Category Archives: make mine music

Concerning recent events in music

One could do a lot worse than Dale Griffin, Glenn Frey, and Lemmy Kilmister in a band fronted by David Bowie.

It would be an extremely bizarre band, to be sure, but they’d be able to play.

They don’t really have a bassist, though. Hm. Guess that you could stretch the criteria a little bit and add Chris Squire to the lineup. Strange to think that it’s already been nearly six months since his passing.

Advertisement

And the band played on

The first album I ever owned was the soundtrack to Mary Poppins.

At the time nobody in the family knew what I was getting into. My folks just wanted something age-appropriate for me to listen to, and I thought it was cool that I had “my own record” to play. (My parents, understandably, didn’t want me fooling with their own collection, which has some standouts and rarities.)

It wasn’t all I had. My parents loved music, and I was given some pure kiddie albums too, some of the songs of which I can still hear in my mind nearly four decades later.¹ And my Dad loved superheroes and comics, so I got a series of spoken adventures on 45 featuring Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and others. I remember those less clearly, but anyone who knows me can tell that they had an influence as well.

But it was the brilliance of Richard and Robert Sherman that wound up helping to hook me on musical scores and soundtracks. I own dozens of every description, from video games to movies and television, foreign and domestic. And this guest post over at Sarah Hoyt’s reminded me of those great times growing up and all the joy I’ve had since then listening to these wonderful compositions.

The Sherman Brothers weren’t the starting point, however. The starting point, as it was so often for folks of my age group, was the great John Williams.

Continue reading

One… more… time!

The singing cowboy used to be a standard back in the 50’s. From Gene Autry, the actual “Singing Cowboy,” through Roy Rogers, on to The Mellomen (who featured the rumbling bass voice of Thurl Ravenscroft), a lot of people married the Western visual of the cowboy on the range to the songs of Country.  In 1973, Elton John could sing a twangy country-western tune [youtube, will autoplay] “of roundups and rustlers and home on the range” without any trace of hipsterism or post-modern irony.

We’ve lost one of the last of them today: the yodeling cowboy, Slim Whitman.

He maybe didn’t get a tribute quite as exotic or heartfelt as Sir Elton’s, but he was name-dropped in one of my favorite tunes:

I put on a Slim Whitman tape
Mama wore a brand-new hair net
Kids are in the back seat
Jumping up and down, saying “Are we there yet?”
And all of us were bound together in one common thought
As we rolled down the long and winding interstate in our ’53 DeSota
We’re gonna see the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota!

More importantly, he seemed like a man of decent heart and good humor, such as in the closing quote from the linked obituary above:

I don’t think you’ve ever heard anything bad about me, and I’d like to keep it that way. I’d like my son (Bryon) to remember me as a good dad. I’d like the people to remember me as having a good voice and a clean suit.

But if that’s not enough, one of the standards he had a hit with was later remade (in a matter of speaking) very famously:

Continue reading

Quality vs. quantity in faith

As usual, posts happen when you’re not looking for them.

In this case, I was just going to leave a comment at Dustbury about the dreck-infested genre of modern Christian Contemporary Music, when it got away from me. So I rounded it up and dragged it back here where it won’t dig up the neighbor’s peonies.

You see, this is one of the many small things about which I have too much thought invested. As a Catholic, my Sunday mornings are usually spent in an exercise in true mortification: worshiping my God while trying not to hate modern Catholic hymnists. Good Lord, but this stuff is largely unsingable.

Now, take the bathetic, tepid, squishy-marsmallowy of what is laughingly called “worship music” in the modern Catholic Church, turn it up to eleven, and play it on a radio station exclusively devoted to the stuff, and you have Christian Contemporary Music.

Barf.

Now, hey, if you don’t like it, don’t listen, right? And I don’t. Praising Jesus in song is great, and I probably do too little of it. I probably do too little in all areas of my life, being your typical sinner. But there’s three things at issue here, three thoughts that reveal themselves as flawed attempts at being a better man of faith, and CCM gets right to the heart of them. The first thought is that if I love Jesus, then I will do nothing but Jesus-y things all the time. The second thought is that if I praise Jesus, then the quality of my praise is of no import. The third thought is that to praise Jesus is always a positive, affirming experience.

