Thursday, April 30, 2009

Soak Up The Sun by Sheryl Crow

Some songs just don’t work when they are arranged for marching band. There is a tradition in marching bands to play arrangements of pop songs in the stands and sometimes during halftime shows. Some songs like “Gimmie Some Lovin’” and “Hey Baby” are fantastic and some like “Who Let the Dogs Out" are simply painful.

One year when I was in the Northwestern Marching band, our director handed this arrangement of “Soak Up The Sun.” My instrument section really enjoyed playing the song because we had the melody the entire time but musically that was a horrible thing as my section was the alto saxophones. The purpose of alto saxophones in a marching band is to fill in harmony under the melody and provide counter-melodies, not the melody.

Now the alto section wasn’t exactly the most “mature” group so when we realized we had the melody we played it as loud as possible. So as we played the song, our director gave my section “the hand” (a gesture meant to tell us to play softer) throughout the entire song. After the song was done our director gave us a stern look and verbally reprimanded us for our unmusical playing and all I could think was “lighten up.”

After playing the song once we never played it ever again. Maybe it was because of the mediocrity of the arrangement or maybe it was because our director realized what a bad idea it was to give the alto saxophones the melody.

Sheryl Crow released "Soak Up The Sun" as the first single from her fourth studio album C'mon C'mon. Released in April 2002 "Soak Up The Sun" became one of the biggest hits of the summer becoming Crow's best-selling single since her 1993 breakout hit "All I Wanna Do."

"Soak Up The Sun" feels like everything that is great about summer. Musically Crow captures the feeling of sunshine using energetic synthesized sounds and relaxed guitar licks. The groove is punctuated by popping sounds that drive the songs while the main guitar line is laid back. The tension between these two parts creates a groove that makes the song rock.

Sheryl Crow's sings with a sense of ease and relaxation. She glides through the lyrics so smoothly that some of the stranger lyrics like "my friend the communist holds meetings in his RV" come off as matter of the fact observations. The attitude in her voice matches the lyrics of the song which are basically telling us to chill out.

As a lyricist Crow plays with figurative language while making interesting observations. In the first verse she talks about not having enough gas to go to a communist party. She doesn't have a television but she is ok with this as she concludes "it's not having what you want, it's having wanting what you got."

In the second verse, Crow reveals that she doesn't get paid enough to "win me some of your love." She describes that she it at odds with her love as she is looking up and he is looking down but she is not mad. When she wonders if something is wrong with him, she concludes that maybe she is crazy too.

The chorus is a declaration of optimism, a statement that she is going to enjoy life. She is going to relax and soak up the sun and tell everyone else to lighten up. The verse describes a life that isn't perfect and a relationship that is flawed but she is resolved to enjoy life and relax.

What Crow is telling us is that enjoying life really is more about attitude than the actual situation. There are points in life when even a positive attitude can’t make a difference but more often than not it can.

When we played “Soak Up The Sun,” my section and I could have decided to just be annoyed that we were playing a mediocre arrangement of a song that has no business being arranged for marching band. Instead, we decided to have a little fun with it. Was it helpful to the rest of the band? No, was it a little annoying to our director and everyone else in the band? Oh yeah, but did we have a fantastic time doing it. Yes.

After giving us “the hand,” and giving us “the look,” our director did chuckle to himself a little. I think he understood that sometimes it’s just not worth getting that mad. I got to admit that over the four years I had him as a director he did in fact “lighten up.” Kind of . . .

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You Are My Sunshine by Jimmie Davis

I have a way of ruining songs for my wife Diana.

I don’t mean to but sometimes it just happens.

I love researching songs finding out the stories “behind the music.” Most of the time adds to my appreciation and understanding of the song. However, every so often I find out something about a song that changes my understanding of the song. Sometimes this adds a whole new perspective to the song and other times, it just kind of ruins in.

When most of us think of “You Are My Sunshine” we imagine little kids singing this song like in this clip from The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. Except for the James Brown inspired rap break down in the end of the song, this is pretty much most of our experience with this song.

“You Are My Sunshine” is a song that mothers sing to children. Children sing this song in elementary school. There probably isn’t a adult in America who can’t sing this song or at least hum the melody. This songs is important to our culture that it is used to teach borg woman about humanity.

So when Diana and heard Johnny Cash singing “You Are My Sunshine” and we both realized how depressing the song actually was, it was kind of bummer. Granted, Johnny Cash could make any song sound depressing, but it wasn't just his voice that made this song so sad.

Jimmie Davis’ recording “You Are My Sunshine” popularized the song in 1940. Davis bought the rights to the song and took credit as the composer, which was common at the times. He later became the governor of Louisiana and through this association, “You Are My Sunshine” became one of the state songs. Since Davis recorded it, numerous artists recorded it including Bing Crosby, Gene Autry and Ray Charles.

The four verses of “You Are My Sunshine” are spoken from the perspective of a man who is dealing with the fact that his love has left him. The first verse is an expression of sorrow and sadness as he wakes up to find that he is alone after dreaming of his love. He is so depressed by this fact that he cries.

In the second verse, he pledges his love but states that if she leaves him she’ll regret it. There is a little bit of anger in these words that builds into the third verse as he deals with her leaving. He describes her actions as “shattering” his dreams focusing on the pain that she has caused him. He calms down in the last verse after he realizes that she might actually leave him permanently and promises that he will forgiver her and take all the blame for the situation.

It is extraordinary how clearly this song works through different emotions starting with sadness, moving through bitterness, anger and finally regret. All of this is framed by the chorus which when broken down reflects his state of mind.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You'll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away

There is a sweet sentiment when he describes her as his sunshine. When he adds that she is his only sunshine he is stating how he hasn’t cheated on her. "She makes him happy when the skies are gray" is another heartwarming line followed by “you’ll never know dear, how much I love you.” Is this something you say to someone love? I guess on one hand if I said that to my wife it could mean that I love her so much that I can’t describe it to her. On the other hand it sounds a little bitter. I can imagine someone saying that in response to being dumped as they walk away in anger.

Who is he talking to in the last line of the chorus “please don’t take my sunshine away”? If the metaphor carries through the stanza than the sunshine is his love and someone else is trying to take his love away. Is it God or another man? He isn’t asking her to directly to stay but rather a third party. In some ways this is truly the saddest part of the song as he begs life not to take his only happiness away. This isn’t an affirmation of love. This is a man begging for the one thing that makes him happy.

“You Are My Sunshine” sounds really happy. There is a great tradition in country music in setting depressing lyrics being to happy music. It makes the subjects more palatable and easier to deal with. Often as in “You Are My Sunshine” it adds a level of subtext to the song making it even sadder because the depressed voice is trying to put on a happy face.

Whenever Diana hears this song now, she comments on how sad it is and how she used to get a warm-fuzzy feeling from this song. I guess in changing her understanding of the song I didn't ruin it but the song no longer has that sparkle of childhood delight surrounding it.

My bad.

So there it is. “You Are My Sunshine” is a depressing break-up song. Santa Claus isn’t real and his common image was created by the Coca Cola company. Pop singers often lip sing when they perform on television and just because your mom tells you that you are good looking doesn’t necessarily mean its true.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Here Comes The Sun by The Beatles

I have lived in the Chicagoland area for the past nine years and I am proud to call it my home.

