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Into The Fire
For many years, George Mann teamed up with 30s activist Julius Margolin as self-described Labor Folkies. They sang of unions and took on the Bush administration with CDs such as Hail To The Thief and A Few Bad Apples.
On his own, George Mann continues the tradition. He sings of the working man, of the mother who has to live when her children have died in war, or the rising seas due to man-made climate change. He sings without subtly, he sings without apology, he sings without fear. He is not talking to power for he knows they won't listen. He's singing to you; he's singing for you.
George Mann's latest solo effort is Into the Fire. The first cut stakes out the territory of the CD and tackles right-wing PC notions, I Remember Winter:
Someone ripped up the ozone hole
Melted down all the polar caps
And I know, and I know that we are such dumb animals
We caused all of that
Now I'm just another old man
Walking through the streets all day
But I remember winter as a season of hope and a season of change
The Banks Are Made Of Marble was written in the Depression, with a news verse:
I've traveled 'round this country from shore to shining shoreOn the other hand, I'm Chipping Away At This War is from the 21st Century's defining (so far) conflict, as a veteran of the Iraq War speaks out, "I'm a soldier, I'm a killer. And I'll carry that with me all the way home." The war from a bombed-out Iraqi's view is presented in Pray For Me, about as leftist a song as you'll hear. I will shed no tears for anyone who is against unions but wants sympathy for losing their job to outsourcing, and I really admire the long and only occasionally successful fight for unionizing the miners, as in the pean to the end of the struggle, "Rest, Papa Rest, the work is finally done." George W gets more whacks with This Government of Shame.
It really made me wonder all the things I heard and saw
I saw the poor dirt farmer plowing sod and loam
And I heard the auction hammer come a-knocking down his home
But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the farmers sweated for
Yet, George is optimistic about the future, and wronte of a friend's's son, He Will Shine. And he's optimistic about America surviving the current administration with There's A Light At The End Of The Tunnel as long as the workers take a stand.
If Into The Fire doesn't break new ground, its boot tracks can be seen on the dusty road. "Much more serious in overall tone that what you're used to hearing from me" says Mann in the note accompanying the CD, but I must disagree. While it's true that Julius brings an air of self-deprecation and humor to his politics, the songs always come out swinging and frequently hit their target. Alone, George is no less on target. Mann's solo effort is unabashedly liberal and professionally done, and recommended for all old folkies. Good singing, good playing and some nice arrangements make the CD iPod worthy (iPw).
Barry McLoughlin is new to me, his indie CD coming with another compilation/sampler. He comes from a long line of Canadian folkies, and sings of cold weather and patriotic support for troops. The "breakout" song, the one that you hear when you go to his MySpace page, is Romeo (Canadian Soldier):
Romeo in RwandaLt. General Romeo Dallaire was commander of the UN peacekeepers in 1994, unable to stop the genocide of an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. When asked by the BBC, "What went wrong?" Dellaire replied, "Everything that possibly could have [gone wrong, did go wrong]." He deserves at song, at least.
I teach my children about you
The great Canadian soldier
The heart of darkness exposed you
You shook hands with the Devil
800,000 screaming angels over Africa
Cried for mercy but not even Kofi
Deployed a mercenary savior to your door
As you can guess from the Joseph Conrad reference, McLoughlin wears his influences on his sleeve and loves to pepper songs with literary and musical allusions. Musically, I hear Roger Whittaker and Cat Stevens among others, though he is sometimes more direct. "Can I claim you, My Dulcinea?" he asks quixotically after one night of love.
He admires Harry Chapin a great deal:
Singing out your heart for you and me
Pouring out your soul for humanity
Lining out dream as it's meant to be
You gave a damn
Harry you're a hell of a man
"Cat's in the Cradle" on the radio
Big yellow taxi pulls up to my door
Anywhere's better place to be I know
Most of the songs about about lost love and wondering what happened to them, or reveling in current love. Perhaps my favorite song on the CD is Met On The Internet, where he has never seen the woman from the Philippines he's falling in love with. Though born in Dublin, he is proud of Canada and twinges of an accent come through.
Windswept is not a great album but well-produced folk with a few cuts that rise above. Perhaps a some of the songs will hit closer to home for you than me. Certainly iPw.
Hail to the Thief! I, II, III
Almost immediately after the election of George W. Bush, the left knew he was a crook. Before 9/11 changed the political landscape, a Bush Backlash was forming. The first Hail to the Thief CD is "fun and only a little cruel", to quote my review.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, the liberal Democratic president said, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself." When terrorists attacked on 9/11, the conservative Republican president said, "Run! Hide! Panic! Shop!" We all came together as a country, and slowly realized how we had been betrayed by our leaders. George Mann and Julius Margolin always knew, never forgot, and continually reminded us. We should have listened harder.
I don't have 2004's Hail to the Thief, Vol. II: Songs to Send Bush Packing, but did get George Mann & Julius Margolin's 2003 solo effort Just A Few Bad Apples, a good political statement on Bush as well as reviving old union songs.
Hail to the Thieves, Vol. III: Songs To Take Our Country Back! came out just before election day in 2006. Whether it was part of the surge or helped create the political climate, their aim was true and the Democrats took back the House and Senate. I wish the Democrats had been as forceful as the collected artists. Alas, that would have to wait another couple of years... until now.
Farewell to the Thief! Vol. IV
Like Vol. III, Farewell to the Thief! Vol. IV came out just before the election. (Sorry, I was too busy covering the campaign to do music reviews.) George Mann, Julius Margolin and Friends bring old folkies out of the woodwork for protest songs with a tinge of union- and Depression-Era music. Some of the songs are timely, and hence now dated. Most of the songs are anti-Bush, but few of them feel dated even after the election. The ill effects of the Bush administration will be felt for a long time, and the outrage should remain in public consciousness for many election cycles to come. The album is very strong, the best of the ones I've heard. And that's saying a fair bit.
Farewe to the Thief! Vol. IV is so good, it has two subtitles. Officially, it has none. Emblazoned across the picture on the front cover is "Mission Accomplished". But wait! There's more! Open up the case, and on the CD are the words "Free At Last!" Two Farewells for the price of one!
All the songs are good, and are offered in dedication to the late Utah Phillips, who died in 2008. Let me briefly touch on some of my favorites. The Seattle Labor Chorus covers a holiday tune in gorgeous a cappella:
Oil for the World
The war drags on.
And we're still number one
Let everyone rejoice
The West has made its choice
We're patriots one and all
Let's all drive to the mall
In Humvee's and SUV drive to the mall.
Seattle musician Jim Page channels some talking blues and smoothly sings "It's a cynical proposition. It's been that way from the start... Petroleum Boneparte." The Citizens Band mourns the loss of country ballads because individual pain seems to trivial when the nation is being trashed. Anymore is from their CD Just Desserts, available for download:
I can't sing about the torment of a love that's left behind
When our leaders can't agree on a future for mankind.
I can't praise those good old prison days, there's too much to fight for,
Just gets hard to sing those songs anymore.
I grew up with Hank Williams and the music of my dad,
Singing songs about the outlaws and the heroes good and bad.
When the lessons of the past have become something to ignore,
Just gets hard to sing those songs anymore.
