Friday, July 31, 2009

Every Breath You Take by The Police

When Diana and I were trying to figure out what song to do for our first dance at our wedding reception I rejected a lot of songs that were not intended as love songs. One song that I rejected was “Every Breath You Take” by The Police. I mean it’s a song about a stalker, how could that possibly be appropriate for a wedding reception?

Sting wrote "Every Breath You Take" in the middle of the night thinking about the idea that the government was watching the people. In an interview he said, “"I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have misinterpreted it as being a gentle, little love song.” Sting discounted the song saying that the lyrics were pulled from “the rock & roll cliché handbook” and he has said that the tender lyrics are meant to be bitter. Once upon a time I would go with what Sting said “Every Breath You Take” as speaking to the meaning of the song, but after revisiting this song, I’m going to have to disagree Sting’s intent.

If Sting intended “Every Breath You Take” to be a bitter, creepy and derivative pop song, I would argue that he failed. Instead, he created one of the most heartfelt and hypnotic love songs in popular music. As much as I remind myself of Sting’s intent when I listen to this songs I can’t help but get a feeling of love and devotion.

This song talks about “watching you” through not only the good things but through the bad, “every bond you break . . . every smile you fake.” The idea of someone always watching you is creepy, but it comes across in a more comforting way.

When I take Buffy, my puppy, to the park she will run around but checks back all the time to make sure I am there, to be comforted by the fact that I’m watching. When we are young knowing that our parents our watching means that we know that they are there for us. When we get older, this physical watching presence matures into an emotional security we hold in our heart that someone loves us and is thinking about us.

It is important to consider the artist intention. However a song has a life of its own and a meaning that transcends what the artists tries to express. It is our personal meaning in music that we hold in our hearts and the validity of this feeling has nothing to do with the artist and everything to do with us.

If I've misinterpretation "Every Breath You Take," than I'd rather be wrong then right.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Midnight Train To Georgia by Gladys Knight & The Pips

If I could be a member of any group in Rock history, I would be one of the Pips. More then being a member of the Beatles or even a member of the E Street Band I would be a Pip, and I’m not only one who feels this way.

I mean the Pips really are coolest back-up singers of all time. I mean check out this Geico commercial.

LOL “Take a train to happy town.” I mean c’mon people what is not to love about this commercial. I’m not being facetious or ironic in my love the of the Pips, I’m serious. These guys have inspired generations. Look at this little girl wanting to be a Pip.

Then there’s Gladys Knight, one of the greatest vocalist in popular music. Add her brother and their two cousins and you got Gladys Knight & The Pips. Gladys Knight started performing as a child. If you thought Michael Jackson was a child protégé check out Gladys at age seven.

Do you hear the way she shapes the melody by pulling back at the ends of phrases? Then she just floats up to the higher notes and slowly builds through the song. Oh good glory hallelujah, that last note. That’s righteous. If that’s how you sound at age seven, then I guess it's no surprise that she became the known as the Empress of Soul. Her impact can be heard in pretty much every female singer in popular music. Mariah Carey when inducting her into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame said, “She’s like a textbook to learn from. You hear her delivery, and you wish you could communicate with as much honesty and emotion as she does.”

Gladys Knight & The Pips recording of “Midnight Train To Georgia” is one of those songs that is so beautifully performed and nuanced that I wonder how it doesn’t impact everyone who hears it. I don’t like saying comments like “if this doesn’t song doesn’t make you cry, you must be dead” because people have said that to me about songs that they love that really didn’t do it for me. But I get what they mean because sometimes a song touches you in such an immediate and real way that you cannot imagine it not having that effect on everyone who hears it.

The Pips act as the Greek chorus filling in details and giving the audience insight into the story that is being told. The Pips utilize every note they sing to add to the emotional impact of the story. My favorite Pip moment in this song comes at 1:35 in. The Pips sing “uh, uh,” Gladys responds with an “uh,” and the Pips immediately respond back with “no uh, uh.” Then it gets better as the Pips sing “woo, woo, woo” which reflects back to the train sound in chorus, but is used hear to describe the sorrow and crying as he has to sell his car.

“I’d rather live in his world, than live without him in mine.”

Gladys says it all in one line. She’s embracing her man not when things are going to great but in a moment of his failure. Gladys sings with a combination of gospel expression with a soulful elegance. She opens up on higher notes but it’s the quiet moments, which draw the listener in as she tells a story with every single word she sings.

All aboard to the midnight train to Georgia y’all. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Is Buffy making me pathetic?

“you are turning pathetic!! Imagine when you really are a father!”

One of my friends wrote this in response to last week’s post about Buffy, and you know, she’s right. On Saturday, I had to induce vomiting on Buffy because she ate some chewing gum and watching her lap up the mixture of hydrogen peroxide and milk and then puke over and over and I experienced this intense feeling of fear, helplessness and most of all guilt. I saw Buffy going for that piece of gum on the ground and before I could get it out of her mouth, it was gone and because of my error, I had to force my little girl to throw up.

Things ended up fine, she threw up the gum quickly, and afterward she preceded to fall asleep and later she was playing as if nothing had happened. This whole ordeal was probably more traumatic for me than it was for Buffy.

That wasn’t the first time that day that my paternal instinct kicked in overtime. Earlier in the afternoon Buffy was running around and playing with another puppy. The other puppy was a little bit older and a lot more hyper so her owner kept her on leash so that Buffy could approach and get to know this other puppy as she felt comfortable. As both dogs got to know each other the other puppy was let off her leash and Buffy and this puppy rolled around and chased each other.

