Sunday, August 24, 2014


I know I know I know. I'm not supposed to like Edie Brickell. She's an easy touchstone of all that's clichéd about her decade. She's a ripoff of Rickie Lee Jones (who was herself originally accused of borrowing a bit too heavily from Joni Mitchell). Her lyrics—"philosophy is the talk on a cereal box/religion is the smile on a dog"—could arguably verge on what's the word I'm looking for oh yes absolutely mortifying. Her mouth could swallow Toledo.

I'll grant you all of it. Still, she wrote catchy melodies and may have been not entirely displeasing to the eye and what can I say? I'm shallow.

But also honest enough to admit that if she looked like this guy I wouldn't have given her the time of day, and that'd have been a shame. 'cuz even though I suspect there's at least a little bit of irony in his choice of cover here, it doesn't matter, because it works anyway.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The White Album: an expert texpert opinion

I've always been a Paul guy, even though, as I get older, his tendency to want—or need—to charm and please becomes more and evident.

Maybe that's why I like this clip so much. He starts out in a "some say this, and it's not unreasonable, while others say that, and they too have a valid point" equivocating mood, but by the end works himself up into a statement that's both seemingly honest and absolutely one hundred percent accurate.

Damn skippy.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Supergroup That Should Have Been

I've always thought a truly spectacular supergroup could have been formed by Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend. All three are obviously amazing, multi-faceted artists, have been close admirers of each other since the mid-60s, and have worked together in various configurations at least occasionally. And while all three have almost always been very much the dominant musical forces in whatever settings they've been in for most of that time—with one very obvious exception—all three have also proven they can step back and simply be the very finest of supportive musicians, at least in the short term.

Clapton, of course, has often taken on the sideman role, whether it was as touring guitarist for Delaney & Bonnie or for Roger Waters, or as very much the minor partner, to everyone's surprise (including, I suspect, Steve Winwood's) in Blind Faith.

Meanwhile, Pete Townshend, never one to suffer fools gladly, still seems to be in awe of Clapton, as this clip shows—his entire demeanor is remarkably deferential, considering what an outstanding guitarist and singer he is himself (and how much better a songwriter he is, even conceding Clapton's own songwriting is sometimes under-appreciated).

And then there's Paul McCartney, whose musical and personal/professional dominance is one of the things that broke up the Beatles. (Although if he hadn't been so aggressive in wanting the band to keep working, they probably would have broken up out of sheer ennui anyway.) And yet even George Harrison, at a time when he and Paul weren't getting along and while dismissing some of McCartney's more whimsical songs, praised the brilliance Paul's playing on other people's songs. The contributions he made to "Tomorrow Never Knows," "And Your Bird Will Sing," "If I Needed Someone" or "Come Together," to name only a very few of John's and George's songs, are massive.

And then there's this.

When Paul and Eric sing the bridge together, watching each other, just after the 7:00 mark is spine-tingling, and makes me sorry they never did more more extensively, and wonder what might have been.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How the Writer Criticizing the Ice Bucket Challenge Got it All Wrong

"You're nobody 'till everybody in this town thinks you're a bastard." - Elvis Costello, "This Town."

Maybe that's why people choose to troll, choose to publicly trash something that really has no downside? Perhaps Elvis had it right - maybe some people aren't happy unless everyone sees how tough, how cynical they are?

Who knows. But it could explain why technology writer Ben Kosinski chose to go on the Huffington Post the other day and very thoroughly trash the immensely popular (and immensely effective) "Ice Bucket Challenge," the international social media effort to raise awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a horrible disease more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. It's simple - people of all ages dump buckets of ice over their heads, on video, to support raising awareness of ALS. And then they challenge friends to do the same. And so on. It's raised awareness, tons of it. And money, too. Tons of it.

Anyway Mr. Kosinski really went full-guns after why all these folks dumping buckets of ice over their heads to raise aware of ALS are really not helping the cause. In fact the article is called, "#IceBucketChallenge: Why You're Really Not Helping."

