Friday, February 27, 2009

Take Me Home, Country Road by John Denver



We come to love music in different ways. Sometimes it’s from learning a song and performing it and other times it’s from hearing a song. One time I came to love a song from singing along to a German Polka band.

Several of my close friends after college relocated to the Cincinnati area for their careers and my wife and I often visit them. On my first trip to Cincinnati, my friends took me out a bar/restaurant called the Hofbrauhaus.

We got a table in the main room, got some nice fresh pretzels and lots of good beer. The evening was off to a great start and as we were catching up a band started their set, which consisted mainly of a drummer and an accordion player. They played everything from tradition polka music to German drinking songs to Sousa marches and pop songs like “Sweet Caroline.” The atmosphere was fantastic and everyone in the room was singing along and dancing to this incredible band on stage.

Every time the band played a song that people knew everyone would stand up on the wooden seats sing along and rock out. My favorite song they played that night was “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

I didn’t know the lyrics, but catching enough of the words to just sing through the song with the room full of people was one of my favorite musical experiences. Maybe it was the people in the room or the beer in my stomach but man, that song felt so good to sing at that time and ever since then “Take Me Home, Country Roads” has been on my favorite songs.

Like most people in my generation, I rode off John Denver as kind of being wimpy, white-bread, country-pop music. Looking at pictures of John Denver it seemed clear that not was he an artifact of the my parents generation but an artists that only the lamest people in my parents’ generation enjoyed.

There is some truth to that presumption. John Denver’s music is non-threatening and appeals to a specific crowd but he captures a sense of reverence and nostalgia that may come off as a little corny. The thing is that is exactly how our memories are sometimes.

John Denver released “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in 1971 and it became one of John Denver’s signature songs. This song is a well-loved anthem for the state of West Virginia and is played by the West Virginia University Marching Band at the beginning of every home game.



The melody of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is simple and doesn’t move around across a wide range of note. However, the rise and fall of the melody is carefully crafted and creates a sense of direction. In the first verse, the melody in the verse rises to “Blue Ridge Mountains” and then rests on a lower note on the word “Shenandoah.” The word “river” has a slight rise on its last syllable that propels the melody into the next phrase.

The second phrase of the verse is similar to the first phrase but instead of having a slight rise in the end of the phrase, the chorus picks immediately begins. There is space between the first phrase and the second phrase of the verse, but there is no space between the second phrase and the chorus. Making the end of a phrase happen at the same point as the beginning of the chorus, this phrase elision, sweeps up the energy of the previous phrase like wave gently pushing the listener forwards into the chorus.

The melody in the chorus rises up to the middle of that phrase and descends as we would expect, however the way that the melody rises is both dramatic and unexpected. “Country Roads” rises up, meanders on “take me home” and then descends to the low note on the word “place.” Instead of having a steady build to the top of the phrase on the word “belong,” there is a jump up to “-long” of “belong” that brings a sense of yearning and a genuine feeling of purpose.

This is a song about missing home, about wishing you could be in the place that you feel most comfortable and the long notes in the chorus and the reminiscing verses bring a sense of warmness truly capturing the feeling of being home. Yes, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” sounds like the music equivalent of a sepia tone photograph but it’s feels real and I can’t really imagine this song sounding any better then when with John Denver singing this song with the pop country background behind him.

This song mentions a lady’s voice, a mountain mama, and a miner’s lady. There are hints of a girl that flow through this song like reflection of light in a stream. They song doesn’t tell a cohesive story but instead presents different images that like a mosaic which instead of presented an image creates a feeling.

Nostalgia is a tricky feeling. When you have great memories of a place and you revisit the location, often they aren’t as amazing as you remember. I went back to Hofbrauhaus and it was fun but it wasn’t as magical as the first time that I visited but I still had a great time. In some ways the feeling of wanting to go back, that nostalgia was better than actually going back.

If we hold on to memories for the purpose of trying to replicate them we will continuously be disappointed but if we keep them in our minds as places we can go to find comfort and happiness we will never be alone and always be at home.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Feels Like Home by Randy Newman


Linda Ronstadt recording
Chantal Kreviazuk recording

When I left home to go to college I never imagined that there would be any other place that I would call home.

I grew up in Mercer Island, Washington, which is a small suburb of Seattle that lies in the middle of Lake Washington. There's a tradition in my family of moving away from home. My mother and father came to America from Taiwan, my brother went to college at New York University and it only seemed to make sense that I would take opportunity to explore another part of the country. My brother went to a great American city so I chose Chicago to be the city that I would explore and I applied and got accepted to Northwestern University.

My freshmen year, I missed home a lot. I met some great people through Marching Band and my parents visited as much as they could but it was hard. I remember some nights feeling lonely and lost. My home seemed so far away and at times it seemed to physically hurt how much I wanted to feel the comfort of being at home. At those times, I would think about my parents coming over to a country in which they didn't even know the language, leaving all their family and friends and I would tell myself, if they could handle that, then I can make it at Northwestern.

As time went on, I joined a fraternity and lived in a frat house for three years. Slowly without thinking about it, I noticed that I would refer to my dorm room as "home." Sometimes people would ask if I was talking about my "home, home" which referred to my home in Washington or my "home" which was my dorm room. I don't remember the moment when I started thinking about my fraternity house as my home and when that happened I didn't seem to miss my "home, home" as much.

Maybe it was because I had made great friends and knew the town of Evanston and Chicago better, but I missed home less and less as my years at Northwestern progressed. I found that this happened again when my wife and I moved in together to Downers Grove another suburb of Chicago. When we first moved there I found myself missing home but as I began to know the town and feel comfortable in my surroundings I started calling it home and missing home less as the time passed.

After two years in Downers Grove, my wife and I moved back to Evanston and somehow our condominium felt like home quickly. I had lived in that same condominium during graduate school but something while Diana was finishing up her undergraduate degree at Northwestern but it never really felt like home during that time.

What my made condo feel like home so quickly? What was it that turned my Downers Grove apartment, my fraternity house and the house in Mercer Island a home? Is it about the building itself, the surroundings or is it something closer to the heart? Maybe the answer to this questions lies in “Feels Like Home” by Randy Newman.

In 1993, Randy Newman, most known for the music he composed for the Pixar films Toy Story and Monsters Inc. presented a musical he composed based on the story of Faust by Goethe and also utilized elements from Milton's Paradise Lost. The story is based in modern day with God and the Devil fighting for the soul of a University of Notre Dame student Henry Faust. The character of Martha who is trying to trick the Devil sings “Feels Like Home.” The setting and purpose of the song is to deceive but the emotional truth describing how people can bring us to the feeling of home is intimate, honest and genuine.

This song is about intangibles. Emotions that we can’t describe in words, so instead of trying to explain these emotions, Newman illustrates specific moments and situations that helps us feel theses magical and indescribable moments.

