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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 30: A Song You Discovered This Month (During The Challenge)

They say all good things must come to an end, and since today is the last day of June, it's time to put the finishing touch on this year's 30 Day Song Challenge. If you're interested in going back to check out my previous picks, I've collected them all at this link. I had a lot of fun mulling over, listening to and writing about music again this time around and I'm already looking forward to next June.

Today's prompt asks for a song that you discovered this month, while doing the challenge. I actually doscovered a lot of new music this month, mostly thanks to friends far and wide who were playing along with me on Facebook, Twitter or on their own blogs. So it's funny, I suppose, that I "discovered" my pick for today right in my own backyard.

I'm really super-excited to share this song and this artist as the grand finale to my 2015 30 Day Song Challenge.

Monday, June 29, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 29: A Song You Want Played At Your Funeral

IT'S A TWO-FER TODAY in the 30 Day Song Challenge!! I couldn't pick just one so I'm giving you both of my picks for today. That may be kind of a sad commentary on the things I think too much about, since today calls for me to pick a song that I want played at my funeral... but, whatever. This has been the most fun category so far.

And I'll go ahead and say that it was very hard for me, like a lot of people I'm guessing, to NOT choose "Another One Bites The Dust." Hey! They're gonna get you, too!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 28: A Song From Your Childhood

Only a few days left in this year's 30 Day Song Challenge and as much as I've enjoyed participating again this summer, it just got considerably more difficult to do so as I am now swamped with other blog-matters (specifically, my post regarding the recent SCOTUS "marriage equality" decision).  Thankfully, today's prompt is a simple and fun one.  Ahhhhh, childhood.

Like most people my age, I was in part raised and educated by the PBS children's program  Sesame Street, As you may or may not have heard, the early episodes of Sesame Street have now been released as a multi-volume DVD collection entitled Sesame Street: Old School.  For those of us who grew up watching the show, the collection offers a healthy helping of nostalgia and probably several hours worth of hilarity for the next time you and your friends have had a few drinks.  Be forewarned, though:  you'll need to send the kiddies to bed before you watch,  because (according to the warning labels) Sesame Street: Old School is FOR ADULTS ONLY.  Now, you're probably thinking to yourself "WHAAAAA??!!  WHYYYY??!!" as I did when I heard the news.  Is this the edict of some Helicopter Parent? Have the PC Police overstepped their bounds?  Surely there was terrible mistake at the labeling factory!  Did some poor intern mix up the Sesame Street:Old School boxes with The Wire boxes?

A Half-Million Thanks

Sometime late last night, this blog reached a major milestone: we passed the HALF-MILLION UNIQUE VISITORS mark!  I want to express my sincere gratitude to and appreciation for all of you who have stopped by this little corner of the Internet.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.

The aim of my work here has always been to cultivate a space for pubic discourse about philosophy, politics, music and pop culture, to contribute in some large or small way to those discourses and to do my part to, in the words of Gilles Deleuze, make stupidity shameful.  I have learned a tremendous amount in the course of doing so and in conversations with many of you here.

RMWMTMBM will be undergoing some cosmetic changes over the next few weeks,so keep an eye out for our new "look" (to be unveiled, if all goes well, late-July or early-August).

I leave you with the full Deleuze quote (from Nietzsche and Philosophy) referenced above:
"Philosophy does not serve the State or the Church, who have other concerns. It serves no established power. The use of philosophy is to sadden. A philosophy that saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not a philosophy. It is useful for harming stupidity, for turning stupidity into something shameful. Philosophy is at its most positive as critique, as an enterprise of demystification. And we should not be too hasty in proclaiming philosophy's failure in this respect. Great as they are, stupidity and baseness would be still greater if there did not remain some philosophy which always prevents them from going as far as they would wish, which forbids them — if only by yea-saying — from being as stupid and base as they would wish. They are forbidden certain excesses, but only by philosophy."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

My Sad Trombone Blows For The SCOTUS Decision (Which Also Blows)

Love did NOT win on Friday when the Supreme Court declared (so-called) "marriage equality" a Constitutional right in its Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Make no mistake: there were a lot of people/interests/agendas that did win yesterday, innumerably more that lost, but "love" wasn't even a lowly grunt in that battle. Neither were "dignity," "respect," "tolerance," "acceptance" and least of all any progressive sense of "equality."

