Lesson #107: Rocky Horror

Lawyer Housemate, Club Manager Housemate, The Vet and I are all big fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show — though I am the only one to have ever seen a live action version of it. Anyway, when we found out the touring company was going to be in town, we decided we had to go.

Best. Theatre. Ever.

It was SO much fun. I’m used to seeing live versions in which a bunch of people get up in costume and mime the film that’s playing on a giant screen behind them, but this was a stage performance like any other musical. Except that it had audience participation like you do at any performance of the show. And then after the curtain call, the entire audience did the Time Warp. We’re talking some serious fun.*

So in honour of the house excursion** to the theatre tonight, a little bit about Rocky Horror…

The film is an adaptation of the stage show, which I didn’t know. Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of it being onstage. It was first produced in London in 1973 with Tim Curry*** in the role of Frank N. Furter. When the production moved to Los Angeles in 1974 and then Broadway in 1975, Curry stayed with the part. There are 29 different cast recordings of the show. (Seriously! 29!) The movie, with an ongoing limited release since its original release in 1975, is the longest running film release in history, which is pretty cool! Audience participation began in 1977 in the US at midnight runs of the movie.

If you want to get a bit of a look at the show we saw, see the official tour website. Otherwise, you can read up on the show in general here.

*There was a country type who evidently knew nothing at all about the show attending with his girlfriend sitting next to Lawyer Housemate and he was not impressed with the more risque aspects of the show. Apparently at the end of the floor show when Rocky all but mounted Brad, there were some “Jesus!”es and some “Oh dear Lord!”s. Funnily, this was exactly the point where I turned to The Vet and said something very similar in a completely different context.

**Urban Planner Housemate had never seen Rocky Horror until recently and he did not like it at all…not for any puritanical repression, he just doesn’t like musicals. Marine Biologist Housemate is away home for spring break, so she didn’t come either.

***I love Tim Curry!


Lesson #106: Lord Kelvin’s Surprising Birthplace

This is a short post just because it’s nothing more than a random, interesting tidbit I learned today.

Though educated in Scotland, Lord Kelvin, most famous to those of us who stopped taking science classes at the age of 18, for establishing the point of absolute zero*, was born in Belfast, Ireland and lived there until the age of 9 whereupon his father accepted a post at the University of Glasgow.**

*Also for formulating the first and second laws of thermodynamics (the first one is that pesky “energy can neither be created nor destroyed” one), developing an accurate mariner’s compass and his work on the transatlantic telegraph system.

**A biography of Lord Kelvin can be read here.

Lesson #105: The Science of Misheard Lyrics

Every spring, my very favourite sports movie of all time, Bull Durham, gets busted out ahead of opening day of the baseball season. One of my favourite scenes in the movie (apart from the conference on the mound, which is one of best scenes in any sports movie ever) is the scene on the bus when Tim Robbins’ character is butchering Otis Redding’s ‘Try a Little Tenderness’.*

That scene has been floating around in my head for the last couple of days because I admitted to a high school friend of mine that I’ve never seen Pretty in Pink, among others,** and she admonished me and sent me a clip of Jon Cryer’s character doing a whole bit from that particular song. Anyway, that’s what brought me to the science of it all.

It turns out that the reason we mishear lyrics is a combination of things…the fact that there’s a beat underneath it, the fact that the phrasing may be unnatural to speak, the fact that the singer is singing quickly. But mostly, it comes down to the fact that we’re not seeing the singer’s face when we hear the lyrics. Because we can’t read his or her lips, our brains are forced to fill in the gaps and what it fills it in as best it can with things it knows from previous experience. Which explains why there’s a bathroom on the right and not a bad moon on the rise. It seems that a person’s upbringing and personality also factor into the brain’s compensation.***

As a side note, if you ever want to conduct a fantastic experiment in misheard conversation, put a bunch of non-native speakers of a language from various parts of the world together in a room. It’s fantastic! The combination of their brains trying to compensate both for an accent with which they’re unfamiliar with and a language in which they’re not used to thinking will wreak havoc in hilarious ways. In fact, this also works with speakers of the same language who come from different parts of the world (see the other day’s comment on Cajun French, Canadian French and Belgian French, for example.)

