Oscar Music Predictions

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It’s that time of year again, kiddies!  I have to admit that I couldn’t find any music I really liked this year.  None of the nominated songs really connected with me on a musical level, and I didn’t spend much time listening to the scores because I knew which one I was rooting for.

I haven’t seen The Hateful Eight.  I have no desire to see it.  But, come on.  It’s Ennio Morricone.  You try to talk me out of supporting one of the best film composers ever.  (Yeah, I’ve probably rooted against him in the past, but I’m not going to this year.)

As for the nominated songs, I just decided to go with the front-runner, Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens to You.”

I’ve got no vested interest in anything Lady Gaga does; generally speaking, her music leaves me feeling, well, nothing.  Not good, not bad.  Just meh.  (That’s kind of a damning statement, since a lack of any emotional response means an extreme lack of quality, IMO.)  But she does have vocal talent and passion for her work.  And I totally respect her career choices and the way she is making an effort to stretch herself artistically and stylistically.  It might not be my brand of music, but good on her for busting out of the industry box she’d been put into.

And while I don’t care for this song as a song, I can really get behind the cause.  “Til It Happens to You” is from the documentary The Hunting Ground, which looks critically at the state of sexual assault and violence on college campuses across the country and the (lack of) response from some of our finest institutions of higher learning.  And some of the proceeds are being donated to help victims of sexual assault, so go to iTunes or wherever and buy a copy.  Given the personal stories of Lady Gaga and co-writer Diane Warren and the distressing result of Kesha’s attempt to break away from her abuser, this couldn’t be a more timely piece of work.  Pay attention, folks, because this is an issue that affects every single solitary one of us.  We need to end rape and violence, and an Oscar-winning song can only help make that happen.

As Seen on TV: “Humanism”

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Am I the only one who thinks this is the coolest theme song to come around in years?

Television theme songs might be a dying art form, but don’t tell Jean Batiste & Stay Human that.  This music swings and grooves and funks along like nothing else I’ve heard in a long time.  I included a clip of an actual opening from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, but if you want to hear the music without any of the surrounding stuff (crowd cheering, guest line-up, or really awesome graphics), click here.  It’s even funkier, even if the clip is reallllly boring.

 

“We Didn’t Start the Fire”

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Yeah, this song is pretty reviled.  Billy Joel tries to summarize four decades of history in roughly four minutes.  As an accurate portrayal of the complexities and contradictions of the second half of the twentieth century, it fails miserably.  (The 1970s especially get the short shrift, summarized with “Watergate, Punk Rock.”  Yeah, that’s it.)  As a catchy trip down memory lane for Baby Boomers, it does okay.  I’ve always kind of liked it.  Some of Joel’s choices of historical events are interesting; they reveal much more about what events and people mattered to him than anything else.  (I’m a little curious about why the “Starkweather homicide” stuck out to him.)

The video is notable for a weirdly cast Marlee Matlin as the teenage daughter and some cool period sets and decorations.  And while the history isn’t perfect, he at least gets the timeline correct.

Why am I bringing up history?  Because today was my first day volunteering at the Historical Society of Long Beach.  It was fun.  I learned a little about their cataloguing system and got to chat with some visitors.  (It was a nice, if unseasonably warm, day and I know people were out enjoying the weather.)  I spent the afternoon surrounded by some of Long Beach’s lovely architectural history in the form of a number of houses designed by Miner Smith.  Hurry down there if you want to see that exhibit, because it’s coming down after next Friday.

“Unbreakable Heart”

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One of the sweetest, saddest songs I’ve ever heard.  It doesn’t hurt that the great Benmont Tench wrote it: heartbreak, indeed.  Everyone has felt this way at one time or another.  Have a tissue handy if you’re prone to crying.