Aww. . . look at them play, so cute . . . UNTIL the other puppy slide tackles Buffy. Diana quickly swept Buffy up, the other dog backed off and once Buffy had calmed down Diana let her down and to our dismay, Buffy was walking with a limp. Her back right leg was bothering her and as I watched Buffy limp around I was overcome with a feeling of wanting to drop-kick the other dog for messing with Buffy. However, this proved unnecessary, as Buffy was fine after a couple minutes. Little did I know that only a couple hours later Buffy would go through a more serious ordeal.

Now Buffy tries to eat EVERYTHING and in general that’s not such a bad thing but we do live in the city and on our short “walks” there is a lot for her to try to eat and chew on. So when she started going for that piece of gum on the ground and then it was gone. I reached into her mouth and I found nothing.

I don’t really know all that much about dogs mind you so I figured I should call Buffy’s vet to double check on this gum issue. Since it was a Saturday, the vet’s office was closed so I called the local animal hospital and they told me to call animal poison control.

Now Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA)
is an organization that provides resources for pet owners included a 24/7 hot line for questions about animal emergencies. I called up the number and one of the recorded prompts informed me that there was a fee involved to get a “consultation.” I immediately hung up the phone thinking this was bogus. I could probably find out the information I needed on the internet, right? But as I looked down at Buffy, I realized the internet wasn’t going to cut it. This was information about my puppy’s health I needed, not a recipe for pulled pork I was looking for.

I called back ASPCA and talked to one of their consultants. I gave her all of Buffy’s information, she talked to the vet on call and she told me to induce vomiting with Buffy. Here’s the deal, sugarless gum has a chemical called Xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol used in candy, and throat lozenges. This chemical is harmless to humans but causes a deadly surge of insulin in dogs.

I don’t know if the gum that Buffy ate was sugarless gum and even if it was the fact that it was a chewed piece of sugarless gum would have a low level of Xylitol. However, Buffy is a little less than four pounds so even a small amount could cause an issue so to play it safe we got the gum out of her system and thankfully Buffy recovered after no time acting like her normal self a couple hours later.

I wanted so much for Buffy to understand that I'm sorry and I don’t how she understands about all that happened. All I could do was hold her that evening and try to make her feel warm and safe so somehow she could understand how much she means to me.

You may come to the conclusion after reading this that I’m just an over-emotional dog owner and that I am indeed “turning pathetic.” All I got to say in response it that I’m not turning pathetic, I think I’ve always been a little pathetic when it comes to the people I care for in my life.

And seriously, with a puppy this cute, I think you would turn a little pathetic too.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Buffy Video

Well, if you thought the pictures of Buffy were cute . . .

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John

Before I went to the Elton John & Billy Joel “Face 2 Face” last Tuesday I checked out the song list for Elton John’s solo portion of the concert:

Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)
Madman Across The Water
Tiny Dancer
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Rocket Man
Philadelphia Freedom
I'm Still Standing
Crocodile Rock

Looking at this list I predicted that “Crocodile Rock” and “Tiny Dancer” would be crowd favorites. Everyone loves the “Naaaaaa Nanana Naaaaaa” part of the “Crocodile Rock” though the appeal of the song is a little lost on me, and “Tiny Dancer” with the help of Almost Famous has become one of his most loved songs.

So when Elton John introduced “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” I was surprised when he introduced it as a song for everyone to sing along with and everyone in the stadium did.

“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is the title track of what many consider Elton John’s greatest album. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it 91 in there list of 500 greatest albums of all time calling the album “supersonically huge.” Commenting on the title track Rolling Stone credited Elton John and his writing partner Bernie with harassing “the fantastical imagery of glam to a Gershwin-sweet melody.” Elton John performed three songs from the album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in his solo set which is more songs than he played from any other of his other thirty solo album.

“Goodbye Yellow Brick” road contains one of the most powerful literary allusions in popular music. The Wizard Of Oz is one of the most beloved films and books in American history speaking both as a fairy tale and a commentary on the industrialization. The yellow brick road is Dorothy’s path to Oz, the place where she believes will help her get home. The yellow brick road represent hope through a difficult journey as well as disillusions in the revelation that the Wizard of Oz is a charlatan.

When John sings the words “goodbye yellow brick road” it’s a farewell to past dreams. At the end of the chorus when John sings “I’ve finally found what I’m looking for, beyond the yellow brick road,” it speaks to the idea that there is something more meaningful out there than the path that is given. This reflection is all the more powerful with Elton John’s incredible voice.

When Elton John first recorded “Goodbye Yellow Brick” his light tenor effortlessly fliped into his soaring falsetto. If you listen to his older recordings there is a sense of innocence but also a slight edge that injects his words with passion.

Listening to Elton John now, his voice has developed into a rich baritone. The falsetto is gone and during most performances now he relies on his back up singers to sing the higher notes like on the word “blue" right before the chorus. This may seem like a negatives but the remarkable richness and depth in tone more than makes up for the lack of falsetto . John’s music always had maturity to it and now more than ever, his voice expresses the layered emotions and meaning in his music.

As Elton John sang, “Goodbye Yellow Brick” road in Wrigley field images of him in the 1970s filled the screen above the stage. This feeling of nostalgia combined with the warm rush of emotion that emanated from the thousands of voices singing together was simply magical.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Prelude/Angry Young Man by Billy Joel

Wrigley field suddenly went dark.

