Archive for September, 2008

Political Science

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2008 by pulmyears

Love The Candidate? Buy the Soundtrack!

“I’m your top prime cut of meat
I’m your choice
I wanna be Elected”

Alice Cooper “Elected”

It’s time to talk about music and it’s use in the U.S. Election cycle this season.

Let me start out by saying that I’m a Canadian living in California so while I have no dog in this fight, per se, Obama’s policies and outlooks most resemble my own. So he’s my dog, if you will.  In coming weeks I may have something to say about the Canadian elections, but this current post is about music and the U.S. election.

The other night, the Obama campaign raised 9 million dollars at a Hollywood fundraiser starring Barbra Streisand. To put that in everyday numbers, that’s roughly 9 million times what you or I have in our wallets but about a quarter of the cost of the average Hollywood blockbuster.

It’s said that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people, and Leonard Cohen once sang (allegedly to Janis Joplin) “We are ugly, but we have the music”.  Music of course is the soundtrack to all of our lives and the Democrats who assembled in L.A. for Barbra and Barack are Hoping (with a capital H) that Obama can take us back to “The Way We Were” during the financially secure Clinton years, with the “Evergreen” Belief that 8 years of Republican rule will come to a “Stoney End” in November. Meanwhile, the GOP has been running into all sorts of trouble finding musicians to even ALLOW their music to be appropriated by Team McCain. That’s because, in popular songs, meaning has currency. And deregulating that meaning, i.e subverting an artist’s intent to a diametrically opposite political party, devalues that currency.

Musicians, Don Was once told me, are different than actors.
Actors get known for playing people often unlike themselves, in fact the more different they are in real life, the more acclaim we give them.

“Films,” the be-dreadlocked producer told me, during an interview for the Barenaked Ladies book, “are an escape. Pop music articulates personal feelings that transcend conversational language. And people use it because it actually expresses your feelings in a more eloquent way.”

Thus, we have Obama getting blanket authorization to walk out to Ben Harper songs, U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” and Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” while, on the other hand, Jackson Browne sues John McCain for unauthorized use of “Running on Empty”, Van Halen jumps to stop McCain from using “Right Now” (even though Sarah and Todd Palin gave Trig Palin the middle name Van, to make him Trig Van Palin in honor of their love of Van Halen) while John Mellencamp lashed out at McCain for his use of  “Pink Houses” and “Our Country” and Ann and Nancy Wilson are furious that Palin might have implied their endorsement of her by using Heart’s “Barracuda” to intro the self-styled Sarah Barracuda.

Here’s the thing though, these songs don’t actually help the GOP when you check the lyrics.

One of the best lines in “Barracuda” for example, goes “And if the real thing don’t do the trick / You better make up something quick” – too honest, perhaps?

And why would someone who is running on empty promises want to draw attention to it by literally using “Running On Empty”?  It’s the most tone-deaf equation since Reagan unsuccessfully attempted to co-opt Springsteen’s “Born In The U.S.A.” despite the fact that the song questioned everything that Reagan’s GOP stood for. Springsteen, of course, demanded they stop, as did Tom Petty when GW Bush cued up “I Won’t Back Down” for his 2000 campaign. Presumably, Fleetwood Mac were sympatico with Bill Clinton and blessed his ubiquitous use of “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow).” But hey, the GOP have their supporters, too you know? Like country star John Rich, of Big and Rich, who actually wrote a new song for the GOP candidate, entitled “Raising McCain” (get it?). And I’m sure Kid Rock must be with McCain, although I admit it’s his ads for the National Guard that may be confusing me, it’s just that I’m so used to the GOP co-opting military and NASCAR thing – you assume he’s Republican. Anyone out there know where the Kid stands? Let me know. Strangely, even Toby Keith says he supports Obama! So it’s a fair question.

But, while there are plenty of Republicans in the music industry, it seems that every time the McCain team grab a hold of a popular song, they are told they are, to use a phrase, not worthy.

Here’s A Few Song That I Don’t Think Are Being Used By Either Party.

“Living In Hope” – The Rutles for Obama
“Let’s Impeach The President” Neil Young for Biden
“John, I’m Only Dancing” David Bowie for McCain
“Do The Dinosaur” Was (Not Was) – for Palin

And forgive me, but how about “Sweet Home Obama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd?

As you can see, I’d suck at that job, but  I’ll bet YOU can think of many more, probably much better ideas for campaign songs.
So send them to me, via the COMMENTS slot….

And now to play us out, (PLAY US OUT? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?)

here’s Randy Newman with “Political Science”…


Prog Talk – two things.

Posted in Uncategorized on September 15, 2008 by pulmyears

A month or so back, I discussed how much I’d been impressed with Dweezil Zappa’s Zappa Plays Zappa project and how the music, in spite of being complex and show-offish to play, was the opposite of a great deal of what we nowadays call PROG (formerly known as Progressive Rock). You can read that one here.

Well two things have been making me think again about Prog today.

The first was today’s announcement of the passing of Pink Floyd’s keyboard player Richard Wright, from Cancer, at age 65.

Richard Wright (left) with Syd Barrett (right) in an early Pink Floyd promo shot.

Richard Wright (left) with Syd Barrett (right) in an early Pink Floyd promo shot.

