Music

Glenn Close, Like a White Girl

I’m sure I’m not the only one from the DC area who had that thought watching the Oscars. I was delighted to see her shout-out to the city’s official music, and I wonder how many people who aren’t from DC recognize the genre or even remember the song.

The post’s title, of course, invokes another hit by E.U.: 1989’s “Shake It Like a White Girl,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to that era’s intersections of race, music, and dance in the nation’s capital, on the album that also had “Buck Wild” and a re-release of the collaboration with Salt-N-Pepa, “Shake Your Thang.”

Go-go’s syncopated swing has made other occasional forays into the musical mainstream. Prominent examples include Kurtis Blow, Morris Day and the Time (with “Skillet,” the addition of rock guitars by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis seemed inspired in that late 80s/early 90s moment, a la Janet Jackson’s “Black Cat” or Cypress Hill, but has not aged as well), and even a couple of more recent hits by BeyoncĂ© like “Green Light” and “Crazy in Love”: listen for go-go’s defining snare and bass drum dotted quarter-and-eighth rhythm during the verse.

None of those forays, to my mind, had the force and power of the 7-second snippet of Trouble Funk’s “Pump Me Up” that Hank Shocklee used as the intro to Public Enemy’s galvanizing “Fight the Power” from Do the Right Thing, a song still quickens my pulse every time I hear it. For those unfamiliar with the genre, “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown’s Go-Go Swing Live is likely the smoothest introduction, but the high-energy live recordings by Trouble Funk and Rare Essence, the latter with its absolutely scorching cover of the Bar-Kays’ “Holy Ghost” at 15:54, are more my speed.

And a few weeks before the Oscars aired, I was in DC with extraordinarily fortunate timing, in that I was able to catch the cherry blossoms in full bloom for the first time in decades.

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Halloween Playlist

Shared on Apple Music.

SongArtistLength
1Koyaanisqatsi Philip Glass 3:27
2Tubular Bells (Opening Theme) Mike Oldfield 4:18
3I Put A Spell on You Marilyn Manson 3:37
4Dedication (Dark Trap Beat Mix) Nesyu Beats 1:36
5Ghostface Killers Offset & Metro Boomin (feat. Travis Scott)4:29
6Rivers Skinny Puppy 4:49
7Orgasmatron Motorhead 5:27
8The Pink Room Angelo Badalamenti 4:06
9Dream Song Ministry 4:48
10Somebody’s Watching Me Rockwell 3:58
11Black Wings Tom Waits 4:36
12Aerials System of a Down 6:11
13Floor 13 Machine Gun Kelly 3:15
14Gimme Back the Night Brodinski 4:14
15Cauterization (Instrumental) Dark Angel 7:18
16Every Day Is Halloween (Razed In Black remix) Ministry 4:55
17Ghosts (Comaduster) Front Line Assembly 4:59
18Seasons in the Abyss Slayer 6:34
19Night Is on My Mind Oliver 4:22
20A Daisy Chain 4 Satan My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult 5:31
21bury a friend Billie Eilish 3:13
22Peter Pan Death Wish Melkeveien 4:50
23Red Right Hand Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds 6:11
24Fade Holly Herndon 6:29
25I Put A Spell on You Natacha Atlas 3:41

Warren Zevon’s Continuing Relevance

Warren Zevon died a little over 16 years ago, and while he’s mostly known today for his AOR hits (“Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Ah.” “Ah who?”), his deeper cuts (“Desperadoes Under the Eaves,” “The Hula Hula Boys,” “If You Won’t Leave Me I’ll Find Somebody Who Will”) are among my all-time favorite songs. There were a couple bits of recent news that made me cue up the playlist.

Seminole Bingo

I’m a junk bond king
And I’m on the run
Me and a friend of mine
We were headed for the sunshine

I got my hands on the wheel
I got gas in the tank
I got a suitcase full of money
From a Luxembourg bank

We didn’t stop ’til we got to Big Cypress
Wandered in to the Legion Hall
The sign outside said “Seminole Bingo”
Fell in love with the ping pong balls

And the SEC is far behind
Down in the swamp with the gators and flamingos
A long way from Liechtenstein
I’m a junk bond king playing Seminole Bingo

And my Wall Street wiles
Don’t help me even slightly
Cause I never have the numbers
And I’m losing nightly

I cashed in the last of my Triple B bonds
Bought a double-wide on the Tamiami Trail
I parked it right outside the reservation
Fifteen minutes from the Collier County Jail

And the SEC is far behind
Down in the swamp with the gators and flamingos
A long way from Liechtenstein
I’m a junk bond king playing Seminole Bingo

Mr. Bad Example

I started as an altar boy working at the church
Learning all my holy moves, doing some research
Which led me to a cash box labeled “Children’s Fund” —
I’d leave the change and tuck the bills inside my cummerbund

I got a part-time job at my father’s carpet store
Laying tackless stripping and housewives by the score
I loaded up their furniture and took it to Spokane
And auctioned off every last naugahyde divan

