Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Miss Otis Regrets by Bryan Ferry/Ethel Waters

Sex, guns, murder, hanging.

No, we’re not talking about a new Eminem song, we’re talking about Cole Porter’s 1934 tragic tale of “Miss Otis Regrets.”

Cole Porter is one of the most important song writers in American history. His works included “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” which became Frank Sinatra’s signature song as well as many others.

Looking back on Porter’s music, so much of it is so ingrained in our culture that his musical invention doesn’t seems impressive. Honestly I didn’t think too much of Porter until I came across “Miss Otis Regrets,” a shocking, haunting and beautiful song.

Cole Porter frames his tragedy from perspective of a butler explaining to a guest a the circumstances in which why Miss Otis cannot lunch. In a proper and collected manner, the butler explains how Miss Otis found that her love had “gone astray.” In her anger she shoots him and is taken to jail. Later a mob comes and hangs her on an oak tree and as she dies she “lifts up her lovely head and cried.” All the time through the butler informs us that “Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.”

The first version I heard of this song was by Bryan Ferry, an 1980s singer who became known as part of Roxy Music.

The earliest version of this song I found was Ethel Water’s recording of this song in 1934.

While Ferry stays reserved, Water’s breaks into tears as she sings about Miss Otis’ herself crying. Ferry’s distance from the story, staying cold and emotionless like a stereotypical butler, shocks and haunts us, Water’s emotional reaction pulls directly at our heartstrings. The songs becomes less shocking and more tragic as we are reminded of the sexist double standards against women in crimes of passion at the time this song was written which echo through present day.

“Miss Otis Regrets” is an unforgettable song, nuanced, subtle and beautifully crafted. Music in our past often shows how far we’ve come but sometimes shows us how far we have to go.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Baba O’Riley by The Who

I never gave much thought to The Who until I saw them perform "Baba O'Riley" at Concert For New York City, a fund-raising/tribute concert for the heroes of 9/11.

I knew of songs The Who had done like “My Generation” and had seen parts of Tommy back when VH1 was less concerned with “Celebreality” and more concerned with popular music history.

As I watched The Who opened their set with “Who Are You,” and then they played “Baba O’Riley” and I was blown way. While much of The Who’s music is layered with complex sounds and adventurous musical arrangements, “Baba O’Riley” is simple, powerful and one of the greatest anthems in Rock music.

On the cutting edge of music technology Pete Townsend, the guitarist and main songwriter for The Who discovered a way to create a random flurry of notes within a given note range. Instead of using a synthesizer to mimic strings as a lead instruments, “Baba O’Riley” is one of the first examples of using the synthesizer as a rhythmic instrument.

With the foundation of the song set, Townsend created a simple yet powerful guitar riffs in Rock. The riff is three chords, right square on beats 1, 3 & 4. This riff is like a call to the masses. It’s a brass fanfare for the coming of a King. An invitation to the epic journey of “Baba O’Riley.”

Most bands when they find a good hook, or a catchy bridge, they repeat it multiple times in the song. That’s not the case with “Baba O’Riley.”

Here’s the form:
Verse 1
Verse 2
Instrumental ending

Where most bands try to get their hook as close to the front of the song as possible, The Who save it to last part of the song. As a listener you don’t know exactly what’s happening and part of you wishes you could get a little bit more of the hook, but The Who decides to leave you wanting more. It’s a magical feeling to not know what is coming in a song but be taken to a place that you least expect.

There is a feeling in “Baba O’Riley” that something this song is not just another rock song. There’s a purpose, a conviction that travels through the form of the song. This song is a declaration and a protest. “Baba O’Riley” is everything that we fight for and everything we believe.

“Baba O’Riley” isn’t the first song to come to mind when we think about 9/11, but when you watch the performance and the way the firefighters and policemen react, rock out and sing along with The Who, it makes perfect sense. The world can be a wasteland, but there’s always something to believe in and there’s always hope. And sometimes all it takes is three simple chords to express the spirit of a nation.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Xmas . . . sorry , I mean Happy Holidays . . I mean . . . SIGH . . . nevermind

For the past couple week when people have been exchanging holiday greetings, I’ve heard a mixture of “Merry Christmas” and “ Happy Holidays.” I work at a public school that teaches grades 3-5, so I’ve been conscientious to say “Happy Holidays” to student knowing full well that many of my student do not celebrate Christmas.

The weird thing is , that even thought I’m not Christian, my instinct is to say “Merry Christmas” and I’ve been noticing that I have to catch myself almost saying that instead of “Happy Holidays.” It makes perfect sense to say happy holidays as, it does encompass events like Chanukah, but the word “holiday” means “holy day” so if you’re not celebrating anything at all, it implies that you should be celebrating some kind of religious event in the month of September which seems just as offensive.

Some argue the Political Correctness has gone to far. I don’t necessarily think so. A lot of it is correcting terms that are just plain wrong. “Native Americans,” makes a lot more sense than “Indian” seeing how the only reason that Columbus named them Indians is because he actually thought he was in India. Then there’s oriental term for Asians which means from the east, which doesn’t make sense for half of America in which Asia is actually west of America. However I do agree there are time that political correctness can be a little silly.

Brad Paisely examines this issue and the overboard ridiculousness of political correctness in “Kung Pao Buckaroo Holiday.” In his albums, Paisley features older country stars in comedic “Kung Pao” skits, including such legendary country musicians as Bill Anderson, George Jones and Little Jimmy Dickens and in his Christmas album, this group of musicians went off on political correctness.

While I agree it’s probably good practice to say “Happy Holidays” the idea of changing the word “Christmas” to “Holiday” in Christmas songs is ridiculous. In this song Paisley and his friend try this out and find the results idiotic. Other changes have to be made, “white Christmas,” becomes “Caucasian holiday” and they worry that “Silent Night,” will offend people who are deaf and others who are afraid of the dark. Paisley and his friend gently poke fun at the “Christmas” or “Holiday” issue and help us reflect on the ridiculousness that often ensues in trying to ensure that we are sensitive and that no one is being offended.

Now I love Christmas music. I’m not Christian, and it doesn’t really offend me to hear or sing songs about the birth of Christ. I do get tired of this stuff after a while, but the bottom line is many Christmas songs like “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” have so little to do with the religious meaning of Christmas that it seems harmless for people of any belief to sing.

American was founded by Christians, is mostly populated by Christians, which will probably be the case for some time. Part of being a minority is learning to accept things that the majority are into. Should people who are Christian be sensitive to the fact that there are people who do not share their beliefs, of course so, but there’s also a line between being sensitive and just being stupid.

I’m an Asian American and I’ve only really been offended by an Asian portrayal once in my memory. It was those cats in Lady And A Tramp. So wrong.

My theory is that most people don’t get offended as much as people think. A lot of political correctness come from offended for someone else’s sake. This makes groups feel like they should be offended about something that really doesn’t make them upset. So before you get offended for a friend, check in with them to see if they really care, you may be surprised.

So I hope everyone who celebrates Christmas has a merry one, if you got some other Holiday going on, I hope that goes well too. And have a happy new year! (at least I can say that without worrying about offended anyone. . . oh Lord, I forgot, the Chinese don’t celebrate their New Year until Febuary. . . argh!).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Candle In The Wind by Elton John

In 1997, the world watched Elton John say goodbye to one of his best friends, Diana, Princess of Wales.

