“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” — R.E.M.

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

As a kid, I grew up listening to R.E.M. They were my older siblings’ favorite band. I had no idea how important or different R.E.M. were from most other bands. I just knew their music from the records my siblings played. Before the age of 10, I knew all of the songs off of their 80s albums by heart. Even if I couldn’t understand the words, I knew all of the melodies – even the ones off of their B-sides collection, Dead Letter Office.

By the early 90s, my siblings had moved on and out of the house, yet I still listened to all of the R.E.M. albums. In the summer of 1994 when I was 12, it was announced that R.E.M. would release their long awaited “rock album” after two albums of folk-inspired music – 1991’s Out of Time and 1992’s Automatic for the People. While I adored those albums, I had waited anxiously for a return to the louder stuff that permeated through Green and Document.

The release of this new album, Monster, would be a pivotal moment in my musical upbringing. It’s the first album I remember being excited about before it was released. I was about to turn 13, and I looked forward to discovering new music on my own during my upcoming teenage years.

As the fall rolled around, my older brother told me that he had heard the new R.E.M. song on the radio. “What’s it called?” I demanded, wanting to know every single detail. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” he said and then went on to describe it as sounding a lot like “Turn You Inside Out”–one of the big “rockers” off of Green. This sounded simply amazing. I couldn’t wait to hear it. No, I had to hear it.

Every day when my mother picked me up from school, I would turn on the radio with hopes that the DJ would play “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” For weeks, I always seemed to miss it. They had either just played it, or were about to whenever my mother parked the car. “I’m sure you’ll hear it soon,” she told me, trying to comfort me.

At school, the other kids talked about how the song “sucked” compared to newer bands like Bush and Green Day. It always kind of bothered me that they knew nothing about how good this band actually was. Whatever. They had no taste.

About a week before the album came out, I was on a car trip with my parents when the radio announced they would play “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth” momentarily. My heart leapt. Finally, I would be able to hear it. Then I would finally be able to tell those kids at school how awesome the song actually was. Then to my horror, as my dad drove up the mountain, the radio signal was lost. The only thing coming through the speakers was static. “This can’t be happening,” I thought. Five more minutes of radio hissing blared through the speakers. By the time we had passed through the mountain and the signal returned, the DJ announced that the song had just ended.

I had missed it yet again. If I could have said “fuck” out loud without getting in trouble, I probably would have.

When the album was finally released and my brother brought home his copy, I raced to the stereo to put it on. It was 9 o’clock, normally past my bedtime but my mother let me stay up to listen to the album. I didn’t even care about the other songs – I just wanted to hear “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”

I turned the dial on the stereo and closed my eyes. Peter Buck‘s buzzing guitar snarled through the speakers. It was loud, noisy, and beautiful. I couldn’t understand a damn thing Michael Stipe was singing except the title of the song–but didn’t matter. Mike Mill’s background vocals took the song to a new level. By the time the song came to the bridge, Peter Buck busted out a squeaky and distorted solo – a total surprise since this guy never really played a solo. I loved every single second. As soon as the feedback ended, I hit repeat and listened to it again.

It was totally worth the wait. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” was better than anything I had expected.

For more of Matt’s thoughts about music, visit his blog: Leading Us Absurd.


Find more artists like R.E.M. at Myspace Music.

“Rhythm Nation” “If” & “I Get Lonely” — Janet Jackson

I was quite moved by metaphoricalgretchasketch‘s discussion in her most recent post about experiencing music, in a rather profound way, via performing it. She was talking about singing which I certainly have no talent for – however, her post resonated with me as I began thinking about all the years I spent in dance classes as a young girl.

I think it’s safe to say that anyone who knows me would not be surprised to hear that I was not an all-star on the athletic field. I didn’t play a sport, per se. However, I don’t think many folks who’ve hung out with me (particularly in college) would be shocked to know that I took dance lessons for several years, because evidence of those lessons resurfaces from time to time when I allow my inner “woo girl” to come out and play. It is also possible that some of my former students might not be surprised by this either, since I may or may not be guilty of allowing them to teach me to crank that “Soulja Boy” or to “Walk it Out”. I plead the fifth.

