Monday, April 30, 2012

Stocking your child’s survival kit

I am completely aware of the arrogance of my writing this, having no children and not even being the most well adjusted individual out there. Certainly some of the things that got me through school are not practical for everyone, but I have had some of these ideas in mind for a while, and I was talking extensively with a friend with children who is thinking about some of these things for her own kids, so I’m just going to put it out there.
As I initially conceived this post, it was more about the traits and skills that you want to instill in your children, but we have talked about being loving and supportive as well, and I will give you two big tips for that. The first one, and this is important for success in most aspects of life, is to lose your ego. It’s hard—the ego will keep creeping back when you’re not looking—but if your parental guidance is based on the child being a reflection on you, rather than on what this individual in your care really needs, you’re going to be causing a lot of pain, and the kid will see right through you.
The other thing I would recommend is that in addition to loving, you need to make sure that they feel loved. For that I would recommend reading “The Five Love Languages. I have only read the first one, so I don’t know how the versions specific to children and teenagers are, but I found what I did read insightful.
Now, on to the things that my friend and I were talking about: It was interesting talking with Jennie because while I have only worried about potential children being outcasts, she has also worried about hers being the tormentors, or at least passively supporting the tormentors. My first thought was that I just don’t know what I would do if I ended up with a mean kid, but I think these things work both ways. Not only do they provide a shield and buffer for some of the outside world, but also it should put enough into the child’s life that they don’t need to lash out at others. Also, they set the foundation for a happy adulthood.
(Jennie has also talked to her children about how if they don’t want to be the leaders, that is fine, but then they should choose good people to follow—to go with people who are kind. I think that’s a reasonable discussion to have.)
Actually, I had been thinking about them for quite a while, so then it was nice that I actually had something to say. Well before my children got into their teenage years, I would want to have made sure that they had plenty of opportunities to develop the following things:
Friends: I started thinking about this after the child of a family friend spoke in church. He has some siblings who are quite a bit younger, and he remembers watching play dates when his sisters were really young that didn’t seem that valuable, and asking his mother about them. She said that these kids that she was bringing over had nice parents and they would probably grow up to be nice kids. At that point he remembered all of these friends that he’d had for as long as he could remember, and realized it was not coincidence. Obviously that does not mean that you selectively screen out kids with mean parents, or that all of their friends will come through your machinations, but getting them socialized early, and building that support network early, will help, and if they end up being nice kids, that will help quite a bit too.
Developing a talent: This is beneficial for many reasons, as has been touched on in posts on music and creativity. It can involve the acquiring of patience and discipline, while building satisfaction and self-esteem. That being said, where I really started thinking of it was after reading this article:
This post is lengthy, and it’s a lot more negative than my own memories of school. One thing I have learned talking to others, though, is that most people’s memories of school are more negative than my own. (One of my survival traits was the ability to be fairly oblivious, and I’m not sure that can be taught.) However, the reason I posted, and what I found fascinating, is the idea that having some other sort of guiding interest prevents the child from getting swallowed up in the quest for popularity.
Service to others: This was something my sisters and I have discussed a lot, because many members of their old social group are remarkably self-centered, and they could argue that now they are too busy with children to have time for other causes too, but then how are the children going to learn to care? (Answer: if they do, it will not be from Mom and Dad.)
From a spiritual and religious point of view, I believe serving others is necessary, and a large part of the reason why we are here. I also know that it makes you feel better. Part of that is that it reminds you that you have something to offer, and that you are capable of doing things. It gets you looking outward.
Really, any of the previously stated items have the tendency to take you away from the self-absorption into the realization that there is something bigger than yourself, and that leads to the last part…
Developing a personal relationship with God: You can teach children about God, and to fear Him, but it’s not the same as actually building a relationship with Him. I know that a lot of what got me through was the scripture reading and the praying that I did. The morals kept me out of trouble, but just telling a kid that something is wrong without the kid having any personal investment in it doesn’t work. That’s one reason why abstinence-only education is ridiculous.
I have no experience in helping someone else to do this, but I think having your own relationship is a good start, followed by sharing parts of that relationship. One time this happened, and I felt this way. Naturally you need to start this young, because after they start understanding what you say comes a time when they start misunderstanding again, and trying not to listen, and you need to get it in early.
I did actually write a post quite a while ago about starting to get answers, like the basic questions that you would start out with and build on. It felt clunky and unhelpful, and so I have never posted it. I still have the post and I may get back to it.
For some reason, I can’t get the thought of children of bad parents out of my mind, though it seems completely unlikely that any are reading this blog. You can put these tools together on your own. You may be getting a late start, but there will still be people who can become friends, you can still find your talents and work on them, you can still build a relationship with God, and you can always find ways to serve others. You will need to be careful, because there are people who will sense your need and want to exploit it, but there are good people out there too, and good things, and whatever troubles come, it’s worth riding it out. And you can contact me if you want. Put it as a comment with your contact information, and instead of approving it I will just write to you.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Tale of Two Talents

