Saturday, March 22, 2014

It's Great to Be Back!

I guess this is more of a yearly blog than, say, a daily or even monthly one.  Whoops!  No big, though, because I've still got lots to say about the irrelevant minutia that make songs interesting to me.  I know everyone was concerned.

I was hanging out with an old friend last night in a loud-ish bar, but we could tell the song Rapper's Delight was playing in the background.  As it always does, the song sparked several lines of conversation:  "The old lady sings the first verse of this song in 'The Wedding Singer,' and we listened to it so much growing up, that I learned all the words because we thought that was hilarious."  "Doesn't she put the meatballs in Adam Sandler's hands?"  "Yes, she does!  Hi-larious!  Ooh, and have you ever seen a video of them performing this song?  Classic!"  "Remember when we used to walk around pretending to speak like Grandmaster Flash and all the other old-timey rappers?"  "Why are they always dissing Superman?  He's just trying to save them!"

I brought up my favorite verse (like, in any rap song, ever), which is the one about the guy who goes to his friend's house for dinner only to discover that it's disgusting and he has to buy Kaopectate in order to recover.  And then he sees his friend two weeks later and the guy says "I understand about the food, Baby Bubba*, but we're still friends."  I was so excited to hear the verse that I did that thing where you wait until the down beat every few measures and you kind of nod your head forward and put your hand out flat like you're going to listen really well and then you're like "is it happening now?... NOW?... HERE!...wait, not yet!"  Since the song is about 15 minutes long, and my verse is near the end, this went on for a long time.**  "Sorry,"  I said, "but you know me and you know how excited I get about songs."

Which brings us to the rekindling of this blog and today's topic:  Aerosmith.  Knowing me, and how excited I get about songs, my buddy let me ramble right into a long discussion about how much I love the song Love in an Elevator because he does know me and that is a song about which I get especially excited.  Now some of you, if there are any of you out there, may be thinking "wait, that's the stupidest song in the history of time!  'I'll teach you how to fax in the mailroom, honey, and have you home by five'?  Who faxes in a mailroom?!"  Plus, I remember a super cheesy 80s-tastic video complete with a typical 80s video vamp (which Wikipedia is telling me was played by Brandi Brandt, who happened to be the wife of Nikki Sixx).  For some reason, possibly because they like a good deal on all things Liz Claiborne, the band is in a department store.  Video Vamp approaches the elevator as she's showing everyone around (one:  elevator?  where's the escalator? and two:  how hard is it to find your way around a department store?).  Anyway, she sees Steven Tyler and says "Good morning, Mr. Tyler.  Going down?"


So, yes, I get it.  It's a cheesy song with a cheesy/misogynist and somewhat implausible video (seriously, I have never seen an elevator in a department store, but I've seen several escalators.  I'm just saying...).  But it's still a really, really good song and here's my theory of why:

These guys!  Joe Perry:  silver fox?  Crazy tea partier?  Or BOTH!

Probably because of their ridiculous stage antics and the fact that their songs are largely equally ridiculous, it's hard to take them seriously as musicians.  But something I think Aerosmith can do exceptionally well is harmonize.  I'm not sure why they don't always take advantage of their mad skillz, but when they do, they do it surprisingly well.  Of course, I'm an admitted sucker for any type of group singing (and so is Brian Eno!).  The song is about five minutes long and the best verse for harmony doesn't come until 3:32.  I would understand if the typical listener couldn't make it that far, but I LIVE for that verse.  If you don't happen to make it, just try to pick out all of the vocal lines in the first chorus.  I think there's some interesting stuff going on there and I know I'm right about this because my sister who proclaims that she knows nothing about singing at all completely agrees with me (she is my lay-person phone-a-friend).  I like to call her or text her sometimes when I hear it on the radio because I'm excited that I know someone who cares like I do, or at least pretends.  

For some reason, it isn't always easy to take these guys seriously
After this?  I can't imagine why not!

But, they also have a serious side, I swear.  If you don't believe me, think about any time you've ever been heartbroken and listen to the song What it Takes or, my personal favorite, Cryin.   In "What it Takes," Steven Tyler takes his signature scream-singing up a notch by sliding it up through several notes, which is an impressive feat in itself, but which I also find adds to idea that he's feeling pain as he's singing the lyrics "tell me how it is that you can sleep in the night without thinking you lost everything that was good in your life to the toss of the diiiiiiiii-IIIIIIIIIIIICE?"  Look what you've done to Steven Tyler!  How can you sleep at night?

