Randy Newman–taken from aordisco.blogspot.com

If you’re around my age (twenty-two), then Randy Newman has single-handedly defined your childhood, and if you’re the parent of a twenty-something, then Newman has defined your post-adolescence. Think for a minute about your favorite films as a child, and when you’re finished, think about the music that accompanied it.

When I was little, ¡Three Amigos! was one of my favorite movies, mainly because of this scene:

Watching Martin Short and Steve Martin jangling around in mariachi garb is already enough to make you smile, but “My Little Buttercup” is what makes the scene work, and Newman wrote it. If you’re a fan of MADtv, then you may already know that Newman is famous for his ability to churn out songs at the snap of a finger, and “Buttercup” is most-likely a throwaway song, but the simplicity of the melody, and the hilarity of the scene, leaves the song burned in your mind. Songs like that stay with you.

However, ¡Three Amigos! may be a bit too far out of range for my generation, so I’ll help those who are still unsure: Toy Story. Yes. Newman scored that too, and if anybody remembers him, that’s why. When Newman dies, his epigraph will read, “The Toy Story guy.”

You’ve Got A Friend In Me” is a song everyone knows. And like “Buttercup,” it’s incredibly simple, but poignant enough to conjure up childhood memories, or apply to our waking lives. When the song is played, everyone around has a story to tell. Everyone has friends, and since the song is directed between a child and his toy, the song stretches beyond human relationships, and makes you realize your friendships with other objects, whether they’re toys, books, or instruments, ultimately increasing your awareness of mortality, and that you’re aging. It’s not only a frightening reminder that nothing stays the same, but a comforting suggestion that we must enjoy what we have while it’s here.

Since Toy Story, it seems like Newman has scored every Disney or Pixar film ever made. Of course, he scored Toy Story 2  and 3, but also James and the Giant Peach, A Bug’s Life, Monster’s Inc., Cars, and The Princess and the Frog. As young adults who grew up watching most of these films, these films shaped us, which means Randy Newman will forever live through us.

But he didn’t just make his impact through film scoring. Not in my life at least.

As I continue to get older, Randy Newman continues to define my world. He was there after Hurricane Katrina. Aaron Neville sang a version of Newman’s “Louisiana 1927,” becoming an anthem for New Orleans, and helping me realize how important my hometown really was. He was there at the first Dodgers game I got to experience. The Dodgers and the Mets went into extra innings, and when first baseman James Loney hit a walk off homer after thirteen grueling innings of sitting in the sun, Newman’s “I Love L.A.” blasted through the stadium speakers. Everybody was hollering along when Newman sang, “We love it!” And even though the sun nearly burned off my face, I did love it. He was there for my relationships. Songs for living with women, and songs for living without them. Through satirical lyrics, he provided insight on subjects like racism, religion, history, foreign policy, death, friendship, and acceptance. Randy Newman has provided a lesson for every subject I’ve ever contemplated. He was there for me when I was young, and he’s here for me now. Throughout the good times he’s made me laugh, and during the bad times we’ve stuck together and seen it through. Out of all my friends, Randy Newman is closest to me.

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Whenever Bob Dylan is brought up in conversation, his extensive repertoire of insightful, poetic lyrics, musicianship, and ability to reinvent himself every decade is overlooked by the myth that he cannot sing. His nasal whine and seemingly incoherent writing style are then repeatedly mimicked and imitated in the same hackneyed way, much like Bill Cosby’s pudding pop stutter. But I can live with the latter, for I at one point disliked Dylan’s voice, and had my own banal impression. What I despise, however, is when people dismiss Dylan’s talent because of his plugged-nose wail, and it makes me cringe when singers are glorified for their singing voices, but not judged on their overall musical ability.

Lately, when I hum or sing the words to Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” I’ll hear a friend proclaim, “Oh, I love Adele.” Some friends, along with my mother, are always shocked when I tell them, “Bob Dylan wrote that.” They can’t believe it, because nobody with a voice that bad can write a song that good. And of course, for them, Adele’s version reigns supreme, though it shouldn’t.

