Monthly Archives: October 2011

“Mad World” — Gary Jules

“Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?”

I was dismayed the other day when the TV ate my VHS copy of Donnie Darko.  I’ll admit that I quoted the movie far more than was necessary in my college days.  I even found the above quote in a magazine and included it in my profile collage for arts and cultures.  I doubt, though, that I’d have made such a strong connection to the movie without its use of Gary Jules’s song “Mad World.”

“All around me are familiar faces, worn-out places, worn-out faces.

Bright and early for the daily races, going nowhere, going nowhere.

The tears are filling up their glasses, no expression, no expression.

Hide my head, I wanna drown my sorrow, no tomorrow, no tomorrow.”

The words evoke everyday-tragic images which fit neatly with the haunting melody.  Everyday-tragic, you may ask?  First, I’m an English teacher, so I’m allowed to make up words.  Shakespeare did it.  But also, what I mean is that these words are like the line from Black Guayaba’s “Ayer:” “Una lágrima suelto al suelo—un acto criminal” (a tear falls to the floor—a criminal act).  Small, meaningful, sorrowful occurrences lead to haunting images that reflect the tragedy that can be found in everyday life.  They’re smaller, more subtle tragic images . . . but they still resonate within you.  Tears coursing over expressionless, worn-out faces to fill empty glasses.  People racing about their daily routines, unaware that they accomplish very little.

In Donnie Darko, the montage of characters at night is an apt pairing for this tune.  Then, this summer, I saw the tune paired with another montage of  characters that seemed, if possible, even more perfect.  The cast of The Glee Project turned “Mad World” into a music video for their week on vulnerability.  Each of the aspiring stars had to walk through a mall with a signboard listing what made him or her most vulnerable—words like “fat,” “used,” “anorexic,” “numb,” and “gay.”  Even though the video was only a few minutes long, I wept when I watched it because it felt so real.

“And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad.

The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.

I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take.

When people run in circles, It’s a very, very mad world.”

I’ll admit to a certain fatalism when I listen to the line “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.”  I’ll also admit to listening to this song when those fatalistic thoughts run rampant; somehow, expressing them (because of course I have to sing) makes those thoughts easier to bear.

“Went to school and I was very nervous.

No one knew me, no one knew me.

Hello, teacher, tell me, what’s my lesson?

Look right through me, look right through me.”

For the most part, I was happy in school; even if I wasn’t super-popular, I had my group of friends.  Still, I felt at times like I was completely invisible.  To be honest, I still do.  This song allows me to explore those feelings of alienation and everyday tragedy but still come out unscathed at the end.

So, yes, I know it is a mad world, but in a strange way, this song reminds me that maybe I’m not alone.


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“The Only Living Boy in New York” — Simon and Garfunkel

Editor’s note: Matt published this piece today on Leading Us Absurd in honor of Paul Simon’s 70th birthday. I appreciate his allowing us to feature it here on HFL. –HI-FI Janna

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/v/hJGSHMgbB0E?version=3%5D

Today is Paul Simon’s 70th birthday, so I thought today would be a perfect time to write about one of my favorite Simon & Garfunkel songs – “The Only Living Boy in New York”.  If I’m being totally honest…(read the entire post on Matt’s blog: Leading Us Absurd)


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“Need You Tonight” — INXS

[youtube:http://youtu.be/PrZZfaDp02o%5D

So slide over here

And give me a moment

Your moves are so raw

I’ve got to let you know…

You’re one of my kind

Here’s the thing: I feel like the best, most magical aspect of music is its innate ability to communicate an emotion, a feeling, a mood. Need a pick-me-up? Well, you can always call on Phish‘s “Bouncing Around the Room” to gift you a lift. Need to chillax? Okay – spend some time with Erykah Badu or Jill Scott. Mad at the world and feel like indulging that emotion? I find Fiona Apple‘s music to be an excellent choice on just that sort of occasion.

But this song? Well, this is a *letsseehowfastwecangetouttatheseclothes* song. And that’s always fun.