The song begins describing the emotional meaning that physical aspects can bring. Newman describes “something” in the eyes that makes him want to lose himself in his love’s arms. He hears something in her voice that touches his heart that makes him feel an emotion that he hopes will last forever. It has been said that love songs make sense when you finally fall in love and unless you have seen and heard that “something” that is being described it’s impossible to really know what Newman is singing about.

It is all of this that Newman sings “Feels Like Home.” This is a feeling of comfort, warmth and being safe. It is something that we see in each other eyes and feel in each other’s presence. It’s in our pain and in our happiness, which we work to express to each other. Though it is impossible to completely understand each other’s emotions through this struggle, we begin to better understand each other and even more so ourselves.

I don’t think home is just a building and I don’t think it’s just the people. It’s the joy in our lives, the struggle in the dark and a place in our heart. Home is a feeling that represents the best parts of ourselves and this feeling reminds us that no matter how far we travel, home will always be with us.


"Home is the one place in all this world where hearts are sure of each other. It is the place of confidence. It is the place where we tear off that mask of guarded and suspicious coldness which the world forces us to wear in self-defense, and where we pour out the unreserved communications of full and confiding hearts. It is the spot where expressions of tenderness gush out without any sensation of awkwardness and without any dread of ridicule."

~Frederick W. Robertson

Monday, February 23, 2009

Stick To The Status Quo (from High School Musical)



Whether you love, hate or are simply mystified by High School Musical, it is undeniably the most successful film musical franchise of all time.

The soundtrack to of High School Musical sold over 4 million copies making it the best selling top-selling CD in 2006. 7.7 million viewers watched the premiere broadcast of this film and the DVD release set sales records as the fastest selling television film of all time. There have been successful two sequels (with another one rumored to be in pre-production), and merchandising including backpacks, lunchboxes, school folders, and clothing (working in an elementary school, I’ve seen it all).

I don’t necessarily think that something is good just because it’s popular however when something is as huge a success as High School Musical it becomes part of our culture. In order to stay culturally literate and have a better understanding of the art that my students enjoy I felt that it was necessary to watch High School Musical. Well, I was able to avoid watching it for three years but I glad I finally did.

My inner music snob (which over the years has diminished) did not like the idea of such a pop music orientated musical. The mass popularity of it could not possibly be a good thing. That sort of thinking does not make the most amount of sense but there is a feeling that great music, true “art” music is not something that the masses could ever understand so therefore something so popular cannot possibly be good. Now, even though I disagree with this idea it does make sense on some level as many of the greatest pieces of art are not really all that popular. The why’s and how’s of that are part of a different discussion but regardless High School Musical was not seem appealing to me.

So on the Sunday night of Valentine’s day weekend my wife and I sat down and watched High School Musical. It’s not bad, actually it’s very good. I am making this statement with an important caveat. I say that, not comparing it to other musicals like West Side Story or my personal favorite Mary Poppins but in considering the artists’ intention and how effective they accomplishes their goals. If a song is made with every intention to be sad then saying it’s a bad song because it doesn’t make you happy isn’t really a fair assessment of the quality of the artist’s work. However, if it is clear that a musician is trying to make you happy and the song does not express happiness then it is not an effective piece of art.

If you are over the age of twenty, no fifteen, you probably are not going to enjoy watching High School Musical. If you don’t enjoy the sound of modern day pop music, seeing people randomly break out into song and dance sequences (that are both inexplicable and mystifying) and predictable and derivative plots then please don’t watch High School Musical. You are not going to be happy with your viewing experience. However, if you can put yourself in the mindset of an 8 year old this is transcendent musical experience.

High School Musical like many modern musicals speaks in a musical language that is both familiar and non-threatening. With shows like The Lion King and Jersey Boys, the audience knows exactly what to expect musically. They are no artistically challenge to the audiences’ ears. The artistic adventure comes in other ways like the puppetry in The Lion King and the sets in Jersey Boys. Maybe the lack of familiarity of the music in musicals is a reason for the decline in the popularity of musicals and that is probably the reasons we’ve seen more and more musicals use pre-existing music.

Every song in High School Musical pulls form, chords, harmony and even lyrics from pop music. This is mostly a late 1990s sound with slight nods to hip-hop. For most kids growing up this is their musical language. If you are going to draw people in to see a musical you might as well speak to them in a language that they understand, and High School Musical does this incredibly effectively.

This film exists works within “musical logic.” One has to suspend their level of disbelief quite a lot to believe that Troy, the main character can sing as well as he does without any training or intention to be a singer. This isn’t any less ridiculous than a nun teaching a bunch of children their Do, Re, MI's over in 2 minutes. (ask any music teacher you know and they will tell you that it takes MONTHS to teach kids to utilize their Do, Re, Mi’s like they Von Trapps do).



The plot is well nothing extraordinary, but it makes sense why it is so simple. the other day I was talking about what my favorite book was to some of my fourth grade students and started to explain the plot to Grapes of Wrath. They were of course utterly confused. Young kids need to be taught about good guys and bad guys, the way plots develop and how stories usually play out. There is a rhythm and language in the way that plots are put together and having a musical that follows in a predictable way deriving many of its plot points from other stories helps teach children the way that stories are told which is an essential and important part of their education.

Great art is able to appeal to people who are beyond its target audience and High School Musical doesn’t really do that. It’s effective, it’s fun and well-crafted. The actors in the film commit completely to the characters. The production is excellent in the way high school atmosphere is created and in the intricate and impressive dance sequences. However, unlike a musical like Mary Poppins, which speaks not only to kids but also to adults, High School Musical lacks depth. Like many things that children love, most kids will probably outgrow High School Musical and only look back at it in a nostalgic way to remember how it made them feel.

The film’s major theme is the creation of the adolescent identity. Young adults want to assert their own identity and be individuals while at the same time they want to fit in with everyone else. The song that captures the spirit and innate conflict in this struggle is “Stick To The Status Quo.” Three students have the urge to express their true passion and the other students at the table encourage them to, but when they express something that doesn’t fit in with their clique they back up and tell them to stick with the status quo. This song expresses the way many young people feel who want to get something else but don’t feel comfortable because of peer pressure. We can’t fault the other students too much for not understanding why they want to be something other than they appear to be. By the end of the film, the student body comes together beyond the cliques to support each other in a way that speaks more to friendships then to cliques. This may not be realistic but is a nice thought.

High School Musical is about working against the status quo to be true to yourself, embracing your passions as Gabriella reminds us, “Do you remember in kindergarten, how you'd meet a kid, and know nothing about them, then 10 seconds later you'd be playing like you were best friends, because you didn't have to be anyone but yourself?” Though that may sound overly simple, but that might actually be all it really takes to make meaningful connections with people.