Then, of course, we have "Cryin," complete with the video that made me a seven-year-old feminist.  Long story short, this song kills me every time, especially right at the moment where there's a loud drum crash and then all instruments drop out in the moment that Steven Tyler says "I was cryin when I met you now I'm (CRASH) -- DYYYIN -- to let you do what you do down to me."  I love a good moment of a cappella in the middle of an anthem almost as much as Brian Eno loves choirs or I love recordings with groups of children singing (see previous posts).  As for the video, it features pre-Clueless Alicia Silverstone***, who is in a rocky relationship with Stephen Dorff (who is not Ethan Hawke).  They fight a lot, he's not a nice guy, she gets her purse stolen by someone else and beats THAT guy up, she gets her belly button pierced, and the whole time we also see clips of her standing on a ledge on a bridge.  Also, we see a lot of inexplicable shots of Steven Tyler in a mask.  The viewer is led to believe that she really may jump, especially when she does actually jump backwards off the bridge instead of into the arms of Stephen Dorff (not a popular stance for the early 90s).  BUT WAIT, spoiler alert:  she's been harnessed to a bungee cord this whole time!  MTV had to pixelate her hand, but we're all pretty sure she's flipping S-Do the bird as she dangles from the bridge and the music fades out.  It's the music video equivalent of a mic drop.

* says "Baby Bubba," but I remain skeptical.
**Shoutout to my cabin-mates at camp in 2001.  I remember a mixer, I think in the Opera Tent/Opera Field area and Daft Punk's "One More Time" was playing (you know, because it was 2001) and we spent a very long time waiting for the beat to come back after the breakdown in the middle of the song.  We were intent on doing the running man when the beat dropped, but we had a hard time catching it.  We were so cool.
***It's one of a group of Aerosmith videos from this era, one of which includes Ms. Silverstone but also features Liv Tyler as a stripper... in her dad's music video.  Why not?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This Will Be my Testimony

Even though this blog is not very widely-read, I still have not posted in a year and that is unacceptable for a daily blog. I'm gonna try to do better. For serious. Like, I'm gonna write in this daily blog at least once a month.

I should have written this post months ago, when I first discovered this song, but I probably wouldn't be able to get through it without bursting into inexplicable tears of joy, because months ago, when I discovered this song, that was what would happen every single time I heard it. And since I really like having emotional reactions to music, I would hear it a lot. The song is "40 Day Dream," by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.

First of all, this song brings tears to my eyes because Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes are geniuses and everything they do feels like exactly what I want to do with my music, my dancing, and my community, except they're already doing it! And if I do it, I'll only be copying them! This is not to say that I'm not going to continue choreographing to their songs, and plotting music videos for them, and planning on making my own large band of hippies (auditions coming soon, Traverse City!), and sobbing hysterically through the process. It's just to say that I realize that I won't be the first to use their music... since they're already doing it quite successfully.

The first time I heard this song was as a backdrop for a road trip to a wedding. It was beautiful, but I was hardly paying attention to the mix CD in my car's stereo, because the whole thing was beautiful. When I got back from that dream of a weekend, and I was coming down from the post-getaway bliss, I actually carefully listened to the song (because it was better than actually returning to reality).

This song is another example of music and vocalization fitting the theme presented by lyrics. I guess most songs attempt to have this quality, but it doesn't always work. Here it does, however. There are soaring strings that feel like floating. There are pounding drums that feel like running fast or a beating heart. In this way, the instrumentation of the song sounds like being in love. And the voice of the singer corroborates; he is deliriously shaky and laughing while he's singing because he's drunk with happiness.

Basically what the singer is saying is that he's living this amazing dream that he doesn't believe can be true, but he doesn't want you to wake him up because it's, well, amazing. And the best part is that it's not actually a dream, it's reality that is feels so... amazing (anybody have a thesaurus?). This dream is really his relationship with a woman that is so (amazing) shiny and magical that he can't believe it's true. I use words like "shiny" and "magical," because this woman has things like "gold doorknobs" for eyes and "jumper cable lips" for lips. When you are in love, it turns out that other person begins to take on shiny and magical (and sometimes dangerous electric and capable-of-starting-your-car) qualities. It's an almost too-good-to-be-true story, which is where this song is going. It feels like too much magic for real life, so it must be a dream, right? But the key word is "almost;" the singer feels tremendous relief because it is all real, for once. If I wasn't in a relationship, I would want it to feel as wonderful as this sounds. As it is, I can barely hold it together right now (or any time I revisit this song) because I feel the exact way he does.

When they finally reach the pause before the chorus, it sounds like they're at the edge of a precipice. As the music resumes, they go ahead and fall right off that cliff, into what I can only imagine is the most wonderfully warm and cozy love-of-a-lifetime. That might sound cheesy, and this song might also sound cheesy, but I don't care. If I'm already falling off a cliff, at least I'm landing in something delicious. Or maybe I'm not even landing. Once cool way of hearing this pause is that it's like the singer begins to fall, but is bolstered up again by the love he feels (so he falls, but then the parachute of love opens, or the safety of love net appears--pick your own analogy--and he doesn't really have to fall at all). The best instance of this pause-before-the-chorus, edge-of-a-cliff moment is right before the very last chorus (3.18)

The words of the chorus are pretty dramatic, but in a way that I totally want to eat right up (I like cheese, what can I say?). I especially enjoy the line, "bye bye to the too-good-to-be-true kind of love/oh, I could die!" And I don't just like it because it uses a hyphenated phrase, just like I seem to do much-of-the-time (just kidding, that one was gratuitous! You're welcome!). I like it because we all have been in relationships (or in my case, almost-relationships) that were too-good-to-be-true because they simply weren't. And that has sucked for all of us. And it has messed with our ability to trust that anything could ever just be good (instead of too good). But here, in this song, we can finally say "bye bye" to that. And it's so good, we could all just die! We really could (in the best and most happy of ways, of course)!