Elton John had just closed his part of the concert with an exhilarating performance of “Crocodile Rock” and the enormous stage providing the only light in the field went black. The sun had set on this warm Chicago evening and a sold-out stadium eagerly awaited Billy Joel to start his set.

As soon as I leaned back in my chair to reflect on Elton’s set, a flurry of notes filled the auditorium. On the first cymbal hit, white lights flooded the stadium. Billy Joel’s hands appeared on the huge screens on both sides of the stage like a blur as Joel attacked the keys with manic fury.

The band entered as the flurry of notes moved into angry syncopated hits followed by a more reflective and peaceful arpeggios (0:30). The rest of the band joined in to create a peaceful groove. Then the flurry of notes suddenly returned with an unrelenting intensity and instead of building into the peaceful arpeggios, the next section was a Joel pounding octaves on the piano setting up a rhythmic tension against the bass line (1:35). With the end of the “Prelude,” it was time for Joel to tells us about the “Angry Young Man.”

Billy Joel’s 1976 album Turnstiles marked his return to New York after living in Los Angeles. This album featured songs like “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” and “New York State of Mind” that reflected this move.

Even though these songs and others like “I’ve Loved These Days” had a heartfelt feeling of nostalgia, Joel’s sarcastic, disillusioned and bitter attitude shown through in “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights God Out on Broadway” an story of a post-apocalyptic New York and in “Prelude/Angry Young Man.”

Billy Joel never released “Prelude/Angry Young Man” as a single but it has become a fan favorite during Joel’s live performance. After seeing him perform it live last night, I understand why.

Joel performed “Angry Young Man” not so much singing them but ranting. The words move pass so quickly in the verses in the and it’s not until the bridge do you get a real sense of what he’s talking about.

I believe I've passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage
I found that just surviving was a noble fight.
I once believed in causes too,
I had my pointless point of view,
And life went on no matter who was wrong or right.

When Joel got to the words “pointless point of view” and I could here the crowd sing along with this specific line more than other part of the bridge with a feeling of glory. Intellectually this seemed odd, but emotional it felt amazing.

I get frustrated with some thing sometimes and I often have rants. For example, I hate it when news stations don’t report facts? Like seriously, they haven’t done a paternity or DNA test to show that Michael Jackson’s kids aren’t related to him biologically, then stop reporting that people are speculating this. That’s not news and for the love of God stop analyzing hypothetical situations like the implications if they aren’t his kids. You might as well analyze the every other “what if” scenario, like “I heard from someone that Michael Jackson once bought woman’s underwear, what if Michael Jackson is actually a girl?”

As much as things like this aggravate me, it’s a great feeling when you give someone a rant and they know what you mean. Sharing emotion, any kind of emotion is a human connection that enriches our humanity. In his own way, Billy Joel brought together the frustration that we all share and made us feel for a moment of time that it was not so bad.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Meet Buffy, our new puppy!!

Quick side-note: Diana and I want to make sure that Buffy is well-socialized dog and meets as many people as possible. If you are in the area and want to spend some quality time with the cutest puppy you have ever seen drop me a line: Now on to the PUPPY!!

One week after our first wedding anniversary we the best anniversary gift EVER! Buffy, our new puppy.

Buffy is a Shetland Sheepdog more commonly known as Shelties. People often refer to them as miniature Collies (ala Lassie) however, Shelties are a different breed with distinctive characteristics. People originally bred Shelties to suit the terrain of the Shetland Islands. This breed is classified as a “working dog” and is still used to herd sheep and cattle. I’m not sure how great a herder Buffy will be. She has just discovered her feet so I think we have a ways to go.

We got Buffy home from the breeder Saturday night. She was great in the car ride home and slept for most of the hour and a half drive. We got home, took her down to go pee and got her set up for the evening.

We’ve heard many stories of how difficult the first night is for a puppy and new owners. I can imagine, Buffy is away from her brothers and sisters for the first time in a strange new world. Often times puppies will whine the entire night through but Buffy settled in rather quickly. She had a nice set-up in her crate with a sock from her breeder’s home her koala friend and a warm-blanket. The only noise we heard from Buffy was some whining around 3am. Diana got up and took her downstairs to pee and Buffy promptly did. Once Buffy was back in her crate she fell right back to sleep and slept until around 7am.

Sunday morning we started house-training Buffy. Diana and I decided to base our training methods on Dr. Ian Dunbar’s approach. He was one of the first proponents of using positive reinforcement over negative reinforcement in training dogs. His training methods focus on creating opportunities to catch the puppy doing things right (which is a great approach when teaching students).Dunbar’s method is to take the puppy to go pee and/or poo every hour. The may not go every time you go out but being consistent gives the puppy many opportunities to go.

To prevent the puppy from going inside the puppy spends time either being watched or in a crate. A puppy will not pee or poo in his or her crate in an effort to keep the space clean.

There’s a lot of time going up and down the elevator (we live on the fourth floor), but Buffy is doing well. She’s only had one accident so far and is getting the groove of going outside.

We’ve only heard Buffy bark a handful of times. She has a quiet way about her. Buffy is a little timid but I think she’s just being careful. The city is a scary place for such a small puppy. There’s a lot of pedestrian, cars, trucks and the Metra commuter train. Buffy’s strategy to deal with these things when we are outside is shuffle back to me and observes from the safety of between my feet. There has been a huge different in her comfort with meeting new people and new dogs and its fun witnessing her come out of her shell.

Buffy is pretty much the cutest ball of fluff you have ever seen.