Dance gets a bad rep sometimes, because you hear a lot about girls coming out of it with lots of body image issues and the like. I can’t say I completely escaped all of that, but in my case, I’d say my self-image problems were largely due to the pressures communicated by the mass mediaadvertising in particular. My dance teachers, on the other hand, were supportive and kind. They challenged us to become the best dancers we could be, but that didn’t mean we had to starve ourselves or whatever. I was fortunate to have had the chance to grow up in those studios under the care of women who were really about helping girls feel good about their accomplishments…even if those accomplishments weren’t going to take us to Broadway.

I was definitely not Broadway-bound, but by the end of my senior year I think I could *bring it* on stage. I’ve always been able to hold my own in a dance club and I could attract attention if I happened to want it (Don’t you judge me! I’m just being honest – and everyone knows that a lot of the time, going out dancing is all about getting attention!). More importantly, though, the experience of studying dance (ballet, jazz, modern, lyrical, hip-hop, and my favorite genre tap) played a huge role in my development as a young girl and onward to womanhood. And I have Janet Jackson to thank for inspiring my interest. It all began with “Rhythm Nation”.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAwaNWGLM0c%5D

I was nine years old when the video for “Rhythm Nation” was released. I was old enough to appreciate the positive message communicated by the lyrics, but I was more intrigued by the choreography of the video. Even at that early age, I loved thinking about how to interpret music though movement. I hadn’t started taking classes yet, but I knew I wanted to after I heard this song and saw the accompanying routine. Looking back at the video now, I am still taken aback by the brilliant choreography. The dance is militaristic in its movement and if you’ve never studied dance before, I’m not sure you can appreciate the intricacy of the steps or the virtual impossibility of people being able to move in synch with one another to this extent. The result is powerful and the music video is, rightfully so, an important icon of the 90s. For my nine-year-old self, it was a beacon that led to me asking my mom to enroll me in dance classes and it was certainly not the last time Janet Jackson would inspire me to keep dancing.

“If” was released in 1993. I was thirteen years old and I had been in dance classes for a couple of years by this point. And, as pubescent kids are wont to do, I was becoming a little bored. It made me sad that I didn’t feel as excited about dance classes anymore. Luckily, “If” changed my mind.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-OXYotOguA%5D

I don’t think it is a coincidence that this video spoke to me at a time when I was just beginning to become aware of my own sexuality. I was starting to realize that I found boys attractive and I was starting to want their attention. And here was Janet Jackson, performing this incredibly provocative (though not too vulgar) dance with her crew and really owning her sexuality. She seemed to explode with confidence and power, and, as per usual, I thought the choreography in the video was amazing. When I had friends over to spend the night, I can remember us jumping up in front of the television set anytime the video was on so that we could try to learn the dance – eventually, I had to make a VHS recording and we wore out that tape within a few weeks. We managed to learn the dance, too, but we didn’t feel half as cool as Janet since we didn’t have any hot guys dancing along with us. Despite that, my love for dance was renewed and I continued with my lessons through the end of high school.

I mentioned earlier that I had some pretty amazing dance teachers. Jennifer, the teacher I had through high school, was the best of the best. I loved her and I loved that she allowed any dancer who was a senior in high school to perform a solo at the spring recital, regardless of her level of ability. I loved Jennifer even more for letting me choreograph mine.

I chose not to go the solo route. Instead, I choreographed a piece for two friends and myself to perform. In homage to the muse who kept inspiring me to go back to dance class, I chose her song “I Get Lonely” for my senior number. I was so proud of the result. The girls that danced along with me were amazing and they didn’t roll their eyes about me being the choreographer – I think that’s probably because they could tell that doing the choreography meant so much to me and because of the culture of mutual support and camaraderie among the students that Jennifer cultivated within her school. After the performance, I left the stage of the Springer Opera House with a full heart. I’m still extremely proud of that accomplishment, and full of gratitude for everyone who helped me achieve my goal of choreographing and performing that dance. It’s one of my most favorite memories from my youth and I count myself lucky for being able to transport myself back to that important night with the touch of a button on my iPod.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYK_pPJaWEg%5D

Have you ever been inspired by someone’s music or other artwork to pursue a personal goal?
Have you had a life-changing experience while creating or performing something that made you proud?