And finally, the last cut of the set ends where the first began, nearly eight years earlier: An instrumental version of Hail to the Chief on kazoo and saw.
Hail to the Thief! Vol. IV is highly recommended. Songs by Tom Paxton, Garnett Rogers, Roy Zimmerman, Utah Phillips, Anne Feeney and others including, of course, George Mann and Julius Margolin. Sixty-One minutes of music to keep reminding you of why we so desperately needed change.
Even John McCain ran on a platform of Change, repudiating much of the Bush administration policies even as he couldn't bring himself to tell the truth about the president. Many on the right, even those who voted for Bush in 2000 or 2004 are suffering buyer's remorse, and if they're at all honest with themselves, many Republicans will appreciate Farewell to the Thief! Free At Last!.
But wait! There's more!
George and Julius run their online store, and you can purchase these CDs plus others, including their radio interviews, and they even have a DVD.
Whether the economic crisis will bring back Depression songs, or the massive unemployment caused by the crisis will bring back unions, I cannot say right not. But the tides of history have washed these same problems back. George Mann and Julius Margolin haven't forgotten. And neither should you.
Fundraisers for 2007 and 2008
The great Luke Ski has an interesting, self-appointed job: To ceaselessly promote Dementia Music. The effort is huge, but he gets to hang around with his friends. As he makes more and better music, he gets better and better at the promotion. Watch out Sonny Bono! Somehow, he never runs out of energy. Geeze, I hope they don't test this guy for steroids...
The Dean of Demented Music is Dr. Demento. More than the godfather of this branch of filk music/novelty songs/funny stuff, it's how he earns his living. He and Weird Al Yankovic benefited from a symbiotic relationship, back when the field was smaller. Both could make fame and fortune in their respective niches. Now, YouTube is ubiquitous... and free.
Shockwave Radio Theater tried, as much as possible, to promote weirdness in all categories, not just music. We didn't get paid either, and our influence was largely local, largely at science fiction conventions, at least until the internet spread the word across the world. We didn't write or perform music, but we kept the spirit alive, and the radio show introduced listeners to some very strange artists. There is a reason why science fiction convetions, Minneapolis conventions in particular and Marscon in specific is one of the hotbeds of Filk and Dementia Music.
Marscon has had a Dementia Music Track since 2003, possibly the only sf con to dedicate a programming room to these performances. Many conventions, including Minicon, also in Minneapolis, have Filk Rooms, but these are largely (though not solely) traditional filk in the sense that a work is shared in a music circle, and others are encouraged to join in playing and singing. Dementia Music is performed in front of an audience.
And that's where the Dementia Track Fundraisers come in. (You were wondering when I'd get to that, eh?)
The 2007 Dementia Track Fundraiser captured many of the live performances, which is always iffy, and as I said of the 2008 Dementia Track Fundraiser, you don't buy it for the music, "the reason to get the CD is to encourage them to do it again." And they did.
The first two Fundraiser CDs were largely vanity projects; a remembrance if you were there, a collectable if you're a geek. Not unlike the Obama Plate Sets now being offered, except noisier and you can't eat off them. For 2009, everything changed.
Marscon 2009 Dementia Track Fundraiser
The Marscon 2009 Dementia Track Fundraiser is available in not one! Not two! Not three! Not five! But four different configurations!
I was in the audience for much of Dementia track at Marscon 2008, where these were recorded. Luke Ski and Earl Luckes kept the acts moving; not easy when you haven't scheduled any set-up time between acts. Live music is a different art form than recorded music. Too often, as in the previous two fundraisers, a live album is more for fans than it is about the music. But now we can record more than just the music, and the musicians at Marscon are experienced and funny. Some of the introductions, missed music cues and banter is entertaining, even if you weren't there.
Some of the banter is entertaining even if you weren't there.
The great Luke Ski has engineered two separate sets of CDs: A two-disk set with mostly music cuts, and a three-disk set including more banter and the Opening Ceremonies skit. You can order either set of CDs (shipping included) or you can get the downloaded versions for cheaper. For $15, you can get 2 1/2 hours of music and personalty in mp3 form. Just the iPod stuffer for a late X-Mas gift.
I got the two-disk set: Intros and some banter are included, but the Fundraiser comprises mostly performances. Much like any live recording, the studio recordings are (to my ears) better. But not always, and sometimes the energy of the crowd is fed back to the artists.
The professional quality of the recordings is a pleasant surprise, given the home-made-sounding Fundraisers of years past. Again, this is due to Luke as well as Marscon. At times, during the con, Luke almost made running the stage seem like work. Well, it paid off.
Geeks will appreciate Worm Quartet's "Ode to the golden days of cybersex," Less Than Three. WQ benefits from a decision to avoid bleeping. You have to hear him in all his raunchy glory. And you really have to be part of the audience for What Your Parents Think All Your Music Sounds Like, though you can get the sense of it from the recording. Devo Spice, formerly using his band name of Sudden Death, brings a bunch of his the FuMP.com friends to pop Pillagers.
For the most part, performers with recorded backing tracks come off better than those who play instruments. Paul & Storm are a major exception. Referring to the audience, they ask rhetorically, "We're totally going to play with this toy until it breaks, aren't we?" They get a telephone call in the middle of a song, and share Jonathan Coulton with the room. They get everyone to ad lib "Arrrr" jokes during The Captain's Wife's Lament.
Dementia Music covers a lot of very strange ground, and the mix of short sets and Smackdowns are a good way to sample groups you might not encounter otherwise. The Gothsicles's thrash/goth is not my cup of hemlock, but I really liked their version of The Yolk's On You. Beth Kinderman serves cake and grief counseling to to the zombie fighters who are Still Alive. Devo Spice returns for a sequel, Bacon 2: Electric Bugaloo.
I'm glad I own the 2007 and 2008 Fundraisers, because these are my friends, I'm a geek, I'm a bit of a collector of unusual recordings, and because I was there. I can recommend the Marscon 2009 Dementia Track Fundraiser for anyone who enjoys comedy music and who really enjoys listening to people having loads of fun making comedy music. If you're unfamiliar with these groups, it's a good sampler to get you started. If you have their studio albums, you may want to fill in your collection.
And, as mentioned, the downloaded versions are a great last-minute (or not so last-minute) gift for the budding Demented Music Appreciator.
Reflections on being in the audience
For 30 years now (!), I've felt a big part of my job, on the radio, at conventions and on the web is to keep people weird. This isn't necessarily a difficult job, given that most of them were pretty idiosyncratic to begin with. I love playing to an audience who get's the jokes. For most of the Shockwave Live Stage Shows, I wrote a part for the audience. Introducing new forms of humor, promoting fellow artists, keeping people on their conceptual toes: I did my part, and kept on the surface a strain of strange that was threatening to go back underground.
My job, as emcee or at Opening and Closing Ceremonies, was to find people in thankless jobs and thank them for it. As moderator and/or participant on panels, I got to spout off while giving others the opportunity to spout off and/or challenge assumptions. This is lots of fun. I've probably done more Opening/Closing Ceremonies at sf cons than almost anyone else on the planet.
