Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Worship of Cat Music



My buddy Ross sent me a fascinating National Geographic article on cat music. It is no surprise that most animals don’t hear or experience music the same way that people do, but research is demonstrating that cats respond positively to very specific and carefully tailored music – “… songs [that] are meant for felines, whose vocalizations have more sliding qualities and pitch changes than do human speech or music. The tempos for their meow mix includes purring and the sucking sound of kittens nursing…” (Embedded SoundCloud links that allow you to listen to short samples of cat music can be found in the National Geographic article linked above.)

I am no scientist, but I conducted an unfussy version of research in the old home laboratory. I enlisted our whiskery geniuses and played some cat music for Otto and Daisy – a pair of super-spoiled, fifteen year old, overgrown barn kittens. My study was revealing. Daisy seemed to find the cat music very pleasant – she reacted like she was being petted – her little ears did a dance on her head. Otto was less demonstrative, mostly vacant of affect. Both cats sniffed at the speaker and worked their cheeks and mouths similarly. Both cats’ eyes seemed to flutter in a dreamy sort of way that made me think that something primal was being evoked.

Couple of geniuses - DAISY ...

Couple of geniuses – DAISY …

and OTTO

…. and OTTO

I love these furry little clowns, and because music means so much to me, I get a kick out of the idea that my cats can find pleasure and meaning in music, too. Of course, some music and some performers mean

more to me than others, and I guess that is why I would say that I have my own versions of cat music. Much of it was produced and distributed on the 4AD record label in the 1980s and 90s. Most especially evocative is the primal cat music of Cocteau Twins. Their sounds often make my eyes flutter dreamily, they almost always have me purring, and they consistently transport me in time. The band’s music is great for nearly any occasion, but it’s a particular treat when you can listen reflectively, as you can on a cool and rainy Nebraska day like this one.

Incidentally, friend Ross, the cat music article-sender, also happens to be a Cocteau Twins enthusiast. He recently laid down the gauntlet in this note:

“i don’t think anyone could win, but i think a case would have to be made that this is not the greatest song of all time. i dont believe in a top five but i do believe in a number one, and this is it.”

The Spangle Maker from The Spangle Maker EP (1984 4AD).

Such is the swagger and ferocity the band inspires in its true fans. We are worshipful.

Here are my top five. Or seven. OK, nine.

They were pretty muscular in the early recordings – propulsive and insistent:

Dear Heart from Garlands (1982 4AD).

Sugar Hiccup from Sunburst and Snowblind EP (1983 4AD).



Their third album is masterpiece and warrants two songs:

Aloysius and Otterley from Treasure (1984 4AD).

Queen Elizabeth - she'll get you purring.

Queen Elizabeth – she’ll get you purring.


She Will Destroy You from The Moon and the Melodies (1986 4AD).

Lazy Calm from Victorialand (1986 4AD).

Carolyn’s Fingers from Blue Bell Knoll (1988 4AD).

Road, River and Rail from Heaven or Las Vegas (1990 4AD).

Essence from Four Calendar Café (1993 Capitol).

24 march 2015

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Beyond Belief

Elvis Costello Solo – Rococo Theatre – Lincoln, Nebraska – 3 March 2015

Innovative, bold, massive talent – a skillful and charming performer – a maestro of relevancy. Classic.



And now a few words about myself.

General condition: anxious. Neck rigid, and shoulders up around the ears. If you took a quarter and lobbed it at me it would bounce off. You could smash a wooden chair by swinging it into my body. Perhaps someone should.

It has been this way for years. I will not relax. Tense practically all the time. For ages I thought it was behavior – I thought that relaxed was essentially a way to be or not to be. Something I could choose. Now I don’t think that. I think it is pathology. No more avoidable, nor shameful, nor blameworthy, than having, say, a serious genetic medical condition – hypertension, or elevated cholesterol. You don’t want it, necessarily, but there it is.

Though, unlike blood pressure issues, my pathological unrelaxedness bleeds over into personal relationships – a fair amount in some cases – and I am, very often, no goddamn picnic to be around.

Once in a while music can treat my condition. Like diet and exercise. Like taking a pill. Even live music can treat my condition. For example, a recital hall swirling with Ravel or Bach. Even as much as I may look forward to a rock and roll show, I don’t anticipate that it will relax me.

Scores of articles and over a dozen books have been written about Elvis Costello. That’s a lot of words devoted to a fellow who (famously) dislikes writing about music and music criticism. So this will be short.

Last night Elvis Costello shattered my expectations. I had seen him before and I am a pretty big fan, (yes, I have the middle-career and recent stuff, too,) so I knew I was going to enjoy the show. But guess what, I also relaxed. It was an inspirational and truly unforgettable evening. My highest praise: relaxing beyond belief. Thank you.


THIS IS A MUSIC STAR – ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES                                                                                            

He has so many great songs it is difficult to choose. Try these:

Beyond Belief from Imperial Bedroom (1982 Columbia).

Brilliant Mistake from King of America (1986 Columbia).

Come the Mean Times with The Roots from Wise Up Ghost (2013 Blue Note).

So Like Candy from Mighty Like a Rose (1991 Warner Brothers).

Not for the fainthearted:

I Want You from Blood and Chocolate (1986 Columbia).

String Quartet in F, 2nd Movement by Maurice Ravel and performed by Hagen Quartet.

(For an excellent overview of his career and a fascinating profile of Elvis Costello, I suggest thisNew Yorker article by Nick Paumgarten. It is really well done. However, consider skipping it unless you are prepared to learn about or revisit some of his early-career, wince-inducing, caddish, and idiotic episodes.)

4 March 2015

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