Tell me all about it in the comments, won’t you? Peace!


Find more artists like Janet Jackson at Myspace Music.

“Ladder” — Joan Osborne

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFN5KP0CDGQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player%5D

I have a diag-nonsense. Two of them, actually: Panic Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

You were probably hoping for something sexier or more exciting, like Borderline Personality Disorder or Paranoid Schizophrenia. Sorry. I agree that mine aren’t terribly interesting, but they are enough to color my view of myself and, in a certain way, how I see the world. Oh, and most of the time they annoy the shit out of me.

That said, though, sometimes I kinda dig the fact that I can say that I’m crazy and my psychiatric file can back me up on it. Is that weird? I don’t know…I guess it might be. All I know is that when I’m feeling like *embracing my crazy*, the first song I turn to is “Ladder” by Joan Osborne.

You might remember Joan from her most recognized track “One of Us“. That’s a great song, but I don’t feel it the way I feel “Ladder”. I can still remember the internal dialogue my brain engaged in the first time I heard this song. It went something like this:

(Intro)

Today and everyday….          

***Janna’s brain: Joan! I am liking that piano. Good times.

I’m standing here in your closet

Unbuttoning all your clothes

***Janna’s brain: Whoa. That’s not normal.

I sleep in your bed tonight

But I never find you home

***Janna’s brain: Hmmm…

You’re giving me crooked answers

I’m cracking your little code

I’m learning another language

So full it’s about to explode

***Janna’s brain: Aha! I think I see where you’re going with this, Joan, but let me hit the back button on my player so I can make sure I got all that.

So that’s what I did–and it made me so happy, because I was RIGHT!

If you listen to the rest of this song, you can tell it is about a woman who is still in love with a guy who is losing (or has already lost) interest in the relationship. However, she can’t shake her obsession and she’s totally fine with admitting that to herself.

Yay!

You gave me a ladder, now

I surely believe I’ll climb

It don’t even matter, now

I’m willing to take my time

I’m gonna love you anyway

Today and everyday

Okay, I’m not saying it’s healthy. I’m not even saying it’s normal…but damn, I have a hard time not loving a song that provides me with an opportunity to honor my crazy. And I feel like that’s really the point here. For whatever reason, this guy’s still got her heart. I think she knows the relationship isn’t gonna go the way she wants, but she can’t help herself. And she doubts whether she’ll ever be able to. And that’s insane!

I don’t really relate to the obsessing over a man you can’t have facet of this story (at least not now), but I totally get being obsessed with something that you can’t change or fix. See, I’ve got my own ladder–it just leads me to a different (though equally nutty) place. I’m better off when I keep my feet firmly planted on the ground of sanity. Nevertheless, I occasionally climb it anyway. My ladder might not take me anywhere that’s positive or helpful but it’s part of who I am and sometimes that urge to climb up and see how freaked out I can get about something just wins. It.just.wins! And I think I have to be okay with that.

In all seriousness, I have a good handle on my anxiety most days…but those times when I just can’t help myself, I really appreciate this song being there for me and helping me embrace my crazy. So thanks, Joan! xoxoxo!


Find more artists like Joan Osborne at Myspace Music.

“Flathead” – The Fratellis

This song is about a badass chick. She’ll kick you in the face, give you a bloody nose, and is kind of a slut… but in a good way.

I dare you to listen to this song and not get all head bobby.

I FREAKING DOUBLE-DOG DARE YOU.

Well, just because she feeds me well
And she made me talk dirty in a pink hotel
It doesn’t mean she’s got eyes for me
She might just want my bones, you see

Sounds like the reason my husband married me. (Ba-dum! Rim shot!)

And hey, flathead, don’t you get mean
She’s the second best killer that I ever have seen
They don’t come much more sick than you
I could go on if you want me to

It’s just so wrong, so very nice
And I told you once and you killed me twice
I saw you one time at the back of the club
Chewing on glass and a ticket stub

Said I heard you kicked the boy until he bled
Then you stood and said “oh my God” until she said

Bada ba ba da da da, Bada ba ba da da da da…

Warning: Music nerd moment approaching. Excuse me while I alienate anyone not familiar with time signatures.