Being in the audience is an odd feeling. To be sure, with the explosion of Mpls conventions, I'm not quite the impresario I once was. Many conventions, including Marscon, do wonderful Opening/Closing Ceremonies, an I'm happy to sit back and take it easy for a change. Not being emcee/dj evokes similar feelings.
I was never the high energy announcer. My style was more Ed Sullivan than Dr. Demento; more FM than AM; more Bob & Ray than Craig Ferguson. Heck, half the people reading this don't get some of those references.
I'm content, usually, to pass the baton and to reflect on a life of being a big fish in a small pond. I still run Opening/Closing Ceremonies at Minicon, and I'm on lots of programming at various cons, including Marscon. But the Dementia Music Track seems to have passed over me. More power to 'em. They're doing a great job. Still, they don't quite appreciate those of us who toiled in the trenches. I'm not part of the scene, and it leaves a bit of a void in me. I'll probably be moving out of that section of the convention. Moving out slowly... I still want to see all the acts... and do radio... and podcasts... and interviews... and photo galleries... and...
Aw heck. Who do I think I'm kidding. The show is too much fun to let go. See you at Marscon 2009!
Five Albums: A Personal Journey
What follows is a list of five capital-I-Important albums to me, not necessarily anyone else. And not even necessarily my favorite albums, though all are amongst my faves, but albums that influenced me in profound ways. These are more-or-less in chronological order when I encountered them. This essay first appeared in my LiveJournal where you can read comments or add your own.
A Child's Introduction to Jazz Bob Keeshan and the Honeydreamers. Yes, the actor who played Captain Kangaroo but not in in this song.
A Child's Introduction to Jazz, Zip file of mp3s. The recording is from 1958 or 1959, and it was a fave for many years until I was 9 or 10. This is a 78 (I think), and probably only contained only this one song story, starting on one side and continuing on to the next. I don't remember ever not having this record (and I may have it still, but I'm not going to dig through the vinyl) and always associate it with the other 78s, 45s and even 33 1/3rds heard on our multi-speed but plastic record player: Captain Kangaroo's Treasure House of Best Loved Songs (w/Mr. Greenjeans) explaining "Walzing Matilda" and "The Bear Went Over the Mountain", and even the Mickey Mouse Club Records with the March and Annette singing "Beauty is as beauty does". I'm throwing them all in as one record because that's how I played them when I was six: No covers, just put them on the turntable, lower the needle and play.
"A Child's Introduction to Jazz" was especially formative because it introduced me to the concept that music came from somewhere. My admiration for covers and fascination with the folk process probably had its genesis here. Despite being anti-semitic (they do the history of jazz including Dixieland without mentioning kelzmer), the journey from African rhythms to Negro Spirituals to French folk music and so on to American jazz is done really well by kid's standards. The Honeydreamers were harmonizing be-bop, sort of like Manhattan Transfer.
Wow, I'm listening to it for the first time in years, and it's still great.
They were coming from all over when America was young.
And they knew what they were doing when they picked this promising spot.
Oh they came across the sea
to the country of the free.
And the races got mixed in the (beat) melting pot.
America is a melting pot. (xylophone break)
When they settled here they all began to speak the English tongue
But it started sounding different 'cause they changed it rather a lot.
We speak English now a-days
in a lot of different ways.
'Cause the accents got mixed in the (beat) melting pot.
Well, sort of. The Africans didn't exactly come over "to the country of the free" and miscegenation was illegal in many states at the time. Still, for a child, this optimism and recognition of our heritage as a nation of immigrants was pretty powerful.
That Was The Year That Was Tom Lehrer
We had all three Lehrer albums, and in a different mood I might have picked An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer, but I'm going with That Was The Year That Was because it's more political and also has my favorite Lehrer song, "Pollution". The 1965 album is the most recent of the three canonical Tom Lerher albums, and we probably acquired it around the release date, so I heard if from about age 10 onwards.
Politics were always serious in our house, as various local and state-wide office holders came in and out. My father's position as a center-left editor in a very conservative county was always precarious. And all of this bounced off us kids. We were exposed, first-hand, to the great issues of the day. Laughing at the foibles and hypocrisy of everyone, even those we agreed with, was part and parcel of the territory.
Tom Lehrer had three things going for him. First, he was a superb pianist and songwriter, and could play in almost any style or from any culture. Second, he was a great stand-up comedian (though he was sitting down) and was truly funny. And third, he had a razor-sharp wit that sliced through political buffoonery rarely matched even today.
Finding out that he did these songs on television, opened my eyes to the power of parody. I've never seen the show, which was before my time. I'm not surprised that TW3 started in Britain and wasn't a huge success here. Music could be funny and witty and political. Lehrer wasn't the first nor the last to produce successful political satire, but he was one of the best, and one of the first I was exposed to.
Calypso Harry Belafonte
I'm generally more song oriented than album oriented and found Calypso when searching for two of my favorite songs: "Day-O" and "Jamaica Farwell". Both on the same album! I got the album, probably sometime in college, which led to a greater appreciation of Harry Belafonte. Calypso was the first album to sell over a million copies; a big feat in 1956, during the height of McCarthyism. Despite the tremendous racism and political repression of the time, Belafonte was the first black man to win an Emmy. His association with Paul Robeson helped get him blacklisted.
By the time I encountered the album, I sort of knew all this, but really it's not why the album was an influence nor why it stands up today. Calypso is a great album and all the songs are strong. Covers of the songs continue to appear. Indeed, the writer of many of the songs, Lord Burgess (aka Irving Burgie) never got the acclaim that went to Belafonte for his marvelous singing but went on to write the national anthem of Barbados and even has his own book and CDs. I have Island In the Sun, which isn't all that good but makes a nice compliment to the Belafonte versions.
Calypso was my first major encounter with what some call "Worldbeat" that didn't sound like be-bop jazz.
Now We Are Six Steeleye Span
Now We Are Six is not my favorite Steeleye Span (SSpan) album, but was the current release in 1974 when I was slipping into science fiction fandom and hung out with the Albany State Science Fiction Society and my eventual roommate Frank Balazs. Frank had many SSpan and related albums, and between the two of us we got most of the available recordings. Starting with SSpan led us (or me, anyway) to related groups like Renaissance and Fairport Convention. And, later, groups like Boiled In Lead and The Chieftans.
I've talked about Steeleye Span in depth in many other places including my CD reviews and don't wish to go on here. Suffice to say that they remain my favorite group (though I haven't heard the most recent CD or two) and lead singer Maddy Prior remains my favorite singer.
Horses Patti Smith
I never liked punk, and still don't. It can be fun to watch angry adolescents rage against the machine, but with few exceptions the punk movement produced no music that survived that particular era of pissed off teens. The Clash and The Dead Kennedy's are exceptions, and possibly the Ramones. But as far as I'm concerned the only real artist to come out of the punk movement was Patti Smith.
Horses is an astonishing album. If she had started 20 years earlier she would have been a Beat Poet, as it is she owes much to The Lost Generation and pissed off social commentators like Lenny Bruce.
I can't really understand much of the lyrics on Horses, but the emotion comes through. I consider Patti Smith a vocalist while Maddy Prior is a singer.