Still transfixed with horror at “Daughter to Father”, I’m going to have to compare and contrast it with another one: “Sunday Clothes” by Charlie Sexton.
First, let’s compare the artists. Lindsey Lohan started out as a child model, moving on to Disney pictures starting with the remake of “The Parent Trap” at age 11, and doing other films. She was generally regarded as a pretty good actress, and seemed pretty stable until, I guess, about 18. The train wreck of her life is pretty well known—if you need to you can look it up.
Charlie Sexton was born to a teen mother in Texas, which is not generally considered a strong beginning, but eventually he and his brother became involved in the Austin music scene, learning from some really great players (and I assume practicing a lot) so that as a fifteen year old he was a respected session musician.
When you think about it, it is completely logical that he got a record deal. Here you have this skilled young musician who is attractive in a manner that is very popular for that time (tall, skinny, brooding, thick black hair, amazing cheek bones), and so at 16 he recorded a solo album, Pictures for Pleasure. Musically he was solid, though I am amazed listening to it now how muted the guitars are when guitar was his thing. Based on that, and what I remember of the concert, and listening to his later work, I would say that he did not really know how to be a front man, he did not get a lot of guidance on that, and that he was not really being himself—still not terribly surprising.
He released another album which was not that successful, and then he went back to working with other musicians, and forming other groups, and just kept on working, now both recording and producing. He may not have the best name recognition, but he has worked steadily and is well-respected.
And the man just keeps getting better looking. If he’s still smoking that may eventually turn on him, but I remember the first time I felt that all was not right with Lindsey Lohan was seeing a clip for the video for “Rumors”, and noticing that she had gone from dewy to leathery really fast, and it did not seem like a good sign.
So, looking at these two talented youth who were catapulted to fame at a fairly young age, how do their music videos looking back on their early family life stack up?
Both videos have the artist singing about their youth, with a child actor representing their younger selves. In Lindsey’s case, it is her younger sister Ali. (Charlie’s brother Will is in “Sunday Clothes”, but just as a band member.) Both have fathers with legal issues. It’s fair to say that both are pretty personal. That’s about the extent of the similarity.
I can’t ignore the quality issue. “Sunday Clothes” is just a much better song. Lyrically it is not overly complicated, and I will admit some of the rhymes seem a little perfunctory. Of course, I have never had to work “vacation Bible school” into a song, and it was germane to the song, so there’s that. The song works as a whole though. It creates a mood, gives you the information you need to know, and you want to listen again.
“Confessions” is awful. Talking about writing in a previous post I mentioned the need to not get overwrought when dealing with heavy emotion. Sometimes you can go for broke, especially in opera, but you need to really be careful or it is so easy to crash, and people feel the wrong things. I am sure I am supposed to feel pain, but mainly I feel horror, and if I didn’t have a heart, it would probably be laughter. It’s awful.
There is a note of melancholy in “Sunday Clothes”, but it is ultimately joyful, or at least peaceful. I think there are two key relational aspects to this. The most obvious one is that his grandmother is there being a good influence. It’s more subtle, but while his father is in prison, and that is sad (“visiting day at the penitentiary was where I learned to cry”), somehow I get the impression that Sexton does not question his father’s love for him, even if he could question his life choices. Lohan is specifically asking “Did you ever love me?” which is pretty awful to have as a sincere question.
“Confessions” is a train wreck, which is a term that I had used earlier to describe Lohan herself. There’s a certain symmetry to it, really, but I was surprised at how protective I ended up feeling. I know that putting your pain into your art can be a way of processing and healing, but there does not seem to be any healing going on here. Granted, in “Sunday Clothes” Charlie Sexton is farther removed from his childhood, so that distance may help. Maybe if she had processed a little more, so that the emotions were less raw, she would be better off, but mainly I felt like someone should pull her out of there, tuck her into bed and speak soothingly until she could calm down. I was upset with her mother because that should be her job, and yet this video is very self-serving to Dina, making her a victim of this evil man also. I do not doubt in any way that Michael Lohan is not the greatest parent, and denial on the child’s part is not necessarily helpful, but I just know this isn’t working.
“Sunday Clothes” is from Under the Wishing Tree, his 1995 release. I also have Pictures for Pleasure of course (1985), and Cruel and Gentle Things (2005). I do not have Charlie Sexton (1989), or any of the Arc Angels releases (1992 and 2009) or Southside Sessions (a collaboration with Shannon McNally from 2006). So basically I check in about every ten years. I could feel like a bad fan, but I did have the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop II for his song, "In Deep". (I may still have it. My vinyl got separated from the CDs and tapes.)
Anyway, I was listening to all three of the CDs I have in relation to the guitar thing, and there’s an interesting transition. In some ways, Under the Wishing Tree seems experimental. There are some very different sounds (especially on “Dark”), and some really different song lengths (“Plain Bad Luck and Innocent Mistakes” clocks in at just over twelve minutes), and there is some definite loss. In fact, one common thread in many of the songs is a shapeless dread, where there is a definite threat that is not known or understood, but undeniably felt.
“Sunday Clothes” is not even the song that most captures his relationship with his father. Try “Spanish Words” for that. My feeling though is that “Sunday Clothes” is the bridge. It would not sound out of place on Cruel and Gentle Things, and it is the key to getting past the threat and the hole and the fear, getting past the Dark, and choosing the future, choosing life. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that it is shortly after Under the Wishing Tree that his son was born.
To be fair, Lindsey is not that far along now. She could still do a turnaround, and make a good life for herself, and maybe in another ten years it will look like things are heading that way. I hope so.
It is easier to feel optimistic for Charlie. He had that talent and skill that he just kept developing and using, and was probably lost in the music many times, which is better than many of the other options for being lost. In addition, he had Grandma there on his side.
“I never understood it all that well back then, but it probably saved my life.”

Saturday, April 28, 2012

It’s Different for Girls

Disturbed about the disparity of the toll popular success takes on the girls, I wanted to figure out why, and I had various different thoughts.

One is that the girls are usually marketed solo, whereas the boys are in groups. That may provide some camaraderie and dilute the spotlight, which could be helpful. If that is the case, Justin Bieber is still the boy in the most danger. I don’t know a lot about the personal lives of the Pussycat Dolls, but that might be a good sign.
I guess this might be a good time to give my news sources here. I don’t read any entertainment magazines on a regular basis, though sometimes my sisters will pick them up on vacation, and then I might flip through them. I don’t really watch any entertainment gossip shows. I would sometimes see the TMZ show, but I rarely recognized any of the people they were talking about. (They do seem to have fun in the staff room though.)
I do read the gossip section in the Oregonian, I do use AOL and sometimes click on links with celebrity information if a headline sounds interesting (though it usually is not as interesting as it sounded), and I do check Television Without Pity a lot, and most of my knowledge of reality television comes from their “The Most Heinous Personality on Reality TV This Week” feature. Therefore, I may know a lot less than most people on this topic, but I did looks some things up on Wikipedia. Anyway, that’s my full disclosure before I make my next statement:
It is possible that by complete coincidence the girls have much worse parents. You could make an argument for that. I don’t think it is generally helpful for your long-term happiness to have a “mom-ager”, especially one who will tell you that you are not pulling your own weight because you weigh too much. But can I tell you how much I don’t want to feel like I need to worry about whether the Kardashians have the emotional resources to lead happy and fulfilling lives? There can’t be any satisfaction in that. And I don’t want to worry about Leeann Rimes having a nervous breakdown when Eddie Cibrian cheats on her. Sure, when you cheat, you get a cheater, but she seems so fragile.
Talking with another friend, we discussed the possibility of it being somewhat of an age issue. The music is marketed more to youth, and the image of the boys is marketed to youth, but the image of the girls is also sold to men. Many of these girls do end up dating older. There is certainly more of an effort to make the girls sexy.
Really, what they do to make the boys attractive to adolescent girls is pretty innocent. Even looking back to when I looked through teen magazines incessantly, I don’t remember a lot of shirtless shots, and even if the chest was bare, there was usually another shirt or a towel or something. And that is fine, because stripping teenage boys for the pleasure of teenage girls seems pretty wrong.
Teeny skirts and pushup bras for the girls does not seem any less wrong, but it happens. I remember reading an early review of a Britney Spears concert (way before she shaved her head) and one thing it mentioned was the props were all of these childhood things, like beach balls and lollipops I guess (maybe that’s just what Katy Perry uses now), so there is combining childhood and innocence with sex. The boys may hold the teddy bears, but they do it fully-clothed. I suppose the epitome of it is the sexy schoolgirl outfit. I don’t think there is a sexy schoolboy equivalent.
There are two currents here that are bad. One is the infantilization of the girls, which is a problem, but then there is also the depravity of sexualizing childhood. I realize this is not anything new. Both of those trends have been around for a long time, and there’s no signs of them going away, but are we even thinking about the impact?
I did notice some common themes while listening to the various songs. For many of the male songs—so not just boy bands, but also Bieber and also Bruno Mars–it is about love for a girl who is beautiful and does not know it. It’s not just that he finds her beautiful because he loves her; that would be touching. No, it is specifically mentioned that other people are turning their heads to stare at how perfect she is, but she does not know. Also, they will give her gifts.
Clearly the ideal is an attractive girl with no self-esteem, and then we will buy her nice things, which she will take pretty seriously based on the lack of self-esteem. Because we all know that an unattractive female has no value, and one who thinks for herself or can buy things for herself just gets uppity, so I guess it’s a good thing that the boys are thinking like a predator because that’s how you get the really good relationships.
The female songs were often about independence or manipulating men, so I guess they deserve what they get, right? If a girl does realize she has some power over you, she is just going to use it to finagle away all your money. Go Girl Power!
I guess I have two divergent trains of thought on the subject. One is the importance of parenting.
Still listening to interviews with musicians, and reading, and something that has struck me is that the well-adjusted ones mention their families a lot, and mention them positively. It’s not that they are specifically asked about families or how they turned out well, but just as a part of talking about their lives and music, happy family memories come out. (Tyson Ritter is especially adorable with this.) Perhaps then it is not too surprising that the one who specifically mentions his father withholding love to make him play better does not seem to be able to get his act together. He knows what he needs to do, he doesn’t like his life as it is, but he just can’t seem to translate that into action.
I think this should be comforting for good parents. No, it does not mean that they will never say that they hate you, or do stupid things or worry you—that’s off the table. But if you are consistently loving them, encouraging them (not being a helicopter parent, because that gives you a whole new set of problems), and being there for them, you are giving them a very powerful gift, and that should give you some hope during the rough times.
Now if you are a child of bad parents, that is not comforting at all, and I’m sorry. It’s not fair, but you probably already know that. What I can tell you is that it is not a sentence of doom. You will need to do some extra work, and be more conscious of your choices, but you can rise above it, and you owe it to yourself to do so.
The other thought is that current society must be a big disappointment to the feminist movement. So, I will explore both of those things in the next few posts, after taking a side trip to compare two wildly different stories.
Also, I did find an post that I found amusing, and I am linking to that, but also it made one completely valid point in that why do we call it “girl groups” and “boy bands”; none of the boys are playing an instrument. They’re not a band. I guess it’s the alliteration, and now just a tradition because they’ve been calling them boy bands for a long time, but I’m going to try and retire that one from my vocabulary. It’s sort of an insult to those who’ve actually learned how to do something.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Man