This is a relatively new concept for me, but it has been one that has inspired more love, creativity, action, happiness, and trust than I could ever imagine. It has meant that every time I hear this song, I see movement, I see joyful dancing and playing. That's why I've been choreographing a piece to this song since I first heard it all those months ago. I just began setting it tonight. I've been living an 11 month dream at this point and, well, I could just die!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Download in Aisle Seven

There comes a time in every young woman's life when she finds herself out, at a CVS, or Tom's the grocery store, or even Charlotte Russe, and she hears a song that's so good that it just can't be ignored (ooh, this also happens to her a lot at Old Navy!). This song will stick with her to the point where she'll try to remember some lyrics so she can Google them on her phone and then download said song. Maybe this young woman only just started using Shazam...

Anyway, this is a phenomenon that I find affecting me quite often and I wanted to share it with all of you (all three of you) in today's post, which is about Songs That I Heard in a Store That Were So Good, I Had to Drop Everything and Obsessively Try to Figure Out the Title and Artist so That I Could Download Them as Soon as Possible. Now, I understand that not everybody has had the same life experiences as me, and that anyone out there reading this probably hasn't heard all of these songs while out shopping like I have. However, I'd like to point out that at least two of the songs I'm going to write about today are played in heavy rotation at pharmacies and grocery stores around the country. In fact, I've heard some of these songs more than once in one of the aforementioned stores. So chances are you probably actually have heard them as you scanning the aisles for mixed nuts, toilet paper, and bottled water*.

The first such song, and perhaps the song I searched for longest (as I didn't always believe in the power of smart phone) is "Lady, You Bring Me Up" by the Commodores. I was lucky enough to hear this song in the CVS of Evanston one night, on break from the shoe store, as I was looking to buy some Doritos and a Coke for Heavy the Homeless Man who Sits Outside of the CVS and Tells Me I Look Like Rogue and That I Should Just "Let It All Hang Out." Heavy appreciated my gesture ("OOOOOH, Baby GIRL! Thank you!"), and I appreciated another chance to hear what would eventually make my list of favorite songs.** I say it was "another" chance, because I had heard this song before in another CVS, the one near where I used to live in Austin, Texas. This is why I say that, odds are, you have also heard this song in a CVS; it just seems to happen a lot. Unfortunately, that first time, I did not have my wits about me and I didn't get enough lyrics memorized to Google them later. That fateful night in Evanston, I held on to the lyrics I could remember (most likely, they were "Lady, you bring me up when I'm down") and I went straight to the computer at the register of the shoe store so that I could look them up, write down the title, and purchase the song later on iTunes (am I the only one who does that anymore?).

But enough back story--here is why this song rocks. First of all, it's by the Commodores. They wore goofy matching outfits and sunglasses and they moved together as a band during performances, a classic sign that they were a part of Motown Records. And the late 70s were a great time for Motown/R&B/funky music. Also, Lionel Richie was in the Commodores, as well as William King, father to the famous Adam King of MTV's the Real World: Paris. Does anyone remember that guy? He was a real nutjob and he was always talking about the songs he was writing ("I WILL not... BE... AFRAID... to FALL!" etc.). I guess he thought he would continue the family business. He didn't. There's a Facebook group dedicated to the awful songs that Adam used to write during his time in Paris. I am the administrator and only member of said Facebook group (but not the creator, oddly enough!).


The song isn't just awesome because of the celebrities (and fake celebrities) that surrounded its creation. It has a wicked bass line and killer strings filling in each chorus (after they say "Lady" or "maybe" at the top of each line, the strings pop out some sharp accents, for example). Those Commodores work together to provide some excellent harmonies in response to Lionel Richie's calls for backup. The song's got a pretty great message, too. This Lady has basically saved this dude's life, and he wanted to write her a smooth and funky song in response. Well, my friends, he has succeeded.

The next song I wanted to share with all of you today is "I Believe" by Blessid Union of Souls. If you are anything like me, you thought that their only hit was "Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me)." Maybe you even thought the lead singer, Eliot Sloan, was white (I did for sure, and I think it had a lot to do with me confusing "Hey Leonardo..." with "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)" by Nine Days). Well, as the song I'm discussing clearly states, Eliot Sloan is not in fact white. It was about a year-and-a-half ago and I was in the Tom's grocery store of Interlochen when I heard it. Of course I had heard it before, but I hadn't given it much thought. For some reason, however, this time I listened carefully to the song and its lyrics. Pretty heavy stuff, folks! But it also has a beautiful message (that, no matter what, "Love is the answer" and "Love will find a way"). Not too shabby, plus it's just kind of a pretty song.