Even thought I enjoyed High School Musical, I’m probably never going to watch it ever again but I’m glad so many young people love this show. It has a great message and is a fantastic introduction to the world of musicals and music in general. I love the excitement that kids get when they have a piece of art that they love. It encompasses their whole lives, they want to experience it repeatedly, and it may annoy the rest of us but their excitement is a beautiful thing that leads passion and love for art that stays with them for the rest of our lives.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Come What May (from Moulin Rogue!) by Ewan McGregor & Nicole Kidman

"Come What May" film clip

For the first dance at my wedding my wife, Diana and I took a dancing lesson. This is actually a common thing for people to do. Most dance studios have a “wedding package” which typically include multiple sessions and personalized choreography. Now this may seem a little silly but the fact is that many people don’t feel comfortable dancing in front of a large crowd of family and friends.

Diana and I didn’t want a choreographed first dance but we wanted to feel a little bit more comfortable on the floor and have some ideas so that we wouldn’t be stuck in the generic “left foot, right foot” side to side slow dance. It didn’t help the fact that the song that we chose "Calico Skies" by Paul McCartney which had an up-tempo triple meter.



So we met with a friend of ours who taught dance and we had a lot of fun with our lesson. We learned some basics, a dance step that worked, how to do some turns and how to end the dance. For the next two weeks before our wedding, we practiced and both were looking forward to our first dance.

At the receptions, after the wedding, we enjoyed a beautiful dinner, heartwarming toasts and cutting cake. It was now time for our first dance. The music started and Diana and I approached each other. I was thinking about my posture, making sure right arm was firm, keeping my eyes up, and the dance steps steps. By the time, the first verse had started all those thoughts left my mind and for a moment, it was like we were floating.

About half way through the song, Diana surprised me. She reached up, put her hands behind my neck and pulled me close. My first thought was “hey we’re not doing our dance steps that we practiced what’s going on?” But, as our dance became the typical side to side slow dance and I felt her close to me, I realized that it really didn’t matter about the dance moves or even the song, it was just about sharing a special moment with her and showing all our friends and families how much we loved each other.

My brother Ed and his fiancée Laura are getting married tomorrow and as I think about how amazing it’s going to be I can’t help but think of the magical dance that Diana and I shared on our wedding day. Ed and Laura, you’ve chosen a great song for your first dance. "Come What May" from Moulin Rogue! is a beautiful song that captures the love between you two and the spirit of your wedding.

Moulin Rogue! is the kind of film, a student of culture like myself loves. It has more musical references then any other musical I’ve seen featuring intriguing and inventive reinterpretations of popular music. Watching this film for the first time was like cultural overload. My mind raced trying to keep track of all of the references. The amazing thing about the film wasn’t necessarily the music itself but how the music served the dramatic arc of the film. All of the references would have been meaningless if not for the tragic plot and engaging characters. As much I love the medley’s and hearing “Roxanne” being sung as a tragic tango, the song that always got to me is my favorite song from the film is the only original song composed for the Moulin Rougue! “Come What May.”

The song starts with Christians describing how the world just seems different because of the love that he feels. It starts simple with singing that almost seems unsure. It’s like he is beginning to understand his feelings as he sings. As he asks “listen to my heart” the notes become longer and more dramatic. Then Christian sings “but I love you” at the end of the first verse which through its intimacy and honesty feel more real then any other line in the song.

Satine, Nicole Kidman’s character sings in the second verse about how the world seems perfect and that her life doesn’t seems “such a waste.” Even though our minds tell us that the world is never perfect, at certain moments in our lives our hearts helps us feel that the world is perfect. That feeling is not one of solitude but comes from sharing not only our joys, but also our grief with the ones we love.

Enjoy your first dance. Yes, everyone is watching, but that’s okay. I know you’ve been practicing and trust me you will look tons better than you think you will. Everyone is wishing you well and basking in your joy. For a moment, the world may seem like a perfect place and I hope that you will bask in that feeling.

Laura if you feel like forgetting the dance moves for a moment and just pulling Ed close, go for it. It’s your moment and you two should do whatever you want. People are at the wedding to witness true love, your true love. No dress (even though I know your will be sublime) can make a bride as beautiful as the happiness that she is feeling with her new husband and I have no doubt that will shine like the stars.

My Girl by The Temptations

"My Girl" music video
"My Girl" from The Temptations television movie

Like most boys, my brother had various interests as we were growing up. There was a stage when we were both really into comic books, but my brother lost interest. In college, I got into professionally wrestling and passed that on to my brother and I eventually lost interest in that. However, the one thing that lasted for both of us that we’ve always shared throughout our entire lives is our love of music.

My brother started violin and as the younger brother I was quick to imitate. He started taking piano lessons and I insisted on learning that instrument as well. My parents never planned it this way. They knew music was important and could help both of us develop but they never thought it would become something that we would fall in love with.

I followed Ed to high school, joined jazz band, just like he did, then things seemed to start splitting off. I joined band and learned to play the saxophone as my brother went to New York University to study music technology. The hobby of composing, which we had both engaged in early in our piano lessons, became central to my study of music. I went to Northwestern to pursue a bachelor in music composition as my brother went on to do his master in music technology. With twist and turns of life my brother no longer works in the field of music and I am a music teacher.

I think about the wealth of music experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to experiences and there is something that’s always present. It’s there every time I listen to a song, explain a melody to a friend or write about a piece of art. The focus, the center of it all is the fact that I love music and it’s my brother who showed me what truly meant.

My dad as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts shared the music of his childhood with us. . The enthusiasm and joy that he got out of the music in his life was infectious and my brother got the Motown bug bad. The song that captured his imagination was “My Girl” by the Temptations. How many people do you know that can only name the original members of the Temptations as well as the many different replacements and group permutations from their start as the Elgins in 1960 all the way up until the 1980s? Ed is the only person I’ve ever met who knows this information (the scary part was that he knew this all of this in 8th grade).

He not only listened to the music of the Temptations but also researched their history through books, videotapes and anything he could get his hands on. If there was television performance or appearance, he would tape it and we would watch it repeatedly. I didn’t really understand all of this when I was in younger, and sometimes I would get annoyed that Motown was all he was listening to and talking about, but more often then not, I just wanted to be as excited as he was.

Ed taught me the lyrics to “My Girl” and showed the genius of it all. Smokey Robinson the composer, recognized as one finest lyricist in popular music wrote effortless rhymes.

I've got sunshine
On a cloudy day.
When it's cold outside,
I've got the month of May.

The opening seems so cliché but that is only because it is deep in our culture. Two opposites, sunshine and clouds, followed by feeling cold and instead of saying that something about feeling warm Smoky brings the imagery of the month of May, with a rhyme that seems so organic that it seems it that the words were created to be arranged in this way.

I remember listening to “My Girl” with Ed as he pointed out how the instruments worked together. It starts with solid bass line, the short guitar chords on beats two and four and the other instruments playing different rhythms at the same time to create a groove. I still remember the moment when Ed told me to listen to the stings and I heard it not only reach a euphoric peak in the instrumental bridge but also how the strings paint the rest of the song like a rainbow colors a clear blue sky.