Give up, just quit, because in this life, you can't win. Yeah, you can try, but in the end you're just gonna lose, big time, because the world is run by the Man. The Man, oh, you don't know the Man. He's everywhere. In the White House... down the hall... Ms. Mullins, she's the Man. And the Man ruined the ozone, he's burning down the Amazon, and he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank! And there used to be a way to stick it to the Man. It was called rock 'n roll, but guess what, oh no, the Man ruined that, too, with a little thing called MTV! So don't waste your time trying to make anything cool or pure or awesome 'cause the Man is just gonna call you a fat washed up loser and crush your soul. So do yourselves a favor and just GIVE UP!” – Dewey Finn, School of Rock
Since we got cable, MTV and the Disney Channel were probably my two favorite channels. Music videos were an amazing world, and it was so much more enthralling to be able to see the artists than to just listen to them on the radio.
Disney Channel had Disney stuff, which was cool, but there were also series from Canada and Australia, and classic movies. Every Gary Cooper movie I have seen was on the Disney Channel.
What they once were, they no longer are, and in their own corporate way, from “The Real World” to “The Jonas Brothers”, they have robbed us all, catering to youth by sinking to a level that youth should be insulted by, so that even the stars that are not directly connected fit in with it.
First of all, I get the appeal of Justin Bieber. I have never been a big fan of Michael Jackson in any of his incarnations, but I find Bieber somewhat reminiscent of Jackson 5 Michael, and I know there are a lot of people who do like that. (I realize this comparison will offend some, but wait till my next sentence.) Based on this, my advice for Bieber is to avoid plastic surgery and small boys. (Crude perhaps, but I wish I was sure that was a joke.)
I also realize that I should really cut Taylor Swift some slack. She pursued music on her own, plays and writes, and her music is personal even if it is shallow. Really, she’s kind of the Debbie Gibson of today, unless Mandy Moore is. I guess I’m just going to have to fall back on a lack of chemistry there. Maybe it’s her country roots. She is still not the pre-packaged abomination that I have concerns with.
Writing about the Top 100 Guitar Songs list, I gave some praise to “Seven Nation Army” for stripping down to the basics, and it got more credit for doing it at a time when the trend was towards overproduction of everything. It seems this is a recurring trend. I think to some extent that is what fueled Adele’s popularity. She sounded like she was for grownups at a time when that pretty rare. (Though we do not like her, and found it funny when we realized that was the song Mom was complaining about because it was on every time she got into the car.)
I said I don’t have a problem with selling, but it does matter what you sell. Let’s say you start out with a child who is reasonably cute and personable, and has either an interest in performing or a parent interested in exploitation. First we will start out with a television show. Kids are stupid and unsophisticated, so the show will be poorly-written, contrived, and poorly-acted. It will be effective at selling sheets and clothes and dolls, though.
This is still not enough. There must also be music. It doesn’t matter if the performer can’t sing, because we have Autotune. Of course that means that live performances should be lip-synched, but that’s okay because we are going to choreograph an elaborate dance routine anyway, and being able to sing and dance simultaneously is really hard, and really, what we are selling with you is not skill, it’s cuteness. That’s how you got into the business, that’s how you will stay in the business. This is the kind of situation where it makes sense that Rebecca Black’s parents think that they can buy her a pop career; it’s just another commodity.
There is no getting lost in the skill of acting, because all that is required is goggle eyes and spit takes.  There is no getting lost in the music here, because there barely is any music here, and they are squeezing the joy out of the semblance of music that is left.
That’s annoying, and seems like a lost opportunity, but I went from annoyed to angry with a single video: “Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter to Father)” by Lindsey Lohan. Wow. No, the “wow” is not because it is so good. It’s because it’s so uncomfortable.
I will get back to this, but thinking about Lohan’s issues reminded me of Britney’s breakdown, and Jessica’s divorce, and Demi Lovato’s meltdown and stint in rehab, and the writing on the wall for Miley Cyrus, and it seems to me that the girls pay a much higher price for this process than they boys. I am not comfortable with that. Part of this process will be trying to figure out why things are this way.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Music Biz