I’m very well acquainted with the seven deadly sins
I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in
I’m proud to be a glutton and I don’t have time for sloth
I’m greedy and I’m angry and I don’t care who I cross

I’m Mr. Bad Example, intruder in the dirt —
I like to have a good time and I don’t care who gets hurt
I’m Mr. Bad Example, take a look at me —
I’ll live to be a hundred and go down in infamy

Of course I went to law school and took a law degree
And counseled all my clients to plead insanity
Then worked in hair replacement swindling the bald
Where very few are chosen and fewer still are called

Then on to Monte Carlo to play chemin de fer
I threw away the fortune I made transplanting hair
I put my last few francs down on a prostitute
Who took me up to her room to perform the flag salute

Whereupon I stole her passport and her wig
And headed for the airport and the midnight flight, you dig?
Fourteen hours later I was down in Adelaide
Looking through the want ads sipping Fosters in the shade

I opened up an agency somewhere down the line
To hire aboriginals to work the opal mines
But I attached their wages and took a whopping cut
And whisked away their workman’s comp and pauperized the lot

I’m Mr. Bad Example, intruder in the dirt —
I like to have a good time and I don’t care who gets hurt
I’m Mr. Bad Example, take a look at me —
I’ll live to be a hundred and go down in infamy

I bought a first class ticket on Malaysian Air
And landed in Sri Lanka none the worse for wear
I’m thinking of retiring from all my dirty deals
I’ll see you in the next life, wake me up for meals

Copyright and Live Music in Seattle

I went to a fantastic concert this weekend, and there were some interesting intellectual property issues at play during the show.

  • The bad: the way event staff were pulling people out of the audience for taking pictures and video on their phones.
  • The ugly: the way Soundgarden closed their set with anti-veteran rhetoric.
  • The good: the entire set by Nine Inch Nails, including especially the lighting design and the final three songs before the encore.

Lauralea and I had great seats to see Soundgarden open for Nine Inch Nails. Soundgarden did their usual loose, loud, distorted thing, and it was good, especially when they did their standards: “Outshined” was exceptional. The new material wasn’t impressive, but it wasn’t awful, except when Chris Cornell closed the set with a specifically anti-soldier and anti-veteran rant that gave no sense he had any idea what service members and veterans do. I have no problem with people indicting the various pros and cons of military organizations and military policy as dictated by the brass and the military’s civilian leadership (including the Defense Authorization Acts passed by overwhelming majorities from both parties in the House and Senate that have resulted in widespread concern about the police now being able to purchase military hardware; a concern I share). I do have a problem with Cornell setting up the song “Beyond the Wheel” with incoherent anti-military rambling and uninformed received opinion.

The intellectual property stuff: there were event staff looking for people with their phone cameras up, and apparently if one took too much footage, one was forcibly hauled out of the audience by large men. It seemed to me as if the decision point had to do with the proportionality aspect of copyright law’s fair use doctrine, so I thought I was fairly safe snapping a few discreet stills rather than filming long stretches of the show, but it was a weird feeling of double surveillance: one girl gave the peace sign to the stage while at the same time trying to hold her phone up high and take video of the bouncers who were dragging her out.

There was an interesting moment when a NIN crew sound-check guy with neck-hanging official credentials came around with his iPad doing localized equalizer checks and the event staff clearly didn’t know what to do with him. (The NIN sound was fantastic.) I wonder whether Washington State’s SLAPP law might apply to folks who might use their phone cameras as an exercise of free speech at such events, and also whether prosecutions for EULA violations in relation to public speech might violate SLAPP laws. I’d be curious to hear what others might think.

(Click pictures to embiggen in a new window.)

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Chris Cornell passionately waves a microphone stand around.

In a curious twist, at one point, Cornell took a break between songs to exclaim to the audience, “Hey, I just saw [superstar Major League Baseball pitcher] Randy Johnson in the front row taking a picture of us playing! That’s awesome! Randy, this one’s for you.” I forget which song it was — I register most of Cornell’s lyrics as dorky, though I do like that California/Minnesota couplet — maybe one of the new ones; “Live to Rise” or “Been Away Too Long”? That was the other thing: with Soundgarden’s distortion and bad PA, neither Lauralea nor I could make out any of the words unless we knew them.

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The band comes out with house lights up.

There’s the cranky stuff out of the way: done with the bad and the ugly. On to the good. NIN opened their set with Lauralea’s new favorite, “Copy of A,” and went through two hours of a great, tightly-rehearsed wide-ranging mix from all their albums. “Copy of A” started with Trent Reznor alone on a bare white stage with a sequencer and the house lights up, and the band members entering the stage one by one, and then moving into “Sanctified” and “Came Back Haunted” as the house lights went down and the spotlights came up. As the show progressed, the lighting design grew in bombast and elaborateness, with a final total of seven ten-foot-tall pixelated LED screens moving around in sync with the band in addition to moving and computer-synced strobes, LEDs, and spots from the sides and rear and front.

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Shadow show.