Autobiographical note: I have spent a lot of time around baseball specifically and sports in general (in the business sense, not in the “I watch a lot of sports” sense — though that is also a true statement) and as a result, I have a lot of friends who are sports people. I also have a lot of friends who are movie quoting people. We can quote the hell out of Top Gun, Anchorman and The Hangover, but most of the sports movies we quote, for some reason, are baseball movies. If I had a dollar for every time one of my friends quoted a baseball movie, I’d never have to work again. Actually, if I had a dollar for every time one of my friends quoted the s’mores scene from The Sandlot, I’d never have to work again.

*In Nuke’s version, women get wooly because of all the stress.

**Sixteen Candles, Say Anything and Back to the Future.

***An interesting article about this here.

Lesson #104: Highwaymen

Autobiographical note: My mother taught me the definition of metaphor using the Alfred Noyes poem The Highwayman, the second line of which is, “the moon was a ghostly galleon cast upon cloudy seas.” I have no idea why that was what she used, but I rather suspect that’s the way she learned it.

Highwaymen were robbers who operated (mostly) on the British Isles* between the Elizabethan era and the early 19th century. Specifically, highwaymen rode on horseback; thieves on foot (or those who robbed pedestrians) were called footpads. Traditionally, men on horseback waited in wooded areas on the main roads leading out of London as this offered both a place to hide and a variety of marks to choose from. In England, the penalty for highway robbery was death by hanging. The last recorded incident of highway robbery occurred in 1831 and while the burgeoning railway business is given as a reason for the decline, the industry, such as it was, had been declining since the middle of the 18th century. It is more likely that the decline was a result of the expansion of the turnpike system with manned and gated toll roads, as well as the increasing use of banknotes rather than gold coinage as currency.**

Essentially, Robin Hood, whether he was real or is just legend, was a highwayman.

*There were also highwaymen in France and Hungary. And, although the term is specific, the action is not. In the American west, they were called road agents; in Australia, they were known as bushrangers.

**More reading here and here.

Lesson #103: Niagara Falls Goes Dry

In the summer/fall of 1969, the Army Corps of Engineers “dried up” the American side (not the Horseshoe Falls) of Niagara Falls in order to conduct a geological survey of the rock bed underneath. Water was diverted by way of a 600-foot cofferdam and once the water was stopped, surveyors found the remains of a man, a woman and a deer. Once the cliff face and base were dry, engineers began scaling (as in what you’d do to a fish) loose rock, cleaning the rocks of algae, drilling for rock samples and installing a system of hydration pipes under the rock face to keep it from crumbling.*

I imagine the sound must have been very strange. Niagara Falls makes a LOT of noise. Diverting a third of the water must have made it seem oddly quiet.

Some good pictures and more information here.

Lesson #102: Acadians in Louisiana

In 1755, the British took control of Acadia (modern day Nova Scotia, PEI and parts of New Brunswick) and began an eight year exile of the 23,000 French citizens who were living there. Of those 23,000 only about 10,000 survived.

That’s not new.

I had always thought that the majority of the exiled had ended up in Louisiana, which is most likely because of the continued affiliation with the French language (sort of)* and culture (sort of) in New Orleans.

In reality, though, the majority of the survivors, between five and six thousand, escaped to Quebec and hid among the Miqmaq or in the countryside until the situation settled down. Only about 2650 Acadians ended up in Louisiana.**

*If you’ve ever heard the cajun French, you know what I mean. One of my Belgian friends, who mocks my (Franco-Ontarian) accent at length, and I decided to listen to some radio in cajun French one day. I had a better time understanding it than he did — because it’s closer to my accent than to his — but neither of us did particularly well at understanding without intense focus. Really, it’s only sort of French.

**More can be read about the Acadians in Louisiana here and here.

Lesson #101: Easter Rocket Wars

Every year on the small Greek island of Chios (pop. about 51,000), two “rival” churches in the town of Vrodandos have a rocket war during Easter mass. The goal is to hit the opposing church’s bell tower with one of the 25,000 fireworks while the priest continues to say mass.

The rockets are made, illegally, by the town’s residents over the course of the year, though the police turn a blind eye to the process (presumably because it’s a longstanding tradition). The story behind the tradition is unclear, however it may be a link to the island’s days of fighting off pirates in which cannons were shot off at Easter. When the Ottomans removed the cannons in the late 19th century for fear of an uprising, residents started making rockets.*

*Read about it here. Watch it here.