First of all, let me be clear that I don’t have a problem with anyone making money off of music. From the sidewalk busker with the guitar case open and the homemade CDs for sale to the merch table at a punk show, to the web sites where you can buy jackets with the band’s logo—hey, musicians need to eat, and they are offering something for the money. I’m pragmatic about that. (I do think Ticketmaster’s cut is ridiculous, but that’s a separate story.)
I don’t automatically have a problem with studio-created bands either. My CD collection contains C+C Music Factory, Technotronic, No Mercy, and the Monkees, and if they don’t necessarily have the staying power of the Clash, well, not all bands that start as a bunch of friends playing in a garage have that staying power either. Some things work out, and some don’t, and it’s not always a matter of worthiness.
Sometimes when I am working on a topic things that would appear to be only tangentially related pop up that enrich the whole experience. So one interesting piece that I found was this:
Without spending time on Kinkade, or even the article, the main thing that was interesting is kitsch is not necessarily harmless, and it is most harmful to those who do not see it as kitsch. So, back to that “pop” music.
I realize that there are people who are down on pop music in general, some because they consider it to be too shallow, and some specifically for the popularity from which it derives its name. That’s not me. First of all, there is a wide range in the level of depth and seriousness, and if a song about dancing makes you feel like dancing, well at least it’s accomplished something.
Also, I am not one to hate something for being popular. I deleted someone on Facebook once for using the term “sheeple”. Okay, there had been irritation leading up to it, but it all revolved around that attitude of superiority.  Lots of people liking something is not an automatic indictment, and the art needs to be judged on its own merit.  I do get irritated by hype, but that is more of an issue of the item not deserving it. I don’t hate “Twilight” because it’s popular—I hate it because it’s crap, and because it is crap, I hate that it is popular. There may still be some snobbery in my attitude, but I can’t just dismiss people or their taste in general. They need to be judged on their own merits too.
I suppose that is why I felt like I had to subject myself to listening to so much contemporary music, as opposed to just assuming I would hate it. Now I have listened to songs and watched videos (or parts of videos) by Justin Bieber, One Direction, Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, 98 Degrees, (I felt like I already had enough familiarity with the New Kids on the Block), Jonas Brothers, Naked Brothers, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Ashlee Simpson, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Hilary Duff, Aly & AJ, Miley Cyrus, and Lindsey Lohan.
First point, and this is absolutely essential, my disdain has been vindicated. I realize my education may not be complete until I also watch a few episodes of American Idol, and if that is the case I am taking some time off from school, but yes, this is a ton of garbage, and I am lucky that my mind scrubs out stuff like this so none of it is stuck in my head. I can recall little phrases if I try, and I certainly got a few laughs along the way (especially Jonas Brothers “Bounce”; it’s their attempt at hip hop, and it’s funny and sad).
This is where I start rambling and having a hard time with organization though, and I’m not quite sure where to go with it. Actually, that’s not right. It goes in multiple directions, so the question is what order to hit things in, and also staying coherent, especially as we reach the point where I get mad. (Seriously, I have eleven pages of notes, and I am still neither done nor coherent.)
Really, in some ways I think I have done very well with this. I mean, I have been posting consistently, none of the posts are too long, and most of them have been pretty focused until the last two days, I guess, so that is going well. If you are not interested in music, or in my thoughts on music, it’s probably been pretty annoying.
What comes ahead is why this “music” is not merely not good, but potentially harmful, socially aware commentary, and parenting advice from someone who doesn’t have any nieces or nephews. Sometimes it’s hard to take the excitement.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Genre busting

“There are only two kinds of music, good and bad.” – Duke Ellington

Actually, lots of people seem to have said that one, but apparently Ellington said it when asked to define jazz. At the same time, when I was updating my review for “Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life” on Goodreads, I read some other reviews, and one person was complaining about the title because one of the featured bands was hip hop, which meant the title should be “Commercial Pop will Save My Life”.

The change in possessive is because he felt the book was too much about Steve Almond (fair), but I think some of the genre thing was also a slam at Dave Grohl, whom the reviewer referred to as a commercial pop hack (unfair) and who ended up being kind of the hero of the book as the one who was both successful and happy. I think the problem with the title is that it sounds cool, but is simply not demonstrated by the book at all. The inclusion of hip hop was a fairly minor part, and having that as a complaint seems churlish.

In addition, the more I listen to different music, the more I feel like I am moving away from finding genres helpful. They can be in a broad sense. Something that is likely to be called punk is unlikely to be called country (unless it’s punkabilly, I guess). If you gravitate towards the Ramones, it is likely that you will prefer the Clash to Tim McGraw, but you can’t be sure. I love both the Clash and the Ramones, but I have no use for the Sex Pistols (at least not yet), and yes, they are a legacy from college, but I have two Martina McBride CDs in my collection.

Going further than that, even within a band’s discography there may be a lot of variation. It would be wrong to stubbornly confine a band to their previous image. Ozzy Osbourne’s “So Tired” came around before it was fashionable for metal bands to have power ballads, and it’s not really a power ballad anyway. It’s not metal, but it is Ozzy, and he is metal, so what does that make it? Just a good song. Being able to grow and experiment can make artists happier and more fulfilled, and it can broaden your appreciation, so if your band keeps reinventing itself, give it a chance.

There was a story from Springfest that I had not recounted earlier, but I was thinking about. The winner of the Battle of the Bands was Shumba, which was a sort of a pseudo-African tribal music group with a lot of marimba and gourds and things. This is not to knock them—they were a real crowd pleaser— and where they really scored big points was in diversity. (Yes, diversity was one of the categories on the scoring ballot, and if you know anything about University of Oregon, that should not surprise you at all.)

Anyway, talking with John later (Something She Said came in third), he pointed out that they were scoring all the diversity points because they were different from the other bands, but there was not really musical diversity because all of their numbers sounded the same. He was right. He mentioned the Pogues as a good example of a group that experiments a lot, and I don’t know a lot of their stuff, but it seems fair. Some of the love songs I considered for the Valentine’s Day countdown ended up being dismissed because they sound too much like the band’s other songs, and that loses something too. (Fine, that was mainly anything by Air Supply and Journey, even though I like them.)

Anyway, genres came up again as part of this project, and this is kind of a funny, multi-part story, so I’m just going to throw it in.

One of the bands I listened to for my “pop” listening was One Direction. The reason I knew there was such a thing is that when I was listening to Justin Bieber I was not sure if I was listening to old stuff or new stuff, so I sent Lisa an instant message asking if his voice had changed yet. Yes, she is the one who gave me the Mean Jeans CD and provided the alternative love songs list, but also she’d had a little bit of the Bieber fever, thinking he was really adorable. What I had not known is that his “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was an abomination that turned her against him. (She was not wrong.)

Anyway, asking her about his voice changing (maybe a little), and explaining what I was doing, she said she was watching SNL and that I should check out One Direction, because they were a boy band based on the idea of Bieber. I naturally assumed they were something like 2Gether or the Meaty Cheesy Boys, but she said something else about them, and I had to pause, and write “You mean they were the musical guest? Not a skit?” She confirmed that they were real, and all I could type was “Hulk sad.”

(Which amused her more than I was expecting, but I believe her boyfriend is into graphic novels.)

After listening to One Direction and watching one of their videos, I was saying how much it reminded me of the Blink 182 video for “All the Small Things”, and suddenly Lisa was going off on how they were not punk because once you were making millions of dollars you were no longer punk. I see her point, though I am not sure I agree, but the other Lisa actually stormed out, unable to deal. I kind of think something else was bothering her, because she’s more in Christian music and rap, but it was really weird.

If I have a point here (which is a little questionable), it’s that I’m leaning towards Ellington being right. It is completely possible to disagree on what is good, and have it go back to your chemistry with the song, but there’s no point in being a slave to genres, and deciding that you hate country and like ska and love reggae but electronica is stupid (even though I kind of do want to say some of those things).

Saying that, I should probably just say that it is all subjective, and whatever you like is great; it’s all good. I can’t quite do that, though, and that’s going to be our transition into exploring the dark side of “pop”.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lost in the Music

My opening anecdote for this one will only use initials. We have a friend who we believe is on the Aspergers-Autism spectrum. He is smart and high-functioning, but he does get lost in his thoughts pretty easily, and he is not good at picking up social queues, especially from girls flirting with him. We shall call him B.

When we were still getting to know him, we would hear things back from other girls about how mean he was or how stuck on himself he was, and it did not make sense at all, because we had found him really friendly and engaging. We happened to share some interests, and we started a conversation that was great, and we thought he was fine.