When it was announced that John would perform at her funeral, some questioned how appropriate it would be for a pop singer to perform in Westminster Abbey. But Princess Diana wasn’t exactly the most conventional member of the royal family. Elton had spent his life breaking down bearings and proving people wrong. But this time it wasn’t about that, it was about paying tribute and helping the world deal with the loss of Princess Diana.

Elton John released a studio version of this tribute and it became the best-selling single, selling more than eleven million copies in the United State alone and sold millions more around the world.

“Candle In The Wind” originally appeared on Elton’s 1973 album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” The originally lyrics of the song feature here were a tribute to Marilyn Monroe.

Are there culturally implications that the same song with modified lyrics were used to talk about a movie star as well as British royalty? Yes, but it’s not really relevant. I wasn’t a huge fan of the idea of the just changing the lyrics for Princess Diana but I imagine that maybe that was all Elton could muster in his grief. Also by utilizing “Candle In The Wind” a song that people already knew as a loving tribute, Elton was able to draw us in emotionally to the moment and with the lyrics and performance took us to an entirely different place.

I’ve watched a couple Marilyn Monroe film but they haven’t had a significant effect on my life and when I heard the news about Princess Diana, honestly I didn’t really care that much. The only reason I watched the funeral was to see Elton play and when I did, it all started to make sense. Not so much fairytale wedding, the divorce and all of the controversy but what Princess Diana meant to him and the world.

Most of all in that moment I understand why my wife’s parents named my wife after this people's princess.

Monday, December 21, 2009

God Only Knows by The Beach Boys

Very few songs in the canon of popular music are about love. Yes, there are countless songs that talk about circumstances of falling in love and celebrate how great it feels to be in love. However more than often than, these songs are not so much about love but the idea of love. This magical thing that we will find with a person the first time we see them and perfect relationships that will withstand the challenges of life.

Unfortunately, this idea of love, is just that, an idea. People fall in love every day but they also fall out of love. “True love” isn’t true forever and unlike in the movies, the story is far from over when you fall in love with someone.

Through all the pain of divorce, and break-ups our belief in love takes a beating but we never give up. Do we keep trying because it’s just what we are suppose to do as humans? Is there something biological involved or something more? Really, if love is just about procreation, then love is quite an inefficient way to get from point A to point B, so I refuse to believe it’s just about survival. It’s about what it means to be human.

Being human means that we doubt, “I may not always love you.” It means that we wonder about the effect we have on the world, “If you should ever leave me though life would still go on, believe me.” It means that we wonder: “God only knows what I'd be without you.”

With only two verses and a simple chorus, The Beach Boys created with “God Only Knows,” one of the most beautiful love songs in popular music. When Brian Wilson literally went crazy and secluded himself in the studio what he emerged with was the songs that would make up Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys greatest album, considered by many to be as influential and important as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.

The Beach Boys were establishes as the masters of reflecting teenage love but Brian Wilson with “God Only Knows” raised it to another level. The main phrase of this song “God only knows what I’d be without you,” is devotional but also fearful. It’s a feeling of doubt mixed with uncertainty. In eight words, this line speaks deeper to the conditions of the human heart more than many novels.

The musical invention in this song is mind blowing. “God Only Knows” is a wedding march with a faster tempo than most loves songs. Wilson utilizes a wide arrange of orchestra instruments rarely used in popular music creating unique colors and flourishes. The subtle peaks and valleys in the melody capture the aching and longing of love so well that if there were no lyrics we would we still know exactly what this song is about.

Then there’s the epic layering of the line “God only knows” in the last fifty seconds of this song. The voice swirl around each other, haunting our thoughts, slowly taking us to place that our thoughts and dreams disappear when they leave our mind and become pure emotion.

“God Only Knows” is a true love song. It is honest and revealing describing the conflict of the mind and the human heart. Through it all, it reminds us that the reason we keep trying for love, that we hang onto what we have is because we can’t imagine life without it.

What it means to be human is to know love, have love and share love. Because a life without love is not much of a life at all.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Big Ten. . .wait a sec . . . Big Twelve?!?

Conversation between Kingsley as a freshmen at Northwestern University (K) and an upperclassmen friend (U)

K- wait, the Big Ten has 11 teams?!?

S- uh. . . yeah. . . well, they added Penn State in 1992 and never changed the name.

K-ok, I guess that makes sense, Big 11 doesn’t sound as good

S-dude didn’t you ever notice that in the Big Ten logo there’s a “11” outlined around the “T” in “Ten”

K-[stunned silence as my mind is blown]

Okay, after 9 years of being a Big Ten fan, I finally got my head around the fact that the Big Ten has eleven teams and now I hear that they want to add another one. Really people, if you add another team and you don’t change the name, you will have some really confused Asian freshmen at Northwestern.

This week the news broke that Big Ten was looking into adding another university to the conference. Twelve teams would make it easier to have a singular Big Ten Champion every year and keeping the teams playing through November and December would probably help keep the teams more fresh for bowl games. Adding a university would pull in another region of fans and add new energy to the conference. At the same I worry that we are doing this for the wrong reasons. All of the commentary and blogs that I've read about this subject have failed to recognize something very important. The Big Ten is not just about football.

My first year of Graduate School Northwestern University, we hosted the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) Music Education conference.

Every year a different school in the Big Ten hosts all of the music education professors and doctoral candidates for an annual conference. I had the opportunity to be part of this as a participant and a bar tender (yeah that's a different story). It was an amazing thing to see these people come together and share knowledge. I discovered that it was the norm for Big Ten Professors to collaborate on research. This sense of community benefits the music education profession greatly in the Midwest and I am grateful to be a part of it.

Now I admit that as a member of the Northwestern University Marching Band we would make jokes about other Big Ten teams but the amazing thing is that whenever we would visit another school as a band or another band would visit Northwestern the sense of camaraderie was amazing. The drum lines would have drum offs, marching bands would host receptions for visiting bands and we would often invite each other to parties after games.

My favorite Big Ten band bonding memory was when we were playing at an away game and the home marching band alto saxophone section brought us a gift bag. Excited, the whole alto sax section (my section) starting changing "what's in the bag? what's in the bag?" My section leader reached in the bag and pulled out a bottle of Jose Cuervo. We immediately changed the change "put it back in the bag! put it back in the bag," knowing how much trouble we'd be in if we were caught with that bottle in uniform. Later that night we met up with the other band's alto section and shared the bottle at a great party they hosted. I couldn't tell you which of our teams won the game that day but what I do know is that it never came up when we were hanging out.

Probably the greatest thing about the Big Ten experiences are ROAD TRIPS. It's awesome that ever school is within driving distance of each other. That's something that conferences like Pac 10 simply doesn't have. Road trips are a norm for Big Ten fans and I'd hate for a university to join and not be part of this experience.

The one reason that I've heard to add another university that bothers me is to raise revenue. First off, the Big Ten is doing ok with money from what I hear and really if the Big Ten made decisions motivated only by money we would serve alcohol in stadium, we would cutting sports that didn't bring in large audiences and universities would cut majors that didn't result in rich alumni donors.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against making the Big Ten a dozen. I just want to make sure that we are all thinking what being part of the Big Ten means.