There is so much to love about Chicago: the art, the food, the history, the neighborhoods and the people. However there are some things, I dislike, no HATE about Chicago: the traffic, the construction, the political corruption, the ridiculous sales tax (11.5% highest in America) and the winter weather.

I enjoy the first snow, the crispness of a winter morning and the magic of an evening snowstorm. That’s all good, but when it snows in April, when the sun never seems to rise and when we have multiple days when its colder in Chicago than in the North Pole, Moscow and Juneau it’s hard to love living in the Chicagoland area.

Yes, I complain a lot about the weather in Chicago. I dislike the drawn-out portions of winter so much I start complaining about it during the summer (I’m not joking, ask my wife). This winter has been especially rough. Multiple heavy snows and extended periods of time when the temperature was below 10 degrees Fahrenheit have a way of physically draining the body and dampening the spirit. So when the groundhog saw it’s shadow and decided we’d have a couple more weeks of winter I was ready to chase down the sucker and well go "Caddyshack" all over his furry keister!


Spring is here, the blanket of snow is gone, the sun is shining and the smiles are returning to the faces. Let’s celebrate how good it feels with The Beatles tribute to the coming of spring, “Here Come The Sun.”

George Harrison composed “Here Come The Sun” after reflecting on a brutal winter in England and his own personal struggles. Harrison in 1969 had his tonsils removed, was arrested for marijuana possession and was beginning to feel bogged down by the business of running Apple records (the Beatles' record label that they had founded in 1968). To escape all of this, Harrison visited his friend Eric Clapton and while walking through Eric’s gardens, composed “Here Comes the Sun.”

Harrison the youngest of the four Beatles (he joined when he was 16 years old) played lead guitar in the quartet. John Lennon and Paul McCartney composed the majority of the songs the Beatles recorded while each Beatles albums featured one or two songs by George Harrison.

In the early Beatles’ albums, Harrison’s songs were solid but not as polished as the other songs. As Harrison grew as an artist his songs came to the forefront. Some of his compositions including “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” became some of the Beatles biggest hits. In the Beatles’ last album Abbey Road it was Harrison’s songs “Something” (the second most covered Beatles song after “Yesterday”) and “Here Comes The Sun” which were that albums biggest hits as singles.

“Here Comes The Sun” feels like a spring morning with the sun gently warming the body as a soft refreshing breeze rejuvenates the spirit. Much of this feeling comes from Harrison’s gentle tenor voice. He voice has a caring quality like a mother softly saying, “I love you.” Behind his words, you can hear a peaceful smile. Harrison’s voice is a calming voice in a crisis, the rainbow after the storm and the sunlight after the darkness.

Sometimes winter seems to last forever and when Harrison describes the cold winter that has felt like years we all know how he feels but Harrison’s optimism and joy at the coming of the sun is something we sometimes forget. The lyrics are simple and direct speaking to our shared feeling of despair reminding us of not only the great feelings that are to come but the beauty of the past.

“Here Comes The Sun” features the guitar, bass guitar, drums, a Moog synthesizer, violas, cellos, double basses, piccolos, flutes and alto flutes. Like other songs the Beatles recorded, “Here Comes The Sun” expands the musical possibilities of popular music utilizing instruments that are normally used to create a unique and refreshing musical landscape. Harrison utilizes the different colors of the string and wind instruments to illustrate the feeling of seeing the sun coming up over the horizon. They play a background role supporting the meaning of the song and don’t bring attention to themselves. This focus on the meaning of the music ties these different sounds in a powerful singular voice.

Harrison utilizes a hemiola pattern switching the songs from a duple feeling like in the verses to a triplet feel “sun, sun, sun here it comes." This change doesn't happen in the way the beats are divided by rather by shifting the accent on the small beats. These triplet sections feel like being lost the sparkle of the sun, a feeling a freedom as the music seems to break away from the beat.

Spring is good times, everything will be all right. Listening to this song and reflecting on the months of ahead, winter does not seem so bad. All the great stuff to look forward to in the coming months outshines the darkness of winter and almost makes me forget how painful the winter was . . . almost.

“sun, sun, sun here it comes”
Glory, Hallelujah

Friday, April 24, 2009

Beau by Jimmy Stewart (poem)

WARNING: If you like animals, have a dog, or have had one in the past this "Beau" will make you cry and even you don’t like animals all that much, be careful because this poem will likely make you tear up.

My wife and I have decided to get a dog. She grew up with Abby, a Shetland sheepdog and one of the things she always wanted to as an adult was get a puppy of her own. This is something I never considered before meeting my wife.

I remember bugging my parents about getting a dog but not really making too much of an issue out of it. I wanted a dog to fit in with my friends who had dogs, not because I actually liked animals. My parents weren’t really into pets and it wasn’t something they wanted as part of their lifestyle. They grew up with dogs in Taiwan but they were more animals than pets. So beyond the fish that inhabited our house every so often, pets weren’t part of my life growing up.

I’m not comfortable around dogs. So when Diana, my wife suggested that we babysit a dog named Wrigley for a week and a half, I was a little apprehensive. It’s not like I don't inherent dislike dogs, I just don’t know what to do with them. The first afternoon I spent with the dog was a little awkward and uncomfortable but after a week and a half, I found myself fighting back tears not wanting to let go of Wrigley.

The first time I saw Jimmy Stewart read his poem, “Beau” was as part of a boxed videocassette tape collection of clips from The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. My parents bought this collecting having many found memories of this show which defined which featured some of the most important cultural figures in popular culture.

Whenever we would watch Jimmy Stewart speak about his Beau, I would get sad, more because Jimmy Stewart himself was becoming choked up, but now when I watch this clip, I’m tearing up for a different reason. I understand why Stewart is so sad.

When I got back from work on Monday, the day after I gave the Wrigley back, I walked in the front door and to my dismay there was no dog sitting attentively waiting to greet me. I had to catch myself before I called for Wrigley. I felt silly that I had forgotten that the dog was no longer staying with us. I miss our house guest and that was only after a week and a half, I can’t imagine what kind of wreak I’d be after losing a dog like Stewart lost Beau.

Jimmy Stewart’s poem, “Beau” starts out describing his dog as flawed. Not a well-trained dog, Beau would not sit or stay and seemed to do things out of spite. Beau lit the house on fire but Stewart brushes this off as not being all that important. The loss of material things always seems less significant in retrospect.

I got to say Wrigley was similar. He would come when I called only if there wasn't something more interesting around. If I called him when he was taking a nap he would open up one eye to check on me, realize that I didn't have anything and then stretch out even more in an attempt to take up as much floor space as possible.

As crazy as Beau’s evening walks were, Stewart describes how Beau would stop every so often to make sure that Stewart and his wife were there. Every time my wife would leave the condo Wrigley would start whining, I would call him over to let him know that I was there and he would curl up around my desk chair as I sat. Then he would start licking the legs of my chair, which was just a little weird but anyways he just wanted to know that he wasn’t alone.

At night Beau sometimes lied in bed with Stewart and other times he would just sit there and watch his owners and softly sigh and Stewart feels that knows why.

He would wake up at night
And he would have this fear
Of the dark, of life, of lots of things,
And he’d be glad to have me near.

Sometimes, Wrigley would wake up from a nap find me in another room, and settle down to take a nap near me. On some level like Beau, he just felt better knowing I was near. In describing what Beau’s fears, Stewart is describing his own fears, telling us how Beau comforted him in the same way that Wrigley comforted me.