It also doesn’t hurt this song that it’s performed by Country music royalty.  Carlene Carter is the daughter of June Carter Cash and the stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, so it’s safe to say she knows how to deliver a great performance.  When she recorded “Unbreakable Heart” in the early 90s, she was happily dating Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein, and that’s probably how she connected with the other members of the band.  This was post-Nick Lowe and pre-heroin, and arguably her best period artistically and commercially.  (She descended into addiction with Epstein, and it eventually led to both his ouster from the Heartbreakers and his death.)  I’ve kind of lost track of Carter’s career, so I don’t know exactly what she’s up to these days, but I know she still records and tours.

“Copacabana”

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About a week ago, Mom and I went out to the Rose Center Theater in Westminster to see Spamalot; it was basically community theater with a slightly larger-than-usual budget, but the tickets were cheap and it wasn’t that far away).  It was quite fun.  Musicals aren’t really my thing, but spoof musicals do have their place and there were enough Monty Python jokes to keep my twisted little heart happy.  (Thanks, Eric Idle!)  The funniest part to me was when Lancelot gets outed.  Since I couldn’t find a good live recording of “His Name is Lancelot,” I decided to settle for the song that obviously inspired it.

This song isn’t just cheesy: It’s freakin’ Velveeta.  But its extreme lack of coolness is part of what makes it so much fun.  I thought I remembered seeing “Copacabana” performed on The Muppet Show with Rita Moreno and (obviously) a bunch of Muppets, but I think it was probably this version with Liza Minnelli; all the elements I remember are there, but the details are different.  (I would’ve preferred Rita Moreno, frankly.)  But that’s the beauty of this song.  It lends itself to theatricality and melodrama.  Story songs are a whole wonderfully weird little subgenre of music that I don’t think gets explored enough.  They can pack a lot of emotion and plot into three and a half minutes (give or take).

Harper Lee

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Harper Lee has died.  She is the woman behind one of the most read, taught, and influential novels of the 20th century.  She retreated from the public spotlight, and never wrote another novel in her life (at least not one that any of us know about).  The recently published Go Set a Watchman is actually an earlier draft of To Kill a Mockingbird.

While I am not the acolyte many people are, I read Mockingbird in high school like so many others.  (I should reread it; I know I missed huge portions of the meanings and symbolism.)  The power of the written word to change people’s lives is writ large in the great love for this book.  It’s one of those books that matters, but it mattered so much to people that Lee ran from the fame it brought.  She was the polar opposite of her friend Truman Capote, who ran headlong into that fame and held on to it until it killed him.  She was also a little like J.D. Salinger in that she became a mystery and cipher, although from what I gather she was a much better and nicer human being that he ever could have hoped to be.

The first rule of good writing is write what you know, and Harper Lee followed that rule so beautifully and perfectly.  She knew the world of Mockingbird because it was basically her home town.  She understood the motivations and emotions of the characters she created.  She saw their pettiness and prejudice for what they were, as well as their kindness and generosity.  And she imagined a world where the meanness of life didn’t crush all hope, even when the cause was lost.

It has nothing to do with mockingbirds or Lee’s famous novel, but I kind of feel like this song is a good way to honor her.  This version is probably my favorite after the original, and its gentle sadness seems appropriate.  May Nelle Harper Lee’s transition to the next plane be full of peace.

A Peek Inside My Brain

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I don’t pretend to fully understand how my brain works.  Although I can usually connect the dots between Point A and Point B, sometimes the route is so twisted and obscure that even I can’t make it out.  Sometimes I end up at Point B without ever even knowing where Point A was.  Case in point (as it were): Yesterday, for no apparent reason, this song popped into my head.

I admit I watched and enjoyed The Love Boat as a kid.  I’ll also admit that the theme song is one of the most recognizable TV themes ever.  Beyond that, I admit nothing since I’m not entirely sure what I’d be admitting to.

On a semi-related note, did you know that Fred Grandy, aka Your Ship’s Purser, aka Gopher, used to be a United States Representative for the good state of Iowa?  My father’s family is from Iowa, but none of them had anything to do with electing Gopher to the House of Representatives.  We’re strange, but not quite that strange.