The centerpiece of Horses is the title song, "Land". I consider "Land" to be the best rock and roll song ever: Angry and danceable, it explores the themes of so many 50s and 60s songs: Sex and death among High School kids. Unlike "Teen Angel" or even "Happiness Is A Warm Gun", "Land" takes you up, then down, and finally inward. Like most punk, it isn't perfect and other performances of the song/poem are very different. Unlike most punk (at least to me), I can listen to it more than a few times. But not too often. Thanks to the internet I can read the lyrics, but even at the time the songs, especially "Land", were too powerful to be background.
Horses was followed by Easter with the remarkable combination of "Babelogue/Rock N Roll Nigger", which is not about race but is about being "outside of society, away from me" and screams for the acceptance of the outcast.
Which nicely takes me back to "A Child's Introduction To Jazz".
Picked up at Marscon 2009
The 2009 Marscon has come and gone, but lives on in our hearts and in our ears. The concerts were fun, and the convention was packed with win. I picked up a few CDs which took me a while to listen to. Here is the first of the batch I'll be reviewing in the next few weeks.
Novelty/Filk/Dementia Music is in a tricky place these days. Not that comedy musicians ever did well in the competitive field of pop music. Weird Al Yankovic set and then broke the mold for the current paradigm. No one is ever going to succeed in quite the same way he did because he changed the field. File sharing and music downloads have further established different parameters. An artist must balance the desires of new or casual listeners for whom you are one in a thousand with the few but intense fans who want more and the want it now and they want current pop references. In addition to being funny and making yourself laugh, you have to do the marketing and know your audience.
If anyone is going to inherit Weird Al's mantle, it will be the great Luke Ski, who performs tirelessly and promotes his friends and fellow Dementia artists. He is a major contributor to The Funny Music Project, aka The FuMP, a prime locale to hear the latest from many artists and buy or download samples. They are are serious about being funny and sneak into each others cuts.
Target: Audience is the latest original CD from the great Luke Ski. He has the enormous, self-imposed, task of balancing the great majority of listeners who might know him from his many appearances on the Dr. Demento Show or in reviews such as this one and his rabid fans who want more and the want it now and they want current pop references.
And it works.
I didn't get the album last summer because i had songs about Battlestar Galactica and Heroes and I wasn't current. I eventually gave up on Heroes but did see the BSG episodes extant as of the release date. (I haven't seen the finale, so don't tell me anything...) Verdict: Worth the wait. Half the battle in parody is picking the right song to filk. Nobody is better at it than tgLS.
Battlestar Rhapsody takes the plot of the series up through the end of Season 4.0. If you're not that far along in the series and care about spoilers, avoid the song. For everyone else, the song is vintage Luke Ski. Gorgeous harmonies, a good recreation of the original Queen song and wonderful parody lyrics that skewer BSG (and others) in exactly the right places.
Anywhere the fleet goes,
doesn't really matter to me… To me.
Babylon 5 is well established in the science fiction television pantheon. Finding new angles to explore is tricky. Long-suffering megalomaniac Londo Molari gets an historic song of his own. Just A Gigolo is originally a WWI song, sung by a former Austrian hussar who remembers himself parading in his uniform and is now a sad, bittersweet, dancer in a Parisian cafe. Unchanged, an utterly perfect torch song for Londo. The song made it to Tin Pan Alley, was used in a Betty Boop cartoon, combined with "I Ain't Got Nobody" by Louis Prima for a hit in 1956, covered by David Lee Roth in 1985 and given the Luke Ski treatment in 2008 with Just Mister Londo:
I'm just Mister Londo, and on the Zocalo,
People know the part I am playing.
Gambling all my credits, girls who like my status,
In my bed they're staying.
In the Grand Old Days, I was decadent in ways
That would disgrace a pastor.
But today here I know,
I am just Mister Londo,
The fan-haired Ambass'dor.
For those of his targeted audience who likes their parody a dish best served cold (and spicy), Luke slips in short interstitials such as "Public Enemy Sings Tom Lehrer", "Firefly Starring Daffy Duck" and "Lewis Black Does Shakespeare". Really.
Carrie Dahlby joins Luke for A Middle East Country, A Middle Earth Mountain Troll which requires some set up that I'm not going to do here. Rob Balder joins the fun to explain some internet acronyms at the OMGWTFBBQ. Art Paul Schlosser is remixed to make him even stranger in "Everybody Get Weird".
Carrie Dahlby comes back (she's a busy girl these days) in Holding Out For A Hiro, a parody of the Bonnie Tyler song about Heroes. Babylon 5 meets the Beastie Boys in No Sleep 'Til Babylon. Before the torture memos were released, Jack Bauer gets and original song:
Jack Bauer. He got the power.
Minute by minute, and hour after hour.
He's hard corps, gonna stop the war.
And he ain't gonna quit until he hits 24.
A big production like The Chainsaw Juggler requires a big cast and everybody (except me) seems to get in on the act. More of a takeoff (in classical terms, a variation) than a parody, everyone is earnestly odd.
Target: Audience is highly recommended, whether you're a target audience of the great Luke Ski from previous albums or want to hear some current entries in the field. If you just want to dip your toe in the waters, go to the great Luke Ski's store and sling a few bucks for "Battlestar Rhapsody", "Just Mister Londo" and ""The Chainsaw Juggler" though the interstitial tracks aren't listed for download and the whole album is iPodWorthy.
2009 is already a good year
The pressure to make new music is always hard for those who don't make their living at it, and making quality CDs is even harder. Here are three recent CDs; the 29th, 2nd and first CD by the various groups.
Baron Dave and three cast members of The Capitol Steps
two CDs ago
Washington DC, April 14. 2007CE
Obama Mia! is the 29th Album from the Capitol Steps. Their album sales are incidental to their performances, which constantly change as the political landscape changes. If you're ever in DC -- or around their road show -- make time to go see them. They'll have updated material, poking fun at the politics of the day. You'll probably be about a half-album ahead of their next release. Obama Mia! contains more of their routines and spoken intros than others, partially because they work so well.
Singling out Capitol Steps cuts is difficult, as the transitions to and from songs add to each, but I'll mention a few favorites. Lirty Dies: 2008 -- The Load To Erection (mp3, 8:07) is one of the better entries in a very strong string of political commentary made pungent by spoonerism. Ebony and Ovaries (mp3, 3:56) is a duet between former rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to the tune of... well, you can probably figure it out.
Soon-to-be-former President Bush is rendered harmless by his inability to speak English in the spoken routine "George Bush: A Time for Refraction":
As you know, we've had a historic election in our country, and despite my difference with Barack Obama, I find him to be a inspiring man.They get a few last licks into W. with "The Chap Who Threw His Two Shoes" and "George W. Creditreport.com". Still, my favorite bit on the CD is he duet between Obama and Bush, "Barackberry", where Obama demonstrates that he is a president for the 21st Century whereas Bush isn't quite up to the 19th. Barack: "I mean your PDA? How did you stay connected? How did you stay in touch?" George W: "Well, if I proved anything during my presidency, is that keeping out of touch was kinda my forte. heh heh heh"
He's written a book where he outlines several of his thoughts and ideas for the future. I haven't seen these ideas... because they're in a book....
