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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.

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.

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.

taken from Popsugar

During the 2012 Grammy Awards, host LL Cool J channeled his inner theorist and asked the world a crucial question: “How do we speak to this time?” As Jacques Attali states in his book, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, “Music is prophecy,” and it forces the question: Do the Grammys speak for us and our generation?

The Grammy Awards ceremony pretends that it represents and appreciates the musical world, but there seems to be a central motive behind the awards show. By picking a handful of music’s most popular – or “hip” – artists, nominating them in the same categories, having them perform, and then continuously playing their music throughout the show – and in a slew of Target commercials – the Grammys are using repetition to clutter our brains, silence us, and ultimately sell us the same product packaged in a different cellophane wrapper.

What is problematic, is that the current generation is content with this repetition. Music’s role has changed; it no longer has power. Since what sells ultimately controls what the masses hear, it is impossible for musicians to “speak to this time.” In Noise, Attali quotes Gianfranco Sanguinetti, stating that “capitalism has become ‘a terrorism tempered by well-being, the well-being of each in his place,’” which questions whether capitalism is threatening our freedom.

Adele sheepishly accepting a Grammy–taken from Hello Magazine

Pop singer Adele, who won six Grammys, including Album of the Year, is being looked at as the new voice of this generation. Perhaps she deserves it. She sings well, she doesn’t use any stunts or gimmicks during her performances, and she’s down to earth and personable. However, it is unfortunate that she is only another product of repetition. During the 60 Minutes interview that preceded the Grammys, Anderson Cooper explained that Adele experiences “near crippling stage fright.” She fears that she will ruin her fans’ love for her songs by performing them live. The pressure to deliver and present herself in the way she is perceived is overwhelming, and it forces her to execute repetitive performances – ones that live up to the album.

Furthermore, it seems we are being silenced by the presence of Adele, along with other Grammy winning (supported) artists, such as Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga. The reason they were part of that exclusive handful of artists that the Grammys constantly transmitted to the viewer’s eyes and ears, was because they were the best selling and most popular artists of the year. First, listeners are made to believe that these are the only artists of importance, and secondly, when Target is selling all (only) of the Grammy winning/nominated albums in its stores, listeners are made to believe that this is all that exists. There were seventy-eight Grammys awarded in all, but only nine were awarded on television. Groups like the Christian McBride Big Band get the recognition and honor of a Grammy, though they don’t receive the exposure that the Grammys potentially offer, as they do for Adele and the others. But since the Christian McBride Big Band doesn’t have t-shirts available at Target, they are kept hidden away from the public; the consumers. This does threaten our freedom, because it is narrowing the spectrum of what is available to the masses, therefore keeping them immobile, zombified, and at Target.

Obey Target–taken from Cleverly Simple

The Grammy Awards is not only speaking for “this time,” it is spoon-feeding, bathing, and wiping it. It is an advertisement under the guise of a music awards show. By presenting the masses with a list of “best artists” and “best albums” of the year, which are conveniently available at Target, the Recording Academy is brainwashing the listeners. Musicians are incapable of speaking to “this time,” because no one is listening – or the the musician is cut off.

taken from Sheffield Doc Fest

“Music is prophecy,” says Jacques Attali, in his book Noise: The Political Economy of Music. “Our music foretells our future. Let us lend it an ear.”

* * *

A history teacher of mine once told me that “it was those damn Beatles that ruined America.” Although he was joking, there was no doubt that he was, in many ways, correct. The Beatles weren’t intentionally creating subversive music, and their goal wasn’t to push forward drug culture or the sexual revolution–no one could be that ambitious. But with the angst broiling under the seemingly genuine “Leave it to Beaver” mentality that lingered from the 50’s, and John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s impulse to push rock music to its limits with every album, the country had no choice but to crumble within its ideals and push the limits themselves.

In the U.S.S.R., however, it was different. The Beatles were not permitted to play in Mother Russia, their records were banned, and the group essentially became a modern legend for the youth of Russia. In the A&E documentary, Paul McCartney in Red Square, viewers are shown Russia’s excitement of having a Beatle visiting their country for the first time, nearly forty years after Beatlemania. Within that documentary, author and former director of the Salzburg Global Seminar, Timothy Ryback provided an explanation as to why the Beatles were forbidden:

Marxism, Leninism–the very foundation for the Soviet system–said that the economic structure, the basis of a society, affected what he called the “super structure”–which is everything: religion, music, the way people think. And there was something called the dialectical relationship, which meant the way people thought affected the way the economy functioned, and the way the economy functioned affected the way people thought, and therefore you needed censorship to control the system.

