Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Birth of the Blues, Reds and Greens.

While I'm listening to Cocteau Twins I am thinking about my musical influences and how I came about them.

The Beatles were unavoidable.  Their music was everywhere, and even a 7-year old couldn't avoid them.  Lucky for me.

Their subsequent British Invasion clones and American counterparts would shape my thought as a young person of the 1960s, and I found myself drawn into pop radio and its influences, mostly because I exhibited no independent thought.  Once I did, however, my mind wandered.

Chicago Transit Authority would be later (and better) known as Chicago, and their music was foist upon me by their radio popularity and their popularity among the young hipsters in my high school.
That led to bands like Focus; Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Grand Funk Railroad who became popular among my high school friends - and me, in the case of Focus and ELP.  I remember being on my school bus one morning asking a seat-mate if he had heard "Hocus Pocus" by Focus.  It was a nice Doctor Seuss-way of introducing friends to new music, but in another way, I was seeing into the future.

I was a subscriber to Circus Magazine as a kid, and I remember a headline proclaiming "Keith Emerson's Favorite Cup of Blood: Genesis."  That led me into that end of what we called Progressive Rock music.  On another occasion, I was laid up with the flu and had read about Yes drummer Bill Bruford defecting to a band called King Crimson.  A new LP called "Lark's Tongues in Aspic" was out and I sent a courier to fetch it for me.  Undoubtedly, I felt better after I heard it.

The whole King Crimson ordeal led into a myriad of bands too lengthy to detail here:  Gentle Giant, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Kansas, PFM, Finch and their brethren.  I never recovered from the Crimson influence, and in their wake I was left feeling unsatisfied by subsequent bands who were labeled "edgy" or (God forbid) "Avant-garde."

That led to one afternoon, driving home, in the late 1980s that I heard Cocteau Twins' "Donimo" on our local college radio station WXPN.  In those days, one had to venture to a record store to find an album or compact disc of a band that we heard.  We were hunter-gatherers.  I ventured to the local record store to find these Cocteau Twins that I had heard and see what all the fuss was about.

It turned out that there was a huge fuss, and my search was fruitful.  In their wake I would discover such luminaries as Dead Can Dance, Throwing Muses, Colourbox and others of that era. It was the last of the great record company acts that were promoted by a label called 4AD.  They produced sampler CDs and promoted music, which is an idea that seems foreign now that television has taken over the music business.

I have recovered from that music promotion nightmare and have found myself regressing (?) back to the music of the artists that I loved.  Fortunately for me, at least one of those artists that I loved is still making music.  Her name is Kristin Hersh, and she still fronts Throwing Muses as well as my new favorite band 50FOOTWAVE.  Sometimes, going backward is a step forward.

What it shows is that you should never give up on the things you love because they will always be there in some form, and I am fortunate that Kristin is still inspired to make music.  It shows that we shouldn't give up on our ideas.  As much as TV shows like "American Idol" want to force-feed us crap, we still have the ability to choose.  Those choices are imbedded deep in our soul and our musical influences.

Do not let television or popular culture tell you what you like.  The thing that I have learned from these years of experience is that you should follow your heart.  Music is a reflection of your soul, and if you aren't true to your soul, you are just following the herd.

The artists I mentioned in this essay are minor in the grand scheme of music, but to me they are huge influences on my tastes and who I consider myself to be.  I would take them over any so-called popular music of the period.

I am artistically and musically stronger because they are a part of my life.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Drafting some thoughts on junk.

The National Football League is a marketing machine.  They have figured out how to make working out (The Combine) and choosing-up sides (The Draft) into prime-time television programs that run for several nights on big-time cable television stations.
What is more amazing is that people watch.
It reminds me of the saying:  Nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the general public.

Is he really going to have GRIFFIN III on his jersey or was that just a prop for the draft?

I love the coconut water drinks that have started showing up over the past year or so.  I wonder if it's real coconut water or just a mix of chemicals designed to simulate coconut water?  I saw "Cast Away" and it didn't look to me like Tom Hanks was getting a lot of water out of those coconuts.  At least not enough for somebody to think that they could bottle the stuff and earn a profit.

We're a conflicted people.  Every day (or so it seems) we hear about how obese we are and how our bodies are ticking time bombs, yet every other day some restaurant chain comes out with a more grotesque version of something that is already hideous to eat.   One pizza chain is touting a crust that has little hot dogs in it and another surrounds the crust with cheeseburger sliders.
In February I read about someone who, while eating at the Heart Attack Grill, suffered an actual heart attack while eating a Triple Bypass Burger.  You'd think that their marketing people would have had a talk with them over the name.  But then, when your restaurant is called the Heart Attack Grill, how much could marketing help?  I wonder if the heart attack victim will be signing an endorsement deal?  You can't beat actual customer experiences.

The Quadruple Bypass Burger with 8,000 calories has been identified as one of the "world's worst junk foods". It consists of four half-pound beef patties, eight slices of American cheese, a whole tomato and half an onion served in a bun coated with lard.  It's the lard that gets you.

Walking across the common area on my way home from the grocery store, I could see that my downstairs neighbor was watching "American Idol" - with the closed-captioning on.  I thought, "what a perfect way to watch that program - with the sound off." It reminds me of the saying:  Nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the general public.

As I passed the lobster tank at my local Shop Rite, a wave of sympathy came over me.  There they were, rooting around in a five-by-eight tank of stagnant filtered water, with their claws bound together with no hope for release.  It occurred to me that being thrown into a pot of boiling water is a preferable option to that life.
And then, I thought that I could be looking at my eventual animal reincarnation destiny.  And that didn't help me any.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

We love what we don't understand.

I picked up my bag, I went looking for a place to hide;
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walking side by side.
I said, "Hey, Carmen, come on, let's go downtown."
She said, "I gotta go, but my friend can stick around."

Take a load off Annie, take a load for free;
Take a load off Annie, and you put the load right on me.

Levon Helm died on Thursday.  It prompted a lot of airplay for "The Weight," one of The Band's most popular songs.  One DJ said that hearing the song makes him cry.  I have heard the song a number of times and frankly, never had that reaction.  Mostly because I never knew what it was about.

I found the lyrics online and read through them and I still don't know what it's about.  That got me to thinking.
Tons of people love that song [pun] and if you asked them, I'd bet that either they don't know all the words or, if they do, they couldn't put their finger on exactly what the song means.  While it appears to be a tune about some conflict between the Devil and the narrator, it's unclear exactly what the conflict is, what caused it and how it is ever resolved.
Suppose you went to a movie, and after seeing it a friend asked you to explain it.   If you could not, what would your impression be of the movie?  You would leave the theater disappointed and either think that you weren't smart enough to know what was going on or be angry that you spent $12 to be confused.

Millions of people love music that, if you asked them, they would have no idea of the song's meaning or sometimes, its lyrics.  There is something about music that makes it appealing to us even though we have no idea of the topic.

Take The Kinks' "Lola" for instance.  It's a song about a transsexual.  But, if you brought the topic up in conversation, you'd be the most controversial person in the room.  Yet, we walk around humming the song to ourselves.
Even Ronald Reagan didn't know that Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." was a sarcastic smack in the face.  He read the title and thought, "Wow, what a great song."  But he had Alzheimer's, so maybe that's a bad example.

The point is (and there is one) that music does indeed have charms, even if we don't know what those charms mean.  We love music even though, often, the lyrics are incomprehensible or just plain nonsense.

I'll be the roundabout.
The words will make you out and out.
I'll spend the day your way.
Call it morning driving through the sound and in and out the valley.
In and around the lake,
Mountains come out of the sky.
They stand there.