As we had more encounters and saw that you did need to work to get his attention, and observed girls trying to hit on him, and figured out whom the negative reports were coming from, it all started to make sense. Needy insecure girls would try very hard to get B to ask them out, or to compliment them, or something, they would fail miserably and decide he was a jerk.

This was not B’s fault. First of all, they were game-playing, which most guys do not do well with anyway. Honestly, it’s the guys who play the game exactly right that you should worry about. They don’t usually get that way by being great boyfriend material. So the girls were starting out wrong in the first place, and in the second place B had no idea that there was even a game on.

I do not think this means that he can never be successful romantically. What he will need is a woman who is confident in herself, not only in that she does not need a lot of building up, but that she is comfortable in asking for what she does need, clearly. Also, it would not hurt her to keep something shiny in her pocket, maybe be willing to jangle keys or something as the occasion warrants. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

Anyway, I was watching a video by a band I like (not My Chemical Romance in this case), and they were showing the drummer, and he was really focused and in the zone, I guess, and it flashed over me that if B was a drummer, that was exactly how he would play.

This is not in any way to imply that R (the drummer) is on the spectrum as well, but it started me paying more attention to how musicians play.

Not all of them get lost in their own little world. Sometimes it is a shared world between two guitarists. With the Goo Goo Dolls, Johnny Rzeznik and Robby Takac are very connected while playing. You totally buy them as best friends. 

There is room for different contexts as well. A musician in the middle of composing, versus practicing, versus performing, is going to be operating at different levels. Nonetheless, it is often easy to see that they are being transported by the music.

Even if it’s not as easy to do now, I used to watch music videos all the time, and they weren’t all elaborate shoots in Sri Lanka. Sometimes it was just a band playing on a dark set with leaves flying around or something. I enjoy these videos a lot too, though, because often you can see the pure joy that they get from the performing. And if you think about what goes into a regular film shoot, it’s amazing that they are looking joyful, because this could easily be take 30, and they keep getting stopped in the middle for touch-ups or camera adjustments, but there is still that love for what they do.

That’s why I can’t really be surprised when bands that used to play arenas play small towns like Lewiston, Idaho, or when a few weeks after your friend’s band breaks up, he’s formed a new one (or he’s in multiple bands at the same time). It’s in their blood and they can’t stop.

I know there are girlfriends who hate this, and girlfriends who appreciate the time off, and really, it can totally play havoc with the schedule. It’s love, though, and so I can’t help but approve. Maybe that’s part of why my experience with musicians has generally been that they are really kind people. They have something bigger than the individual that brings them together as groups, and then brings more people together for an audience. (And no matter how many times you disappoint them, they will never quit inviting you to their shows. They can’t.) I know there are obnoxious musicians, but it’s more something I’ve heard about than experienced.

By the same token, it’s gratifying that when I listen to interviews with the bands that I like they seem likable. Some of it could be image control, but maybe their personality comes through their music, and that’s where some of the chemistry comes from.

(It’s not foolproof. I have not really seen any Gin Blossoms interviews, but I worry that I might not want to be around them when they’re drinking, and I can’t shake this nagging feeling that John Waite is a jerk, or at least has been one. I hope I’m wrong.)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Music, Movies, & Books

Today’s post is going to be kind of trivial. It may be somewhat interesting, but I’m also using it to buy time. My musings from listening to the “pop” music ended up a bit more serious than I intended them to be, with a lot playing into it.

One potential issue is that it will result in an unusually meandering post, even for me. That can work for a complex topic, but it can also dilute things, and this is important. And it’s kind of getting into the social/political realm again, where I really thought I was just going to write about music for a while, then some television writing, and have kind of a break from the serious. Long story short, I’m ordering my thoughts, so here’s some filler.

Recently I have listened to mentions of both musicians having movies running in the background while they are working, and of writers having music in the background when they are working.

This makes sense. There is artistic stimulation, but not of they same type you are working on, which would interfere, and someone asked what songs do you play when you are writing.
Well, it depends a lot depending on what I am working on, but I can cover the major screenplays and projects here.

Obviously I am listening to Danger Days by My Chemical Romance for the graphic novel. The other CDs I am listening to more when I am working or blogging, and they do have parts that relate, but it is really mainly Danger Days. In fact, one song, “The Only Hope for Me is You” relates so well to the Christmas Eve scene that if it was a cheesy musical, the two leads would sing it together, and I can see exactly how they would circle, not facing each other, to convey that they are distant, even though they are both on stage. And it is not at all that the song is cheesy, or that the emotions in the scene should be, but musicals can be, and you need to make sure not to get overwrought when you are dealing with strong emotions, so having that image tells me she needs to not say very much, and he needs to not be shown at all.

Something that I am going to be working on soon, for television (but I am not ready to talk about it yet), I believe will be a mix of the Damned and the Eurythmics. It works. On to the movies.

First of all, Jade Mask and Past Present do not have associated music. I guess there just isn’t really anything to fit them. Jade Mask would almost certainly have a sound track, but Past Present is kind of heavy, and neither softening it or accentuating it would work. I think you would need to kind of go like Hitchcock did with The Birds. Coulrophobia did not have any specific music for it either, and I have no good reason for that. I guess Slipknot or Insane Clown Posse would have made the most sense, but no.

The two dance movies have the strongest musical associations. Between the Lines started with line dancing, so it is all songs that have dances, and one that totally should. They are Dance with You, by George Strait; Any Man of Mine, Shania Twain; 500 Miles, the Proclaimes; and Karma Chameleon by Culture Club (you listen to it and tell me that it is not a little bit country). I think I played Footloose a few times too, which also works.

Incidentally, you are not supposed to designate songs in a screenplay, because the director will probably want a say, and then a lot of it will come down to obtaining song rights, and I get that, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t know what it should be.

With Out of Step, “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer, and “Barely Breathing” by Duncan Sheik are really pretty necessary, along with various ballroom dancing type pieces, and also “Bring Me to Life” by Evanscence.

Against the Grain will pretty much be a lot of punk, and especially needs to have “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” by the Ramones. It is the perfect song for their first encounter. The untitled Scottish movie definitely goes with “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton, but I suspect I will also be listening to Big Country, Bay City Rollers, and more Proclaimers.

Working on Counting the Cost (that was the one that had both a writing partner and it was a novel adaptation) had a key scene where “Put You Little Foot” was featured, so I would play that and then other songs with similar moods, like “Tennessee Waltz”.

Hungry does have some known songs, including both a slow and a faster version of “Forever Young” by Alphaville (actually, I changed the scene that would have used the faster version, so maybe not), as well as “Howling at the Moon” by the Ramones. There would be one pulsing techno track that becomes just a beat during the attack. However, I also ended up writing a lot for it. Some were songs that would belong on the soundtrack, and then sometimes I would be working on something that I would think would be for the movie, but then it didn’t fit when I was done, and yet it was still connected. And while the song for the photo shoot “More More More” is kind of weak, and could easily be traded out, the song for the end credits is perfect, provides a nice motif for the score, and would sound perfect sung by David Bowie who has a good vampire connection.

I think that ultimately that will be one I will have to produce on my own. It has been such a part of my life for so long, starting with a scary dream I had when I was 14 and changing and growing with me, and I have such strong ideas about it, that I can’t imagine handing it over to someone else.