Seriously, I can’t understand how anyone could listen to this without getting turned on. And of course, this isn’t the only song for provocative underwear dancing–not that I’m into that type of thing…but, you know what I mean (zip those lips HI-FI Andrew!). I would guess a lot of other folks (myself included), respond in a similar way to songs like “Come Undone” by Duran Duran and “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak. Even still, “Need You Tonight” is really where the money is – I kind of think of it as the definitive naughty thoughts song.

Come on – that guitar riff? Damn. It just sounds like sex. How the heck did they do that? Add in those suggestive lyrics and Michael Hutchence‘s delicious vocals, you’ve got the song that has been touted as “the three steamiest minutes of the eighties.”

Uh, hell-to-the-yes they were – and I think all the more so because the lyrics are not explicit at all. Suggestive, yes – but it’s what *isn’t* said in this song that makes it so intoxicating.

It’s also what makes current pop songs that *try* to be sexy fail so miserably at it. You don’t need to say it all to awaken sexual feelings in a listener – in fact, being too crude or explicit can have a very opposite effect. Case in point: when I hear Nicki Minaj sing (and I’m using that term loosely) “when he gimme that look then the panties comin’ off”, it just makes me want to puke. It most certainly does not turn me on, because there’s something so base about it that it literally makes me cringe.

Now these lyrics, on the other hand, are a completely different story:

I need you tonight

Cause I’m not sleeping

There’s something about you girl

That makes me sweat

Um…WHOA. Are you freaking kidding me?

How do you feel?

I’m lonely

What do you think?

Can’t think at all

Yeah, me neither. I certainly can’t concentrate on writing anything else.

So if you all will excuse me, I think I’m gonna go take a cold shower…


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“Stranger in Moscow” — Michael Jackson

[youtube:http://youtu.be/pEEMi2j6lYE%5D

Whether or not you’re big into MJ is kind of irrelevant.

Any self-respecting music fan can’t deny the talent, skill, and perfectionism of the man who changed music forever. Besides, there’s rarely anything that comes out of the music or entertainment industry these days that doesn’t make a nod toward Michael – so, chances are, if you like any music that has been created within the last thirty years, you have him to thank for it – at least in part. Because he changed everything.

His death affected me profoundly in a way that no artist’s or celebrity’s has or probably ever will again. When I listen to “Stranger In Moscow” – not a big hit of his, though I think it should’ve been – I get a vivid and emotional glimpse not only of his own life, but of his commonality with his fans, with everyone. Here was a man who was troubled, perhaps more than we’ll ever know, and unfortunately it’s that kind of life that often drives genius.

The music video is, in my opinion, a must-view with the song since Michael was, after all, deeply involved in every aspect of his work. Maybe you can’t relate to being a “Stranger In Moscow”, but you’ve been a stranger somewhere, “living lonely”. You can replace the “Kremlin’s shadow” and “Stalin’s tomb” with anything really. You can see yourself within any of the characters in the video – we’ve all been at that place in our lives, at one point or another, where you drop the umbrella and just walk into the rain. Maybe you’re hoping it washes away whatever you’re feeling. I think Michael wanted to wash away the entire world-the world that constantly loved and hated Michael, fiercely and incessantly, for his entire life. For Michael, “abandoned in my fame”, he hoped he could escape like all the other normal people, hoping they would just “take my name and just let me be”.

It’s a sad thing, no? But there’s an uplifting moment, I think, towards the end when everyone is standing out in the rain. The black and white washes over them and suddenly they find an escape, a moment where nothing really matters. Michael probably had precious few of those moments, certainly fewer than most of us have had. Despite the fame and fortune, I think he’s a prime example of the cliché “money can’t buy happiness”. He was one of us, he was a human being and he was the King of Pop, all at once. I think you’ve achieved true musical and artistic perfection when you achieve that balance, that place where people can see you for you, and you for your talent. I only hope his time with his kids and family and the love of his fans brought him some peace before we lost him.

Image courtesy of http://www.hollywoodgo.com.

Rest In peace, Michael Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009).


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How Neon Indian Disrupted and Grounded My Life

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Okay, full disclosure; I’m supposed to be writing an article for Hi-Fi Lives about the new Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks record. Actually, I originally planned on finishing it about 4 weeks ago, but…something else came along and changed things.

I could go on for hours complaining about the myriad of academic stuff I should be spending my time knocking out. I’m also moving at the end of this week, so I should probably be filling and sealing the boxes creating a labyrinth of obstacles around my house. The backlog of podcasts that I normally would’ve listened to by now is starting to collect well beyond what I’ll be able to get to before their timeliness expires. My August consisted of 2 funerals and a wedding. There’re plenty of other things on which I could be spending my cognitive energy, right? Instead, I have to take the time to explain the nuances of a record, to which I absolutely cannot stop listening, to the internet. It has simultaneously disrupted my life and grounded me to a place where I can focus on the things that need to get done. Thanks a lot (meant both sarcastically and sincerely) Neon Indian

Calling back to previous articles I’ve written about the serendipitous nature that comes along with modern album releases, as well as my article about the affective nature of music in the fall: The new Neon Indian record, Era Extraña, hits both of these beats. I knew the record would be released at some point in the fall, but I’m not diligent enough to remember, or search for, release dates unless there’re multiple things happening on that day to give me an unrelated point of reference. In short, I’m terrible with dates. Discovering this album’s availability amongst the new releases of the day, when I wasn’t expecting it for another month or so, added an extra element of excitement to my already high level of anticipation.

About the autumn release thing; yes, I have a feeling that this will be remembered as a part of my soundtrack of this year, and it’s not the first time Neon Indian’s done this to me. I happened upon the initial release from Neon Indian, Psychic Chasms, literally en route to my modest Tuesday night DJ gig back in October of ‘09. I was so moved by the tonal atmosphere of legitimate synth-pop which sounded like it was being played on a warped cassette that the patrons of the club that night were subjected to my own personal game of “How many songs can I get away with playing off of this record without it being obvious?”

I should elaborate on the aforementioned “warped cassette” aspect. I think there’s something particularly significant to the instant nostalgia that comes along with the batch of chillwave acts that have popped up in the past few years (e.g. Toro Y Moi, Small Black, Washed Out, etc). Those of us born in the late 70’s and early 80’s were more or less the first generation to grow up hearing synthesizers as a normal aspect of pop music. The use of analog synths and antiquated technology are the new low-fi standard, so these type of acts elicit a nostalgic response even though the songs are new. We’re also familiar with the phenomenon of leaving one’s tapes in the car or outside by the jam box in the heat long enough to alter the sound quality. To this day, when I listen to Radiohead’s The Bends, I still expect particular parts of “High and Dry” and “Black Star” to emit those same three-second backward and warbled bits that occurred where the magnetic tape in my copy somehow switched polarities (as they were on opposite sides of the cassette).

There’s another technical aspect of this record that evokes a feeling of neo-nostalgia. A great deal of the melodies on this record come from synthesizers that are looped and/or arpeggiated rather than played out manually. This is nothing new, of course, but it does a lot to negate the old argument that these technical tools take the emotional element out of music. I think I’m also in that first generation of music listeners that’s become so accustomed to automation that there’s an element of soul bleeding through the electricity.

Ironically, the tone of this record reminds me a lot of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, which was constructed–with great pride back in 1991–without the use of synthesizers. It’s easily one of my favorite records of all time. However, very similar emotional tones rhyme between Loveless and Era Extraña, in spite of their juxtaposed composition methods. The similarity is probably what’s made Era Extraña so compelling and has placed it in a state of constant repeat on my iPod. It’s something close to my heart, where music belongs–simultaneously new and familiar. I feel as if these types of records are an example of history proving wrong a popular opinion of the past.

Look, my life at the moment is completely in flux. The only consistent piece on which I’ve had to ground myself has been this record. As disruptive as it’s been to my listening habits, it’s comforting to have something that remains constant during the upheaval. I needed Era Extraña more than I realized. Sure; things are finally starting to settle a bit, I probably should finish some of the many projects on my plate, and the new DJ Shadow, Mayer Hawthorne, and J. Cole records are burning a hole in my iTunes. It’s probably time to move on…but maybe just another listen or two wouldn’t hurt…cheers…


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“Irreplaceable” — Beyoncé

[youtube:http://youtu.be/2EwViQxSJJQ%5D

I know what I look like: Upper-middle class white guy. Clean-cut. MBA. Wife and baby.  On the inside it’s a whole different story: I’m a sassy black woman telling a no-good cheating-ass chump to hit the road, and “Irreplaceable” by Beyoncé is my anthem.

Here’s the deal: I have absolutely no patience for sorry dudes. If you don’t have a job, a car, or a college degree, you are loser. And I feel sorry for the woman who settled for you. I have known many women anchored by these bums, and it breaks my heart.

I don’t know how a woman could justify pairing up with this type of bum to herself. If a guy needs you to pay his cell phone bill or co-sign for a car, he’s a waste of time. It’s okay to drop him. You don’t need anyone’s permission, but Beyoncé has given it to you just in case, and she has done so with such style and grace.

I would also like to say that I am not sexist. In college, I was a founding member of an organization called EMPOWER , Educating Minds for the Promotion of Women’s Equal Rights. (I was the token male.)  I do not believe that a woman needs a man to take care of her. I also believe that a woman does not need to take care of a grown man.

As a side note, I absolutely love how classy and polite Beyoncé is about this whole situation. The lyrics are empowered and confident, and they all presuppose that this asshole is gone with no chance salvaging their relationship. “If I bought it, please don’t touch.” “Let me call you a cab.” The dispassion in these lyrics is amazing. This guy is clearly not going to be invited back.

Ladies, please take this song to heart. Do as Beyoncé says: tell that deadbeat to pound asphalt. Take back those keys. He’s that trick’s problem now. But please try to trade up next time.


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A Mosquito. I’m a Beatle. YEAH! (more words on Nirvana)

[youtube:http://youtu.be/hTWKbfoikeg%5D

A lot of noise has been made about the fact that, round about 20 years ago, an album was released by some greasy kids representing a budding genre of rock music defined by distorted power chords, shouted lyrics, and anger.

I was nine, a newly-baptized Southern Baptist Jesushead–and I was oblivious to grunge.

Don’t misunderstand me — I was not sheltered from [what I then called] secular music. In the car, we had two radio stations — Sunny 100 (mom in the car) and Rock 103, neither of which were Jesus music stations. I’m not sure one even existed in the hooch valley back in the early 90s. If one did, we didn’t listen to it.

So basically, I grew up to a mix of oldies and pop from mom, and classic rock from dad. Though Rock 103 was not a classic rock station, my dad would only turn up the volume when he heard music made by bands that were in their prime when he was in his prime — late 60s to early 80s. Zeppelin, Jimi, Cream, The Who, Queen, Santana, CCR, Skynyrd, Aerosmith, Allman Brothers, Wet Willie, Grand Funk, Rush, Yes, Kansas (how prophetic…), Journey, and a host of others. These bands were the rock royalty against which I judged anything else I heard.

Nirvana wasn’t really even on my radar until much, much later in life. I’d left behind the Praise Jesus Bible thumpin’, but never the classic rock. Though the old gods remain strongest, I’ve found a few newer rock deities at whose altars I’d offer thanks, though my focus tends toward individual musicians rather than bands — Jack White, David Grohl, Flea, Vic Wooten, and Robert Randolph to name a few, and some leftovers from my dad’s era, like John Paul Jones, Eddie Van Halen, Dickey Betts, Carlos Santana, and Geddy Lee.

Nirvana, speaking primarily through power chords, was an affront to everything I knew to be worthy in rock. Complex melodies, impossibly fast and technical solos — those are supposed to be the hallmarks of a great guitar band. Seeing that Nirvana was a three-piece group, I understood why their music was simple — the lead singer was also the only guitar player. Instead of doing one thing and doing it incredibly well, he was trying to do two things at once while performing.

Thus, mediocrity.

I am no stranger to live music performance. Long before those fakemusic games came out, I was playing bass guitar with church bands and rock bands. Being only a mediocre player at best, I never tried to do more than play my four or five strings.

So Nirvana sort of offended me on a fundamental level. They seemed to be choosing to be half-ass.

Then along comes Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and music turned into a game that anyone could play. In Bloom featured the best bass riff on the album and there it was for me to play. I even dabbled in drums for the first time. Simple rock turned out to be a lot more fun to fakeplay than to listen to.

[youtube:http://youtu.be/PbgKEjNBHqM%5D

But I still cannot understand a word they’re saying.

“Lie” — David Cook

[youtube:http://youtu.be/eJkJqT-FF5E%5D

I have a confession.

I watched seasons 2-9 of American Idol. I watch Glee, The Voice, The Sing-Off, and pretty much any other show about singing, singers, and/or performing songs. I can list a host of reasons with varying levels of acceptability—procrastination, dislike of watching sporting events, and boredom, among others—but what it boils down to is this: I miss it. I miss performing, and watching others do so helps me relive those incredible experiences.

That’s how I found David Cook, seventh-season winner of American Idol. As soon as his first post-Idol album was released, I bought it on iTunes, fully expecting to love it. I wasn’t disappointed.

I’ll save the raw, heartbreaking passion in “Permanent” for a later post, perhaps, because I’d like to focus on his song “Lie” from that self-titled album.

You whisper that you are getting tired
Got a look in your eye
Looks a lot like goodbye

I knew this would be the perfect break-up song. In an instant, this song still transports me to the exact moment I knew my ex would break up with me . . . or the moment, many years before that, when I broke up with my first high-school boyfriend. That *look* is timeless—and it’s captured perfectly in these simple words.

You’re hiding regret in your smile
There’s a storm in your eyes
I’ve seen coming for a while
Hang on to the past tense tonight
Don’t say a word
I’m okay with the quiet
The truth is gonna change everything

This part always reminds me of that deep-down, sinking, gut feeling I have when I know I’m about to hear bad news. I’ve often wondered if David Cook and the other songwriters could somehow hear my inner monologues. See, even when I know awful news, know it deep-down with a terrified certainty, I’ve always sought ways to postpone acknowledging it. I really am okay with the quiet . . . because in it, I am able to lie to myself.

So lie to me and tell me that it’s gonna be all right
So lie to me and tell me that we’ll make it through the night
I don’t mind if you wait before you tear me apart
Look me in the eye
And lie, lie, lie

Please.

I know that there’s no turning back
If we put too much light on this
We’ll see through all the cracks
Let’s stay in the dark one more night

This image is, in fact, a metaphor: their relationship is an item with a seemingly solid surface that reveals hidden flaws when illuminated. Again, he asks not to be forced to acknowledge these—he wants to stay in the dark. I can certainly appreciate that impulse.

Don’t want to believe in this ending
Let the cameras roll on
Keep pretending
Tomorrow’s all wrong
If you walk away
Just stay

To me, the significance of this song reaches far beyond the surface relationship implications. It lies instead in my own fear of the unknown. My past actions have proven that sometimes I’d rather stay with something known—even if I’m not happy—than try something new: a new city, a new job, a new apartment, a new way of life. The unknown feels “all wrong” to me . . . even when the known does, too.

So lie to me and tell me that we’re gonna be okay
So lie to me and tell me that we’ll make it through the day
I don’t mind if you wait before you tear me apart
To look me in the eye
And lie, lie, lie

Fittingly, I think, the music simply tapers off after this final plea. There’s no sweeping conclusion, no witty couplet that explains how the illusion can continue. The lies just can’t last forever; that’s the point. Sooner or later, the truth will look him (and me, and, in fact, all of us) in the eye. Despite the hauntingly beautiful pleas, it’s apparent that we all have to find a way to face that truth, live through the pain of it, and move on.


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