The War on/for Marriage of the last decade was only ever a series of battles between Marriage1 ("traditional" marriage, between one cis-man and one cis-woman) and Marriage2 (also "traditional" marriage, but the cis-woman can swap out her cis-man for another cis-woman, and vice versa). So color me not-at-all-surprised that the protracted-- though, historically speaking, quite abbreviated-- denouement of this War was brought to its finale with SCOTUS' pronouncement that (shocker!) marriage won the contest against itself.  That is to say, a fundamentally exclusive, overdetermined and state-sanctioned cultural institution-- which bestows civic and economic rewards for thoroughly undemocratic reasons entirely unrelated to merit, right or desert, which does so at the expense and to the detriment of more than half our democratic citizenry, which has no governing interest other than the managerial consolidation of private property and the compulsory regularization/normalization of sexual behaviors, familial structures and gender expressions-- has now been marginally modified by the highest court in the land to be a slightly-less-exclusive exclusionary institution.

Color me also unimpressed.

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 27: A Song You Wish You Could Sing

I play guitar and there are plenty of songs that I actually can't play (because I lack the skill/proficiency) but wish I could.  Like, I can't even play those songs badly. Singing is different than playing an instrument, I think, because anyone with a voice can sing any song, even if they do so poorly.  Today I'm picking a song that I wish I could sing well.

I have a low-alto singing voice.  My vocal range is not too shabby, comparatively speaking, but the higher I get in that range the more I tend to cheat and rely on "belting." That is to say, I don't have as much control in my higher registers as I do in my lower ones.  But even with the cheat-belting, there comes a point when there are notes I just can't reliably hit without switching to falsetto, which almost always sounds awful when I do it.

Friday, June 26, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 26: A Song That Is An Earworm

Earworms are funny creatures, really. When you find yourself infected with one, it can be either a blessing or a curse. Earworms feed on our obsessive-compulsive tendencies, they activate whatever tacit proclivity for addiction lies deep within us, and the only cure for bad ones is to replace them with good ones. It's kind of like the former heroin addict who becomes a marathon runner: the behavioral impulse being indulged is the same, it's just transferred its energies to the service of something healthy rather than unhealthy. But even healthy obsessive-compulsions are still, in the end, obsessive-compulsions.

I'm going to err on the side of positivity today and choose an earworm-experience that was not a miserable one, though it was a protracted one. It happens to be an earworm with which I was infected for a full-- and I counted-- ten days back in the Fall of 2013. Unfortunately, I can't remember what finally broke the spell, though I am sure that it must've been some other earworm.  That's just how these things work.  Here's the story:

Thursday, June 25, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 25: A Song With Utterly Mysterious Lyrics

There was a brief moment of time, after the demise of albums with liner-notes and before the Internet, when it really was possible to be genuinely stymied by a song's lyrics. Now, of course, it's easy to find the words to any song, no matter how muddled or garbled they may have been delivered in their recorded version.  I kind of miss the days when we could argue about what a singer was really saying, though (thankfully) the availability and easy accessibility of correct song lyrics has done little to diminish people's hilarious mangling of the same.

See: "Rocket Man"

There remains a number of songs, of course, with lyrics that are "utterly mysterious" in that other, more meaningful, sense: songs that were probably written while tripping or hungover or heartbroken beyond the point of communicability. Or songs that are just magnificently, creatively and incomprehensibly weird.  (See: "What Does The Fox Say?"). Those seem like too-easy picks for today, since the majority of them, I suspect, were intended to stymie the understanding. So I'm taking different approach.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 24: Your Favorite Song This Time Last Year

This time last year, I was blogging (the 2014 iteration of) the 30 Day Song Challenge, as I've done for the last several summers. So I was listening to a much wider array of music than normal, and a lot of songs that were not necessarily "hits" at the moment.  One of the serendipitous things about doing this Challenge every June is that in the process of searching for songs that answer each day's prompt, inevitably I find myself stumbling upon something new. My pick for today isn't something that was released this time last year, but rather something that I "discovered" this time last year.

