Month: January 2014

Pete Seeger

My grandmother died recently.  People told me different variations of “I’m really sorry to hear that” but I wasn’t sad.  She’d been ill with dementia and various physical ailments for years.  I was kind of happy for her that she was gone.  I would never want to go through that at the end of my life.  She deserved some peace.

For the same reason, I look at a guy like Pete Seeger and I’m kind of happy for him too.  I read somewhere that there was an Ancient Greek proverb “Do not say a man is happy until he is dead”.  Which allegedly meant that Greeks considered their life a work of art and that until your life was over you couldn’t say how it would turn out.  I always took it to mean something more like- you never know what kind of awful things the gods are going to throw at you, so be happy if you die before they do it.  I could be wrong.

Anyway, I look at Pete and see a man who was in touch with who he was and what he wanted to do in life.  And actually managed to do what he wanted to do, unlike the rest of us.  He lived to 94, and only outlived his wife by a year or so.  What more can you ask for?

Being born to ex-hippie(ish) parents, I heard a good deal of folk music growing up.  Woody Guthrie, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Byrds, Bob Dylan and, when my dad was feeling down, Joan Baez.  I can’t remember if they had a Pete Seeger record, but obviously his influence was all through the above singers (except Woody, who obviously influenced him).  Even probably in that damn John Denver tape my mom used to play on every family vacation.

Like Bob Dylan, I find Pete’s voice a little grating.  I can’t help it, I do.  But Pete could write beautiful tunes.

Even though I heard a lot of it growing up, I feel like old folk music, like old country, was just waiting for me to reach the age where I could discover it.  And when I did there was this enormous, magical songbook of great music I could lose myself in.  Folk music is the basis for music today- all the big simple melodies, the songs about everyday things- those come from folk.  From blues, from country, from jazz too, but you can hear the sounds of modern pop in the way folk writers made their songs.  Music was just waiting for The Beatles to come along, put a big bow on it and present it to the world.

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Random Thoughts

I didn’t watch the Grammy’s.  I don’t really care.  I had my own thoughts on what music was good last year, but I’m pretty sure I covered them all here.  Far more important to me is San Diego City Beat‘s annual Demo Review issue.  The last time we were included Myspace was still a thing.  Not because it’s hard to be included, we just haven’t recorded anything since 2009 or so.  Back then the reviews were famously harsh and for the week afterwards people were on Myspace high-fiving each other or, sadly, consoling each other over their reviews.  Our review wasn’t glowing, but it was positive, so we felt pretty good.  Hopefully we do well this year.  It’s not going to make a career for any of us, but it might help us get some better gigs.

Speaking of gigs we’ve been quiet since we kicked out our keyboard player in October.  Even though hardly anyone who might read this knows me personally I’d rather not go into why, unless you want to buy me a beer or two, in which case I will blab.  It wasn’t a fun thing to do, but it had to be done.  We’ve got a couple shows coming up in February so we’ll be back on track.

….

We have spent the last week or so moving to a new apartment.  It’s only a few blocks from our old place, which means rather than getting it done in one day, we’ve pretty much dragged it out because there’s no rush.  It’s going to be a slightly longer walk to work though.

I like walking to work, sort of.  While I love Southern California, I have some complaints about it.  At the top of my list is how hard they make it for people to walk anywhere.  And it’s not just the distance.  I have to walk along a six lane street to get to work.  SIX!  In the rest of the world that’s a freeway.  It’s got sidewalks, but that’s not enough.  It’s also got huge edges that have limited parking, and it meanders along instead of being on right angles, which means people drive FAST.

Despite the fact that it’s very unlikely that a car will come off the street and hit me, there’s just something deep in my lizard brain that does not like seeing a car headed straight for me at 55 miles per hour.  I know they’re turning.  But I can’t relax.  It’s not a fun stroll.  And every now and then, like this morning, someone on a bike will yell from behind “BIKE, BEHIND YOU!”  I understand the cyclists- if I were them I wouldn’t go onto that death road either*.  But I’m walking along with my nerves wracked, the road is too loud to listen to soothing music and now some dude behind me is yelling and might run me over.  It’s just too much.  Stresses me out.