I asked my mom what she thought about me and Diana getting a dog. To my surprise, she immediately said it was a great idea. My mom believe all people benefit from having a dog in their life if they accept the responsibility of having a pet and view the dog as a part of the family. My wife and I are a family. We may be a small family and on the short side but we are a family. Getting a dog means that our family is getting a little bigger and that's exciting.

I know that there will be some times that our dog will be a pain. I’m sure she will have accidents, get sick and need to be walked when I just don’t feel like it. There will come a time when our dog will have to leave us, like Beau left Stewart and I know that is going to be hard. However, I have no doubt that it will all be worth it.

To our puppy: I can't promise that we'll do everything right in raising you but I can promise that Diana and I will do the best we can to care for you and that we will always love you. You are in our dreams right now as we look forward to meeting you. You will be in our thoughts as we share our lives together and you will be in our heart long after you leave us.

We can't wait to welcome you into our family.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Love Story by Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift is one of most significant artists in popular music.

She is not a Disney artists like Miley Cyrus. She is not an American Ideal like Kelly Clarkson. She is not a pop queen like Britney Spears. Taylor Swift is something completely different.

What is unique about Taylor Swift is not so much the fact that she writes her own songs (which is an accomplishment) but that she sings more genuinely about teenage experiences than any modern artists. Like Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Swift has captured the complexity, pain and optimism of what it means to be a young adult. She is singing on a level deeper than Cyrus, is far more reflective than the Clarkson and lacks the over-sexualization of teenage lust that Britney Spears displayed when she was Swift’s age

Taylor Swift’s second album Fearless that debuted at the top the Billboard album charts. This great album that features songs straight from the teenager heart talking about first day of high school in “Fifteen” to how much Swift loves her mom with “The Best Day.” Her first single from this album is Swift at her best telling a “Love Story.”

In “Love Story,” Swift spins a tale of teenage romance based on Romeo & Juliet. The allusion to the Shakespeare tragedy is fitting as most high school students read Romeo & Juliet their freshmen year. This song follows the story of the play but instead of the tragic ending there is a happy conclusion.

Swift’s creativity as a writer shines through in her use of form. She uses the standard sections of the verse: “we were both young when I first saw you,” pre-chorus: “that you were Romeo, you were throwing pebble,” chorus: “Romeo take me somewhere we can be alone,” and bridge: “I got tired of waiting.” Swift interestingly uses of the sections have an narrative as well as a musical purpose.

The verses of the song are the story-telling potions of the song sung in the past tense. The pre-chorus sections describe the tension between the dad and Romeo. The choruses are sung in the present tense where Swift asks Romeo to take her away and save her, while the bridge extends the feeling from the pre-chorus, as Swift describes her pain.

In the bridge, Swift describes how she got tired of waiting and how her hope was fading. She asks her Romeo as the chorus softly builds to save her and if their love is real. There is an inkling of a happy conclusion as Swift previously uses the chorus to affirm their love. Right after the line “pulled out a ring and said,” the song modulates (changes key) up a whole step taking the song into a whole new level as we hear from Romeo's words for the first time.

Every other verse ends with “It’s a love story, baby just say yes,” asking Romeo to embrace the fact their love but when Swift replies yes to the question of marriage, there is a slight hesitation as relishes being asked before she accepts the proposal.

Within "Love Story," Swift describes profound feelings of being misunderstood, lonely and wanting to be taken away. These feelings aren't limited to teenagers and it is in these emotions that we find ourselves.

“Love Story” revels in the magic of falling in love, expresses the pain of doubt and the celebrates the promise of true love. Listening to Taylor Swift is like reading the diary of a teenager like many I have met who are honest, thoughtful and hopeful.

I look forward to following Taylor Swift’s career. Her music is beautiful and like this love story, it’s real.

Only In America by Brooks & Dunn

I love being a teacher. Every day I work with students through their struggles and sometimes get to witness their triumphs. Contrary to their belief, I’m trying to make their lives better and more fulfilling in the long run by teaching them not only academic skills but life lessons. It’s a lot to do in the seven and a half hours the students are with us but we do the best we can.

Even though I love my job, I don’t love everything about my job. Often 7:15am is a little bit too early to start work, recess duty isn’t exactly a thrill and as entertaining as the students are, and sometimes the logic of a elementary students can simply be baffling.

Me: Why do you take the crust off of you peanut-butter and jelly sandwich?
5th grader: because it taste like poo.
Me: Well, how you do you know what---
5th grader: [interrupting] and I would know because I’ve tasted poo.
Me: wait, what?!?
5th grader: don’t worry, it was my brother’s poo [reassuringly]

The kid was totally serious. SIGH

These things can be annoying but what really gets to me on an emotional level is when kids through not fault of their own are put difficult situations that me as a teacher can do nothing about. It can be something as small parent promising a student that he will come to a school play and not show up all the way the unthinkable tragedy of child abuse.

Last week, I got a dump truck full of this stuff and while it was all small things and all my kids are ok, it all added up. Last Thursday, my day started hearing about one student’s problems and as I went to gym with the kids I was not in a great mood. I felt I was already emotionally drained by P.E. and it was only 9:30 in the morning.

Thursday was the first day of the dance unit. I watched as the kids learned some basic line dances and worked on them during the period. I sat their unengaged and not really all that into what the students were doing.

As the day went on, things kept piling on, it was just one thing after another and by the time I hit my lunch break at noon, I felt like I didn’t have much left for the rest of the day. During my lunch period, I often visit the fourth grade class I worked with in the beginning of the year (I have since moved to a mixed grade level class). I decided to go say hi to them during my break and I found them at P.E. learning line dances.

I don’t know if it was the students, or the enthusiastic P.E. teachers but I decided to join in and learn to line dance.

Here’s the thing, I have an irrational dislike of line-dancing. Whenever the electric slide gets pumping I will almost always take that as a cue to get a drink of have a seat during a party. Without evidence I often make the line-dancing jokes about it being a way of dancing for people who have no hope of dancing otherwise.

So it took some doing to get out there and line dance.

Here I am, in a elementary school gym surround by fourth graders learning the “American Stomp.” Of course, I’m over-thinking the steps and how they fit within beats as opposed to just feeling it. So after I got my brain to shut up, I got in the groove of it and I became aware of the group of fourth grade girls around me earnestly trying to figure out how to do this dance.

It was possible one of the cutest things I’ve ever since seeing these girls, eyebrows furrowed, not really only on the beat but trying as hard they could. I got the girls attention and started talking about the moves “right stomp, left stomp, right stomp, left stomp, right 2-3-4, left 2-3 turn.”

As we worked through the dance, their furrowed brows relaxed and the I could see from the look on their faces that their brains were relaxing and slowly smiles developed on their faces and at least for a small part of the song we were all dancing in unison.

In four and a half minutes, I went from being disengaged, emotionally drained and feeling like a wreck to feeling energized, overjoyed and truly happy. And all it took was a little line dancing.

The song that we danced to was Brooks & Dunn’s “Only In America.” The song was released in 2004 and speaks about all the great possibilities of America. There are lines about “dreaming in red, white and blue” which really don’t make a whole lot of sense but nonetheless captures a sense of patriotism.