I say it's heavy because of the third verse where he admits that he's been dating "Lisa" for "a little over a year," but (even though things are great between them) Lisa's father would disapprove if he ever found out that she was "in love with a n***** from the streets." Pretty heavy, indeed. It's not exactly what one might expect from a band whose other hit songs tend to involve snarky joke-lyrics. But, even though every time I hear the song, I still feel a little shock at that line, I appreciate the harsh and blatant statement the band made and the hope they seem to carry all the same (the hope that "he'll see me as a person and not just a black man"). Maybe, if we all believe in Love, their dream will come true.

The third and final song that I just had to download right away (and that I successfully downloaded in the store while it was still playing--thanks iPhone, I love you! See more about those bourgeois happy feelings here) is "Cosmic Love" by Florence + the Machine. I like this band because Florence has such a powerful voice, that even she can't seem to properly maneuver it. Some would say this makes her "kind of bad" live. I would agree. But still, how awesome is it that a voice would be so big that it literally seems to be out of anybody (save the record producer)'s control? It gives her this eerie and supernatural howl that tends to fit the kind of songs she writes. "Cosmic Love" is no exception. Add that quality to an excellent build in percussion during the first verse, and you've got a song with an explosive chorus. It feels so good to belt along that I hear some people end up in tears before it's all over (not ME, of course. I never cry inexplicably at songs that other people might call "corny." And if I did, it wouldn't be to this song, or "Dynamite" by Taio Cruz, or any song/cover of a song from the movie the Last Unicorn. Certainly not!).

There's something cathartic in howling along with ol' Flo as she screams out the line "you left me in the dark." If someone has left you in the dark, you should only inform them by howling, as any other way would not emphasize enough the drama of being left behind. As I said, the voice fits the raw emotion of the song. She doesn't have the emotional wherewithal to work on controlling her voice, which makes the feeling more believable. And so I couldn't help myself either; I had to buy the song then and there.

*Bottled water is really scary, actually. Please don't buy it. I used to drink it religiously, and I swear it's what made me so crazy. I know that, in itself, sounds crazy. If you really want to know the scientific reasons I'm afraid of it, I can send you some articles. Yikes.

**There are literally hundreds of songs on this list. And, yes, they are all "one of my favorite songs." My actual favorite song depends on my mood on any given day, but it usually comes down to "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" by the Talking Heads. It makes me believe in love.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

He Said It's All in Your Head, and I Said "So's Everything," But He Didn't Get It

Well, my resolution to stick to one song was certainly short-lived. I can't help it, I need people to understand how excited I get about musical concepts as well as individual songs. I might be attempting the impossible (because how could anyone else understand one girl producing so much enthusiasm for something like "Hold the Line," by Toto?), but don't we all just want to be understood? Today I want people to understand (as if they didn't already) the lyrical genius that is Fiona Apple. That's why today's post is about Fiona Apple: Lyrical Genius.

Now, this is a tough spot in which to find myself, because most of Fiona Apple's songs include genius lyrics. I guess I just want to share with you a few of my favorites. Originally, I favored Fiona Apple as one of very few low-voiced female pop singers (there's her and Tracy Chapman, really). As a fellow L-VedFPS, I have always appreciated someone writing songs that were fun for me to sing. I sang "Shadowboxer" for my college a cappella group auditions, after all (yes, I was a part of the wonderful world of college a cappella. Please stop laughing at me!).

Of course I was also hooked on her extreme angst, because I was darn angsty as a nine-year-old, when she surfaced on American radio. This can be seen in how closely I felt I identified with Alanis Morissette despite having almost no idea what she was talking about in most of her songs. I had only been scorned once by love at that age, but it was an experience that stuck with me for many years (sadly, I'm not kidding... ask anyone I've ever loved since!), so I felt like I could relate to some of what both ansty songstresses were feeling. It turns out that, at the age of nine, I could not forsee the degree to which my feelings about my love life would continue to become progressively angst-filled (or angst-ridden? Perhaps this is a better term. See below...). As I evolve with each guy that turns out to be just another "learning experience," I find myself identifying with Fiona Apple in new and exciting ways.

The first line or stanza I'd like to bring up is from the heartbreaking song, "Love Ridden" off of her album When the Pawn... I had sort of heart the song before, but didn't fully understand how completely gut-wrenching it could be until one fine day last winter, about a week after my first and only break-up, when I had the impulse to listen to the words for the first time. Usually my impulses guide me to whatever I need in order to find comfort. Unfortunately that day my impulses were just trying to mess with me, the lousy jerks! Though I could not imagine lyrics more fitting for such a situation, I wouldn't recommend listening if you are in that situation, unless you want to melt into a fit of hysterics. Even now, though my situation is very different, I almost can't think these dangerous words. So, naturally, I'm gonna share them with all of you! Specifically, I mean the last line of the first verse, into the chorus:

"I want you warm, but it will only leave me colder when it's over so I can't tonight, baby. No, not "baby" anymore. If I need you, I'll just use your simple name. Only kisses on the cheek from now on and in a little while, we'll only have to wave."