So I know this is a music blog, and because of that I've posted a clip of Elvis' wonderful 1989 song at the bottom of this. But I just felt the need to respond to Kosinski's column, pretty much line for line. Because he's wrong. He's very, very wrong and the facts back it up. So here we go.

(Ben's words are in regular font. My responses are in bold).

If you've been on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in the last week, you've probably seen it: countless videos of people dumping ice on themselves to help raise awareness of ALS.

Actually, Ben, it’s not countless. It just seems that way because so many people are doing it and the movement has become so popular. But no, there’s a number attached to how many have done it, if you want to find out. That’s up to you.

It's done a tremendous job at getting people to talk about a truly debilitating disease -- but that's mostly all it's done -- get people to talk.

Wrong! It’s also led to a 1,000% spike in donations to the ALS Association. It has increased awareness tremendously and it has led to an unprecedented spike in donations. Sorry Ben, but your entire premise is faulty. 

Let me explain.

Yeah, you’re going to need to in order to debunk something that has 1) gotten entirely new audiences thinking about this awful disease, 2) done so in a remarkably simple and creative way and 3) raised an awful lot of money in the process.

So. Please proceed.

Slacktivism is a relatively new term with only negative connotations being associated with it as of recently.

Not to get off-point, but this is a pretty tortured sentence. “Recently” is really the only time-frame for something that you admit is “relatively new.” 

The whole thinking is that instead of actually donating money, you're attributing your time and a social post in place of that donation. Basically, instead of donating $10 to Charity XYZ, slacktivism would have you create a Facebook Post about how much you care about Charity XYZ- generating immediate and heightened awareness but lacking any actual donations and long term impact.

Which is only true, of course, if you stop it at that point. Which naturally these internet phenomena never do; if done right – and all indications are the Ice Bucket Challenge has been done very, very right – they create a movement based on public fascination and participation and that leads to an uptick in donations. Which is what has happened here. Exactly.

Slacktivism is obviously a pejorative term and there are surely good examples of it out there. This is not one of them.

Previous examples of slacktivism are not hard to find- remember in 2012 when everyone, and I mean everyone, shared the Kony video? Very few people knew who Kony was, how they could donate or where they could get involved- but all of a sudden, these viewers (myself, included) could contribute!

So you’re giving an example of a “slacktivist” movement that clearly didn’t work, but you’re admitting that everyone did it and contributed, even you? Um…what?

We could share the Kony video on our Facebook and Twitter -- and while doing so, eliminating any chance we may have had at donating our time or money towards an actual prevention or cause directly related to the capture of Kony. You see, we valued our social posts at an incrementally higher cost than a donation- and by placing a sub-concioucs value on our Facebook post or Tweet, we told ourselves that we had done our part in trying to find Kony and then were able to pleasantly shift our thinking back to what we were going to eat for lunch.

Snarky dismissal of social media aside – and seriously, an author writing online for a blog should know better – this requires both a tremendous leap in logic and jump to conclusions that are really not possible to reach all at once. Maybe some took the easiest path out and casually posted a video before “thinking back to what we were doing to eat for lunch.” Maybe some did.

But clearly not everyone did that. "Kony 2012" raised the profile of what was happening in a huge way. The U.S. Senate voted on a resolution as a result. President Obama commented on it. The African Union sent troops as a result of the movement to find Kony. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International praised the movement. Maybe it’s not enough – and it isn’t, tragically – but is sure as hell isn’t nothing.

We had helped. We had participated. We patted ourselves on the back. We had tweeted. 

For crying out loud, stop it! Stop minimizing the impact Twitter can have on the world. Twitter gets news out exponentially faster than traditional media, or even hip new online media. Twitter was at the center of movements that led to Arab Spring and the Egyptian Revolution. To write about it in mocking tones is at best disingenuous, and at worst willfully ignoring facts.

We could now go back to tweeting about our lives.

OK, maybe there is a different point here that you could have made more effectively, the point that once the “fad” of a movement has died down the importance of the issue does not go away. There’s validity in that. 

But please remember this article is entitled “#IceBucketChallenge: Why You’re Not Really Helping.” Which really has no solid ground to stand on, unless you choose to ignore or minimize tons of awareness and massive increases in ALS giving. Which of course you do. 