*Not on the road I walk on, but on a similar road a few blocks away, I kid you not, I saw a man riding a bike, no helmet, no hands, texting on a fucking IPhone, cars whizzing past.  You only get one life people!

Ending a song!

Unlike epic beginnings, ending a song is pretty damn easy.  I’m not at all well-versed in musical theory, but to give you the basic understanding as I understand it most of western pop music based on the diatonic scale.   True story, I have been using that scale for years without even knowing what it was called until I just looked it up a minute ago.  Blues and early rock and roll uses a five note scale, but the principle is pretty much the same.

For the purposes of understanding each other, musicians will tell each other which scale a song is in based on the note that the scale starts with.  This narrows down the notes we are able to play, and, in theory, if we stay in that scale, even if we hit the wrong note sometimes, we’ll sound at least not terrible.  That note is usually where you want to end the song, because that’s just what sounds right.  Why?  That’s what your ears are trained to hear by every song you listen to.  Beyond that I can’t explain.

Basically if you end on the starting note of the scale you’re using there is no real way to screw up the ending besides having your band not pay attention to each other and end at different times.

The Ramones She’s the One

Which makes it unnerving when a song doesn’t end on the note you’re expecting.  This song is my favorite example:

Cream Badge

I really like this song, but the ending is kind of off-putting and tense.  But the whole song has an odd tension to it and I suspect that’s the way the writers intended it.

But other than ending on an odd note, there’s the classic hack producer ending, also known as the fade out-

Slade Gudbuy T’Jane

This makes the listener keep repeating the chorus in their head after the song is over.  It’s cheesy, but I’ve used it.

A few people have improved/modified this by adding little extras at the end, like this

Tupac Can’t C Me

Tupac often used the end of his songs as mini-jam sessions.  Or in the case of his legendary diss song Hit Em Up- as time to tell East Coast rappers what he really felt about them, in case they didn’t already know.

T-Rex 20th Century Boy

This one ends with something like

I’ve got a car that drives like a plane I wanna make it with you in the pouring rain OHHH YEAAAAH

Marc Bolan loved those.  He sang something similar on Bang a Gong (Get it on) and some other songs that I can’t remember the name of at the moment.

Some EPIC! song beginnings that work

So a few days ago I was writing about EPIC! song beginnings that didn’t quite work.  Not because they were bad, but because they set up the song to fail by hyping it too much.

I’ve got a couple of examples of songs where the band actually managed to make it work.

Iron Maiden The Number of the Beast

The band starts out with the riff and basically the first verse, punctuated by Bruce Dickinson’s YEAAAAAAAHhhhhhhhh.  The drums kick and they go right into the song from there.  There’s no new musical movement added, maybe that’s the key.  You hold back the rhythm section and SCREAM REAL LOUD, but don’t try to top the melody or the riff you’ve already introduced.

Brief Aside-

This song is also a great example of what I call Springsteening– writing a song you know will be taken one way, rake in the bucks and then claim that everyone is misinterpreting the song and point to the lyrics in the verses, knowing full well that most people only pay attention to the chorus.  The best example ever was Born the USA, but this is a close second for the 80s.

Iron Maiden says they are not devil-worshippers and I believe them.  Based on what their other songs are about, they strike me as the type of guys who are more likely to nerd out on war documentaries on the History Channel than attend black masses.  But they also must have known a song with the chorus 666 the number of the beast would give them exactly the kind of bad publicity that would sell tons of records in the Satan-obsessed 80s.  If a band could have made I worship the Devil into a catchy hook they would have drowned in money.

Sweet Ballroom Blitz

This song takes the opposite tack- no guitar, just rhythm and… LET’S GOOOOOOOOOO!  This is one of my favorite songs ever, it’s about as perfect as a rock and roll song could be.

