Two Gentlemen of Ver-oh no

I recently re-read Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona”, and friends, I had quite forgotten just how not good the end of that play is. I mean, obviously Shakespeare is not short of problematic moments, but “Two Gentlemen” is really somethin’. (It’s also crap from a dramatic standpoint, but hey, it was his first play.) Anyway, for anyone who doesn’t remember the ending or everything preceding it, here is a summary:

Proteus and Valentine are friends with a lot of bro energy. Proteus is in love with Julia and Valentine thinks love is stupid, a philosophical position he will surely continue to hold for the rest of his life. Valentine leaves Verona to go to Milan, where he immediately falls in love with the Duke of Milan’s daughter, Sylvia.

Sylvia, for her part, is into it. Meanwhile, it’s decided that Proteus will also go to Milan. He and Julia are sad to be separated, but they exchange rings as a symbol of how their love is true and how Proteus specifically will never fall in love with someone else and betray everyone he ever professed to care about in the process, and I expect you can see where this is going.

Proteus meets up with Valentine in Milan and immediately also falls in love with Sylvia, whoops. Valentine explains that he and Sylvia are in love but she’s promised by the Duke to some other schmuck, Thurio. Proteus, in an immediate heel turn, comes up with a plan for Valentine to run away with Sylvia under cover of night; he then goes straight to the Duke and tells him of Valentine’s plan. The Duke catches Valentine in the act and banishes him. Proteus assumes this is his big chance to woo Sylvia himself but she quite obviously cannot fucking stand him, sees through his bullshit, and has zero patience with him, all of which is delightful.

The exiled Valentine gets ambushed by a band of hapless outlaws who recruit him to be their leader because he is handsome and well-spoken, and they are all ugly and dumb and need a more charismatic frontperson. Somewhere in the middle of all that Julia decides to dress up as a man (since a woman traveling alone would definitely get assaulted) and head to Milan to be with Proteus. She finds him and discovers he’s in love with Sylvia now; for some reason he doesn’t recognize her in her boy drag (maybe she is wearing glasses, which we all know is an impenetrable disguise), and he recruits her to help woo Sylvia by proxy, since doing it in person requires Sylvia seeing his face, and given that she hates his fucking face, this does not help his cause. He gives boy-Julia the ring he received from girl-Julia to give to Sylvia. Julia agrees to this because why?? Have some self-respect, girl! Stuff that ring down his stupid throat!!

She goes to Sylvia and half-heartedly presents her with the ring; Sylvia, quickly intuiting that the ring was a gift from another woman, gives it back and is somehow even more disgusted with Proteus than before. Proteus tries one more last-ditch plan, telling Sylvia that he hears Valentine is dead; she’s like, whether he is or not, fuck off. Ultimately, Sylvia can only find so much fulfillment throwing sass at Proteus either in person or via messenger, and recruits Eglamour, an eager-to-please gentleman, to help her run away. He agrees to do so and swears to protect her with his life. Unfortunately, they are waylaid by the aforementioned group of outlaws and Eglamour immediately abandons her and runs away in what would probably have been an extremely comical scene if Shakespeare had seen fit to include it, rather than mentioning it as a thing that happened offstage. The outlaws prepare to bring Sylvia to their new leader, who, you will recall, is Valentine. Proteus, however, has heard from the Duke about Sylvia’s flight, and he is chasing after her, with boy-Julia still tagging along. They intercept her and get her away from the outlaws somehow (offstage, of course), and Proteus tries one more time to convince Sylvia that, seriously, he’s a great catch, what’s the problem here? She is still not into it at all, and then this happens:

Nay, if the gentle spirit of moving words
Can no way change you to a milder form,
I’ll woo you like a soldier, at arms’ end,
And love you ‘gainst the nature of love–force you.
[He seizes her.]

O, heaven!

I’ll force thee yield to my desire.

So … yeah. Luckily Valentine is nearby.

VALENTINE, [advancing]
Ruffian, let go that rude uncivil touch,
Thou friend of an ill fashion.