Everything she does is cute. No, not cute, but stupidly adorable. If you think she looks cute in these pictures, man in person, it's not even funny. Now even though she doesn't know any tricks and is still working on learning her name, at least she has the watching Star Trek thing down.

We've been preparing for Buffy's arrival for about 10 months and we are so excited. Diana is bursting with joy and I have a this great feeling of satisfaction. It's taken a lot of work to get to find Buffy and we've been anticipating this for almost year. Last week, when we set up Buffy's pen it really seemed empty without our special girl.

Now that Buffy is in our lives her den feels right and our lives feel so much more full. I'm tired, I haven't slept all that well worrying about Buffy. I did not get nearly as much done today as I would have liked because I was taking care of the puppy and even though I'm becoming more comfortable around Buffy, I still feel like I have know no idea what I'm doing. But the thing is I'm loving every second of the time I spend with Buffy and I'm looking forward to sharing her life as the newest member of our family.

And yes, we named her after Buffy, as in the vampire slayer. Later, I'll explain why.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond

[talking to my brother after the 2009 Grammy’s]

Me: Geez, when did Neil Diamond’s performance at the Grammy?!? When start taking singing tips from William Shatner? This isn’t so much singing but a dramatic reading.

Ed: Good God, that’s horrid. OKAY I took that back. This is an awesome performance. The backup singers totally over-singing the song as Neil's stage presence are AWESOME.

Now waybe I was being a little harsh in my initial analysis of his performance. I guess I was expecting his performance to be more like his earlier performances of this song, more retrospective and less of a party sing along song (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

It was a childhood photo of Caroline Kennedy, daughter of John F. Kennedy, that inspired Neil Diamond to compose “Sweet Caroline.” He revealed at her Caroline’s 50th birthday party “It [the photo] was such an innocent, wonderful picture, I immediately felt there was a song in there."

“Sweet Caroline” is about being in a moment and revealing in how good it feels. The first verse reflects how the relationships started with a sense of disbelief at how great things have become, “Who’d believe you’d come along?” The bridge focusing on that magical moment when you first touch hands with someone you love. Making this connections feels so great that Diamond explains for all to hear how great this moment feels, better then we can imagine (“good times never seem so good"), and is so amazing that it’s hard to imagine that it could feel this good again ("I’ve been inclined to believe it never would”).

What’s unique about “Sweet Caroline” is that the two parts that people like to sing the most aren’t part of the main melody: the three descending brass hits after “sweet Caroline" in the chorus," BA, BA, BAAAA!" and the repetition of “so good” after “good times never seemed so good.”

Musically the first brass note after the words “sweet Caroline” is the peak of the phrase that builds up from the pre-chorus (“hands, touching hands. . .”). The pre-chorus creates tension by slowly ascending with the sustained notes. This energy travels through the words “sweet Caroline” to the brass that finishes the phrase completing the contour. If you imagine the chorus without the “BA, BA, BAAAA!” it would like sound incomplete so it’s only naturally that we would want to sing the whole phrase.

Now there is plenty of instrumental transition that one could sing along with after "good times never seemed so good,” but the reasons we scream out “so good, so good, so good” is because it gets to the core of what this songs means.

At the Grammy’s Neil Diamond was performing in front of a huge live audience and he’s up their on stage strolling along like he’s taking a walk in the park. He makes you believe that the performing the song on stage is one of those good times that he is singing about. "Sweet Caroline” is one of the most beloved sing along songs in American popular culture because the experience of listening to “Sweet Caroline” is itself one of those good times never seemed so good, so good, so good, SO GOOD!

Now about those sequence shirts Neil. . . yeah. . . not so good.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Hung My Head by Sting

If someone walking down the street and a drunk driver swerves off the road and kills the pedestrian, is the drunk driver wholly responsible for the death? In we assume yes, than do we ignore the choices of the pedestrian? He could have decided not go for a walk and stay home. I’m not saying that the drunk driver doesn’t deserve to be punished for his crime, but I can’t help but wonder what is it that puts that person in exactly in the place that the driver swerved off, is it “fate” or “destiny” or simply bad luck. How do we accept the consequences of our own actions while considering whatever force it is that makes situations happen? “I Hung My Head” provides one answer as a boy faces his own execution.

Sting included “I Hung My Head” on his fifth solo album Mercury Rising. As a member of one of the most influence bands of the 1980s, The Police, Sting established himself as an important musical force. His solo work continued the musical innovation he had done with The Police stretching the musical boundaries of popular music.

“I Hung My Head” is the story of a boy and one fateful day that changed his life. One morning he goes up on a hill and sees a lone rider. He decids to practice his aim on the rider and the rifle goes off accidentally, killing the rider. The sheriff arrests the boy and later in court, a jury sentences the boy to death by hanging for his actions.

Though the lyrics are straightforward, concise and beautifully nuanced. The first line of the song ends with the word “kill” foreshadowing future events. Other lines like the opening of the second verse, “I set off running to wake from the dream” combines the action of running with the feeling of wanting to wake from a nightmare.

As the story develops so does the meaning of the lyrics. The lone rider, which the boy shoots in the beginning of the song, comes back in the end of the song as a harbinger of death. The title of the song starts as a description a gesture of despair and regret. By the end of the song, “I hung my head” becomes a statement of acceptance. As the boy facing his own hanging he sees how his own actions has lead to his death.

If you read the words you probably would imagine something like Johnny Cash’s interpretation of this song. Acoustic instruments, simple instrumentation surrounded by a feeling an ominous darkness.

