Sunday, August 29, 2010

Top Ten Songs Bashing Music Critics

It’s easy to hate music critics. They get free CDs and concert tickets and then are paid to give their opinions about what they heard. They actually make a living offering subjective opinions about something intangible. Technically, music reviewers can never be wrong – they are telling us what they think. Where this goes wrong is when we decide to give weight to their opinions and treat them as the gospel.

So it’s not surprising that occasionally the musicians fight back, take up their pens against the poisoned pens of the critics, and have their say. I was listening to some songs with my daughter and noticed just how many of them were directed at “the critics.” She was able to rattle off a number of recent songs that shared the same theme – that music critics are not out to educate or inform but to tear down. We decided to come up with a list of anti-music critic songs, some old and some new.  In no particular order, here are our top ten.  Cathartic and angry, honest and indignant, these songs remind us that critics only carry as much weight as we give them. So let’s take a load off of them!

1. The Academy is… “Black Mamba”

One of the many recent rock bands unfairly saddled with the “emo” label, Chicago-based pop-punk impresarios The Academy Is… were criticized early in their career for their lead singer’s voice, a subject that fueled this track on their first, ironically positively reviewed, album, “Almost Here.”

Oh, Mr. Magazine
I never wrote one single thing for you
Or your so-called music scene
You don't mean a thing to me

Well they can love it or leave it or rip it apart
We're living what we're singing

2. Cage the Elephant… “In one ear”

The alternative/punk/blues/rock band from Bowling Green, Kentucky, turned their attention on those who are empowered to make the thumbs up or down decision that have such potentially serious repercussions.

They wanna criticize, scrutinize, cast another stone
Burn me at the stake and sit and watch it from the throne

They think they know my thoughts, but they don't know the least
If they listened to the words they'd find the message that's beneath

3. Cobra Starship "Guilty Pleasure”

Fellow label-mates of The Academy is…, Cobra Starship play similar alternative rock/punk music, but with a fun edge. Their first single, after all, was “Snakes on a Plane (Bring It).” They also had a hit featuring Leighton Meester, of Gossip Girl fame, called “Good Girls Gone Bad.” So it is not surprising that they would write:

And I don't even read
What the papers gotta say about me
Oh no, I can't believe
They take it so serious, seriously

4. Good Charlotte “The Young and the Hopeless”

And no one in this industry
Understands the life I lead
When I sing about my past
It's not a gimmick, not an act

These critics and these trust fund kids
Try to tell me what punk is
But when I see them on the streets, they got nothing to say
5.  Oingo Boingo "The Imposter"
One day I'll do an entire post about Oingo Boingo.  The Los Angeles band with the weird name and strange, even for the new wave era, vibe influenced musicians around the world with their complex rhythms, textured sound and avant garde image.  They became part of our cultural references with catchy songs (well placed in popular movies) like Weird Science and Dead Man's Party.  After they broke up, their lead singer Danny Elfman went on to write the theme song for The Simpsons and the score for endless Tim Burton movies.  Yet, even with all their success, they were not enthralled with music critics, as you can see from this song.
You never lived in the streets though you wish you had.

Not enough talent to play a guitar,
You failed as an artist 'cause you lacked in the confidence.
Now you're a critic and you're at the top (The top of what?)

You don't believe what you write (you're and imposter).
You can't get used to the fact that you ain't a kid.
You like to think that you speak for them all.
You'd cut off your nose if you thought it would make you hip.
You don't believe what you write (You're an imposter).
You take the credit while others do all the work.
You like to think you discovered them first.
But we all know you moved in after it was safe.
That way you know you could never get hurt (You like to play god!!).
Yes, for the record, I know imposter is misspelled -- it should be or not er, but knowing the band's sense of humor, I assume that was intentional.

6. Frank Zappa "Packard Goose"

Gotta love Zappa, the guy did not beat around any bushes.  He didn't think much of music critics, once famously saying "Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read."  So it was not surprising that he would skewer those who he felt really had no clue what they were talking about.

All them rock 'n roll
Writers is the worst
Kind of sleaze
Selling punk like
Some new kind of
English disease
Is that the wave
Of the future?
Aw, spare me please!