I like “Hurt” OK, which was the encore, but it’s not one of my favorites. The band came out before the encore and noted that Saturday night was the final date of their tour and they would be going on hiatus for a while, and then launched into the fantastic final three songs: explosive, searing renditions of “Wish,” “Bite the Hand That Feeds,” and “Head Like a Hole.” I listened to “Wish” again after the show, and thought the background industrial noise-bursts that Reznor later made a trademark were maybe the first time mainstream audiences had heard the type of stuff EinstĂĽrzende Neubauten and Skinny Puppy had been doing for at least five years before.

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Light show.

All in all, I still think Chris Cornell is kind of dumb, the intellectual property stuff was interesting to watch, Trent Reznor is amazing, and it was a great night.

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Well, no: actually, THIS is a light show.

Your Afghan Playlist?

A question for you, reader: what American or English-language songs would you play for Afghan students in order to both (1) introduce them to the broad range of English-language musical culture and (2) help them build their English listening and interpretation skills and familiarity?

There are some rules. My question is educationally motivated, so any music shared should support Afghan and Islamic values, and should promote the values that the Afghan educational system is trying to promote.

  1. No references to alcohol or drugs.
  2. No references to extramarital love, lust, or dating, and no references to sex. (That includes innuendo.)
  3. No misogyny. (Women-positive lyrics much encouraged, as long as they don’t violate #2.)
  4. Nothing that would be perceived as non-Islamic proselytizing. This includes no mentions of Jesus, the Bible, or biblical figures.
  5. Consider carefully the place of cursing and anti-establishment rhetoric in the context of a fledgling Islamic republic attempting to promote the rule of law.

Here’s an inital stab pedagogy: every week, make a playlist available to students. For homework, have each student choose a song he or she likes best and try to write down and learn the lyrics. In class, do some karaoke-style recitation, and then have discussion about vocabulary, cultural referents, and interpretation.

I’m seeking as diverse a sampling as possible, and hoping for music that might in some way be both representatively American or Western and that might be stuff they haven’t encountered before. I’d be grateful for any and all suggestions in the comments.

(One last thing: the class in question will also include a film portion. Any ideas for great American movies that fulfill the above criteria are welcome, as well.)

Halloween Music

I’m enjoying listening to the Dead Kennedy’s “Halloween” tonight, especially the following bits:

So it’s Halloween
And you feel like dancin’
And you feel like shinin’
And you feel like letting loose

Whatcha gonna be
Babe, you better know
And you better plan
Better plan all day

Better plan all week
Better plan all month
Better plan all year

[…]

Why not every day
Are you so afraid
What will people say

After Halloween

Because your role is planned for you
There’s nothing you can do
But stop and think it through
But what will the boss say to you

And what will your girlfriend say to you
And the people out on the street they might glare at you
And whaddaya know you’re pretty self-conscious too

I’m celebrating my 40th birthday this year on Halloween (I was born on November 1), and I’m excited about it, but it’s also kind of a big milestone that’s got me looking back.

I first heard the Dead Kennedys when I was 9th grade — can that be right? Yes, that’s got to be right — and man, they were scary, and they were cool as hell. There was a mix tape that made the rounds and got duplicated and reduplicated, with Black Flag, Government Issue, Black Market Baby, and the Dead Kennedys, and it was garbled and hissy and recorded from a vinyl LP so there was a brief scratch and skip in “Trust Your Mechanic” that I still miss every time I hear the version I have now, and the climactic fantasy moments from “Riot” and “Forest Fire” were the first times I realized that music could do that energizing, subversive stuff, and the ominous bass melodies for “Holiday in Cambodia” and “I Am the Owl” were like nothing I’d ever hear until Primus, and I’ll still contend that the opening guitar riff for “Government Flu” is one of the best and most underrated in all of rock ‘n roll, up there with Suicidal Tendencies’ “The Miracle.” So yeah: back then, at a virginal 13, this was wicked-scary, dangerous, very cool stuff, as tinny and hissy as it was on that Maxell Gold cassette.

And I still like it, thinking back on my skinny nerdy self 27 years later, not as skinny but still plenty nerdy, gone from spiky hair to mullet to bleached mullet to fat mohawk to long hair to spiky again and then to the crew cut and finally to the shaved head: not really punk now, no.

Why not every day
Are you so afraid
What will people say

After Halloween

But I guess I was punk once.

Collum’s Song

I was listening to a rebroadcast NPR’s Mountain Stage this week, and heard Nellie McKay doing an absolutely wonderful version of a tiny little gem called “Collum’s Song.” (On NPR’s publicly available big whole-show MP3, it goes from 24:10 to 25:50: one minute and forty seconds of fine figurative language, nicely sung. I won’t put it up here, but the song alone makes for a very small 1.5 MB MP3 file that shouldn’t be too much trouble for most email clients.) My question, though: where is it from? I’m otherwise not much of a McKay fan, but I couldn’t find this on any of her albums, and the wordplay and imagery is rather a departure from what little I know of her usual fare. Anybody know it?