When the #IceBucketChallenge started, the person who was challenged to participate had 24 hours or else they had to donate $100. However, due to the viral nature of the videos, this major component has mostly evaded the majority of the videos. Instead, people buy the bags, set up a camera, grab a bucket and think of which friends they're going to tag.

Right. And what happened next? People shared and shared and shared. And donations went up and up and up. 

You probably didn't get the right angle the first go around and maybe the second time you fumbled your words- oops, more ice. By the end of it, you might have bought 6 bags and spent 30 minutes on creating this video.

Nothing like highly speculative (read: pretty much made-up) anecdotal evidence to bolster your claims that “you’re not really helping.”

Boom, posted- and all of a sudden you're a philanthropist, spreading your charitable touch across your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Find me the one person who took credit on Facebook or Twitter for being any kind of philanthropist for taking the ice bucket challenge. It was something fun to do that got people thinking about an awful disease that far too few people think about. And it led to a 1,000% increase in donations. How in the world is this a bad thing?

Due to all of this, you've internally placed a monetary value on the cost of goods, the time spent and for posting on your social channels. This monetary value has little long term effect and next time you're thinking of donating to a charity or for a cause, you might think back to that time you created a video.

Another extreme leap in logic. No, the monetary value of all this came in the very measurable form of huge increases in monetary donations to fight ALS. And the trending popularity of all of these ice bucket challenge videos has a cyclical effect on giving – the more people see and hear about this, the more they are giving. Period.

You've done your part, remember?

It’s clear, Ben, that you saw something popular and fun and set out to trash it. Good for you. Nihilism is awesome, I know. But to call it ineffective is just plain wrong.

And although the ALS Assocation has seen as much as four times as many donations during this time period than last year,

It’s now up to 1,000%, but at least now you’ve acknowledged the impact. And of course couched it in a negative. So let’s see what comes next.

just imagine with me for one second: What if the thousands of people who spent money on buying one or two 2 bags of ice actually gave that money to ALS? It would be out of control.

It’s up 1,000%. One. Thousand. Percent. The ALS Association's national president said this yesterday, “It's just been wonderful visibility for the ALS community. It is absolutely awesome. It's crazy, but it's awesome, and it's working."

That “out of control” enough for you?

But that's not how we think.

Seriously. Speak for yourself. 

Although I see a tangent to something bigger coming on in 3...2...1...

Our online profiles have become a direct reflection of who we are online; our life experiences are no longer an experience if isn't shared. We aren't having a great time unless we stop, take a picture of it and share it with everyone. We have an internal value associated with each Facebook post, Tweet and Instagram.

And there it is! What, exactly, does any of this tired criticism of the world of social media have to do with raising awareness and money for a terrible disease? 

If you use that social action to help further a cause, that social action is taking the place of an actual donation. Instead of donating, we are posting.

100% false. All evidence shows people are doing both.

By creating such awareness, this awareness has a cap; a ceiling of sorts, that if reached can then become cannibalistic in nature. The viral nature of this almost hurts ALS due to the substitution of potential donations with a social post; internally, people think they have donated when in turn they've only posted.

This is the most harmful paragraph you’ve written in this whole piece, trying to say this effort has "almost hurt" ALS awareness because of some false premise and numerous overreaching assumptions. If donations weren’t up, maybe you’d have a point, although even awareness itself is better than the alternative. But the facts this time, mercifully, have taken all of the wind out of your argument.

We're social creatures. We're using the #IceBucketChallenge to show off our summer bodies. We're using it to tag old friends. We're using it to show people we care. We're using it to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. We're using it to promote ourselves, in one way or another.

You are all over the road here, man. Really.

By this same logic every person who runs a marathon for a cause, or bowls for a cause, or lights a candle and walks a mile for a cause is doing it to promote his or herself, for purely selfish reasons. Maybe there is a personal benefit by walking or running or dumping ice over your head in a silly online video. But if it raises money, raises awareness of something that desperately needs it, it’s a very, very good thing. And that is what you’ve clearly missed with the ice bucket challenge.

