Thursday, February 11, 2010

I'm a Catastrophe!!!!

Among the many, many stories contained within the many worlds of song-poems, few are weirder to me than the story of William Howard Arpaia. I can hardly do it justice in a few lines, but there is a really good rundown on the man and his work here. One thing that ASPMA site does not mention is that Arpaia claimed to have suddenly developed the ability to write songs, marches and polkas on his 61st birthday.

That essay is also quite a bit more admiring than what I would probably write about him. Based on his lyrics, I find him to be a fairly contemptable person, a crank, really - one of those "things will never be as good as they were in the old days" types. I also suspect that by the time he started producing his albums, he wasn't exactly in position of all of his faculties anymore.

And I haven't even gotten to the music. For the most part, his tunes are fairly samey, with odd melodic runs which switch abrutly to notes that don't seem like they are where the tune had been heading. And I have a hard time telling his marches or his polkas apart.

This one, however, is an exception, as is the most famous of his records, "Listen, Mr. Hat". Like that one, this one never appeared on an Arpaia album. Maybe it was unintentional, but I don't think so, and I don't know who had the idea - the performers or Arpaia himself - to perform this in a Dylanesque voice, but assuming it was deliberate, it was a masterstroke. Please enjoy Lance Hill with "I'm a Catastrophe":

For completeness sake, here is the (endless) b-side, "The Christmas March":


Stu Shea said...

My God. Unrelenting misery. I've never heard Lance Hill sing well, and the song is...a horror.

DG said...

I knew Bill Arpaia quite well. In fact we were related and we were quite close. He was a good man. He had no experience writing or producing music, but did it because he loved it. He had all of his faculties until the day he died in the fall of 1983. He was not a "contemptible person" in any way, although he certainly was an individual. Much of his life was defined by the sinking of the "Dorchester" troop ship in WWII. He was an officer on that ship when it was torpedoed during the night in freezing cold water off of Greenland. Most of the people in his life raft died from exposure before Arpaia was picked up with both legs frozen. He went on to serve honorably in Naval intelligence in Italy. Please show him the respect he earned in life and let me know if you have a serious interest in knowing more about his life. He was quite accomplished in many ways and music was only a small part of that.

Bob Purse said...

In response to DG - as I don't know how to reach you aside from here:

Your comment leaves me humbled, in that I realize that I wrote some of the content here without the knowledge it would take to have expressed those things. Obviously, I dind't know Mr. Arpaia, and based my statements solely on the words he chose in writing his song. I should have chosen more carefully, and will be happy to adjust the text of what I wrote accordingly, if you wish.

I will say that, based solely on those word - the ones in his songs - I simply cannot track with the life view and outlook of their composer. They come across to me as often angry, despairing and seem to imply little hope for the future, with everything good in the past. Those are the thoughts that went into my words, but I absolutely should have directed any description towards the songs themselves, and not the creater of them, someone I did not know. I apologize for that.

By the way, my father was also an officer in WWII, and spoke very little about what must have been some horrific experiences. We owe men like him, and Mr. Arpaia, a great debt.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind and sensitive reply. I did not mean to be completely anonymous in my comments, I would be happy to discuss my Great Uncle Bill with you at any time. He was a very private and somewhat eccentric man, but he had a very warm heart and fascinating life experience. Of course he died long before the internet existed, but I promise you that he would love to know that people were still discussing his music so many years later. I do think that you would find his life experience interesting - youngest of 11 children, partially raised in an orphanage, watched the four chaplains go down with the "Dorchester" after it was torpedoed (you can Google that), successful criminal lawyer, and of course composer. My email address is and I would be happy to speak with you by phone, but I think that it might be most prudent to not list my telephone number here.
Derrick G

Unknown said...

I worked for Mr. Arpaia in the late 1970's. He was warm and funny and very kind. After I had my first child and retired, he called me every Monday to check in. He was not a crank. He was a wonderful man.

Харви Матусоу said...

re-up links, please!