I LOVE MIXED METERS. Yeah. Caps lock. It’s that serious. It’s like you’re jamming along and then you’re greeted with an unexpected yet pleasant stumble. I FREAKING LOVE IT.

My love of mixed meters started when I first heard the Beatles song “We Can Work It Out“. There was no going back. Who would stick with a lame 4/4 when you could throw in a 3/4?! Or even, wait for it… a 6/8!

And these guys… OMG they throw in a 7/8 in the chorus!! A 7/8 PEOPLE! *gasps with delight* 

It’s the little things, y’all. Enjoy them.

Well, everybody knows you’re the one to call
When the girls get ugly around the back of the wall
Josephine says you got a bleeding nose
She’s taking it with her wherever she goes

Hey, flathead, don’t check me in
Well hers is a tonic and mine is a gin
They don’t come much more slick than you
I’d drive your car if you ask me to

Said the boy’s not right in the head
And he stood and got a kicking instead until she said

Bada ba ba da da da, Bada ba ba da da da da…

On top of the mixed meter and lyrics, I have to say that I also love this video. A hot pin-up girl makes everything better… and this video has THREE hot pin-up girls. What more could you ask for!?

And she said the boy’s not right in the head
Then stood and said “oh my God” until she said

Bada ba ba da da da, Bada ba ba da da da da…

Remember that double-dog dare?  Yeah, I see you over there. I WIN. 😉


Find more artists like The Fratellis at Myspace Music.

“I Need Air” — Magnetic Man

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2vWQFHP3D0%5D

I first heard Magnetic Man‘s “I Need Air” in the bar at the Generator Hostel in Camden Town, London. I don’t think all songs have to be about the depth of the lyrics – there’s a simplicity here that really caught me the moment I heard it and it really stuck. I guess sometimes it’s not the lyrical genius of songs that mesmerizes us, but the feeling and moment of life that occurs during that first listen.

Perhaps it was the few drinks in me…or maybe it was the fact that it was my first time being (legally) in a bar, my first time being overseas, my first time travelling just with friends – many firsts were happening. Whatever *it* was, when that trance-y beat started I was hooked. The atmosphere in the music video is somewhat indicative of my experience – the blue lights and flashing strobes of the bar and the flying colors on the dance floor were almost too much. The music took me.

My friends and I danced, we drank, we had the time of our lives. We were 3000 miles away from home. There was an unmatched feeling there, something I’ve yet to experience since and that I’m sure awaits me again only in London or a similarly distant locale.

Electrify my body
And you’re makin me feel
Like I’m so electric
Everything you do is makin me
Blow Blow Blow

Don’t know what to do about it
Can’t see how I’d live without it
All I wanna do is just
Know Know Know

You suffocate my mind
And now my atmosphere is crowded
And you being here is makin me
Blow Blow Blow

You penetrate my space
And now I’m looking out of place
And you’re makin it hard for me
I need air!

The chaos of that experience was strange, beautiful and suffocating all at once – that constant beat was like a wave and we were dancing on top of it. The bar was a sea of blues, greens and reds. Trippy. There was a moment where the music, the colors and the atmosphere were all one.

“I Need Air” is now one of my favorite party songs — but it’s more than that. Despite the simplicity of the lyrics, there’s something to be said here: a party, a dance floor or whatever escapist venue you might find is a welcome and constantly sought-after haven from reality. And if you find that haven crowds your space, suffocates you or feels as if it is about to blow, you can find the way through with music like this. You can let yourself go.

Kaleidoscope of colours that you’re bringing me
You’re freaking out my energy
I’m loosin and you’re makin me
Low Low Low

Don’t know what to do about it
You and I can’t live without it
All I wanna do is just
Go Go Go

You smother my emotions
Now I’m drowning in your ocean
And I’m runnin and I’m feeling like
I don’t care

You penetrate my space
And now you’re looking out of place
‘Cos you’re makin this hard for me
I need air!