The song itself seems to be designed for line dancing, the accent of the beats are clear and phrase lengths consistently match 16-beat dance pattern. Without dancing to this song I would have thought this song predictable and not very creative but that would be missing the essential connection between the song and the dance.

Dancing brings us closer to music and line dancing does it in a way that makes the experiences a shared one. On a dance floor when everyone is doing something different there isn’t a sense of unity and togetherness. However in line-dancing there is feeling of community sharing the moment with a room full or in my case a gym full of people.

I don’t know how many people can say that they spent part of their day at work line-dancing but I think we’d all be a lot happier if we did.

If you have line-danced you probably know the great feeling line dancing can bring and if you haven’t line-danced before, try it. Let yourself go, even if it seems a little dorky. You’ll be surprised how a sharing a simple dance and a great song can turn your day around.

It's a beautiful feeling.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Power of Love by Huey Lewis & The News

After my mom told me that my uncle had died of Parkinson's disease last July, I became flooded with feelings and thoughts. It's almost debilitating and only through time and self-reflection did I reach a sense of clarity. After nine months I think about my uncle every so often but in general I feel that I have "gotten over" his death.

Before my uncle's death I knew Michael J. Fox had Parkinson's and I had seen him do interviews in support of stem-cell and Parkinson's research. Even my uncle had Parkinson's I didn't really think much of this. Recently Fox has been making the rounds around talk shows promoting his new book Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist about his life with Parkinson's disease. His words and his life now mean something very different to me now that my uncle has passed away.

At first it was my uncle losing his balance, and then it was missing easy shots on the tennis court. Though it was probably, a gradual development to my young eyes it seemed like all of the sudden he was stuck in his recliner unable to walk. His clear articulate voice became garbled and his ability to even reach out his hand became almost impossible. Maybe it was the fact I myself was getting bigger, but it seemed that my once tall and athletic uncle was shrinking.

His brain gradually lost control of functions until he needed to be fed through a feeding tube, needed help to breathe and then finally, well things just. . . stopped.

I was born in 1982. Things seemed simple during that decade. We had a grandfather-like figure as the president and images of economic success seemed to permeate our culture. For a kid growing up it truly did seem like morning in America. My uncle hosted family get-together, we would go out on his boat and well, everything just seemed right. I was too young to see the other side of the coin, the economic hardship and problems at home and abroad. America had a sheen to it that like memories of a childhood that only seems to get brighter in the distance.

For myself, one of the most endearing films stars of the 1980s is Michael J. Fox. The image of him riding his skateboard to school as Marty Mcfly in the beginning of Back To The Future with “Power Of Love” playing in the background is one of my favorite scenes in film.

Back To The Future directed by Robert Zemeckis and produced by Steven Spielberg featured Fox as a teenager who unwittingly travels back in time, meets his parents as teenagers, has to fight off romantic advances from his mom (hilarious), coaches his dad onto how to get with his mom, all while trying to get back to the future. This mixture of science fiction and teenage adventure was an enormous success and spawned two successful sequels.

After the success of their third album Sports, Huey Lewis & The News composed and recorded "The Power Of Love" for Back To The Future. This song was featured in the opening skateboard ride to school and was also the songs the Marty's band auditions with to get into a battle of the bands. Even though studio execs were disappointed that this song did not have the title of the film in the lyrics, they loved the song and it became a number one hit and was nominated for an Academy Award

Huey Lewis with his 80s mullet and clean image was about as threatening as a puppy dog In the 1980s when Springsteen was dealing with social issues, Madonna was pushing sexual boundaries and Michael Jackson was extending the musical possibilities of pop music Huey Lewis & The News were simply creating fun, relatable and catchy pop music.

"Power Of Love" is a celebration of all the things that love makes us feel and do. Lewis contemplates the good that love does, making men sing, correcting mistakes and also the bad making men weep and keeping people home at night. He concludes in the chorus that love may save your live and that love makes the world go round.

When I see Michael J. Fox talk, it makes me sad at first knowing how much he has changed from that character rocking out to “Power Of Love.” I’m reminded about my uncle and how the disease slowly debilitated him and the last time I saw him before his passed away.

The last time I saw my uncle before he died, I remember feeling very awkward. I didn’t know what to say or what I should do. He could barely mumble and he was immobile. It’s a horrible feeling worrying about your own emotions in these situations but I did. I wasn’t extremely close to my uncle and it wasn’t until after he died that I understood all that he did for my family and felt a deep sense of gratitude. I wrote my aunt, his wife a letter after died telling her how much all that he did for my family meant to me, but I never told him.

For the past couple months I didn’t know what to do with this feeling and it wasn’t until a recent Michael J. Fox interview that it all kind of came together. He talked about how the Parkinson’s made him appreciate his life more and make every moment count. I may not have made every moment with my uncle count. I can’t do anything about that but what I can do is make his passing mean something in my life. In the way, that Parkinson’s made Fox relish every moment with his family, my uncle’s passing can serve as a reminder of what is truly important in my life. Also, there will always be “Power Of Love” to remind me not only how great it was to be a kid in the 80s but to have my uncle in my life.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ by The Righteous Brothers

Do you ever get tired of listening to guys singing really high?

In popular music we hear a lot of men singing high as most of them are categorized as tenors. There are three common vocal ranges for men’s voices, bass, baritone and tenor (lowest to highest) and the majority of men are naturally baritones. Maybe its because being a tenor is unusual among men that it has a certain appeal. Also, a tenor range is easier in general for woman to sing along with while still have most of the notes accessible to baritones (from more of a scream along standpoint).

When we think about pop singers who are tenors, it’s easy to come up with ten without thinking very hard: Bono, John Lennon, Steven Tyler, Freddie Mercury, Willie Nelson, Paul McCartney, Lindsey Buckingham, Justin Timberlake, Marvin Gaye and Kayne West . . . oh wait, what Kayne does doesn’t necessarily count as singing, how about um. . . Michael Jackson, that works.

Now let’s think of great baritone pop singers, there’s um. . . Rick Ashley, Eddie Veder, Johnny Cash and of course one of my all time favorite voices, Bill Medley.

People may not recognize Bill Medley’s name or his picture but I doubt there are many people who have never heard Bill Medley’s incredible voice. His defining performance of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” is one those recordings in popular music that raised the bar for popular music with its high level of artistry. While other music since the 1965 release have achieved high levels of musical achievement, few songs have captured the soul of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” which can best be described as righteous.

As the Righteous Brothers, Medley and Hatfield helped create two of the most influential and best-loved songs in popular music “Unchained Melody,” and “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” They helped coin term “blue-eyes soul,” as they were two white guys who were sang with more soul than most singers at the time, white or black.

By focusing on Medley, I don’t want to take anything away from Hatfield. His performance of “Unchained Melody” is awesome. It’s soulful, venerable, and tragically beautiful and is truly one of the greatest pop songs ever recorded. I will probably cover this song on a later post but for now let’s get back to Medley.

Similar to the way that George Martin produced and were critical in the success of the Beatles, Phil Spector deserves much of the credit for the Righteous Brother’s pop masterpieces. Phil Spector is one of the most important record producers in recording history and it is not an overstating to say that he revolutionized popular music. In his songs, he created what people referred to as the “Wall of Sound.” Not satisfied with the sound of popular music at the time, he layered instruments using as many as six guitars and four pianos creating mountains of sound utilizing instruments not normally heard in pop songs. This resulted in a depth of sound that made you feel like you were in concert hall surrounded by instruments. However, the greatest effect in this song is Medley's voice.