X-Ray Record–taken from Liverpool Echo

Ryback essentially explained that the Beatles were a major threat to the super structure, and when one effected the super structure, it would bring about change. It can also be assumed that when something is not permitted, the people will crave it more.

Eventually, the Russians figured out ways to distribute the Beatles’ music. According to Leslie Woodhead’s article, “How the Beatles Rocked the Eastern Bloc,” “Beatles tracks [were] copied from illicit tape recordings and inscribed on to old x-ray plates.”

Russian music critic Artemy Troitsky, in the same A&E Documentary, explained that “the Beatles started a whole, huge movement in the Soviet Union.” He went on to further say that the movement “involved millions of young people” who still “lived in the Soviet Union in their body, but mentally and spiritually they were somewhere else.” The foreboding prophecy that the Soviet Union would soon collapse began to loom over the Motherland’s head.

For one group to influence an entire generation to seek beyond the limits, within a country that held an iron shield over itself, is hard to fathom. But it brings up the question, what will today’s music foretell?

In a time where hardly anything makes the Western world blush, I don’t believe music has the power it once had. Simon Reynolds sums it up well in his article “Noise,” writing that:

The problem is that, with any drug or intoxicant, tolerance builds up rapidly. . . As the barriers in the head get broken down, the noise buff becomes kind of a hip vegetable, by a process that paradoxically combines both brutalization and weakening. To be shocked requires that the individual be immersed to some degree in a culture or value system. But noise hipsters have uprooted themselves so successfully from their parent culture, they can cope with absurd levels of outrage/dissonance, and therefore require extreme after extreme in order to feel stimulated/mindblown. Burnout approaches.

Has too much noise been created? Is it possible that society is burned out?

taken from LemonNinja at deviantart.com

Some nights I’m awakened by a cringing sound that churns through the walls of my bedroom. When I slip out of bed to languidly follow the sound that is reverberating throughout my living space, I end up in the bathroom, and within the shower walls remains the incessant chugging and slamming. It sounds as if someone has thrown a metal rod into a gear system–a major disruption. The sound eventually stops and I crawl back into bed and it’s silent, though the brightness from the bathroom light and the foreboding clatter of the shower always leaves me awake and staring at the ceiling.

My shower, which is on the verge of eruption, could be classified as noise. Simon Reynolds, in his essay “Noise,” might agree, since he claims that the term is “best defined as interference, something which blocks transmission, jams the code, prevents sense being made.” Within music, listeners divide noise from the sound spectrum as music’s opposite, but there is a fine line between the two, and Reynolds’ definition creates a different idea for what constitutes music, and opens up a whole new range of possibilities for what music can be.

However, definitions have never stopped artists from pushing the limits.

John Zorn is one artist who has never known limitations. In his group Naked City, he created a plethora of sounds derived from a combination of influences in jazz, punk, rock, grind core, blues, and funk, among other styles. Seeing that music these days is judged based off of adaptability to certain situations, such as driving, exercising, partying, or making love–or all at the same time if one were so bold–I would assume that Naked City, perhaps, is not ideal listening material, and can be categorized as noise.

I will not deny that the song “Hammerhead” is noise; however, it is constructed noise. Zorn and the rest of the members of the group created these sounds together, and the song has order to it; it is a cohesive piece.

In modern, colloquial language, noise may be considered displeasing to the ear, but it does not make it any less musical. Music itself is a collection of carefully controlled noises. Some musicians follow the rules to create beauty and harmony–and to have hit records–while others, like Zorn, bend the rules to explore new possibilities. This does not mean that following the rules of harmony to create pleasant compositions inhibits one’s creativity, but that exploring outrageous ways of creating music allows the composer and the listener to understand what is possible within the limitations.

The annoying rumble of my bathroom shower is something no one can control. It involuntarily starts its chugging and slamming, and creates unorganized sounds. That, to me, is noise. But when I think about it, the garbage cans out on the curb also make a lot of annoying sounds in the distance. People knock them over, or crash into them with their bicycles, or sometimes there is a trashcan medley coming down the street as the garbage men make the rounds.

Whoever thought the crackling sound of trashcan lids could be music?