Those moments in London became a kaleidoscope as the colors and vibrance of the scene suddenly rushed into the dark, flashing bar where in a single moment I seemed to experience what the city was about all at once. London = *life*. You don’t need the stunning visuals of the music video to experience that kind of natural high – you just need this song, a euphoric energy, and a venue (a physical one or one created in your mind). I was totally myself when I first experienced this song and when I hear it now, I continue to feel like it’s okay for me to be who I really am and I don’t have to care whether or not anyone else approves. It was liberating.

Now that I’m back in the states, I listen to this song to immerse myself in those memories and capture that feeling of freedom once again (and again and again). Care to join me in my reverie? The formula for getting there is a simple one: turn off all your lights, play the video at full-screen and pump up the volume until the music is so eclipsing that you need air.


Find more artists like Magnetic Man at Myspace Music.

“Goth Star” — HEALTH (Pictureplane cover)

Something quite magical typically happens around September. I’m old enough now to anticipate it happening, but I’ve yet to be able to accurately target from where the feeling will come. I’ll usually start pulling out my favorite autumn classic records (which I’m sure I’ll post about in the future) to let the mix of nostalgia and welcome weather change trigger the emotional blooming season. Normally, the new addition to my ever-growing collection of fall records doesn’t really manifest itself until around October and I’ll not realize its memorable impact until long after the fact. This year was an exception.

This past Monday, for the first time post summer heat and humidity oppression, I got to throw on a hat and hoodie to start my day. During my morning internet rounds, I found a free download (via Last.fm) of the band HEALTH’s cover of the Pictureplane tune “Goth Star”, and the feeling of fall came much sooner than I was expecting. It was perfect, and everything fell into place.

There a few aspects I find interesting about this piece. For starters, I’m not really someone who focuses so much on lyrics.  For me, the evocative aspects of music lie in the soundscapes. I think it’s why, as much as I love rock and roll, I’m just as much moved by a well produced hip-hop track or electronic piece. (Pick your sub-genre. I’m pretty open to all of them.) The original version of “Goth Star”, sans the R&B vocal sample that’s essentially unintelligible, had no lyrics. HEALTH’s version adds subtle lyrical vamps which add to the melancholy feel of the tune.

All we have is lost…

Beg for what you want…

I find it interesting that so many current bands cover the songs of their contemporaries. Another good example of this is Small Black’s cover of Best Coast’s “Sun Was High(And So Was I)”. Certainly this isn’t some new phenomenon, as it was more commonplace pre-MTV era. However, the prior practice was more about songs being sold by dedicated songwriters to performers, rather than the current model of bands writing their own music (mostly…at least as far as rock bands are concerned). Unlike this former “business model”, these covers feel more sincere and facilitate a sense of community amongst indie acts. It hearkens back to Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones covering Bob Dylan songs (“All Along The Watchtower” and “Like A Rolling Stone”, respectively). What makes this instance unique, to me, is the genre crossing. Pictureplane is primarily an electronic act, where as HEALTH is a traditional rock 4-piece (think Nine Inch Nails with more colorful clothing and less overt religious imagery). The de-stigmatization of using synths and samplers in rock and roll enables a lot of this cross-cultural tributing and allows for more accurate recreation of the original pieces.

Look, I live in the American Southeast and I know good and well this bit of cold snap is just a tease. It’ll be 90 degrees again, most likely within the week, and proper autumn weather won’t settle in ‘til most likely late October. However, with all of the other auxiliary aspects of fall kicking off (pun half intended) like football and a new school year/semester, it’s nice to have a soundtrack to welcome in my favorite part of the year. Lucky for me, it’s a cover of a song I like by a band I like. Cheers…


Find more artists like HEALTH at Myspace Music.

“Mean” — Taylor Swift

No matter how hard I try, I can’t shake my love of poppy country music. In that spirit, I present to you: Taylor Swift.

I love this tiny little blonde. She’s absolutely adorable and I could eat her up with a side of ranch enjoy her artistic integrity.

The first time I heard “Mean,” I could not stop the tears. Even with the upbeat tempo and her sparkly awesomeness, the lyrics really struck an old chord to which I suppose we all can relate… the pain inflicted by teenage bullies. Although I cannot speak from experience, I’m pretty sure even the most popular kids felt picked on during their teenage years.

But, who wants to talk about those people!? A little vanity never hurt anyone, so let’s talk about ME.

