What the Meaning of “Is” Is


As mentioned in my last post, I picked up a copy of the Hold Steady’s latest CD at their show on Thursday. It’s a good album, and I am entirely satisfied with my purchase, except for one thing: On the front cover, the spine, and the disc the title is rendered as “Heaven is Whenever.”

This drives me batshit crazy. This is wrong.

Here’s the deal: In headline case, every word is capitalized unless it is an article, a conjunction, or a preposition. This is a simple and elegant rule and it has been in effect for hundreds of years; and yes, because this is English, there are a whole coterie of exceptions, but that’s not the point. The point is that whether a word is supposed to be capitalized depends on which part of speech it is, not how many letters are in it. “Is” is a verb, and gets the capital “I.” Always has, and the Lawd willing, always will. End of discussion.

Unfortunately, misunderstanding of this rule has become a widespread problem. I consider it emblematic of the general decline of American literacy. One of the major theater chains flashes a card before every movie to remind you to turn off your phone—it reads “Silence is Golden,” and every time I see it I want to scream. It makes me so tense that it ruins the first five minutes of the movie. So as a personal favor I want you, dear reader, to take a pledge to fight the scourge of the small “i” wherever you see it. Never surrender, never compromise. By any means necessary. Hallelujah.

Bands I’ve Seen (updated)

It was a real old-fashioned rock’n’roll night last night. The band was the Hold Steady, and they played loud and hard, with two (sometimes three) guitars, bass, and drums, and the oddly charismatic Craig Finn declaiming at the mic. The venue was the Fillmore, and I rolled out of there around midnight with the full complement of schwag: CD, poster, apple, hardly used earplugs, and resulting ringing in the ears. Overhead the Goodyear Blimp drifted by, and it read “Ice Cube’s a Pimp” for some reason. It was a good day.

This new addition makes today as appropriate a time as any for me to update my Bands I’ve Seen List. The way Cecil does this, with the names of the bands along the left side of his blog and thus easily updatable, is probably smarter. This way I’m going to have to post a new list every year or two for the rest of my damn life. Well, I guess things could be worse.

Yes They Can

Can rehearsing for their version of "West Side Story"

I love the fact that there are still these huge untapped veins of great music out there. For instance, until relatively recently I never listened to the strange and wonderful German band Can. They are a truly unique group, arty/experimental/difficult on the one hand, but with a strong rhythmic underpinning and a fondness for reggae, dub, and even funk. (Yes, Germans can be funky—see also “Kraftwerk.” People forget that funk requires precision: Everything must be exactly on the beat, or it is not funky. There were no accidents, for instance, in James Brown’s music; James understood exactly where every note belonged, and if someone made a mistake, he knew it.)

Can’s music is truly experimental, i.e. not especially well edited, so you have to wade through the failed experiments to get to the good stuff. An additional complicating factor is the vocals. Can’s first “singer” was Malcolm Mooney, about as atonal a vocalist as you’re likely to find fronting a major rock band. Mooney sometimes sounds like an inebriated street person intoning chants the meaning of which are known only to himself; and yet for all that, his singing is not without a strange charm, and he delivers an utterly flabbergasting performance on the psycho-loungy “She Brings the Rain.” According to Can scholar (and former Cramps/Bad Seeds drummer) Jim Sclavunos,

Excerpt from Dracula, 1897

“Do you know what day it is?” I answered that it was the fourth of May. She shook her head as she said again: “Oh, yes! I know that, I know that! but do you know what day it is?” On my saying that I did not understand, she went on: “It is the eve of St. George’s Day and forwith shall spew the demons that are drunken tards. Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway?

Hmmm…are you allowed to say “drunken tards” on the internets?