Watching how my brother came to love “My Girl” inspired me to take my own path exploring the world of the Beatles and falling in love with their music. I’m sure Ed was just doing the older brother thing, sharing and playing with his younger brother, but what he did set me on path that has taken me to this very moment expressing how much I love music.

When we love something, we want to know everything about it. We can’t help it. It becomes an obsession. Yes, like being “in love” this obsession passes but if it is truly love something deeper is left. It’s that indescribable feeling of pure joy and comfort. It’s that person that no matter how often you talk to you still want to know more. It’s having something so close to your heart that it feels like part of you, the best part of you, that never leaves you, because it is you.

My dad used to play badminton with a bunch of friends and he would open early so that my brother and I could play. This was a Friday night tradition which my whole family enjoyed. Sometimes my mom wouldn’t come, we’d play a couple games with my dad, and later our mom would come pick us up. While waiting at the entrance of the gym for our mom after we were done playing, my brother would teach me the Temptation’s dance routine for “My Girl.” God knows how many times he must have watched the tape of them performing to learn but he loved it, and I’m so glad he shared that with me.

Every time I hear “My Girl” I think about those moments dancing to the “My Girl” playing in our heads, working through the routine and I smile, think of how much I love my brother and how thankful I am for all that he has taught me.

Isn’t it great how music expresses feelings that words can’t expresses? Well, you know that moment right at the end of instrumental bridge when it builds into David exclaiming, “I don’t need no money,” with sheer joy and bliss?

That’s exactly how I feel about my brother.

Thanks Ed

Monday, February 16, 2009

All You Really Need Is Love by Brad Paisley

"All You Really Need Is Love" wedding video

Anyone who says that planning a wedding is a stress-less, easy, enjoyable and wonderful experience either hasn’t planned a wedding or is the kind of person that sees a glass that is half-empty as over-flowing.

Now I’m not saying that there isn’t enjoyable parts of planning a wedding, but in helping plan me and my wife’s wedding and in my friend’s experiences I have yet to find anyone who have not faced unwanted difficulties and challenges in preparing for the wedding celebration. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not venting some deep, unresolved issues from my own wedding experience, I just think it’s interesting how the craziness of planning a wedding sometimes makes us lose sight of the point of it all, the marriage.

Wedding in America is an industry. There are magazines, websites and stores dedicated to creating the perfect wedding. There are vendors including caterers, photographers, florists, DJ’s, musicians, wedding coordinators, wedding planners, design specialists and pretty anything that you can imagine, however small the detail in a wedding, there’s a person who spends their lives just working on that.

It’s a little ridiculous . . . ok, it’s a lot ridiculous. If you call up a hotel and tell them, you are having a company banquet, they will give you a price but if you call the hotel again for the same space with the same number of people at the same date and tell them it’s a wedding reception, the price will double. This is not an exaggeration and is a symptom of this wedding “thing” that our society has created.

My wife and I found it funny that during our wedding planning it seemed that we were worrying more about the wedding than our marriage. At the end of the day, the marriage is the point of the wedding, and not the other way around. One of the things that helped us keep this perspective was Brad Paisley’s sage advice that “All You Really Need Is Love.”

Brad Paisley’s concepts for his songs are hilarious. Here you have a friend asking Brad if he thinks that he and his fiancée have what it takes to be married and Brad says, “yes” because all they really need is love. The song has a nice medium pace as Brad explains how happy he is for the couple, then it kicks in high gear as he goes into his list. He lists all the stuff that you need for the wedding and the friend and his fiancée’s mood starts to change into a panic.

After Brad’s list, he slows things down and notices a weird expression on the couple’s faces as they look kind of pale. Try writing down all the things that Brad lists off while he sings and you’ll start to get the overwhelming feeling that comes with planning a wedding, which is exactly their “expression” on the couple’s face. Brad goes on with his second list, notices a tear on his friends’ eyes, and misinterprets their feeling of shock as happiness.

This song has a sense of joy and teasing. Paisley doesn’t sing like he’s trying to be the specter of doom but instead he sounds like a person who in genuinely happy for his friends and wants to help. The up-beat tempo and the amazing instrumental break all contribute to a general feeling of celebration.

As Paisley sings his list of wedding needs he doesn’t bogged down. He has a light tone and smoothly flows through the words. That’s exactly how people should try to take on all of these wedding tasks with a sense of humor and a wink in the eye because at the end of the day it really is all about love.

It’s the love between a man and a wife and love that is shared with friends and family. We cheat ourselves by focusing energy on pleasing just the bride, doing only what the groom wants or making decisions solely on what the parents want. Yes as a man, I was annoyed that every time we talked a vender they would only talk my wife. I’m not saying that it would have made me happy if they only talked to me and ignored my wife instead. That would probably get me even angrier.

What I think is idea would be a level of respect all around. If you truly love someone, you don’t spend your entire day doing every little thing just to please to them and always let them have them their way. Love is about being partners, sharing in the experiences and responsibilities of life and it makes me sad to think an event that is suppose to be about joining two people together often ends up being about just what one person wants. That seems to defeat the point of what that special day is suppose to symbolize.

My brother and his fiancée have less then a week before they get married. It’s been interesting watching them put together their wedding. I find myself sometimes thinking, “well, that’s not how I would do it” and then I remember that I had my chance to do it my way and it’s not really important how the details are done. Most people who come to a wedding don’t really care about the bar package, the chair coverings or the centerpieces, they are just happy to be there to share the day.

Through helping out with my brother’s wedding, I’ve gotten a level of perspective on my own wedding experience. There were some things that I was obtuse about and irrationally decisions that I made. I’m not proud of that fact and I hope I didn’t cause too much stress to my wife, my in-laws and my parents. I’m sorry if I did. (If you haven’t figured it out yet, I wasn’t exactly the kind of groom who was satisfied sitting in the corner while everyone else figured out what the wedding day would look like.)

However, I think I did the best I could, and it took time for me to figure out that it wasn’t all about my wife and I, but it was about everyone who was there on that day. It’s an indescribable feeling being in a room full of people who want nothing but to wish you well and help you celebrate your lives. If that feeling isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

The planning was sometimes stressful and not all that much fun but think about it, if planning is the best thing about the wedding, something is wrong. The wedding should be the best part, so I think it’s ok if you don’t love planning your wedding.

Ed and Laura, this Saturday, don’t forget, all you really need is love and I know there will be plenty of love between you and around you on your wedding day. Love will make that glass not only seem half-full, but will fill it until it actually is overflowing.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) by Jay-Z & It's a Hard Knock Life (from Annie)



"It’s a Hard Knock Life" from
Annie:

1982 film version
1999 film version


My first memory of the term ghetto was when I was learning about the holocaust in elementary school as the area that the Nazi’s forced the Jews to live in. When I got to high school “ghetto rap” music emerged and the idea of a “ghetto” began to change in my head.

