Archive | October, 2013

The World Will Miss You, Lou

28 Oct

Lou Reed

“There’s only X amount of time. You can do whatever you want with that time. It’s your time.” — Lou Reed

I was watching TV around a week ago when I heard the instrumentation of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” in a Playstation 4 advertisement. In it, two friends take on different competitive video game roles and sing the song to each other. Considering that the deceptively complex song is most likely about some combination of Reed’s sexuality and drug use, I found it funny that it was used in a commercial about mindless simulation. A week later, Reed is dead, and I am here writing a post I do not want to write. Seventy-one years fit the variable in Reed’s apt quotation, and, while the years seem cut off too soon, Reed once stated that he always believed he had something important to say, and there is absolutely no doubt that he said it.

Without Lou Reed, music is radically different. The underground New York rock scene of the 1960s – an extension of the crafty Beat generation – was instrumental in dynamically changing the face of music as an art form, and Reed had perhaps the grandest impact on this. One of the main reasons behind this shift was Reed’s uncensored lyrics. His sobsersided voice crooned about unconventional topics like heroin, drug dealers, withdrawal, and sex. While some musicians in the mid-1960s hid these elements under cheeky metaphor and symbolism, Reed just came out and said it. The Velvet Underground’s debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, saw barely any commercial success, but is now considered one of the greatest albums of all time. Reed, who wrote all of the songs (by himself or with other bandmates), scripted songs that still penetrate listeners like the cold tip of a needle. “Heroin,” for example, features lyrics like:

‘Cause when the smack begins to flow 
Then I really don’t care anymore 
Ah, when the heroin is in my blood 
And that blood is in my head 
Then thank God that I’m as good as dead 
Then thank your God that I’m not aware 
And thank God that I just don’t care

Lyrics like these were unheard of. Reed was the unmitigated voice of a popular underground of perpetual drug users, prostitutes, and eccentric virtuosos. The album, aptly recorded during Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable tour, was a work sticky with Warhol’s artful experimentation (including the iconic album cover) and, despite its small initial draw, was so inspirational that Brian Eno once famously proclaimed that of the 30,000 albums sold, 30,000 bands were created. Quite simply, Reed and his bandmates (especially viola player John Cale) were almost fatidic – like musical Nostradamus.’ They bent conventions and complacency and engendered the youth to rise up and talk openly about topics that were affecting them. It should come to no surprise to anyone that Punk aficionados consider Reed to be a Godfather figure.

Not enough can be made of Reed’s impact and intelligence. He was a rare breed of musician – a transformer. He shook away common conventions and formed his own music to tackle his own personal feelings and demons. His religion was rock ‘n’ roll and guitar, as he said, and he was damn good at it. And while Reed was the first to admit that everything happens for a reason and when it’s your time it’s your time, it still is very hard to say goodbye to a musical legend like Reed. His music will forever live  with every clandestine artist, closeted individual, and so-called misfits, helping those in consternation understand that the only people who have issues are those who spew hate.  He opened up a safe, artistic community for everyone living in the “underground.” So … while there may be no consensus on what “Perfect Day” is explicitly about, I will reach to the lyrics “you just keep me hanging on” and hold on to Lou Reed as a musical inspiration. The world will miss you. I hope you are enjoying your walk on the wild side.

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The Music Court iPod Shuffle – “Bike” by Pink Floyd

26 Oct

Pink_Floyd_Bike

Have you ever wondered how the Music Court comes up with its vast variety of content? Are you saying the blog does not have diverse content? Who are you invisible, detached voice and why must you always negate me! Ok, I’ll stop my idiocy, but it is apt that I get into a disturbed state of mind prior to discussing Pink Floyd … usually. I emphasize usually because today we will be discussing “Bike,” which despite its unique oddness is a childish piece that is purposely humorous because of its psychedelic simplicity. Oh … and the answer to the somewhat haughty initial question is songs in our head and, today, as the title of this post suggests, a shuffled iPod.

