Tuesday, October 5, 2010

lady GAGa?

On August 1, 1981, MTV launched by airing it’s first video “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. This seminal moment is widely heralded as a prophetic statement. Indeed, MTV did ‘kill’ the radio star with the next 29 years (and foreseeable future) of broadcasting that focused less and less on music to the point where Heidi & Spencer are the new Sid & Nancy. The reality of MTV’s responsibility in the change of popular music is undeniable and ubiquitous. But, is it something to be looked at with such disdain? Let me get to the point by digressing…

My original idea for this post was to lambaste Lady GaGa for the pop icon she has become. She is the neo-MTV incarnate. She is focused on image over music, controversial, exceedingly sexualized, and a white female (see: Madonna, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Pink). Her music is lyrically simple with fuzz filled synth leads whose timbre and rhythm are not much different than those in Heaven by DJ Sammy – a song popularized by Dance Dance Revolution and Europop discotheques. Listen to the chorus of “Heaven” and then the chorus of “Bad Romance” and you will see the similarities. (I want to clarify that I am saying similarities not sameness). Part of what gives Lady GaGa her wide appeal is her ability to constantly change how she is seen and not how she is heard, musically. And in this day and age of social networking and wifi, that can happen between albums, between songs, hell, even between bathroom visits. One day she can be wearing a bunch of Kermit the frogs, flipping the bird to Mets fans the next (who wouldn’t?), and then eating it on the pavement because of her two foot heels. I wanted this to be my reason for not liking Ms. GaGa, she is an exhibitionist in which music is a consequence of, and not the reason for, her fame. Yet, the more I got to thinking about it I realized it really is just the natural progression of music.

Let’s continue digressing, as Inception taught us “We have to go deeper…”

To simplify matters, let’s say that the roots of modern pop music started in the 50’s with Elvis Presley. Elvis was the original Madonna, Marilyn Manson, and, yes, Lady GaGa. His performances and persona were secondary to his music. (99% of which he didn’t write. Another foundation of modern pop music). What do we think of when we think of Elvis Presley? We think of Elvis not being allowed to be shown below the waist because of his gyrations, the synchronized “Jailhouse Rock” dance, and him getting fat in Vegas and dying on a toilet. These are the reasons over 600,000 people visit Graceland every year. Elvis Presley is not a musician, he is an icon. We could do this same exercise for other famous icons such as David Bowie, Michael Jackson and Prince (aka O(+>) just to name a few (although all of them wrote their own music). But to be fair, there is another side to this coin.

There are those musicians who go out of their way to prove that music is more important to them than any image. Think Pearl Jam, Led Zeppelin, Dr. Dre, etc. Sure, Pearl Jam wore plaid, Led Zeppelin used to spank groupies with mud sharks and Dr. Dre, well, just trust him… he’s a doctor. But their lack of focus on image is an image in and of itself. It’s how we remember them outside of their music. Devotees of the classic school of rock will preach night and day to you about how their beloved and pseudo-deified rockers (i.e. Led Zep, The Who, Black Sabbath) were all about the music (Hot Topic says the same thing). And these fans, who like to act like they grew up with the bands, are right, they were all about the music. But that’s still an image. We still recognize the aura of Led Zeppelin just as easily as we know the aura of Lady GaGa.

The million dollar question is, is there a right/wrong answer to how image plays into your fame/artisanship as a musician? Do we blame Lady GaGa for refocusing our collective eyes away from musicianship or do we applaud her for finding a new way to progress music? My mind is racing with other questions I want to ask but I figure your answers and comments will help spur a coherent response instead of the previous 5 paragraphs of brain farting.

Spew your answers/comments forth!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

why i've lost respect for jack white

one of the highlights of my teenage life was a couple of consecutive night concerts at the masonic temple theatre in detroit. a girl i knew in school, who i now think had a crush on me at the time, invited me to go the upcoming whitestripes show that was a local detroit release party for "elephant." with a sunken spirit i told her i couldn't go because i couldn't afford it (tickets were $35/$45 with fees). i was working 20 hours a week to help pay for what i thought was college but would really be a $30 a week cinnamon breadsticks habit. needless to say i didn't want to spend the money. then she said the magic words that are always to good to be true...