Keyboards played an important part in the style and substance of the Floyd, particularly the post Syd Barrett version of the band, i.e. the one most people know. Oddly enough, for a Prog band, Floyd have rarely been about athletic displays of virtuosity (although only a fool would discount, say, David Gilmour’s guitar prowess) in fact, their dreamscape sound and slow, almost bluesy demeanour stand in contrast to the notes-per-second crowd. As a result, I never really dwelled on Wright’s keyboard work that much. His presence was all about the ambience or supporting the song, a journeyman in prog if you will. Wright’s electric piano work on “Money”, his synthscapes on “Shine On (You Crazy Diamond)” or his organ arpeggios on “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” all became staple sounds in the post Floyd world of Alan Parsons styled album rock. And yet, we so seldom think of Richard Wright. Such is the legacy of a good utility player, supporting the song so David Gilmour or Roger Waters could lay down their sonic ache over it and take the spotlight. And not just that, apparently, according to something I read today, he also sang lead vocals on a few including “Time,” “Echoes,” and Syd’s song, “Astronomy Domine”.  I also read that he was the only member of the Floyd not to show at the premiere of the The Wall movie. He left the band came back from time to time (he didn’t appear on The Final Cut album, but he continued to tour with Gilmour’s lineups of Floyd.  Anyway, he’s gone to the Great Gig in The Sky now, so note his passing, if only because you pretty much know every riff he played without ever really thinking about who played it.

The other Prog thought came after attending a gig by The Bad Plus, last week at Yoshi’s in San Francisco.

The Bad Plus (left to right) Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, Dave King

The Bad Plus (left to right) Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, Dave King

They play a kind of modern improvisational jazz, rooted in be bop swing, and set in a piano, double bass and jazz drum kit motif, yet informed by rock melodies. These rock melodies, however are the starting point for expanded jazz solos and time signature defying jams. Their most recent recording was aptly named Prog, and features their instrumental interpretations of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”, Tears For Fears’s “Everybody Wants To Rule the World” and David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” alongside their original compositions. Last week in concert, their “Tom Sawyer” was a standout, and their own songs sizzled. This is, as is the case in Dweezil Zappa’s current band, largely duo to the virtuoso calibre of the musicians on hand, all three of whom know how to play rings around the stage, but know when to hang back and play that most awesome of notes, the space between. Drummer David King is a treat to watch, he smiles, he laughs and calmly, joyously lays down some of the best drumming I’ve witnessed in my many years of concert going. Bass player Reid Anderson has that Charlie Haden sense of structure and harmony and like all of them knows that silence is often as groovy as a dotted eigth note. Finally, host and pianist Ethan Iverson, carries the main melodic direction with a broad sound and dexterity – his nimble rhythmic work opens up to full sustain pedalled colour work here and there and his hilarious introductions and humble demeanor suggest a bald John Hodgeman (the PC from the Mac commercials). Yeah, I dug them. They’re in that category where the Brad Meldhau Trio lives (that band does some Radiohead covers).  A whole lot of true jazz exploration with a healthy dose of Prog, and a few touches of music rooted outside the jazz realm, such as Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” thrown in for good measure.

We close with a clip of The Bad Plus at work and at play in their EPK on YouTube. NOTE YouTube didn’t censor this video, (the way the pulled down the Sarah Palin Assembly of God one, but that’s another sad story. Click the link to read about THAT)

Wither Thou, Bill Withers?

Posted in Uncategorized on September 4, 2008 by pulmyears

Just to clear this up right away, as far as I know soul powered singer songwriter Bill Withers, the bard of Slab Fork, West Virginia, is still very much alive. Frankly, a lot of folks have been dropping out of this plane of existence lately so I can imagine some of you were a little startled that – out of the blue – I start talking about Bill Withers, the deep voiced singer of 70’s and 80’s hits like “Ain’t No Sunshine” (1971), “Grandma’s Hands” (1971), “Lean on Me” (1972), “Use Me” (1972), “Lovely Day” (1978), “Just The Two Of Us” (1981) and, as they say, many, many more!

Allow me to explain.

Last week, I was chatting with my friend Ron Sexsmith about his new album Exit Strategy Of The Soul. We were talking about how some of his own vocals were very soul oriented and he reminded me that he’d always been a big fan of Bill Withers. I told him that I was too, and that my old band The Gravelberrys used to do a cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine” in the mid 90’s.  Ron told me that, in 2004, when he was recording his own song “Whatever It Takes” [from Retriever], he was actually trying to write something that Bill Withers might have done. “He’s definitely one of my heroes,” Ron told me. “I keep hoping he’ll make another record some day, but that’ll probably never happen.”

Of course that got me thinking about Bill Withers. Where was he now? It also got me YouTubin’, where I came upon this clip from 1971, with Withers performing “Ain’t No Sunshine”:

Withers won the Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues song in 1971 for “Ain’t No Sunshine” and another one in the same category in 1981 for “Just The Two Of Us” both for his own recordings. Then he won another one for Club Nouveau’s recording of “Lean On Me” in 1987.

Here’s another great clip of him doing “Use Me”…

Apparently he retired years ago, and raised two kids including Kori Withers who is a songwriter too. I sure hope he’s made money from that Will Smith sample in “Just The Two of Us” and from that Gap ad that used “Lovely Day.”

For what it’s worth, and we all know Wikipedia is subject to distortion, here’s the Wikipedia entry on Bill Withers.

Anyway, just wanted, for a change, to celebrate the guy while he’s alive.  So many of the greats aren’t here anymore, make a little time for Bill Withers.

I leave you now with a great clip of an interview Withers granted to West Virginia Public Television, last winter, on the occasion of his induction into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.

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