s, I would be reviled in Panama for years, until the nation came to accept my defeat and learn to cheer my eventual climb back into the ranks of pugilistic honors. He’s now ranked the #5 boxer of all time. But I still have 1000 words to go.

They’re the hardest, because they’re the last ones, and I always like to end on a high note. Doesn’t matter what I write, because I’m sure I’ll redo the ending, but the scene has to have the right tone. It’s the end of the series. It’s the big wrap-up moment.

I have a column to write tonight, but that shouldn’t stop me.

As for that Howard Hanson score: listen to the first movement unfold with gnawing dread accomplished with about a half-dozen notes; then he repeats the mood with the complexity factor increased by 100, transitions to major key almost before you know it (3:04) then the clouds break, then at 3:22 it’s THE SPELLBOUND THEME.



Sort of. In the same sense that the Brahms second piano concerto (I think it’s the second) quotes “Home on the Range.” But don’t tell me Rozsa wasn’t aware of it.



But back to the Howard: Stick around to 4:40, when the music used on the closing credits of “Alien” comes in. It’s one of my favorite symphonies.

Speaking of which: James Horner has written a lot of rhubarb & hugger-mugger busymusic,. but he wrote the best 1:27 seconds of action-movie climax music ever. It’s almost anti-music/ The strings are just making unnerving sounds like the beating of huge insect wings, the hammerclanks aren’t music, the brass brings back a theme you forgot, and everything is a panicked nightmare mess until 1:01.

I was in the theater the first day “Empire” played; I heard Darth Vader say the line no one saw coming. And I was in the theater the first day Aliens played, and that moment I will never forget: I don’t think there was anything in the genre that was that cathartic since the Death Star went kaboom.



Horner isn’t my favorite soundtrack composer, but I don’t dislike his stuff. The Titanic score bugs me. The sinking music wasn’t heard in the movie - or at least it wasn’t noticed. Too much noise and screaming. Sip to 6:20 or so; if I remember it right, that’s the moment when the ship is completely upended, then begins to head down. You’ll hear something you may not have noticed in the theater: the voices of everyone who ever drowned rising up from the sea. It’s quite chilling.



Oh. I could do this for another ten videos, but I won't. Off to finish the book now. With the fourth movement of the Hanson symphony as my soundtrack.















blog comments powered by Disqus