You, with your words like knives and swords and weapons that you use against me
You have knocked me off my feet again got me feeling like I’m nothing
You, with your voice like nails on a chalkboard, calling me out when I’m wounded
You, pickin’ on the weaker man

Well, you can take me down with just one single blow
But you don’t know what you don’t know

Someday I’ll be living in a big old city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean

Why you gotta be so mean?

Think back to elementary school… Do you remember that one fat kid everyone made fun of? The one that was the last to be picked in P.E.? The kid that came in last during the mile run and had to use an inhaler daily? The one that tried to fit in to every “group,” but ended up embarrassing themselves? The one that hadn’t figured out how to dress or fix their hair?

Surprise! That was me. As a chubby, freckle face ginger kid with no fashion sense or ability to tame my thick red hair, I was the antithesis of cool.

Did I mention I was VERY aware of it? Yeah, I was pretty miserable.

I did have some friends… and I loved them dearly, but even an army of friends cannot save you from bullies making jokes about you. And what’s worse than the jokes they make in front of you? The ones you’re never meant to hear… but you do.

You, with your switching sides and your walk-by lies and your humiliation
You, have pointed out my flaws again as if I don’t already see them
I’ll walk with my head down trying to block you out ’cause I’ll never impress you
I just wanna feel okay again

I’ll bet you got pushed around, somebody made you cold
But the cycle ends right now ’cause you can’t lead me down that road
And you don’t know what you don’t know

And then there was high school. Ahhhhh, high school. Oh, don’t worry. I lost a little weight and figured out how to use a flat iron, but in exchange I found something far worse. BAND. Mattus can back me up on this one! Not only was I a self-proclaimed “Bando,” I was a freaking drum major for two years. For those of you that have been living under a rock for 100+ years, band geeks are not exactly popular. If anything, we lived in that band room to hide from the harsh reality of those high school hallways. I loved our music and formed some wonderful friendships that I still cherish to this day. Even so, we were still the brunt of many jokes.

And FYI, This one time at band camp DID NOT HELP ONE BIT.

One of the most painful omfg-we’re-actually-that-lame memories came from my senior year. I’ll spare you the gritty details (that’s what I pay my therapist for), but here’s the short version. I was in the orchestra and we played for the senior class during an awards ceremony. After playing our little nerdy hearts out, to my great surprise we got a standing ovation! … or so I thought. I looked into the crowd and saw that a lot of people were just standing so they could stretch after sitting so long. Their claps were sarcastic and the were laughing at us. Laughing AT us. It stung.

At that particular moment, I wanted to either pull a Carrie or have the earth open up and swallow me whole. Neither one happened. I simply got to sit back and soak up the reality of our lameness.

And I can see you years from now in a bar, talking over a football game
With that same big loud opinion but nobody’s listening
Washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things
Drunk and grumbling on about how I can’t sing

But all you are is mean
All you are is mean and a liar and pathetic and alone in life
And mean, and mean, and mean, and mean

But someday I’ll be living in a big old city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean, yeah
Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean

Why you gotta be so mean?

This song reminds us of some simple but important truths. High school (thankfully) does end. We do grow up. Bullies are (and probably always will be) assholes. You should ignore them as much as you can and save the rest for your therapist and/or blog (Voila!). Just keep your chin up because it does get better. A lot better.

I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite shows…

The funny thing about growing up is for years and years everyone is desperately afraid to be different in any way and then suddenly, almost overnight, everyone wants to be different… and that’s where we win.” (Mitchell, from Modern Family)


Find more artists like Taylor Swift at Myspace Music.

“The Misfit” — John Larkin

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UW_a2t3q9bA%5D

John Larkin? Who? Does this have anything to do with a certain short story?

You probably know him as this guy.

When I was a sophomore at Berry, my roommate and I developed a slightly unhealthy (and mercifully brief) obsession with what were perhaps Larkin’s two best known tunes — to the point where I am pretty sure everyone on seventh Dana thought we were just a tad unhinged (for a couple of weeks) what with all our singing about Scatman’s World and being the Scatman.

