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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 3/14/21

Good morning,

Happy birthday Lauren! It is great to have you home, if only for a few days.

Lauren's last birthday came right after landing from New York, which was in the middle of the first outbreak. As such, it was spent in something resembling solitary confinement. While still very careful, she's not letting this one go without a little celebration!


The act of "buying" music these days takes on different meaning than it used to. Today, you subscribe to a music service and listen to playlists or purchase an album and download it to your phone. In the "old days," one heard the music a few times on the radio, fell in love and went out to get it.

Who among us of a certain age doesn’t remember flipping through bins of albums? In the same way I miss hanging around in a library, I miss the serendipity of going to a record store looking for one record and stumbling upon another. Our focus these days is too much on being directed to precisely the item we seek, rather than getting lost in the stacks or a bin of record albums.

But it’s not just the fun of rummaging through bins of albums. It also is the record album itself. Album art and the detailed essays about the music, usually included on the back (but sometimes as an insert) made the experience more immersive and multi-level. I still experience a pang of nostalgia each time I drive past Tower Records on Sunset, longing for that experience again. Yes, I know, there are "vinyl" stores out there but it's not the same.


I remember like yesterday stopping with my father to pick up a few records for my birthday during my sophomore year of high school. A local favorite store was The Wherehouse Records We stopped and I picked up a couple of popular records. The third was completely different. I had heard some modern jazz and wanted to experience a little more of it. The album was Time Out, the seminal effort of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. If it were possible to play a record until the diamond stylus burned through to the other side, this was the album. He and Paul Desmond were masters of improvisation and writing in uncommon time signatures. These two jazz greats were brilliant not only for their songwriting and mastery of their instruments, but for their stretching the genre.

If you’ve ever listened to “Take Five,” “Unsquare Dance” or “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” you understand what I’m talking about. Our ear is used to the common 4/4 time signature (most music we listen to—one-and, two-and, three-and, four-and) or the ¾ waltz time signature (think “The Blue Danube” or Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” or “oom-pah-pah). But these tunes, in 5/4, 7/4 and 9/8, were a step out from the ordinary.

Take Five,” was the first jazz single to sell 1,000,000 copies. Composed by Paul Desmond, its 5/4 time signature is beguiling. All of the odd time signatures require an imbalance. The 5/4 time of Take Five is one-two-three, one-two. I’m no expert, but it feels like the beat is anticipatory, falling forward to the next measure. The 9/8 time of “Blue Rondo a la Turk” (one-two, one-two, one-two, one-two-three), similarly pushes forward in a way that a more straightforward “balanced” 4/4 time signature does not.

One of the great stories of “Take Five” is the way that the quartet finished each concert and walked out one-by-one as each player finished his solo, leaving Joe Morello on his drum set all alone, the last to leave, punctuating the idea that we all know when listening to these classics—it’s all about the beat.


Rick Rothman agrees with the pick of Paul Simon’s lyrics as some of the best modern poetry, but he suggests “I Am a Rock” as Simon’s best work. It also has the benefit of speaking to these days of isolation and pandemic:

I Am a Rock

A winter's day

In a deep and dark December

I am alone

Gazing from my window to the streets below

On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow

I am a rock

I am an island

I've built walls

A fortress deep and mighty

That none may penetrate

I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain

It's laughter and it's loving I disdain

I am a rock

I am an island

Don't talk of love

Well I've heard the word before

It's sleeping in my memory

I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died

If I never loved I never would have cried

I am a rock

I am an island

I have my books

And my poetry to protect me

I am shielded in my armor

Hiding in my room, safe within my womb

I touch no one and no one touches me

I am a rock

I am an island

And a rock feels no pain

And an island never cries

And as John Donne reminds us, as if the pandemic didn't teach this already, "no man is an island."

Happy Sunday,


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