Ahem... I mean, this line comes near the beginning of the song where she's talking about how she wishes she could just curl up in bed next to this familiar person from whom she now finds herself estranged. Don't we all wish we could just do that sometimes? But she knows the truth; it would be warm in that bed, but the feelings after the fact would pretty much suck, 'cause it's still over, right? And then she falls into the familiar habit of calling the other person "baby," but has to catch herself 'cause she's not allowed to do that anymore. I hate that part of a break-up. The lyrics subtly illustrate the growing distance, the part that's almost unbearable, the realization that someday that person will be just another person on the street that you'll wave to and nothing more. I can't even elaborate, because I'm having a decent week and I don't want to ruin it by thinking about this anymore (do you see what I do for you?). Just go listen to the song, if you're feeling stable.


Sometimes she has these brilliant moments of twisting words or phrases so that they either rhyme or mirror each other in this wonderful little way. Don't understand what I mean? Let's examine a line from "On the Bound:" "Nothing I do don't do nothing but give me more to do. It's true I do imbue my blue unto myself. I make it bitter." Let it be noted that "bitter" is rhyming with the end of the previous line, "I don't know what to do. I don't know. Should I change my mind? I can't decide. There's too many variations to consider." All of these circular questions and strings of words perfectly illustrate how much she is at a complete loss in these two lines. The steady stream of rhythmic words bounds on (get it?) evenly, cleverly addressing the mood and thoughts of the speaker. She's trapped in this confusing place, and she knows it's her fault, but she can't do anything about it. And so she remains trapped.

She plays with this concept of circularity in a bigger way in the song "Extraordinary Machine," off the album of the same name. She ends the first part of the first verse by rhyming "it's a slow climb" with "I'm good at being uncomfortable so I can't stop changing all the time." Side note, I love this line, regardless of its brilliant placement in the song, because I think that's the way any evolving person should feel, and I love it when people (myself included) are evolving. Thinking about your personal growth as uncomfortable, but also knowing that you can be "good" at that discomfort, is kind of an awesome way to look at it. Anyway, side note aside (har har), she's been talking about herself in this first stanza, right? Then she moves on in the second part of the verse to talk about her "opponent." She shares a list of reasons why he is her opposite (he won't ever "go slow," preferring not to "focus" on things, etc.). She sums up their differences up by mirroring the last line of the first stanza, but turning it on him: "he's no good at being uncomfortable, so he can't stop staying exactly the same." Gross! I guess, as a person who is rarely comfortable, I like that she turned something that is usually undesirable (like discomfort) into the better option of the two. If comfortable people never change, then who needs comfort? Thanks, Fiona, I feel better.

Speaking of songs that make me feel better, "Paper Bag" is well worth a listen if you have the time. Or even if you don't. I won't get into how good the lyrics are, or how much fun it is to sing along, or why it's particularly special to me. Suffice it to say, she was talking about bags in the wind long before Katy Perry and with much more talent. Again, I reiterate, GROSS (the song "Teenage Dream" is exempt from this gross-ness because it's so cute and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, but in general I find Katy Perry a little gross. Unless you want to tell me I look like her, which I would accept. I mean, if you wanted to do that...). Long story short: "Paper Bag" is a simply incredible song.

I'll leave you with one last line, which I think is more fun without explanation. But, boy, is it one tough and hardcore line, the kind that makes you just wanna say "OH! SNAP! GOTCHA!"

From "Limp" the line is "you fondle my trigger, then you blame my gun."


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

One Last Hurrah for Hair Metal

I'm going to try to simplify things in these posts just a little by sticking to one song, if I can, or at least one specific subject. I think we were all overwhelmed (me, myself, and I) by that last post where I tried to take on all popular country music of the 90s. There is simply just too much of it that I love. I don't know about you, but it literally hurts my brain to read about it. With that in mind, I'm going to get back to the subject of today's blog (or, for those of you who speak Snoop Dogg*, "back to the lecture at hand"). That subject would be "You're Invited (but Your Friend Can't Come)" by Vince Neill featuring Damn Yankees.

Now, I don't mean to claim that this was actually Hair Metal's last hurrah; I'm not qualified to make such assertions. VH1 is not paying me to make witty commentary for a "100 most" show and I am no Touré or Matt Pinfield (though I will say that I strive every day and in every way to be exactly like Matt Pinfield. In the looks department, especially.

Yeahhhhhh, Buddy!

All joking aside, this man knows EVERYTHING about music and I want to eat his brain, ancient tribe or zombie-style). This song certainly came at an appropriate time for it to be at least a part of Hair Metal's demise, a time when other hair bands (think Extreme or Mr. Big) were in the same sinking boat.