The #IceBucketChallenge has done a tremendous job at generating awareness for a terrible disease.

Reminder, once more, that is article is called, "#IceBucketChallenge: Why You're Not Really Helping."

But next time somebody challenges you to participate, try to show your friends how crazy you really are and just donate to the cause.

"It's just been wonderful visibility for the ALS community. It is absolutely awesome. It's crazy, but it's awesome, and it's working." – Barbara Newhouse, National President of ALS Association

If it’s all the same, Ben, I’ll listen to her instead. But hopefully you feel better now having told us all how ineffective this all has been.

Sing him off, Elvis!

Monday, August 11, 2014

RIP Robin Williams

Damn. It.

(Still one of the greatest Springsteen covers ever.)

Friday, August 8, 2014

She's Leaving Home

All these years, the hundreds of times I've listened to this, and this is the first time I've heard the mono version, which was sped up...and damn if that wasn't a pretty good call, actually. Although now the stereo version sorta sounds slowed down to me, rather than the mono version being sped.

I don't know what to think about anything anymore nothing makes sense hlep me. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mega Party

I've never been a huge fan of dance music—the closest I come is my fondness for 70s disco. This, however, is making me reconsider.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Life During Wartime

I have questions.

Does this song really take place during some sort of war-torn nightmare? Is the singer part of some freedom fighter/terrorist organization? Is it all simply in the singer's head? Otherwise, what's with the "why go to college?" bit? If they're really in the midst of some sort of siege, wouldn't that question be pretty far down the list—as in, far enough down that it's not worth mentioning in a three minute song? it actually, perhaps, a metaphor for being in a touring rock band, a scenario that fits most of the lyrics surprisingly well, from

Heard of a van that's loaded with weapons
Packed up and ready to go

down to

Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit? Heard about Pittsburgh, PA?


We dress like students, we dress like housewives or in a suit and a tie 
I changed my hairstyle, so many times now I don't know what I look like

Most of all, the biggest of big questions: how in the hell did they manage to run for this entire song, halfway through the set, and not pass out from oxygen depletion, never mind continue to sing and play wonderfully and keep going for another hour?

Also too: Tina Weymouth was impossibly awesome back then, and Jerry Harrison's keyboard solo is absolutely one of my favorite keyboard solos ever ever ever.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Going Mobile

My imaginary friend Chris is an interesting guy. When it comes to musical tastes, we have a lot of crossover, being huge fans of Elvis, the Beatles, R.E.M. and Übërsphïnctër, as well as various and sundry other artists. But we also diverge wildly in a lot of places, in no small part thanks to our earliest musical experiences. We both grew up listening to lots of Top 40 as little kids, but whereas I grew up thoroughly steeped in classic rock, thanks to the influence of my older siblings, my imaginary friend Chris shifted into punk at roughly the same time. So we can geek out over Revolver minutiae until the cows come home, or the glory that was the Captain & Tennille, but I can't really knowledgeably discuss, say, Minor Threat and he isn't really all that familiar with Lynyryd Skynyrd or Steve Miller or the J. Geils Band.

He's also an outstanding musician, playing all the major rock instruments, including being a great drummer, so when I found this, I thought, like me, he'd find it powerful interesting.

As usual, I was right. But to my semi-surprise and kind of delight...he'd never heard the song before. This song that I'm sure I've listened to at least 200 times was completely new to him. And his first exposure to was by listening to simply Keith Moon's incredible isolated drums.

Listening to it with my ears, ears that always know exactly where Moon is at any point, really emphasizes Roger Daltrey's assertion, of how Moon sounded chaotic but was actually playing along to the lyric. You can hear how weird some of his playing is, like when he kinda turns the beat around for eight bars, or how he'll occasionally abandon the cymbals entire (if briefly). You can marvel to just how tight his quick triplet rolls are, how often he syncopates his crashes, as well as how his spots of, let's be honest, slop are just on the right side of feel.  It's lovely and something of a revelation. And as my imaginary friend Chris perceptively noted, Moon's like a Dixieland instrumentalist, where he's soloing 95% of the time and yet rather than it causing everything to fall apart, it somehow actually holds everything together.

