YouTube's the piano-playing cat's meow

"There are educational aspects to YouTube, as well

"There are educational aspects to YouTube, as well as entertainment. However, I mostly do not care to be educated. It is fascinating to see how young folks cut T-shirts into stylish and revealing tank tops, but for me this is entertainment, not education," says Sylvia Carter. (Credit: iStock)

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Some of you may be using your computer to do important research or email old friends. Some of you may be exploring Facebook.

I confess that I am a YouTube addict.

Oh, it begins innocently enough. One day long ago I Googled something, and instead of being directed to a website, I was sent to YouTube. Soon, my husband and I found that we could spend whole evenings -- or mornings, for that matter -- enthralled by YouTube videos.

We could learn to play the spoons, tap dance or try various methods, some hilarious, for digging the monstrous Geoduck (pronounced gooeyduck) clams in Washington state.

And one video leads to another. And another.

Was it the time I looked for R. Crumb, the cartoonist-musician, and his band in which a slide whistle figures, that I was inexorably led to the long-ago Hoosier Hot Spots? That used up at least an hour.

When we watched a documentary (not YouTube, for once, but American Masters on PBS) on Ella Fitzgerald, an outtake featured an interview about her with Johnny Mathis.

Listening to Mathis sing "Ave Maria" on YouTube was pure joy.

We played it again.

With a few key strokes in a search engine such as Google or on the YouTube website, I can find musicians I read about but had somehow missed before: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the godmother of rock and roll; the thrilling Lucky Peterson on the Hammond organ; the inimitable singer and guitar player Jessie Winchester; the late John Hartford (who wrote "Gentle on My Mind") in his trademark derby hat on the riverboat he piloted; George Lewis, the smokin' ragtime clarinetist. (This is not the George Lewis, a contemporary musician who teaches at Columbia University, whom I know socially; the clarinetist died in 1968.)

I can hear the late Elizabeth Cotten, who played a righthanded guitar lefthanded, on the radio and then go straight to YouTube to hear her play "Shake Sugaree" with her then-14-year-old granddaughter Brenda Evans singing. Then of course I click on Cotten's own "Freight Train." (Cotten got a Grammy Award in 1985, when she was 90.)

I can find musicians I haven't heard in years, because it hasn't been easy to locate their CDs. What a delight to rediscover Steven Fromholz, who wrote three songs called "Texas Trilogy" that are not just about Texas but small towns across the nation, on YouTube. I can see and hear Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys in action.

Or perhaps I just crave a song or two, not a whole CD. (I realize that this is what more up-to-date music lovers do with iPods, but I don't have an iPod.) Mother Maybelle Carter sings her classic "Wildwood Flower" with Flatt and Scruggs at the Grand Ole Opry. The late Alberta Hunter, whom I saw perhaps two dozen times live at the long-gone Cookery in Manhattan, sings "My Handy Man." The haunting "See That My Grave Is Swept Clean" is performed by Mavis Staples. I don't have any Staples records, and my Hunter collection was mostly on, I blush to say, cassette tapes. But YouTube has me covered.

It's not just music, of course. At least half a dozen times I have played Brian Williams parodying The New York Times' discovery of Brooklyn: "Why, it's like Marrakech over there." Abbott and Costello perform the classic "Who's on First?" Elaine May and Mike Nichols make me laugh (aloud, a lot) with their "$65 funeral" skit, though their classic telephone operator skit is at MySpace instead of YouTube.

I don't want you to think of me as lowbrow. I also listen to classical music (the invigorating strains of Carmina Burana), and poetry; Coleman Barks reading his translation of "What Was Said to the Rose" by Rumi, the Sufi poet.

Soon, the evening is gone and my book, made of old-fashioned paper, lies unread, my Netflix movie unwatched.

My interests range wide. Cat videos alone cast an enormous spell. There's Nora, the talented cat that plays the piano, and I don't mean she just walks on the keys; she sits and plays. Check it out -- just search for "Nora, cat and YouTube." Other cats, while not as original as Nora, are worth a glance: Maru, the cat that can climb into the smallest of boxes; Henri, the existential French cat; the kitten and the crow that are pals, and the parody on "Catvertising," the wave of the future.

Dogs, too, can hold me spellbound. Uggie the Russell terrier that was in the movie "The Artist" skateboards. Jesse, another terrier, can do all sorts of chores, including turning on the coffee pot and putting socks into the dryer.

There are educational aspects to YouTube, as well as entertainment. However, I mostly do not care to be educated. It is fascinating to see how young folks cut T-shirts into stylish and revealing tank tops, but for me this is entertainment, not education; I am reaching a point in my life when I don't expect to need many more tank tops. If you watch videos on how to make and age your own Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, you will understand why I prefer to just imagine doing it. As for the video on how to pet a cat, I know at least as much about that topic as the person who made the video.

I may not have an iPod, or even understand how one works, but I have YouTube.

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