The year was 1992, Alice in Chains and Nirvana were slowly but surely killing the 80s (yet another thing I will forever hold against Nirvana. For more info on that, I direct you here), and the movie was Encino Man. For those of you who are not familiar with this movie, let me fill you in: Sean Astin, on his way from watery-eyed Goonie to watery-eyed Hobbit, is a dorky high school kid whose best friend is Pauly Shore (jealous!). His parents are building a pool in his backyard and one day when the two boys are playing around back there they discover the one and only Brendan Fraser, who is a flat-out caveman. They thaw him out and try to assimilate him into their high school lives and he becomes the most popular kid at school. Now that I work at a high school, I have to say the premise of this movie (that a caveman could take over the social hierarchy, unnoticed) isn't too far off base. After all, the teenager's ability to make rational decisions is just as undeveloped! Frontal lobe joke! Zing! No, I kid. But Brendan Fraser does have quite the easy time of taking over the school. It's so easy that, in fact, a caveman could do it! Okay, okay... I'll stop.

Anyway, as all great movies do, Encino Man had a theme song which is the subject of today's post. I have loved this song since I first heard it at the age of six and here's why: it sounds like exactly what it is, and it's a concept to which anybody (even a six-year-old) can relate. Plus, Vince Neill has a crazy voice.

It is a rare and special occasion when a song can sound (even melodically) so closely like the story it conveys. We all can recognize that happy songs usually sound happy and sad songs sound sad and sometimes artists mess with us by reversing these sounds we have come to expect. However, what if the song isn't happy or sad, but it's actually a big, wild, exclusive party? What would that sound like?

The main riff is dark and jagged, but the vocals are sharp and upbeat. When Vince bellows out the first word of the chorus ("whoa-no!"), he has all of those Damn Yankee's backing him up in a deep echo. His "dogs" are indeed, as he claims, "bigger and they're ready to fight," already by the sound of things. The power brought about by voices alone, aside from what they are saying, is enough to convey the severity of the message. The intimidation is building so you had better not even consider inviting your wet blanket of a friend, as explained in the title of the song. Not only is intimidation building, but the feeling that the party is gonna be a real rager--one you wouldn't want to miss--is building, too. C'mon now, don't jeopardize things by letting your lame-o friend in!

Each verse's edgy sound alludes to what's in store. It feels like waiting outside of a club that won't let you in and then you get to the chorus where you get a taste of the glittery and raucous event going on inside. The ridiculously electric guitar solos add to the party's reputation of "cooler-than-you" and "more fun than you could have on your own." This is a good time, but it comes with a price: they're not letting just anyone through the door. And they are especially not letting Sean Astin enter.

We've all felt left out at one point or another, whether the feeling is warranted or just in our heads, and this is why I've been able to relate to the message of this song in the context of the movie since I was a little kid. There have been many times where I felt like my "cooler" friends were the ones who were truly welcomed at a party and that I was just tagging along. There have been times where I was the "cooler" friend (I'm sure, though I can't think of any just now...). It's a part of life. Funnily enough (or maybe just unexpectedly), a closer glance at the lyrics will show you that Vince Neill actually wants to get with some chick and her boyfriend is the "friend" that isn't allowed at his party. But either way, dorky boyfriend or dorky Sean Astin, the message is clear. And the song rocks. Anybody want to watch Encino Man with me this weekend? I'll bring some snacks and way, way too much enthusiasm...

*I'm the capital S-oh yes-so fresh-N-double O-P. D-O-double G-Y, D-O-double G, ya see?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Blame it All on My Roots

Today I write to you about ::gasp of horror:: Shania Twain. I just saw the movie Country Strong, and it reminded me of all the 90s female pop-country songs I love. And there are many of them. I would have to argue that these songs (and those of Garth Brooks) played a big part in who I am today, so to play the "country that isn't by the old, crusty greats (like Johnny, or Merle, or Hank) sucks" card would only be a lie. Don't get me wrong. I love the Old 97s (especially the part of them that is Rhett Miller). I love Wilco. I know what's "hip," I know what the kids like! 23 Skidoo! I just also love the junk that was played on the radio where I grew up (Texas and Michigan) and here is why:

I grew up watching the girls on one team at my basketball camp (and their awkward male coach) perform Trisha Yearwood's "She's in Love with the Boy." It was hilarious. I was a kid who knew that, when Trisha Yearwood (and sometimes LeAnn Rimes) sang "How Do I Live," it meant that Carrie and Austin on Days of Our Lives were thinking of their deep, unending, and ill-fated love because Sami and Lucas (and most of all, Stefano DiMera) weren't going to let them just love in peace. That Stefano never let's anyone do anything in peace!