Medley’s hushed and deliberate baritone begins "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'". As he builds into the chorus a slightly lighter tone peaks through on the gentle “you’re trying hard now to show it," which is followed by the raspy and soulful, “baby, baby I know it.”

Medley matches the dramatic arc of each section of the music. Each verse starts from almost nothing, peaks in the chorus and then settles back down to a quiet contemplation. These contrasts add a powerful dramatic feeling throughout the song.

After the second chorus, the song quiets down to just the bass-line that is echoed with orchestral bells. Medley begins his desperate plea, which Hatfield responds to with his high tenor as the percussion begin to build underneath him. They join as Hatfield harmonizes over Medley’s while the music rises like the crest of a wave. Finally, they start an epic call and response rising up and adding more desperation in each echo. It climaxes in “so bring it on by” which Medley and Hatfield sing like a desperate plea to the heavens.

Hatfield was initially disappointed that he didn’t join in until the chorus of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and even though his part in the song is secondary, his echoes of Medley in the bridge is what brings the song to its emotional and dramatic climax.

A great singing voice takes time to mature and develop, even more so than other musical instruments. It takes not only daily practice but years, like a fine whiskey to distill to its core. At the age of 24 years old, in the recording of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’” Medley has an unbelievably mature and developed voice that makes him sound like a man twice his age who truly has experienced the pain he is singing about.

Over forties years later, Bill Medley recorded a new album with unbelievable tracks like “Beautiful” proving that truly great voices only get better with age that he has always been and still is, as this album’s title states, “damn near righteous.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Can You Feel The Love Tonight (from The Lion King)

Thank God Disney figured out how to make their love songs not suck.

Sorry to be so crass, bur SERIOUSLY. One of my favorite films of all time is Disney’s animated versions of Robin Hood. That film is hilarious, and has fantastic music, EXCEPT for the love song “Love,” which features Robin Hood and Maid Marian running around the forest and gazing into each others eyes in an ever so nauseating fashion. I mean, this thing is painful. I clearly remember every single time we got to this part of the film, my brother and I would frantically leap for the remote control to fast-forward through this section.

Now with the new Disney animated film renaissance that started with the The Little Mermaid (which I discussed in this earlier post) Disney made a lot of improvements in their craft and what they did to their love songs was make them interesting, unique, and emotionally meaningful as opposed to the trite statements of romantic love.

Howard Ashman and Alan Menken created the music for The Little Mermaid. These two composers had such a great success that they continued their partnership with Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. These three films had some of the best film music ever composed, songs that were both witty and touching and were critical parts of the story telling adding insight, depth and character. Then Howard Ashman died of AIDs in 1991 at the age of 40.

Riding this wave of animated film success and facing the death of one of their important artist, Disney took some big changes. They decided for the next animated film to create an original story as opposed to basing the film on a pre-existing fairy tale and trusted the music, one of the most important aspects of their success to Tim Rice and Elton John.

Tim Rice made his mark working with Andrew Llyod Webber on such musicals as Evita and Cats. His first work doing film musicals was finishing up the lyrics for Aladdin after Ashman had died, but taking on a whole film full of songs was a much larger undertaking.

Disney had previously featured pop singers like Billy Joel in the Oliver & Company song “Why Should I Worry.” However, Disney had never trusted a pop artists to compose the songs for one of their films.

Elton John in 1994 far from the peak of his career. In 1990, he checked into hospital for health issues due to his drug abuse, alcoholism, and bulimia (not exactly the image Disney likes to associate with). Of the four albums that were from 1990-1993, two were made up of previously recorded material, and the other two albums The One and Duets, though moderate successes, were a shadow of the pop masterpieces Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.

It didn’t help either that Elton John had never composed music for a musical before The Lion King.

Despite all of this, The Lion King came together as one of Disney's greatest accomplishments. When it was released in 1994, it became the highest grossing film of the year and the most successful animated feature film until the release of Finding Nemo in 2003. Elton John and Tim Rice were nominated for four Oscars for the film and won for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” If you are one of the two people on this planet who haven’t seen The Lion King, go watch it, I promise you’ll love it.

“Can You Feel The Love” takes the best of Disney traditions while innovating the Disney love song. The composers approached the background music like Disney composers always had utilizing the music to support the meaning of the words. When Timon reaches the line, “our trios down to two” in the introduction, the music falls flat onto a staccato chord. After "twilight," there’s a ascending sparkle and after “there’s magic everywhere” there is a harp flourish. At the end of this section, under the line “romantic atmosphere,” the music rushes up like with a ocean wave. Composers have utilized this technique of putting meaning in the background music throughout classical music displaying a high level of creative artistry.

“Can You Feel The Love Tonight” could have been a straightforward love song describing how these two lions are falling in love, instead the composers took a different path developed the characters by expressing their viewpoints.

Timon and Pumbaa bookend the song with feelings of loss which is not the usually response from Disney supporting characters. Most of the time, supporting characters are elated at the prospect of their friend falling in love like in "Beauty & The Beast." This is a great comedic moment that does ring true as most people have to learn how to share their friends when buddies find significant others.

The chorus asks if questions the listener the question “can you feel the love tonight?” While this questions is in our mind, we hear Simba’s insecure thoughts about Nala’s acceptance and Nala’s questioning of Simba’s life choices. Do we really feel the love when they are thinking about these things? If we take the lyrics outside of the context of the song we see that don't express love love but are seeds of conflict which foreshadow later scenes in the film.

What is special about this song is that despite the inner dialogue we feel the love between the Nala and Simba. There is a glorious moment when they share their love and the background choir comes forward and the instrument drop out (1:45). What this moment describes to us is that despite unresolved conflict they can feel love and so can we.

There is this idea that falling in love with someone is finding someone you completely agree with and always get along with. That’s simply not the case and if you are looking for this kind of love, then you might as well give up, because you will never find that. “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” gives a more realistic viewpoint of the complexities of love without diminishing the magic that can exist between two people who love each other. It’s a beautiful statement about relationships and most definitely does not suck.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Buddy Holly by Weezer

When “Buddy Holly” was released in 1994 a combination of grunge music, corporate pop and gangster rap ruled MTV and the radio stations and for a 7th grade at Islander Middle School it was all a lot to take in.

I grew up on Mercer Island which is a suburb of Seattle. It’s a mostly upper-class city with a combination of gated communities and retirement homes. It’s also the home of the first drive through Starbucks (which was the central hangout spot). Instead of a junior high in my district, there was elementary schools for grades 1-5, a middle school for grades 6-8.

Like most middle school students, I struggled to find define my social identity. I wasn’t going to do the grunge thing. I didn’t really fit in the Gap crowd, which was more of preppy thing then it is now. I didn't really find a place to fit in. I did have couple people I talked to in class but in general. . .yeah, that was my awkward stage (which lasted for about another 10 years. . . j/k . . kind of).

I knew I didn’t like grunge music. Grunge music just seemed like a mess. It didn’t make sense to my ears and I couldn’t really relate to the pessimism and anger in the music. Since then, I’ve come to understand the subtleties and craft in artists like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and there’s nothing like high school to make teenage angst actually make sense.

