There’s going to be a slight tangent tonight. Instead of my usual spiel about music and attempting to place it in some sort of musical metaphor, I’m going to talk about bits. More specifically, I’m going to talk about my favorite men (not a sexist term because this list is solely men) of comedy and hope benevolent editor Matt Coleman is cool with it.
3. My newest addition to this list, Daniel Tosh, wasn’t at all like I expected him to be. Having seen “Mind of Mencia” and “The Sarah Silverman Show,” it seemed to me that Tosh. O (and its host) would do what all the other Comedy Central shows had done: try so hard to be funny that they forget how to do it. But that isn’t the case at all. Tosh’s standup combines two of my favorite things: politically incorrect humor and witty observation. At no point can Tosh be considered politically correct because his comedy delves straight into the realm of insulting and yet, he doesn’t spit out insults for insults sake. His incorrect jokes are normally grounded in witty observation which is what makes them so damn funny.
2. Bill Hicks is a paradox, sort of like a warrior poet influenced by both the beautiful and brutal. On hand hand, Bill was one of the greatest political satirists of all time, looking at political topics, consumerism and culture through the most cynical of views. His ranting and raving as if his blood was boiling is stuff of legends. And yet his message, which emerges out of the flames, is the exact opposite of his act. Whereas his act is chaotic, almost violent, directed at things he views as violent, stupid and unauthentic, his message was one of compassion, lashing into such topics as war with such ferocity you might think he was fighting one. He espoused freedom from oppression, doing the right thing so I say that Bill Hicks was just as much a philosopher as comedian, his great treatises not bound volumes but comedy… with some dick jokes thrown in.
1. The funniest man I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, hands down, is George Carlin. Like Hicks, Carlin explored topics outside of the mainstream and critiqued things such as the political system, religion and corporations and yet whereas that is mostly what Hicks did, Carlin also provided witty observations on both language and psychology. But I can’t really explain just how funny this man is you will just have to see for yourself.
If you’re lost, just read the title. It’s short, sweet and right to the point about certain guys you don’t normally hear about and about guys that make me realize that there are heights that I can never reach as a guitarist, even if I played every hour of everyday for the rest of my life.
There’s a story that’s been lost in the annals of history. I don’t even believe it’s true but Phil Keaggy’s talent makes it remotely possible. The story goes that Hendrix asked what is was like to be the greatest guitarist in the world and said something to the tune of I don’t know-ask Phil Keaggy. The first time I ever heard Keaggy was when I was listening a Dispatch live album, and his skill and melodic lines just blew me away. Just wait until Keaggy plays (he’s the old guy in the video). I think it’s one of the sweetest sounding solos I have ever heard.
Nobody, NOBODY, plays like Andy McKee. The man can hold down a drum part on his guitar. I will repeat that. He makes the guitar into a bongo. And what makes it all the more incredible is that tapping on the body of the guitar doesn’t interfere with him doing things like fretting entire chords or playing a melody simply by tapping it out without a strum. Pretty great stuff.
Now the following video I think I first discovered as a “greatest guitarist ever” link and I was intrigued and while he may not go down the greatest guitarist ever the following song by John Butler alone should place him among the best. The dude taps out a rhythm and melody at the same time without missing a beat. The only thing that bothered me about the video is his nails, but you all can exhale, their fake because as you will see he just hits the strings so damn hard.
People of today, Lady Gaga isn’t the first one to push boundaries of what we are willing to accept from our stars in terms of eccentricity. Elton John started blazing trails of strange looking clothing, obnoxiously large earrings and oversized sunglasses back in the 70s, and his reign as a pop icon has lasted for more than four decades. Just to give you some perspective on how popular he is, here are some stats I find unbelievable. He’s sold more than 250 million albums, putting him in the same class as Elvis, the Beatles, Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones; those numbers helped by his seven straight number one albums in the US. Oh, in case you weren’t impressed enough, his tribute to Princess Dianna A Candle in the Wind, sold 33 million (THAT’S RIGHT 33 MILLION) copies. (To put that in perspective, it takes one million copies sold to make a record platinum certified and five million to make it diamond certified.) He’s still relevant too, check out Elton at the Grammys with Eminem.
They probably consider themselves a folk duo, but Simon and Garfunkel are pretty much everything a pop band should be. From the folk mold, they sampled acoustic instrumentation, simple harmonies and traditional song structure. But folk in many cases had become political (like Dylan) or attempted to emulate the common man by sounding like him (like Woodie Guthrie) or was rough around the edges (like Pete Seeger), yet Simon and Garfunkel inherited none of these characteristics. Their songs are finely polished and record not man at his most weary, but man at a stage of perfection, with graceful harmonies that are caressing enough to put a baby to sleep.
The pop music played on the radio years ago wasn’t as bad as today. Turn on your average, everyday pop station and you’ll hear Lady Gaga, Lil Wayne and Bruno Mars multiple times per hour. Like K$sha? Me neither. But she’s still played 42 times a day like she has some sort of deal with the devil and I’m not talking about the good kind, like a Robert Johnson or Led Zeppelin type deal, but one that someone talentless would make, say Vanilla Ice, to stay relevant. Well, maybe I just have an over romanticized vision of the whole thing but at one point real musicians ruled the airwaves. Sure, not all pop acts were great (cough Barry Manilow, cough), but enough to make me reminisce of days long before I was alive where driving in a car didn’t require satellites or an iPod cable to get cool tunes.
The Beatles were the ultimate pop band and while their later albums added to this sound, they never really lost their pop sensibilities upon breaking up. Paul McCartney went on to form Paul McCartney and Wings famous for such songs as “Maybe I’m Amazed” and my personal favorite, “Band on the Run”. George Harrison development as a songwriter continued with the sound he developed in the later Beatles albums (compare “Here Comes the Sun” and “My Sweet Lord”). You can’t forget John Lennon who came out with almost a prayer for peace with his seminal work, “Imagine”. I really feel bad about being like everyone else and leaving out Ringo but then again, I can’t really pick any of his music out by name.
I didn’t realize how long this article would become so stay tuned for some non-Bealtes pop music from back in the day in a future post.
I know that I’ve not always held indie music in the highest regard simply because it’s indie. Indie means deviation from the norm, something different then what I’m used to and that doesn’t always entice me. However, indie is how pop should really sound. It’s not even worth apologizing to Lady Gaga or Katy Perry because let’s face it, your music is called pop because there is no “bad music category.” As catchy as pop music sounds and as much as I may kid about the artists that produce such noise, there are certainly bands that get the short end of the stick when it comes to radio play and popularity.
In the movie Garden State, Natalie Portman turns to Zack Braff and says a certain song will change a certain someone’s life and while I can’t claim such transcendence from The Shin‘s “New Slang,” I can claim a restored faith in pop music. The Shins finely craft melodies and catchy hooks without losing the thing that separates them from mainstream artsits. Katy Perry talks about California Girls in bikinis and Lady Gaga says we are all born special, yet the Shins leave their lyrics open to interpretation as they talk in metaphors and speak without judgment or expectation. My first Shins album, Chutes Too Narrow, was given to me in high school and I listen to it to this day because no two songs sound the same or deliver the same message.
I also love the band Vampire Weekend. Just like The Shins, they have an unconventional musical and lyrical style. Musically, lead singer Ezra Koenig’s voice’s tone is not only unconventional, but also just plain different and the band incorporates such diverse elements as African rhythms into pop songs. And yet, the band always makes sure to add pop hooks to such an eclectic mix that their music always comes out surprisingly catchy and lyrically engaging to merit another listen and another listen after that.