“Bike” was written and recorded during the greatest year of rock ‘n’ roll in the history of ever – 1967. Argue with me all you want, but 1967 has the insuperable crown. It will forever reign as rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest year unless we have another musical renaissance, which doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon.

Syd Barrett, the lead vocalist, guitarist, and primary songwriter of Pink Floyd prior to his forced departure from the band in 1968, may have very well been a tortured soul with mental illness ranging from schizophrenia to a cognitive disorder like autism, but “Bike” does not maintain that disturbed flavor. It is psychedelic. There is no question about that. The song is driven by eccentric percussion transitions (gun shots?), an oscillating theremin, and an eerie piano that sounds like it is right out of an ironic horror movie. But the tortured Syd Barrett who inspired almost all of Roger Waters’ songwriting for some time (“Brain Damage,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,”etc.) does not permeate through this piece … which is a purposely childish love song.

Less than two minutes of utter goodness. The song was actually written for Barrett’s girlfriend at the time. Yes, “Bike” was written for a girl … the song with the line, “I know a mouse, and he hasn’t got a house.  I don’t know why. I call him Gerald. He’s getting rather old, but he’s a good mouse.” What? Can’t you feel the love? Come on! This or “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees? Your choice.

Barrett wrote this song like a child because it is supposed to be a child’s love song. Think about it. The lyrics are utterly random, but the chorus constantly repeats “You’re the kind of girl that fits in with my world. I’ll give you anything, ev’rything if you want things.” Barrett takes on his inner elementary school child and writes a hilarious love song for a first crush. It’s almost genius if you think about it.

By the way, tell me the video above is not hilarious. So … now that you have this love song stuck in your head for the rest of your Saturday, go find a bike and ride it if you’d like, but remember I can’t give it to you because I borrowed it.

Nostalgia

25 Oct

Music is very effective at conjuring up memories; however some songs go further and deliberately evoke nostalgia. It is a powerful emotion than only becomes stronger the older you grow.

An obvious classic is Don McLean’s American Pie. It doesn’t just hark back to better times but a specific day – The Day the Music Died when Buddy Holly and several other musicians were killed in a plane crash. Parts of the song are autobiographical, recounting how he heard about their deaths while delivering newspapers. Writing the song helped McLean come to terms with his grief. From the first line (“A long, long time ago… I can still remember how that music used to make me smile…”), the song is drenched in painful longing for things that have passed. Coincidentally (or not), it has become one of the most played funeral songs. Feel free to spend eight and a half minutes remembering what a great song it is.

Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams is another obvious choice. It may not have the lyrical depth of American Pie, but instead hits the listener with an emotional one-two about a summer of discovering music and adolescent romance. If you’ve ever had a childhood sweetheart, it will be hard not to picture them while listening to this song.

In a record all about looking back on growing up, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs hits the nail right on the head. It begins with a childhood tale and then proceeds to hammer it home. Win Butler admits every time he thinks he has ‘moved past’ feelings for his childhood home, they catch him again. As if that wasn’t enough, the band worked with Google to create an interactive music video that makes it even more personal, meshing ‘We Used to Wait’ with photos of your childhood home. You can find it here. Prepare the tissues if you watch it.

Gaslight Anthem also trades heavily in nostalgia. All of their songs are told in past tense, telling stories of lost loves and better times. The whole of American Slang could be on this list. One that hits especially hard is their early song Navesink Banks. In it, the narrator walks down by the decaying New Jersey shipyards near his childhood home and says wishfully, “Ah Maria, if you’d have known me then…” In reply, Maria just says, ‘Listen baby, I know you know.’ It’s a powerful moment that says there’s a place for nostalgia, but you have to live in the moment.

Hip hop hasn’t been as quick to embrace nostalgia is it’s a younger genre. Nas’s Memory Lane is noted for its realistic depiction of life in the projects. In the first verse, Nas waxes lyrical about the good parts of growing up, yet after the chorus he is suddenly consumed by memories of lives that had been lost to drugs, prison and street fights. There are no rose tinted memories. His memory lane is gritty and unforgiving, yet he finds himself reminiscing about it anyway.