And then Chris listened to the drums in context. And he was amazed, never having guessed from the sound of Moon's drums what the final product would sound like. And he said that if you pulled out Moonie's drums, "Going Mobile" might just sound like an early 70s singer-songwriter tune that lopes along merrily.

Well, thanks to the magic of YouTube we can check out that assertion.

...and yeah. Until the guitar freakout starting almost exactly halfway through the song, it actually wouldn't have been terribly out of place as the uptempo track on an early 70s singer-songwriter LP. (Also, that's some asskickery being doled out to Pete's poor acoustic, and we are all the better for it.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Favorite Song Friday: Tight Connection to My Heart

As a Bob Dylan fan, I'm not supposed to like this song. That's my understanding of the conventional wisdom, at least. It's smack dab in the middle of Bob Dylan's least beloved—and, objectively, least plain good—period, a span which did have some high points (hello, Infidels!) but an awfully lotta dross, whether it was his religious albums or sub-par live records or what have you—and there was more than a little what-have-you. And it's off Empire Burlesque, an album which is never, ever going to break into any Dylan fan's Top 10 and, really, shouldn't ever even come close, my personal fondness for it aside.

What's more, the earlier version of this song, cut for the aforementioned Infidels, and known as "Someone's Got a Hold of My Heart," is often thought to be superior, with the much more produced and rewritten "Tight Connection" considered overproduced and, well, kinda jive. What's more, the lyrics to "Tight Connection" have been criticized as being overly dependent upon quotes from film noir movies.

I don't buy any of it. Certainly Dylan's made more than a few production mistakes in his time (although considering he's released 35 studio albums, how could he not?). But I remained unswayed by the critiques, finding the song's lyrics more evocative and powerful than most of his material from the time. (I mean, a mere six years after Slow Train Coming, his lead single off his new album contains the line "I never could drink that blood and to call it wine"?) Most of all, of course, is that underneath everything is one of his catchiest ever melodies, with tasty guitar from Mick Taylor and anchored by the nearly peerless rhythm section of Sly and Robbie.

And yet, perhaps even more than that, the song contains some of my favorite singing of any Dylan on record. An oddly overlooked element of Dylan's genius is that he is an outstanding musician. His lyrics get the lion's share of the attention, and understandably, but he's an eminently capable keyboardist, a good harpist and an excellent guitarist. And as anyone who'd listened to hundreds of hours of his live performances (pre-2000s, at least) could tell you, his sense of pitch is far better than most would expect, given his notoriously unconventional timbre. Yes, he's one of the premier practitioners of sprechstimme, in which the individual notes of a melody are only lightly touched upon in a semi-speaking manner—but an opera singer will admit it's a far harder technique to pull off than you'd expect, given how prevalent it is in rock and hip-hop.

On "Tight Connection," he veers back and forth between straightforward singing and a type of acting, where his tone will become mildly skeptical or dangerously seductive or slightly baffled. The really outstanding feature of his singing, though, is how he plays with the beat, often hanging back, like a good soul or funk drummer, then occasionally rushing the beat ever so slightly before hanging back again, and then suddenly hit right on the beat (or even a series of heavily syncopated notes), to emphasize that wherever he's placing the notes are entirely by design and not just haphazard luck (or from half-assing it).

I wish there were a video up on YouTube that wasn't, well, the official video, since I don't think the Miami Vice look ol' Bob was then sporting does the song any favors, although the Springsteenesque look he's also rockin' in places, what with the blonde Tele and leather jacket and baseball cap's pretty amusing. (And, yes, I know Dylan was well known for his leather half a decade before Springsteen even landed a record deal.) And the middle female in the karaoke band is staggeringly attractive—and of course she's the one that somehow seems to sorta kinda morph into Dylan at the end? Like I said, the video's not the best way to experience the song, but needs must when the devil drives, as Dylan never said.

(For the sake of comparison, here's the original version. It's good, no question, and its singing does seem more nakedly impassioned, but more than anything the song in this form seems to be the answer to the question no one asked, which was "hey, what if Bob Dylan tried rewriting 'Sweet Jane'?")