What Sting does instrumentally is very different. The Johnny Cash version is in 4/4 , which means that there are four main beats that you can count in each measure (what you’d naturally clap along to). Each one of these beats are divided into two smaller beats. Sting’s arrangement is in 9/8. Instead of having all four beats divided into two, one of the beats is divided in three. If you were going to count each measure, it would go 1-2, 3-4-5, 6-7, 8-9 (2+3+2+2). Try counting every note you hear in the guitar riff accented 1, 3, 6, 8 and you’ll feel what is referred to as compound meter.

The groove that Sting created adds a feeling of things coming apart. The instrumentation and the counter-melodies in the brass section and organ don’t sound especially sad but the fact that they are placed over an irregular compound meter provides an uneasy feeling that reminds us of the events in this song.

At the end of the song when the line “I hung my head” is being repeated, it appears that the boy fully accepts the consequences of his own actions, but maybe he doesn’t. Maybe the only reason he states that he hung his own head is to make sense of all that has happened. If his death is by his own actions, then that means he could have done something about it. It means that this wasn’t some random occurrence. In a weird way, it’s more comforting to take the blame yourself for your death than to face the idea of randomness of the universe.

Does everything happen for a reason? Is there such a thing as fate or destiny? I don’t have an answer to these questions. Maybe we're just asking the wrong question. Instead of looking for meaning in why things happen maybe the true meaning is how we react to the events in our lives. We can never know for sure why things happen so all we can do is the best with what we are given.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Brick by Ben Folds Five

I really liked “Brick” without ever knowing it was about abortion.

I was in high school when Ben Folds Five hit the music scene, I remember people making a big deal about the band’s unique instrumentation, a piano, upright bass and drums. People were comparing Ben Folds to other rock artists like Elton John and Billy Joel who utilized the piano as a central instrument in rock music. As a pianist, I thought it was awesome that there was band out there that was centered on my favorite instrument.

Then I started hearing about how their breakout single “Brick” was about abortion.

In my early years in high school, I knew what abortion was but I had no clue the relevance of Roe vs. Wade and what the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate was really about. When you are young, being political doesn’t come from researched, well-thought out platforms but rather repeating slogans and arguments you overhear your parents and people on television say. My parents have their political opinions but to this day, I’m not even sure where they stand on this issue.

Abortion never came up in dinner table discussions, in high school I never knew of any of my family or friends who had to deal with the abortion. To this day, I’ve never talked to anyone who has faced this issue, though with all the people I’ve met in my life there is probably someone I know who has dealt with this issue on a personal level.

I probably saw newspaper stories about abortion or heard things on the television about the abortion debate but it didn’t seem like something that meant anything to me because I couldn’t relate to what it meant on an emotional level.

The first couple times I heard “Brick,” I thought it was really different and interesting musically. The piano is constant throughout the song and feels like a driving down an empty road on a winter morning. Though the rhythm is steady, Ben Folds varies the way he rolls through the chords creating a feeling of motion. The sound of the bowed upright bass, which is rarely heard in popular music, added a dark sustained color, which contrasted the brighter shorter notes on the piano. The drums lay back in the verse adding colors and a rhythmic undercurrent. The interaction between drums, upright bass and piano changes in the chorus as the bass and drums provide the rhythmic drive as the lyrics change from telling the story in the verse to expressing how the experience felt in the chorus.

Then I realized the song was about someone having an abortion. At first, this overwhelmed little teenage mind. It’s one thing to hear a song that elaborates on sexual exploits in an unrealistic way but it’s another thing to hear a song that deals with the consequences on not only sexual behavior. The subject matter scared me away. I didn’t want to listen to a song that preached to me about an issue. So it wasn’t until college that I took another look at this song. Then I realized something that Ben Folds about “Brick.” The subject of this song is abortion but that’s not what it’s really about, what it’s means. Ben Folds when asked about “Brick” reflected:

"People ask me what this song's about... I was asked about it a lot, and I didn't really wanna make a big hairy deal out of it, because I just wanted the song to speak for itself. But the song is about when I was in high school, me and my girlfriend had to get an abortion, and it was a very sad thing. And, I didn't really want to write this song from any kind of political standpoint, or make a statement. I just wanted to reflect what it feels like. So, anyone who's gone through that before, then you'll know what the song's about.”

“Brick” doesn’t intend to make an argument pro-life or pro-choice. If you really experience “Brick” for what it is, you don’t walk about thinking “abortion,” you are left with a feeling of an innocence that is lost. I don’t think that anyone on either side of the debate will argue the emotional challenges of getting an abortion which “Brick” so beautifully expresses.

If you want to take this song as many have to make arguments for either side of the issue, that’s your prerogative. I don’t agree that a piece of art that isn’t indented to be used as part of a political debate should be used as such but if you want that I respect people’s right to discuss their views in any way that they see fit. I do believe it is essential to try to understand the emotional side of the abortion issue to inform the debate with the human dimension which is sometimes ignored.

Art like “Brick” connects us the emotions behind the debate and reminds us that behind the debate there are two teenagers waking up early on a cold winter morning.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Somewhere Only We Know by Keane

[Phone conversation from last night between me (K) and one of my friends (J).]