I do remember that I was going through a Hall & Oates phase at the moment, an 80s duo whose music I truly love. One of my friends, I don't remember who-- if it was you, please let me know so I can give you credit-- introduced me to a truly fantastic EP of Hall & Oates mashups/remixes by The Melker Project titled Ballin' Oates. (I'm now a huge fan of DJ Scott Melker.  Check him out.) At any rate, that discovery sent me in search of more of the like. For what it's worth, I recommend that everyone go down a musical rabbit hole sometime; you will find some really awesome stuff tucked away among the detritus cluttering the less-frequently-visited corners of the Internet.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 23: A Song You Want Played At Your Wedding

Because I'm still catching up on these challenge picks following my elbow surgery, it just so happens that I'm writing today's post on June 26, the day that the Supreme Court announced its decision declaring a Constitutional right to (so-called) "marriage equality."  I don't want to blow my sad trombone today, on a day when so many people of good conscience have good reason to be celebrating, so I'll just say for now that I think this is a Pyrrhic victory. My reasons for thinking so are many and complicated, but that is a post for another day... a day when I have full use of both of my arms and can actually type.

In re today's prompt, though, I should probably first note that I have no intention of ever getting married. That said, who doesn't love a wedding? And who doesn't really love a wedding party?  I may be critical of the fundamentally exclusive and unequal institution that is marriage, which hands out civic and economic rewards for no reason related to merit or desert, but even I have a real beating heart, which is warmed by the pronouncements of love between two people and the promises of their community to affirm and sustain that love. .

Monday, June 22, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 22: A Song You Wish You Had Written

I've written a fair number of songs in my life, some of them pretty good, most of them average. My experience with songwriting is of two kinds: either (1) songs come to me almost whole cloth and all I have to do is just transcribe them, or (2) pieces of songs come to me-- a lick, a turn of phrase, a chorus-- and then I sit with them for months, sometimes years, trying to hammer out the missing parts and fabricate something resembling an organic whole out of them. The former of those experiences is a magical and transcendent. The latter of those experiences is pure misery.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 21: A Song That Is Best Heard Live

I love gospel music, which in every instance I think is best heard live.   Gospel music is the music of praise, of solicitation, of lamentation, of supplication and of celebration . It is meant to be sung, not merely listened to, and it is meant to be sung with others.  It is a testament to the ties that bind communities of belief together.  It is the music of their "good news," and it is the most beautiful way they share that news and affirm that community, So the challenge today was not what kind of song to pick, but rather only which gospel song to pick.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 20: A Song To Listen To When You're Angry

My entries for the rest of the month are going to be brief, because I just had elbow surgery and am now living what, if it were a sitcom,  I'd dub "My So Called One-Armed Life."  My options for typing now are either henpecking or voice recognition software, both of which are time-consuming and neither of which are particularly effective.  I've opted for the voice recognition software, but I'm finding that I spend as much time henpeck-editing as I do voice-typing, Also, I cannot tie my shoes.

Friday, June 19, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 19: A Song That Bar Bands Should Stop Playing

For the most part, bar band songs become "bar band songs" in the first place because they're the sort that people can hear over and over again without tiring of them. So I don't really have a beef with most bar band songs.  I wish that Beale Street bands didn't play "Sweet Home Alabama" so frequently, for what I hope are obvious reasons, and there are a few Elvis songs I could stand to hear less often, but other than those I really don't mind hearing the same stuff over and over.

Since I must choose one, though, I'm going with Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," which is not one of my favorite songs to begin with, which is played too often and which has that unfortunate la-la-tee-dah-ing at the end that I find super-annoying.  Here it is:



For the record, I really like Van Morrison quite a bit.  "Brown Eyed Girl" is just a little too chipper-cheesy for my tastes, and it's gotten more insufferable over the years. I'd be fine if bar bands just stopped playing it altogether, but since that is unlikely, I suppose it serves as a good excuse to go to the bathroom during a show.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 18: A Song That Every Bar Band Should Know

I'm resisting every last urge of my lesser self to pick "Sweet Caroline" today.

You're welcome.