Continue reading

I like your eyes… I like him too

Godspeed, Mr. Brubeck.

He passed just short of 92, much as my Uncle Guy did about 18 months ago.  I mentioned him then, briefly, among other well-known folks that had enriched my life growing up.  It wasn’t very much of a tribute, but in the end, all the amazing music he wrote and performed, and the legacy of his children, are the greatest tribute.  I offer the following in that spirit.

There is something ineffably wonderful about watching these guys play; they were the heppest cats, but they looked as if they would spill a slide rule and graph paper out of their briefcase if it tipped.  Brubeck himself, in the interview segments, looks both enduringly goofy and impeccably professional.  His business was grooving out, and he was CEO… but he shows an unquenchable love and enthusiasm for music, for taking it in different directions and seeing what’s out there.  His piano was the bridge of the starship taking jazz fans to the final frontier, to boldly play what no one had heard before.

There is more on his own website, davebrubeck.com.  The site will autoplay… but for once I don’t think anyone will actually mind.

You can’t take it with you

Brent Spiner gets a lot of respect here in the Supersonic Rocket Ship.  It’s not just geek cred for having been Data, either… it’s also for being a clever, good-humored guy (his Twitter feed is a fun follow); for his varied acting gifts – comic, dramatic, and musical; and for generally leaving off the tired sermonizing that too many other entertainers indulge in.

The above is actually a fine example.  Wherever you stand on the recent elections, or the rumbles of secession/nullity, et als, this is the sort of quip that will probably make you chuckle.  It’s reasonably plain where Mr. Spiner stands, in both senses of the phrase – it’s plain, and it’s reasonable.  That’s how you handle a subject that risks alienating a goodly part of your fan base.  Love it.

In any case, you tend to hear these rumbles from one or the other far side, as dawgmark35* points out here.  When it was W’s turn in office, we would regularly hear of some cheesed off lefty celebrity** threatening to abscond to some European clime.  When the Left seems most ascendant, it’s the reverse, and Texas is going to rise again or some such.

* There are 34 other dawgmarks?

** Celeftrity? No, that’s a coinage too far. I feel like there should be something there, but it would be a shame to force it.

I don’t take either thing very seriously, because it’s not at all likely to happen.  But there’s a distinction that I think that dawgmark and Spiner don’t mention here.  It’s most obvious to me in both cases, that of the Baldwinites and E Unumis Plurae,† that each group isn’t trying to take a country with them, but feeling that the country has already left them behind, and it’s time to decamp.

† I know my declension is off. It’s been a long while since my only Latin class.

Neither side makes a secret of this feeling, though I notice that the Left conveniently forgets this feeling when they retake authority.  Troubles and scandals that storm around the Right are somehow far less troubling to them when it’s one of their own in the center.  As CS Lewis observed, they have an engine called the press whereby the public is deceived.  They use this tool much like a high school might use a bonfire at a prep rally: whip up the observers and immolate (at least by proxy) the opponents.

But there’s one more difference, and this one runs right down the middle of the Left/Right divide.  To wit: the Left’s solution involves enforced conformity, and the Right’s does not.

What a lot of people are talking about with this succession business is actually more like Federalism – let the individual state come up with local-level solutions to problems where the Constitution gives the Congress no authority.  This arrangement has the dual advantage of making policy easier to implement AND easier to undo.  After all, if all of Wisconsin or Kansas wants something, why should they be outvoted by a cabal of Californians?  And if it turns out to be a disaster, why should people with no say in the matter be able to block your wishes?

Second, if you don’t like what your state has done, you can head to one more to your liking… without sacrificing your American citizenship or losing your voice in the affairs of your home country.

Now, the Left’s solution is essentially to tell everyone to lump it because they’re in charge.  When they’re not, they threaten to leave the process entirely.  It’s like some tiresome party-goer who insists that everyone will just LOVE their chosen activity, and runs about enforcing the gaiety (and policing the conversation) by a variety of means.  They naturally consider those who stop attending to be tiresome and dull people, and conclude that these wallflowers need livening up – something is obviously the matter with THEM.  They never get to see the parties that these “wallflowers” throw among themselves, with a variety of games, conversations, and even people quietly sitting in ones or twos when they please.  They imagine, if they get wind of such parties, that they’ve been snubbed and take offense… perhaps they never even faintly dream that they would be invited if only they wouldn’t try to carry out a coup d’fete every time.  They can gladly have their fun, so long as they don’t inflict that fun on all present.