J: Well, what are you up to on Sunday?
K: Sunday is our anniversary
J: What anniversary?
K: our WEDDING anniversary
J: really?!? I though that was in June. . .
K: no . . . we got married in July, on July 12th
J: I don’t know why I though it was in June, what is it two years?
K: no, we’ve been married ONE year
J: for some reason I though it was two. . .
K: LOOK, you were IN the wedding party! SERIOUSLY. I don’t expect you to send us a card like two of the other people in the wedding party did but at least you can remember what month the wedding was and what year we are on!!
J: . . . so, um, are you free on Sunday?
K: Yes, I would like nothing more to spend my WEDDING ANNIVERSARY hanging out with YOU!!
J: so maybe we can hang out sometimes next week?
K: I was serious, we can do Sunday afternoon, ‘groan’ you know what, I’m done with you, I’m handing the phone to Diana.

Let’s clarify the issue for anyone who may be confused, Diana and I got married on July 12th 2008, therefore this Sunday July 12th 2009 is our first wedding anniversary AND we are still talking to each other!

Diana’s nana, her paternal grandmother remembers her first year of marriage as the hardest. It was the year that she emigrated from Great Britain to America and it probably didn’t help that her Polish husband had limited ability to speak English.

I got to say our first year of marriage really wasn’t that rough. We moved from one Chicago suburb to another Chicago suburb, which was a little stressful, but not like taking a boat across the Atlantic. I changed jobs while Diana did some new fantastic things at her job. We shared family milestones with our extended families and survived, no more than that, absolutely loved a vacation which included both sets of parents, and all our siblings included my sister-in-law.

It’s been a good year, but there were challenges. There was a lot of “getting used to each other” stuff. I can’t speak for Diana but there were times when I was a little short with her when discussing an issue (and that’s a big deal because I’m only 5”4’, OH! Tang just made a funny). I can be rather obstinate about the way things should be done from cleaning the bathroom to organizing my kitchen utensils. But one of the great things about being married is that Diana helps me realize what I’m being stupidly stubborn about and that even though there are many things that are important to hold strong to, where we put our DVDs isn’t one of them (“keeping them in cases” vs. “putting them in a binder”).

There were those moments that overwhelmed: a hard day at work, a funeral, saying goodbye to friends and the uncertainty of the future. We remind each other how lucky we are but that doesn’t diminish these feelings of confusion, loss and fear. The simplicity of childhood is far behind us. The illusions that we based our world on as children continue to be shattered which leaves us needing something to lean on. When I’m exhausted and I feel overwhelmed by life, the hardest things to do is to know where to start.

In the past, I looked within myself for the strength to preserver but what I’ve found in the past year that there is something between Diana and I which is more powerful. It’s looking into Diana’s eyes and seeing the world. It’s the warmth of each other’s presence that never leaves us even when we are alone. It’s a place, somewhere only we know that is deep within our hearts.

Now what are supposed to get your wife for the “paper anniversary” a 48-pack of Charmin? A ream of paper? I guess I could get her a book, she does love to read. But really who came up with these anniversary present themes? I mean I guess diamonds make sense for the 60th but really, tin for the 10th anniversary, TIN. “Oh honey we made it ten years, I got you some tin so you can solder something together.” Leather for the 3rd anniversary?!? I guess if you’re really into. . . I’m just going to leave that one alone.

Happy Anniversary Diana

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Rehab by Amy Winehouse

I’ve never done drugs.

I’ve never smoked marijuana, I’ve never snorted anything or injected anything into my body. I’ve never smoked or cigarette or a hookah. Unbelievably, I was never offered any drugs even though the drug prevention education of my youth convinced me that I would. All that “just say no” practice was kind of a waste of time.

I feel blessed that none of my friends and family has had drugs significantly damage their lives, except for one. I wasn’t in contact in her when she went to rehab; I knew her before things that got that bad. We became friends in high school and I’ll never forget one night sitting outside on her back porch as she smoked a cigarette. She told me about her world, her dreams, her boyfriends and the drugs that were part of her life. I realized then that what I had been taught in elementary school that people who do drugs are “bad” people was a lie.

When I first heard “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse what floored me was the Motown sound that producer Mark Ronson had perfectly replicated. The energetic drum beat, the 1960s style back-up singers, the baritone saxophone used to punctuated the bass line and the overall arrangement of the instruments that allowed every instrument to be heard in the texture while they worked together as a singular groove made me musically “geek-out.”

What is amazing about this song is also what is difficult about this song. In front a musical sound brings us back to the great feelings of 1960s idealized love we have Amy Winehouse singing about how she doesn’t want to go to rehab. Juxtaposing such a serious subject against a lighthearted background reminds us that people in the 1960s had drug problems while expressing such a personal and emotional plea in a way we don't expect.

My wife and I recently watched an episode of Intervention on A&E and let me tell, there is no wink in the eye or playful expression when someone saying that will not go to rehab.

Amy Winehouse almost has us fooled. When she sings “I’m gonna, I’m gonna lose my baby” it’s beautifully bluesy, we feel the pain of losing one’s love but then we are reminded on how unbalanced she is when she says “I always keep a bottle near” immediately after.

This song is surreal, it’s like a dark comedic musical version of Intervention. What is difficult is that this song speaks directly to the desperation of an addict going from “I don’t ever want to drink again” to refusing to go to rehab. The fact that Winehouse who is only 25 years old has had drug and alcohol issues herself and early-stage emphysema which her father claims is a result of her drug use only makes this song more disturbing.

“Rehab” is sometimes how we see drug use as something we can make a light of. Some celebrity checks into rehab, it makes tabloid news, people joke about it and many of us judge. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, maybe it’s the only way we can deal with this kind of news. Maybe the only way we can really deal with the true darkness of going to rehab is not by watching the reality of it on Intervention but by turning it into a farce.