As you may be aware, as my term is coming to its end, I feel it's a time for refraction. I've always show the greatest affliction for the American people. Even my retractors agree that I have been successful in reversing many of the accomplishments of past administrations.
The Capitol Steps are an equal opportunity basher, and targets include Oprah, Joe the Plumber, former Gov. Blagojevich, Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton and Subprime Mortgage Holders.
Like their other albums, Obama Mia! is political filk done right. Get the CD now, before the political spotlight moves on and the jokes are fresh. Highly recommended for anyone who follows politics even a little.
Carrie Dahlby, Marscon, March 6, 2009CE
Carrie and Josh got married a few days ago, so I should really review her latest CD, which premiered at Marscon. As a Wedding present, I have entered all the track info for the album and uploaded it to CDDB.Giant Kitten, the sophomore solo effort from Dementia Music artist Carry Dahlby, has one of my favorite album covers: A giant kitten head poking through the clouds to gaze mischievously at London. The CD is a fine effort, tapping the talents of many Dementia Music artists and promoting fired radio personality T. D. Mischke (who performs the first cut).
In Carrie Dahlby's first CD, Happy Ranch, she threw in, almost as an afterthought, some of the short songs she sang over her cell phone to Buffy Kitty. Those were so much fun that she has 16 of them here, in better audio, which is why the CD has 35 tracks. Be careful playing on Shuffle (or Genius) as your cat will get jealous.
My favorite of her new songs is "The World Is Made Of". It's become almost an anthem which will rev up a crowd. A version was on the Marscon 2009 Dementia Track Fundraiser which I talked about earlier. Bartcop-E is a family site, so I won't give away what the world is made of, but knowing this crowd, you'll like the song too. You can get the solo track on iTunes from a FuMP collection.
Carrie does a lot of overdubbing to harmonize with herself. This works well most of the time, especially on the a cappella "The Last Half Birthday", about turning 29 1/2. Once you turn 30 your life is over. She relates the equivalent of her bucket list, what she's going to do in the next six months. Besides harmonizing with herself, Carrie shares the CD with the great Luke Ski and ShoEboX of Worm Quartet, among others.
She backs up Devo Spice in the Nerdcore Rap paean to the spread of STDs, "Give It To Everyone", sort of an update of Tom Lehrer's I Got It From Agnes, skipping over the innocence of Nate Bucklin's "The Chart Song" and passing through the scary time of Boiled In Lead's Microorganism to come full circle.
You don't so much listen to Giant Kitten as enter the world of Carrie Dahlby. You will be amused depending on how much you like zombie stories for kids, ripping on Britney Spears, going to a Steely Dan concert, songs about the topic of songs, Heroes, or any of the other subjects and musical styles she zips through. Definitely iPod Worthy (iPw), and worth more than the sum of the individual tracks. Recommended if you like the other Dementia Music artists I've reviewed, or if you want to sing to your cats.
Feng Shui Ninjas, Marscon, March 7, 2009CE
I wasn't entirely sure about the Feng Shui Ninjas. At first. The musicians had been kicking around as Dementia Artist backups for a while, and they kept talking about their new group. They gave a great concert at Marscon, and their CD is better -- and different -- than I expected.
Garbage Pizza is, well, let me quote my own review from the CDBaby site: Fun and Strange. The Feng Shui Ninjas are serious musicians who don't always take themselves seriously. Garbage Pizza is well produced and well performed, with some good covers and emotional originals. Celtic and country with a little bit of weird; to play their description game: They sound like Poi Dog Pondering as produced by Syd Barrett. Sort of.
I must admit I'm not that fond of their signature song, an angry Celtic version of "Greensleeves". The rip on one of my favorite airs doesn't have quite the right spin for me, though I appreciate the effort and it's iPw. On the other hand, they do a cover of another of my faves, "Burning Bridges". Slightly weepy country-ish, which is just right for the song.
Songs about songs are a mainstay of songwriting (might as well write about what you know) and the CD starts off with "Writing A Book" about... writing a book. Or not writing a book, but writing a song about writing the book. Got it? That leads into the best song on the CD is "Another Song", about a lonely woman who adds another chorus to the song of her life. It helps that the bouncy honky-tonk instrumentation is odd, and includes a typewriter carriage return bell. "There's no reason to live life without trying."
Their odd, almost psychedelic, take on Paddy's Lamentation is a worthy cover. The journey described in "Peach Cobbler" reminded me of Lou and Peter Berryman, though I'm not sure I can explain why. "The Rainbow Song" is about Edgar Allen Poe, I think, and is the group at its most early Pink Floyd: emotional but distant, intellectual but disconsolate.
Garbage Pizza falls neatly into the category of "Uncategorizable". If you liked Songs In The Key of Z or Hawkwind or Renaldo and the Loaf , you're a very strange person and might like the Feng Shui Ninjas. It's easier to say what they're not than what they are, but I like the CD. Recommended for everyone who wants to try something a little different, that takes you to a slightly odd place, a place where you get to rewrite the ending.
The story behind the story
Woodstock was a fairly big deal for our very conservative area between New York City and Albany. As it receded into history, even as I went to college, I started telling this story as much for humor value as to brag about my father and mother. I finally wrote it up for the local newspapers, but neither of the Minneapolis/St. Paul papers wanted it. While I would have liked to have my friends around here see it, the article really does belong in my father's paper, though he hasn't been associated with for decades. Al Romm passed on almost ten years ago, and I think he'd appreciate the true story coming out.
I ran a draft by my mother, who filled in many details, This sparked further stories from her, collected by my brother. You should all read her much more Woodstock-intensive article in the Huffington Post on 8/14, Sex, Drugs, Rock 'N Roll in Redneck Country.
Now that these articles have been published, I corrected the record in Wikipedia and had proper cites, though some moron changed them to gobbledegook. (I put in the proper, cited, events several times, then gave up and complained to Wikipedia. And haven't been back. Geeze.)
The Woodstock Music and Arts Fair was held August 15-18, 1969, less than a month after Apollo 11 put two men on the moon. Earlier in the year, the country had elected Nixon, who had "a secret plan to end the war" in Vietnam. America was feeling good about itself, and rightly so.
My father, A. N. (Al) Romm, was editor of the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, NY, the first daily paper to be printed on offset, which meant magazine-quality pictures, the only daily closest to any of the proposed sites for the festival. The concert itself was controversial even before it happened, and the final site at Yasgur's farm was the third site selected. The first proposed site was in Middletown itself, but the Wallkill Zoning Board said no. My father was critical in swaying public opinion to accept the 3 Days of Love and Peace. It's just a rock concert.... what could go wrong? he opined. The promoters found Max Yasgur's farm a few miles up Rte 17. No water-- six wells had to be dug. No parking.
Both my mother and father were at Woodstock the entire time, as reporters, starting Thursday. No one assigned to the story could get near it, nor could any of the New York papers. But Middletown staffers there on their day off all gathered in the Press Tent and wrote the coverage that almost won the Pulitzer that year --"Only one vote off," said an editor later.
Dad had the only phone line out. Later, he said the smartest plan he had made was hiring a motorcyclist to carry film and stories through the choked, impassible traffic back to the paper. No other paper was closer than a helicopter.