Thou common friend, that’s without faith or love,
For such is a friend now. Treacherous man,
Thou hast beguiled my hopes; nought but mine eye
Could have persuaded me. Now I dare not say
I have one friend alive; thou wouldst disprove me.
Who should be trusted when one’s right hand
Is perjured to the bosom? Proteus,
I am sorry I must never trust thee more,
But count the world a stranger for thy sake.
The private wound is deepest. O, time most accursed,
‘Mongst all foes that a friend should be the worst!

Now, up to this moment, the play *could* still be saved. But then it goes completely off the rails, as the following all happens in quick succession: Proteus says, “Oh, man, sorry, I feel really bad about that”; Valentine immediately forgives him completely and then OFFERS SYLVIA TO HIM as if she were just an object (rather than a human being with feelings and autonomy and whatnot) to show there are NO HARD FEELINGS; Julia apologizes for doing a bad job of wooing Sylvia on Proteus’s behalf but then accidentally gives him back the wrong ring and ends up revealing her identity; Proteus is like, huh, maybe I should stick with the person who is enough of a doormat to help me court another woman, and he and Julia reconcile; the Duke shows up and un-exiles Valentine; some other wrapping-up business happens and everyone lives happily ever after!!!

I’m sorry, but this is bullshit. Proteus’s actions are unforgiveable. So that’s why I decided to fix the final scene of the play with some judicious cuts. This updated ending does not add, rearrange, or reassign any dialogue; I’ve just inserted some stage directions and adjusted the punctuation. Here it is:

[The Duke has entered, unobserved.]

My shame and guilt confounds me.
Forgive me, Valentine. If hearty sorrow
Be a sufficient ransom for offense,
I tender ‘t here. I do as truly suffer
As e’er I did commit.

I am not satisfied, nor heaven, nor Earth.

O me unhappy! Here!
[She hands him a ring.]

Why, this is the ring I gave to Julia.
But how cam’st thou by this ring? At my depart
I gave this unto Julia.

And Julia herself did give it me,
And Julia herself hath brought it hither.
[She reveals herself.]
Behold her that gave aim to all thy oaths
And entertained ’em deeply in her heart.
How oft hast thou with perjury cleft the root!
O, Proteus, blush. Be thou ashamed,
If shame live in men.

‘Tis true. O heaven!

[drawing his sword]
‘Twere pity friends be foes. Embrace thy death;
Come not within the measure of my wrath.
Once again, I dare thee but to breathe!

[The Duke reveals himself. Valentine puts away his sword.]

Now, by the honor of my ancestry,
I do applaud thy spirit, Valentine,
And think thee worthy of an empress’ love.
Know, then, I here forget all former griefs,
Cancel all grudge, repeal thee home again,
Plead a new state in thy unrivaled merit,
To which I thus subscribe: Sir Valentine,
Thou art a gentleman, and well derived;
Take thou thy Sylvia, for thou hast deserved her.

I thank your Grace, the gift hath made me happy.
I now beseech you, for your daughter’s sake,
To grant one boon that I shall ask of you.

I grant whate’er it be.

Exile Proteus.
[To Proteus]
‘Tis your penance but to hear of happiness.

[They exit, leaving Proteus alone.]

(For anyone interested, here is a version with visible edits.)

Color and Loops

Lorinne and I belong to a group that meets at irregular intervals to read/sing through musicals, which is a great way to learn (a) shows you didn’t previously know, (b) all the intricacies you might have missed in a show you’re very familiar with, and (c) that harmonies are hard and you should have spent more time practicing them.

Anyway, last year, Lorinne hosted a reading of “Sunday in the Park With George,” an all-time favorite, and I thought it would be fun to have a new arrangement of “Chromolume #7”, the music that accompanies the art exhibit in Act 2. The score is pretty loose; it basically says “here are a bunch of musical motifs, go wild.” So I asked our accompanist, Andy Roninson, if he could record the different parts and send them to me digitally so I could play with them, remix-style. And this is what I came up with! (Right-click to download.)