Dylan has always had an unappealing tone in his voice, but he knows what he’s capable of, and ultimately, his voice dictates his music. When he was young and had cleaner lungs, his voice was clear. He could hit the notes. With a thick growl he had the ability to plow through a song, but he could also loosen up and sound as if he were right next to the listener, whispering a ballad into their ear. And even though his voice has settled into a gremlin-like drawl, he’s been able to make music with it. A gritty voice calls for a gritty band, and he has that.

When I hear Dylan’s version of “Make You Feel My Love,” I believe it. His voice is raw, and he sings it simply, without unnecessary inflections. He doesn’t need to be flashy to convey emotion, because the lyrics do that. With overused rhymes, he phrases them in a way that makes the listener feel as if they’re hearing them for the first time. His subtle approach makes the song convincing and poignant; he makes use of what little he has and makes it powerful.

Adele, however, is a different story. There is nothing about her performance that makes me feel that she is singing with conviction. It has the ability to be powerful and moving – I get chills when I hear her sing – but that’s only because her voice is powerful and moving. I don’t believe her, nor do I believe she could go hungry. Not for love. And the lyrics end up being meaningless, because her voice fails to represent them. She’s a good singer, which is terrible, because good singers usually seem to over-sing, and much like a musician who over-plays, the song becomes dull.

Dylan has been able to survive through the years because he’s had more than a voice to offer. If Adele lost her voice, what would she have? She is not proficient in any instrument, she does not write the majority of her songs, and she has an uncontrollable fear of performing live. Without her voice she’d disappear, while Dylan will never fade, for he has created his voice through his lyrics, his musicianship, and his energy. Adele is a singer, but Dylan is a voice.

Fremont Street, 1986–taken from wikipedia

When I was fourteen I was living in Las Vegas, and it was impossible to ignore the growing success of a couple of locals in a band who got noticed by some fancy, British representatives for Warner Bros. named the Killers.

During this time, MTV still played music videos (at a reasonable hour) in the morning, and before school I’d eat some eggs, drink a glass of milk, and watch the popular videos of the month. Mainstream music seemed to be consolidating, and hit-makers such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Usher, Green Day, and Avril Lavigne, although categorized under different genres, all fit under one classification: MTV garbage. However, one morning, this came on:

From the beginning, the group’s aura was intense. The crash of the cymbals, along with a polished, distorted guitar, and some futuristic synth leads, made me wonder if they were dance pop, or a rock band. As the strange combination finally settled into a rhythmic chugging, accentuated by the drummer’s work on the floor tom, lead singer Brandon Flowers made his presence known. He was good looking, seemingly shy, but completely convinced that this was his moment. His charisma and assurance fueled the entire energy of the band, and I could no longer ignore the fact that a band from Vegas had made it.

Listening, I was breaking my back to figure out what Flowers was trying to say in his overly dramatic lyrics. “Somebody told me/you had a boyfriend/who looked like a girlfriend/that I had in February of last year,” was like an equation I could not solve, or like all those times I tried to understand what third cousin, twice removed meant. Does this mean his girlfriend was a man, or is this his pick-up line, I thought.

The song ended and I was jealous. Who did these guys think they were? It was the first time I felt offended and violated while listening to music, and like the rest of the popular groups who had videos on MTV, I hated them. Loathed them.

As the Killers put out more singles and got bigger, it was rumored that Vegas had become a hotbed for talented musicians, and suddenly an influx of crappy alternative bands started popping up in the growing desert town with the same dream that they’d get discovered. This extended my hatred for the group beyond normal limits. I could handle the mania that surrounded Britney and Christina, because if there was any direct result from that fad, all it did was make girls want to dress prettier, or provocatively within the school’s dress code, which only made me insecure about approaching them, and damaged whatever self-confidence I had. These guys, though, were influencing the local music scene, and making it terrible. Musicians went to Vegas to die; no one ever made it out of there.

Mr. Brightside” was another big hit, and I dismissed it. To me, they were just another pop band that was going to reach its peak early, and then fade away, but then “All These Things That I’ve Done” was released. It sounded like the Killers, though something was different. It was catchy, it was energetic, but it wasn’t flooded with the Euro-dance pop sound that contaminated their earlier singles. The line, “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier,” started picking up, and they weren’t just influencing terrible musicians in Las Vegas anymore; they were influencing established musicians now, like Bono and Chris Martin.