Texas and New Mexico can coexist doing different things with abortion, health insurance, and whatever social issues present themselves.  They can’t coexist if one insists on making the other follow all the same policies.  The Big Ticket items that make us an Unum are outlined in the Constitution; that same marvelous document insists that where such items are not specified, the means to deal with them are vested in the Pluribus and the populace.  This would lead to more variety, more opportunity, more choices… horrors, we might run the risk of becoming a more understanding society!  We might have to learn to appreciate how another approach works for a different group of people, and not just reflexively condemn someone who thinks and acts otherwise.  We might just stumble into the shocking realization that it’s possible to disagree without being odious, and realize that it doesn’t make someone an -IST or a  -PHOBE for going their own way.

Rush was right.  No, not that one – the guys who sang “Subdivisions.”

We need an anti-Congress

Now, technically, we already have an anti-Congress.  It’s called the Constitution of the United States, and it sets very specific boundaries on what the Congress is permitted to do: a list of 18 specific responsibilites given in Article I, Section 8.

Thanks to M*A*S*H, “Section 8” is more familiar to us as the provision by which soldiers are found as mentally unfit for service.  It might help if we all think of Congress as falling equally under that category, because they blithely ignore this part of the Constitution in matters great and small, and it’s been getting progressively worse.  From the spectacular overreach to the picayune, from the Health Insurance law they passed (largely unread and deliberately misrepresented) to reaching into our living rooms to confiscate our light bulbs, there’s pretty much nothing left they think they can’t order us to do.

Now, isn’t the Constitution a “living document” and all of that?  Perhaps.  It does offer a provision for its own revision, through Amendments.  It’s a deliberate process.  This is most unwelcome to people who are enamored of their own authority and power, even if we assume that they’re mature enough to actually go through with a long and slow process to do what is required or what they wish.  But again, there are too many spoiled brats in government.  They want it NOW NOW NOW.  They are precocious enough to talk about all the times that quick action is required, and that the Constitution is elastic enough to handle emergencies admitting of no delay; they aren’t attentive enough to see that the Constitution again makes room for those acts in a lawful fashion, and sets strict limits on them.

Stretch any elastic too far and it will permanently deform – if it doesn’t snap outright.

The practical limit on that list of 18 responsibilities is made explicit in Amendments IX and X:

IX – The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

X – The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

In current English, this means that the Constitution limits THEM, not US.  We don’t need written permission by law to do anything; the Federal Government is forbidden to act outside its mandate.  That’s the point beyond which our Government is not supposed to stretch.  Yet those boneless would-be potentates are making like Plastic Man with our rights.*

Continue reading

The Folsom Elementary Blues

The good Professor is “overthinking” song lyrics, which is always fun. A lot of really good songs actually don’t make a lick of sense if you parse the words.

His musing on Johnny Cash (The Man, Emeritus) has made me think of an old song parody I rattled off years ago, upon learning that there is a town of Folsom here in New Jersey.

The Folsom Elementary Blues

I hear that school bell ringing
Class is out again
I ain’t seen the playground
Since I don’t know when
‘Cause I’m stuck here in detention
And time keeps draggin’ on
Gotta write a hundred times
I’m sorry I did wrong

Way back in September
Teacher told me, “Son,
Always be a good boy
Play nice with everyone.”
But I shot a girl with spitballs
Just to watch her cry
When they tell my parents
I know I’m gonna die

I know they’re eating tacos
Over in the dining hall
Then they’ll go to recess
And play dodgeball
But I’m stuck in detention
I know I can’t be free
Ol’ Folsom Elementary
Has got it over me

I know what I’ll be doing
When the weekend rolls around
My friends will be out having fun
But chores will weigh me down
I’m grounded for the weekend
Although I long to play
But the end of my detention
Will chase my blues away

For geeks, wheresoe’er they are found

There’s a reason I have a “geekerie” tag on this blog, and Lee Ann has reminded me of it.  That’s one heck of a picture, and I have to admire the World of Warcraft coders for thinking of a way for players to have sharks with frinkin’ lasers on their heads.

