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An Ode to A Dreamer

10 Oct

This post isn’t really going to be music related but it is something I want to get off my chest.

I’m going to confess something.  I’ve never owned a Macintosh, a Mac Pro desktop, or the slim and elegant Macbook Air. I’ve not even owned the powerful Macbook Pro.  I’ve never owned a Shuffle or an iTouch, not even an iPhone numbered one thru 4s.  In 21 years the only reason why I can’t say I’ve never owned an apple product is the iPod that I’m currently listening to, which by now is from the technological Stone Age (it doesn’t even have a touch screen!).  But sitting here, writing on a machine that I bought in lieu of Mr. Jobs’ lineup of a Mac laptop, he still has done me a great service that I can only repay by sharing.

I’m not here to tell you the impact that Steve Jobs had on the computer industry or that his dream of a personal computer is a major reason I, as a young kid, had a personal computer in my house.  Someone would have eventually gotten the idea, hell someone probably even had the idea before Mr. Jobs, but it was Apple at the forefront of the computer revolution that allows me to write this sitting at my desk in my home.  You don’t need me to say that Jobs’ impact as head of Apple revolutionized cell communications with the iPhone and that his iPad tablet is changing the way companies can do business and students such as myself can take notes, share them and stay wired to the rest of the world with a tablet.   I wanted to toot his horn just in case you weren’t sure how important he was and still is, not just in the world of computers, but also in that everlasting quest for technological perfection. As Jobs’ life and work become his legacy, I wanted to share what Jobs’ conquests meant to me: that the dreamers haven’t quite lost yet.

Apple wasn’t started by a man with a fancy college degree, but a college dropout who audited classes while sleeping on friends’ floors and returning cans for money.  Jobs’ aspiration wasn’t to be a businessman and Apple wasn’t created simply to make money.  The company’s modest beginnings in a garage so sharply contrast with its current success and this paints such a strong rag to riches dream that it’s founding mission sometimes gets obscured. This, though, is what resonates with me the most.

It gets hard nowadays to recognize that not everything Jobs touched turned to gold and that many of his works were financial failures.  It took a legend to remind me of something that I had long forgotten, that the path to success does not start with a college degree, nor end with the lack of one, but dreaming and that success itself is not defined by financial reward, but by making your fantasy reality.  Despite the stress in academia to stay grounded and to be realistic, Jobs reminded me that being grounded is just a state of mind and that unrealistic dreams are only those you don’t have the passion to see through to completion.  The grind of everyday life made me forget that I must limit the size of my dreams only to the limit of my personal ambition, that the path I choose must be my own and that success will come regardless of how others measure my success but I won’t forget ever again.

Remember When…?

5 Oct

Remember when the macarena was the dance to do?  Or how about when you could turn on the TV and watch new episodes of Seinfeld or Friends or could scream about how terrible The Phantom Menace was and still be considered relevant.  Yes people, I’m talking about the music in the 90s and I don’t mean Brittney or Christina, ‘NSync or the Backstreet Boys (pre-coming out of the closet) or even the Tupac/Biggie feud.  I’m glorifying these bands of the 90s to help create a musical legacy that isn’t just gangsta rap posturing, soulless pop or teen idol emptiness.

I’m going to start off with probably the nerdiest  band of the past two decades: Weezer.  Pick a color either blue, green or red and you’ve picked a great album. Listening to Weezer is sort of like being shot into an alternate universe where your angst isn’t particularly angsty and it doesn’t hurt because you yourself can trivialize it to the point of hilarity.  In that alternate reality though, all memory of Buddy Holly and Mary Tyler Moore are preserved so you don’t need much else.

Now I would be remiss to talk about 90s music without mentioning the great grunge movement of long greasy hair, angry angst, unwanted popularity and battles against commercial success.  My favorite band from this lovely genre is Pearl Jam, whose battles against their own popularity included taking on ticketmaster and refusing to release one of their most popular songs as a single.  That being said, Pearl Jam could both rock (on Even Flow) and ballad (on Better Man) and are one of the still relevant grunge acts of the 90s.

In a totally different universe from pretty much anything else I listen to lies Rage Against the Machine.  Built primarily on testosterone and pedal effects, Rage built up a following because their anger was directed not at themselves or evil heart breaking harpies but at the unseen forces that control our political and economic landscapes.  Switch out Rage frontman for Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell and you get Audioslave which I confess is not a 90s band but draws heavily from grunge music and is definitely worth a listen.

Folk the World

4 Oct

In sitting down and thinking of folk artists I really like, it became apparent to me that folk is the red-headed stepchild everyone loves to criticize, but secretly enjoys.  Very few artists are “folk.”  James Taylor was clearly a folkie underneath his porous shield of vulnerability, yet he’s considered a singer/songwriter.  The Byrds, The Band and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young all were examples of bands that took folk roots (such as multi-part harmonies and 12 string acoustic guitars) and branched out into a more traditional rock sound and Johnny Cash first and foremost was country.  But I am here to glorify some guys that, although they may dabble in other genres, are folk through and through.