The song’s music video showed them prancing around a neighborhood in Vegas like a bunch of rebels, dressed up as cowboys, wearing fake mustaches, and I started to wonder if these guys were for real. This fake Euro-dance pop group couldn’t have been who they really were. There was something in that cowboy garb that made them seem totally rock ‘n’ roll, and they wanted to show that, and if it wasn’t evident on Hot Fuss, then the world would see it later.

The buzz circling Hot Fuss died out, and their next album was highly anticipated. Flowers grew a real mustache and made a bold statement claiming Sam’s Town would be one of the best albums in the last twenty years, and I instantly dismissed the album before listening. It was trying to be Sgt. Pepper anyway, I thought. The album would find me though.

One day, the title track, “Sam’s Town,” blasted through the speakers of a friend’s car, and the moments of intensity and energy that was expressed in Hot Fuss had been multiplied by ten. Flowers sounded real, he sounded pissed, and the rest of the band followed his lead. The opening line, “Nobody ever had a dream ‘round here” was about Las Vegas, and I knew it, because that’s how I felt. He had a sentimental heart, and an “energy beneath my feet like something underground’s gonna come up and carry me,” and I wanted to follow him, wherever he went. We listened to the entire album, which was filled with desert imagery that reminded me what it was like living in that two-star town, and I knew then that this was who the Killers were: a couple of guys who had to escape Las Vegas, but couldn’t erase it from their minds. This was their sound, it was real, and I was obsessed.

I found out later though that most of the people who liked Hot Fuss, hated Sam’s Town, because, as some of my friends said, “it sounded too rock ‘n’ roll,” too pre-historic. My opinion flipped. Suddenly, I thought my friends were stupid and I dismissed them, and the Killers were keepin’ it real. The Killers knew who they were, and they were loud, grandiose, and totally badass.

The Killers topped themselves when they released the single “Tranquilize” a year after Sam’s Town. It was eerie, while remaining energetic, and it featured Lou Reed. Flowers’ voice sounded dead and out of key, but it felt right, and meshed perfectly while mumbling along with Reed’s own dead voice. It was a song someone could lose their mind to and feel good about it.

Killers all dolled up–taken from MTV.com

Finally, Day and Age came out during my first semester of college, but the first single, “Human,” was completely disappointing, and the music video was horrifying. First, Flowers shaved his mustache, which was a big deal to me, for every great man had a mustache while they were producing their best work: John, Paul, George, and Ringo while recording Sgt. Pepper, Ernest Hemingway while writing The Sun Also Rises, and Kirk Gibson while hitting his famous home run for the Dodgers in the 1988 World Series. Second, the group got rid of their thrown together cowboy look, and started dressing like arena rock stars, with Flowers wearing what looked like a bear skin rug on his back. Then, when I looked away and started listening to the music, it sounded like futuristic dance pop, and I felt betrayed. People didn’t like their Sam’s Town sound, and they went back to focusing on what made them famous. There were remnants of who I thought they were in songs like “A Dustland Fairytale,” “Losing Touch,” and “Spaceman,” but it wasn’t the same. They lost touch with me, and while it wasn’t a disgustingly awful album, I didn’t want to listen. I couldn’t listen. I couldn’t relate.

My brain was jumbled by this shift, and it seemed that the band was jumbled as well. They lost a sense of who they were, or perhaps they never knew, and after a few years of non-stop touring and recording, the band went on hiatus. The Killers were burned out, but I didn’t know from what. I think about it now and I’ve settled with the idea that they aren’t just influenced by their Las Vegas background, but they are a complete embodiment of the city. After experiencing success, the struggle of finding themselves conflicted with how others portrayed them, and what seemed to make them honest and original was suddenly shut down and imploded, making room for a glitzy, tacky outer shell that mystifies everyone, when inside it’s all the same crap and all they want is your money.

Their hiatus is over, however, and are currently recording a new album, which might be named Battle Born, in reference to the battle born state, Nevada. I can’t expect it to be like Sam’s Town, though I’m holding on to the idea that it might be greater. I expect them to grow, because I’ve grown during the time they’ve taken off, and I enjoy listening to all of their albums now, which means I’ll probably like whatever they release. I’ve cleared my head and I’m hoping that they’ve cleared theirs, and have figured out who they truly are, knowing that they might have to leave behind the fans that have decided not to grow with them.