I don’t know a lot about drugs, rehab or addiction. What I do is that it’s not a problem that relegated "stupid" or "weak" people. Every time I hear someone make that conclusion, I think of my friend, how beautiful her heart is and how much I love her.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Under My Thumb by The Rolling Stones

I’ve never seen my relationship with my wife as a power struggle. We have disagreements but these issues aren’t really related to the power structure in our relationship. We’ve been married a little under a year, so some of you who have been married longer may be thinking, “just wait” and you may be right but for now it’s not really an issue.

I’m very conscientious of not giving my wife, Diana any unsolicited advice or insisting that she do something a certain way. There’s a lot of little things that we do differently. For example, we have different approaches in loading the dishwasher. I like to keep the same type of cups in a line and give each dish plenty of personal space. My wife on the other hand puts as many dishes in the dishwasher as possible.

Now, are the dishes less clean when my wife loads the dishwasher? Not really, am I wasting tons of water and space by not packing the dishes in as tight as I can? Maybe, but I doubt it. The bottom line is that we just feel comfortable loading the dishwasher in different ways. Really, after a long day at work, if she says that she will load the dishwasher, I could not care less how she does it.

Part of the reasons I’m so careful about the way I treat Diana is because I don’t want to be controlled myself. I don’t want to have a wife that spends all her time telling me what to do. I know it might just be this “guy thing” this fear that our girlfriend or wives are trying to change us but I think it’s something more.

When you are constantly told what to do and how to be by someone who is suppose to accept you for who you are, there is a feeling a resentment and anger that grows in response. I know what this is because once upon a time I had a girlfriend in high school who I resented for trying to change me. She was probably just trying to expand my horizons but I didn’t see it that way at the time and I probably didn’t communicate to her how this made me feel. What is scary is how much I envied the voice in “Under My Thumb” and how much I wanted to have power over her.

The protagonist in “Under My Thumb” is celebrating the fact that he’s girlfriend is no longer controlling him and pushing him around. The tables have turned and now she is under his thumb. He controls what she wears and compares here is a “Siamese cat” who is the sweetest “pet" in the world. These misogynistic lines continue as he states that “her eyes are just kept to herself” while he can still look at other people. This line implies a level of promiscuity that he is engaging in while she is devoted entirely to him.

When I was in high school, the song was a male empowerment anthem. Here’s a guy who was controlled by a girl but now it’s all different, it’s changed, he’s the one in charge. What could be bad about this situation? Now, many years later I noticed something sad about this song, almost regretful.

The marimba and the fuzzy bass line create a dark and smoky atmosphere like that of a dive bar. Mick Jagger’s voice has a uneasy shake in his voice when he sings “it’s down to me.” This is why I now hear this song as a guy bragging to his friends about how much control he has over a girl when in reality he is still under her thumb.

If the tables truly have turned and he has tamed that shrew then it really isn’t something that will bring happiness. If I somehow exerted the control over my high school girlfriend that I felt she had over me it would probably leave me feeling hollow and alone.

Sometimes when people around me are talking loudly, I talk softly in the hope that they will notice and start talking softer, but sometimes I speak quietly simply because I don’t like yelling all the time. Sometimes when we do things for other people we are truly doing things for own my soul.

If you feel that relationships are about power, take another listen to "Under My Thumb." It's a dark place to be.

There's no room in love for power.

Friday, July 3, 2009

How much is that doggy in the window?

Back in April, I wrote a post about babysitting a dog named Wrigley and my wife's and my own excitement about getting a puppy.

In the past couple months we've done a lot of research and learned a lot about how to get a puppy. Now purchasing a dog isn’t like picking a shirt out at the Gap. Getting a dog is a long-term investment of time and money that warrants much consideration and research. One of the most important things I've learned is that where you get your dog has significant effects that go beyond the quality of life of the dog.

There’s a couple different ways to acquire a dog. Shelters across America are an excellent way to get a pet. Many have depressing images of shelters with animals crammed in small cages who are not well cared for but that is necessarily the reality. My wife recently visited PAWS Chicago to help a friend pick out a cat.

Diana and her friend had the opportunity to play with cats in clean rooms with plenty of windows providing natural light. They found the people working there friendly and genuinely concerned about the animals.

Another place that people often get puppies is from pet stores. Pet stores get puppies two different ways, from breeders or from puppy mills. Our favorite pet store is called Thee Fish Bowl. They usually have about five or six dogs from sale that they get from local breeders. The puppies in the store are happy and well-cared for and the staff is knowledgeable and don't seem to mind that Diana goes in there on a weekly basis to play with the puppies.

I’ve heard from many different people that many pet stores get their dogs from puppy mills. I don’t know which stores get their dogs from puppy mills, but I do know that puppy mills exist. Puppy mills are commercial puppy breeding operations that produce puppies in substandard conditions. Puppies from puppy mills more often then not look cute but often develop health issues and because of a lack of proper socialization often are difficult pets. It’s important that when you go into a store and that you ask them where they get their dogs that they are able to give you the name of a breeder that you can call yourself and speak to about the conditions in which the dog is raised.

When Diana asked an employee at Thee Fish Bowl about the whether or not they would have any Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie) any time soon, they told us that they wouldn’t but were happy to give us the name and contact information of a breeder that they have gotten Shelties from in the past. This is a great sign of a responsible store that is looking out for the best interest of not only the puppy but also the owner.

