RIP the greatest Elvis-novelty-movie-song writer ever

Sid Tepper’s Los Angeles Times obituary today:

Tepper and Bennett never had a big hit with an Elvis song — many of them were novelty numbers. For “Girls! Girls! Girls!” (1962), they wrote “Song of the Shrimp” with lyrics from the point of view of a shrimp.

Goodbye mama shrimp, papa shake my hand
Here come the shrimper for to take me to Louisian’

The songs were in sharp contrast to the gritty numbers that made Elvis an electrifying star. But Tepper made no apologies.

“I believe that Elvis’ movies and their songs made a mighty contribution to his career,” he told Sharp. “They brought him to the attention of millions of people who otherwise would never have known the greatness of the King.”

A few favorites from Tepper’s bunch as I learn about him this morning…

The shrimp song (and, somehow, a Frank Black cover of it):

A Tepper song I’ve mentioned before here, Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce:

One I just discovered today, a duet with Ann Margaret, which is weird and delightful, The Lady Loves Me (and more about how the song came about):

And the first novelty Elvis movie song I ever heard (somehow among the tracks on my first Elvis tape), Cane and a High-Starched Collar:

Getting a sound right

I work with a lot of folks who are very good at getting sounds right. They work hard at capturing a sound, at turning the sound into data in the optimal ways, at transforming that sound from the data to something your ears can accept in the manner that seems the most direct and real. The folks I work with are very good at this effort because they work very hard at it. When their very hard work is successful, they are not only very good at their jobs but also very happy.

So, the following two Marah videos make my night.

Marah has remastered their Kids in Philly masterpiece — one of my desert-island albums — for vinyl, the album’s first-ever LP pressing. In the song Catfisherman, a listener hears the sound of a spinning fishing reel. It’s a beautiful sound, one you only notice after a few listens, but upon noticing, you memorize.

Here, Marah’s brothers Bielanko listen to what I assume is the remastered track, and Serge talks a little about getting the sound right. Just a little. The videos are mostly listening and being happy. The sound explains the rest.

Christian Wiman is a good interview, a very good one

My mom passed along the Commonweal interview with the former Poetry editor. I need to share a few parts I loved. (There were many.) You may not read a better meditation on lit-faith ties all year.


The great enemy for all of us is the “I” we interpose between ourselves and experience, the self we mistake for our soul. Nothing but difficulty destroys that “I.”


Can one really just decide to be more joyful, though? One aspect of joy is the suspension of will—the obliteration of will, really—though probably there is an element of discipline in being prepared for joy, just as there is in being prepared for poetry. “Iridescent readiness,” W. S. Di Piero calls it.

3. From a quoted poem by poet Anna Kamienska…

Make the day rise brightly
as if there were no more pain

And let my poem stand clear as a windowpane
bumped by a bumblebee’s head


We all live in an agony of unbelief, and we all survive it by solidarity with others, including those minds we meet only through their works. I suppose no artist has the duty to make his or her faith available to an audience, but just think how heartening it is when one does.


Poets are still guardians of the truths of faith, but poetry has less and less to do with the institutions that presume to name that faith. This makes some religious leaders think they do not need poetry, when in fact they need it now more than ever, because within poetry is the same anarchic energy and disabling insight that causes people to seek religion at all. It is the aboriginal energy of existence itself that is missing from most religious services these days. Art has this energy in abundance.

Digital in 2015…

As I’ve said before, mise-en-place. NPR talks to chefs.

Some cooks call it their religion. It helps them coordinate vast amounts of labor and material, and transforms the lives of its practitioners through focus and self-discipline.

“I know people that have it tattooed on them,” says Melissa Gray, a senior at theCulinary Institute of America. “It really is a way of life … it’s a way of concentrating your mind to only focus on the aspects that you need to be working on at that moment, to kind of rid yourself of distractions.”

And it’s a habit that some culinary students carry with them even when they’re not in the kitchen. “You mise-en-place your life. You set up your books for class, you set up your chef whites, your shoes are shined, you know everything that you need every step of the day,” says Alexandra Tibbats….

Digital in 2012…

Found an email this weekend where I told myself to blog these thoughts. Never did. So here we are, with storytelling semantics.

We can do basic semantic handling for an aggregation or non-narrative parts of a story. Something is more important. Something is less important. Something has some priority in relation to other pieces. But *within* the narrative, storytelling itself is semantic. An asset at the top designates an introductory element. An asset near the end designates a conclusive element. Assets along the way are ordered so as to best define an inquisitive journey. An asset to the side of a narrative indicates explanation. An asset in the narrative flow indicates it’s a core part of the storytelling.

Basic semantic handling is fine. Natural narrative semantic handling is AWESOME.

If you allow this kind of natural semantics, can producers violate this contract with the audience and drop in assets wherever, without regard for relation to the narrative and the meaning of that relation? Certainly. But it’s not the system’s job to stop their mistakes. Their organizations and bosses have that responsibility, and digital organizations and bosses have the ongoing task of helping producers tell the best stories possible, with smart and strong narratives. Building off that direction, that digital storytelling is getting better, our platforms and distribution should encourage smart interpretations of natural, narrative semantic decisions….

‘The narrative quest’

Getting closer to New Yorker zero, for the first time in a while. Parts of two issues left. And then another will arrive in the mail, but that’s another day. One of my favorite stories in the catch-up has been Daniel Zalewski’s long-read about an artist with major amnesia and how she’s made herself a huge help to brain science. Amid the piece comes this graf:

The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has argued that “the unity of a human life is the unity of a narrative quest.” Johnson can’t remember a single story, but even she conceives of her life as a story—one that she is guiding toward a satisfying end. “By the time I die, I want to have left behind art which makes people happy and feel good about themselves and other people,” she told Aline. “Not everybody gets to smile enough.”

Spring shots

Winter, as always, lasted too long. I’m home with a cold this evening and feeling the winter’s duration. But every warm day this spring — the season is doling them out still inconsistently — has felt like time for jubilation. They’ve brought my Instagram back to life a bit. Hopefully there are many more spring scenes to come. And the end of this cold.