7. Graham Parker "Don't Let it Break You Down"

One of the most underrated singer-songwriters around, he does with lyrics what Tiger Woods used to do with a golf club.  Being as gifted as he is, he makes his point in very few, expertly chosen, words.
Some people are in charge of pens
that shouldn't be in charge of brooms.
They have the nerve to rip up a man's life
in a paragraph or two

8.  Nick Cave  & the Bad Seeds "Scum"

Not as lyrical or artful as Graham Parker, Nick Cave was po'd and wanted eveyrone to know it.  Don't get on his bad side -- it causes him to write melodically-challenged, vile, venal rants.   This is the only part of the lyrics I can print here.  Click on the link with care!
You gave me a bad review
And maybe you think that it's all just water under the bridge
Well my UNfriend, I'm the type that holds a grudge

9. Billy Joel "Still Rock and Roll to Me"

He's been maligned and mocked, but Billy Joel is a talented guy who doesn't deserve the treatment some critics have lobbed his way.  He, better than most, knows you can't please all the people and has had a long, successful career pleasing a lot of the people.  In this song, he gave a nod towards the fact that when it comes to music someone's going to have to show how cool they are by being insulting or dismissive.  But the music will last long beyond the critic's words.

it doesn't matter what they say in the papers
'cause it's always been the same old scene
there's a new band in town but ya can't get the sound
from a story in a magazine aimed at your average teen
10.  Pete Townshend "Jools and Jim"

In response to some negative writing about his late fellow bandmate, drummer Keith Moon, Townshend wrote this little ditty.  This is just one long screed set to music.
Typewriter bangers on
You're all just hangers on
Everyone's human 'cept Jools and Jim
Late copy churners
Rock and Roll learners
Your heart's are melting in pools
Of gin
In researching this post, I came across this terrific article in the Boston Globe by Steve Almond, a former music critic who makes clear where he stands on the profession.  "Am I suggesting that music criticism is a pointless exercise?  Yeah, I guess I am."  Read it, you'll thank me!

In today's instant-news world with Twitter and Facebook and other ways to report on the scene in real time, do we need to wait for the morning paper to see what one person, who may not have wanted to go to the concert but had to because it was their job, had to say about the experience?  I don't think so.  I rather read what the fans who paid their own money to see the show thought.  They aren't worrying about how cute or eloquent their words are, how many hits their article will get or how many comments will be posted, they just want to express their honest opinions about something they just witnessed.  And because they're not "professionals" we can read them and accept them for what they are -- one person's opinion and not the word coming down from  theTemple Mount.

That's why I have always included the feedback from the fans in the review section of each concert post and that's why my favorite part of my own blog is actually your comments.  Because they are every bit as valuable as something someone who is paid to write has to say.  Scratch that, they are more valuable because those comments are freely given and from the heart.

Monday, August 23, 2010

How to Support the Music -- and Musicians -- You Love

We talk often about what we can do to help the artists we support, whether it's a newly-signed one like Casey James or a more established, but still needing our help, Ed Kowalczyk (of Live).   It's actually simple.  The number one thing music fans can do to support the musicians they love is to BUY their records.

Illegal downloading of music is threatening to kill (if it hasn't already killed) the music industry.  I am posting here an article written by my daughter for her college Common App essay.  In it, she speaks against this scourge of the music industry and rails against her generation which, possibly inadvertently, is driving the nail into music's coffin.  
Not a single person I know would consider walking into Best Buy and shoplifting a CD. So why do my peers go online and illegally download music for free without giving it a second thought? And why do they look at me like I am crazy when I tell them this is stealing? They flock to sites where they download music without paying for it and seem oblivious to the fact that it is wrong. But it is not just wrong; it is killing the thing I love.  So much of my childhood memories are enveloped by music, from being entranced by the simple but powerful Green Day video for “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” to listening to the hypnotic song “Re-Arranged” by Limp Bizkit. I worry that the stealing of digital music is going to deprive future generations of new music that can have the same effect on them.