The way that many people get their dogs and the avenue that Diana and I decided to most vigorously pursue was getting a dog through a breeder. Diana’s late great aunt was a Sheltie and Collie breeder and provided dogs for Diana’s immediate and extended families. Great breeders, like Diana's great aunt, not only produce healthy dogs with great temperaments but contribute to the community as a whole raising the standard of ethics within the breeding community.

Unfortunately not all breeders are created equal. One of my co-workers in a recent trip to Michigan visited a Pomeranian breeder and found puppies crammed into a small pen in a basement of a house. These puppies were malnourished and their their fur was caked with feces. The disturbing part was that the woman who was showing these puppies didn’t seem to think anything was wrong with this. We have yet to encounter any breeders this immoral but this story shows that it is important to check on the way that breeders raise their puppies before buying a dog from them. I don't care how cute a dog may look, I would never give money to someone who was that cruel to their animals.

Diana and I have contacted breeders all over Illinois, Indiana and Ohio and have found many great breeders but only a few that have puppies that work in our time frame. I’m on summer break right now and we had some traveling to do in late June, so it makes the most sense to get our puppy in July. Things are beginning to pan out and the reality that we are actually going to get a puppy after months of talking about it is beginning to set in.

When we first began thinking about getting a dog, I though you just went into a store, picked the one that looked the most cute and you were set. Now I know that when you buy a puppy you are sending a message to the shelter, pet store or breeder that you support the way they treat their animals and the philosophy in which they run their business.

I'm not becoming an animals rights advocate any time soon but I do believe that people should be held to a standard in the way they treat animals. Far too often capitalistic gain is used to rationalize immoral behavior and it is our responsibility as consumers to vote with our dollar, support not only products that we believe in but also people behind the products.

We know that purchasing one puppy from a great breeders is not going to shut down a puppy mill. However, it's one vote, and every vote counts. And I'm sure getting the dog from someone that we believe in is going to make our dog that much easier to train to go get me a "beverage" from the refrigerator.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey

I never understood what was so great about "Don't Stop Believin'" until I saw the ending of the Sopranos television show.

This ending was controversial because of the abrupt cut to black at the end. I’m personally a fan of how this show ended on a question mark, but this puzzled and annoyed a lot of viewers. What was more significant to me was the director, David Chase’s use of the music in this scene. I didn't know why at the time, but I instantly fell in love with "Don't Stop Believin' after watching this scene.

Throughout the six seasons of Sopranos, one of the major themes is this idea of enjoying the good times in life, cherishing the moments. Anthony, Tony’s son, mentions this in this scene after complaining about his job, “focus on the good times. . . try to remember the times that are good.” That’s what “Don’t Stop Believin’” is really all about.

It’s easy to disregard Journey. Journey’s music ranges from sappy power ballads to derivative anthem rock. This isn’t a band that pushes envelopes or challenges our ideas of popular music. However, Journey never presumed to be anything but a band that wrote and performed popular rock music for the masses.

In reaction to the progressive and artful music of the late 1970s with bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, bands like Journey became popular in the 1980s. I love listening to music that challenges my musical understanding but sometimes I simply want to rock out. As much as I love fine dining, sometimes I just want a cheeseburger. The thing is about "Don't Stop Belevin'" is that even though it isn't fine dining it is one of the best cheeseburger you will ever eat.

In 1981, Journey released Escape which featured “Don’t Stop Believin’” as one of the singles. Though it never reached #1 on the charts it’s popularity has continued to grow becoming the most downloaded song not released in the 21st century on the iTunes Music Store.

Usually the strongest part of a pop song is the chorus. More often then not artists will try to get to the chorus as quickly as possible using a short introduction and/or a shortened first verse. What’s unusual about “Don’t’ Stop Believin’” is that the chorus doesn’t occur until the last minute of the song and the lyrics “don’t stop believing” aren’t heard until the last minute of the song.

After the initial introduction and first verse, there is a short instrumental break followed by the second verse. Instead of a chorus, after the second verse is the pre-chorus section “strangers waiting. . .” which leads right into the third verse. After the third verse, we get the pre-chorus section again which leads into a instrumental break the chorus finally arrives.

The structure of the song mirrors the arc of the lyrics, which are a mosaic of blue collar life. There is the small town girls and the city boy in the first verse who take a midnight train “going anywhere,” not so much focusing on the destination but the need to get out of their surroundings. A singers sings in a smoky room tries to make some cash and “for a smile they can share the night, it goes on and on.” Even though the singer is in a rough gig there are moments of connection that make the night not so bad. The pre-chorus observes strangers in the night and “streetlight people,” prostitutes looking for something in the night, trying to find themselves and “living just to find emotion.”

The last verse reflects on the lives discussed earlier in the song. Everyone wants a thrill, they want to play the game and even though some win and some lose people still try. As “the movie never ends,” neither does hope.

“Don’t stop believing” is a call to keep that hope alive. The mosaic of stories in this song creates an image of yearning that we can all relate to and a feeling of hope that we sometimes forget. The structure of the song takes us through a "journey" inviting us to consider the challenges of life before calling us to face life with hope in our hearts.

The moments that I fell in love with “Don’t Stop Believin’” was the Sopranos finale, but the moment that this song truly meant something to me was at the end of my wife and I's wedding reception.

Inspired by the end of the sopranos, we chose "Don't Stop Believin'" as the last dance at my me and my wife’s wedding reception. As the song began all of the wedding guest formed a circle with my wife and I. It is that memory, surrounded by friends and family, rocking out to “Don’t Stop Believin’" that keeps me believin' and searching through the shadows of the night.