Classical Davide – Acoustic Guitar for the Soul

22 Oct

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When I was younger I wanted to be a guitar-wielding, vocal powerhouse rock star. After a few fledgling attempts at musical production with impromptu rock bands, I realized that my dream was limited to the occasional, recreational strumming of an acoustic guitar.

Turn on the radio today, and toggle through the stations. You are bound to find variations of rock and pop. That should come to no surprise to anyone. I dreamed of pop/rock stardom, and I did so because that was what was cool. I was a musical conformist, and although at 14 years old I turned my attention to 60s and 70s rock, I was still focused on rock dreams.

Davide Rigodanzo is not, and that is what makes this 14-year-old fingerstyle guitarist so special. A self-taught guitarist who started playing the guitar when he was 11 years old, he has aspirations different from your normal 14-year-old music lover. Davide, a spitting image of Justin Bieber, represents keen maturity and a perspicacious appreciation of the acoustic guitar and music itself. I’ll leave you to read some of Davide’s words.

“My preferred style is fingerpicking. It is not simple to learn, but I think that this style meets the possibility to have an accompaniment (with finger) + a principal sound more emphasized with the pick.”

You don’t hear many 14-year-old aspiring musicians talking like that. As a music lover, I have much respect for those who play the acoustic guitar well. The instrument has been slightly perverted by pop simplicity – a few chords and voila, a chart-bursting hit. I am endeared to those who actually know how to pick notes and extract emotion from an acoustic guitar so it oozes out in smooth sound. Davide is able to do that.

He even gets the slaps and mutes right! Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. “Wonderful Tonight” is my favorite Eric Clapton song. Davide performs it with sophistication and feeling. The sound is crisp, and Davide strikes each note with intensity. He demonstrates a true sagacity in his ability to not drown the sound by playing too quickly or let the sound echo too often. It’s a wonderful mixture.

I’m happy to introduce Davide to the Music Court readership. It isn’t everyday I am contacted by a classical guitarist, especially one who is 14 years old. We should all take a page out of Davide’s playbook. Don’t simply pursue something because it is perceived to be chic or profitable. Do what you love!

Best Fall Song – “Indian Summer” by The Doors

4 Oct

The Doors

There is nothing quite like the long drawl of hazy hot day in New York … in October. I wore a pair of blue jeans today, and my legs felt like they were covered in heating pads. I’m certainly not complaining, as inevitably the icy grasp of winter will soon chill the air and my steering wheel, but I do find weather’s mercurial nature odd. Since many others do as well, there is a term to describe a string of days like the one New York experienced today: Indian Summer.

In my brief search for best Fall song, I noticed that there are not many great Fall songs. Summer and Winter – the two polar extremes – dominate the music landscape. But seasonal songs are popular, and Fall does have a few good ones. I listed some in the poll and have chosen one from that list as my personal favorite Fall song, which, as the above paragraph suggests, is “Indian Summer” by The Doors, a subdued track off of the 1970 album, Morrison Hotel. 

The song, like many songs by the Doors, is strange – much like a patch of Indian Summer. The lyric is punctuated by Jim Morrison’s sensual – almost uncomfortable – voice. It’s soothing in a creepy way. Typical Morrison! He sings:

I love you the best
Better than all the rest.
I love you the best
Better than all the rest.
That I meet in the summer.
Indian Summer.
That I meet in the summer.
Indian Summer.
I love you the best
Better than all the rest.

“Indian Summer” has the feel of a song that can drag on forever. It is hypnotizing. It has the feel of a hypnopompic hallucination. The skilled percussion, plucked guitar, and understated keyboard wakes me up, but Morrison’s voice maintains a lulling quality. In that way, it is almost mystical and ethereal. It is metaphor for an Indian Summer – hazy, drowsy, and unexpected. Excellent stuff.

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