Album art for Beach House's forthcoming release, Bloom – taken from Stereogum.

Beach House has always been a band that has lived by the beat of an organ’s drum machine; however, they’ve never been limited by it. With “Myth,” Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally make their 2010 release, Teen Dream, seem like a distant memory, proving that they, perhaps more than ever, know exactly where they’re at musically, and have perfected their sound. The song is driven, of course, by precise, mechanical ticking, and reveals the sounds familiar to Beach House fans: a swell of arpeggios from the keyboard harmonizing with Scally’s eighth note rhythms on guitar, along with Legrand’s unmistakeable, seductive voice that slithers over the droning tempo. “You can’t keep hangin’ on/to all that’s dead and gone,” Legrand claims, which is true to the band’s mentality. They never let the past determine what they produce in the present. The song features their simplistic, lo-fi approach, but with the addition of a deep, monotonous bass, along with the atmospheric, tasteful use of drums, Beach House boosts their sound as if they’ve mated dream pop with arena rock.

“Myth” may be considered only an extension of the songs featured on Teen Dream, making their new album Bloom (Due May 15th) seem as if it’s a sequel. However, Beach House continues to mature with their audience by staying true to their sound, and always finding new ways to amplify it.

Listen to “Myth” here:

Ke$ha–taken from The 305.

Mississippi is a bit like alien country, and by alien I mean I wouldn’t be surprised if I met someone there with an extra set of slimy, bulging eyes underneath their armpits. It’s a place that I’ve never understood, and when I’m there I’m astounded by the amount of cowboy boots and the bodies that fill them spitting out brownish crud from their crooked mouths.

It’s also difficult to find music in the area, but since the blues essentially came to fruition in the Mississippi Delta, it is always an overwhelming presence. However, it is a ghostly presence, and if anyone wants to experience musical purgatory, go to Mississippi.

The variety of music found in Mississippi is perhaps a step-up from what one would find in Walmart: top 40 pop and country, with a bit of rap thrown in on the side, and then some obscure local roots music that people hear in bars but never buy on disc.

Yesterday, I was in Bay St. Louis for a wedding, and the last time I was there it had been bulldozed by Hurricane Katrina and nothing existed except for a Waffle House. Since that time businesses have reopened, a quaint community hall has been built, and it has slowly returned to the relaxed beach community it once was. The town even has a popular ska band.

The coastal region of Mississippi is definitely different from the rest of the state, but when surrounded by my relatives and their friends who come from the surrounding areas, it doesn’t make any difference.

A second-rate band was hired for the wedding, and before they played stereotypical wedding music and Fats Domino covers, I stood by the stage and watched them set up. A little girl came up to me and told me she loved rock ‘n’ roll, and I instantly became curious as to what little kids in Mississippi were listening to, especially ones that claimed they loved rock.

I asked who some of her favorites were. “Kesha,” she said. I was immediately disappointed, but at the same time intrigued. She was only eight years-old, and it was startling to me that she knew who Ke$ha even was. I attempted to test her knowledge of the artist and asked her to sing one of her songs, and without hesitation she spit out the lyrics to the song “Cannibal.” It was especially hilarious to hear the girl sing the line: “But now that I’m famous/you’re up my anus.”

“Do you know what that song means?” I asked. “No,” she said. “I only know that she likes to eat people.”

During my series of questions, the little girl told me that she had learned of Ke$ha through Nickelodeon, on the show Victorious, in which the song “Blow” was performed. Now she listens to Ke$ha on youtube and knows all of her hits, but there’s one song–that she knows of–that she’s not allowed to listen to because it has a curse word in it: the song “Blah Blah Blah.”

It was a confession that left me perplexed, because basically if the songs “Cannibal” and “Blah Blah Blah” are compared, one could find that the lyrics both display promiscuous, skanky behavior, yet the meaning is more direct in one song than it is in the other. “I eat boys up, breakfast and lunch/Then when I’m thirsty, I drink their blood,” is merely a horror story version of “Don’t be a little bitch with your chit chat/Just show me where your dick’s at.”

That may be a stretch, but because a song contains curse words, does that make it worse than a song with veiled references and images that potentially mean the same thing?

Johnny Depp turning kid’s brains into mush at the 24th Annual Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards. It’s sad that children choose such things–taken from Zimbio.