"that's ok, i can get you in for free"

this was my reaction

she replied with "yeah, my family works for the theatre and all you have to do is usher people to their seats [because it's a nice theatre] for 30 minutes and then you are free to roam the theatre and watch the concert." without hesitation i said i would be there.

i had followed the white stripes as a teenager because all of my friends learned to sing and play the guitar at the same time by playing "apple blossom." we all learned "dead leaves and the dirty ground" off "white blood cells" and then elephant hit, and the white stripes blew up and so did my affection for them.

anyway, i went to the theater with her entire family (who spoke some language other than english that i still have no idea what it was), and in my white shirt and tie sat people down and then got to watch jack white shred for the night. the theatre offered me a "on-call" position to just show up for any event to usher for. so i came back the next night with my friend ashley, and saw them again... in a white shirt and tie.

i vividly remember everything from those two nights. i remember jack white jokingly refer to detroit as "toledo" to get the crowd buzzing, i remember where i parked, i remember the shirt i was wearing, and i remember worrying that someone would ask for my ticket. but more than anything i remember the range of jack white's playing. at this point in my life mr. white was an eccentric song writer and riff creator but no virtuoso, due to the straightforward, simple progressions on his albums. these nights made me realize, while he focused his talents on his unforgettable melodies that stretch all over the world, he could really step forward as one of the strongest guitarists of all time.

that was the plateau of my respect for jack white, until "it might get loud" made me fall off that plateau.

i'll spare you the details but "it might get loud" is a documentary in which three deified rock guiarists (jack white, jimmy page, and the edge) all discuss their roots, opinions, and influences while meeting together in a warehouse in california. (you will probably need to see the movie to know everything i want to discuss)

the edge opens the movie showing off all the equipment he uses to create the sound he hears in his head. he has a roadie specifically dedicated to designing, caring for, and setting up his huge pedal board. the edge goes on to talk about how he spends hours in his studio perfecting the sound for his songs. just listen to the subtle but stinging nature of "with or without you." that song is defined by the guitar. the bass does nothing, the drums never change but that guitar makes that song blossom.

then jack white comes out to talk about how music has always fought against technology. that technology is dragging down the soul of music and pulling it through the mud destroying the humanistic expression inherent in organized sound. he is portrayed as a sort of antagonist to the edge's style, which made complete sense with jack's style of playing: raw, shrill and powerful. but then things changed.

white went on to talk about how his favorite song was the elegant blues song grinnin' in your face by son house in which there is only clapping and singing. white proclaims that this song is what he has been trying to do his whole career; just try to express himself through simplistic expression.

here in lies my problem... jack white does not accomplish his musical expression by simply clapping and singing; john anthony gillis is a hypocrite

let me explain. in probably the most unintentional and subtly ironic part of the movie, an executive on the film lot gets in the way of jack's car because he was talking on the phone. white looks back at the well dressed business man and says "he probably just got done saying something like 'totally organic.'"

yum, i can actually taste that symbolism. it tastes like superman ice cream.

jack white wants his expression to be something akin to 'totally organic' in the likes of son house, yet, in his music he accomplishes the equivalent of the dressed to the 9's businessman SAYING 'totally organic' which, obviously, is anything but.

jack white uses a heavy amount distortion (a technological way to change the timbre of the guitar without mechanical changes to the guitar itself) on a lot of the songs he puts out and on his albums he is credited as playing the SYNTHESIZER! as in synthesized music. you know, the instrument that is solely in existence because of technology? i could not fathom how the jack white that i saw as a teenager had become that which i despise the most... the "do as i say and not as i do" type. i would have been fine if jack white had just played the barmy old codger type that yells at the kids telling them why their new music is just noise while solemnly reminiscing about the good ol' days of blues and rock. that's how i see jack white, that's why i like jack white. i'll end with a horrible comparison: jack white took the blues and rock synergy, which we will compare to the old half-animated lord of the rings and made it into THE lord of the rings. both are good, but for completely different reasons. jack white just fails to acknowledge those differences and wants to see himself as kin with the old school.

i will always love the whitestripes and will always pay for their albums and their concerts without hesitation but i cannot look upon jack white with such respect anymore...

am i being to nit-picky? am i alone in these thoughts?


coming up next: lady gaga!

Monday, March 29, 2010

what is "it?"

so, first, watch. second, daaaaaaaamn jay-z may have 99 problems but a bitch is NOT one. aaaaaaaaand i was about to finish this next sentence but the gay fish, kanye west, just barged in my room and demanded that i let you know that this music video is one of the best of all time........ ok, he just left, but only after i conceded that he was THE voice of this generation. but now to the matter more pertinent to my post. i refer you to the chorus of beyonce's song that is ironically sung more by middle aged housewives at scrapbooking fairs than any un-married ladies.

Cuz if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it /
If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it /
Don’t be mad once you see that he want it /
If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it

i have been doing mental gymnastics to figure out what in the world "it" is, because no matter which way you slice it, it's mildly if not downright offensive. here of some of my guesses:

1. it = ring finger
naturally, this is where my mind first went. but wait, you just like her ring finger? are we supposed to be gollum? is beyonce's ring the one ring to rule them all and she is just trying to trick us to put it on her finger? will i want to bite her finger off in a volcano?... seems ridiculous but i promise you i have thought of these possibilities. her sasha fierce glove is pretty entrancing and that ring she is shining, $5 million bones. "it" could, in fact, be her fourth phalange.

