Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THERE HAS been a lot in the news these days about the color blue: a new African monkey, the male of whom has an astonishingly blue butt; a berry reported to be the brightest terrestrial object in nature; a mention at this very website on the sky’s Rayleigh scattering; an article in The New York Times titled “True Blue Stands Out in an Earthy Crowd.”

And there’s always The Blues.

“Ma” Rainey, a classic singer of the blues, has been honored with her own stamp. Image © United States Postal Service.

I confess I’m not at all musically talented, but I enjoy music of all kinds, everything from Michael Praetorius to Rasputina. I recall the wonderful TV program “Omnibus”—do you remember “Omnibus”?—where maestro Leonard Bernstein explained the blues. Amazingly enough, an excerpt can be seen at

Briefly, the blues has a very simple yet formal structure: a rhymed couplet, the first line of which is repeated: A, A, B. What’s more, lines A and B are in iambic pentameter, the English language’s gift to the world’s sounds.

Iambic pentameter is best displayed in Elizabethan theater, though also recurring in our time (read Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not for Burning). It’s characterized by the sounds di-DA di-DA di-DA di-DA di-DA. Marlowe’s “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?” Or the blues’ “I got a gal don’t love me like before.”

According to my music sources, the blues is characterized by “flattened thirds, fifths and sevenths,” these creating “blue notes.” I’m told the idea comes from African music where such quarter tones are used.

I’ve heard that mathematicians have a knack for musical understanding. Despite my training in the subject—mathematics, not music!—I seem to have missed this gene.

On other blue fronts, Scientific American reports discovery of a new species of African monkey, Cercopithecus lomamiensis.

The Lesula is the second new species of Old World monkey identified in 28 years. Drawing by Kimio Honda, courtesy Florida Atlantic University.

The monkey, common name Lesula, has quite a distinctive face, shared by other owl-faced relatives. But the male’s bright-blue butt is a defining characteristic. Like other brightness in the male of the species (men’s ties??), it’s figured to be part of sexual attraction.

Attraction is also thought to explain Pollia condensata, a tropical plant whose berries are more than bright blue—they’re iridescent blue.

The Pollia condensata bush uses its looks to attract birds into dispersing its seeds merely as baubles, not food.

Most natural surfaces reflect just a small amount of light, but the P. condensata berry reflects 30 percent of it. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says the berry’s skin contains no pigment, no colored cells. Rather, its cells form sheets similar to an onion skin. Light filtering through the skin creates the berry’s “structural color,” the blue bouncing back, the rest passing through.

It reminds me of Rayleigh scattering of the sun’s blue portion of the spectrum; that is, why the sky is blue. See this website’s Also The New York Times piece that got me started with the blues can be found at ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2012

2 comments on “GOT THE BLUES?

  1. Bill Urban
    November 11, 2012

    That classic Bernstein blues analysis brought a smile, but I recalled one that could have brought a smile from . . . the White Tower counter guy?

    “Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey,” by Hayden Carruth.

    Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey
    in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
    a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
    but sweet. Sometimes. And
    weren’t we fine tonight?
    When Hank set up that limping
    treble roll behind me
    my horn just growled and I
    thought my heart would burst.
    And Brad M. pressing with the
    soft stick, and Joe-Anne
    singing low. Here we are now
    in the White Tower, leaning
    on one another, too tired
    to go home. But don’t say a word,
    don’t tell a soul, they wouldn’t
    understand, they couldn’t, never
    in a million years, how fine,
    how magnificent we were
    in that old club tonight.

    • simanaitissays
      November 11, 2012

      Cool, Bill. It shows that blues can be uplifting too. – d

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


This entry was posted on October 24, 2012 by in I Usta be an Editor Y'Know, Sci-Tech and tagged , , , .
%d bloggers like this: