Saturday, February 26, 2022

Mancini the Melodist: Why Charade Slayed

Melodist: A composer/songwriter known for writing great melodies.

Henry ManciniCharade (1963): Someone once described the greatness necessary for winning a pro golf tournament as something within the reach of a rarified group of extraordinary players. Some may have a moment when they're able to transcend limitations, anxieties, etc., and do the unlikely. But the circle of greatness is far smaller for those that can do it again and again. Same with music: The Beatles are used often as exemplars of the pinnacle of extraordinariness. But considering the history of pop music, they were many progenitors of serial slaying – Richard Rogers, Scott Joplin, George Gershwin, Brian and Eddie Dozier, Duke Ellington, John Barry, Michael Stoller (of Lieber & Stoller), Stevie Wonder, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Carole King, Brian Wilson, and somewhere near the heap’s top: 

Mr. Versatile, Henry Mancini.

But unlike most of the above, he was exclusively a composer of soundtrack music. The demands on his compositional and color range were far greater than any of those other nine-to-fivers. Compare Baby Elephant WalkPeter GunnMoon River, Shot in the DarkThe Pink Panther, or The Days of Wine and Roses. Also, no small accomplishment, he may’ve co-invented the spy genre with Monty Norman (the James Bond Theme) and John Barry (Goldfinger, Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever, etc.). And while Henry was no rocker, rock and roll without Peter Gunn would be too awful to imagine.

The maestro getting to the chorus

And this: a suite from the 1967 suspense film, Wait Until Dark – a phantasmagoric outline of insanity. The detuned piano is transcendently horrifying.

As to why Charade slayed

That melody: It's been argued that music is melody, way on top in a hierarchy including rhythm, harmony, timbre, and form: Music is the emulsion and melody are the flavor bits that separate, say, the dull greasy saltiness of canned gravy from the sensual orgy of a Bernaise. It's also something humans have a knack for recognizing beginning at birth. Melodies connect with us emotionally, like a virus to some cellular receptor. The best of them fit instantly. And that some melodies will connect profoundly to millions while others don’t is the mysterious voodoo that is music.

Mancini was a master at understanding the colors of the emotional spectrum and how they converted into manipulative sounds. The pointy heads describe it thusly:

Different types of melodies also help to convey different emotions, for example chromatic melodies or melodies belonging to a minor scale...the emotions of melodies mirror the emotions of speech. Just as sad people tend to talk in a monotone, sad music tends to move in very small intervals within a narrow range. In contrast happy people talk within a greater tonal range, and happy music follows this pattern using larger intervals over a wider range.

Charade from four angles:

1) Charade elevated on the ridiculously smooth bordelaise that is Johnny Hartman’s voice.
2) The master’s original from the film it was written for.
3) A loungey, fake jazz version from the cool 90s San Francisco outfit, Oranj Symphonette – their roster included Dave Brubeck’s son Matt and P.J. Harvey alum Joe Gore, to whom we owe the ingenious guitar riff.
4) My Canadian crush, Holly Cole: breathy and mature, satin and gloves to the elbow, knowing and still cute.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Music That Matters, Pt 28

274) Garbage, Garbage (1995): From the rough coupling of a nascent Pro Tools and a blossoming remix culture came this beautiful bastard, Garbage. If you were alive in the 90s, you might remember a culture besotted and remade with software tech – music, graphics, video, design, etc. – and Garbage was one of the more visible parts of that steaming heap. The band’s scaffolding would form from a meeting of a sound engineer and two musicians who’d migrated into producing. Based in Madison WI, these three nerds appealed to a singer a world away (Scottland) after they’d seen her on MTV’s 120 Minutes ca. 1994. At the time, Shirley Manson was showcasing with the local band Angelfish. To this stateside squad of knob-twirlers and mouse-jockeys, she represented a fresh departure from the grunge that was both the trend and their bread and butter as producers. She had the darker quality they were seeking – not Riot Grrl nor Lilith Fair – and had none of the “chirpy or light” vocal sound they wanted very much to avoid. What they got was a tone as cold and gray as the fall North Atlantic sky.

In among all of the classic rock retreads of grunge that was raging at the time, Garbage seemed like a breath of brisk air and they hit immediately. It helped they debuted with a trove of radio-friendly ware. And despite the overly unctuous hunger for the slicing and dicing of ProTools, these production veterans – unlike many of their studio tanned peers – discovered more of its potential: Note the guitar break on Only Happy When It Rains

Also interesting to note that Manson had never written a song before joining up. Clearly, she was a natural.

275) XTC, Travels in Nihilon (1980): Harder and longer than just about anything else in their extensive catalog, this song nearly strays into jam band territory. Composer and singer Andy Partridge often reveals himself as a passion advocate in the singing of his songs, but here he’s shown in rare power. The guitars worm in and out of power chords, funky riffing and the droning provides muscle to the tension. Nihilon adds another facet to the already well cut and polished jewel that was XTC.

276) The Decemberists, The Wanting Comes in Waves (Repaid) (2009): The Decemberists had already proven themselves able modern advocates for the legacy of murder ballads. Songwriter Colin Meloy’s blend of gothic folk, Grand Guignol pathos, and crunchy guitars is given a rocket burst with the muscly guest vocal of My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Nova. Altogether, the mix enforces this Repaid like a loan shark’s debt. Nova’s final breath of repaid at the close pushes the song into an entirely other dimension. This song demands to played on a loop.

277) Thin White Rope, On the Floe (1990): Rootsy faux Nashville riffs and a hard trucker groove matched with a gravelly voice that’s worn like an 80-year-old long shoreman’s tattoo. It all begins with filigreed delicacy and transitions into a full bats-on-oil-drums  groove when the chorus kicks it up. The final out-chorus organ sweeps add a deathly ethereality as the song disappears into a cold horizon. 

If you don't know, a floe is a sheet of floating ice. In this, broken-hearted losers left to wither on a floe like elderly Inuits of legend going to meet their gods. (And it’s not entirely legend.) In the barfly version, the ice floats in a double bourbon with a Budweiser back.
There is a song so hard to steer
I thought it would capsize in bitterness and fear
I look to the sky when I'm tired of the sea
Constellations are moving, they're useless to me

And it seems we've been stranded on the floe
Watching distant shorelines as we go

278) Peeping Tom (featuring Mike Patton & Massive Attack), Kill the DJ (2006): It’s the opinion of the team at Jelly Roll that Mike Patton has collaborated on more vitally interesting work than just about anybody over the last 35 years. His deep résumé combines both the avant garde (Mr. Bungle, John Zorn, Fred Frith) and the more mainstream-ish (Faith No More, Björk, Fantômas) and Peeping Tom fits somewhere to the right of middle. The album was a one-time project taking six years to create and Wiki says this about it: [...Peeping Tom] a tribute to Michael Powell's 1960 film Peeping Tom. The album was created by swapping song files through the mail with collaborators such as Norah Jones, Kool Keith, and Massive Attack, among others.

This joint’s got more than enough mood for the darkest game soundtrack, dynamics enough for serious head bang on a movie chase scene, and spunk enough to shake dance floor bound asses —a total package.

279) Pointer Sisters, Going Down Slowly (1975): For those not alive at the time, The Pointer Sisters would become mega-sellers in the 80s (13 Top 20 sellers). By that time they’d mostly wiped clean most of their early soul-shouting edge to improve their market prospects, though stains of the church remained. Some of their early vocal rave ups – Yes We Can Can
How Long (Betcha’ Got a Chick on the Side) – are now classic including this Allen Toussaint roundalay. 

In this singing family slugfest, they brought the brass knuckles. I can’t think of another vocal group, family or otherwise, that ever went this hard and long.

280) Bulgarian State Television Female Choir, Kalimankou Denkou (The Evening Gathering) (1990): Sometimes, cultures across seas and continents can discover joy in similar sounds. Strains of Middle Eastern, East Asian, and some Celtic sounds seem to have been birthed from a similar umbilical cord, united across time and space. I find the strains here remind me of  North American indigenous chants. There’s also a soul-scraping quality that communicates beyond language, it’s more like the code of experience—not a word but a sound in a voice, an emotional salt. Language may be superfluous to the ancient vibe they’re elevating here. Just under three minutes in you can even hear some Westside Story dance choruses. 

And yet it’s also completely it’s own thing, which the best music, not matter where or when, always is.

281) Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Bat Chain Puller (1978): This is a sound found nowhere else on the planet: Nightmare rhythms of lurching mummies and the anthraxed footfalls of death-spiraling animals mixed with nursery rhyme bursts of melody, the blues, the anxious vibe of horror movies, souls leaping from bodies, and all capped with the voice of Howling Wolf intermittantly having psychotic episodes and an announcer reading ad copy. Not a bad way to spend 5 minutes and 27 seconds on a sleepless pre-dawn Saturday morning.

From the French Chorus television show ca. 1980:

282) Tanya Tagaq, Aorta (2016): To distill the pain and trauma of a people in song, you can do no better than Tagaq. Her voice is a bleeding flag to be planted into the center of our skull.


283) The Fall, Theme from Sparta F.C. (2003): 
Screams that siphon the flames of every trauma you’ve endured, words twisted to become brilliant effigies of every revulsion and rage that was visited upon you – those would both be wonderful ways of squeezing raw emotion into the kinetic earspace and many of the songs I’ve enthused about here in Music That Matters over the years. But there’s something extraordinary about Mark E. Smith’s utter disdain for melody and the acid-drenched spew of his upper-class insolence (whether he was ever upper class, I don’t know, but he’s got the arrogant disdain down like a pedophile princeling) delivered whenever that voice is paired with whatever version of The Fall is behind him. The revolving door of Fall bandmembers must be like the staff of a fast food franchise. (The working conditions must be insufferable.) Too bad for those itinerant kids. For us, Sparta FC is the dividend of their pain and discomfort.

Bonus! George Clinton, Bullet Proof (1985): Here, Clinton captures some of the jagged juice missing from P-Funk in the late 70s-80s. Forget about the sound’s datedness, the passé synths, the MIDI beat. When it’s alloyed with such an impervious melody, vocal interplay, and hard energy riveted to gated drum thunder like this, it’s a joint as sharp and timeless as anything on this list. 

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Rush Revulsion:

A Love for Hating On a Profit-Gulping Dinosaur

I hate Rushirrationally, hallucinogenically, and with utter malice.  Hate is not what this blog does: this will be the one exception.

I’m not alone:
  • This often-cited article calls Rush the Most Hated Band of All Time. This claim, while entirely agreeable, is unsubstantiated.
  • iHeartRADIO, substantiates their claim with compiled data and algorithms – Science! ranking Rush a modest 18th on a list of the 21 Most Hated Rock Bands of All Time.
  • The LA Weekly put them at #9, calling them the anchovies of rock music
  • Rolling Stone Senior Editor David Wild: “Regardless of their success, Rush has never achieved critical acclaim... most of it gives me a headache...Rush really hasn’t done anything unique.”
  • Brian Cogan, PhD., author, professor, media consultant, pop culture expert, and Rush hater consulted for the Convince Me to Like This Band podcast: “Rush are overrated and pretentious hacks who, with Neil Peart’s lyrics, have provided reckless creedence to offensive political ideologies.” 
  • In 2007, Blender Magazine’s Worst Lyricists in Rock named Neil Peart #2. (He was robbed.) As one blogger avered on Peart: An ace on the rototoms, a train wreck on the typewriter.
  • Spin Magazine: Rush isn’t cool.

And yet, Rush has cultishly devoted fans – though, the band’s fanbase scaled past cult status back in the Carter administration. They’re rabid, hypertrophic, and raging with album-cover-tattoos levels of psychosis. See r/Rush Reddit and the forums and marvel at how fans pour over song minutiae with an OCD perseveration as if they were Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s fandom at a blazingly insurrectionist level of alarming.

And their fans have only bred like flies: Rush is ranked third for most consecutive gold- and platinum-selling albums in rock history ( claims they come in fourth)—behind only The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. This devouring public can’t all be incels.

About those incels: The trope is that women hate Rush too. Women have never been big consumers of Prog—not even in this homeopathic, middle school, technophobic version of dystopian sci-fi. Rush concerts were famous as gyno-deserts. (This Salon article disagrees.) But to be fair, near-desert conditions: these audience photos show that there are at least two women here, and a couple more here.

Many have argued that Lee’s voice is the problem. The most often reason cited for Rushophobia. Geddy’s refusal to rein it in was an act of defiance and, maybe, for that he deserves some props. Also to his credit, when Rush began, no one sounded remotely like Geddy (nee Gary Lee Weinrub)—except maybe Tiny Tim. After the rise of Rush, the world would be lousy with Geddy Lee-type squealers—Bruce Dickinson, Sebastian Bach, Justin Hawkins, Vince Neil, etc. In the beginning, Rush was a Canadian bar band version of Dreadful Zeppelin, without the testosterone. But by album #2, Rush knew the hard bar band sound wasn’t going to serve their arena-sized ambitions. For them, the smell of napalm in the morning was the legitimacy of Prog Rock, and they threw in with the tropes of the time. Then, Prog was already rife with Tolkeinisms and anachronistic fantasy. Rush wasn’t the only band to plod through musical suites that clocked in longer than heart-transplant surgery. 

Back to those vocals: Lee’s sphincter-clenching caterwaul was Rush’s most distinguishing feature—like an incel car alarm receiving a surprise prostate exam. Other, even less charitable descriptions: 
  • Soprano-ish banshee wail
  • Dog-calling falsetto shriek
  • A near-chipmunk bawl
  • Cat being chased out a door with a blow-torch up its butt
  • Sounding less like a bird of prey than a castrato with a gerbil up his ass
(The last two were a bit much, even for me. Mine was better.) 

The second time I heard Rush, it was 2112 (1976). The Temple of Syrinx (see below) was like a CIA renditioning technique. And those liner notes: Dedicated to the genius Ayn Rand. (A claim even Peart would later find embarrassing.) Over the years, the band would be accused of being rightwing propagandists.

Sample lyric: I stand atop a spiral stair/An oracle confronts me there/He leads me on light years away/Through astral nights, galactic days

(At least Peart shares Ayn Rand’s need for heartless editing.) 

That’d be the last time I’d ever here Rush again—unforced anyway. Their creep into rock radio was, however, already tragically underway.

I do get why suburban cracker boys worshipped them. They looked like them – the boys left in the grass after the teams were chosen. Rush is The Revenge of the Nerds in band form. (They were famously not a great attractor of groupies.) Rush fanboys may be blinded by the band’s technical proficiency. And the haters, they say, will never understand music as deeply intellectual and arcane—like some kind of Masonic David Foster Wallace. Guitarist and drummer—Alex Lifeson (nee Zivojinovich) and Neil Elwood Peart, respectively, always wielded every chop at their disposal at every opportunity. If they were playing actual axes they could’ve deforested the Great White North long ago. Some of their mid-period work got rather fusiony (like YYZ), and deftly so. I’ll give that to them: Props for platinum-selling an otherwise unpopular, esoteric, and meandering genre to the multitudes.

The Fanboy zeal has allowed Peart to publish a load of books as a writer or co-writer, including seven of fiction. He even has an illustrated quote book. Despite his fan-reputation for “erudite” lyrics, I submit Virtuality (still milking the computer anxiety):

Like a shipwrecked mariner adrift on an unknown sea
Clinging to the wreckage of the lost ship Fantasy
I'm a castaway, stranded in a desolate land
I can see the footprints in the virtual sand

Net boy, net girl
Send your signal 'round the world
Let your fingers walk and talk
And set you free

Geddy would say: “Even I can barely make sense of our concept albums.”

And then, the evolution of the Rush aesthetic: 17 years after their debut album, Geddy Lee matured from his unctuous helium-registers and began to move, at last, into his adult period. While Rush were not Prog innovators, they did help ride its wave into the enormous profitability of Arena Soft-Prog (think Asia, Genesis, Supertramp, Moody Blues). 

With that, the band did something I would’ve thought impossible: they also became less hatable. They became shopping mall music: Whether they went to the mall or the mall came to them is hard to know. Though, until the glorious day when Tom Sawyer takes its spin on the world’s last Classic Rock station, the battle between the haters and the stans will rage on. 

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Big Stink Over Lil Nas

A Biblical Breakdown of MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name): 

& Why Lil Nas X Is More Saint than Satanette

What is blasphemy & did MONTERO commit it?

To blaspheme is to commit an offense or sacrilege against God. It’s fair to say that MONTERO offers no direct offense to God.

MONTERO, the video that is, is all about Satan. Satan is Christendom’s ultimate villain – the symbol of all that’s evil, vile, and unholy. Taking liberties with Satan, it could be argued, could be seen as taking liberties with Scripture – because by doing so for a literalist, you’re not taking the Good Book nearly seriously enough. 