What about the book connection? Well, as I have been taking this musical writing journey, and wishing I knew more about various things, and in many cases, there are books on my reading list that if I had already read them, they would probably be quite helpful. That’s just what I get for always being behind on my reading. (Sadly, I find books I want to read about three times faster than I read them.)

On the plus side, having already read Talking to Girls about Duran Duran and Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield and Rock On by Dan Kennedy has been good, and although I did not enjoy Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life by Steve Almond as much as I wanted to, it provided some food for thought as well. Anyway, here are some titles that I expect to enjoy:

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation, Jeff Chang
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Oliver Sacks
No Commercial Potential: The Saga of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, David Walley
Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James & the Shondells, Tommy James
Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture
Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence, Rosalind Wiseman
The House that Berry Built, Dornford Yates
Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music, Ellen Willis
Guitar Player Presents Guitar Heroes of the ‘70s, Michael Molenda
I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, Craig Marks
The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best Kept Secret, Kent Hartman

Some of those may not seem to fit, but believe me, they will.

I am pretty sure I will check out Nile Rodgers’ memoir at some point. I would love for Bob Rock to write one.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Notes from a fan-girl

I thought it would be a good idea to address the My Chemical Romance obsession, because I know it’s noticeable. I am completely comfortable loving the band and listening to the band, but there is also this sense that I have reverted to being a 14-year old girl, and I’m not quite as thrilled about that. Let's be clear what that entails, also. I am not dreaming about marrying any of them, doodling their names into hearts, or changing my user name to MCRfan, but I am listening obsessively, wanting to talk about the music, and verging on gushing.

Although I had seen clips of someone (not a band member) talking about ”Helena” on some VH1 show, you couldn’t really hear the song from that, so all I know is some guy was talking about remembering a hot dead girl. I was not really watching music videos at the time really, as the music video channels were now showing shows about people’s memories of music videos (and other things) rather than videos themselves. My first actual introduction to the music came when I was writing the ward history for 2007, and I wanted to interview all of the people who had gotten baptized that year. Ryan’s ring was “Welcome to the Black Parade”, and even though it was just the “We’ll carry on” part, I loved it. I had to ask Maria to tell me what it was.

Now one would think that I would have gotten into them then, and I can’t really give any good reason why I didn’t. Maybe I was not ready for them yet, except I did end up being totally ready for “I’m Not Okay”, and getting really into that about a year later. This happened after the world economy collapsed, and I lost my job, and I got the flu, and one morning I woke up to hear my mother crying, and found out Zio Paolo had died, and the last thing that happened before I went to bed that night was finding out that Josh had died, and we were iced in for four non-consecutive weeks, and I got the job offer from HR Block right after I signed the non-compete clause with Liberty, but before I found out that he was not really going to have enough work to keep all of us busy, and there was more but basically, yes, during that time I can promise you that I was not okay. I listened to that song a lot, and sang it a lot, whenever I was in the house alone.

It would have made sense for me to have clicked around more and listened to more songs, but actually, I was listening to a lot of Keane too. I was drawn to them by “Somewhere Only We Know”, but the one that ended up really keeping me was “Everybody’s Changing”. Based on the title, that was not really my problem. My life was upside down, but everybody else seemed pretty stable. Still that line, “Trying to make a move just to stay in the game, I try to stay awake and remember my name,” resonated with me. Often I kind of listen to music in pairs, and “I’m Not Okay” and “Everybody’s Changing” were it.

So time went on. After about a year temp jobs came that kept me going, a real job came that has a lot of good things about it, but there was certainly some stress in the adjustment, and it came at a time when there was a side project that was driving me crazy, and then there was the refinance and Mom’s surgeries and other stressors which I have not really written about yet, but will, and there was never really time to breathe.

On the simplest level, the change came from the Valentine’s song list, when Lisa provided her alternatives. As I was listening to “Saturday Night” over and over again, it formed a new couplet with “I’m Not Okay” (in some ways they are more compatible than the original pairing), and this time I started clicking on other things. Yes I did click on other Misfits songs, and I like a lot of it. Even more though, I clicked on more My Chemical Romance songs.

The tipping point was really “Na Na Na”. Suddenly I was listening to everything—all songs, all interviews, and even related bands, like Pencey Prep (Frank Iero’s old band) and Mindless Self-Indulgence (Gerard’s wife’s band).

I think there are two points to the obsessive part. One is that this is all new. Usually when a new song gets to me, I will play it repeatedly, but it is only one song. Right now I am listening to three of their CDs plus Pencey Prep, and counting bonus tracks that’s about fifty different songs, and I have had days where I have listened to all of them, some of the tracks multiple times, plus whatever I was working on for the guitar list. I have said that I lean more towards OCD than ADD, and that is true, but I can still get a bit on the hyperactive side, and I am prone to getting over-stimulated. So there’s that going on, and that is probably a big part of how I may resemble this teenager hopped up on music.

There is a bigger picture though. Going back to the end of 2008, and all of the awful things that followed, at that time I was so stressed out that it was easy to know that I was not okay.  As things settled down, being out of crisis mode was good, but I had been in it so long that I did not even realize that I had built up a sizable fun deficit, and a satisfaction deficit.

Now I’m getting at the point where things are turning around. I am getting into a regular exercise routine again, and making sure to get outside again. Those are huge for me. We have traveled again, and we have more travel coming up. And I am writing again. When I wrote out my ten year plan in those areas after my birthday, I was not specifically thinking about how much I had been missing them—I just wanted to make sure that I had good things going on in my life, regardless of what else might or might not happen. It’s only starting to hit me now how much I had been missing it, and the writing was the final key.

It was hard to get started again. First of all it takes time, which is always in short supply, but there is also an element of habit, and no matter how many times I would try and eke out a blog post, even succeeding sometimes, I was not really there.

So, My Chemical Romance is a big part of that. First of all, musically it’s been a while since I have really taken to anything new. Even when I find a song from this century that I like (“World Spins Madly On” by the Weepies, “Never Forget You” by the Noisettes, “Hey Soul Sister” by Train), I don’t tend to like anything else by them. I’m fine listening to older stuff, but it’s nice to know that the music has not actually died.

Also, they are a huge part of my writing again. The graphic novel is because of them, and even with no expectations for it specifically, it feels good to be writing in that format again. It has been a long time. The blogging is sticking now, and they are a big part of that. Not only are they inspiring it, but they are playing most of the time when I am writing it.

I know their fan base skews a lot younger, and I don’t know whom I would attend a concert with, but it’s something, and it is exciting for me. I remember once noticing that a lot of people in the age group right above me were country fans, and I wasn’t sure if they had always been, or that they just changed, and their tastes changed (and degraded). Nope, I still want to rock. And as much as a relief as it might be to not be a teenager anymore, I don’t want to be mentally old either. I’m pretty sure I’m not.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Favorite music memories, not specifically guitar

I am enjoying tripping down memory lane, so here are a few more.