In my high school jazz classes, we line-danced to "Any Man of Mine" and "If You're Not in it for Love" to break up the monotony even though I maintain that true Texans only line-dance ironically (thanks Shania). I rollerskated (sort-of) at friend's 18th birthday party to "Whose Boots Have Your Bed Been Under" (thanks again!). In eighth grade, I had a tap dance to "Man, I Feel Like a Woman," and I still remember the moment of the greatest Maxi Ford placement ever. At school dances, the girls pretended we could relate to "That Don't Impress Me Much." I routinely smile to myself while driving down US-31 to Shania's hit from the Twister soundtrack, "No One Needs to Know Right Now," because it's a great song and because I'm smiling at the prospect that someday I'll be just like Shania and be able to like someone without telling everyone in the entire Universe. I'm not there yet, Shania, but you've got me hoping that I'll be there one day.

When a boy broke my heart in the fourth grade, I knew that much like Faith Hill, "It Matters to Me." And I longed for the "Passionate Kisses" that Mary Chapin Carpenter sings about. When my sister and I were bored and stranded at the Pic Motel in Marathon, Canada (thanks, family Spring Break trip circumnavigating Lake Superior!), we said when we turned on the TV that, like Kathy Mattea, "Nobody's Gonna Rain on Our Parade." At the age of twelve, mortified, I learned to two-step to my old music teacher's rendition of Deanna Carter's "Strawberry Wine" at the world-famous Broken Spoke (silly Dad, "Strawberry Wine" is a waltz, NOT a two-step!). The Spoke is, and always will be, my favorite old-fashioned Texan Honky Tonk and Dance Hall. I don't necessarily have a reason I love Faith Hill's "Take Me As I Am," but I do. And finally, even today, when I contemplate that I somehow might feel the way Taylor Swift apparently felt when she wrote the song "Mine," I tear up a little.

Don't EVEN get me started on the Dixie Chicks. They are three spicy ladies with a video cameo of Dennis Franz, to boot (GET IT? BOOT?!!?)! I will say, however, that I don't much appreciate their cover of "Landslide." I'm sorry, but if you are not now, nor have ever been, in a tragically-fated, yet beautiful relationship with Leslie Buckingham WHILE HE'S PLAYING YOUR BACKING GUITAR, I don't buy your sincerity in singing that song (I'm looking at YOU, Billy Corgan!).

Too much? There's more.

I haven't mentioned Garth Brooks! He's not female, but he is certainly 90s country-pop at its finest. I'm not even being remotely sarcastic. Sure, Garth Brooks makes me laugh. Chris Gaines makes me laugh even more. The fact that I know people who won't admit to owning The Life of Chris Gaines, the soundtrack to his indefinitely postponed biopic (newsflash: HE'S NOT A REAL PERSON), is downright hysterical. But I love both Chris and Garth with all of my little heart. Who hasn't slow-danced to "The Dance" and gotten a little misty-eyed? Wait, you haven't? This is probably because most of you weren't thirteen-year-old socially awkward and emotionally needy girls in the state of Texas circa 1998. But I was, and this is why I can see the truth in such statements as "our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the-uh-uh-uh-uhhhh dance." Better to have loved and lost, Garth. I feel you, bro.

And who doesn't love Garth's songs about adultery? Adultery is awesome! It is especially awesome through the eyes of one Troyal Garth Brooks (his first name is Troyal! What the hell?!). In the realm of Garth Brooks Songs About Adultery, we have the melancholy "the Thunder Rolls," the whimsical "Papa Loved Mama" (yes, you're hearing that correctly, Papa kills Mama in a jealous rage!), and the best Adultery Song in the history of time, "Friends in Low Places." If you have ever been hurt by someone you thought you loved (and if you are human, I'm guessing you have), nothing will heal your heart faster. Sing it loud, sing it proud, sing it with your friends in a low place. Better? I thought so.

Other songs I enjoy are "Rodeo," "Baton Rouge," "The River," and "We Shall Be Free." That last one is incredibly progressive for a country song in the 90s. I would say it is the exact antithesis of "we'll put a boot in your a**, it's the American way, " (no thanks, Toby Keith!). Brooks co-wrote "We Shall Be Free" after spending time in LA during the riots. It's a song about peace and acceptance, and there is a gospel choir. It is a scientifically-proven FACT that any song will sound approximately 1000x better with a gospel choir added. Ask Madonna ("Like a Prayer," anyone?).

Garth has provided me with the best piece of wisdom I have ever received, and that is that "some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers" (from the song "Unanswered Prayers"). Sometimes I pray, even though I don't do much else in the world of Catholicism (I'm obsessed with the Our Lady of Guadalupe, but I somehow don't think that counts). Anyway, I do believe in the power of prayer, in whichever form you choose, to do good. It certainly does not hurt. However, there have been times where I hoped and prayed for something (usually for someone) and my prayers have not been answered. And looking back, I can't really think of a time where what did happen wasn't for the best. Usually, I end up finding out that whatever it is that I thought I wanted more than anything in the world turned out to be awful, or disgusting, or toxic, or to have an unhealthy obsession with... wait, nevermind, he's possibly reading this. Keeping this in mind is a source of comfort and peace in my life and I got it from Garth Brooks.