To me, the sine qua non of geek nirvana is the enterprising party that put together the video below the fold.  Just think – they had to find (or create) every last one of those items in the inventory portion of the song.  And of course, the chosen medium of the video is itself a fitting tribute to the work of the artist…

Continue reading

Here we go a-Idol-ing! Cutting down to ten

It’s Tour Cut Week – the person going home tonight doesn’t get to hang out with the cool kids around the country.  So what you gonna do, brotha, when Idolmania runs wild on you???? Here’s the recap of the performances, and “the surprising results” at the end.  (You’ll have to take my word for it that I wrote the other stuff first.)

It’s MOTOWN! They have a nice retrospective on Hitsville – over 400 charting singles, 50+ #1’s.  “Fearless, original” music – true, but glossing over the struggles of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and others to control their own catalogues and produce groundbreaking music in the late 60’s that would have broken the singles format.  They have a picture that subtly underscores it: a “Tamla/Motown UK Tour” banner.  (Tamla is Stevie Wonder’s own label.)

01 – Casey – singing Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Hopefully better than his poorly-rendered Nirvana last week.  He’s cleaned up: wearing a suit, taming his hair.  Better-controlled this time, in key, not shrieking, though I could do without the Happy Facing.  Good, not great.  Judges go on for a while about being unique and amazing and original.  Randy- “You can only do you and you are great!” OK, dial it back.

02 – Thia – Martha and the Vandellas, “Heatwave.” Based on warmups, it sounds like the Ronstadt cover – except the Lovely Linda can belt it, and Thia can’t.  This is horribly underpowered.  At times the backups and the band smother her voice.  JLo – connect with your lyrics. [NF – gotta remember the lyrics first.] You don’t have the life experience to feel it, so that’s where acting comes in. Randy likes that she took a chance with the song and wants more like it. ST – “I’m good with it.” NF – I’m not. It wasn’t dreadful but there’s just no ooomph to it.

03 – Jacob – “Motown is about the SOUL!” I love this kid’s personality. He’s singing Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “You’re All I Need to Get By.” Excellent choice. As the mention, his gospel background will be helpful. Jim Iovine – “Don’t overdo the runs!” THANK YOU. He’s off to a great start. Building it perfectly. It’s structured flawlessly to a big finish, and he nails it. Best of the night by a country mile.  Chris McCreery and James Durbin have some company.  ST rushes the stage (heheheheheh), everyone gushes… and Ryan invites the whole first row to come up and hug Jacob, who is taking it perfectly. Wonderful moment. Great kid. He crushed it.

04 – Lauren – “Keep Me Hanging On,” the Supremes. Talks about not such nice things that people have said “now that I’m in the public eye.” Her three months’ career has taught her to just be true to herself. ST says “You ripped that song a new beauty mark.” JLo gushes. Randy says she’s picking up her swagger.

Now, following that last was really a rough draw. She sang it well and had a good arrangement. Hated the walk around the judges table, which seemed forced.

After the break and the Kitchen Nighmares promo, Lauren says it was a tough act to follow Jacob but she sang to all the boys out there. Oh, and hi Chef Gordon! Please take over the judges’ table.

05 – Stefano – fueled by his Mom’s homecooked meal, he’ll sing “Hello” by this guy. David Cook rocked it in Season 7 – he’s got to be careful. Don’t oversing and keep your eyes open, they say.  PS – don’t offer me gum.  I do not want gum.

Sigh. He’s got his eyes closed. He’s oversinging. He’s judo-chopping the air on EVERY note. But at least he’s on key. I can take or leave this.

JLo – “Let’s talk a little bit.” [uh-oh.] She breaks out a checklist: “You look fine. [It’s the Paula Looks Compliment! Fleeeee!] You sing like crazy. So now, we want you to connect. You’re telling a story. The intensity should come from that, not from wanting to perform well.” [That’s excellent advice, actually.] Randy – “You’re hitting your high notes at will, whatever, but take your time.” [Yeah, he said “Whatever.”] ST – “You took off too early, gotta build it up first.” JLo – “Don’t just throw it away to get to the next song.”