The Record put out a rare Saturday extra, which helped convince the publishers that the paper could sustain an increase from six days a week to seven. My mother's first picture made the front page the first day, a young girl on a stretcher--drug overdose-- being taken into the First Aid Tent. (see TH-R story, link at bottom)
All this passed me by. I knew about the concert, of course, and had followed the travails of the organizers. My parents trepidatiously broached the subject of my going. But I didn't care about Jimi Hendrix or The Dead. Pete Seeger wasn't going to be at Woodstock, so neither was I.
I was 14. I grew up on tv. I wanted to go to Disneyland.
I had stayed up all night watching Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon--memories I treasure to this day. Nothing like the moon landing has happened since. I was bouncing around for weeks, following the progress of Apollo 11 and the excitement when they all came back. I didn't want to sit still to listen to music I probably wouldn't like. When it came time for Woodstock, my parents made preparations for a camping trip up there, and sent me to California.
Berkeley, California, to be exact, where my aunt lived. When you're 14 from New York, "California" is a nebulous concept where "Los Angeles" and "San Francisco" are pretty much in the same vicinity. In fact, they are culturally and geographically in different worlds.
In Berkeley, I helped picket a grocery store that was selling lettuce picked by non-union workers. Okay, I was really baby sitting my cousins, but it was fun. And successful; the grocery store eventually left and is now the Berkeley Bowl. I visited Haight-Ashbury and bought Andr Norton science fiction in the used book stores.
Eventually, I made it to LA. In the hills above Los Angeles, I stayed with my uncle-in-law and aunt-in-law-in-law. I watered the lawn, drove through smog, sent my first real e-mail, and sampled the Other California Lifestyle. And, of course, went to Disneyland.
Disneyland was great. It wasn't everything I expected: The Tea Cup Ride was closed. But the weather was perfect, the rides spectacularly fun (what we would later call "awesome!") and Apollo 11 banners were on sale. The Matterhorn was more fun than it looked on tv; the Enchanted Tiki Room's audio animatronics were better than on tv; It's A Small World was as good as it had been at the 1964 NY World's Fair. And so on and on. The whole place was a real E Ticket.
I was treated like royalty. Well, like a tourist with money, which in LA is roughly the same thing. I met Mickey (several times) and my faith in television was affirmed.
Woodstock vs. Disneyland
At Woodstock, it rained for three days. Mud. Water was scarce and you should be careful of food and drink anyone just gave you. The music was great, if you could hear it, but many were outside the natural amphitheater with sound quality a secondary concern. As huge flash crowds go, Woodstock was peaceful and real bonds were formed with total strangers. Then everyone went home.
While Woodstock took place forty miles from where I lived, I was at Disneyland. I had a much better time than my parents but they got much better stories.
Aftermath: No one knows just how many people were at Woodstock: could be as few as 200,000, as many as 750,000. The initial estimate of 600,000 seems high in retrospect, and the only way to know is to lay a grid over the scene and count the people there, then count the squares--the way the cops do it, and add in a guess at the people in the woods. But no one has done it. All we know: It was large and no one was in charge.
I've probably told more Woodstock stories than Disneyland stories, but, for better or worse, in the third person.
An edited and unlinked version of this article appeared in the August 15, 2009 Times Herald-Record as In his words: The 'Record' on Woodstock. For my mother's perspective on the experience, see my brother Joe's column in the Huffington Post, Sex, Drugs, Rock 'N Roll in Redneck Country. I'm also one of many people who's excerpted comments are in the St. Paul Pioneer Press's I Remember Woodstock, Really column of 8/14/09.
Placing Woodstock in historical context
Last week, I told my Woodstock story, an expansion of the article printed in the Times Herald-Record, the paper my father edited and which I delivered for 5 years as a teen: In His Own Words, how I happen to go to Disneyland the weekend my parents were at Woodstock as reporters. I've been telling this story ever since, and finally put it in print. I ran it by my mother, who was there, and my brother Joe urged her to write up her reminiscences for Huffington Post: Sex, Drugs, Rock 'N Roll in Redneck Country. These articles, and the many more that have accompanied the 40th anniversary, prompted a backlash from those who don't want to hear about it anymore.
I've responded in a few places, and might as well try to cover many of the points here.
Culturally, "the 60s" was that period of time from Kennedy's Assassination to Nixon's resignation; from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols; from Twister to Dungeons and Dragons. The beginning and end points are fairly easy, though they are not sharp dividing lines. The highlights and lowlights are harder.
One of the major driving forces of the 60s was the Baby Boomers. At the time, it was the largest number of babies born in the US. By a lot. 76 million post-war children, all growing up. The Census Bureau defines the demographic as babies born between 1946 and 1964, though some (including 1961 baby Barack Obama) cut it off in 1960.
1955 is squarely in the middle, the year of Disneyland, McDonalds, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and me.
By Woodstock in 1969, the first of the Baby Boomers had graduated college and had good jobs, what we would later call Yuppies. Many 40s and early 50s Boomers were in college, away from their parents for the first time, with a flexible schedule (i.e. they could skip classes) and with a moderate amount of disposable income.
The older generation -- Browkaw's Greatest Generation -- had grown up during the Depression and many came of age during WWII. In that period 1963-1969 the older generation's significant events included, Kennedy's Assassination, The Berlin Wall, cars with radios, the rise of tv newscasting, the assassinations of Martin Luthor King and Robert Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the election of Nixon and the Moon Landing.
Those events affected kids differently than adults. For many, including myself, Kennedy's Assassination was our first major memory. Nothing quite as disquieting and shocking happened until 9/11. The kids -- the younger generation -- didn't share the change. They lived it. Tv news wasn't a change in medium, it was the medium. When the Beatles came to America to be on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, at last the kids were the main audience. Three months after Kennedy's death, they gave us a much needed morale boost. And mainly, they gave the Boomers, many by then in their teens, something they could call their own.
And that's where Woodstock comes in.
Woodstock was an impetus for the new technological innovation: Stereo. Within a few years, top-40 AM radio was overtaken by album-oriented FM stations. Concerts like Woodstock demonstrated that people wanted more from music than canned three-minute pop announced by djs on speed.
Let me see if I can place this in understandable context. Lots of people remember Woodstock 40 years ago. 40 years before Woodstock... they barely had commercial radio. Commercial radio started in 1920, only in a few places, and not many people had radios. Even so, the early part of the 20th Century saw a tremendous technological boom in audio. But low tech: The amazing thing was that you could hear broadcasts or recordings at all. If you were rich you could hear low-fidelity phongraph recordings. If you were moderately affluent (or knew someone who was) and lucky you were within range of a radio station and had a staticy AM radio. The world changed quickly, because of the new technology; the Grand Ole Opry started broadcasting in 1925. Mass media effected America greatly; the time period is known as The Jazz Age. 40 years before that, in 1889, the world didn't have radio or recorded music of any kind. Your music experience was very likely limited to live performances and/or church. Before broadcast audio, people built opera houses in the middle of jungles. Many who were alive at the time of Woodstock remembered back when they had no more opportunity to hear music than they would have had in Ancient Rome.
Baby Boomers grew up in a world that never lacked radio, tv or recorded music. This is one of the biggest changes in culture ever, far more of a cultural divide than wars or assassinations. The medium is the massage.
