The CD arrived earlier this month. I knew of course that a "swan song" refers to an artist's final performance, but I wondered where the term arose. Or - to paraphrase Chico Marx - why a swan?
First the basics:
The swan song (ancient Greek: κύκνειον ᾆσμα; Latin: carmen cygni) is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort, or performance given just before death or retirement. The phrase refers to an ancient belief that swans sing a beautiful song just before their death, having been silent (or alternatively, not so musical) during most of their lifetime. This belief, whose basis in actuality is long-debated, had become proverbial in ancient Greece by the 5th to the 3rd century BC and was reiterated many times in later Western poetry and art. [details at the link]Peterson et al. [of the field guide] note that Cygnus olor is "not mute but lacks bugling call, merely honking, grunting, and hissing on occasion." However, the whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus), a winter visitor to parts of the eastern Mediterranean, does possess a 'bugling' call, and has been noted for issuing a drawn-out series of notes as its lungs collapse upon expiry, both being a consequence of an additional tracheal loop within its sternum. This was proposed by naturalist Peter Pallas as the basis for the legend... The whooper swan's nearest relatives, the trumpeter and tundra swans, share its musical tracheal loop
Wait... what??? Loops of the trachea? Never heard of such a thing, despite 30+ years of academic research on (human) lungs. So - time to dive into some research publications.
This research examines the evolution and phylogenetic distribution of a peculiar and often overlooked character seen in birds, herein called tracheal and esophageal displacement. Tracheal and esophageal displacement refers to an asymmetrically situated trachea and/or esophagus along the length of the neck. This contrasts with what would be perceived as the “normal” (midsagittal) placement of these organs, wherein the two organs are situated along the ventral midline of the neck with no deviation... essentially all birds have a laterally displaced trachea and/or esophagusIt is hypothesized here that lateral displacement of the cervical viscera evolved in birds to function as an ever increasingly efficient bypass system to allow the trachea to remain a short, straight, and patent tube able to keep up with the demands of a more mobile and flexible neck. A more loosely attached trachea and esophagus would be beneficial for those birds with highly dynamic neck movements.The great blue heron (Ardea herodias) has a trachea and esophagus that travels 12 cm along the ventral midline of the neck until the fifth cervical vertebra where they pass right laterally across it to become situated well dorsal to the vertebral column (Fig 8). By the twelfth cervical vertebra they cut back across the cervical column to become positioned at the ventral midline once more to enter the thorax. As the trachea passes across the fifth cervical it also rotates onto its side.Dorsolateral placement of the organs is, essentially, nothing more than the result of the organs cutting past a highly S-shaped neck. In particular, it is because the organs cut across the “caudal loop” ... of the S of the cervical column.
At this point I was relieved to note that "loops" is a term used to describe sinuosity.
But then I found in an article on avian paleontology that Panraogallus (extinct birds) had tracheas that actually did loop:
The trachea of Panraogallus appears to have coiled twice outside its chest, and may have coiled back towards the chest, before going up to the chest cavity again where it attached to the lungs... The coiled trachea of Panraogallus was possibly longer than its body, and it probably produced sounds with a lower frequency and with reduced harmonics, compared to pheasants of a similar size.
And note in the illustration that the line drawing "c" at upper right shows the course of the trachea in a Helmeted curassow - a currently-living bird.
You learn something every day, even at the end of a career of learning. But this has become TMI, so I'll drop the topic and get back to the CD, starting with this review:
In 1968, the Night Watchmen (originally called The Embryos) combined with the Dartmouth band Ham Sandwich. After Logan and Calvert left the group, Pinkston and Wilkes recruited Peter Wonson (class of'68) and Ned Berndt ('72), along with Hanover residents Ken Aldrich and Skip Truman. They formed Tracks, which went on to record original material and become a "super popular" headliner in the New England music scene, says Logan.Review (of 1991 CD compilation):Not to be confused with Bowie guitarist Earl Slick's 1972 group on Capitol Records or a late-'70s Boston punk band fronted by Lori Doll, this Tracks reigned between 1969 and 1974 and had the distinction of being produced by Wayne Wadhams, lead singer of the Fifth Estate (which hit with "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" in 1967). Along with a unique version of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," this ensemble comes up with a real sleeper in the tune "Pawnbroker" -- a strong, methodical ballad featuring great vocals and interplay from the guitar and keyboard that put it in a league with the legendary Modern Lovers...Russell Pinkston: "In the spring of 1969, my junior year at Dartmouth College, I dropped out of school to play full time with a rock band called “Tracks.” For the next five years, through various incarnations of the group, Tracks played all over New England in night clubs, fraternities, high school proms, and the occasional “big time” rock concert. We opened for acts such as the James Gang, Canned Heat, The Chambers Brothers, and Tom Rush, and by the time we broke up in 1974, we had recorded three full albums of original music. Although we had a couple of offers from producers, we never got signed by a record label, so soon after we called it quits, we made a triple album of our demo tapes as a “going away present” for our fans.
"All Along the Watchtower" recording from The Very Best of Tracks.