I'm proud to be part of the Big Ten. That pride doesn't come from championships or viewership.
It's come from being part of an community, sharing amazing experiences with friends and being part of a great American tradition.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Schadenfreude (from Avenue Q)

People encounter misfortune every day. From losing a pencil to losing a family member to cancer, bad things happen all the time. Sometimes we can make sense out of these bad things. For example, "Person A" deserved to be punched in the face because he always acts like a jerk to his friends. Other times however there is no logic that can be made of tragedy like a person who is injured by a drunk driver.

Sometimes when bad things happen to people most of us react with understanding and sympathy. However, others times we derive joy out of the misfortune of others. There's a word for that "Schadenfreude." This German word is a combination of "schaden" which means "adversity and harm" with "freude" which means joy. Schadenfreude is often harmless laughing at a friend who trips while walking down the street but can also be as insidious as enjoying watching someone get beaten up.

Often we justify our Schadenfreude by telling ourselves that the people who are suffering deserve it so all we are doing is simply being satisfied that justice is being done however this is really just an excuse for us to fall into our baser instincts.

“Shadenfreude” from Avenue Q directly addresses this concept in a humorous and twisted way.

Avenue Q is a Broadway show that features Sesame Street style puppets singing songs with mature themes and explicit language. Imagine if South Park and Sesame Street had a baby and you’ll get close to understanding the insane awesomeness of this musical.

Avenue Q makes light of “Shadenfreude” discussing how getting joy from other’s misfortune in an integral part in making the world a better place. Laughing at misfortune is part of human nature, everyone does it and it helps us get through the day. The song is framed with similar backgrounds and melodies to Sesame Street songs that usually instruct us with valuable life lessons. In the hands of the Avenue Q cast something very different is happening.

The internal logic of this song that justifies Shadenfreude a twisted, perverse and despicable part of our nature which is why it’s so funny that the lesson of this song is that it’s actually a positive thing to enjoy the pain of others.

The reason this song has come to mind is because frankly, I’m sick and tired of people getting so much satisfaction out of Tiger Wood’s current situation. I am not a golf fan, I don’t own any of Wood’s paraphernalia and I don’t doubt for a millisecond that he acted immorally. However it bothers me that people are enjoying in his misfortune.

What does it mean to us if we get joy out of watching a man get exposed for his extramarital affairs and have to deal with his career possible crumbling apart? Who are we to get satisfaction that this person is finally getting what we think he deserves? And why after celebrating and building Tiger Woods up in our culture are there people who seem to be enjoying watching him suffer?

Maybe it's because he's a celebrity and some people will argue that this means they deserve our criticism and scorn because they have voluntarily place themselves in the public eye. As much as that argument makes sense, I feel like I’m listening to the Avenue Q song as people seem to making excuses for acting and saying things that insensitive, heartless and just plain wrong. It’s funny to hear a song about people enjoying the misfortune of others but it’s not so funny to actually see it happening.

My favorite blog right now is the Two-Penny Opera. Ian Shane, an author and screenwriter has created a fantastic blog that comments on music, society and culture. He wrote a response to Tiger Wood’s apology that perfectly captured how I feel about this situation. This is hands down the best commentary I’ve read on this subject and gets to the heart of the subject and what it Tiger Woods means as a public figure.

I know that watching people fail and laughing about it is fun but so is eating a Big Mac. Just because something feeds into our nature and feels good, doesn’t mean it’s good for us. I’m not saying that I’m not above laughing at posts on Fail Blog, but I don't feel great about at someone's misfortune. This kind of laughing always leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

So next time something bad happens to someone and you get some level of satisfaction, think about it for a second. Yes, Schadenfreude is part of the way we instinctively react to the world but it doesn’t mean that it has to define who we are.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Purple Reaction featured!!

Dog Health is feeling the REACTION!!!

Check their site out, it's largest Dog Health Problem website on their blog section they have chosen to feature my blog!!!!

Please throw them some love and check out their website.

. . . and click on the link to my blog from their site. . .

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Chanukah Song by Adam Sandler

I grew up surrounded by Jewish people.

At least a third if not more of the people in my school were Jewish. I had no idea that Jewish people were a minority of the world population. When December rolled around it seemed that just as many people were talking about celebrating Chanukah as Christmas.

A couple things became clear to me in elementary school. If you were Jewish you got your gifts earlier and instead of one night of gifts there were eight. My elementary school logic concluded that having multiple nights of gifts and celebrations was for superior. I mean eight nights!! How could that not be better?

One of the early hints that Jewish culture was not prevalent as Christian culture was the fact out of all of the Holiday songs we sang in school and I heard on the radio, the only Jewish one I knew “Dreidel, Dreidel”

I don't know if the "Courtney Cox" counter melody is part of the original song but it seems to work. . . she is Jewish, right?

I realize that there are other Chanukah songs out there they are not as well know as other Christmas songs like “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” Leave it to Adam Sandler to help fill the gap in our culture with “The Chanukah Song,”

Saturday Night Live has a long tradition of musical comedy like this clip of Andy Kaufman doing this early sketch from the sketch comedies show's first season.

Adam Sandler added to this tradition creating a song to reassuring Jewish children who felt that they were the only Jewish people in their neighborhood that they weren’t alone.

In “The Chanukah Song,” Sandler lists off people in popular culture who are Jewish and what becomes instantly apparent is that even though only 1.4% of the population in America is Jewish they have made amazing contributions to popular culture. Captain Kirk, Spock, James Caan, the Three Stoogies AND the Fonz. Seriously, Asian-Americans make up 5% of the population in the United States and what have we contributed, Mr. Sulu, Bruce Lee and John Cho.

Adam Sandler has a great time with this song. He sets up hilarious rhyme that seem to come out of nowhere, “You don't need "Deck The Halls" or "Jingle Bell Rock" 'Cause you can spin a dreidel with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.”

Then there are the unapologetically preposterous rhymes. Yes, yarmulke does rhythm with Chanukah, but not a lot of other words do so Sandler gets creative. There’s “Supersonicah,” “gin and tonicah,” “wannakah” and of course the crowd favorite “smoke your marijuanikah.”

I don’t know what the spirit of Chanukah is, I’ve never celebrated the holiday and my knowledge about "miracle of the container of oil" is weak at best. But for me “The Chanukah Song” is about a sense of pride. Adam Sandler reminds us in a joyous and hilarious way that Jewish people are not alone and have plenty of people in our culture to take pride in.

Adam Sandler may have been a kid growing up feeling like the only Jew in his community but he’s created a song about Chanukah that people who aren’t Jewish sing along to, revel in and share in the Joy of being a Jew.

Not too shabby.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town by The Jackson 5

Now I never believed in Santa Claus.

My parents being immigrants and not Christians did their best with Christmas. They did the gift thing, got a tree decorated the house but that was as far as it went with my family. We visited Santa in the mall and took pictures with the guy but there was never any illusion that anyone but our parents were responsible for getting us gifts. It wasn't so much that my brother and I were motivated to be good because of Santa but rather our parents.