For whatever reason I never really sought out any additional music of Larkin’s until earlier this year when the aforementioned roommate stopped by Berry upon his triumphant return to the states from Scotland. Of course there were the obligatory reminiscences of our antics in 2002 and 2003 and of course Scatman John came up in our discussions. Later that day, and quite by accident, I happened upon a couple of audio-only uploads from his eponymous 1986 album whilst scouring YouTube for videos of tunes from his three Eurodance releases.

The best word to describe my reaction was shock. Genuine shock. I’d always assumed his success and notoriety were the result of a clever marketing campaign to take an everyday 50-something guy, slap a hat, suit, tie and not altogether unpleasant mustache on him, have him release an album of scat singing chock-full of idyllic aphorisms about world peace, the value of soul over body and the obsolescence of winning and losing to a European audience, and reap the monetary benefits. Instead, there was a legitimate musician hiding behind all the techno beats and dance hall synth effects.

somebody asked “what’s the meaning of jazz?”
and I said “we’re the misfits
and all I can tell you
is while you’re still sleeping
the saints are still weeping
’cause things you call dead
haven’t yet had the chance to be born”

I have two reasons for citing these particular lyrics: (1) I always felt like a misfit when I was in jazz band in high school (it was apparently a sin to be a bando between the ages of 14 and 18 when my “peers” thought it was best to turn disengagement into an art form) and (2) I discovered that what you might call Larkin’s idealism wasn’t necessarily a product of his mid-90s dance beat stage persona (anyone familiar with “Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)” should be experiencing déjà vu).

The whole story of John Larkin is worth reading if you have some time — his fortune in turning what is usually regarded as a hindrance into a success story is heartwarming (if perhaps too predictable for folks familiar with how things tend to develop in the music industry). Larkin passed away in 1999 — it’s hard to say what he would have done into his 60s and 70s but I maintain the naive hope that he would have revisited his jazz origins in the form of an album of original work. It’s my opinion that his current legacy — though it contains a message of hope to those seeking to turn a disadvantage into an advantage — is incomplete. By offering this tune for your listening pleasure, I feel that I’m helping correct this oversight in some small measure.


Author’s Note: An official Myspace Music page for John Larkin does not currently exist; I hope the Facebook page maintained by his widow will suffice.

“Kyrie” from Lord Nelson Mass — Franz Joseph Haydn & “Daemon Irrepit Callidus” — György Orbán

“Kyrie” from Lord Nelson Mass — Franz Joseph Haydn

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSGa5oJDELE&feature=youtube_gdata_player%5D

“Daemon Irrepit Callidus” — György Orbán

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RNBf3CS9KU&feature=youtube_gdata_player%5D

For me, music attaches most strongly to memory when I perform it. I never learned to play an instrument, although I can strum a few chords on a guitar and pick out a melody on a keyboard. What I did was sing in various choirs throughout my school career. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not extraordinarily talented, nor should I audition for American Idol. Still, my experiences with music will always be colored by performance, by letting music flow not only into but also through my body.

I can clearly remember the dress rehearsal for my first high school concert. We were singing Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass. At the time, I sang in the women’s choir, so I was only used to hearing the soprano and alto parts along with the piano accompaniment. At the rehearsal (and in the concert), the advanced choir—complete with tenor and bass—would join us, as would four professional soloists and my school’s orchestra, who had practiced the same piece for a joint concert.

If you haven’t heard it before, you should check out the first movement—“Kyrie”—from the Lord Nelson Mass. It’s not exactly a shy, retiring melody. Rather, it’s a wall of sound that hits the audience full-force from the beginning. On the afternoon of that dress rehearsal, I was stunned by the power added by the men’s voices and orchestral accompaniment. Overwhelmed by the beauty and strength of hundreds of voices and instruments combined, I literally forgot to sing . . . until my friend elbowed me, that is. It was the first time I really felt that potent sense of belonging that comes from being part of something much, much greater than oneself.

That sense of belonging took a slightly eerie turn with György Orbán’s “Daemon Irrepit Callidus,” a quick, devilish Latin number used for the All-State tryouts my junior year. I hadn’t tried out before, so I didn’t know what to expect. We met at the high school early one Saturday morning and drove to another school for the auditions. I remember receiving a tryout number and then walking toward the school’s auditorium with my nervous gaggle of classmates. The imposingly thick, heavy wooden doors—you know the type—transmitted only muffled sound. Once heaved open, that sound expanded into the unbearably strong yet irritatingly tinny noise that can only come from accompaniment on cassette tape played too loudly (and on a continuous loop) through the auditorium’s sound system.