Lastly, there is my favorite GB song, "Standing Outside the Fire." I was first introduced to this song on Nickelodeon's amazing musical comedy show, The Roundhouse. The character danced angstily around the warehouse that acted as a set for the show while he sang the song even more angstily. I may have been six years old, but I was moved. I vowed never to "stand outside the fire," a noble promise that I have not done well in keeping. Yes, the message of the song is important (live your life, live in the moment, seize the day, etc.) and, yes, I am a sucker for lots and lots of angst. Still, I did not even know how much I could love the song until I saw the video. I will not say much, I will just end the post here and let the video speak for itself. I am still speechless. Watch it at your own risk.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bah, Humbug!

Actually, this year I have more Christmas Spirit than I've had in awhile... at least for a few months. And I thought it might be fun to share some of the Christmas songs I most enjoy. This is especially fun for me, because I generally hate Christmas music. I don't mean to be an ol' Scrooge McDuck or anything, but I have worked at numerous businesses where we were forced to listen to Christmas music, day in and day out, from 9-5, starting November 1st. Gross.

In 2005 I started working at a Mormon-owned bakery in my old neighborhood. I worked summers and would also come help out when I was on holiday from college, because holidays are busy times for baked goods. Unfortunately, the biggest rule for the Mormons was that we had to have Christmas music playing constantly when it was in season. Luckily, after a few years of working there, my friend Dave (who knows everything about music) got tired of these rules. Since the boss-man usually wasn't around, he made several CDs of alternative Christmas music, and that's how I was introduced to some of the classics you'll see below. These songs often involved beer and Geddy Lee--things that my emroidered puppy sock-wearing boss probably would not appreciate, but that I grew to love. Here they are!

"Father Christmas" by the Kinks

I like this song, but I feel like I don't have a lot of concrete reasons. I like the Kinks. I like that Ray Davies was shot a few years back while trying to recover a lady friend's purse (and he's still okay, because he's that much of a badass). I like that this badassery is translated into every song they ever recorded. Mostly I like that the main line in this song is "Father Christmas, give us some money!" It's definitely not your typical Chrismas sentiment. This song is about a mugging that eventually turns into a Christmas lesson learned.

And speaking of atypical Christmas sentiments, next we have:

"Christmas Wrapping" by the Waitresses

First of all, everything this band ever did sounded 1,000 times more genius because of Patty Donahue's deadpan vocals. Think about the song "I Know What Boys Like." Yep, that's this band and they have a Christmas song. I like this song because it's not just about the same old stuff that every other Christmas song is about. This is about a woman who has tried all year to successfully date this guy, but they both keep failing miserably at making it work. Finally, she resolves to spend Christmas alone and she doesn't seem too bummed about it. Actually, she doesn't seem to care much either way about it, or about much of anything, which is what made her such a classic artist.

This is a holiday sentiment to which I, personally, can relate because a) I spend a lot of time trying to date people and failing miserably at making it work and b) I spend a lot of Christmases more or less alone, working at the bakery, or crashing other people's celebrations (thanks, Nelson family!). And, just like in my life, even when everything seems like it's going wrong, the ending to this song is always happy, and just a little funny. There are also sweet saxaphone grooves throughout. Give it a listen. It can't be any more annoying than the usual Mariah Carey and Bing Crosby classics, right?

Speaking of Bing Crosby, I have to say that he makes my list of Christmas songs I can actually tolerate. Of course, this is only due to a lot of help by mister A Lad Insane himself, David Bowie. I've loved David Bowie since the day I discovered him tight gray leggings (it was a Northern Michigan Summer day in, probably, 1994). And in 1977, shortly before Crosby passed away, he and Bowie were featured on a television Christmas special singing an updated version of the classic song "Little Drummer Boy." This version was

"Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" by David Bowie and Bing Crosby

I can't tell you what exactly is the key ingredient that makes this such a magical cultural moment, but I can tell you the different things I love about it. I love that both men are clearly trying to make their careers more normal and relevant by working together (and even pretending that they know each other's careers). I also love that it doesn't make it any less weird to see them together. And still, I love that they seem to get along well all the same. For the special, there is some weird backstory where Bing Crosby is visiting his family and "guests" keep dropping by only to encounter Bing Crosby and not his relatives that they apparently came to see. And then they sing holiday duets.

The two gentlemen exchange some harmless, awkward, and ultimately entertaining banter before they begin to sing. Then, they blend their equally beautiful voices in song. Bowie sings the modern descant while Crosby sticks to the old standard, and then the two sing more of the new song together. Bowie proved himself not just to be a glam-rock weirdo by showing some true vocal chops. Crosby showed us all that he wasn't as square as we might have thought. Plus, the song is just beautiful... it's all about peace on earth... and other gooey things... Who doesn't kind of love that, even if they don't always love Christmas?