The Who Won’t Get Fooled Again

OK, so the best part of this song isn’t anywhere near the beginning.  In fact, it’s about 7 minutes in to the song.  But it’s absolutely the best part of the song.  I have to admit, I don’t even find the rest of the song all that interesting, and it’s not because I disagree with the message (I agree that violent revolutions are almost always a bad idea), it’s just a little too long, and doesn’t really grab me the way some of their other songs do.  But the scream and then meet the new boss, same as the old boss is so satisfying I’ll listen to the whole song.

Guilty Pleasures

So lately I get all my information from Cracked and I take issue with this:

6 Commonly Used Phrases That Make Everyone Hate You

#6. “Guilty Pleasure”

What?  This is a perfectly useful phrase!  First of all, I do feel guilt about liking certain things.  There is nothing wrong with me listening to Don’t Talk to Me while thinking, yikes, I’m listening to GG Allin, does that make me a creep?*

The author links to Chuck Klosterman who suggests that people use it because they feel guilty about liking crap**.  Which might be partly true.  Or people might just be using it to say “I know it’s out of character for me, but I like ______.”  She quotes Dave Grohl who says “I don’t believe in guilty pleasures, you know. I believe you should be able to like what you like, if you like a fucking Ke$ha song, listen to fucking Ke$ha.”
Which I agree with.  I love Ke$ha and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  But part of whom I am is someone who loves trashy music.  I can see the value in pointing out that something isn’t part of things you are normally into.
For instance- I almost never watch action movies, but when I saw The Expendables 2 had been added to Netflix I immediately dropped what I was doing and watched it.  It’s not that I’m embarrassed about liking the series, it’s just not something that people would expect, so I try to give a little background.
The_Expendables_2_poster
Plus, I’m pretty confident that everyone involved in the making of this movie knew they were making something cheesy but enjoyable.  That’s a guilty pleasure- something cheesy but enjoyable.  I know it’s silly setting up some idea of High and Low Art, but I didn’t make society.  I didn’t invent the concept.  I know there’s a difference between the two and there’s no reason to pretend that I don’t.
Speaking of Ke$ha, she’s apparently in rehab right now for an eating disorder, which is really sad.  I’m not naive enough to think that her public persona is who she actually is, but I always liked that her public persona came off as a big stick in the eye of the pop music machine.  But I guess you can’t beat the machine.  If it’s true that Dr Luke was calling her fat and pressuring her to lose weight, then fuck that guy.
*If you’re not familiar with GG Allin, or haven’t heard the legends, I suggest you DON’T google him, because you’ll probably see things you’ll regret seeing.  Definitely avoid any image or video searches, they will be NSFW.
** Chuck tries to make the point that there is nothing wrong with liking these things for what they are, and about how he doesn’t like Road House (the movie) because it’s bad, but then proceeds to describe it in a way that makes it sound bad.  I don’t read that guy often enough to have an informed opinion on him, so I’ll just say, I don’t get him.

“How has no one used Satanic Panic as a band name? it’s such a great name”

I just heard this one this week’s Cracked podcast and I like YES, HELL YEAH IT IS.  People sometimes comment on my monicker- I worship the devil or something.  For the record, I do not worship the devil.

I came up with this monicker in 2006 when I first used it over at Huffington Post.  Here’s my profile– August 2006.    I don’t really go there anymore unless I happen upon a link to there from somewhere else.  I can think of other things I would rather read about than celebrities’ nipples or about how vaccines are bad for you.  But I’ve been using it ever since.  I use it all over the internet, so likely if you see SatanicPanic, it’s me, except in those places where I am TheRealSatanicPanic (notably Youtube) because some copycat used it first.

I chose the name because it rhymes and because when I came back to the USA around 2006 I thought certain aspects of the War on Terror reminded me of the great moral panic of the 80s.  The one where everyone thought there was a Satanic cult operating in every town, except in this case it was Muslim terrorists.