The only way I know to describe how it felt is to say I felt like I had entered Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, or any other well-made, religious-themed horror film.

Hundreds of high school students, glassy-eyed with lack of sleep and practically shimmering with nervous energy, perched on the upholstered auditorium seats. They all faced the empty stage with its closed, blood-red curtains. Sheet music in hand, they sang along with the tape, practicing the tryout section over and over again while waiting for their numbers to be called. It was far too loud for conversation, so my friends and I wandered, trance-like, to the first free row of seats, sat down, pulled out our music, and began to sing along, as glassy-eyed and nervous as the others.

There, the sense of belonging was tinged with the strange, cult-like feeling I get whenever I hear (and participate in) groups of people reciting the same thing all at once. It was intense, magical, and somehow just a little bit off—exactly like the music itself.

Don’t get me wrong. I love performing. Whether I’m belting in the shower, mumbling my way through half-understood Spanish-language lyrics in my car, or singing onstage, the act helps me connect to a piece of music in a deeper way. The experience is admittedly hard to define. However, both of these intense experiences epitomize what it is, to me, to be not just a listener but, in fact, part of a song.


Find more artists like Franz Joseph Haydn and György Orbán at Myspace Music.

“It Was a Good Day” – Ice Cube

If rap music has power ballads, then this may be its finest.  I was 13 in the spring of 1993, the same time MTV began airing the music video for what would become Ice Cube’s most recognized anthem.  In 1993, MTV was one of the two ways I learned about new music (the other being my sister away at college and the mix tapes she would make me…bands with crazy names like Hootie and the Blowfish and Counting Crows).  The problem was my parents, who didn’t care for MTV any more than they cared for my burgeoning sense of fashion.  For that reason, most of my viewing took place when I had the house to myself.  It was then, as a 13-year-old suburban white boy, that I realized I loved rap music.

There was and is something altogether relaxing about “It Was a Good Day.”  Perhaps it’s the laid back sampling, the steady, if not monotonous melody that loops throughout the track and invited me into an average day in South Central Los Angeles.  Maybe it’s Ice Cube’s delivery, which is never rushed, making it all the easier for me to rap along with.

Just wakin’ up in the mornin’ gotta thank God

I don’t know but today seems kinda odd

No barkin’ from the dog, no smog

And mama cooked a breakfast with no hog.

Ice Cube likes pork products for breakfast?  This I could relate to.  Hooking up with girls and wondering if I’d live to see another day?  Not so much.  But sausage biscuits?  I feel that.  For real.  Of course the music video made the lyrics come alive.  Ice Cube looked like a total badass cruising the city streets in his classic candy apple green Chevy Impala, the hydraulics thrusting the car up and down to match the beat.  Of course I was unfamiliar with the entire vernacular. “Brew,” “chronic,” and certainly “punanny” were all foreign nouns as far as I was concerned.  My sheltered childhood had left me behind my public school contemporaries, but thanks to a largely descriptive music video, I was quickly putting two and two together.  It wasn’t just the depiction of casual sex and recreational drug use that seemed so authentic, or for that matter, so raw.  It was the flow of the words, not unlike poetry, that grabbed me.  It was unlike anything I had heard up until that point.  Granted, my only real exposure to rap had been M.C. Hammer and (please understand that it pains me to write this) DC Talk, which would be a little bit like only ever eating at the Olive Garden before moving to Italy.  There was no comparison.  I was hooked on the phrasing, the clever word play, the ability to weave a story into four minutes of rhymes.  Both Vanilla Ice and Snow had ruined everything for white rappers a few years before, and Eminem had yet to break through, so I doubted a career was in the cards for me.  That, however, didn’t stop me from rapping in the car, in the shower, and in my head.

And it still hasn’t.

Drunk as hell but no throwing up

Halfway home and my pager’s still blowing up

Today I didn’t even have to use my AK

I gotta say it was a good day.


Find more artists like Ice Cube at Myspace Music.