2. it = her (her being any single lady)
this choice seems the most logical. you would be putting the ring on her as a woman. so far, so good. but wait, beyonce refers to women in general as "its?" whoa whoa whoa, hold on a second, really? picture this, you are dating someone to the point that you are considering marriage (aka "putting a ring on it"). your friend, whom has never met your significant other, asks which girl is the one you are planning on proposing to. you then point to her and say "that's it over there." if she overhears this, there will at the very least be an embargo on imported/exported physicality if not an indefinite period of radio silence between the two of you. in short, there is no situation in which any woman would enjoy being referred to as an it. this falls into the downright offensive category.

3. it = vagina/sexual organs
before you call me perverse, listen, beyonce says if you liked "it." this is the only thing that i could come up with that a man would like on a woman that he would refer to as an "it." try and come up with something else! it's possible to put a ring on this "it" but i'm pretty sure that is not what beyonce meant but that hip shake at 0:53 in the video might suggest otherwise.

it is at this point that i am in a pickle and am beckoning for the help of those who read my idle ramblings. please help me elucidate the riddle of "it."

so, what is "it?"

Friday, February 26, 2010

the who? why?

so super bowl XLIV is over and has been over for a few weeks now. yet, i still believe a sittin-down-talkin-to is in order. hey, if mark schlereth and trey wingo can still be put on the hot/cold seat (depending on whoever is sponsoring it that week) about whether reggie wayne missed his route or if tracy porter jumped it, i can talk about the halftime show. the last halftime show anyone really remembers was "nipple-gate"(seen here -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39F_gVLh4fo, anyone brave enough to click on a link that brings you to a video with the description "nipplegate"?). in the spirit of nicknaming i have colloquially tagged this years' show as well:


as in, who the hell decided to put (half of) the who on the biggest stage in american tv history making hordes of toddlers ask their parents why grandpa is singing at the super bowl? there are an unbelievable amount of things obtusely wrong with choosing (half of) the who as the super bowl halftime act and in the spirit of my science background, and because of the sheer quantity of wrongness, the data will be presented in list form:

1. AMERICA!...........?

the who are from london, england. london, ENGLAND. on the whole, maybe some don't like to admit it, the super bowl is THE american cultural tradition. everyone is at least aware of it's existence in the upcoming sunday. approximately 1/3 of the country saw at least a part of the super bowl. whether you get off the football bandwagon by saying "i only watch it for the commercials" or your sipping a few brews out of your beer helment, you are still taking part in americana and (half of) the who are not in the american canon of tradition. same thing goes for the rolling stones in super bowl XL. honestly, it pains me to say it but i would rather see toby keith on the super bowl stage than (half of) the who. at least he would put a boot in someone's ass.

2. cbs subliminal advertising

i work with two women who are not fans of the who. when i came into work on monday, puzzlingly, one of my co-workers mentioned that (half of) the who played all her favorites... csi: miami, csi: las vegas, and csi: new york. i felt slighted. it was horribly done subliminal messaging. it made yvan eht nioj (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMZcz7cvLe8) look convincing. cbs has cheapened three stadium speaker blasting anthems to ditties akin to the brady bunch theme. no cbs, i will not drink the kool-aid that is csi even with your silly cross-marketing campaign. rumor has it that that kool-aid will convince you an entomologist is the most intuitive person on the planet... stay away.

3. stage distraction

everyone i have brought this subject up to usually says something along the lines of "yeah they were bad, but the stage was cool!" UNACCEPTABLE! just another distraction. you know when you ask your friend if a girl is cute and he/she says "yeah, she's nice" you immediately know she is not good looking and borderline crazy because all they could come up with to describe this person is that they are "nice." similarly, the who's stage was their "niceness" but their performance was still as bad as a night with lorena bobbit...... go ahead, look her up.

4. fossils are not dinosaurs

it's a largely accepted pretense that the who's "the kids are alright" film is the best chronicling of the who's best performances. every member is there. daltrey, townshend, entwistle, and moon. both the powerslide and windmill arm-swing were brought to the masses by this movie. it is epic and bombastic... the way the who should be remembered.

instead we get cbs trying to convince us that the two geriatrics on the stage have that same fire. "see, it's the who you love... just 35 years later."
roger daltrey's voice sounded like Jack Klompus from Seinfeld ("of course I've driven a cadillac"). they looked so old i was honestly concerned that pete townshend's arm was going to tangentially fly off and knock daltrey unconscious. in fact, that would have been a waaaay better halftime show.

in conclusion, here are some important questions to consider instead of dwelling on the horrible performance. do you think that they got AARP benefits for performing? is it offensive or politically incorrect that two OLD people were performing in Florida? did they go to old country buffet after? is cbs just trying to cement their status as THE senior channel? did the ambulance at the stadium for football accidents have a stretcher ready for (half of) the who?

hopefully cbs learned it's lesson this time but my bet is that we will get fooled again with another shell of a once great musicians. who knows, maybe elvis, buddy holly or benny goodman might be up for the gig.