Coming from commercial, Ryan gives Stefano’s mom’s pasta to Gordon Ramsay and asks for a critique. “Thank God he can sing.” HAHAHAHAHA. “No, but how is it really?” Gordon – “It’s fine.” Ryan’s in good form tonight.

06 – Haley – wants to avoid the bottom three again. Singing Smokey and the Miracles, “You Really Got a Hold On Me.” She’s apparently counting on her legs and bare midriff to sway the voters, but gets off to an awkward start trying to get down the stairs in those tall heels. Not improving much as she sings. This is a hot mess of a performance: slowing down, growling, speeding up, high notes, she’s all over the map. There’s no plan to any of this, just a “toss it at the wall and see what sticks” approach. I do kind of like the country inflection. Mostly on-key. Overall, weak. Randy liked the blues aspect and “the Joplin thing,” which I think means that she gets in the general proximity of the melody of the song without actually following it.  ST agrees. “You don’t look a day over fabulous,” he says. He then demonstrates Haley’s “Joplin thing” and puts the lie to the whole concept by doing it perfectly and sounding twelve times better than Haley. Ooops. JLo – “You have perfect control, your voice goes where you want.” But that’s not the point, my friends! It’s discretion as well as ability. If she’s doing this ON PURPOSE, she’s in big trouble.

07 – Scott – He’s the mini-Man in Black tonight. He’s singing Stevie Wonder, “For Once in My Life.” Gonna country this up; I think this really could work.  Jim Iovine says to have fun with it, “bring smoothness, don’t be a lounge singer.” Words to sing by. It helps that his voice sounds made-to-order by the Grand Ol’ Opry.  The singing is effortless. Gold. He’s getting on top of those high notes, too. I really like this. Just stop pointing, please, Scott. ST – “Just like Glen Campbell, taking country in new directions. Way to take a chance, it paid off.” JLo and Randy both say it wasn’t his best vocal, and Randy asks that he should have peaked a little sooner.

Commercial – new show, “Breaking In.” It’s Christian Slater! He kind of looks like the successful, 1985 George McFly. Interesting choice to jump-start a career. Tim Roth and Timothy Hutton pulled it off (Roth on Fox with “Lie to Me”). We’ll see.

08 – Pia – the only lady with any shot at this thing. Going into the break they announced she’ll do a Stevie tune from the 70’s. I predict “Sunshine of My Life.” I’m wrong. “All in Love is Fair.” Nice to hear this – it’s a tough song and a good challenge, plus it’s not done to death on the radio. Jim Iovine tells her to get outta her mind, she has a wonderful voice, just use it.

Brilliant start here. She’s covering the whole range, which is NOT simple to do. Great high power note. Missed her pitch right after but pulled it back on track. Strong finish. Clearly top three. JLo is checklisting – looks, voice, but “we need you to add some showmanship. You have the voice already.” Randy praises her approach and hitting the notes. He wants her to sing more uptempto, or even “midtempo,” and get away from ballads. That’s good advice but man, what about what you actually heard? ST – “You’re closest to being a star now, just kick it.” That’s spot on. She killed it out there.

09 – Paul – he’s gonna play his guitar and sing “Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Producers say he’s going with a folk-rock vibe. I’m worried. He’s not the best anunciator as it is, he doesn’t need to Dylan this up. He knees chew… knees chew! Sigh. I can’t say I like him any better but this was at least a passable performance. I don’t care what the judges said. Sowry.

10 – Naima – “Dancing in the Streets,” Martha and the Vandellas. That’s kind of predictable. She also wants to add dance from around the world into the performance, since that’s what Martha Reeves was singing about. She really struggled two weeks ago doing this so I can’t call this a good idea, though I admire her moxie in going for it again. Jim Iovine cautions her to keep her breath, learning when she needs to be ready to sing. I sense a great disturbance… as if millions of listeners cried out in terror, and suddenly silenced their TVs.

