“The Ocean”

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I feel like I’ve been a little too introspective lately.  While it’s not a bad thing to think, it is a bad thing to get lost in your own head.  I get caught in mental loops and traps, and then I get weird.  Well, weirder than normal, anyway.  Time to break the loops and traps into little teeny tiny pieces.  I can’t think of anything better to do that than a little Led Zeppelin.

This was all inspired by a recent post by Sword Chinned Bitch.  She picked some pretty awesome songs for her coitus musicalus list.  (Seriously, if you can’t get turned on listening to James Brown, Sade, and Led Zeppelin, then your libido is broken.  See a doctor.)  It got me thinking a little about what kind of music gets me going (almost anything involving really, really good guitar).  And it reminded me that sometimes music is makes you move as much as it makes you feel.

Not too long ago, I was minding my own business, sitting at the computer listening to music and playing solitaire.  I wasn’t really thinking about anything–music and solitaire are a zen activity meant to clear my mind of all those pesky thoughts.  Then this tidal wave of drums and guitar came crashing down around my head.

Granted, I didn’t have the lovely visuals of skinny British guys with guitars and tight pants, but it didn’t matter.  I had the music, and it made my insides swoop a little.  Jimmy Page might be my favorite guitar player ever.  Yeah, Hendrix was better.  Okay, Clapton is God (yes, he really is.  I’ll prove it in the next post).  But Jimmy is a wizard, a mad scientist.  His experience as a session man gave him the ability to play anything in any style.  And he played the Gibson Les Paul.  (As electric guitars go, this is arguably the best; it has the most clarity and depth of sound.)  What I love most about Page’s playing is that for all his technicality and innovation, he never loses the spirit or the feeling of the music.

“The Ocean” isn’t just the guitar.  With apologies to every other great rock drummer that ever lived, John Bonham was the only drummer that could coax a melody out of the rhythm.  Robert Plant and John Paul Jones blend in well with the wall of sound created by the guitar and drums; they know they’re not the main attraction of this song, and they don’t get in the way.

I would keep going (because raving about Led Zeppelin is really easy), but I have to go make dinner now.  Listen to the song and fill in your own tributes.

“High Hopes”

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Let’s be happy for a minute.  Not about anything in particular.  Just. . . happy.

It’s not something people do all that often, I think.  We all tend to associate happiness with things or relationships–and we gauge our own happiness by the state of these things or relationships.  But I think that places the responsibility on someone other than yourself.  I’ve discovered through a lot of heartache that happiness is dependent on no one but me.  Yes, things might make me feel happy.  People might make me feel happy.  But it is up to me to continue that happiness once that thing is gone or that person isn’t around anymore.  And when I look inside, way deep down to the place in myself that only I know about, I’m still happy.

So stuff might stress us out–money (or lack thereof), work (or lack thereof), love. . . you get the idea.  Technology doesn’t always work the way you want it to.  The pizza might be soggy.  The laundry might be piling up.  The whole world could be falling down around our ears (and frankly, if you watch the news, it just might be).  We can still be happy.

I think this is just adorable.  Sinatra looks like he’s having the time of his life singing with these kids.  This is also one of my favorite songs by Frank Sinatra, although I always associate it with Laverne & Shirley.  It’s not about happiness per se.  More like finding a way to be happy by solving whatever problems or obstacles might be in your way.  Happiness through accomplishment.  Or sheer stubbornness.  Sometimes I think that’s what it really takes to be truly happy: pure cussed stubbornness.  This far and no farther.

So stop and smell some roses.  Watch the sun set (or rise if you’re a morning person).  Listen to your favorite song.  Go to the movies or for a walk.  Then go home and do the laundry, reheat the pizza, and turn off everything but your smile.  Oh, and while you’re at it, pick up a rubber tree plant.  If an ant can do it, so can you.

The Scourge of Singing Competition Shows

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They’re everywhere these days.  The Voice.  The Choice.  Duets.  And of course, the insidious pox that infected the world, American Idol.  There’s been numerous others that didn’t last.  There’s also the Eurovision contest, but I don’t know enough about it to include it in my excoriation.  Everywhere you turn these days there’s yet another singing competition show, and I have finally had it.