As you may’ve heard, Scripture has some things to say about homosexuality. And for a tradition that’s as doctrinally anti-sex – Hello? Circumcision? (FYI, in removing the foreskin the boy loses 20% of his member’s nerve endings and sensitivity) – and virulently anti-woman as Christianity, and since homosexual sex is about sex for its own sake and not about being fruitful and multiplying, well, you can see the problem. 

The fact that MONTERO is so open and assertive with its homoeroticism, that it also tripped the ire of Christians should’ve surprised no one.

What about the outrage, then?

Projectile eye-bleeding from the graying Reactionary punditry, that was to be expected. But what of the Millennial Barbarians of the Junior Punditry like Candace Owens, Tomi Lahren, Ben Shapiro, and Tucker Carlson? (Owens gave Nas credit for destroying the youth of America.) While their slang may be fresher (if awkward), their ideology appears to be just as fusty as their redneck Preparation H Generation grandparents.

Nas has been accused of creating the MONTERO controversy intentionally and strategically. Politico said he “flipped the book of Conservatives’ culture war playbook” and beat them at their own game. Despite the intensity of the caterwauling, the reactions of the Outrage Industrial-Complex have only backfired. Not only did the opponents get served a full Twitter roasting, their whinging fueled enough interest in the song to make it the #1 single upon release. (And as you may’ve heard, Nas also did SNL.) 

By any standard of Cancel Culture, the hissy was a total fail.

Who is Satan?

All Abrahamic traditions have some version of an evil arch-character. In Christianity, Lucifer is a non-physical entity that seduces humans into sin or falsehood. In Judaism, Satan is seen as an agent subservient to God or typically regarded as a metaphor for the yetzer hara, or “evil inclination” of mortals. In Christianity and Islam, the Devil is usually seen as either a fallen angel or a jinn.

The closest the Christian Bible gets of a description is from 2 Corinthians 11:14: “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” The surrounding verses refer to Satan as having human servants that disguise themselves as “apostles of Christ” and “servants of righteousness.” In context, these descriptions are referring to false teachers. (The Bible spends a lot of time gassing the competition.) Doesn’t this description imply that most faithful wouldn’t recognize him if they saw him?

For his part, Nas says was inspired by his own experience. In response to all the booloo and net rage, Nas posted this to Twitter: 
I spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the [expletive] y’all preached would happen to me because i was gay. So i hope u are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves. 

So, why all the stink?

The anti-Nas reactions seem mostly like performative pissing down the blowhole. You wonder if anyone has been watching television or YouTube lately. Is it that Nas satirized Satan or that he gays it all up with the lap dance and a happy ending? Satan gets killed in the end. Why isn’t that a good thing? 

Conclusion: For religionists, a sacrilege against the very symbol of sacrilege is also a sacrilege. That’s so meta it’s dizzying.

Some Biblical Context: Why insulting Satan is a spitball at his employer

  • According to the Bible, as the creator of all things, God also created Hell. God is the architect of EVERYTHING and boasts of creating the light and dark, peace and evilIt was also Him that installed Satan as His subcontractor – Chief Operating Officer of the Dirty Deeds and Punishments Department. Together, Satan and the Fallen Angels are God’s C-Suite. But ultimately it’s God who decides who goes down there (or wherever).
  • As a Fallen Angel #1, Satans’s job description was to tempt humanity to sin. Then, when successful to that cause, mete out utterly heinous eternal punishments – again, according to his job description. Where does he do this? In the Lake of Fire – or Hell, Sheol, Gehenna – those places created by God.
  • By seducing Satan, Nas is only repeating plots from Biblical stories like Salomé and King Herod – where a young woman seduces the king through dance – and Judith and Holofernes – where a beauty wines and cruises a general as part of her ruse to kill him.