Now perhaps having an outside influence, an omnipresent force like Santa to remind kids to be good is helpful but it kind of seems like a parental cop-out. I mean if your child is acts better when you mention Santa Claus as opposed to behaving well just for you then it seems you may have some behavior and respect issues to deal with.

The one song that most directly addresses the Santa Claus myth is "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." Originally performed on sung on Eddie Cantor's radio show in 1934, this song became an instant Christmas classic.

Now most recordings of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" come from the perspective of an adult warning a child to be good. The words are a little ominous and foreboding saying telling a child that they should not only be good for Santa sake but "good for goodness sake."

Just think about the lyrics a second. Every line of the verse starts out with "you better." If that's not a veiled threat I don't know what is. I mean the song never explicitly describes what will happen if you are bad but I got to wonder if there isn't something punitive involved with Santa besides not getting gifts. This in addition to the fact that Santa is kind of a stalker is kind of disturbing, I mean this guys knows EVERYTHING!!

Here's the thing, I actually like this song the connotations don't work from me but it’s different hearing the words come from a child. This is one reason that my favorite version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is by The Jackson 5.

Not that it was enough for The Jackson 5 to break out with "I Want You Back" (which was one of the first posts I wrote), but the Jackson 5 and the geniuses at Motown continued to revolutionize popular music.

The Jackson 5 reved up the "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," adding a classic up tempo Motown beat. They also changed the melody on the line "Santa Claus is coming to town." Instead of starting low and rising up and down using broken thirds, it starts on high note out of nowhere falling down before jumping up for another high note. I mean Michael just gives that high note everything that he's got. You can just picture him closing his eyes, throwing his head back and letting free his voice.

In Michael's hands this song is less about being good or being bad, but just celebrating the fact that Santa is on his way. Michael captures a child like joy and innocence like other children singers but his vocal power and expression adds a layer of soul to his performance that takes this song to a whole different level.

The Jackson 5's version is so influential that many artist like Bruce Springsteen “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is as the Jackson 5 did modifying the melody and mimicking the Jackson 5's joyous spirit.

Listening to Michael makes you feel that he actually believes that Santa coming to town and his joy makes me want to believe in Santa Claus.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Shake A Tail Feather by The Five Du-Tones

Groove Thang

Figured out what we’re talking about yet?

Throughout the history of popular music artists have come up with different words for the buttocks. Maybe it’s because “buttocks” is kind of a hard word to rhyme with or because using euphemism for this body part got around the censors. But it’s probably because using slang is simply more fun. And one of the first songs in popular music to sing about the buttocks was “Shake A Tail Feather.”

Most people know this song from the Ray Charles performance in The Blue Brothers.
There were many memorable scenes from this film, considered by many the best films inspired by a Saturday Night Live skit, but few capture the sheer joy of soul music like Ray Charles convincing the Jake and Elwood the quality of a second hand organ by singing “Shake A Tail Feather.”

The origins of this song begin almost twenty years earlier when the Chicago-based group the Five Du-Tones originally recorded “Shake a Tail Feather in 1963.

A joyous and carefree song, “Shake A Tail Feather” portrays a man trying to convince a girl to go out dancing with him. The four lines of first and only verse in this song act as an invitation to dance building up to the chorus.

The chorus starts with a bang on the word “Twist it” but then pulls the momentum back down building up from “bend over, let me you see you shake your tail feather” back up into the beginning of next chorus in an celebratory and infectious way.

The Five Du-Tones recording of this song is a mess, but it’s a beautiful one. It’s got a great groove but it’s not exactly steady and though the vocals are soulful they are a little out of control at moments, but all these shortcoming don't really matter. There’s an electricity and energy in the dirtiness of this recording that you rarely hear in music of today.

In the 1970s as part, Ike & Tina Turner included “Shake A Tail feather” as part of their famous touring review. While there is no doubt that Ike Turner was physically and emotionally abusive to Tina Turner, he was a musical genius polishing soul music up for the masses without loosing its grit and soul.

This recording of “Shake a Tail Feather” is ferocious featuring Tina’s voice, one of the most powerful in rock music. The hilarious exchange between Tina and her back-up singers goading each other on to shake each other’s “tail feather” is hilarious, fun and kind of dirty.

Then in 2003 came “Shake Ya Tailfeather” by Nelly featuring Puff Daddy and Murphy Lee, a rap song written for the Will Smith film Bad Boys 2.

Even though this song won the Grammy for best rap performance by a duo or a group, this song is a mediocre showing that completely drops the ball on an amazing musical opportunity. Instead of sampling “Shake a Tail Feather” or utilizing the phrase with any prominence, it is uttered at the end of the chorus. This song lacks any of the infectious energy that both Nelly and Puff Daddy often featured in their music.

Someone needed to record this song again and bring the song back to its original glory. It is a travesty that a generation credit a mediocre rap song for introducing the phrase "shake a tail feather." Someone had to do something about this and two years later one band brought this song back to its roots: THE CHEETAH GIRLS!!!

Yeah, you heard me right, the Cheetah Girls.

A rock group created for a Disney television film (ala Hannah Montana), the Cheetah Girls recorded a version of “Shake A Tail Feather” for Disney’s CGI remake of Chicken Little.

Their version is exactly what you expect out of a Disney pre-teen orientated rock band. It’s poppy, fun, 60s inspired with the Disney’s characteristic musical sheen. Now watching the music video and seeing the silhouettes of the girls with actually tail feathers is a little disturbing and honestly do these girls have to be singing so sensually?

Sigh, whatever at least we are getting back to the roots of this song . . . wait a second . . . now that I think about it, isn't comparing a girl to a chicken isn't exactly flattering. Also, isn't this song a little demanding? He doesn't so much invite the girl to dance but demand it. The connotations imply a specific gender paradigm in which . . . Tang! STOP your brain and just enjoy the song. . . geez. . .

Monday, December 7, 2009

I Got You Babe by Sonny & Cher

I never took Sonny and Cher seriously until Sonny Bono died.

Sonny and Cher came a long way from their campy and silly 1970s variety show. After the show was canceled and they divorced Cher went on to establish herself as a solo artist and actor. Even though Cher went through various tabloid controversy including marrying Greg Almond three days after her divorce with Sonny was finalized, Cher went on to have solo hits including “If I Could Turn Back Time” and won an academy award 1986 for best supporting actress. By the time Cher released her biggest hit “Believe” (which I discussed in this earlier post) Cher was respected as a pop diva and had developed an enormous cult following.

Sonny initially took the same route, continuing to produce music and act in film. He didn’t reach the same level of success that Cher did in these ventures. Then in 1988 Sonny Bono shocked the world successfully running for mayor of Palm Springs from 1988 to 1992 going on to serve in the House Of Representatives from 1994 to until his death in 1998.

When Bono died in a skiing accident, people looked to Cher and her eulogy at Sonny’s funeral is one of the most powerful and unforgettable expression of love you will ever witness.

Yes, Sonny and Cher got divorced and remarried, but Cher’s words showed that there was still love between them. Time, circumstance and the failure of their marriage couldn’t’ change what they had shared and what they meant to each other.

