Oscar Music Predictions


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”


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”


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”


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.



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


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


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.

“Singing in my Sleep”


My repost from yesterday mentioned this mostly unknown song from 90s trio Semisonic*.  They had a hit with “Closing Time,” but really never caught fire commercially.  I liked “Closing Time” enough to invest ten bucks in the album.  There were a couple other songs I also enjoyed, but none rang out to me like “Singing in my Sleep.”

I’m not really sure why I homed in on this song the way I did.  Except maybe that I remember making mix tapes–for friends, for crushes, for teachers, for anyone I wanted to convert to my way of musical thinking.  I loved these sounds so much that I wanted share them with everyone.  (My god.  It just dawned on me that my blog is just one really long mix tape.)  Mix tapes were an act of love.  They were a way to bare your soul without the risk of actually saying what you were feeling (probably the reason I liked them so much).  It was a chance to show someone your deepest desires and fears, your dreams and wishes.  “Singing in my Sleep” captures that yearning to be heard so perfectly.  There’s something impossibly romantic about this song, something impossibly sweet and innocent.  It’s kind of wonderful to hear.



*Although listening now, “Come Anytime” isn’t really referenced in the lyrics.  The line is “come around from another time” and that made me think of the Hoodoo Gurus song.  Huh.  See, it is possible to read anything you want into music.

Repost: “Come Anytime”


I’ve had this song half-stuck in my head since the computer randomly played it a couple days ago (“Half-stuck” means it pops up randomly, I sing a couple of lines to myself, then it goes away.)  But it’s such a great song, and I originally posted it so long ago that I really think I need to share it with you again.

The Hoodoo Gurus are an Australian band that achieved minor success in the late 80s with this song. They’re very popular in Australia; they just never got big anywhere else. When I finally tracked down the CD version of this on Magnum Cum Louder, it was used. And cheap. That’s how we did it in the days before itunes, kids. (Come to think of it, that’s how we have to do it with anything that hasn’t made it to itunes for whatever reason. The music from Cowboy Bebop, anyone?)

Of course, we’re so myopic here in the US, I had to look them up on Wikipedia to find out anything. Like that they’re still going strong today. And that “Come Anytime” was used as the theme for an Aussie TV show. But since it didn’t happen stateside, it might as well have happened on the moon. It almost did. Australia is really far away. It’s Monday there right now. I think I might be babbling.

“Come Anytime” is a wonderful gem of a song. It’s not a diamond in the rough; it’s fully cut, polished, and set. It’s catchy, with lyrics that have a nice edge to them–think double entendre, not sword. And I’ve always loved the opening guitar chords, strummed on an acoustic. They have a sly, laughing quality, almost like a come on–think a guy in a bar coming on with the cheesiest pick up line ever. In fact, that might describe the whole song. See, this is one of those songs that could use a little back story. The closest I can come to analyzing the lyrics is that it’s all on big come on. The guy in the song seems to have a friends with benefits arrangement with the girl he’s singing to (or guy. . . that’s another thing that’s not too specific here). He’s pretty easygoing, “What is it you want from me? There isn’t much I will not do. If it’s only company, you know I might need that, too.” He is willing to carry on a casual relationship, telling her to “Come anytime, I won’t give you pressure.” But he’d happily make it a more serious relationship if she gave the word: “Maybe I’m a gun for hire, but baby, don’t we make quite a team?”

This is one of those songs that never really got a fair shake over here. (It did get a mention in the musical litany of Semisonic’s “Singing in my Sleep.”) I hope this inspires someone to give it another chance. To make it easy, here’s the video (which really doesn’t do it justice, but that’s how I first heard it).

Happy Valentine’s Day!


I wish everyone–coupled, single, or otherwise–a Happy Valentine’s Day. If you are in a couple, please remember to celebrate your love the other 364 days of the year. If you are single, don’t let social pressure make you feel bad that you’re not in a couple today. Love is not just romantic. If you are otherwise, well. . . have fun doing whatever the heck it is you do. Be sure to share all the love today with the rest of your family, your pets, your friends, and anyone else who makes you happy (but don’t violate any restraining orders, please). Love is everywhere, all the time, and it really is all you need.

But the Replacements never hurt, either.