Pysch-Pop Notes: Turquoise and the Tales of Flossie Fillett

Listen: turquoise-tales-of-flossie-fillet

[Please note, I am asserting my fair use right to this material, as it is provided here as a necessary sample to supplement the educational and editorial purposes of this post, is posted at a severely degraded 64kb/s, and is posted for a limited period of time. See for more details.]

I’m kind of “written out” on educational technology at the end of the day. So I figured I’d take a page from Jim Groom and write on a subject close to my heart.

For me, right now, my particular obsession right now is psych-pop. And for whatever reason, I’ve decided to make my first post on psych pop on Turquoise. Turquoise only put out a couple of singles, but they were quite good, both on the A and B sides.

Flossie Fillet was the B side of thier first single (Decca F 12756), released in March of 1968. I’m not aware of it placing on any charts, and wonder if given Decca’s venture at that time into the Deram label had overextended some of their resources, causing them to reduce the payola some material. David Kubinec has indicated this was the case with The World of OZ’s Muffin Man single, which was released a couple months later through Decca, and it might help to explain why a band who had their demos produced by Dave Davies and John Entwistle seems to have gotten no radio lift at all from a solid single.

There’s a couple things I like about this single. It’s got a nice tight, restrained intro, with a bit of decent studio work — it comes down from a simple guitar riff to that big chord low on the piano backing it up. And typical of the Kinks style this song embodies, it doesn’t expand on that much, repeating it twice and then launching straight in.

Once in, it jumps into a nice tight snare beat, but the really catchy bit is when they pull out of the tight snare verse into the chorus where the song opens up. There’s a bunch of things at play here that make it an appealing shift:

  • The lyrics move from the crowded, polysyllabic verses to a nice simple monosyllabic chorus with some length to the notes.
  • Melodically, you can hear this effect pretty easily — listen to what a jumble of consonants the verse sounds compared to the chorus.
  • The chorus operates on the typical “verse as narrative / chorus as reflection” distinction, but brings with it that British pop irony as well – it’s the first subjective assertion in the song, and there’s at least that appearance of complexity that light irony creates.
  • The notes appear to be left open in the chorus — if there is a piano in the verse, it’s dampened, but here it opens up and fills in the white space, to accompany the less constricted drumming.

On the whole the song, which some suggest as being about a flea circus, fits in with the general psych-pop standard trope of birth-school-work-death from 5,000 feet on hallucinogens. Besides the payoff of the chorus, the real climax of the song is where we learn that the Tales of Flossie FIllett “all happened in a day.” It’s a weak payoff, but decent enough in light of the execution of everything that surrounds it. It doesn’t hurt that it repeats the song title in this bit “the tales of flossie fillet/ all happened in a day” — as a listener your waiting for that title in a song like this as a key to what the heck is going on.

The one thing I find a little disappointing I suppose is I’d rather see it go out on the chorus, rather than descend into this list at the end (and a list that just sounds too novelty pop at that) — but I suppose that would mess up the focus on the “all happened in a day” lyric — as the song is here, that lyric is the last verse line before the chorus, so it doesn’t really compete with other lines for focus.

Since I can’t find the lyrics online to link to I figured I’d type out what I could here:

It all happened so many years ago
Nobody knows, because nobody wants to know
Barbara Boffman (???) and [unintellible] Sand
They’re the founding members, the leaders of the land

It’s very sad
That they should spend
All of their lives
Then it should end

Flossie Fillett, she has just been born
And so has Hector, and friendly Percy Porn
When they’re forgotten, who will take their place?
Another Flossie, with a different face.