After hearing Cher’s words, ”I Got You Babe” transformed from a cheesy pop duet to a touching and heartfelt love song.

Rarely do duets feature two people who are actually in love. It’s hard to know whether its Bono’s production skills which he learned from being Phil Spector’s assistant or Sonny and Cher’s affection for each other that makes this songs glow with warmth the way it does. I like to think it’s the love.

[Spector is one of the greatest record producers who I discussed in this earlier post on “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”].

“I Got You Babe” faces the struggles of life with optimism and hope. The words discuss how problems in life are not as significant because they have each other. The exchange between Sonny and Cher are like wedding vows, however they are not so much promises of future actions but reflections on the great thing they do for each other.

Cher’s voice in amazing the middle of the song, “and when I’m sad. . . .” Coming out of the texture her voice pours out with a purity and strength. There's a hint of her later vocal strength that can be heard as she effortlessly grows soars through the melody.

In 1987, on the David Letterman show Sonny and Cher reunited to sing “I Got You Babe.” The way that Sonny and Cher looked at each other was magical.

All the pain between them, all of the controversy in their lives for a moment was gone and what you had left with was two people lost in song and each other.

“I Got You Babe” captures in song one of the greatest love stories in popular music. It may not have ended in the traditional way but it showed us all the power of love to overcome the challenges of life and the power of music to express love.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac

Imagine that you’ve just gotten through a messy break-up with your girlfriend or boyfriend. This is a break-up that is full of anger and bitterness, a relationship that has dissolved to the point that you can’t stand being in the same room as the other person. Now imagine that you have to work with this person during long 10-hour days.

Now try to imagine that in your group of five people there is another couple going through the same thing. If you can picture how tense, awkward and painful this situation would be, then you have some idea what it was like for Fleetwood Mac in the 1970s.

Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were breaking up and so were John McVie and Christina McVie. Then there was the fifth member Mick Fleetwood, stuck in the middle of it all. These five people made up the most famous iterations of Fleetwood Mac recording one of the most famous albums in rock history: Rumors.

Within Fleetwood Mac there were three songwriters, Christina McVie whose keyboard based pop music included great hooks and introspective lyrics as well as an optimistic sheen, like in “You Make Loving Fun.”

Stevie Nicks wrote songs that had a more mystical feel, mixed with heartfelt longing. But as sad and dark as her songs were there was always a sense of hope in her music.

Then there was Lindsey Buckingham, the virtuosic guitar player and composer of some of the angriest most bitter songs in rock. Nothing expresses the raw expression that Buckingham often demonstrated like “Go Your Own Way.”

From the opening line “loving you isn’t the right thing to do,” the anger and resentment is palpable. This is a person who feels “maybe I’d give you my world” but is angered by the fact that the other person “won’t take it from me.” The chorus is unforgiving, defensive and at the end of a break up. Singing “you can go your own way” is saying that you don’t care. The truth is that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference which why Rhett saying “I don’t give a damn” in the end of Gone With The Wind is one of the harshest lines in film history.

It’s not the just the words. Most of the notes in the melody of the verse are on off beats making the words come out in angry unpredictable exclamations. In Lindsey’s voice there’s a tense almost scary energy as he sings the verses sounding like a man at the edge of a breakdown.

The guitars lines accent the offbeats while the bass line and drumming doesn’t clearly outline the beat in the verses mirroring the unsteady feeling of the melody line. Then the chorus hits and all the instruments as well as the melody fall into the beat expressing the only thought that Buckingham is sure of: “you can go your own way.” Musically the chorus is a brilliant arrival point set up musically in the instruments, which adds depth to the words as they develop throughout the song.

“Go Your Own Way” is one of the most well known and loved Fleetwood Mac songs. I don’t it’s because people love hearing a hurt and angry man scream about he hates his former love. It’s not so much a celebration of break ups and anger but a statements of saying “We’re not going to take it any more.” Lord know we’ve all had moments in our lives when we’ve wanted to scream that into someone’s face.

Thanks Fleetwood Mac for going through the pain and never giving up on your art to give us "Go Your Own Way." It may have almost killed all of you emotionally to record it but what you have created has connected with generations combining passion, pain and beauty like no other band in rock music.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

You Know Me by Robbie Wiliams

Way back in March I wrote a post about "Angels" by Robbie Williams talking about how this world famous artists has not made much of a dent in the American market but is one of the best male pop singers around. Seeing how Robbie is still not a household name in America, it looks like I still have work to do.

Robbie’s second single, “You Know Me,” off his new album Reality Killed the Video Star is good, not ironic good, or good for what it is but truly great. Reality Killed the Video Star is filled with soulful, beautiful and transcendent pop music. If you love music, you owe it to yourself to check out what’s going with Robbie. He will not disappoint.

I was talking to my wife about how the use of acoustic instruments gives country music a warmth, an energy that American popular music often lacks. Robbie injects this into “You Know Me” with doo-wop background singers, soaring strings and brass colors throughout the song. And the timpani drums!!! AWESOME.

Robbie’s musical attitude has a self-assured cockiness, “What a waste of war this peace.” However right under the surface is a romantic, heartfelt and sincere man, willing to admit ones mistakes and express true love, “since you went away, my heart breaks everyday”

Robbie sets his verses with his characteristic rapping. It's a combination of a confident swagger and a nervous man not able to say what he really means. It’s like Hugh Grand bumbling British romantic comedy character but in singer form.

There’s a beautiful moment in this song during the chorus after the instrumental break (about 3 minutes in) when the instruments cut out and provide chords hits behind Robbie. These hits aren’t tight snaps of sound like in funk music but are rather broad strokes of color and warmth. They create a sonic space for the other instrumentals to fill, rise above and overflow in musical color when they enter.

Robbie works within conventions of popular music that we know, adds his individual touch and attitude creating a song that draws upon our musical nostalgia for not only great popular but the emotions those songs evoked.

Give Robbie a chance. This song is great. It’ll make you smile and remind you how great music can make you feel.

Now Robbie’s music video for this song. Um, yeah this is one of the weirder things I’ve seen in a while. I don’t know what he was thinking, well I guess I know what he’s thinking it’s pretty obvious what he’s going for, it’s just. . . um. . .yeah. . . whatever.

Monday, November 30, 2009

TWILIGHT!!! YES!! What a great. . . um. . . sigh

Twilight: New Moon came out in theaters two weeks ago and once again the Twilight phenomenon is upon us. I haven’t read any of the Twilight books or seen the first film. All I know about this franchise is through my wife who has read all the books and saw both films in the theater.

My wife is an avid reader, and by avid reader I mean she can read a novel that takes me a month in a week. She caught the Twilight buzz a couple months ago and read through all four books. Diana thinks that Stephanie Meyers sets a great premise, has interesting and engaging story ideas however her storytelling, pacing and dialog is sometimes mediocre.

Everyone, especially guys seem to be hating on Twilight. My negative feelings about Twilight are centered on a couple things. First off the cast inability to present them as professionals in press photos (i.e. shave, and wear appropriate clothing) bugs me (I’m beginning to think this is actually a calculated attempt at connecting with a certain demographic).

And well, honestly I can't think of any other reason that I dislike Twilight but that hasn't stopped me from making fun of the franchise.