Talent shows have been around pretty much as long as there’s been an entertainment business or elementary schools.  And real talent occasionally emerges from these free-for-alls.  I remember the massive popularity of Star Search when I was a teenager.  Looking at the results of a quick YouTube search, I see that people like Drew Carey, Brittany Spears, Dave Chappelle, and even Beyonce showed up on that travesty of a television show.  But something seemed to happen when American Idol showed up, something very bad.

American Idol was meant to be a way to fast track talented singers for fame and fortune by showcasing them from audition through competition to winning a recording contract, modeled after a British show.  It started airing on Fox in 2002.  The first winner was Kelly Clarkson.  Now, she’s pretty good.  Not great, but pretty good.  I will be the first one to admit that one of the first songs I downloaded when I got itunes and an iPod was “Since U Been Gone” (wow, I hate the using a letter for a word thing, even when Prince does it).

This is a terrific pop song, and Clarkson acquits herself nicely on it.  She sings with verve and personality, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s pretty in that sweet girl-next-door way.  My only problem with it is that none of that matters.  Who cares that Kelly Clarkson sang this song?  Any reasonably talented woman could have handled it just fine.  Brittany Spears, for example.  Or Liz Phair (who is more than reasonably talented).  Or go back a decade or two and give it to Debbie Gibson.  Put a little R&B flair on it and give it to Beyonce.  It doesn’t matter.  She’s just another cog in the machine here.

Now before anyone gets all up in a lather and want to defend Clarkson and her Idol ilk (or any of the other artists I mentioned), hold on.  She is a good singer.  She even tries to break away from the mold by writing her own songs and expressing her own ideas (something her record company hates, btw).  All the contestants and winners from American Idol are good singers.  They don’t pick people like me for the show (can’t carry a tune in a bucket).  Some of the other alumni, like Jennifer Hudson and Carrie Underwood, have gone on to great careers.  I am not knocking anyone’s actual abilities or talents.  That isn’t the problem.  The problem is that they’re all completely interchangeable.

American Idol does not create stars.  It creates cookie cutter performers, most of whom have the personality of wet blanket.  Sure, they’ve got the technical chops, but for the most part they have no style or charisma or any of the wonderful intangible qualities that truly makes a star.  They have images, like Adam Lambert, but little else.  They might as well be invisible because they blend in with everyone and everything else so incredibly well.  This is the real insidious horror that these shows present.  They make it seem like anyone could be the next big star, but in reality, no one is.  In the meantime, record companies sign artists by how many YouTube hits they get, radio stations all play the same two dozen songs, and television is filled with singing competitions.

When you love music the way I do, this is sickening.  Because it’s not just about a catchy hook or beat you can dance to.  It’s about human connection, about finding another voice that speaks to you somehow.  It’s about honesty and revelation and emotional depth.  I like manufactured pop songs, too, but they aren’t the songs that matter; they’re just disposable little ditties that help keep the silence at bay.

I’m going to get off my soapbox now.  Ranting makes me tired.

“Free Fallin'”

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I’m more or less back, though not quite up to full speed yet.  To be honest, the last couple of months haven’t been the best.  They haven’t been the worst, either.  I’m still waiting for word on my training, but I took a job tutoring writing online. . . although until I start training, I’m considering myself unemployed still.  It’s part-time, but I can keep looking for something else.  And I can work from home.  I’ll probably be helping with cleaning out my uncle’s apartment soon.  That should be interesting.

This song sort of fits my mood right now, stuck in some weird, floaty, transitional phase.  I’m in between.  No, that’s not a fragment.  I feel like I’m between one stage and the next–I guess limbo would be a good word.  That’s the feeling I always got from this song.  It comes from that place where you’ve left something–in this case a relationship–behind but haven’t yet decided where you’re going.  Writing this right now makes me realize why the video was always so perfect for the song.  Nothing much happens in it.  There’s disconnected images of teenagers from different decades, but those parts are really incidental.  the real meaning of the video comes in the transitions, in the shots of Tom Petty singing and playing his guitar while riding up and down the escalators at a mall.  (I can’t remember which one it is, but I’ve been there; one of the entrances from the street is a sunlight atrium with escalators leading to the stores.)  Everything in the video is about transition–a sweet 16 party, a parking lot, escalators.  Coming and going.  Lets hope where I’m going is better than where I’m currently coming from.