It’s very sad
That they should spend
All of their lives
Then it should end

If they could see
The lonliness that surrounds me
If I could go
To stay at 15 Antrim Road

As we leave them, the band presents a tune
[Unintelligble] on the xylopohone, Bessie on bassoon
You’ll never believe, what I have got to say
The tales of Flossie Fillett all happened in a day

It’s very sad
That they should spend
All of their lives
Then it should end

Flossie Fillet, it’s time for her to go
Say goodbye to moon the loon, and Digger and Dr. Dose
Don’t forget the little man who couldn’t pronounce his name
Johnny Too-Good in a car from going round and round
[????] is in a kilt and going up to tune
Anita Gray and Catherine Day have come to take a bow
All effects are face to face, who did it we don’t know how
[and so on…]

Arne Duncan’s Magic Lawyer Powers Will Save U.S. Education

Well, it’s happened. Arne Duncan is going to be the next Secretary of Education.

The theory of magic lawyer powers has prevailed.

Don’t get me wrong. I think one can have a completely irrelevant degree, and do a fine job.

But isn’t it just a little bit interesting that when Obama was looking for a Secretary for the Department of Energy he was able to find a person that was a Nobel prize-winning physicist who had also distinguished himself as an administrator? And that when he went looking for an economic team, he grabbed highly respected economists who also had some administrative skill?

But when he considered who should lead the Department of Education, Arne Duncan, an administrator with no scholarly or professional credentials in the practice or theory of teaching, did just fine.

Put aside the union wars, the phonics vs. whole language debates, the perpetual war between the just-sit-still-and-learn-dammit crowd and the people that think we might grasp a little higher.

Put all that aside.

Because what you have here is the government view in a nutshell: Energy and climate change are about science, the economy is about, you know, economics.

And education? Education is just an administrative headache we haven’t solved yet. But with the help of some varsity-basketball lawyer types, we’ll get it all sorted out.

No Lawyers for Secretary of Education. No-way, No-how.

I find tracking the Secretary of Education appointment news maddeningly difficult. And that’s distressing to me, because some of the names I’ve heard floated would be absolutely disastrous. And others I’ve never heard of heard of, have no time to research, and the media does not help me one bit.

So how to judge? How to take a position in this circus?

Here’s a simple way. No frickin’ lawyers for Sec of Ed.

I know that sounds oddly arbitrary, but you have to remember that the Washington bubble is such that most legislators are lawyers, and they have this insane idea that people with law degrees are imbued with some special power. After all, they’re all lawyers, and they’re reviewing global warming data, right? So law must be a fine preparation for anything.

Well, for writing laws it’s not so bad. Otherwise, not so much. The fact is that the competency test for lawyers in the political sphere is always less than that for non-lawyers (guess, for example, what Blago’s degree is in?).

The incomparable Greg Palast gets this, and points out that Bush’s lawyer appointment Michael Brown was largely responsible for the destruction of New Orleans. (He’s a lawyer, right? He could run FEMA!)

And the set of lawyers Obama is looking at for Sec of Ed is not much better. Here’s Palast:

But here we go again. Trial balloons lofted in the Washington Post suggest President-elect Obama is about to select Joel Klein as Secretary of Education. If not Klein, then draft-choice number two is Arne Duncan, Obama’s backyard basketball buddy in Chicago.

Say it ain’t so, President O.

Let’s begin with Joel Klein. Klein is a top notch anti-trust lawyer. What he isn’t is an educator.

Klein is as qualified to run the Department of Education as Dick Cheney is to dance in Swan Lake. While I’ve never seen Cheney in a tutu, I have seen Klein fumble about the stage as Chancellor of the New York City school system.

Klein, who lacks even six minutes experience in the field, was handed management of New York’s schools by that political Jack-in-the-Box, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The billionaire mayor is one of those businessmen-turned-politicians who think lawyers and speculators can make school districts operate like businesses.

Klein has indeed run city schools like a business – if the business is General Motors. Klein has flopped. Half the city’s kids don’t graduate.

Klein is out of control. Not knowing a damn thing about education, rather than rely on those who actually work in the field (only two of his two dozen deputies have degrees in education), Klein pays high-priced consultants to tell him what to do. He’s blown a third of a billion dollars on consultant “accountability” projects plus $80 million for an IBM computer data storage system that doesn’t work.