Is it fair for me to judge Twilight and hold negative feelings towards it without examining the art itself? No. Am I going to spend the time the read the book? Probably not, so instead I’m decided to watch the first film.

After watching the first part of the film, I posted this on my page.

Facebook Status update:
Kingsley Tang k people I got through 45 minutes of the Twilight movie. . I need to take a break. . i mean geez . . it's not a good sign that Diana and I blurted out laughing when Edward said: "I don't have the strength to stay away from you anymore." the things I do to be culturally literate.

Friends comments:
K: Tootsie, don't be mean. Edward is my future husband

S: God does that movie look like dogs&%$

C: The best line is: Your scent is my drug. Oops. I hope I didn't ruin it for you.

E: no one said it was a good movie. it is, in the right mindset, incredibly entertaining though

A: Does that mindset involve a fifth of burbon?

H: wait, Twilight is culture?

Wow. . . lots of people jumping on the Twilight hating here . . .

After watching 45 minutes of Twilight, my initial conclusion is that this film could be a lot better. I believe that there is a good movie in the material and the script. Yes, the dialog in clunky but not any worse than Star Wars. The major detractor here is the actors lack of chemistry with each other and there's a feeling that these actors are trying to act. Robert Pattison seems to be trying really hard to be a vampire as opposed to just being one.

The next day I sat down with my wife and we watched the rest of the film, and I actually enjoyed the rest of the film. Stephanie Meyers has set up an interesting amalgamation of horror with teenage romance with a touch Shakespearian tragedy ala Romeo and Juliet. And frankly it works.

No, it’s a great film, but it has great scenery, some interesting drama and a fantastic story. There's something about the characters and the story that makes you want to see how it all ends. Twilight is not a film that will appeal outside of its target audience but for it’s crowd it does the job.

If you’ve read Twilight or seen the film go ahead and have a ball saying whatever you want about it, but if you haven’t read the book of the seen the film, you really need cut out bashing Twilight. People do not have the right to criticize a piece of art they haven’t experiences as much as they do not have the right to be critical of a person they do not know.

As much fun as it is to hate on Twilight, it’s pointless. You think that some teenage girl who loves Twilight will hear some guy irrationally bash it and then realize how bad the book really is and how stupid they are for enjoying it?

I can’t help but think that gender has something to do with it. Girls as young as thirteen all the through their forties have gotten into Twilight. Many think of it as a guilty pleasure but there’s a lot of people loving these books and watching the films and they are almost all woman.

Female centric art is often referred to with pejorative terms like: "chick-lit" or "chick-flics." That's not really fair, yes there is bad art directed towards woman but there's also bad stuff aimed at men too. The bottom is line that the vast majority of art created in our culture is created for and marketed towards men. So while it's normal for guys to have cultural milestones like the Super Bowl or a summer action film, it's unusual for a book or film to successfully inspire similar fandom in woman.

Look, Twilight: New Moon made $142 million dollars in its opening weekend. To be generous, $15 tickets, maybe 1/3 of the those people say it twice, that leaves 6 million people who saw that film in one weekend, which were almost all woman by most accounts. Stephanie Meyers has created a significant shared cultural experience beyond her books. Anything that brings 6 million people together through art in one weekend and provides them with a meaningful artistic experience.

Yes popularity does not equal quality, but popularity does create connections between people and adds to our shared cultural identity which has far reaching effects not only in our art but in our lives.

Guys, you may not like Twilight or hearing groups of woman arguing about who’s better, Jacob or Edward. If you don't want to see the film or read the book, that's fine, whatever, but think about what you are saying. What does making fun of Twilight really say about ourselves? Are we just jealous or simply annoyed that the ladies have something to talk about that we simply don't understand?

If you don’t get why it’s annoying and immature to bash on Twilight just wait until someone complains about something you love in our culture and you’ll understand.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Buffy's family

My mom and dad were born and raised in Taiwan during a transition from rural to urban environment in the cities that they lived in. While modern conveniences were present, people still had farm animals around in the middle of the city and for my mother and father this meant that they played with the chickens they later ate for dinner.

This also included having dogs around.

These were outside dogs which mostly ate table scraps and were mainly utilized for security purposes, however the universal appeal of dogs to children was present for my parents and they would play with these dogs and enjoyed having them around.

When I was growing up, it seemed that all of my friends had golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers. I remember asking my parents if we could get a dog, mostly wanting one so we could fit in and they would say no citing responsibility or allergy issues.

So I was surprised when I asked my mom what she thought about Diana and I getting a dog. She immediately told me it was a great idea. She said that she felt that everyone who was willing to put in the time and effort into to having a dog should have one. To my mom, a dog enriches one’s life. Through caring for someone or something else, it invigorates the spirit and getting a dog is a great way to do this.

I’m thinking my mom may have had some ulterior motives.

My mom followed our first couple months with Buffy closely through my blog and conversations over the phone (my parents live in Seattle). In the Fall, my parents usually visit Diana and I in Chicago and my mom and it seemed like a perfect time for my parents to meet Buffy.

My mom called me a week or two before they came and told me she was worried that Buffy wouldn’t like her. I reassured my mom that of course Buffy would like her but as soon as I hung up the phone, I realized that there was a possibility that Buffy may not like my mom.

Buffy likes people. In general she comes up to people that she senses wants to pet her and is happy to be petted and played with. Now there have been people on the street that Buffy has shied away from but she has never not taken a liking to people Diana and I care about. Regardless of this, Buffy is a dog, and sometimes and you really can’t predict everything they do.

When my mom first met Buffy it took approximately 0.5 seconds for Buffy to fall in love with my mom.

My dad didn’t initially know what to do with Buffy, which was pretty much exactly the same as when I was babysitting a dog before we got Buffy (which I discussed in this earlier post). However, within a couple hours I could see that my dad was enjoying Buffy and within a day, he was infatuated with her.

By the time my parents were leaving for Seattle, we had spent pretty much the whole weekend walking and playing with Buffy. We had a great time, it was beautiful Fall weekend in the Midwest and it was great to see how much fun Buffy and my parents were having with each other.

When my mom got back to Seattle, she called me and told me that she and my dad were already missing Buffy before they got on the plane. She suggested that we move our family trip, which we planned to do in Seattle in the spring to the Midwest so that we could include Buffy.

This really warmed my heart.

I’ve always felt that Buffy, Diana and I are a family. But I didn’t have any expectations that my parents would necessarily feel the same way. I know whatever is important of my life, my parents will embrace and maybe Buffy gets that too. Maybe that’s why Buffy and my parents affected each other so much. Or maybe Buffy just liked the way my parents smelled.

Buffy, you not only got me, Diana and Diana’s family but you’ve also go my parents as part of your family. You’re a lucky puppy to have such a great family and we’re lucky to have you as part of our lives.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Welcome To The Future by Brad Paisley

“The future” in the literal sense is the time that is ahead of us, but in the figurative sense it means so much more. When people in the 1950s talked about “the future” they thought of advancement in technology and a better more utopia-like society. For many, “the future” is an idea, a better day and another chance. It’s reason we get up in the morning, it’s hope.