When I first saw the video for “Buddy Holly” on MTV my first thought was to turn away to the safe haven of VH1 (which at that time was an adult contemporary channel as opposed to the Celebreality channel it has turned into). The opening of the song sounded like a grunge sound with distorted chords moving in parallel motion between the chords (going from chords that are right next to each other like C chord to the D chord as opposed to a C chord to a G chord). A pretty angry sounding melody, and then “woohoo." It was with this exclamation that Weezer hooked me.

What Weezer did in “Buddy Holly” is bring together different layers of popular culture uniquely reflecting both the past and present in American becoming the future of modern pop music. Weezer started with what was happening around them taking the sound of grunge music and combining them with lyrics borrowed from the gangster rap. This reflected not only the gangster rap vernacular but the weird phenomenon people living in the suburbs hopelessly attempting to utilize gangster rap slang in their everyday speech.

Weezer references every decade in this song since the 1950s. Buddy Holly is one of the fathers of rock & roll who gained prominence before his death in 1959s. The “woo-ee-oo” and the “woo-hoo” hearkens all the way back to the doo-wop era of the early 1960s. Mary Tyler Moore is one of the most important woman in television history who started in The Mary Tyler Moore Show from 1970-1977. Then there’s the distorted guitar lines used in the transitions, which are a throw-back to 1980s synthesized rock.

The inclusion of these many facets of culture makes “Buddy Holly” both an retrospective and interesting representation of American culture but its joyous and devotional message is what makes it meaningful.

The feel of the chorus is reminiscent of a 1960s pop song but instead of playing around with the an idealized vision of love, Rivers talks about love in a more realistic way. “Buddy Holly” describes a relationship that lead singer Rivers Cuomo had with an Asian girl, “your tongue is twisted, your eyes are slit.” Rivers’ friends frequently made fun of her and this song is a statement of support. During the song Rivers states how they belong to each other and how he doesn’t care about what other people say which is bittersweet as he is being supportive in the face of difficult situation.

“Buddy Holly” explored the expressive possibilities of grunge music. There is a wide array of possibilities in all kinds of music and Weezer’s creation of a song which they initially thought sounded “cheesy” opened up my ears acting as a gateway to a whole new world of music.

What is most important to me about “Buddy Holly” is that through its video and widespread acceptance that I could like a certain kind of music and well, not have to dress a certain way. By appealing across genres, Weezer showed that music was not so much about the way people dressed or even the way they acted but the music itself. "Buddy Holly" showed me that it was okay for a this suburban bred Asian kid to rock out to whatever he wanted to and for a 12 year old that means the world.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mr. Bojangles by Sammy Davis Jr.

I love talking to older people about music, people in their 60s and up. I find it interesting to hear about how they experience music what it meant to them when they were younger and what it means to them now. Usually when the topic of current music comes up, I hear a lot of complaining about the way the music sounds and the musicians themselves. This rant often concludes with: “music was real in my day, and music is just noise right now and the musicians are not as talented as they used to be.”

For the most part, I disagree respectfully and cite music and artists who are producing music now who I feel are at the same level of the music that the love. However, once in a while someone will talk about an artist like Sammy Davis Jr. and talk about how there simply isn’t any artists around now who are as great an entertainer as he was, and part of me agrees.

Sammy Davis Jr. could do it all. He was a fantastic actor, a genius at impressions, a virtuosic tap dancer, a great singer and if that wasn’t enough he was also an unbelievable fast draw artist. I guess it helped that his father was in show business and Sammy started going on tour with his dad’s vaudeville act when he was three years old and started performing soon after.

Davis’ biggest musical hit was “Candy Man” from the film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. This is a fun songs but what many people think of when they reminisce about Davis is a song that is closer not only to his own heart but his life experience “Mr. Bojangles.”

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson one of the most important song and dance men of the 1930s and 1940s. He is most famous for appearing with Shirley Temple movies like The Little Colonel. He was an amazing pop culture personality who revolutionized dancing and the way that Americans viewed African Americans in popular culture. However, the song “Mr. Bojangles” is not about the famous actor and dancer.

Jerry Walker composed “Mr. Bojangles” in 1968 after encountering an incarcerated street performer in a New Orleans Jail. After a murder in 1965, the police arrested all of the people in the area and Walker was put in a crowded cell where he met an old man who began telling him stories about his life. Others who became annoyed at his stories asked him to lighten up the mood, so the old man began to tap dance. The policeman had given nicknames to the people in the cell to help identify them and after the dancing display, this old man got the nickname “Mr. Bojangles.”

The lyrics in "Mr. Bojangles" are straightforward describing the man, and meeting him in New Orleans. This man started out his life dancing in minstrel shows and now dances in honky tonks spending most of his time in jail. The one glory, the light in this mans existence is his dancing. The narrator marvels how “he jumped so high, then he lightly touched down” and effortlessly clicked his heels.

The chorus beckons “Mr. Bojangles” to dance. This request comes as the other cell mates who are bored but reaches another level throughout the song. By performing we see an old drunk, tired man come to life and by asking him to dance, it is rejuvenating Mr. Bojangles himself reminding him of his own glory days.

Sammy Davis Jr. started out doing minstrel shows and had his share of struggles. There was his drugs addiction, family issues, and racism, which he fought against his entire life. For example performing in the Las Vegas with the Rat Pack, he couldn’t stay in the hotels that he was performing in and didn’t have a dressing room. He was forced wait in-between acts by the pool poolside while his friends would be backstage.

When we hear Davis sing “Mr. Bojangles” it’s almost like he is singing about himself. There is deep sense of authenticity in his singing that comes only from a life lived on the stage and the road.

Watching Sammy Davis Jr. perform “Mr. Bojangles,” is an amazing experience. Yes, first off you need to get over the brown jump suit that is just a little bit too tight (it was the 1970s people, let’s move on). Everything he does is effortless and seems completely natural. However, all that he does including the way he colors each note, the way he stands, the exact motion that he flips the hat on his head is calculated and rehearsed. All of this contributes results in an organic and beautiful performance.

My favorite part of the performance is when Davis clicks his heels (around 2 minutes) with a graceful leap in the air that seems to come out of nowhere. What makes this moment even more amazing is how right after the leap he starts singing as if the leap was nothing.

When Davis asks at the end of the song “why can’t you come back and dance?” I find myself wanting to ask Sammy Davis Jr. himself that question. I know the answer, but still can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to see him jump so high and lightly touch down.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Brandy (You're A Fine Girl) by Looking Glass

On my brother’s wedding day, all of the bridal party was preparing at my parents house. While the bridesmaids were getting ready, me and the other groomsmen had some time to kill. So I found a popular music fake book and started playing songs on the piano. One of the other groomsmen started looking through the book and of got really excited when he found “Brandy” by Looking Glass. I started playing the song on the piano and we enthusiastically rocked out to “Brandy.”

If it’s hard to imagine a bunch of guys who are almost thirty years old rocking out to a song that was released in 1972, then maybe this will help. This is a live performance of “Brandy” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Look at how happy they look. There's flea joyously jumping up and down while playing bass, Chad Smith drumming away with a huge smile, and John Fruciante on guitar blissfully strumming away. It's hard to watch this performance and not smile

“Brandy” tells the story of a girl who works in a bar in a harbor town. She serves “whiskey and wine” to tired sailors as they talk about their homes. The sailors say: “Brandy you’re a fine girl, what a good wife you would be, yeah your eyes could steal a sailor from the sea.”