What the heck was the $80 million junk computer software for? Testing. Klein is test crazy. He has swallowed hook, line and sinker George Bush’s idea that testing students can replace teaching them. The madly expensive testing program and consultant-fee spree are paid for by yanking teachers from the classroom.

[Sorry to quote at length, but it’s a crime to cut off a good Palast rant.]

Here’s Palast on another lawyer Obama is considering:

The anti-union establishment has a second stringer on the bench waiting in case Klein is nixed: Arne Duncan. Duncan, another lawyer playing at education, was appointed by Chicago’s Boss Daley to head that city’s train-wreck of a school system. Think of Duncan as “Klein Lite.”

What’s Duncan’s connection to the President-elect? Duncan was once captain of Harvard’s basketball team and still plays backyard round-ball with his Hyde Park neighbor Obama.

But Michelle has put a limit on their friendship: Obama was one of the only state senators from Chicago to refuse to send his children into Duncan’s public schools. My information is that the Obamas sent their daughters to the elite Laboratory School where Klein-Duncan teach-to-the-test pedagogy is dismissed as damaging and nutty.

Mr. Obama, if you can’t trust your kids to Arne Duncan, why hand him ours?

Lawyer Duncan is proud to have raised test scores by firing every teacher in low-scoring schools. Which schools? There’s Collins High in the Lawndale ghetto with children from homeless shelters and drug-poisoned ‘hoods. They don’t do well on tests. So Chicago fired all the teachers. They brought in new ones – then fired all of them too: the teachers’ reward for volunteering to work in a poor neighborhood.

Starting to get the picture? (By the way, why are you still reading me? Go over and read Palast. And add him to your Google Reader, the man is one of the last investigative journalists in America).

But if these two choices are death, how do we judge the twenty other possibilities thrown at us?

I repeat, treat this like a search committee, with a good starting filter. No Lawyers.

You’d filter out a lot…. here’s the most recent trial balloon from Team Obama, Michael Bennet:

DENVER  —  A lawyer-turned-educator known for getting teachers to support merit pay, Denver schools superintendent Michael Bennet may be a candidate to lead the U.S. Department of Education under President-elect Barack Obama, according to a published report.

I don’t have time to research this guy, but you know what? He’s out of the running.

Is OCW a “shovel-ready infrastructure project”?

More on this later, but I wanted to throw this out to see if anyone had any thoughts on it.

You’ve probably heard that to stave off the next Great Depression, the government will intervene in the form of a massive stimulus package, focused on infrastructure.

What gets interesting is not that the government may need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to get us out of this, but that there don’t seem to be enough places to spend it. Here’s Krugman on that point, several days ago:

Infrastructure spending will take time to get going — a new Goldman Sachs report suggests that projects that are “shovel-ready” are probably only a few tens of billions worth, and that a larger effort would take much of a year to get going. Meanwhile, it’s very questionable how much effect tax rebates will have on consumer demand. So it may be hard for stimulus to get much traction until late 2009 — and that’s even if Congress goes along, which may be a problem given all the bad analysis and disinformation out there.

You can see the problem — you want to spend on infrastructure, because infrastructure builds future economic success while employing people in the near term. People get employed building a light rail system, for instance, and when it’s finished it attracts business, cuts down on fuel consumption, lowers road maintenance costs, and allows employers to draw from a broader employee pool.  But there’s only so many light rail plans (and other construction plans out there) that are “shovel-ready” – designs have to be approved, things priced out, etc.

While I know construction is the gold standard of infrastructure — and a particularly effective tool for broad stabilization of the economy — I wonder if just a sliver of money could be made available for a shovel-ready educational project: opencourseware.