In honor of Record Store Day, I must mention trips to Tower Records with Mike—not that we did it that much, but he had always heard some thing new that he was checking out, and he really knew a lot about music. I have seen him play drums, guitar, banjo, and piano, including an absolutely beautiful piece that he composed, and that I really hope he did something with. So really, it is memories of Mike. Other good memories are…

Mom banging her cane up and down to “Howling for You” by the Black Keys: It was after her second knee surgery, and the recovery was going a lot better than the it did for the first one. Maria had her iPod in the docking station, and that came on, and Mom started going down the hall, rocking out to the music. Because her cane had this metal ring that was kind of loose, basically she became the percussion. She doesn’t use her cane anymore (sometimes I think she should), so even though she may still rock out on occasion, it will never be like that again.

Riding out to Sherwood to Hunting High and Low by a-ha: As long as we are going with family memories, this happened all the time. We had friends there, and Mom and Julie and Maria and I would pile into the Colt to go see them. I had recorded my vinyl copy of the album onto a cassette, and it was always in the tape deck, and we would sing along the whole way. I bet we still all have the entire album memorized.

Group sing to “Bohemian Rhapsody” (in the style of Queen) at Voicebox: A group of us for work had gone for happy hour. Voicebox has private karaoke rooms. I suspected this would be fun, so I insisted that we do this number, and all sing along, and it was awesome. Everyone was singing and passing the mic around, and not only was there air guitar, there was air piano. The only person who did not get really into it was Scott. Poor kid was not only too young for Queen—he was even too young for Wayne’s World.

Choreographing dance numbers for ward talent shows: I choreographed numbers for ET twice: one with her husband for “The Music of the Night”, and one with Mollie to “’Cause I’m a Blonde” by Julie Brown. Then there was one with my sisters and some friends for “Ice Ice Baby”. We did use humorous elements in all of them, but there were some cool things too, and they were crowd-pleasers, and it was just kind of fun.

Now, attending jam sessions does not exactly make the list, just because while I find them interesting and always learn something new, as the one who is just observing and not jamming, I tend to feel a bit awkward and useless. Sometime I should try one where there are groupies or girlfriends and try to blend in. I am confident that someone handing me a tambourine would only make things worse.

Here’s the one I have never told anyone: One night I had just attended a dance performance, and I had some waiting time alone at the train station. There was wind, and a flagpole with some rope and hooks, that was being blown in such a manner that the clanging of the hook and the scraping of the rope was making a pretty steady rhythm. Bum-bum-bum, bumm-bumm-bumm. So I did the only logical thing and started dancing.

Springfest Battle of the Bands: Springfest was put on by the dorms, and I volunteered to help with the Battle of the Bands. I got to help a lot. There was a lot to do, and I think we were basically a committee of five. A lot of the pre-work was cool. I made some awesome posters, we screened demo tapes of different bands, and we went to Duke’s to procure equipment.

Duke had a bar in Springfield, but he also rented equipment for music events. If you were a musician in the area back then, you knew about him. I don’t know if he’s still around, but he was great—super helpful and cool.

The day of the event itself was busy—I don’t think I participated in any of the other Springfest events—but it was a good kind of busy, working with the bands, helping with setup, getting ballots to and from the judges, and eventually the take-down, which was not awful because suddenly there were quite a few people helping.

The great thing was that after it was over it was not really over, because there were a bunch of musicians in the area and they all had their instruments, so we were just sitting in the grass and there was random music and dancing going on.

It’s weird how some things are still so clear years later. Like one of the bands, Skunk, that did not even make it in, but I still remember their demo tape, and their logo of a skunk formed by the word.

Looking back there is a sort of wistfulness to it, knowing some of the things that would come later. One of the guys on the committee, who was so helpful and engaged, would later get into drugs and kind of burn out, and I don’t know if he ever came out of that. One of the bands, Something She Said (I still have their tape), broke up shortly after. I had been friends with John, and later on I ended up working with Kurt (at Intel of all places), and he blamed his ego and really wished I could have put him in touch with John (I would have liked that too), but everyone had lost touch, and as far as I can tell neither of them are on Facebook now, and neither is Andrew Diamond of Movement (super-cute—he reminded me of Simon Lebon, they incorporated Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusic into one of their songs, and also very appreciative of my help), If Facebook had already been around, things would have been different, but most people weren’t even using e-mail yet back then.

So looking back there are things that are kind of sad, but that day was golden. We had orchestrated a good time for people, and it certainly would not have been possible without the bands, but this bunch of non-musicians had still been a part of making it happen, and it felt really satisfying.

So many of these memories are about a response that you get. Sometimes it is a physical response that is almost involuntary—you could control it, but why? Sometimes there is an emotional response in you, or the response that you have gotten from others, and there is this unity as you connect to the music together. It can be deeply personal, but also incredibly communal. And I realize that I would totally participate in putting on a music festival now, as scary a thought as that may be. Well, I do have a dream lineup ready to go, so at least there’s that.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Guitar stuff that makes me happy

Rolling Stone was entitled to their opinion, as I am to mine. Without any of the pressure of trying to come up with a comprehensive list or rating, these are just random guitar things that make me happy.

First of all I should say that I listened to “Smoke on the Water” again, and as well as Boston’s “More than a Feeling” (also one debated in the comments). I have thought of both in the past has having good parts, but not really being great songs, but they sounded better to me today. Perhaps my ears have grown three sizes today.
Maybe someday I will even like Tool. For now, these are things that I already like, and liked right away.

12-string guitars: I still remember the first time I heard one. I think I was heading to soccer practice, and there was a guy sitting down on the grass and playing, and I had never heard anything like it. Honestly, it was kind of magical.

Guys playing Van Morrison on the grass—specifically Brown-Eyed Girl: I suppose it could be overdone, or that other songs could work, but there was this really nice guy in the dorms that was playing Brown-Eyed Girl outside one day, and if I had not liked him before, that would have tipped the scales.

“Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes: If I understand correctly this is actually the bass, accompanied by the guitar playing the bass part an octave apart. Still, there is a guitar, and a bass is a guitar, right? So I’m counting it. There was a girl in the dorms who would play this and “Kiss Off” in an endless loop. Actually, I think it was the same person who was always playing the Warlock Pinchers “Morissey” song. Ah, college.

The Presidents of the United States of America: Speaking of non-traditional, they are missing strings from both their guibass and their bassitar, and it still totally works.

“Burning for You” by Blue Oyster Cult: It is really the only song I know from them, and it doesn’t really seem all that metallic, but I love it.

“Just What I Need” by Rufus King: This is also known as Cliff’s Song from “Bring It On”, and it is almost impossible to find anything on the performer, including whether it is a person or a band (this is partially due to there being a Rufus King High School, and historical figure for whom the high school is name, that clouds internet searches. I still love this song. Actually, both the guitar and the drums here make me happy.

“Take it Easy” by Andy Taylor: Yes I used both this and The Neverending Story to thwart Danielle, but this one rocks in a way that the other does not, and decades later it is still infectious. I usually listen to it with “Wild Wild West” by Escape Club”, and maybe “Inside Out” by Eve 6, because they kind of do the same thing for me.

“My Sharona” by the Knack: I was at a dance after not having been dancing for a long time, and this came on, and I just went nuts. I pulled out dance moves that I did not know I had. Honestly, I always thought it sounded like a Kinks song, and that is a compliment.

“Saturday Night” by the Misfits: This came up on the alternative love songs list. When I was memorizing this, in addition to the regular recording I listened to a few clips of Michale Graves doing an acoustic version too, and let me tell you, it is not the same. There guitar here is amazing, and you need the full effect.