I am a strong proponent of downloading music legally, a position scarcely seen by most people my age. When I castigate people for burning CDs for friends or using peer-to-peer file-sharing programs, they act as if I am telling them not to breathe. Because a song is not a tangible object, there is no residue of guilt when it is downloaded for free. Those who do it call it “sharing,” not what it really is – stealing. By twisting these words, people can avoid responsibility and pretend that what they are doing is right. People say that they are simply sharing music and, as my generation learned from the Care Bears, “sharing is caring,” so they pretend that they are not acting dishonorably. They use euphemisms to brainwash themselves into thinking that, because they can call it something other than stealing, that makes it okay.

Some use the justification that songs cost too much, an absurd claim which would seem to excuse the stealing of anything seen as “too expensive.” I find it astonishing that the same people willing to dole out $3.50 for a Pinkberry cannot be bothered to spend a mere dollar to pay for a song they will listen to hundreds of times. They neglect the fact that artists may work for years perfecting their music, only to have their hard work slip away as someone clicks “download” on a file-sharing website. If they were real music fans, they would never dream of depriving artists because they are too stingy to pay.

Those who profess to love music have no idea what they are doing to the music business. So often my dad has lamented to me, “your generation is going to kill the music industry.” That is a scary thought for me. Music is such an important part of my life; I would feel empty if I ever had to go a day without listening to any. I become transfixed when I hear the crack in the voice of Brian Aubert of Silversun Pickups as he pours out his heartfelt lyrics. The dollar I pay to have one of his songs is a small fee for the feeling the song gives me. It pains me to see how short-sighted and blasé my generation is about the damage they are doing to the future of the music industry.

I could just keep my thoughts to myself and not get into arguments with my friends and fellow students, but that is not me. I have a very strong opinion when it comes to this issue and, much to the dismay of those around me who download illegally, I am not one to back down until I know what I have said has had an impact on them. It is not easy going against the tide, but usually what is right is what is harder to do. So I continue to make my opinion known and encourage everyone to do the right thing. I can proudly point to a few people I have converted to legal downloading. Of course, I also give out gift cards for music downloads. By adding iTunes money to my gifts for people, I feel it is a way I can gently guide them down the path of morality, a small step in my huge battle against illegally downloading music.
You go, girl!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Interview with Tyler Grady -- American Idol Top 24

I wanted to learn about the American Idol experience from someone who did not get the confetti dropped on their head, who wasn't consoled by a three-month national tour or a record contract. Someone who came, saw, but didn't conquer. What does it mean to get close, but not to go far enough.  I'll admit it. I chose Tyler Grady first because he does a genre of music that I prefer, rock, and because he is friends with a certain recently signed Sony recoding artist named Casey James.  But I could not have made a better choice.

Tyler and Casey were roommates during the first week of the show. Knowing how fondly Casey talks of that time, I was not surprised to hear that Tyler does not snore. But, seriously, they bonded tightly and quickly and remain good friends.  More interestingly, their mothers hit it off and became friends for life -- Tyler's mother and Tyler both traveled to Dallas to see Casey perform on the AI tour.

But I hit the jackpot when I got to interview Tyler. He is smart, poised, funny and quite the talker. I could have asked him how's the weather, left the room with my recorder on, and had a perfectly structured, detailed interview when I returned. He is a dream subject. Except for one thing -- he has no dirt to dish. He is not bitter, not irate, not even a little depressed. He is happy he tried out, would recommend it to anyone, and has no regrets.

Well, just one. Sometime in the last month or two, Tyler lost his phone that had the numbers of all the other contestants and others he had met during he AI process. So if you're reading this and wondering why Tyler hasn't called, he doesn't have your number. Call him.

Fans who want to contact Tyler the old-fashioned (dare I say '70s?) way, can write to him at:   Tyler Grady, P.O. Box 87, Nazareth, PA 18064.

Here's the link to the article.  Enjoy and post your comments if you have any!  Interview with Tyler Grady

Friday, August 13, 2010

Act Your Age!

There was a Twitter exchange after a recent American Idol concert that touched a nerve in my 51-year-old body.

CJMJDCFan tweeted to BybeeDJames: "Speaking of ear plugs..a man w/ his family told me that this was an AI concert-we needed to stop screaming and act our age!"

