Karma and Country Music

Do you believe in karma? That idea that there is a guiding hand of fate, which can bring the consequences of your actions back to you as a payment or a punishment? Personally, I’ve always been more inclined to believe in chance than karma. I can believe that the sheer size and complexity of the universe has the power to bring things together in an infinite number of infinitely strange ways without an underlying force with a master plan and a taste for revenge. However, a few events in my life have made me wonder about this…

When I was in middle and high school, my little circle of friends had one ground rule: the host picks the music. When you were at someone else’s house (and later, riding in someone else’s car), you kept your hands away from the radio dial. This rule wasn’t something we ever discussed or took a vote on, but all were aware of its presence in our little clique. It started out innocently enough under the guise of simply being polite. But in time it became a necessity. And a major factor in that necessity had to do with me.

During those years several of my closest friends were listening to country music, while I was beginning my descent into the depths of classic rock. Now there is quite a bit of distance between Garth Brooks and The Beatles. This is not a matter of value–although at the time I probably would have said differently–it is merely a confluence of factors, among them time period, geographic location, culture, direct musical influences, and the products of two very different songwriters. But at the age of 16, bridging the gap between them was nearly impossible. My friends quickly grew tired of listening to All You Need Is Love, although all things considered they put up with it pretty well. But this was the height of my music snobbery and I had little to no tolerance for music I didn’t like. I also had (still have) a streak of passive aggressiveness. I couldn’t stand most of what they were listening to, but I kept it to myself… at least, I thought I did. I never touched my friends’ radios. I listened to what felt like tons of songs that I couldn’t stand and rarely asked to listen to something else. I was a perfect angel, right? Wrong.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t very aware of my body in those days and was equally unaware of my facial expressions. I was also blissfully ignorant of my habit of audibly sighing when I was feeling frustrated. The combination of grimace and drawn-out sigh tried their patience more than once and earned me a few terse admonishments from one friend in particular. To my knowledge, those conversations were the only time our little rule was spoken of.

Now I do take full responsibility for my own actions, conscious or unconscious. But I have to say that I do remember more than one occasion where the opening line of Help! was frantically echoed from the backseat of my car. One of my old friends still can’t stand The Beatles to this day and he isn’t shy about telling me so.  And another one was about ready to flog me for putting Here, There, and Everywhere on her wedding reception mix. She only relented because it was actually an appropriate song for the occasion and wasn’t one of the ones played on repeat during our high school years.

About now is the cue for the peanut gallery to pipe up and ask, “What the hell does this have to do with karma?” Well sit tight, kiddos. I promise I’ll get to my point soon.

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The Award for the Best Song in a TV Show…

Ok, I admit it. I’m taking things a bit easy this week with the blog. Last week’s post was massive compared to my usual inane chatterings on music. Between research, writing, and revision (lots of revision), I lost the lion’s share of a weekend. I shut myself away with my ear phones blaring 60’s music on repeat for hours. It was literally like I was back in grad school working on a major paper! This isn’t meant to sound whiny or anything. I worked really hard on my little treatise and I’m very proud of it. But I must say that it’s been a bit of a crazy week around here, what with major spring cleaning (long overdue, I can assure you), dead mice (and panic!), and today a freaking earthquake! So instead of another editorial on developing music trends or a casual walk down my musical memory lane, I thought I’d give you a little treat.

Placement of music in film is very important and a song can easily make or break a scene. I know I could write a term paper on the subject (and let’s face it folks, someday I probably will), but tonight I’m just going to give you one good example of a well placed song. Fans of the Cartoon Network show Symbionic Titan may already be familiar with this one, but how can you go wrong with a huge robot locked in battle with a towering alien monster set to Space Age Love Song by A Flock of Seagulls? Well in my opinion, you simply can’t. So enjoy!

And because I love this song and just can’t resist, here’s the original music video from 1982! The hair is classic!

What is your favorite epic music scene from a movie or tv show? Is there a song that absolutely ruined a scene?

1960’s Revival?

Well, my friends, it appears that the 1960s are still alive and well in the realm of music. That immensely prolific and infinitely informative decade not only left an indelible mark on the music industry, but it forever changed the perception of what  popular music could be. And it could be argued that it laid the groundwork for the teenage-driven culture we live in now. It is clear that many of today’s artists are pulling heavily from the trends and styles of their parent’s generation. It may even signal a 60s music revival. What’s that? You say it’s a crackpot theory? Don’t be too quick to judge. My little presentation may just make you change your mind…

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The Origin of Angst

Sometimes I am still amazed at the way that a song can instantly transport you to a time in your life and a feeling that you thought was long gone. I find this kind of ironic, given that this sentiment is essentially the entire point of this blog. But none the less, there it is. This lesson recently was driven home for me (again) at work. I was innocently listening to satellite radio on my computer and had happened to choose the 90s grunge station. Lost in my task at hand, I hadn’t really been listening too closely to what was playing. That is, I wasn’t until a very familiar guitar riff came over my speakers. Suddenly, I was 14 years old again.