As Wiley and others have pointed out, OCW fits the infrastructure description. The production of OCW is a capital expense, and the American public would be left at the end of the investment with a tangible good (or set of tangible goods), regardless of whether the project continued (and this part is the key to successful stimulus — hiring 6,000 teachers only to lay them off at the end of the year does long term harm as a stimulus, whereas hiring 6,000 people to produce educational materials does not). And the same way that new roads and new cables opened up broad productivity gains in previous eras, open educational resources are likely to create benefits for some time to come.

Is it shovel-ready? I think so. The stimulus could fund a broadly horizontal project. For every school that can get 10 professors to agree to release their materials, have the federal government fund one OCW staff member. And since we’re looking to invest as much money as fast as possible, twenty professors gets you two staff members, and so on.

At that level of staffing, the demands placed on central IT should be minimal. The type of work is lightly technical, and happens to be a useful experience for any light technical worker who has been laid off and looking to broaden their skill set. There’s a strong OCW community already in place to provide newbies guidance — which should reduce the strain on central IT (or Academic Affairs, if that’s where it is run from).

I doubt this would be a huge stimulus, but it could be one small place where the stimulus might go. My back of the envelope calculation on it says it could put anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 people to work who would in the space of a year produce anything from 20,000 to 200,000 courses or other educational materials.

Definitely worth thinking about — a stimulus project that in one year catalogs the content of almost any course one could imagine, all across the U.S., while keeping the newly unemployed insured and off the unemployment rolls.

What’s not to like?

(as always, everything I say here is my own opinion, and does not represent the views of my employer, the OpenCourseWare Consortium…)

Narrating Comics

Probably the best job I ever had was teaching writing — and I still keep an eye out for interesting methods of rethinking the teaching of composition. In the waning hours of NaNoWriMo last night I found a decent one. Desperate to make it over the finish line by typing anything (anything!) resembling novel prose, I grabbed a copy of my new favorite comic, G. Willow Wilson’s Air, and began to novelize it, purely as a writing exercise.

Here’s the great thing — with the plot points and dialogue hammered out (and in this case presenting the superb material — AIr is a masterpiece), I was really free to explore the psychological elements and descriptive aspects of the plot. I would say that only 10% or less of the words came directly from the page of the comic — but the other 90% was much better written than the slop I had been churning out, especially given the mad pace I was typing at. It’s a refreshing way to focus for a bit more firmly on style and psychology…G. Willow Wilson, for example, creates a wonderful character — a stewardess who fears not crashing, but endless falling. It’s her genius that she can sketch that out in just a few lines of dialogue. But it’s exactly that spareness in the comic that makes the idea so fun to play with in prose:

As she stocked the meal and drink cart in the serving area, she realized that the falling sensation had gone, at least temporarily. It had taken longer this time certainly, but it had gone in the end. It always did. Up here at cruising altitude she felt right, and as the plane leveled off she reassembled herself, smoothing her skirt and splashing a bit of the ice water on her face.

There was an old joke, one that her passengers had told one too many times in one too many languages for her to fake a laugh at anymore. It was simple, people said — they had no fear of flying — it was the crashing they were worried about. It was a folksy saying that had always cut her more than any of her passengers could imagine.

For Blythe wasn’t afraid of crashing. Far from it. She was afraid of not-crashing. She was afraid of the falling that would never stop.

It was as a kid she had first felt it. Lying awake in bed, as she let go into sleep, a moment before drifting off, there it was, the sensation of rushing downward, endlessly backward, with no landing in sight. She’d panic and startle awake, heart racing. A hypnagogic startle her doctor had called it — but to her it was always a last desperate flail, a grab at the last bit of cliff wall rushing past as she fell and fell and fell, a startle behind which was the belief that if she did not wake up, right now, right this second, she would slip into a death not of endless sleep, but of endless acceleration.

Anyway, for those still struggling in the trenches of Freshman Comp and Creative Writing, you could do worse than to have your students pick up something like Air and novelize it. As with so many things in life, the constraints of such an exercise give you more freedom than you can imagine.