BybeeDJames responded: "Poor guy..I would hate to be that miserable. I hope I never act my age!"

All I could think of when I saw that was, Amen, Sister! I don't care how many notices I get from AARP or how many well-intentioned grocery baggers call me Ma'am, I'm not going to sit down with my knitting needles and behave like an old lady. I'm going to redefine what it means to act my age!

Just what does that mean anyway -- act your age? Isn't the fact that you're behaving some way, at any age, mean you are acting your age? By definition if you, at age whatever, do something -- you are doing it as a person of that age. When people say that, what they are really telling you is to act in accordance with their pre-conceived notion of how someone of your age should act. As if there is a rulebook out there somewhere that prescribes appropriate behavior at each age we pass through.

Why can a six-year-old jump up and down as the Disneyland sign comes into view, but a forty-year-old can't as they spy the Las Vegas strip? Tweens can squeal over Justin Bieber, but a fifty-year old can't scream when Bruce Springsteen comes out on stage? Why should excitement and, yes, loud, over-the-top expressions of enthusiasm, be curtailed by the calendar?

Are middle-aged women that much different than the rest of humanity? Do we lose our rights to free expression when we see that first wrinkle? Must we conform to society's notion of what is proper? I'm reminded of Shylock's speech from the Merchant of Venice: "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?" He was asking if Jews were so different from Christians. I'm asking if women of a certain age are so different from their younger, or their male, counterparts.

Have you seen how men act at sporting events? When ever have you heard one of them, after jumping up and down, high-fiving till their arthritic hands ache, and screaming at the top of their emphysemic-sounding lungs, being told to act his age? They get a pass to act exactly as they would have twenty, thirty, forty years earlier. And that's fine. I love that about sports and I love that men have that outlet. But what about us ladies?

I went to see Pearl Jam last year for the first time and I wasn't a 50-year-old seeing them, I was just me, a fan since their first album,who had followed them for so long and was so excited to finally get to see them live. I didn't want to sit there quietly; this wasn't the opera (not that I would know; I may be old, but I don't do opera!). A rock concert has to be felt to be experienced. It's interactive. So, yes, I jumped up and down and screamed.  So sue me.

If we choose not to curl up and die, but to be as full of joy and excitement as we were so long ago, that should be applauded. Women should be encouraged to continue to find enjoyment and passion and, yes, to show how they feel.  This blog was started because I felt passionately about something and wanted to write about it.  Extremes of emotions are not bad -- that's how we know we're alive.  So squeal, jump, dance, shout, do whatever feels right and natural to express how you're feeling.  It's your age -- act however you want!

What's My Age Again? by Blink182

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Band of the Week

Well, we already have Song of the Day, so now a new wrinkle -- Band of the Week. My first choice is Interpol. They're from New York, the lead singer has this monotone voice that for some reason I find immensely captivating, their lyrics don't seem to mean anything, they're not the most brilliant of musicians. So why am I hooked on this group? Well, take a listen:


That was my ringtone till I updated to the iPhone and went with "Marimba."  Trivia for today -- my prior ringtone was the Pixie's "Monkey Gone to Heaven."  This song, like most Interpol, is sex on a CD.  What I love is the contrast between lead vocalist Paul Banks' unemotional take on some rather bizarre lyrics and the relentless rhythm that underlies the song.  He sounds so bored, while the instruments sound so driven.     It's an unsettling mix of urgency and ennui.  It works for me.


I just love the incessant, driving bass and drum line.  It's pulsating and erotic and just builds like, well, you get the idea.  It's just solid sound propelling forward.  It's even better with earphones turned up real loud, so the music just goes through your entire body.  If I smoked, I'd need a cigarette after listening to this!

Here's their new song from their upcoming indie-label record. 


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

American Idol Signs New Deal with Universal Music Group

With all the talk about who would be on the judges' panel next year, apparently behind the scenes a much bigger change was afoot for American Idol as it goes into its ten year.  It has huge implications not only about the future of the show but for the contestants signed by now out-of-the-loop Sony -- and for Season 9 contestants not yet signed.