There was a time when hip-hop culture and rap music was on the fringes of society but now the influence of “ghetto culture” is clearly seen every aspect of our lives. While there are artists who have genuine experiences growing up in the ghetto there are many who do not and romanticize this idea of “gangsta life” to sell more records. This has led to feeling being ghetto is overexposed and a little tiring.

Now it seems that “ghetto” has become a word to describe something that is humorously lower class. There some who feel that it is detrimental to use the word “ghetto” to mock others. This may be true and in asking myself “what is truly ghetto?” my mind goes back to the ghetto anthem I heard in high school “Hard Knock Life” by Jay-Z.

One thing attracted me to “Hard Knock Life,” the fact that Jay-Z utilized a sample from the musical Annie based on the comic strip Little Orphan Annie. You know Annie with the curly red hair and the red dress with the dog and sings that “Tomorrow” song and how it’s only a day a way. Unlike most of the planet, my favorite song from Annie isn’t “Tomorrow.” I was also more intrigued by “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and when I heard Jay-Z’s version it blew my mind.

Rap artist have been sampling music since the art form came to life. Most of these samples come from soul and R & B music. The melding of show tunes into rap music is something that hadn’t been seen before in the mainstream culture and proved to me the unlimited possibilities of sampling

When I first came to know the “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from Annie and Jay-Z’s version of the song my fascination was mostly because I liked the melody. However, each time I come back to “It’s a Hard Knock Life” it becomes more stark and depressing and Jay-Z’s version gains a deeper level of meaning.

The original cast recording of “It’s a Hard Knock Life” which Jay-Z sampled is much slower than the film versions of the song. In the original cast recording, the tempo is at 120 beats per second, which is the standard American march tempo. Bands perform most traditional American marches like “Stars & Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa at this tempo. There is an instant feeling of marching, an almost protest like rally call that the orphans sing as the clean up the orphanage. The brash brass and timpani make it seem like a call to arms, an angry declaration of worker grievances, which mirrors the setting of the musical during the great depression.

Even though the girls are angry and complaining the fact they are doing just that is shockingly sad. Children who grow up in the lower class or without parents often do not realize what they are missing. They often think that their lives are normal and in some ways this is less painful the knowing what they are missing the children. In “It’s a Hard Knock Life” one girls complains about never seeing Santa Claus and another girl responds saying “What’s that?” She doesn’t even know that it’s a person and for that girl, her ignorance of Santa Claus means there is one thing less that she isn’t depressed about missing. With its stilted rhythm and jagged melody “It’s a Hard Knock Life” is a declaration of a different kind of ghetto life, one that these orphans dream of leaving and in “Hard Knock Life” Jay-Z has left the ghetto but has found that it hasn’t left him.

Jay-Z, in “Hard Knock Life,” describes his journey from living in the ghetto to becoming a successful rap star. He explains that is from the “school of the hard knocks” a place of fierce loyalty. This makes him feel responsible to help the people that he has left behind in the ghetto. In the second verse, he explains that he “flows” or raps for girls so that they do not have to strip to pay college tuition. Later in the third he explains how ghetto life is still inside of him, something that he can’t escape, “Hustling's still inside of me.” There is a sense of burden that Jay-Z carries with him. As much as Annie looks forward to tomorrow, Jay-Z is haunted by yesterday.

When asked about Annie, Jay-Z commented “I watched the movie and was mesmerized ... They're too strong to let life bring them down. That's the ghetto right there . . . these kids sing about the hard knock life, things everyone in the ghetto feels coming up ... That's the ghetto anthem.”

As much as we would like to think that we moved away from our hometown and our experiences growing up, we can never truly separate ourselves from all of that because, they are who we are.

When you are haunted a childhood that you know you didn’t deserve, a place that you feel you must give back to, a lifestyle that you don’t feel like you can ever move past, only then will you have a true understanding of what is ghetto.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Love Child by the Supremes



I took a sociology class my freshmen year at Northwestern University. One of the books I read for this class was Sidewalk by Mitchell Duneier. This book documented the life of homeless people in New York City and explained how they handled different aspects in their life like how they made money found food. One aspect that I never thought about was their romantic life. I just assumed that homeless people didn’t have boyfriends or husbands. I didn’t really think that someone who get their food from a trash could have a sex life, but they do.

Duneier discuss where homeless people find places to be romantic, make love and how these relationships in many way are not that different than the relationships of those of us who are fortunate enough to live comfortably. However, like most things for people who are in poverty, romance and sex is more challenging and in some ways is not as enjoyable.

Everything from fancy dinners, sexy underwear and romantic vacations all contribute to people’s enjoyment of each other. One of the less apparent advantages but important ones is birth control. Whether it’s condoms or pills, these things all cost money. If those things fail, people of means have much more resources and options when it comes to abortions and putting children up for adoption. The lack of options of people in poverty and the fear of an unwanted baby drives the narrator in “Love Child.”

I always found “Love Child” to be one of the most intriguing songs that the Supremes recorded. The Supremes set the standard for what it meant to be a girl group. Motown built up the Supremes with an image of high-class elegance singing some of the best crated pop songs in music history. Most of the songs are relatively light in their subject matter, contemplating idealized romantic love through a variety of situations.

After two failed singles, Berry Gordy the owner of Motown records got a group of songwriters called The Clan to work on a new hit single for the Supremes. What they created was not a song about romantic love but a song about a woman trying to explain to her boyfriend why she doesn’t want to have sex with him. Can you imagine pitching this song idea to a pop radio station? The subject doesn’t sound like something that most people would want to listen to but “Love Child” holds as the Supremes best selling single, outselling all of their other 45 releases. It was so successful it knocked off The Beatles’ enormous hit “He Jude” off the number one spot on the pop charts.

Diana Ross, the lead singer of the Supremes takes on the roll of a woman who was born a “love child.” This is another term for a child born to unwed parents. Her mother was poor and Diana’s character grew up in a tenement slum. She describe is the first verse how she never knew her father and that she carries the guilt from her mother about the fact that she has no name. In the second verse Diana, describe starting school in a second hand dress. There is pain in not having the things that her friends had but what is even more painful is the guilt that she carries.

This first hand experience as a “love child” motivates Diana’s character to try to convince her boyfriend to hold off making love because the possibility of creating a “love child” that they will both end up hating this child. Diana’s character asserts that if she has a illegitimate child that it will carry the same shame and guilt that she carries.

There are attitudes in our society about children born out of wedlock, but I wonder if the level of shame and guilt that Diana’s character experiences comes more from her mother than society. Diana’s character herself feels ashamed of her own existence and this is one of the most shocking things about this song. She talks about a “love child” as being “never meant to be” and if there is any doubt that she is referring to herself, she sings in the end of the first chorus “take a look at me.”

“Love Child” ends with a declaration of love. In an earlier section she explains to her boyfriend that she wants to please him and that she needs him which is followed by talking about a the love child they may create. So when Diana starts signing “I’ll always love you,” my initial thought was that she was singing to her boyfriend. In declaring that she loves him, maybe she is attempting to assuage his advances by expressing a level of commitment that would make up for not making love. The more I listen to this song, the more I think that she’s probably not singing to him, but to herself and to her child.

