Steve J. Moore

Archive for September, 2008|Monthly archive page

I Can Get Behind That

In Music, Writing on September 23, 2008 at 3:53 pm

I recently picked up William Shatner’s album from 2004 “Has Been” upon a friend’s recommendation. My experiences with ol’ Billy Shatsky (as I like to refer to him) were previously limited to reruns of Star Trek, Priceline ads and spots for Boston Legal. The cover art is fitting, a picture of Shatner neck up with a hand covering his face in the pseudo-shame of a true has been. The title track doesn’t come until you’re mostly through the album, but it plays tongue-in-cheek into the ironic concept of hasbeendome and those who would give Bill such a label.

Some songs–and I would call them songs, as lacking in singing as they are–are avant garde amalgamations of Gene Roddenberry sci-fi and the Beatnik oral poetry of Allen Ginsberg in the strangest way. The songs are rich in confession and complex emotions being dealt with in a surprisingly casual way. One track, “That’s Me Trying” is a letter of apology to his daughter for being an absent father. While it could sound like the sadder cousin of “Butterfly Kisses,” (cheesy, overdone, and trite) it is much more akin to songs like Ben Folds’s “Still Fighting It,” a song about growing up written for his son; but maybe that song comes more easily to mind because Shatner borrows Folds’s voice for the chorus.

There’s a surprising amount of emotion in this album–and humor too! I think what I like best about it is the blending of the two. The authentic combination of humor and heartfelt emotion, though they seem to me inseparable, is the seminole mark of success in any artistic medium. Maybe that’s the curse of the eternal optimist, seeing the good in everything means finding ways to lament through a laugh and to chuckle quietly at a tear shed. Shatner’s album isn’t earth-shaking or grammy worthy (although that’s almost an insult anymore for most genres–the Grammy part) but its audacity, eccentricity, and stark likeability are just what every wordsmith, lyricist, actor or singer could hope for in an expression.

Here are a few gems along the album’s lines of humor:

The Shatner WoW commercial

1978 Rendition of Sir Elton John’s Rocket Man

Advertisements

If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything

In Music on September 8, 2008 at 5:05 pm

Vibrating on a frequency somewhere between The Police and Maroon 5, The Script writes themselves into my list of great new discoveries of 2008. I won’t get into the grammar of referring to bands as wholes or parts, because they come from Ireland and it would just get too confusing. (European English usually referrs to bands as singular entities, whereas American writers typically denote bands plurality by their name, ie-The Beatles is plural, versus The Fray is singular). I learned that from Grammar Girl!

ANYWAYS… 

I struggle to do more than compare The Script to other bands and ask anyone listening to interpret my description for themselves. They are implottable in our world of strict genre guidelines. Their website points out that they have “anthemic” lyrics, “R n B production” and “pop melodiousness.”  What I will say is that their album is wonderful. Wikipedia classifies them as “soft rock”…which is an outright insult. Soft rock is something that no one really listens to, it just gets played by people at boring desk jobs because it’s moderately uptempo music that was once probably decent, but is now just considered “politically correct.” The Script isn’t exactly PC.

The Script is a Mac for sure. Their sound is clean and full of a hip hop-anonymous poetry that doesn’t quite shock you when it drops the F bomb. They don’t curse to be crude, cool, or hard, they do so because their narrative songs are gritty and express a reality that calls for cursing. There’s humor and edginess there too; one of their songs is called “If You See Kay.”  

Did you get it?

I kept listeing to the chorus If you see kay… and it finally hit me as to why it sounded strange. I laughed out loud (IF YOU SEE KAY). Har har. They pull off what would otherwise be just a cleverly done crude joke because the song ends up being a very sweet little love song.

Tracks like “Breakeven” remind me of my favorites from Third Eye Blind in the way that the words can so beautifully lament a troubled heart in a major key. 

I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing
Just prayin’ to a god that I don’t believe in
‘Cause I got time while she got freedom
‘Cause when a heart breaks no it don’t break even

They say bad things happen for a reason
But no wise words gonna stop the bleeding
Cause she’s moved on while I’m still grieving
Cause when a heart breaks no it don’t break even

I’ll post a “video” of the song here from YouTube.

I’ll say again–as I probably do in every music post–that probably the most pleasing feeling for me when I finish listening to an album is that of finding a cohesion between the songs that brings the album together as a whole rather than ten or twelve separate radio tracks (bleh!). 

