~ Saturday, January 20, 2007 ~
Back when The Advocate, PZ, JF, and I went to hear Andy Statman at Barbes, they played a song which I liked so much that I described it here. Triple meter, repeating pattern of accents, made me smile, etc. I thought it was called The Old Tin Can. When I got home that night, I played the CD The Advocate had purchased from the band as my birthday present, and it's great, but it's all him on the clarinet, so it didn't have that mandolin song on it.
But! A few days later, The Advocate received Andy Statman's other CD in the mail (she likes him too) and this one had almost all mandolin, so I was really hoping that song would be there, but I scanned down the list of tracks, and nothing about a tin can was there to be found. Lots of other familiar-looking American and Jewish folk tunes, something called 17 (whatever that meant), but no tin can. Sigh.
She played it, and I listened, and when we reached track #6, those familiar A Major chords came through the speakers. It was that song! But it wasn't supposed to be on the CD, was it? It was though, and its title had nothing to do with tin cans. It was called "17". 17? Was that their name for the song because they were too embarrassed to call it something as folky as The Old Tin Can? At any rate, I was delighted to have a recording of it available to me.
The following Monday, thanks to PZ's tip, I went with Rambam and his lady to hear Mr. Statman (if I'm talking about him this much, maybe I should be giving him a blogname) play live in the basement of a shul in the west village, where he apparently has gigs on Monday and Thursday nights. You walk down a street lined with sex shops, and then once you're past all the sex shops, you're on a quiet unassuming block with apartments and a synagogue on one corner, and a whiteboard easel stands on the sidewalk outside the door to the basement of the synagogue, and on the sign is written,
just like that. It's adorable. Anyway, we went, and we heard them play again (same bassist, different drummer) and they were delightful again, though the audience was much more young-frummy-Jews-on-dates than the usual middle-aged hipster you see at Barbes.
They played much of what they did at Barbes, including 17, and afterward I asked the bassist why it had a number for a name, and why it wasn't called The Old Tin Can. "I have no idea why it's called 17," he said, "but as far as I know that's the only name it's got. I think maybe the tin can thing was a joke."
So I went to the front of the room where Andy was chatting and putting away his clarinet, and I asked him directly. "Oh, that one? I just like the number 17. It's always been a good number for me, and it shows up in interesting ways in my life." His answer completely threw me off, I suppose because I didn't expect someone whom I already think so much of to give me an entirely new reason to think well of him. He's a number geek too!
The funny thing is, I would never have chosen 17 to describe that piece. 17 is a fine number, what with the 7 in it to make it all fancy and the primeness to make it all extra-special, but I tend to like numbers that have lots of factors, especially multiples of 6. Maybe it has to do with growing up in a family that first had two children, and then later had three children. I like it when things come out evenly, and 6 is a good number because whether there are two or three people, six things can be divided evenly among them. Also, I like hexagons. They're nice to look at. I think it's also true that if you've got a bunch of circles all of the same size, and you make one your center and arrange the other circles in a ring around the central circle, you'll be able to fit exactly six in the ring around the central circle. I'll have to go try it with m&ms next time I have them.
Anyway, 6 is a good number, and it makes me happy to think about it. When I'm a certain age, I identify with the qualities I attribute to that number, so independent of all the other factors that life throws at you, the years I've spent telling people that I'm 6 and 12 (and to an even greater extent 18 and 24) have been charged with a bit more cheer than the years I've spent saying that I'm 13, 19, and 25. I'm not really a fan of 5s, and I don't much like primes. Not symmetrical enough. How can you evenly divide 13 cookies among any but 13 children? I'm not looking forward to 29, either, but 30'll be okay, since its round divisibility by 6 outweighs its pointy divisibility by 5. (36 is the ultimate, and by the way, happy birthday, Rob!)
The Advocate and I were talking about our respective favorite numbers, and it turns out she's the opposite of me. She loves primes above all, so she was particularly gratified to hear that Andy Statman had titled the song that she also loved with a prime number. I argued that it didn't sound much like a 17, because all the phrases ended so neatly, and 17 isn't a neat number like 18 or 24 are. She pointed out in response that the tune does indeed feel like a prime number because each phrase's end is not so much an end but a catapulting boost of energy propelling the music forward into the next phrase. It's energetic, and it has such energy because it's dynamic. It flits and bounces about in just the sort of way that a 17 would, because a 17, through its inability to be divided evenly, would always be shifting around trying to fill the spaces its unevenness would leave. There's something missing, and it's all over the place trying to fill that gap. The tune has the excitement of chlorine instead of the quiet stability of Argon, and that's why it sticks in my head. The Advocate really does have the kind of wisdom I hope to have some day...as it is, I often forget that for things to be dynamic, they also have to be imperfect.
If anyone wants to hear this little tune, leave me a comment and I'll send it to you.
~ prattled by Miriam at 1:35 a.m. [+]
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