The Monster Mashup

It’s time, I think, for a seasonal repost of my spoooooooky Halloween mashup, “Now That’s What I Call Ghosts Laughing!”, featuring the mellifluous tones of Disney legend Paul Frees (excerpted from the Haunted Mansion recording sessions) lovingly arranged on top of some fat beats. Enjoy.


This Be the Word

The New York Times has a history of bowdlerizing Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse”. Here’s my response to that.

They change your words, the New York Times.
They may not need to, but they do.
They pluck what’s famous from your rhymes,
Replacing “fuck” with “mess” or “screw.”

But prudishness does not befit
Reporters who would plumb the muck
And call our leaders on their shit,
And try, a little, not to suck.

God gave profanity to man
To tell us, mock me how you may.
Some act as pious as they can,
But fuck those fucking fucks, I say.

From the Mashed-Up Files of Mr. Francis J. Heaney

I used to make a lot of mash-ups. In theory I still might make more (my most recent was a couple years ago), but clearly I’m in no rush. But here are some of my old ones that I still like!

“Kiss Me, Eleanor” (The Beatles vs. The Cure)
Right-click to download.

“Ice Rack” (Madonna vs. Zony Mash)
Right-click to download.

“Your Superfunkicalimagination” (Brian Wilson vs. Prince)
Right-click to download.

“Woman’s Burden” (John Lennon vs. The Rolling Stones)
Right-click to download.

This next one was originally made as a submission to “A People’s History of the Dismemberment Plan”, the fan remix album. Travis told me at some point that it had been under consideration for the album; I like to imagine that it would have made the cut had it not been for, you know, the bevy of uncleared samples.

“Following Through (Tropicalia mix)” (The Dismemberment Plan vs. Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil)
Right-click to download.

Jerry Herman’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Often, when Lorinne is in a show, I’ll make her a themed mix CD as an opening night gift. For her latest performance as one of the three leading ladies in the Jerry Herman revue, “Jerry’s Girls,” I thought I might do something different — namely, a collection of Jerry Herman/Beatles mash-ups. After realizing the amount of time it was taking me to make even one such mash-up, I just went ahead and made a mix CD instead. But here’s the one I did make: “Hello, Something” (which is George singing on top of Herb Alpert’s rendition of “Hello, Dolly”):


(Right-click and save here if you’d like a copy.)

Original Musiquarium

On the way home from the National Puzzlers’ League convention, having already played a whole lot of One, Two, Three and Breakfast Combo, I was trying to brainstorm a not-yet-used approach to a guessing game, and came up with this, which turned out to be pretty fun, though I think there are still a few small kinks to work out. Thanks to Ken for helping come up with the Stevie Wonder-inspired title.

Original Musiquarium

Any number that does not seem totally ridiculous can play. One player (the cluer) thinks of a well-known song. If that player knows the song very well and does not feel they need any references, cool; however, it is allowed (and probably not a bad idea) for that person to get out their phone and pull up the lyrics of that song for reference.

The other players are trying to guess the song, and do so by asking Go Fish-like questions for which the lyrics of the song are the “cards”. For instance, you might ask “Do you have any beverages?”, which might be answered, “Yes, I have Coca-Cola.” The cluer does not have to give a comprehensive list of beverages in the song; one is sufficient. The guessers may later ask “Do you have any other beverages?”, but should guess at least one other category in between. Categories can be pretty much anything you can think of, but they should actually be broad categories of things and not overly specific. Let’s continue the theoretical game above by way of example:

“Is your song ‘Lola’?”


“Do you have any furniture?”

“Yes, I have an armchair.”

“Do you have any buildings?”


“Do you have any sporting equipment?”

“Yes, I have a football.”

“Do you have any other furniture?”

“Yes, I have a sideboard.”

“Is your song ‘Come Together’?”


After someone successfully guesses the song, that player thinks of a new song and the game continues until everyone would rather be doing something else. You could play noncompetitively, with guessers asking questions whenever they think of them, or you could be more rules-y and have guessers take turns, in which case I would suggest that a single player can keep guessing as long as their questions get a “yes” response; if they ever get a “no” (or “Go visit the original musiquarium”, if you wish) or if they try to guess the song and fail, play passes to the next person.

