"The Lonely Goatherd" Gwen Stefani's "Wind It Up" and the Profundity of Play


THE LONELY GOATHERD, PAGE 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15

The hills of home are alive with the sound of music.  A few weeks ago, in December of 2006 Gwen Stefani put out her second solo album, The Sweet Escape. She caught my attention performing "Wind It Up" on Saturday Night Live, which has led to a garden of delight in several directions.  For starters, it was an unexpected pleasure to hear the ska princess yodeling Rodgers and Hammerstein.  She is known to be an Enemy of The People, but this song alone might save her a trip to Camp Mimi.

"Wind It Up" is obviously pitched as a follow-up to her big hit "Hollaback Girl."  It's another cheerleader rap deal, but considerably better in pretty much every way.  Now, I'm not going to say that the vocal melody will make you forget Richard Rodgers- but it's quite catchy, and bears a unique personal style.  "Hollaback Girl" was more flat, like a cheerleader yell.  "Wind It Up" has a distinctly more developed tune.

I also much prefer "Wind It Up" as a lyric.  Again, not going to make you forget Oscar Hammerstein, but the image of the girls as wind up toys is cute and adds to the playfulness of the whole contraption.  By contrast, "Hollaback Girl" had a somewhat sour lyric, speaking of bad experience- "a few times I've been around that track."  Plus, it was a bit more profane than I would prefer for something appealing most obviously to young girls.

The arrangement of "Wind It Up" stands out especially.  These marching band drums really make the record.  They're way better than the not very interesting drum machines and generic studio drums from "Hollaback Girl."  Add in the bass synthesizer, which is credited lyrically as the thing specifically winding up the girls, and you've got a fine dance track.

Topping all that off though is the main theme of "The Lonely Goatherd," from The Sound of Music.  Surprisingly, I hadn't paid much attention to "The Lonely Goatherd."  The problem, of course, is that it was written for the same show as "Do Re Mi" and, oh yeah, "My Favorite Things."  "The Lonely Goatherd" is perhaps something of a sunspot that way.

Besides the valuable service of bringing the source material back into the spotlight, Stefani really makes worthy use of the music.  She's  re-working and adapting the goatherd theme, refracting it into a whole different modern dance track.  It's not a mere remix or cover, but a beautiful and clever appropriation.  It's no insult to Ms Stefani to say that Rodgers and Hammerstein have a better basic composition, but as a record and as a modern dance track Stefani has it over any recording of "The Lonely Goatherd." 

From the Great American Composers series, I have a Mary Martin performance of "The Lonely Goatherd" right at hand, with a lovely and joyful performance of what might be thought of as a "children's" song.  It plays really well back to back with "Wind It Up."  They're very different, yet they have very complimentary emotional context.  They both represent playfulness raised to an art form. 

Then there is the visual presentation of these songs, which were both conceived for visual presentation.  The basic short form video for "Wind It Up" is not all that impressive.  She obviously spent a good deal of money on costumes and locations and just the intense editing.  But it's just exactly that ADD MTV editing style that blows the effect.  The live performance on SNL was much more artistically effective.  They created highly effective choreography playing on the simple basic wind-up toy premise.  This added a new layer to the whimsy of the contraption.  Whereas the ADD MTV video slices and dices the dance so much that it loses any meaningful pattern.  You're never seeing more than a few seconds of dancing, mixed in with random slo mo and arbitrary busy flitting from one image to the next.

The Lonely Goatherd

The best visual presentation of anything related though is the 1965 theatrical version of The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews.  As melody and lyrics, the song's already quite a whimsical contraption, but the presentation of the song as a puppet play with the children gives a couple more layers added to the game - the play and the backstage shots.

The nominal puppet play was pretty cute with the goatherd, the girl and her Mama (who got a particularly effective puppet "gleaming gloat" in her eyes).  Then there are the goat puppet counterparts to each character.  Plus, all the extravagant detail for the princes, band and taverns and such.  Then you fold in the shots of Julie Andrews and the von Trapp children hustling to keep all the balls in the air during the performance, getting the sets changed and so forth.  Julie Andrews choking on the foam young Marta blew off the mugs of beer in the puppet tavern was a nice touch.

The Sound of Music puppet play


Julie Andrews image

Naturally, I had to share this with the godson.  Even a couple months shy of three years, he was all about "The Lonely Goatherd" and of course the puppet show.  He was happy to watch it ten times consecutively, studying the song and the movements.  I'm pleased to have a bit of video of his rapt attention, and imitations of the puppet dance moves. Perhaps he'll get a goat costume for his birthday and get me some blackmail video to play for some nice girlfriend when he's in college.

Somewhere in the middle of watching the boy engrossed in this display, I saw the profundity of play at work.  Playing in the sun truly rates as toward the higher end of meaningful human activity.  An extravagantly detailed piece of joyous whimsy like this is a high artifact of illuminating the human condition.  We deal with drama often just because we have to do it.  But the "good times and noodle salad" is the payoff, the truly meaningful stuff that you suffer through the rest of life to get to.  Stuff like watching the joy of discovery as a child starts unpacking the carton of whimsy of the von Trapp puppet show.

I'll just say that I've gotten more spiritual nourishment from Rodgers and Hammerstein than I ever did from any pronouncements of any pope.



Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers portrait picture




Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein III photo




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