Quotes like “Sometimes tears say all there is to say/ and sometimes your first scars won’t ever fade away”  and “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” may just sound like pop-rock soundbytes out of context, but they are merely players in a larger play going on. The Script has colorful palate, rich in musical and emotional tones painted in broad strokes by their soaring lyric performances and simple musicality. I’ve got to put another track on here that I just love, The Man Who Can’t Be Moved:

I think that sums up my review just fine.

You Had Me at, “Hello”

In World Events on September 4, 2008 at 7:11 pm

Since I’m student teaching this semester, I find that impressions are made quickly on people in high school halls classrooms. You encounter hundreds of people across seven or eight hours, giving glances, nods, and greetings, but how many people do you actually acknowledge?

I usually end up listening to NPR at some point every day, if not reading it online, and one of my favorite segments is “This I Believe.” On August 14, 2008 Howard White contributed a piece called “The Power of Hello,” which opened with this statement:

I work at a company where there are about a gazillion employees. I can’t say that I know them all by name, but I know my fair share of them. I think that almost all of them know me. I’d say that’s the reason I’ve been able to go wherever it is I’ve made it to in this world. It’s all based on one simple principle: I believe every single person deserves to be acknowledged, however small or simple the greeting. 

I promise to leave my connections of this post to Jerry Maguire at this picture (and the title quote), but this picture sums up what I’m trying to get at. People need to make deep meaningful connections with other people. Now, you can’t expect to yield life-long friendships from every person that you meet (but what a great goal 😉 also, I’m never sure what to do with parenthetical emoticons… besides comment after them), but I’ve found that saying hello to as many people as possible can have a profound cumulative effect. It may not be that day or that week, but when you look a person in the eyes, make contact, and say “Hi Kristin” you make a very personal connection, if only briefly, that says, ” I chose to give you a moment of my time because you are here.”

This is something that White expresses as a core human belief of his; it was something his mother taught him at ten years of age that stuck with him throughout life.

I believe that every person deserves to feel someone acknowledge their presence, no matter how humble they may be or even how important.

What a great parent. Sure, taking your kids to dance, soccer, and music lessons is a great way to build character, but how often do you get to really change the way another person operates day-to-day? Saying hello may seem microscopic in a world where human rights, political correctness, and privacy are broadcasted as major concerns; but, small things add up. Just like “keeping the change” can build a modest percentage onto a savings account (no matter how pithy the bank’s interest rate), making a deposit in other peoples’ days can compound all of our social interest.

Howard White’s NPR piece can be found here

When Life Gives You Lemons…

In Music on September 1, 2008 at 4:36 pm

What better time than Labor Day Weekend to ponder the nature of optimism? Of course, the first logical jump my mind makes from that word is to hip-hop–wait, did I just say that? Maybe I meant something else like rap–wait, rap? Ok, so those words aren’t the first that come to mind when I think about accentuating the positive, but one can always be proven wrong.

Driving my little gold Toyota Corolla around Springfield, I don’t usually consider myself any flavor of cool for doing so. I get over thirty miles-per-gallon so I suppose that’s cool by today’s green standards even though there have been diesel cars getting over forty and fifty since the early 1980s. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel inordinately cooler when I start rockin’ some beats. Recently, I heard from a friend that the best hip-hop album of the year was by Twin Cities duo called Atmosphere.

Titled mysteriously When Life Gives You Lemons… the standard edition album features a golden facade striped by a dark band

but the deluxe edition cover offers a one-line insight into the authorial intent: a rap thesis that blings of audacious optimism.

Solving the mystery, we learn that the guys of Atmosphere, upon receiving lemons from Life, just Paint that Shit Gold. The title alone just grabs you by the shirt and looks you in the eye, which is exactly what it intends to do.

Unlike rhymes from Fitty or Diddy, you won’t find big butts or hos in different area codes. What you will find is a collection of stories. Rap narratives of hardship, good and bad choices, drug abuse, a man missing his father, and the escapes children make when the world around them is harsh.

Not a rap fan? Hate hip-hop? Bored with what the radio plays? Try some smart, self-aware, and reality-based music that isn’t interested in selling songs as much as telling stories.

Now, since it’s a holiday weekend, I’m going to get back to chillin’, maxin’, and relaxin’ all cool.