As Diana sings “I will always love you” it sounds more like a desperate cry than a declaration of romantic love. After telling herself and her future child how much she thinks they are both mistakes, she realizes how wrong she is and tries to convince them otherwise. Was she being so negative as a reflection of how she truly feels or in an effort to convince her boyfriend not to force her to have sex? Either way by the end of the song, with the back-up singers reminding us that the being a “love child” is on her mind, she sings about love, apologizing to herself and her future child.

Diana Ross stretches her dramatic abilities as a singer in “Love Child.” In earlier songs written for the Supremes, Diana’s thin, gentle and conversational voice worked in those songs. She doesn’t have a large range, or a great degree of variety in her tone but “Love Child” she approaches a level of rawness, expressing an internal struggle as she pushes her voice creating a level of intensity that drives the song as much as background instruments.

The Andantes, Motown’s session singers sang on this record instead of the Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong, the other two members of the Supremes. The Andantes begin the song singing on “oo” while softly rising. Then right before Diana enters they sing a high tense “ah” that comes across like a woman screaming. This happens a couple times during the song expressing the turmoil in the main character’s mind and makes it clear to the listener that there is a level of pain to be dealt with in this song.

Sometimes I wonder, what is the point of a song like “Love Child.” It’s not especially happy and it doesn’t put me in a great mood to listen to it. I’m sure some people who feel like Diana Ross’ character can relate to it, but I don’t really relate to most of this song. Is this song suppose to make me feel bad about poor people motivating me to go help them? I don’t think so, and that’s one reason why I like this song. It’s not preachy but instead it’s an interesting examination of a human conflict. These kinds of stories come from all different place, sometimes it’s from Green Bow, Alabama with a guy names Forrest and other times it comes from a tenement slum. What great stories do is help us know another person for a moment and in that experience we feel things that we don’t normally do, and get perspective on our lives.

It’s important that we are aware of the struggles of others, not so that we can feel guilty all of the time and spend our lives doing charity work. We all should work to help others but people’s choices about charity are their own prerogative. However, it is essential that we are aware of struggles like the one in “Love Child” because it is through understanding each struggle that we realize that there is no individual experience but only a shared humanity that binds us, challenges us and brings us closer to each other and ourselves.


Monday, February 9, 2009

In the Ghetto by Elvis Presley & Lisa Marie Presley


“In the Ghetto” live performance
“In the Ghetto” original studio recording

The cold is heartless. As the wind chills us, the cold creeps into our hearts with feelings of despair, loneliness and sadness. When I face the cold, I’m in my car, not walking to a bus stop. My North Face coat keep the warmth close to my body as opposed to a coat taken from a donation box that through seasons of use has lots its effectiveness to keep out the stings of wind. I have a hot mug of tea and a lunchbox full of food while others are not sure when there next meal will be. In a way I’ve never been cold.

“In The Ghetto” is a story about what it means to feel cold. On a snowing, cold and gray Chicago morning a baby child is born. For those of you who have never lived in Chicago winter mornings can reach below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and in the depth of winter, mornings can not only be grey but black as the sun takes it’s time it to rise. This is the setting for a tragedy though fictional speaks truths about struggles and lives of those less fortunate.

When Elvis Presley recorded this song in 1969, it had been four years since his last Top 10 hit. Spending his time making mediocre films had made Elvis irrelevant in the music world. It wasn’t until his television comeback special in 1968 that Elvis reminded America that he was one of the most influential musicians in American culture. He followed this special up by jumping back in the studio. He recorded in Memphis, Tennessee and during intense midnight sessions he recorded some of the greatest work in his career including “Suspicious Minds” and “In The Ghetto.”

Elvis revolutionized music with his sexually charged performances and a voice that was a unique amalgamation of country, gospel, soul and pop. His early recordings captured his unbridled expression, which seemed to evaporate as his career progressed

“In The Ghetto” was a return to greatness. The opening guitar arpeggio, the subtle horn colors, the lush strings and the soulful back-up singers worked together to created an indescribable feeling of harmony. I’m not talking about harmony in the musical sense, but rather the feeling that you get when you are in a group of people and everyone is working together, for the same reasons, to reach the same goal. In this song, the many different elements, the many different people working together combine so well that instead of hearing each individual musician, you feel what they are expressing.

The song tells the story of a child’s life. He is born to a single mother who’s first thought after he is born is not of love but of regret as she thinks of him as another mouth to feed. The child grows up on the cold streets and gets the best education that is available to him. The school is his streets, the teachers are neighborhood boys, and their curriculum is fighting and stealing. His motivation is not grades but rather hunger, that like the cold gnaws away not only at the body but also the soul. One day he tries to steal a car and the police catch him and dies. His mother weep is at the side of her dying boy as she dies what in another part of the ghetto, another boy is being born.

This song was originally title “The Vicious Cycle” and this song posits that the story of this boy is destined to repeat. As much as people do break out of the cycle and move out of the ghetto, many more people never do rise above the economic hardship they are born into. I’m not here to debate why people are stuck in the ghetto and what we as a society should do about it but I believe we all can agree there is a cycle in which it is nigh-impossible for people born in the ghetto to get out.

People make bad choices and often pay for them. For example, someone may break a law and then lose their job, go to jail and then when they get out, the only place they can afford to live is the ghetto. On some level, we can blame that person for their situation. However, a child born in the ghetto didn’t choose to be born there. “In the Ghetto” asks us if we see that this boy needs help because the song argues that if he doesn’t get it he will grow up bitter and angry. Then the songs asks, “Are we too blind to see or do we simply turn our heads and look the other way?”

Honestly, most of the time, I simply turn my head.

I don’t always know what to do with that. I like to think that I do all I can to help those in need, but I don’t really. Often, we tell ourselves that people don’t deserve our help because their misfortune is their fault, but who are we to judge?

I believe we can do better. I don’t know if it’s through our government or private organizations but there’s no reason why the richest country in the world can’t make sure all of it’s children have enough food to eat and shelter from the cold. Just because we don’t necessarily have answers, doesn’t mean we should stop asking questions.

In 2008, Lisa Marie Presley had one answer. Elvis Presley’s only child recorded over Elvis’s original recording to create a duet and donated all of its proceeds to charity. Natalie Cole was the first musician to do this singing “Unforgettable” with her dad Nat King Cole. Since then, many artist have sung duets with musicians who have passed on and most of the time I find that these works in overdubbing and editing do not add anything real or substantial to the original recording. However, there’s something different with Lisa Marie.

When Elvis died at the age of 43, Lisa Marie was 9 years old. The whole world got to know her dad, but she barely did. Even though Lisa Marie has not made a significant impact on the music world she is the strongest tie we have to Elvis and she continuously works, despite the behavior that the tabloids often report, to honor her father and help his estate do charity work.