Brad Paisley reminds us to take a second and realize that we live in the future of our past selves. He asks the question, what has become of the things that we hoped for in the past, what has truly changed, what is this future that we live in?

In “Welcome To The Future” Paisley’s second single off of his eighth studio album American Saturday Night, he crafts a personal reflection on how far we’ve come. He starts with the trivial singing about how much he wished he had a Pac-Man arcade machine when he was younger and ends the verse commenting how he know owns it on his phone.

The chorus immediately breaks into the religious exclamation “Glory, glory, Hallelujah.” There is something amazing about the advancement in technology that has now mad Pac-Man portable, but not in the spiritual sense. At first, this puzzled me, until I listened further into the song.

“Glory, glory, Hallelujah” is a reaction to something he sings about later in the song and by starting with the anecdote about Pac-Man, he slowly draws the listener in with his characteristic charm and silliness to discuss something deeper.

The second verse goes deeper into his past as he thinks about his grandfather fighting in World War II having to write letters to his grandmother to stay in touch. He wonders what they would think about the fact that now he video chats easily with a company in Japan.

Brad examines the human part of technological advances making us think more about how these changes have affected the way we interact with each other. As the second verse moves closer to the human conditions, in the last verse Paisley takes us one step further into the heart of what has truly developed in the future, not the technology, but our humanity.

The final verse begins with the story of a football player he knew in high school who was African American that asked a Caucasian girl to prom. Members of the Ku Klux Klan reacted to this by putting a burning cross on his front yard. Focusing on this experience, Paisley reminds us how far we’ve come from a woman on a bus, Rosa Parks, to a man with a dream, President Obama.

Glory, Hallelujah

Maybe Paisley was referring to Martin Luther King Jr. but for some reason my mind went straight to President Obama. Regardless of your political viewpoint and how you feel that President Obama is doing with his job currently it is amazing that only 40 years ago the idea of an African-American President was preposterous and now it’s a reality.

The President invited Paisley to perform at the White House to celebrate country music last summer. Before he performed “Welcome To The Future” for the President he explained how the election inspired him and how he wrote this song to capture how it made him feel.

One of the things that I love about Brad Paisley is that his music has a shine to it. You can feel the sunlight between the notes. Brad Paisley not only sees the glass as half full but cherish every drop of water that is left. Listen to “Welcome To The Future,” and you’ll understand why.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues by Elton John

In 1975, Elton John released Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy which became the first album ever to enter the charts at #1. Riding a huge wave a critical and commercial success, John seemed to do no wrong.

Two years later, John announced he was retiring from performing and his next album Single Man, had no top ten singles and was a critical and commercial disappointment. By the time he released Too Low For Zero, Elton John was a shadow of his pass self. Drug and alcohol abuse as well as personal challenges including negative reactions to a 1976 Rolling Stone Interview in which he admitted to be bisexual were taking its toll on not only Elton but also his music.

Instead of having five or six singles off of an album that were hits there were one or two and instead of toping the charts they merely broke the top 10. Amidst this, there were a few songs from this era endure quite like, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.”

Featured on the album Two Low For Zero, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues,” only reached #4 on the charts competing with monster hits like “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson and “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. Once Elton John’s music was at the edge of popular music experiment with form and creating unique sonic landscapes like in the opening of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road with the epic “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.”

Now Elton sat squarely in the safe and adult contemporary sound of the early 1980s synthesized rock, but this couldn’t overshadow the warm nostalgia and emotional honesty of the “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.”

Elton divided the beat into the three small parts giving “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues,” a lilting, almost childlike quality. Elton’s voice contrasts from lines sung as manner of fact statements “don’t wish it away, don’t look at it like it’s forever,” to earnest expressions of support “before you and me run. . . ” at the end of the first verse.

At these moments and also during the chorus, “laughing like children . . ” John uses a rhythmic musical device called a hemiola. Instead of having note last over three small beats like 1-2-3 1-2-3, the notes hold over two small beats 1-2-3 1-2-3. This make the notes seem like they are lagging behind slightly creating drama by accenting the offbeats.

“I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” is about being away from the ones that you love. Reflecting on a relationship, John figures that this feeling of being away from each other must be “the blues.” However, the overwhelming feeling of this song is not “the blues” or sadness from being apart but instead is love, glowing out of soul like a warm memory.

While the most famous lines of this song “Laughing like children, living like lovers, rolling like thunder under the covers” are fun to sing along with juxtaposing child like joy with sensuality, it’s the end of the second verse that says it all: “I simply love you more than I love life itself.”

The 1980s didn’t last forever. In the early 1990s, Elton John wrote the music The Lion King and the release of Songs from the West Coast in 2001 a return to John's piano roots which many considered one of his best albums featuring songs like “America Triangle” (which I discussed in this earlier post). Whether it be shows in Las Vegas or his success on Broadway with Billy Elliot, it seems that Elton is back.

It seems that many things left Elton during the 1980s, his health, his commercial success and his creative drive, but "I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” reminds us that he never lost his heart

Friday, November 20, 2009

Buffy, Come!!!

Looking at Buffy, from across the room, I yelled “Buffy come,” and she ran across the room right up to my feet. Ignoring Diana who was holding her collar, ignoring the trail of treats on the ground and the other dogs and owners in the class Buffy came ran right up to me when I called.

I slipped into her mouth the piece of hot dog that was in my right hand, scooped her up into my arms and joyfully carried her back over to Diana as the other owners and Brandi the dog trainer in our puppy class applauded.

Weeks earlier in our first Puppy II class, I called Buffy over to me and she completely ignored me. I went up to her, gave her some treats and ran away hoping she would follow. Nothing. Buffy just wandered over to sniff another dog. We put Buffy on her leash and two feet away from her, Buffy finally came over to me. Embarrassed and frustrated, I knew I needed to make a change.

Earlier in the fall we took Puppy I class at Diana at Barker Behavior. The instructor is Brandi Barker. (Really, if your last name is “Barker” doesn’t that pretty much predetermine your career path as a dog trainer?). This is a fantastic dog training company and if you have any need of training help or classes for puppies or older dogs, I highly recommend you look into taking a course from Barker Behavior. I discussed Buffy graduating from Puppy I in this earlier post.

When we signed up to take Puppy II and it was clear that Buffy wasn’t responding as well to me in class as Diana. For various reasons, I was training Buffy less and it became apparent in Puppy I that Buffy was responding much better to Diana than I was. This concerned both of us. Buffy is our dog, and it’s important to Diana and I that Buffy has a strong relationship with both of us.

After that first class of Puppy II, I committed to working with Buffy more inside and outside of class. I realized that my training with Buffy would improve but probably wouldn’t be at the same level as Diana and Buffy as well as the other dogs and owners in class. This frustrated me, but I couldn’t do anything about the past so I focused ahead.

As the weeks of Puppy II progressed Diana and I made an effort to better split the training time with Buffy in class more evenly and I spent a significant more time with Buffy doing training not only at home but also during her walks.

Here's the thing, Buffy really enjoys training. Often during walks, she will look up at me looking for some praise or direction. Sometimes during walks, it's easy to just go through the motions but Buffy likes to have some variety and who could really refuse to engage a puppy with those cute eyes looking up at you.