The brass section sounds good. I love a good brass section. HOLY COW what the heck are those pants? She looks like she got lost on the way to Soul Train. I think Ryan jinxed it when he told Randy that he hadn’t said “pitchy” yet, because this is flat every step of the way. And the dance thing is… uhm… eh. Looks all right if that’s your thing, but it’s tacked onto the end, not part of the performance – so what’s the point? She didn’t have to learn how to conserve her breath for the singing, did she? Just sing, and THEN dance, and not worry at all about it. Kind of a cop-out. So, yeah, welcome to the bottom three. ST is apparently high. JLo praises the dancing, calls it her “first goosebumby moment.” [What??!? Did she sleep through Jacob’s performance?] Randy is also swigging from Pauler’s Sippy Cup. Ladybug – “If she misses the tour they’ll lose some flavor. I can think of other singers I won’t miss.” True, but is it the correct flavor in our musical stew? We’ll see.

11 – James – “Living for the City.” This means that we get no Four Tops and no Temptations. (A college buddy once joked that the Temptations would convert to Catholicism and call themselves “The Near Occasions.” I’d buy the album.) As far as this song, I hope he doesn’t screw up the tone. He calls it a hopeful song. It’s really much more of an angry song. Don’t Happy Face! And he skirts close with his goofy two-step dance, but pulls it out of camp and back on track. It helps that he’s singing the doors off it – holding something in reserve for the big finish.  Taylor Hicks just threw his remote out the window. Judges liked it, I’m tired, let’s wrap it up.

TOP 3: Jacob far and away, then Pia, and… hell, let’s give it to Scott by a nose over James. LB disagrees with that last.
BOTTOM 3: There are a few choices available. On the musical merits, I say Haley, Thia, and Stefano. Naima will skate. (Maybe literally next week, we’ll see.) LB and I both agree that Haley is a goner.

RESULTS: they open the show with a blurb, over the instrumental track to Edwin Starr’s “War.” (Beg pardon, “kinetic military action.”) For them to break that out the week the US starts lobbing missiles at Libya? Talk about a good brass section.

Marc Antony was at rehearsals and backstage this week, coaching the Idol contestants on how to properly use their earbuds during the performance.  That explains why there was much less wandering away from the key this week. It carries over to the singalong, a nice mash up of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”… and… well, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” (I’m the locksmith… and I’m the locksmith.) Stevie Wonder then comes out to sing to Steven Tyler for his birthday. There’s cake! Love it.

Anyhow… buncha kids are safe, Sugarland sucks er, sings, Jennifer Hudson sings, and James reveals his love of pro wrestling in a riot of a segment, ending with a Royal Rumble in the living room of the contestants’ home. And… WAITAMINUTE… that’s…. that’s Hulk Hogan’s music!  NOOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOO!

Sorry, had to give it the proper setting. (I absolutely would have been doing that at the judges’ table.) He whunks Ryan in the head, and Ryan does a good job of selling it. Then he does the shirt tear. James is literally on his knees, losing his mind over the whole thing. I love how geeked he is over this.

Now more kids are safe, and the bottom three… Thia, Stefano, and Casey?  Uh-oh. Casey’s paying for the Nirvana thing. It’s a classic – you don’t go home the week you’re dreadful, you go home the next week, after you’ve improved. I think maybe America is tiring of the personality as well… Casey can come off as contrived and forced. I don’t agree with that assessment, btw, just observing that his humor and delivery are easy to get wrong. Meanwhile, Haley’s “Rolling Stones” strategy – Tart me up! – has succeeded in getting her on tour.

The voters send CASEY home. WOW. He can’t even sing his “save me” song and the judges just cut him off… to tell him that they are giving him a second life. He turns pale as a ghost… he may throw up right on stage, he seriously looks like he’s having a panic attack. I think he has been woken up as far as being sloppy with his performances, which smacks of a lack of effort and lazy attitude. He thanks the judges profusely and vows to work harder.  I think this was a good call.  It’s not likely that James, Chris, Pia, or Jacob will need saving to get into the final five, so this was as good a time as any. And Ryan announces that TWO people will go home next week, but that all eleven remaining Idols go on tour, instead of ten. “You’re welcome, America!” he says.