First, allow me to set the proper mise-en-scene for today's prompt. There is, blessedly, a wide variety of live-entertainment bars in these more-or-less-blessed United States, with a correspondingly wide variety of  what counts as "appropriate" music to play in them.  And so there are, of course, site-specific tunes that will be more or less requisite for each of those varia. Here's the universally true thing for "bar bands," though: it really doesn't matter what bar they're playing in, how talented they are (collectively or individually), how many ohmyGodhaveyouevenHEARDITt?! (SOOAMAZING!!) original songs they may have in their repository or how dedicated their fans (who show up) are. The cold, hard truth for every bar band who has every played any bar is THIS AND ONLY THIS: at the end of the day, bar bands are paid to accomplish only two things, (1) keep people from leaving the bar and (2) give those people IN the bar even more reason to spend even more money AT the bar. Don't want to burst anyone's bubble here, but I spent the better part of my20's (and, ahem, a few years into my early-30's) playing in bar bands and so I had more than a decade of instruction in the importance of learning--nay, the requirement of learning-- to play an entire songbook of songs that drinking people want to hear at the beginning, during or at the end of a night of drinking.   I was lucky enough to play with bar bands that agreed to squeeze my original songs into the set list, so at least I had the minimal satisfaction that "my" songs got heard, if not really "listened to."  (This one in particular gained some traction during my bar-band years, as did this one.)  Blahblahblah, beggars can't be choosers and such.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 17: A Song You Hear Often On The Radio

I do not abide total silence well and so, as a consequence, it is hardly ever completely quiet in my living space  I turn on NPR first thing in the morning, I listen to music or news-programming when I'm in the car, I always have something playing in my home or office while I work, and most nights I fall asleep with either music or the television on. For many people, this sort of constant "background noise" is a distraction. For me, silence is deafening.

I just can't concentrate or focus in total silence.  That isn't to say I'm always "actively listening" to whatever is playing, but I need it playing anyway in order to think or sleep. Sometimes, after work, I'll come home and sit in front of the television or turn on a podcast and discover, after a half-hour or so when the programming grabs my direct attention again, that I cannot remember what it was that I was watching or listening to. I once explained it this way in re TV: I'm not really watching, I'm just letting the television "occupy my face," by which I mean it's keeping my senses busy, something that (perhaps counterintuitively) allows me to think more clearly.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 16: A Song You Used To Love But Now Hate

Falling out of love with something (or someplace, or someone) can be awkward to experience, even more awkward to explain.  Our affections are mercurial, often unpredictably so, and there isn't always a neat and clean account to be given for why you stopped to stare amorously into one of life's store-windows only to then, well, just move on.  The road from OMG to meh is a winding, wandering and well-traveled one, but woefully lacking in directional markers.

Not so with the road from love to hate.  To generate actual dislike from like requires some extra activating element-- a wrongdoing, a harm, a perjury or the introduction of some other perspective-refracting agent-- such that the lover is given cause to look on the formerly-beloved as alien, strange and therefore no longer deserving of his or her amorous affection.  I loved you, I thought I knew you, but I was wrong about you.  When this happens between two people, it's a terribly unpleasant experience for both sides. But, then again, anything that generates hatred between people is a terrible experience.

Mercifully, we're not talking about people today.

Monday, June 15, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 15: The Theme Song To Your Life

It seems like bad juju to pick the theme song to your life before you've finished living it, but oh well.

[*throws salt over shoulder*]

I miss the days when television gave us real theme songs, by which I mean songs with words, not the sonic mood-setters typical of so many popular programs now. (Listen: Breaking Bad, Game of ThronesMad Men)  Maybe everyone thinks this, but I think a very good case can me made for my childhood years being the Golden Age for great TV theme songs. Whatever happened to them, anyway? Remember The Greatest American HeroThe JeffersonsThe Facts of LifeCheersDiff'rent StrokesGimme A BreakThe Brady Bunch?  Theme songs have been around since the beginning of television, of course, but they were really perfected in 70's and 80's television. Then, it seems like people just gave up on them sometime in the late 90's.  Weird.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 14: A Song No One Would Expect You To Love

I suspect today's will be the most difficult prompt of the month, because it requires me to step outside of myself and try to think about what others think about what I think about music. Others know that I think a lot about music, so what I really have to consider is what others think about me, my tastes, my prejudices and biases, even my own image of myself as a music-lover. Meta-meta post here, for sure.