Now I was a very different person when I was 14 (who isn’t?). Aside from all the other obvious things (like  not being an adult, married, or working in the area of my chosen profession), I was barely starting to discover who I was and where I was at musically. Most friends at the time probably would have labeled me shy and innocent (although maybe not quiet… I didn’t learn volume control until years later). I was always the last one to get the simplest of dirty jokes and I never tried to take the spotlight. Romance was like a foreign country (one I’d have liked to visit, but couldn’t seem to get a Visa to) and boys had only recently begun to transition away from the role of playground torturer to that of plutonic companion or secret crush. But I was a pretty happy kid, for the most part. And yes, at 14 I was definitely still a kid (a.k.a. a late bloomer). I had a loving family, a stable home, good friends, and a very limited world view. Life was still pretty simple and my biggest problem in those days was getting through middle school in one piece (looking back that wasn’t a very big problem).

And then I discovered a little band called Soul Asylum…

Specifically, it was their 6th album that I discovered, entitled Grave Dancers Union. In 1993-94 their song Runaway Train was being played practically everywhere, even on my school bus. I had recently begun to make my first foray into the realm of alternative rock–the first time in my life where I actually picked the music I liked, not what I thought I was supposed to like–and had managed to save up my little allowance long enough to pick up the CD. I retreated to my bedroom, placed the disc in my CD boom box, and sat there in a daze while track 1 officially ushered me into my teenage years.

This was the first time I truly came face to face with that magical (and at times amusingly tragic) concept called teenage angst. The idea that you could be so lonely that you would accept any kind of attention, even negative attention, was a truly foreign notion to me. But in a strange way it appealed to me, just like it has appealed to practically every teenager produced by modern Western culture. I don’t know if it was my shyness and tendency to play supporting roles in social situations or if it was just hormones, but that jarring opening riff, Dave Pirner’s pleading/demanding lyrics, and the guitar-driven beat all resonated with thoughts and emotions I hadn’t been aware of until then. Little did I know the ride I was in for… but that’s another story.

Do you remember when you discovered your angst? What were you listening to then?

The Coolest New Thing in the World!

In an attempt to achieve some sort of consistency, I’m going to try to start cranking out regular posts on Tuesdays. This will give me the whole weekend to try to think up something interesting and leave then Monday for editing. If it works really well, I might up the ante to 2 entries a week. But that’s only if I start to get ambitious. As I’ve said before, it’s not a lack of ideas, it’s a lack of sitting my but in a chair and typing them out.

I came up with this brilliant Tuesday plan today… only to realize that, in fact, today is Tuesday. I’m amazing, aren’t I? So instead of making you wait a whole week to be subjected to one of my lovely little essays, I decided instead to point you in the direction of… THE COOLEST NEW THING IN THE WORLD!!!

Friends and readers probably already know that I am a fan of Ok Go. They have a new album out called Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, which has some amazing songs on it. The album is named after General A.J. Pleasonton’s The Influence of the Blue Ray of the Sunlight and of the Blue Colour of the Sky, published in 1876. As if that isn’t random enough, the album art is filled with a wide array of color-coded charts, graphs, and patterns which compare the song lyrics to a passage from that book. They compare things like sentence length, syllables, and words common to both texts. It is a level of geek that few bands ever embrace and it makes me love them just a little bit more!

But that is not the coolest new thing in the world. And it is not the actual songs on the record (although they are really great and highly recommended by yours truly). No, the coolest new thing in the world is their video for All Is Not Lost. Now Ok Go is already known for their quirky videos (treadmills, anyone?) and their attempts to be interactive with their audiences. But they have truly taken things to a higher plane this time.

In a collaborative project with Pilobolus Dance Theater, director Trish Sie, and Google (that’s right, you read that), the video uses an experimental format called HTML 5. It runs in your web browser (unsurprisingly, they recommend you use Google Chrome for best results) and can be accessed at http://www.allisnotlo.st. The video lives up to the band’s reputation and the song is beautiful, infinitely hopeful with a rumbling baseline I haven’t been able to get of my head for weeks now. But the best part, the thing that elevates the video and makes it a totally new experience, is this: You get to enter in your own message at the beginning and it will show up at the end! When I heard about this I was skeptical and thought, “Yeah right, it’s probably just some little programming script that spits what you write back at you in a silly font.” Boy, was I wrong! It is something else entirely. But you’ve got to see it to understand.

So here are your instructions: follow the link I stuck above, enter your message, press play, and prepare to be blown away. It is worth it! (If you don’t have Google Chrome on your computer, you can download it for free at http://www.google.com/chrome.) Go! You won’t regret it, I promise.

Ok, if you really don’t want to download Chrome, here is the static video. Still a beautiful song and a neat video, but not the same.

And for those of you not sure, here’s a little behind the scenes video to whet your appetite:

And that, my friends, is THE COOLEST NEW THING IN THE WORLD!!!