Obviously there are actually were (and maybe are) Muslim terrorists operating in the USA, where the evidence for Satanic cults was pretty near zero, but I thought stories about schools cancelling their field trips to pumpkin patches were a sign that people were going a little overboard.  OK I was being a little flippant, but this is the internet we’re talking about and I tend to be flippant here.  The other thing is that moral panics do have costs, which I was just reminded of this week:

The Real Victims of Satanic Ritual Abuse

Among the atrocities that Frances and Dan Keller were supposed to have committed while running a day care center out of their Texas home: drowning and dismembering babies in front of the children; killing dogs and cats in front of the children; transporting the children to Mexico to be sexually abused by soldiers in the Mexican army; dressing as pumpkins and shooting children in the arms and legs; putting the children into a pool with sharks that ate babies; putting blood in the children’s Kool-Aid; cutting the arm or a finger off a gorilla at a local park; and exhuming bodies at a cemetery, forcing children to carry the bones.

 It was frankly unbelievable—except that people, most importantly, a Texas jury, did believe the Kellers had committed at least some of these acts. In 1992, the Kellers were convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a child and each sentenced to 48 years in prison. The investigation into their supposed crimes took slightly more than a year, the trial only six days.

After multiple appeal efforts and 21 years in prison, the Kellers are finally free. Fran Keller, 63, was released from prison on Nov. 26 on a personal bond, just in time for Thanksgiving. Her daughter was waiting for her with a bag full of the first clothes that weren’t prison-issued that Keller had seen in years. Dan, who turned 72 in prison and now walks with a cane, was released on Dec. 5; this time, Fran was there to greet him. (The Kellers divorced while in prison yet remain close, as close as two people locked up in separate prisons for crimes they say they didn’t commit can be.)

This was a story I remember reading about a long, long time ago and thinking- wow, that’s far-fetched.  Putting children into pools with sharks?  How in the fuck did they get sharks to Austin Texas anyway?  Did the prosecution produce an armless gorilla?  Were all these people HIGH?

I’m ashamed I never followed up on this story and sent some money to a defense fund for these people, because they got railroaded.  What a joke.

Anyway, that’s where my monicker comes from.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver

One of the funnier things people do with their song is to start out EPIC!   Make the beginning so awesome and then not be able to hold up the rest.  This song is the gold standard:

It’s not that it’s a bad song, it’s just that the first minute of the song is so much better than the rest.  And it’s not like Danzig isn’t trying; he’s singing his heart out.  So I guess blame the band.  Again, it’s not a terrible song, but after MAMAAAAAAAAA! I always feel let down when the rest of the band kicks in.

I also think they might have gone in to the song too quickly.  Fat Bottomed Girls has a similarly EPIC! opening:

But then it gives the song a minute to breath before ramping up the energy again, and it works a lot better.

This song has a similarly awesome beginning:

I’m a sucker for dual leads (what you get by having one guitarist play a melody, while the other plays the harmony), so that’s part of what I like.  But I also like how it builds and builds till I’m expecting something awesome.  And then the song starts and it’s just OK.  It’s pretty good.  I wonder if maybe I wouldn’t like it more if they had dropped the EPIC! intro.

On the other hand, the outro is EPIC! too.  They even sing a round!  Over flashing rock and roll guitars!  Maybe I like this song more than I am willing to admit.

This song is what really got me thinking about this.  It’s Kanye West and Jay Z and because it’s Kanye it has to destroy listener expectations in a new and perverse way.

It ends with:

You are now watching the throne

Don’t let me into my zone

Don’t let me into my zone

I’m definitely in my zone

This song was a huge hit and they played it on the radio several times every day.  And every time it got me- what is gonna happen when he gets into his zone?  Kanye is a good rapper, but not a great technical one, so it’s not like I was expecting some blast of tight lyrics.  I don’t know what I was expecting.  But I was expecting something.  But the song just ends.  Maybe the next song on the album was really awesome, but I never bought Watch the Throne so I have no idea what comes next.  It’s kind of unnerving.