Of course, no one who has read my music posts over the years would expect me to love a Celtic song, or death-metal song, or an experimental jazz song, all of which fall within genres of music that I don't like and don't listen to.  I won't be upsetting those expectations today.  And even though there are specific artists/bands within my preferred genres about whom I have made my dislike clear-- Taylor Swift, The Doors, etc-- it would be a stretch to say that no one would expect me to love at least one of their songs.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 13: A Song That Is A Guilty Pleasure

As a rule, I don't like the category "guilty pleasure" when it's applied to music.  You like the songs you like.  No harm, no foul

Most of the time, when asked to report their "guilty" music pleasures, people tend to pick from artists like ABBA or Neil Diamond or Boyz II Men-- all of whom I love, by the way-- but what they really mean is not that they feel guilty listening to these artists, but rather that they feel a little embarrassed admitting their pleasure to you.  I don't feel guilty admitting to you the immense pleasure I experience when listening to the songs of many artists who are widely (and, for the most part, rightly) judged to be cheesy, corny, overproduced or under-talented.  In fact, today marks my 103rd post in the four years I've been doing this Song Challenge.  I'm positive there are a number of selections among those songs about which I ought to feel some embarrassment and/or guilt.  Alas, taste is a funny thing.

Friday, June 12, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 12: A Song From An Artist You Hate

I've made no secret over the years about my dislike for NashVegas wunderkind and fake-country recording artist Taylor Swift.  She even made it into my "Uncanny Valley" series on this blog (see here) as an example of what I called the very Form of the Fake.  Now, I'll admit I've been pretty harsh in my evaluations of Swift-- I once called her a "substandard, photorealist bad copy of a person"-- but, in my defense, those evaluations were leveled against her in her younger and more insufferable years.  She's still young, and still for the most part insufferable, but I'm now ready to cut her considerably more slack than I have in the past.  Mostly that's because she and her management team have eased up a bit on insisting that she is a "country artist" and have embraced the identity that is proper to her, "pop artist."  And yeah, okay, she has produced a lot of killer good pop songs in the past few years.

Mea culpa, sorta.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 11: A Song From Your Favorite Band

First, let's just get something straight right away: The Rolling Stones is the greatest band of all time.  Full stop.

Several years ago, my favorite music magazine No Depression ran a contest they called "Exile on Main Street vs. The White Album Smackdown" and invited readers to write in and explain why one album was better than the other.  I submitted my entry, "Why 'Exile on Main Street' Gets My Rocks Off" and basically provided a slam-dunk argument for why The Stones are and will always be a better band than The Beatles (since I don't think "Exile" or "The White Album" are the best of either band's work).  If you want to know all the details of why I love, love, LOVE The Rolling Stones, go read that piece now.  Go ahead, I'll wait.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 10: A Song That Helps You Fall Asleep

If you've ever lived close to a train track, which I have for many of the years of my adult life, you know exactly what it means to love and to believe in the sound of a train in the distance.  There's something seductive and promissory about that sound, something that assures you that there are other places, places where things might be otherwise, where people might be happier, or sadder in a different way, where strangers to you are friends to one another, where what is familiar to you is strange and what is strange to you is familiar.  The sound of a train in the distance sounds likes "somewhere else," like a dream world, like the place you want to go when you're trying to fall asleep.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 9: A Song That Makes You Want To Dance

There are any number of songs by the late, great Michael Jackson that make me want to dance. Most of them, in fact.  In addition to being a phenomenal and innovative dancer himself, MJ also had a preternatural talent for producing songs with just the right mix of rhythm and groove to force listeners' bodies to almost involuntarily respond.

There are a few different ways to understand the "make" in "songs that make you want to dance."  For example, there are the driving and frenetic sorts, like OutKast's "Hey Ya," that make you want to dance because you're overcome by the pure joy of their sonic assault.  Then there are the slower and steadier sorts, like Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason," that make you want to dance because you find yourself kind of sliiiiding into them, like slipping into a vat of honey.  My choice for today falls somewhere between those.  It's of the groovier sort, the kind that makes you want to dance by laying out a perfect rhythmic pocket to sit and sway in, like a porch swing.