Amongst the sailors that flirt with Brandy, there is one who has stole her heart. She wears a locket that bears the name of a man who came on one summer’s day, but “he made it clear that he couldn’t stay.” This sailor has a slightly different message for brandy: “Brandy you’re a fine girl, what a good wife you would be, but my life, my love and my lady is the seas.”

The song goes on to tell the how Brandy used to listen to the sailor’s stories. She could “feel the ocean fall and rise, she saw it’s raging glory.” Yeah, “raging glory” go ahead ponder that one for a little bit. The narrator reiterates that the sailor never gave any illusions about his commitment to Brandy and she does the best she can to understand why she is alone.

At it's heart of this song is a sad story. It’s about a girl who has ended up in a harbor town and spends time serving people at the bar. There is a sense of being social with these men but these relationships for the most part are not truly friendships. It’s simply part of her job.

When Brandy finally finds a man who brings her gifts and seems to care about her, she falls in love with him despite the fact that he had made it clear that he has no intention to stay. There is a hope against circumstance in her mind that he will come back and stay with her her.

It seems that Brandy should move on but in a dead end town and in a dead end job, it’s all that Brandy has to hope for. I imagine that even though Brandy is not a remarkably intelligent girl, she has with a big heart. It is because of this that despite her situation she endears herself to the listener.

The song rises and falls like the sea itself building up to the “doodoo Doodoodoo Doo doo doo Doo Doo.” Each verse starts calmer and builds to the last line of the chorus. The strings and especially the brass lines add not only harmony but also counter-melodies to the song. The brass instruments play different material in each verse and each chorus providing everything from a calm undercurrent in the second verse (“he came on a summer day”) to the rising waves in the bridge.

Looking Glass had some difficulty with the success of “Brandy” which reached number on the charts. “Brandy” and its mellow rock sound was not indicative of most of their music which had a harder rock edge to it. People came to their concerts to hear “Brandy” and music like it and often left disappointed. This is a common for rock bands to have their biggest hit be a more pop orientated song (i.e. Aerosmith’s only number one single was “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” composed and recorded for the film Armageddon).

I understand how this could be frustrating for Looking Glass, but what they created has endured. “Brandy” is often put labeled a “one-hit wonder” which is a title that carries both a sense of mockery and failure with it. Mockery in the fact that people wonder how it could have possibly became a hit and failure looking down on the artists’ lack of ability to have another hit.

I view it differently. For every one-hit wonder there are countless other artist who never even have that one hit. Yes, some one-hit wonders are not good and are products of over-promotion and cultural brain-farts but “Brandy” is more than that. This song holds an appeal that goes beyond camp and mockery but to a genuine level of enjoyment.

"Brandy" is a song that simply feels good and sometimes that is all that matters.
I may not remember the first time I listened to “Brandy” but I don’t ever want to forget singing this song with those groomsmen on that sunny afternoon.

doodoo Doodoodoo Doo doo doo Doo! Doo!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Octopus’s Garden by the Beatles

Ringo Starr has spent his life first as a member of the Beatles and now as a solo artist sharing joy and happiness through his music. He was the last of the four Beatles to join the group before they made their meteoric rise to worldwide super-stardom. As the drummer of the Beatles he contributed to almost all of the songs musically but was the least prolific song-writer and vocalist in the group.

On all of the Beatles albums, Ringo sang at least one song, which Lennon and McCartney composed for Ringo. The most famous of these songs is “Yellow Submarine.” This gave Ringo a voice in the group but these songs were more often not as popular as the other songs on the albums and were not released as singles. So it was understandable that Ringo, who at one time was the leader of his own band, became frustrated with being in the shadow of the other three Beatles.

Ringo felt he had enough during the sessions for The White Album and left the group for two weeks in 1968. During this time, he took his family on a vacation, which included a boat ride with his family. On this boat ride he had a conversation with the boat’s captain that inspired on one of the Beatles most enduring songs.

“We were talking about octopus and he was actually telling me that they build these gardens. Octopuses go around the seabed find shiny things, nice stones and they put them around and I just thought, ‘this was the happiest thing I’ve heard.’”

Ringo took the happiness that he felt in the idea of an octopus’s garden and transformed it into a song. There is joy in the inspiration of the song matches the mood it which it was created as can be seen in this clip showing Ringo working on “Octopus’s Garden” with George Harrison.

Watching the look on George and Ringo’s face, there is a sense of pride and pure joy coming from the magic of musical creation when Ringo starts playing chords on the piano. It is interesting to see George suggest some different chords to bring the song out of the chorus, which shows George’s amazing musical intuition. When they start it again after working at some chords from the beginning of the song (at 1:40), their producer George Martin comes into listen (he is on the top left corner) and starts adding back-up vocals, fascinated by what is watching. John and Yoko walk in and John adds some playful percussion while leisurely lighting a cigarette.

“Octopus’s Garden” is a description of a fantasy world. The lines in the song speak to basic needs that we all have to feel safe and at home. The octopus “knows where we’ve been,” and the garden is warm and restful. It’s a place where we feel free to sing, dance, shout and swim about. Most of all Ringo is singing about a place that we can be happy and safe, and really, that is all that we really want in our lives after facing the storms of the day.

Ringo speaks from the first person using the inclusive “we” to describe how great the garden is, “we would be warm . . we would sing and dance.” This is not an experience for Ringo alone but for us all to share. After describing how the garden, Ringo ends the songs with “I want to be under the sea in an octopus’s garden with you.” With this one line, we realize that Ringo does not want the octopus’s garden for himself but as something that he can share with us.

There is something different in Ringo’s voice. It’s not just the fact that he has a lower baritone voice while the other three Beatles had higher tenor voices. Ringo’s voice is not as resonant or bright as Paul’s voice but it has a familiarity to it. In some ways, his singing is closer to speaking. Ringo reminds me of a children song singer who focuses more on the character in their voice than the vocal beauty and it is Ringo’s character that makes this song feel some warm.

Adult logic tells us that we can’t live under the sea, and that an octopus’s garden would probably be a horrible place to live, but even though the literal meaning of the song is child-like and fantastic, the song’s heart is true. We all yearn for the place that Ringo is singing about and we all, hopefully have an “octopus’s garden” in our lives. It can be in our apartment, our car, or the arms of a loved one. What I love about this song is that for me “Octopus’s Garden” is exactly what it sings about: a song that takes me to place inside of myself where I am happy and safe.

Chicken Fried Bacon (no it's not a song, it's food)

I know that this blog is all about music, its meaning and BLAH blah blah, blah, BLAH blah blah. However a couple days ago I ate chicken fried bacon, and I have got to share.

Here's the deal, a couple months ago I came across this clip on about this restaurant in Texas that sells country fried bacon. The owner's logic is, "A lot them [Americans] chose to eat bacon strips, so what can you do? Y'know, what IS good for you? It's your own body that can tell what's good for you."

C'mon people it's 2009, I do hope when people hear my mom's joke about bacon grease lubricating the arteries so blood can move faster that they know it's a joke.

I e-mailed the clip to some of my friends, we made some jokes and in the back of my mind I figured that maybe one of these days I would actually try deep fried bacon.