Elvis’ deep baritone perfectly matches Lisa Marie’s rich alto voice. Though they are similar, Lisa Marie has a slight edge and yearning that compliments the solemn and soulful delivery of her father. Elvis was taken from Lisa Marie like “In the Ghetto” describes the son being taken from his mother. Alone, Elvis expresses the tragedy of this loss. However, with Lisa Marie “In the Ghetto” becomes a celebration of what people can create beyond circumstance, beyond death and beyond life in the ghetto.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Working for the Weekend by Loverboy

When I was in elementary and middle school the weekend meant one thing: videogames. My mom had a rule in the house that my brother and I could only play video games on the weekends and Friday night was the glorious start of the time when we could lose ourselves in the 16-bit glory that was our Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Our game of choice was Street Fighter II, the original, and then the championship edition and then turbo and well, in retrospect they really did milk that franchise for all it was worth. Oh, but that was good times.

In high school, weekends started to become catch up time to do homework and to work on big projects. I spent a good amount of time during the week going to private music lessons and practicing my musical instruments so often homework got pushed to the weekend. I didn’t really party much on the weekends in high school. It was a time to hang out with friends a little but in general it was all about catching up on schoolwork.

Then there is college, in which the weekends start to mean some very different things. In fall quarter the weekends were all about marching band, whether it was a football game or a gathering of marching band friends. In the winter and spring quarter, weekends could start as early as Thursday depending on the your class schedule and because of the lack of restrictions on your time, you could treat pretty much any night of the week as a weekend. I mean when your earliest class is 11am, staying up until midnight to party really isn’t that unreasonable.

It wasn’t so much that it was a free for all when it came to partying. I had things to do, homework, rehearsals, and fraternity responsibilities to balance out life but my time was fluid and if I wanted to spend a Tuesday night not doing work I could shift my work to another night. Weekends no longer a special time in the week where you could do something specific they were just more time you had in the week.

Now that I’m officially an adult and in the work force, weekends are a time to do laundry, clean the house, run errands, and plan for the week. However, even though adulthood requires that I take care of stuff on the weekends, there is always some time, a couple hours in which I can truly relax, get my party on and enjoy life.

As much as I love my job, I would lying if I told you that I didn’t look forward to the weekends. Maybe it’s because the stage of life that my friends and I are in. We are in our mid to late 20s, working hard to establish ourselves, get ahead and we all work really hard during the week. Even though we don’t have kids we still struggle in our personal lives, with our identity as an adults and the transition into the “real world.” We all need a break sometimes and that’s why I thank God for the weekend.

Loverboy’s 1981 song “Working for the Weekend” is an anthem for anyone who's ever sat at work, looked at the clocked and wished for the sanctuary of the weekend (which in my experiences in pretty much everyone on the planet). The song explodes with guitars, bass and keyboards in a call and response phrase, first with a descending line answered by a lower rumbling which expresses a feeling of urgency. The drums create an infectious groove that melds the feelings of frustration with anticipation and excitement as the vocals enter.

The first verse comes gives some advice to a worker who feels that everyone is watching and judging him. It's the feeling of being new in a company and hoping that you are doing everything right. Then the realization comes in the end of the verse that everyone is in the same boat. As the song progresses there is a feeling that the work is not that bad. In the second verse, the singer reassures us that everyone is actually wants you to “come through.” This song not only comforts people letting them know that they can make it through the week and that they aren’t alone in their feelings.

The chorus is a joyous celebration, an anthem that not only encapsulates the motivation for many people in the working week but also how good the weekend feels when it actually comes. The melody is the chorus is a crafted between two different notes and the rhythm a slower then in the verses. These factors make the chorus not only catchy but also easy to learn and sing along with.

The instruments in the beginning work against each other. In the verses, the background is scaled down and then the when chorus hits all the instruments play together in a joyous chorus that mirrors the feeling of a group of people singing along to a rock anthem.

Sometimes music does not need to have multiple layers to hold meaning to people. The message in this song is clear. Everybody is working for the weekend and needs a break, everyone wants love, everyone is trying as hard as they can and everyone deserves a second chance. These are things that we all felt at some point in our lives which is which is why this song connects with us like it does..

One of my favorite Saturday Night Live skits features Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley audition to be Chippendale dancers and the song these two dancers audition to is “Working for the Weekend.” There are many things that are funny about this skit. Yes, the fact that Chris Farley clearly does not have the body type to be a male stripper and Patrick Swayze’s insistence along with the judge that Chris is a better dancer is both mystifying and hilarious. What gets me every time is how hard Chris Farley is dancing. He could not be committing any more to the skit. He is the perfect example of someone “Working for the Weekend” giving it his all. We watch, hoping beyond reason that he will get the job and in that moment, we become the narrator in “ Working for the Weekend.”

There may be people out there who make your work miserable, but never forget there are always people rooting you on. Don’t forget to reassure the people around you, because in doing so we remind ourselves that we are all together not only while working but also during the weekends.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Promised Land by Bruce Springsteen

"The Promised Land" studio recording

Do you live to work or work to live?

One of the consequences of the industrial revolution and the fervent economic progress in American history is the fact that many people work to live. Whether it’s a migrant worker traveling across the country to pick fruit or a single mother working two full time jobs to support her family, many people’s lives are nothing but their work. The path to a more fulfilling job that not only provides a reasonable wage and also enriches their lives for many people seems unattainable.

I’m not going to try and blame any group of people or “society” for the fact that some people feel forced to work jobs they hate, but it is undeniable that work for many people including close friends is a necessity, a burden and one of the more depressing parts of life. If everyone only worked because they wanted to, not because they had to the American workforce would look very different and it would reveal the difficult choices and perseverance that keeps people going to work and this country of ours running.

When Bruce Springsteen released “Promised Land” in 1978, America was in the worst decade for economic performance since the 1920s. The misery index (combination of the unemployment rate and the inflation rate) rose to an all time high by the end of the decade. Whether this was due to the growth in the Japanese economy, the oil crisis in 1973 and 1979 or the government’s mismanagement of the economy, people were hurting.

Many musicians in popular music focused on escapism. With disco still central in the culture, many artists focused on joy through excess and creating images of wealth for people to aspire to. So when Springsteen came out, a vision of the working man, looking like a someone who just got off working a night shift in a factory, he spoke out for the struggling working man because that is what he truly was.

This was a man who wore jeans on stage, had scraggily hair and had enough biceps to back you up in a bar fight. He doesn’t sing with the cleaned up tone and he doesn’t sing about their idealized romantic love. What Bruce sings about is the reality of the struggles in people’s lives and expresses them through a spirit of undying hope.