We first practiced comes from two feet away on leash and eventually Buffy and I got pretty good at comes around the house, but I didn’t really expect that she would be all that great with comes in class. So when Brandi set up Diana at one end of the class with treats in the middle to distract Buffy, I didn’t really think that Buffy would come all the over to me. However, Buffy surprised me as she ran right over and I was ecstatic and everyone in the room applauded knowing how far Buffy and I had come.

Buffy is still not perfect with coming when she’s called. It’s not one of those things she’s naturally good at like sitting or rolling over on her back to get her tummy rubbed (ok that’s not so much a training thing but it’s REALLY cute). But we’re getting there.

With dogs, just like kids, it’s the little moments that make it all worth it. Whether it’s a lick on the face, a wagging tail (I’m talking about dogs here btw), or a little fuzzball responding to a command.

Buffy and I have a long way to go, but we’re getting there. At the end of Puppy I, Buffy was hardly responding to anything I was doing in class and at the end of Puppy II, I was the one commanding Buffy as she passed her final exam and we more than caught up with everyone else in the class.

I am really proud of you girl.
I can't wait to see you when I get home.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Only The Good Die Young by Billy Joel

In our culture there are two prevalent stereotypes of “Catholic school girl.” Either it’s a girl who is incredibly chaste and innocent or a girl who in response to her upbringing is mischievous and rebellious.

Now I married a Catholic school girl. Diana was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school from grade school all the way through high school. Diana doesn’t fall isn’t either stereotypes. She is well balanced and has almost never felt a need to rebel from her upbringing (unless you count marrying me, which is a whole separate issue). ANYWAYS. . . .

Billy Joel on the other hand is dealing with one extreme: the Catholic girl who under the power of the Lord has not done anything bad, never takes a chance and of course would be seen with the protagonist that Billy Joel portrays.

Joel’s character uses brilliant “Barney Stinson” logic to convince this girl to go out with him and to loosen up and live a little.
Saints, the people who are good always seem to die young so wouldn’t you rather sin a little bit and have more time on earth to party? What young person wouldn’t rather “laugh with the sinners than die with the saints?”

With an upbeat boogie-woogie baseline and a celebratory swinging horn section Joel revels in the glory of enjoying sin. What Joel is talking about isn’t anything really all that bad. He’s commenting on the atmosphere that he grew up in during the late 1950s. This was a time when the reaction Elvis Presley was that his dance moves were sinful and that his music was evil ala Jon Lithgow in Footloose. Do you remember all the things people said about Marolyn Manson being a bad influence on children? Yeah, the exactly same things verbatim were said about Elvis. Sigh, isn’t it nice to see how far we’ve gotten?

While this song is silly portrayal of teenage logic, it does have some interesting things to say about the nature of teenage sexuality. Joel makes statements about the Catholic education, “Virginia, they didn’t give you quite enough information.” Now I’m not here to judge Catholicism stance on sexual education, but Catholic schools aren’t exactly leaders in this field. The idea of a protagonist like Joel’s character doing the teaching to my daughter? ‘shudder’ This is why we need to really think hard about what we are teaching our children about sexuality.

Back to my wife. . .

Did I have to do a little persuading to convince Diana to go out with me? Yes. Did she reject me the first time I asked her out. . . kind of. . . but it was all worth it. Now it’s not like I was Billy Joel’s character. I wasn’t out to corrupt Diana. I did teach her how to better utilize expletives in her daily discourse and I am responsible for her enjoying of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which does feature pagan witchcraft. However, Diana found the Harry Potter books herself so I can’t be held responsible that level of sin she has sunk down to.

Joel sings, “sooner or later it comes down to fate, I might as well be the one" which reminds me of convincing Diana to go out with me. I wasn’t going to leave it to fate, Diana was too special a person to pass up. And I thank God every day that she chose me to be the one.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tracks Of My Tears by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

When people think of hot producers and song writers, names like Timbaland, & Rick Rubin come to mind. In the early 1960s at the headquarters of Motown called "Hitsville U.S.A." the hottest and most important song writer and producer was Smokey Robinson.

With over 1000 songs to his credit, Robinson wrote and produced some of the most influential and well known songs in popular music history including "My Girl" by the Temptation. Working with Berry Gordy the founder of Motown, Robinson changed the face of music earning the title, "The Poet Laureate of Soul."

If all Smokey Robinson did was write and produce “My Girl” (which I wrote about in this earlier post about in this earlier post about my brother) he’d be fondly remembered as a significant influence on popular music. Fortunately for us, he did so much more than that.

There are many great Smokey Robinson songs but one that keeps coming up in our culture is “Tracks Of My Tears.” Most recently covered by Adam Lambert in a beautifully crafted and intimate performance on American Idol, “Tracks Of My Tears” like so many of Robinson’s songs has stood the test of time.

Conceptually this song is amazing. The idea of a man crying so much that it leaves tracks, but only if you look closely is original and poignant. Smokey Robinson has such utility with his words. Like Hemingway he uses as few words as possible to get his message across. What he creates is straight forward simple words and rhymes that resonate with depth and meaning.

Check out the second verse:

Since you left me if you see me with another girl,
Seeming like I'm having fun.
Although she may be cute,
She's just a substitute
Because you're the permanent one.

There is extended alliteration with “see me” being soon followed by “seeming.” The rhymes are subtle and smooth in an ABBA pattern, "fun" with "one" and "cute" with "substitute." Listen closely to that “she’s just a substitute” line. It could not fit with the melody any better. This is one of the greatest pop lyrics I’ve ever come across. It’s so great that Pete Townsend of The Who wrote and recorded “Substitute” as an homage to this great line.

Then there’s the vocal. The falsetto of Smokey sounds masculine and is full of soul and blues. This is what every pop singer strives for their falsetto to be like but never quite captures. If we didn’t have Smokey, we wouldn’t have singers like Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake or Adam Lambert.

Take a listen to this a cappella edit of the recording.

Note the shape and the harmony in the Miracles vocal introduction and the way that Smokey effortlessly ends his phrases. My favorite thing about the interaction between the background vocals and Smokey is how the vocal introduction comes back in the last half of the second verse as a background vocal adding emphasis to the words.

Then there’s the chorus and the way that the background instruments continue the vocal line with descending triplets that Smokey starts. The melodic baseline, the snap of the tambourine on the offbeats. . . OMG EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS SONG IS INCREDIBLE!!

‘exhale’ okay. . .

I’m back sorry. This song really gets me excited. I could go on forever about this one. The craft is so artful and beautiful expressing a transcendent feeling of joy.

Yes, this song is about a breakup, heartache and desperation, but it’s also about the how good love feels.

Oliver Stone perfectly captured what this song feels like, what it means in his film Platoon. A whole bunch of young guys trying to deal with the stress of a war that makes no sense to them, finds camaraderie, release and pure joy in Smokey Robinson’s music.

It’s like what Butters once said in an episode of South Park

“Wuh-ell yeah, and I'm sad, but at the same time I'm really happy that somethin'
could make me feel that sad. It's like, it makes me feel alive, you know? It makes me feel human. And the only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt somethin' really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good, so I guess what I'm feelin' is like a, beautiful sadness. . .”

Could not have said it any better myself little man.