I love food. I love everything about food. When I was younger, I cooked with my mom all of the time and would watching cooking shows with her. Between my wife and I, I do most of the cooking not by obligation but by choice, because I love cooking. I think of food as art. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a tasting menu at a place like Charlie Trotters (which I ate at once, which honestly was one most transcendent artistic experiences in my life) and other times, like my need to watch an action film, I grab a hot dog at the best hot dog place in Chicago Poochie's (char-dog with everything but relish).

There's a hot dog place by the grocery store that my wife and I go to called Wiener and Still Champion and a couple weeks ago I decided to try one of their hot dogs. It was ok, but not the best I've had (I've been to very a dozen different hot dog places in the Chicago area). As I paid I noticed hanging above the register a sign advertising chicken fried bacon.

So at my birthday party last week, I was talking to one of my friends Sara and she was mourning the fact that she hadn't gotten a chance to try chicken fried bacon on her last trip to Texas. I enthusiastically chimed in that I had found a place in Evasnton (where we live) that did in fact sell this dish and we enthusiastically set up an outing to go eat some deep friend bacon.

On a cold and rainy Tuesday afternoon, we drove to Wiener and Still Champion.

Sara and I were the only customer in the restaurant which made sense seeing how it was around 4 pm but it was still a little unnerving. We got an order of chicken fried bacon and a corn dog. After a couple minutes later our order was ready and here was the bacon.

The bacon came with two dipping sauces, a hot sauce and what we thought was tater sauce which was later reveled by the owner as a "garlic aioli" (aioli is a rich sauce of crushed garlic, egg yolks, lemon juice, and olive oil). The batter was peppery and crispy and went well with both sauces. The bacon itself were large thick strips.

There was one major problem, the bacon itself was cooked, but soggy, not crispy or slightly chewy which is my preference. This problem lies in the concept of this dish. The reason why many people agree that the best way to cook chicken is to fry it is because the batter seals in the meat and basically steams the meat at a high temperature in it own juices locking in the flavor. The meat inside a expertly cooked piece of fried chicken truly is amazing. Frying chicken solves the problem of other preparation of chicken (especially involving chicken breast meat) which leave the meat dry and tasteless.

Does anyone really want to seal in the juices of bacon?

When we cook bacon what we are doing is drawing out the fat and grease to concentrate the flavor of the meat in turn changing the rubbery texture of the meat to a more appealing firmness. Frying bacon does the same thing to the meat that frying chicken does, leaving the meat itself juicy and soft. While that sounds great for chicken the idea of a soft and juicy piece of bacon is pretty revolting.

Sara and I ate most of order of bacon and I ate the corn dog, which was probably the best corn dog I've ever had (if you're into corn dogs you've got to check this place out). We didn't feel gross, but we didn't feel great either. The conclusion was that sharing an order was a good idea because eating a whole order by oneself is probably a feeling close to death.

I can now say that I've eaten chicken fried bacon. Do I regret it? No. Will I ever eat chicken friend bacon ever again? No. Is this something that you need to try? Not really.

In reaction to the health food craze, some people do things like deep fry bacon which is a fundamentally flawed dish. If you love a dish for its flavor and texture, I say enjoy it, embrace it, even if it is on the fatty side. But eating food that is conceptually flawed for the sake of being unhealthy is just silly. That's not loving food. That is making a mockery of the art of cuisine.

Now it's time for me to go exercise and even though I'll eventually burn off the calories from my adventure, I don't think I can ever burn away the memory of crispy, greasy, rubbery and chewy experience that is chicken friend bacon.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Graceland by Paul Simon

People often say that life is a journey. We travel through the events in our life like a car on a road trip, sometimes stopping, often hitting bumps in the road but always better for the experience and stronger because of the bumps (or is it humps?).

It is interesting to think of life as a journey since most of our lives consist of journeys that we take every day. They can be as elaborate as a vacation to Tahiti or as simple as a visit to the grocery store. People undertake these journeys for a variety of reasons, at times it’s for fun and other times it’s just another chore. However, sometimes there is something deeper involved.

Paul Simon recorded most of his album Graceland in South Africa melding African folk and popular music into his music creating a unique and refreshing fusion of art. Simon felt it strange to name an album focused on his experience in South Africa after an American cultural monument but he eventually embraced the title track of the album. Many critics and fans consider Graceland one of Simon’s greatest albums and the title track one of his finest songs.

“Graceland” isn’t a song that tells you how to feel. Instead of painting with broad strokes of human feelings like happiness or sadness, Simon mixes the more obvious colors of emotion like an abstract painting inviting us to contemplate and reflect the shades between the colors.

Simon begins the song describing the drive to Graceland, Elvis Presley’s Memphis home. When looking out the window of a moving car the images of the world take on motion and depth. As they move past our eyes they almost becomes a blur of color and light which the percussion and guitars paint as we hear Simon contemplate his journey to Graceland.

In the chorus, Simon describes Graceland as a religious experience. The visitors are “poorboys and pilgrims” and end this section stating, “I’ve reason to be believe we both will be received in Graceland.” Calling the visitors “pilgrims’ implies the idea of a religious pilgrimage to the holy land Jerusalem. Though it may be sacrilegious to think of visiting the home of a long dead rock singer as being a religious experience, for many people it approaches that level of importance.

Simon’s statement that he has reason that he will be “received” in Graceland brings to mind the idea of being “received in Heaven.” The belief of Graceland as being a place that accepts and welcomes journeymen is in stark contrast of the rejection that Simon goes on to describe in this song.

She comes back to tell me she's gone,
As if I didn't know that
As if I didn't know my own bed,
As if I'd never noticed,
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead,
And she said losing love
Is like a window in your heart,
Everybody sees you're blown apart,
Everybody sees the wind blow.

There is pain in this rejection. He feels that she tells him something in a way that does not acknowledge his involved in the relationship and how much he really cared for her, “as if I’d never noticed, the way she brushed her hair from her forehead.” The description of losing love as being something that you cannot hide, something that everybody sees is not so much about the reality of the situation but how one feels after being rejected. People feel open and torn apart when they are hurt. It’s like the whole world is involved in witnessing the rejection and pain involved. It hurts so much how can other people not notice? In some ways we want people to notice our pain but the reality of the fact is that most people do not see what we are feeling as we cannot really see the wind blow.

As Simon journeys to Graceland, he struggles with the reality of his situation. In the end of the song, he makes a statement explaining his understanding of what this journey means.

And I maybe obliged to defend every love every ending
Or maybe there's no obligations now, maybe I've a reason to believe
We all will be received in Graceland

We are obliged to do only what we chose to feel obliged to do. Obligation is not a fact but a feeling. If Simon believes that he is obligated to defend himself, then Graceland is truly a place of salvation where Simon will be received regardless of sin. At the same time if he has no obligations, he is free to go on the journey and be accepted as free man. It is embracing this lack of understanding and ambiguity Simon is speaking to all of us who through life are never truly sure of how to deal with our past and what the destination of our journeys truly mean.

One of these days, I will visit Graceland. I don’t know exactly why I want to go there, I just know that it’s important. I feel drawn to the legend of Elvis. I want to experience the south and live through the history of the land. I want to feel excitement of a journey who’s conclusion is uncertain to a place that I do have reason to believe I will be received.