The first verse of “Promised Land” begins speaking about driving through the Utah desert. The narrator is enjoying the freedom of driving thinking back on the fact that he works all day and drives all night “chasing some mirage.” That illusion is that feeling of driving through a open space feeling the cool wind in your hair and for a moment feeling free of responsibility. At the end of the first verse, he assures us that soon he will take charge. A change is coming, something will happen and we get a sense that this is more than a dream. Many people work jobs for years and talk about taking a chance and making big change in their lives and Bruce taps into this idea, this belief.

The chorus speaks to a deep sense of frustration and restlessness.

The dogs on Main Street howl
'cause they understand
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister I ain't a boy, no I'm a man
And I believe in a promised land

The dogs, are not only the animals but other working people who understand that if the narrator could take one moment and control their destiny, stand up for himself something huge could happen. Bruce sings “mister I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man” like it means something. The fact that he is a man means that he deserves to be treated a respect. This is more then a declaration of adulthood or manhood but a declaration of humanity. The Promised Land alludes to the goal of Israel as Moses led the Jews through the desert from Egypt. It’s not so much that the narrator believe in the promise land that is important but rather that he believes in something. In saying our beliefs, we are stating what we believe in. Moreover we are declaring that we are strong enough because of the fact that we believe in something to change your lives.

The second verse is about the struggle of going to work every day. Bruce sings about doing the best he can, working hard but it hurts. He feels like it is blinding and it makes him feel “so weak, I just want to explode.” It’s doing the same monotonous activity for 8 hours and just wanting to scream at the top of your lungs “let me out!” Doing a job that you hate not only breaks down the spirit but is a physical pain, a cancer and Bruce describes this as something that he can cut form his heart. In the end of this verse like the end of the first verse, there is a call to action and Bruce takes that first step in the last verse.

The narrator takes a journey in the third verse. He sees a storm rising in the desert, and decides to back his bags and head straight into the storm.

There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain't got the faith to stand its ground

There is a tornado coming and the narrator has no realistic hope of fighting the storm but there is something deeper, more powerful at work here. Bruce points out that the storm doesn’t have faith and argues that belief in a single man is stronger then any force of nature. Bruce screams out to the tornado to do its worst.

Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted.

In facing the storm, Bruce challenges the twister to take away everything that holds him back. Broken dreams, hoping for things that never come true tear you apart and constantly break your hearts. Letting go of lies is about getting to the truth of our belief, where our perseverance and our power truly lies.

There are times in my life when I need to listen to this song like I need to breathe air. When I’ve worked 12 hour days and have to go to work early in the morning hearing the two drum hits and the harmonica is like opening doors to everything that gets me through the struggles in my day. The organ that dances throughout the song sparkles reminding me that that there will be a sunrise after the night, no matter how dark it is.

As we were reminded that we have nothing to fear but fear itself in the great depression, “Promised Land” assures us that there is nothing we can’t endure as long as we hang on to what we believe.

Monday, February 2, 2009

9 to 5 by Dolly Parton



The first time I worked a 9 to 5 job was after I got out of graduate school. My parents wanted me to focus on school above work in high school so I never got a full time job, but I did work. In high school, I was a piano accompanist, and got gigs playing at weddings and churches. In college, I worked teaching lessons and also made some scratch arranging music. My work often kept me busy but it wasn’t ever structured in a full 8 hour day.

I’m in my third year of work 9 to 5, which is more like 7 to 3 as a teacher, first in high school and now in elementary school and it is a challenge. I love my job, but there are times when the 8 hour, 5 day a week thing gets to you and when a three day weekend roles around it’s like greatest thing ever.

I’m not sure if the 9 to 5 structure is the best thing for productivity but from my observations, mostly from people around my age (twenty-somethings) it can be a grueling and grate at your spirit especially since an 8 hour day is rarely actually 8 hours. This combined with the fact that most people do not have perfect works situations makes just getting from 9 to 5 a struggle.

Dolly Parton released “9 to 5” in 1980 which has became anthem for the struggles of all of us who work. It was featured in the film of the same name that stared Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jan Fonda. This was a song that people all across America could relate to and topped the pop, country and adult contemporary charts at the same time. “9 to 5” speaks about the every day struggle from getting out of bed to dealing with an annoying boss and she does it a way that comforts us and reminds us of our self-worth.

Through her exuberant personality and hard work, Dolly Parton has made a mark on the popular culture as one of the most well-known and loved musicians. Her influence is so wide that when the first cloned mammal was born on July 5th, 1996, the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh scientists named the sheep Dolly after country singer Dolly Parton. Was this because of Dolly Parton’s scientific contributions? No, of course not, it was because Dolly was cloned from breast tissue and Dolly Parton 40DD’s are some of the most famous breasts in our culture.

Dolly Parton is more then her breasts. She is one of most successful people in popular music history. She is an accomplished composer and musician and have charted on the pop, country and adult contemporary charts. Her most famous song that she composed is “I Will Always Love You,” that Whitney Houston recorded for the 1992 film, The Bodyguard (here's Dolly singing it, which I prefer). She has appeared in film, television shows and been nominated and won for numerous awards for acting accomplishments.

Dolly Parton is incredible business woman who owns a theme park called Dollywood as well as Sand Dollar productions which have produced film and television including Father of the Bride starring Steve Martin and the greatest television ever, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She is also a philanthropist working with her literacy program “Imaginary Library.”

When people complain about work, sometimes they are angry, sometimes they are sad and other times there is a level of humor. This level of humor can be a result of a situation that is so hopeless that laughing is the only way to cope. Other times, people complain with a quiet a smile. People do this more to point out the good things and the hope in the situation and only complain about the bad things as a way to say “things are hard, but it’s not that bad and we can persevere.” This is exact what Dolly Parton is expressing in “9 to 5”

The song starts describing the start of the day. There is struggle in getting out of bed but also a sense of hope, “cup of ambition.” The upbeat instrumentation and the rising melody line underlines the general optimism in this song that foreshadows the second verse. In the chorus, Dolly describes work, as something that we give to and get little back which is enough to drive you crazy.

In the second verse Dolly reminds us of our dreams and that we are not only in our struggles.

They let your dream
Just a watch the shatter
You’re just a step
On the boss mans a ladder
But you got dream hell never take away

On the same boat
With a lot of your friends
Waiting for the day
Your ship’ll come in
And the tides gonna turn
An its all gonna roll you away

Even though others may shatter dreams, they are something that the boss can’t take away. Also the sense of fraternity, knowing others are going through the same struggle makes us feel better about our emotions knowing that we are not alone. This song has a great supportive feeling that reflects our experiences and our feelings in a brighter light.

This song for woman is a statement of solidarity. In 1980 when Dolly Parton released “9 to 5” singing about work from a woman’s perspective with such a deep understanding of the 9 to 5 workday proved that woman were as just a part of the workforce as men were.

I’m lucky in the fact that no matter how hard my day at least one students does something or says something that makes me smile that helps me get through the day. The little things make the struggle of out of bed in the morning worth it. If you don’t have those little things getting you through the day try to remember that the weekend is always just right around the corner and never forget your dreams.