Fun facts

  • According to the Scripture of record (AKA as the Bible and Torah), a total of 2,821,364 deaths are specifically given in scripture as either directly manifested by God or carried out with his oversight or approval. 
  • Satan kill count? Only 10. And if you add in the multitudes lost in The Flood, that makes for an estimate closer to 25 million. To also include other genocides, famines, various massacres, and all other cataclysms that YHWH watched with indifference from on high, the count gets closer to Thanos territory.
  • By one estimate, somebody did the math and put the totals of Flood deaths at 40,000 to 1,067,000.
  • Again, according to Scripture, God’s stats beat Satan’s kills by 227,037% – and that doesn’t even include women and children. (Go to the link and see a graph.)
  • Nationally known radio pastor Alistair Begg described the dilemma Christians must have as followers of “the most loving person who has ever lived” (Christ) who also spoke “straightforwardly about the awfulness of hell.” A place, presumably, He could change if He so desired. But he doesn’t. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Getting Under Todrick Hall's Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels

And Why – Like Your Boss, Teacher, & Parents – He’s an A**hole

The tea was spilled on Hall back in 2019, so I won’t waste time explaining. Here’s a refresher.

In brief: Todrick Hall was a contestant on American Idol in 2010. He was able to parlay that exposure into a successful YouTube presence. Then came a stint on Rupaul’s Drag Race and starring role in Kinky Boots in 2016. He claimed he aspired to be an LGBT role model. He released the first of three albums that year.

Then in 2019, it all started to unravel. People that’d worked for him began accusing him of all kinds of steaming mess. Said a former assistant: “I know every detail of his life including deliberate non-payment to people, racism, sexual assault, sexual harassment, online bullying, exploitation, illegal business practices…the list goes on.”

But in particular, this non-payment issue, coming at him from several accusers, is interesting. His cast must’ve swallowed their gum every time the refrain came around: I don’t work for free/that's the tea, hunty/so make it rain on me. Some of the video’s featured dancers went public with allegations of non-payment. Hall responded in January of 2020 claiming ignorance of the alleged non-payment. Hall responded by saying that the dancers making the accusations hadn’t been paid yet

A lawsuit brought against Hall for sexual harassment would be settled out of court.

So, Here's Why Hall, Like Most Authority Figures, Is an Asshole:

It’s The Human Power Dynamic Differential. (While undeniable, the phrase itself is something I  made up, but you get the idea.) The scale of the dynamic, the players, the culture – it doesn’t even matter. It could be two toddlers. The behaviors are the same.

The differential is the result of that dark sorcery that seizes otherwise good consciences whenever one gains power or advantage over another. The degrees of imbalance can even be slight. The important thing is perception. 

This dynamic can be expressed in endless ways: 
  • by older siblings over younger 
  • by parents that believe their children's lives should be an expression of their own 
  • by bad teachers that hate their jobs or use shame as a form of control 
  • by compulsively controlling lovers
  • by contemptuous bosses
  • by those with “boundary issues” 
  • and at the tip-top of the toxic emotional slag heap – the police; and their ever-repeating toxic code that says a civilian’s life has a fraction of the value of their own – even less if that civilian is Black or some other PoC (but especially Black) 
Privilege spreads the poison. As does wealth.

Copious research supports this: People that drive expensive cars become arrogant, greedy drivers. People that overvalue their positions are less likely to be ethical and more likely to cheat. The Stanford Prison Experiment found that those with power became more authoritarian, more harassing, and more likely to inflict psychological torture against their otherwise peers. A study of bosses willing to @#$% everything up to make themselves look good. And even our tech is working against us: Algorithms are written to increase profits and efficiency at the expense of everyone else. (This explains Amazon.) An ethicist explains this as exception making — “believing that the rules that govern what is right and what is wrong does not apply to [the person with power]." They can still think it’s wrong for other people, just not for them.

Even in microdoses, it can be intoxicating. The basic seductiveness of “because I can” (or it’s parental variant, “because I said so”) is an entitlement too tempting to resist. There were stories of Bill Cosby, when he wasn’t committing more heinous offensives, using his authority to callously toy with the people at his disposal. Assistants, hotel staff, and anyone in his sway were made to watch him eat or tuck him into bed just “because he could.” One observer noted that in Cosby’s perverted vision, he thought people should’ve been honored to do his bidding. Harvey Weinstein had even cowed journalists into not reporting public outbursts with fear of reprisal. The examples are endless.

And, the Squishy Antidote

When people have the ability to empathize with other people, this doesn’t happen. They hold onto humanity over humiliation. When the mindful don’t get dope drips in their brains by exploiting others, they allow others to feel some drips of their own. For Todrick Hall, it took the exploitation of a cast and underlings to get the dope leaking. He may wear the heels, but it’s everyone else that’s going to tuck.