One issue that came up is the problem of “lyrics that totally give the song away.” If anyone tries this game, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on that. For instance, I was cluing “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and was asked “Do you have any people?” Well, I had Leonard Bernstein, Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce, and Lester Bangs, obviously, but those are all total giveaways, so I said, “Yes, I have a famous conductor” (which was still enough to solve the song, it turned out, but took a little more puzzling out and seemed more interesting, all things considered). There is also the problem of words in the title; for instance, another song was “Hotel California”, and I asked, “Do you have any buildings?” There didn’t seem to be any way around answering “Yes, I have a hotel,” which was a bit of a giveaway. I think perhaps words in the title of the song should be exempt, in which case the answer to that question would have been, “Yes, I have a building, but I cannot reveal it.”

Anyway, that’s the game. Let me know if you try it!

The Holy Tango Basement Tapes

Recently, the Holy Tango of Literature made the news, with my Maya Angelou pastiche “Yoga Alumnae” being quoted in a remembrance of Ms. Angelou in the Washington Post (although its anagrammatic premise was left as an exercise for the reader). The Holy Tango, as most of you know, asked the question, “What if poets and playwrights wrote works whose titles were anagrams of their names?”, and then there was a musical spin-off, the Holy Tango Basement Tapes, which asked the very similar (but much more effortful to follow through with) question, “What if musical acts wrote works whose titles were anagrams of their names?”

Well, imagine my surprise when I learned today that the band Interpol has volunteered to help out with the Holy Tango Basement Tapes by releasing an album entitled “El Pintor” (Spanish for “The Painter”), joining a very elite group of musical anagrammaticists that includes The Cure (with their song “Cut Here”) and Brian Eno, sort of (his song “King’s Lead Hat” is an anagram of Talking Heads). Anyway, in honor of this event, I thought I’d post a convenient zip file of the various Holy Tango songs I’ve managed to finish recording over the years. The songs are:

Prince, “Pincer”
Elvis Costello, “It Loves Cellos”
Paul Simon, “Up on Islam”
Britney Spears, “Presbyterians” (featuring Tate Evans)
Joni Mitchell, “Mitch in Jell-O”
Pet Shop Boys, “The Bossy Pop”

Lyrics after the jump if you want to really get into it. Still unrecorded: Patsy Cline’s “Tiny Places.” Someday, I promise.

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Branching back out into songwriting

Two friends of ours, Julianne and Megan, recently got married, and part of the reception was a cabaret featuring songs on the theme of “home.” Faced with the choices available among the sheet music I had handy — which included the Smiths’ very depressing “Back to the Old House”, Kate Bush’s less-than-cozy “Get Out of My House”, and Paul Simon’s appropriate but too frickin’ difficult to play “Something So Right” — I opted instead to follow my usual custom in such situations and wrote my own song (with some melodic improvements from Lorinne). There’s no recording of the performance — which is just as well, honestly — so I recorded a home demo version. And here it is! It’s called “Let’s Build a Nest.” (Right-click here to download a copy.)


Let’s Build a Nest

Once upon a time, two birds of a feather
Sat at two ends of a telephone wire;
They caught each other’s eye and they scooched close together,
Then one told the other, here’s what I desire:

Let’s build a nest, let’s build a nest,
That is my first and last request.
I had to get that off my chest,
But I’m glad I confessed.
Let’s find a tree for you and me, don’t you agree that would be best?
Please say you’ve acquiesced, let’s build a nest.

The other bird just smiled (as much as birds can with a beak),
And said, now this might sound just like some tired old cliche,
But when you looked at me, you cast a spell with your mystique,
And I was so enchanted, I was just about to say:

Let’s build a nest, let’s build a nest,
Now that the thought has been expressed,
As you can tell, I don’t protest,
And in fact I feel blessed.
So now let’s sing as we take wing to do the thing that you suggest,
And then we both can rest inside our nest.
Let’s get started on it yesterday, our nest.
To take a bough will be our quest, let’s build a nest!