Other events affected Boomers, of course, and you didn't have to be a Boomer to be affected by younger generation events. Vietnam was starting to get Boomers killed. The injustice of race relations and the hypocrisy of behaving even worse than our opponents in the Cold War were at odds with the teachings of almost every parent, not to mention the teachings of Jesus (and every religion). Many people born before 1946 were affected as well, of course. Vietnam was the most immediate problem, and it was a problem for everyone.
Politically, the anti-war movement cohered several disparate groups that had overlapping but not identical goals: The environmental movement (which resulted in the Clean Water Act and the EPA within a couple of years), the free speech movement, the anti-war movement (which elected Nixon and his "secret plan to end the war" and eventually saved thousands of lives by getting us out), the drug culture (which, lacking political clout, screwed up royally but at least provided an alternative to the drunken Valium-hazed 50s) and dragged the US kicking and screaming out of the McCarthy-era Cold War hatred and suspicion.
In and of itself, Woodstock did none of that, but did serve as a focal point for many of the issues, a rallying cry for the emerging political power of the Boomers. Within a few years, 18 year olds could vote. Predictably, this didn't change the political landscape in any major way, but did signal a subtle shift in demographics that has been, in general, for the good. Maybe America didn't have the political will to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, but women's rights were on the table and have never gone away. The older generation pointed with pride toward the moon landing, and rightly so. The younger generation had Woodstock, less than a month later. It was a powerful one-two punch: As a nation, we simultaneously thumbed our nose at Communism and anal-retentive pseudo-patriots.
Woodstock was the last gasp of innocence, where half a million people could just show up and police themselves. Compare the security a few months later at Altamont. At Woodstock, despite the rain, no one was electrocuted; the techies did their job. Despite the lack of sanitation facilities, toilets and water, with kids running barefoot through cow pastures, there was no infection reported, nor cholera or related illness; the engineers (especially family friend Ed Silvers who dug the wells and poured chlorine everywhere) did their job. Despite the unrestricted drug use, there was only one reported (but unconfirmed) death from drug overdose (though there were other drug-related problems); Wavy Gravy and his crew did their job The largest rock concert in history was the most disorganized... and the most peaceful.
In retrospect, Woodstock was a prime example of a flash crowd, what we would now call a DoS attack. It had nothing to do with politics, it had to do with getting away from your parents (which I did by going to Disneyland while my parents were at Woodstock). Woodstock was the last gasp of Flower Child innocence. After that, it was Real World (tm) laissez faire capitalism for the underground drugs and slogging in the grassroots for political power.
After flexing its muscle at Woodstock, many entered political power still playing songs from the concert. We cleaned up the water and air, got us out of Vietnam, almost passed the ERA, invented the personal computer and used the internet in ways that hadn't been imagined by its developers. Some put away the beads for a suit jacket and tie, switching from marijuana to cocaine. Some stayed children, away from the world ala Thoreau. But most simply grew up. The world was changing and finally we were part of it.
It's an odometer year. Let us have our fun. If you think the 40th anniversary is waxing nostalgic, wait until the 50th.
E-Mail in the 60s
In my story about going to Disneyland, I mention sending e-mail in 1969. Invariably, geeks pop out of lurkerhood to ask. However, that story is uninteresting, so let me start with the more fun example: I sent e-mail circa 1965.
Well, sort of e-mail. Electronic communication, to be sure.
Before the internet, we had networks. Before networks, we had news wire services. Most newspapers in the country (and probably in the world), were connected to the service and each other via teletype to UPI, AP, Reuters or other news services. The Times Herald-Record had a bank of teletypes like this: UPI Wire Service Machine. Dozens of them, all typing at once. Different stories, with pauses and carriage returns and the permeating smell of typewriter ribbon ink. Mostly, these were uni-directional, simplex, devices. That is, someone in UPI's New York HQ typed a story and 5,000 teletypes around the globe echoed the keystrokes.
When I was about 10, I remember wandering around the paper. I was respectful but bored. Journalism is mostly people sitting and typing. Or talking about what they had just typed. If anything exciting happened, it didn't happen around a ten year old.
I got to one of the UPI wire service machine. It was idle. Something had come over the wire, not a news story, and the scroll of paper was languishing on the platen. I asked my father who was on the other end. He knew most of the UPI people in NY, but didn't know specifically who was on at the time. I asked if the communication was only one way; no, the Record could send a story to New York. Could I type a message? As long as it wasn't busy.
So I did. A very short message, hunt-and-peck, something like, "Hello. Is anyone there?" or "My Name is Dave" or somesuch.
And someone replied. Again, memory is very hazy. They said "Hello Dave" or similar. That might have been it; certainly our conversation was pretty short. I wasn't a good typist and didn't really have a lot to say. (Some opine this is still the case, but I ignore them.)
I can't imagine I was the first to use the newswire for personal communication, but it was probably pretty rare. In retrospect, I count that as an early example of e-mail.
I've often wondered whether my typing was echoed to all the teletypes, or whether my New York correspondent's words went to everyone. I never got in trouble and no one mentioned a problem, so maybe not. But I never did it again.
By 1969, computer networks were becoming part of large corporations. When I was in LA, I visited the office of my uncle-in-law (the brother of my uncle), who was a bigwig at TRW. The company was so large, it had its own network. Not the internet, its own internal lines, unconnected to anyone else. My uncle-in-law was very proud of the system, and showed me how I could send a message across the country. I vaguely remember him saying Florida, but that wasn't what I was focusing on. I dictated a few lines of "hello" and he sent it. We got a response, little more than that they had received the e-mail.
So while my 1969 venture was technically e-mail while my 1965 message was technically not, I didn't do the typing for the former and did actually get my hands inky in the latter.
Well, that's the story. Both of them. Thanks for asking.
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Three in a row
I didn't mean to write three Woodstock related columns in a row. Honest. They just sort of bubbled naturally to the surface.
Indeed, in retrospect the Ang Lee movie pushed remembering the 1969 festival onto an easy slide. PR people were getting paid to generate buzz. The conservative news media had a Hollywood hook.
And we Baby Boomers can waive our collective walking sticks at the young whippersnappers. It's all good.
Taking Woodstock is a new film, directed by Ang Lee and starring Dmitri Martin. The Woodstock Music & Art Fair itself is not the subject and only glimpses are ever shown. Instead, the film follows how Woodstock wound up in Yasgur's Farm, how the locals reacted and how the instant city worked. The complex subject matter is handled with a gentle yet deft touch. Very few characters are one dimensional. The humor derives from the situations; no easy jokes about hippies or dumb townies. Not many, anyway.
I chuckled throughout. Very few guffaws, and very few laughs at other people's expense. The situation developed, and the real events are pretty amusing. The acting is good overall, and Ang Lee gives all the characters shape and direction. The film is a character study more than a comedy, and a cultural study more than a character study. The cultures clash, but generational differences are only one element and do not drive the plot.
