Monday, October 14, 2013

Shakespeare and Popular Music

Shakespeare and popular Music by Adam Hansen, 2010.  Read in May-June 2011.

                      Those of us who grew up in the western music culture of the 50’s and 60’s no doubt remember the song “Just like Romeo and Juliet”. Do you remember who first did it? Well, I didn’t but now I know because this book told me.  It was the Reflections. That’s about the only song they did.  But it certainly wasn’t the only song produced with Shakespeare connections. There are four columns of songs in the index that are mentioned in this book.
                      Hansen sets out to show how his two passions, Shakespeare and popular music, relate, or more importantly, to prove those wrong who claim that they don’t relate and never can.  He does this admirably. It’s a fun book with a lot of “Oh yeah, that one!” – for example Peggy Lee’s “Fever” (“Romeo loved Juliet, Juliet she felt the same. When he put his arms around her he said ‘Julie, baby you’re my flame, thou givest fever”) and Springsteen’s “Point Blank” (“I was gonna be your Romeo you were gonna be my Juliet. These days you don't wait on Romeo's you wait on that welfare check..”) and Donavan’s “Under the Greenwood Tree”.
                      But Hansen goes back a lot farther than that, starting with Shakespeare himself who included a lot of what has to be called popular music in his own plays.
                      One chapter deals with how popular music is used in today’s Shakespeare movies, for example Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet or Julie Taymor’s Titus.
                      Another chapter deals with Shakespeare and jazz by which Hal and I were inspired to order Cleo Laine’s Shakespeare and All That Jazz and Duke Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder. We learn further about British rap artist Akala who runs workshops on Shakespeare.

                      Hansen also explores Shakespeare in county music, punk and world music. And as always when it comes to Shakespeare, there seems to be no end to it.  Hansen ends his very enjoyable book with the wise words: “This is something to celebrate, not lament, as Caliban counsels: ‘Be not afeard’…And the beat goes on…”

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