Maybe when enough people see value in other people’s positive experiences, maybe one day we can all sing together in a sort of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood Wakanda. 

But until then, the world won’t have room enough for too many tens:
I'm so fab, I'm gone with the wind bitch
Y'all six, seven, eight, nines, I'm a ten bitch


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Song Reassignment Surgery; Bold Covers 7; An old Road gets new brick

 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John), 1973; Sara Bareilles (2013)

The brand of Sara Barielles is wringing out the kind soft rock pop you could imagine soundtracking the naps of sagging Millennials when their time comes. Her decorous mainstream-ness may be just the sort of nectar that was to attract the Grammy honeybees again and again – she’s been nominated eight times, won once; plus two Tony nominations. As a performer, her experience in theater (she wrote the hit musicals Waitress and SpongeBob SquarePants) and television must surely inform her seasoned and proficient performing skills. That musical theater wanders through the corridors of her voice comes as no surprise. VH1 gave her the 80th spot of their Top 100 Greatest Women in Music (2012).

What might not be expected from such institutional bonafides is an interpreter prepared to scorch the earth of the original and rebuild. Traditionally, Elton John’s work eludes easy covering – as if the maestro embedded his tunes with an unhackable code – his songs were always best left to the maestro himself. But Bareilles offers Road a significant repaving. Within a woman’s voice, the naïve protagonist’s first encountering the hard law of the jungle lofts the song’s purpose way beyond what was previously expected of the melody and chords. She births an entirely new character.

And all of this she does from her occupation in the middle-of-the-road. I’ve heard other work of hers and, based on her approach of her career’s deep cuts, this jewel is a ear-poking surprise.

Credit where it’s due.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Song Reassignment Surgery; Bold Covers 6

Rape Me (Nirvana), 1993: Tanya Tagaq (2016)

...voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead, they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth. 

Sam Cooke

Measure Tagaq as a truth genius. 

Listen to her TedTalk performance (below). Note the dervish intensity and human-to-animal sound spectrum ratio. If you can absorb her assault without your eyes guttering with tears, then your heart’s far sludgier than mine. Next, go to her version of Rape Me

Nirvana’s version – with Cobain’s lamentation on fame and as a victim of the zeitgeist – was the thesis; Tagaq writes the dissertation. 

In Tagaq’s mouth, Rape Me describes suffering
that’s less existential and far more literal: her whispers channel the agonies of ancestral generations and tortured contemporaries. And her whispers don’t just speak for the indigenous – as tragic and well-documented as their struggle has been – but for all women. Hear the heartbeat and the quiet restraint that imagines a victim’s solitude, soaked in toxic memories. Add to that whatever other tinglings you may get: patriarchy, parentage, class, duty, fear, etc. But there’s much more than rage at work here. Her registers, her guttural modulations, her sweetness and rage, the emotionality – her voice may be the chaotic psyche’s ultimate delivery system .

Tagaq says she didn’t begin throat singing herself until college. Though her indigenous culture had no history of throat singing, she’d re-engineer it to such a scale, it sounded like it was. And her record collection must be eclectic and edgy. Her approach ranges from uninhibited to feral. She’d first be introduced to a broader audience by another fellow warrior and vocal innovator, Björk. Tagaq would follow similar paths as her mentor’s but in an entirely different way. Both are aggressively elusive and hard reduce to something as simple as a category. Both sing with an intensity and commitment that is truly rare.

In the first video, see Björk and Tagaq join another aggressively elusive singer –
Mike Patton. 

In her TedTalk, Tagaq only sings. Her voice arrives from another plane entirely. Her throat astrally projects the spectrum of human emotional experience. Like a shaman from another dimension, she drops into a trance, channels voices, personalities, shadows, light, and other species. This is the kind of ecstatic performance Pentecostals dream of hacking but get nowhere near. She collects the essences of Yoko Ono, Shirley Temple, Diamanda Galas, Meredith Monk, Nina Hagen, the B-52s, throat and overtone singers, Asian traditions, Ornette Coleman's saxophone, animal and outer space noises. Her vocal palette, the colors and sounds at her disposal, are expansive enough to be seen from space.