Monday, June 08, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 8: A Song You Know All The Words To

Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of musical theater.  This may be due in part to the fact that I seem to lack whatever aesthetic gene or neuron inclines us against corniness, but I like to think that it's rather because I have a deep appreciation for storytelling in song.   My favorite musical of all time is Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, which is a brilliantly complex story about the perils of deontology.  (In fact, the subtitle of the comic opera is "The Slave of Duty.")  In it, the lead character Frederick, who was pledged to the service of pirates until his 21st birthday by a hard-of-hearing nursery maid (who mistook "pilot" for "pirate") when Frederick was a boy, struggles with the moral complexities of his accidental station in life.  Because he has an over-developed sense of duty, Frederick fulfills his pledged service, but (for the same reason) he suffers a nagging conscience all those 21 years as he must engage in the nefarious activities of piracy.  When he reaches his 21st birthday, his obligation satisfied, Frederick tries to leave the pirates and lead an honest life, only to find out that he was actually born on the 29th of February in a leap year and so, technically, is only 5 years old.

Much hilarity ensues.  If I didn't think I would be tarred and feathered for doing so, I would show The Pirates of Penzance every time I taught Kant.  It is an excellent treatment of the conflict between freedom and obligation, as well as farcical reflection on the accidents of life.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 7: A Song You Never Tire of Hearing

I had some major blog snafus this past week, so I'm waaay behind on the 30 Day Song Challenge!  What that means for you, readers, is that the entries are going to be considerably briefer for the next several days while I catch up.

Today's prompt was easy for me.  I'm choosing Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," which is a song that I hear very often and so have had plenty of opportunity to tire of hearing. I never have tired of it, though. The track opens with a string sequence,that swells up to a crescendo and broadcasts its intention to tell you something epic and true from the very start.  When Cooke comes in with his opening line-- I was booooorn by the river-- he confirms that, yes, this is an epic story.  And like all epics, it begins with a creation account.

This song really does have everything.  Metaphorical conjunctions of man and Nature (Just like that river, I've been running ever since), cosmological and theological speculations (It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die, cause I don't know what's up there beyond the sky), tragedy (I say "brother, help me please" but he winds up knocking me back down on my knees) and, most importantly, prophecy (A change is gonna come, oh yes it will).  Put all that in the voice of Sam Cooke, which combines tenderness and strength in a way that is truly divine, and there's no wondering why "A Change Is Gonna Come" became the song of a people struggling to realize its prophecy.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 6: A Song That Reminds You Of Home

My home, Memphis, is referenced in the lyrics of more recorded songs than any other city on the planet. In fact, several years ago, the Rock n Soul Museum began keeping a list of those songs, which now numbers over a thousand.  So, it's hard to pick just one song that reminds me of "home"-- there are entire genres that do!-- and different songs remind me of home for widely different reasons.  Some "sound" like Memphis, some tell stories that are (to my ear, anyway) distinctly Memphis stories, some have associations with Memphis that only Memphians would associate (e.g., "All I Do Is Win" as the unofficial Grizzlies theme song).  It's an embarrassment of riches, really.

Friday, June 05, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 5: A Song That Reminds You Of Someone

I was really lucky to be surrounded by a lot of talented musicians (and devoted music-lovers) during my graduate school years at Penn State. I say "lucky" because, despite its popular sobriquet, "Happy Valley" is most definitely not a happiness-inspiring place to live, at least not for a city girl. State College is a tiny college town in the middle of Pennsylvania Amish country. It's about a 3hr drive from anything interesting, it's largely dominated by frat-bro culture and there's this disgusting, brownish-gray, Spam-like substance called "scrapple" that they serve for breakfast and claim is a meat.

To relieve boredom and agony during my time there, I played music. A lot of music.  And I played the lion's share of it with Doug Anderson (pictured above on the left), aka "Ol' Moose," who also started up the alt-country-ish band (Philbilly Cadillac) that was my saving grace for the several years I played ans sang in it. Philbilly Cadillac was made up of a rotating hodgepodge of Penn State faculty and grad students, anchored always by Doug, with a few other consistent members (myself, Mike Schleeter, and Celia Millington-Wyckoff). We "practiced" in Doug's basement, which became something like a sanctuary for many of us, a place to get away from University minutiae and the countless other irritations and indignities of State College parochial life.  Sometimes we showed up, plugged in, cracked open our beers and played loud and fast and messy all night long.  Other times, we were quieter, more reflective, more careful, even tender, with how we played the songs that meant so much to us.  Those were good times and I miss them.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 4: A Song That Makes You Sad