I know I am obsessing a bit on the My Chemical Romance front lately, but I am going to limit myself to two here.

First off, “Summertime”. Unlike “Saturday Night”, this works as both acoustic and regular, which is nice because that makes it easier for kids to do in talent shows, which makes me kind of happy. And it is just beautiful. I can’t explain this right, but I was thinking maybe there was a mandolin or something—there is just a really different sound. It looks like it’s just regular guitars, though, and simply gorgeous.

Also, “I’m Not Okay”. This was my anthem for a while, so it holds a soft spot emotionally anyway, but when I did it for karaoke (after wanting to for three years and being intimidated), I was amazed at how the opening guitar affected me. Usually I was listening to it while working on the computer, or singing it around the house a capella, but standing up there something happened to my legs, like with “My Sharona”, where it was just ‘Where did that come from?’

Often music will suggest various visual images to me, and for that part, even before, the image was of turning up the volume. There is kind of an ascending thing going on there, which could explain it, but mainly I think it’s just because the only logical response to that music coming up is to play it loud. Love that song.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Guitar Songs Of All Time

I just finished yesterday. This is a relief, though I was enjoying it more as we got closer to the top.

I personally got the list from Stereogum, through a simple Google search:

Actually, I am not quite done, because although I have gone through and listened to all of the 100, as well as read all the comments, I still want to go through and listen to music from the comments, and this will take a while, as there are many, and most of them are dissenting.

Obviously I have my own disagreements too, but I always feel that way about American Film Institute lists, or book lists, or lists of 100 places to go or foods to eat. 100 is a logical number to use for people who operate on the decimal system, especially when you are in a broad category where just using a top ten would be too restrictive. However, even if picking the number 100 is not arbitrary, once you are making your selections fit inside that number, things do get arbitrary.

Also, I think there can be an issue with definitions. Are the greatest guitar songs great songs that feature guitar, songs that were culturally significant, or songs that are really hard to play? I think the list does some of all of the above.

Personally, I did not find a lot of new stuff that I need to listen to over and over again. Actually, I think I found none of that, and it’s questionable whether I will as I go through the comments. Still, there were things that were good, especially in terms of putting the familiar in a new setting.

First of all, yes, I had heard Smashing Pumpkins “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” (69) and The Smiths “How Soon is Now” (90) before, and not thought much about them one way or another, but yes, they do have something interesting going on with the guitar that I had not noticed. That’s kind of cool. (Also, Billy Corgan has hair in the Pumpkins video, and I had not seen him that way for ages. A lot of people say that haired he resembles Gerard Way, but he reminded me most of Tom Delonge.)

It was also very interesting to listen to the Metallica selection, “Master of Puppets” (33). Now, Metallica is a lot like Duran Duran for me (bet you’ve never heard that before). My sisters (and my brother) are big fans, so they have been played a lot around the home. Even our mother recognizes James Hetfield’s voice right away. (Maria had set Mom’s ring tone to “Master of Puppets” briefly, but Mom gets flustered easily, and we just knew that someday it was going to go off in a bad situation and she would not be able to turn it off quickly, and that just was not a good thing.)

Anyway, I have heard Master of Puppets many times, but never really listened to it. While speculating about the list, Maria had thought maybe “Enter Sandman”, and that certainly has strong guitar work, but listening to them both, “Master” is the obvious choice. It starts out intricately, and it is strong and powerful, and then there is a changeover into a completely different theme that is still powerful, and there is just a lot going on.

Now let’s talk about expectations. While speculating, before actually viewing the list, my first thought was that “Eruption” by Van Halen would have to be on it. It comes in at 6, which seems reasonable, Follow up thoughts were that I would expect to see Hendrix, Eric Claption, Jeff Beck, Santana, and Yngwie Malmsteen, and then I wondered about the guys in GTR.

Hendrix (I am totally good with “Purple Rain” being number 2), Beck, and Clapton get multiple mentions, though Clapton is always under a group, not under his name. Incidentally, I had only heard the acoustic version of Layla before, and the other ways makes a big difference there. Santana is there. Malmsteen is not, and from the comments Steve Vai is not. I admit I had forgotten about him, but that does seem like a fairly glaring omission.

I was not too surprised to not find Steve Howe or Steve Hackett represented. I remember when GTR formed people saying it was like if Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck were forming a band, but I felt that they never lived up to the hype. It’s not that their music was bad, but it wasn’t what the expectations seemed to be leading to, and maybe they just never had a clear enough vision of what it should be. My understanding is that Hackett is not particularly happy with it in retrospect. Still, nothing on the list from Yes, Asia, or Genesis either.

Another thought that I had later was I remember many years ago thinking that it seemed like all the bands with the best riffs were kind of obnoxious. I can tell you that the bands who inspired that thought were Warlock Pinchers, the Offspring, and Blink 182. None of them made the list. I am glad to see the Clash (“London Calling”, 48) and the Ramones (“Blitzkrieg Bop”, 18) on there. I’m not sure it’s their greatest guitar work, but I’ve never really thought of it. I do sort of feel that Steppenwolf “Born to be Wild” should be on there.

There was a lot of flack about the omission of “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. I suppose the argument against it is that every beginning guitar player picks it out, so it can’t be that hard, but at the same time, doesn’t that right there prove that it is classic and influential? I remember hearing my brother play it over and over again, and so when Jack Black has the kid try it out in “School of Rock” or Jake is moody and just keeps playing that and nothing but that on “Two and a Half Men”, it makes me smile.

I think the counterpoint to it is number 21, “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes. Someone in the comments complained because he had seen a 7-year old kid playing it, showing how not great a song it was. Of course, someone else complained that “Eruption” should not be on there because it was not a great song, it was one person showing off. So we can go back to definition, but also, I remember when I first heard “Seven Nation Army”, and even though I didn’t exactly like it, I remember thinking how it was brilliant in how it just stripped down and went back to basics after so much overproduced crap was out there.

I did not expect to find My Chemical Romance there, because there seems to be a strong bias towards older music, and I don’t recall ever hearing anyone talk about how brilliant their guitars are, but remember, part of why I even decided to do this was because I was thinking how much I loved guitar, and I was thinking that because of listening to them. Just wanted to point that out.

Also, I have only just heard the song recently, so I may not have any perspective on it, but "Triumph of Venus" by Torche seems like it could reasonably be included. It just seems special to me.

Other listening material was that I pulled out my Best of Santana CD and all three of my Charlie Sexton CDs and gave them a listen. I don’t think any of Charlie’s work is on there. As a session musician, you don’t always know who is where, but I believe the Stevie Ray Vaughn songs predate Charlie. (He started working in 1983.) Still, interesting thoughts there, that will come back up later.

Also interesting was number 1, “Johnnie B. Goode” by Chuck Berry. My first thought was okay, that makes sense. It is a powerful riff, and it also must have been so new and revolutionary at its time. However, in researching more, I saw this on Wikipedia:

“The opening guitar riff on "Johnny B. Goode" is essentially a note-for-note copy of the opening single-note solo on Louis Jordan's "Ain't That Just Like a Woman" (1946), played by guitarist Carl Hogan.”

Well I tried listening to Just Like a Woman, and it may have been the version that I found, but I didn’t hear it. Still, it’s interesting. Who did invent Rock and Roll anyway?