American Idol is first and foremost a huge commercial. Aside from the obvious corporate tie-ins, it is about building up contestants that its partner music company will then sign.  With the title and confetti and light show, it says to America -- here is a star.  Now go out and buy their record.  American Idol continues to promote those contestants in subsequent years.  The winners' faces are plastered everywhere as a constant reminder of the connection between the show and the recording artists.  Other contestants also signed by the record company are brought back during subsequent seasons to mentor or to sing -- but always as a subtle commercial.  They were on AI, now go out and buy their record. 

Yesterday it was announced that after a nine-year association with American Idol, Sony Music is out.  Universal Music Group is in as the new record company that will be signing American Idol contestants.  From a business and artistic standpoint, it makes sense.  UMG is the largest record company in the world and has an impressive roster of talent from every genre.  If AI wants to stay on top -- and fight off attack from the competing X Factor -- you should have the biggest and best in your corner.  Creatively, it could mean huge things for contestants lucky enough to be signed by UMG.  They will now have the benefit of legendary producer Jimmy Iovine who will finally give AI contestants a real chance at making quality records after they leave the show (something, that only a few of the past have been able to achieve).

But for Lee DeWyze this is not good news.   His new album will now not be promoted by American Idol.  He will likely not be coming back to perform next year.  He will probably not be mentoring any future contestants.  Lee may not even have his mug up behind the auditioning contestants, at least from here on out.  Let there be no mistake about it -- AI promotes what's best for AI.  That had been its former contestants -- especially those that had done well.  But it will no longer be in the show's financial interest to be tied to unproven prior contestants.  The AI brand, and its future contestants, will now be associated with a different record company.  There is no reason for them to promote past Sony-signed contestants.

It is unclear how this news will effect Crystal Bowersox.  It may actually be a blessing for her.  She will not be forced to appear on future shows or otherwise associate herself with AI -- and she of all the contestants seemed least happy being a big corporate trained monkey.  She will still get her record and it will fit the niche of singer-songwriter-chick nicely -- which means it won't do gang-busters but will give her a spot on any upcoming Lillith Fair tour.  She'll make enough to support her son and her subway days are over, but even better, she won't have to come back next year for a duet with Aaron Carter.

What is even more up in the air is how this news will affect Casey James and others who are either unsigned, or whose signing has not yet been announced.  On the plus side, if Sony goes ahead and signs Casey after its association with AI has been severed, it means that they want hm for what he offers as an artist and what they -- not AI -- can do with him.  It would actually make poetic sense if Casey were signed to Sony and simultaneously freed of his connection to American Idol.  He could then start on the path of developing himself as an artist in his own right.  In the same way that Chris Daughtry had more freedom courtesy of his fourth place finish, Casey could then forge his own path to do his own type of music and not what AI wanted to shoe-horn him into.

The concern, though, is that Sony won't see it like that.  They may want to wash their hands of AI altogether and simply move on and in the process pass on the one artist out of Season 9 who actually has huge potential.  I doubt this will happen because Sony, like every company, wants to make money and with Casey you have an artist who will get radio play, sell records, sell merchandise, sell concerts -- and make you money.  I've said it before, but it bears repeating -- Casey has the whole package.   Great voice, great guitar skills, great look, great musical knowledge, great cross-over appeal.  Sony is lucky they have first crack at him.  But, if they don't and Casey becomes a free agent, fear not.  Now that Casey and his music are out there, he will be signed.  It just may take a little longer.  As with all things -- time will tell.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Real Inspiration

In my other life, I write for Poker Player newspaper and other poker sites.  I prefer the human interest stories, I don't play well enough to even try and fake writing about strategy.

I had the opportunity to interview Donnie Vann.  Those of you who are here because of Casey James know about Casey's inspiring story of fighting back and rehabilitating himself after his motorcycle accident.  Donnie Vann has an even more amazing story of the human spirit in all its glory.  He is the most positive person I know and when you find out about him, you'll want to get to know him too.

Please read this, the first half of my interview with Donnie.  It's been hacked up, sadly, to fit the word count limit (Donnie was in fifth grade, not tenth, for example), so it's not my original prose.  I switched computers and can't find the original. :(
Poker Player Overcomes Bad Beat