I have a certifiably unhealthy obsession with sad songs.  I think they're the most beautiful things that human beings create, and I think you can learn far more truth about the complex, convoluted tragicomedy that is human life and community from sad songs than from all the rest of our creations combined.  Among the reasons my musical tastes tend so strongly toward "roots" genres (country, blues, gospel) is not only because rootsy genres are chock-full of sad songs, but also because their simple, straightforward, minimally adorned packaging provides the kind of formal structure that lends itself to foregrounding, and thus amplifying, the sadness in sad songs. There are a variety of more or less effective ways to reach, to connect with and to move the stubborn talking-apes with whom we share planet, many ways to persuade (or manipulate) them, many ways to bring them to their knees.  You can do it with holy books and prophets.  You can do it with armies, weapons and machines.  You can do it with the wondrous and frightening technologies of Science, You can do it, as I most frequently attempt to do, with the conceptual intricacies of philosophical argument.  But none of those would be my first choice to touch the hearts and minds of the beings who create and destroy worlds.

Just give me three chords and a sad story.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 3: A Song That Makes You Happy

Photo credit: Mike Harding (American Photo Blog)
Pictured to your left is Willie Mitchell's Royal Studios, which is a tiny little building tucked away on a tiny little street just south of Stax and just north of South Parkway here in Memphis.  It also just happens to be the place where one of the biggest hits of 2015 and many of the biggest hits of the last half-century were recorded.  Royal Studios doesn't have a catchy nickname like "Hitsville" (that belongs to Motown) or "Soulsville" (that belongs to Stax), but it is known as the "Home of the Memphis Sound," an honorific that by definition includes both soul and hits. I could make an entire 30-Day list of "songs that make me happy" just from the ones produced and recorded at Royal alone.

For those of you who've never been inside, Royal Studios is a strange and magical and incredibly intimate place.  Unidentifiable materials of questionable provenance-- most of them probably toxic, but hey, gratia artis, right?-- peel from the walls and ceilings. Cables and cords snake all across the floors, which are covered in a patchwork of old carpets, rugs varying in degrees of upkeep and good taste, tattered musical charts, a t-shirt or sweat-towel or two. There is the familiar sound-muffling foam of recording spaces everywhere, but not in the perfectly-symmetrical arrangement that you see in the big-business studios of New York, L.A. or NashVegas.  Rather, it's arranged, if you can call it an "arrangement," more haphazardly, organically and intuitively, each piece a testament to some bygone conversation in which somebody said to somebody else, "we need to stuff some of that foam right here." The performing and recording equipment throughout is a hodgepodge of timed-tested, tried-and-true tools of the trade, refashioned/repurposed innovations, and high-tech digital apparatus. It really is an amazing place to see.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 2: Your Least Favorite Song

The hardest thing about picking a "least favorite" song, in my view, is that the pick needs to be something that you actually hear on a semi-regular basis.  There are entire genres of music that I don't like and don't voluntarily listen to--experimental jazz, death metal, most jam-bandy stuff, any of that godforsaken Celtic noise that Fiona Ritchie punishes us with every week on The Thistle and Shamrock, just to name a few-- so it's hard for any song in those genres to earn enough of my time and attention to rise to the level of a "least favorite."  The category "least favorite" is a weird one, since it presumes there is something at least minimally favorable about the pick.  Not so awful that you would actively avoid hearing it, but awful enough to note to yourself that you probably should next time.

Monday, June 01, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 1: Your Favorite Song

Since I started doing this Challenge regularly each summer, I've learned to loosen my grip a bit on categories like "favorite" and "least favorite" when it comes to songs, if only to avoid simply reproducing the same picks every year.  That's been a good lesson to learn, really.  Kind of like when you learn that the categorical space "best friend" permits more occupants than one, broadening the boundaries of what you allow yourself to call your "favorite" songs doesn't diminish them.  Rather, it adds depth and breadth to that category of love.  Superlatives are by definition exclusive and exclusionary, I suppose, but they need not be so much so.

Like a lot of people, I perhaps too frequently shout out "oh this is my favorite song!" at times when what I really mean is something closer to "this is a song I like."  And songs do fall in and out of my favor (as do a lot of people).  No harm, no foul, there.  But when it comes to seriously picking a favorite song, as today's prompt demands, I wanted to find one toward which I've shown some semblance of amourous fidelity. One that I've never not loved.