Julee Cruise

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Back when I first fired up the jukebox, I spent one of my mental quarters on the them song from Psych, “I Know, You Know.”  It’s a fun little ditty as is, but the creative people at the show are not afraid to change it up once in a while, especially if it will enhance whatever the episode is about.  Recently, I finally saw their Twin Peaks tribute/parody ep, “Dual Spires.”  This is what they did to the theme.

Pretty awesome, huh?  I love that several stars from Twin Peaks and Julee Cruise agreed to participate in this really fun episode of a pretty fun show.

Well, it’s really only awesome if you were a fan of David Lynch’s wonderfully bizarre series.  And I was a HUGE fan of Twin Peaks.  Still am.  The first season is still some of the best television ever made.  It’s too bad the network just couldn’t let Lynch run the show the way he wanted.  See, Lynch’s plan was to not reveal Laura Palmer’s killer right away, if ever.  He just wanted to drag it out and let the audience experience the dream-state of Twin Peaks along with Special Agent Dale Cooper.  But ABC wanted to keep the story moving or some other nonsense that was supposed to drive ratings up and insisted that the killer be revealed.  While later episodes were still interesting, it lost the magic that had been created at the beginning.

An integral part of that magic was the music Lynch chose for the show.  He is a master at choosing the soundtracks to match the worlds he creates with his projects.  His choices for Twin Peaks were Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise.  Julee Cruise was blessed with the sort of ethereal voice that fit the mist and mystery filled small town.  It seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere, filled with ghosts and memories that haven’t happened yet.  It was a frighteningly apt blend.

Blending music and visuals is not always easy.  It takes someone who understands the mood s/he is trying to convey with both the action and the song.  Even if you don’t know what happens on the show before/after this scene, you know that it is terrifying.  I won’t spoil it for anyone unfamiliar, but the song, “The World Spins,” conveys the helplessness and devastation of the scene.  The way music enhances this moment is one of the things I love most about its power and versatility.  Everything goes better with a song.

“Come Dancing”

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This is for Kina, who reads my blog and writes so beautifully about her own life at a Human in Recovery.  An invitation, if you will. . .

I’ve always loved this song and its video.  Ray Davies wrote it about his childhood memories of his much older sister going out on dates when he was just a little guy.  It’s one of the sweetest, most tender dedications of love I’ve ever heard.  Davies and the The Kinks often get left in the shadow of The Beatles or The Rolling Stones.  They were the most English of all the British Invasion groups, and far more introspective and intellectual than the other bands (with the major exception of John Lennon, but he’s always in a class by himself).  Some legal/immigration troubles kept them from touring in the U.S. at the height of their success, so they lost a lot of momentum commercially.  But they always made fantastic music, and this is no exception.

They also saw the potential of music video and embraced it as a storytelling technique a lot sooner than other artists.  Of course, Ray Davies is kind of the ultimate rock & roll storyteller.  He invented the format of playing solo to an audience and telling the story of how the song came to be.  You know, the one VH1 made a successful series out of in the 90s.  Davies is credited with creating it.  I saw him on his Storyteller tour, and it is to this day one of the best shows I ever saw.  My face hurt from smiling and laughing so much.  The video showcases much of his wit and style, and his wonderful sense of nostalgia.

The ending is the important part, though.  The last verse, when he sings about being “grown up and playing in a band” and muses about whether or not his sister still dances, even though their dance hall is gone, “But if I asked her, I wonder if she would.”  Then there’s a shot of the younger version of his sister and her smarmy date, dancing in the spotlight.  And that’s the moment you realize that the point is not remembering what’s gone or what you’ve missed out on.  The point is that no matter how much time has passed, no matter what troubles burden you, you are still the person you used to be.  You might have some extra weight (literally or figuratively) but that young, vibrant, witty, creative person you imagine in your past is still inside you.

So come dancing, just like the Palais on a Saturday.  It’s only natural.