Bob Dylan is the most important single person in music since the 60s.  Period.  The Beatles may have been more popular, the Stones had more swag and Zeppelin was more talented, but as an individual no one influenced music more than Dylan.  On one hand, he was a traditional folk singer, a common man against the world as he became a leader of the counterculture movement with such songs as “Blowing in the Wind” and “The Times They are A Changin”.  Upon seeing just just how wild the Beatles could make the ladies, he went electric and spawned folk rock.  Even later, Dylan borrowed the use of the 12 string guitar and helped to create yet another genre, country rock.  That being said, Dylan remains a folk icon. (The video below is included just because it’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen).

Going in a whole new direction, Mumford and Sons are a folk band and one of my favorite bands of the past year or two.  You may have just heard the name or maybe listened to “Little Lion Man” on the radio but I’m here to tell you to listen to more.  The band has a unique lineup. Lead singer Marcus Mumford usually plays acoustic guitar, singing and also doing percussion with a kick drum (Letterman joked that they would take the money from going on his show to buy a real drummer) and the band also includes a banjo, stand up bass and a keyboardist.  However, they still do change things up a bit as someone will sometimes get on the drumkit and the electric bass will occasionally make an appearance and in the following video, the electric banjo becomes something of an electric guitar.

What a Long, Strange Trip it’s Been: Journeying with Jam Bands

29 Sep

Jam bands are special to me.  Any music I listen to, I try to find a live version.  There’s something about knowing a band can recreate their music and actually seeing a band perform that’s so exciting.  My favorite part about Jam Bands is that each and every night they create, for one fleeting moment, music that will never again exist in the same form.

Nothing says jam band like playing over three thousand shows, but never in the same way for the same set list, and the granddaddy of them all never played the same show twice.  Go to The Live Music Archive (a great website for getting free live shows for hundreds of bands) to listen just a few thousand of the Dead shows they offer.  Born from the psychedelic movement in San Fransisco during the 1960’s, the Grateful Dead created flowing jams that fused their psychedelic core with folk, blues, jazz and other American roots music.  Listening to the Dead, while always enjoyable, can be best described by the men themselves, “What a long strange trip its been.”

If you think record sales and radio airplay indicate popularity, you’ve never been to Dave Matthews Band concert.  I just was watching my sister’s Dave videos from the postponed Governor’s Island shows and it was nuts just how crazy the crowds were, not to mention the band was as good as ever.  The diverse instrumentation (electric violin, acoustic and electric guitars, and a horns section) coupled with Dave’s crazy personality and always fascinating lyrics makes this band one of my favorites.

There’s no I in team, but there is an I in Dispatch, which is weird because they’re the ultimate team.  Most songs feature all three members singing, with each one singing lead at different points and all three switching instruments like it’s their job (which it is of course).  In addition to singing harmonies, all three individuals play guitar, bass and some type of percussion.  Their most popular song is “The General,” but all the songs they play live are really good, especially the following entitled Mission.

Better Not Let Him In: Singer Songwriters

27 Sep

Mentioning singer songwriters conjures images of a single player sitting down behind a piano or strumming an acoustic guitar.  I think of James Taylor singing “Fire and Rain” or Jackson Browne on “These Days” or even Ray Charles behind his piano on “Georgia on My Mind“.  Often stripped down to barest bones, deeply personal and even slightly narcissistic, traditional singer songwriters seemed to be one man (or woman) bands.  But let’s say you’re in the mood for some singer songwriters that bring some more instrumentation to the table.  Well prepare to be amazed.

Sometimes it’s hard to separate where Bruce Springsteen ends and his E Street band begin.  Sure there was that one forgettable period in the 90s when Springsteen disbanded the group to try it solo, but it seems like that period is in the past.  Listen to Born to Run and learn why Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is an American institution.

If you really want an in depth look at Warren Zevon, I’m not the one to give it.  I’ve only be listening to the guy for less than a week.  But the guy has impressive singer songwriter chops.  Like really impressive because not only does he get up close and personal (in Don’t Let Us Get Sick), but also he has a sense of humor.

Here’s a guy who I wasn’t sure where to put.  Jeff Buckley’s music certainly contains elements of, for lack of a better term,  singer songerwriter-ness. That being said, he doesn’t really fit into folk or any other category for that matter.  His only album before his untimely death, Grace, was a masterpiece, including the best version of the classic Hallelujah ever  but I’m going to go with his “Lover You Should Have Come Over” to showcase Buckley’s own songwriting talents.

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