Nickelodeon, a network famous for snot and slime, is watched by children who are still developing cognitively, and when Ke$ha is marketed to them their brains literally turn into snot and slime. The network is an influence, and even if a cleaner song about partying, such as “Blow,” is played on a television show – while the plot of the episode is to desperately scrounge for tokens that lead to a grand prize of a private Ke$ha concert – kids are still going to be interested in seeking out that music, leading them to find out the not-so-Nickelodeon version of their new found artist.

It made me think of all the times I had felt that time had stopped or never began while I was in Mississippi, and made me wonder if the state is a small representation of how ass-backwards the entire country is.

Johnny Vidacovich–taken from Nola.com

The Maple Leaf Bar was steamy and dense, and as the blue haze of cigarette smoke lingered in the air, Johnny Vidacovich stayed cool and contained behind his drum set, which sat sideways at the foot of the stage. His bucket hat signified his unfazed tranquility, and with his sticks dangling in the air, hovering over the cymbals, he looked ready to cast off into a small pond. In a way he did, because the audience was reeled in.

As one of New Orleans’s premier drummers, he has earned a weekly gig at the Maple Leaf on Thursday nights with his group The Trio. With the group’s usual bassist, George Porter Jr., absent from the evening’s performance, Vidacovich had a special line-up in guitarist Grant Green Jr., and B3 organist Ike Stubblefield.

Green sat on a bar stool with his lefty guitar in his lap and a cigarette burning in his mouth, while Stubblefield smirked behind his organ, his eyes hidden by sunglasses and the shady rim of a fading baseball cap. The group grooved together as Johnny V. kept a swift beat, with Green adding sparse comping underneath Stubblefield’s organ solo. It was typical music for typical licks, but the interaction between the players made the music fresh and interesting. Green took control of the impromptu jam with his syncopated accompaniments, emphasizing unusual beats, which Johnny V. would pick up on and incorporate into his own playing, tastefully dribbling on a cowbell, or splashing on a cymbal. Audience members were astounded by Johnny V.’s technique, drunkenly attempting to imitate the way he kept time on the cymbals and emphasized the beat on the snare.

Jimmy V. and his Bucket Hat–taken from tipitinas.com

When there’s a groove going down in New Orleans, dancing is a primal instinct, and the crowd grew lively and boisterous once Green slid in with the memorable guitar lick from Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning.” Johnny V. followed with a standard drum beat, as Stubblefield worked the bass pedals of his organ while lighting a cigarette. The eerie sound of the B3 then signaled for Green to begin singing in his low, raspy voice. They would play other crowd pleasers such as “Just My Imagination” and “Green Onions,” then later jam with a special guest, trombonist Ed Numeister.

But the culmination of the night was when Johnny V. played his catchy chant, “I Don’t Know.” It was one of the only songs that featured the drummer’s vocals, and he sang some deep lyrics to a funky beat. “Is it ice/Or is it water?” he belted out, followed by similar questions and observations. He summed up his thoughts by exclaiming, “Too many questions/but too many answers to be found,” then, following the swell of the cymbals, went back into the chorus.

The song ended and Johnny V. grabbed the microphone, pulling it so close that it buzzed as he spoke. “You are beautiful,” he said to the audience. “When you came, it sounded much better. Without you, this would be impossible.”

For some groups, having a weekly gig could become repetitive, but Johnny V. is not that way. He thrives on interaction, and with different players and different audiences each week he doesn’t get stale. Of all the things he may not know, what he does know is what to play and when to play it.

While walking through Loyola University’s Danna Center this afternoon, I stumbled upon this:

This was an interesting question, and one that produced a multitude of humorous answers–answers such as 2Pac, Kanye West, Whatever he wants to…he’s Jesus, and elevator music. I spoke with the man behind the board, Josh Harvey, who is a friend and campus director of Chi Alpha (a christian fellowship group) at Loyola. We talked about how gospel and artists like Kirk Franklin fit into this equation. He brought up a point that Jesus probably wouldn’t listen to gospel or contemporary christian music, asking “would you want to listen to music written about yourself?”

This made me curious.

I’d like to know what you guys think about that statement, and even if you’re not Christian, what do you think Jesus would be listening to if he were hanging out on Earth right now?

Also, I challenge you to identify which answer is mine.