Taking Woodstock deserves its R Rating. And not for violence. Various bits of nudity and sexual situations abound, but aren't dwelled upon. Some hippies are, quite simply, not ashamed of their bodies and are perfectly willing to challenge the shame in others. The drugs and drug experiences are handled well. Taking Woodstock is not a film for children, but it's also not a film for the Woodstock generation. Well, not only a film for the Woodstock generation: Any intelligent adult will understand.
I grew up in Middletown, New York, the original proposed site, about 35 miles from the setting of the film. The city of Middletown is in the township of Walkill. The film never mentions Middletown, but the people in the township of Bethel are constantly ripping on their southern neighbor. I remember minor and usually good natured jabs at the Catskill resort area to our north, though the people in Bethel seem very familiar to me. I've never been to the site, but I've probably been in and around the immediate region. In any event, the highways and highway signage, the wood used to make the dilapidated cabins, the creeks, the terrain, the foliage, the languid August sun and the people all felt like the area I knew. I could almost smell the Catskills.
Digression: One of the reasons I wound up in MInneapolis was that it's in the same temperate zone. The grass is the same color as in Middletown. Middletown, NY was incorporated as a village in 1848, then incorporated as a city in 1888. Meanwhile, Minneapolis was incorporated as a city in 1867. The buildings are from roughly the same architectural period. In many respects, you can go home again.
At the time of Woodstock, my father was editor of the local paper, the first cold-press offset daily newspaper in the country, the Middletown Times Herald-Record. Two pages of the Record are shown, briefly, in Taking Woodstock. They flash by too quickly for me to have read the byline, but if they used a real person then I probably knew him. (The credits mention that the two pages were altered for filming, which is odd. Were they trying to avoid a lawsuit or just being honest that they dummied up what we saw?)
Taking Woodstock got the locals right. Our area of the country is extremely conservative. Not just the rah rah nationalism and support for our troops (West Point is closer to Middletown than Bethel) but the racism, sphincter conservatism and anti-semitism that is part of the shame of the right. On the other hand, the movie gets Max Yasgur right. He was quite conservative, but a real small-l-libertarian who didn't like hippies but was more than happy to take their money if they cleaned up afterward. The state police were also done right: Conservative but intelligent. They knew which battles to fight, and when. Keeping order was more important than "busting the heads of some hippies". I wasn't there, but they seem to have gotten the news media right: My father had the only daily reporting from on the ground. TV crews and such didn't get very close, and were relegated to spot interviews well away from the concert.
The Catskills (and most of the area northwest of the immediate New York City suburbs until Albany) was an odd combination of rednecks and free-spirited artists. That's why Bob Dylan moved to the area in the first place. As long as people left each other alone, we all got along. Our cities were not in flames over civil rights; West Pointers recognized the rights of anti-war protestors and anti-war protestors honored the bravery of our soldiers.
Digression: As I recall, our Congressional district went Republican in every election (which is why my parents were registered Republicans: To vote in the primaries) except once. Probably from the Johnson landslide, or thereabouts. The Democratic Representative was then the only one in Congress to vote against a law that would have made wearing a US flag illegal. His reasoning: Every state already had such a law, so making it a federal offense would be a waste of time and money. A true small-l-libertarian stance that ran against the capital-C-Conservative nature of the area. The flag-wavers pounced on the issue and he lost the next election.
As mentioned here, I was 14 when Woodstock took place: The music was not mine. Later learned to appreciate Jefferson Airplane, the Incredible String Band, Santana, Crosby Stills & Nash, Joan Baez, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Arlo Guthrie, etc. At the time I didn't care. The music in the background of Taking Woodstock is partially from the concert. If you could hear the music, it was probably pretty good. As one of the last major events not to have the full media circus (and media coverage), much of the music has never been released, certainly not as a concert set. The music is well represented.
I wasn't there, so I can only report from remarks made by attendees later: They got the drugs and drug usage right. Almost everyone was enjoying themselves. There were a few problems, which were handled. For an instant city of half a million, there was less misuse of recreational drugs than in Vegas. The equivalent of the drunk tank was small. Further, they got the nudity and the "shtupping" right.
Sex, drugs, rock and roll. A good script, some fine acting and intelligent direction. What more could you ask?
I even like the title. Both meanings come through: Many people were taking in the Woodstock experience (which was different for everyone) while others were taking stock of their lives because they were in the whirling vortex of an international event.
On the Shockwave scale of 9 to 23, where 23 is best, I'd give Taking Woodstock about a 21, though a point or two is for being in my backyard.
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My suggestion for what to call this secular year, 2010CE: MMX, pronounced "MeMex".
Hidden Minneapolis: The Movies
Following on the heals of Hidden Minneapolis: The KMart Edition comes The Old Arizona Edition:
A direct sequel, though it stands on its own. (Note to self: bring tripod.)
Shout It Out Loud
Borderlands is an amorphous mixture of local talent. Kurt Griesemer, who writes most of the songs, has a lot of talented friends. While there is strong overlap with science fiction fandom's music circles, some of the musicians are unfamiliar to me.
Shout It Out Loud is the second Borderlands CD, but the only one available. The musicians on the CD are not necessarily the ones you might see in concert (as in the picture above), guaranteeing a different experience every time. Indeed, I've heard Kurt play many of these songs as a solo, or in the improvised milieu of a music circle, and it was a pleasure hearing full versions of his songs at the CD release party. And a completely different pleasure hearing produced versions on Shout It Out Loud.
Most of the songs are love songs, often heartfelt tributes to his wife Carrie, written over the years and finally arranged and recorded. Kurt has an ear for the hook and an eye for the image. Stylistically, the songs flit around "Folk" or "Folk-Rock", but they're more informal than most. Many folk musicians write very personal songs, and a love song to your wife is pretty personal, but Kurt also knows his audience. And his audience is largely musicians who might want to join in. These are songs for friends old and new.
One of my longtime favorites is Upside Down. That love makes you Dizzy is not a new theme, but Kurt puts his, er, spin on it:
The sun comes up the moon goes down
The moon comes up the sun goes down
And I'm with you and you're with me
We'll dance beneath the summer sky
Might fall down but we won't cry
Stand right up and dance again
Hoping it will never end
You turn me upside down
And like a top, spinning round and round
Until I fall into your arms (repeat chorus)
The Blues-Rock Dirty Little Secret is that "I'm looking for a woman who will understand me". I Will Be Your Man is straight Country about a man who will be there for her. The downside of relationships are explored when This Ain't No Love Song. But through it all, after 20 years, love triumphs and he wants to Shout It Out Loud.
Borderlands will be taking to the road, which is to say in and around Minneapolis, MN and Madison, WI. The concerts are always good, and will feature whoever of Kurt Griesemer's talented friends are available. Most likely, they'll do songs from the album plus a few others. They play a solid set of good songs. Worth a visit.
Shout It Out Loud is highly recommended. Borderlands is more traditional back-porch-foot-stomping folk, setting it apart from the raw emotion of Isabelle Delage or the self-deprecating edge of Nate Bucklin or the pop culture parodies of the great Luke Ski (he says, replugging a few faves that should also be in your collection). Definitely iPod worthy (iPw): The mp3 download of the whole album is a good deal. If you want to sample a song or two before buying the CD (old school!), then try Upside Down or any of the songs mentioned here; really all of the cuts are of high technical quality (thanks to Kurt and Scott Keever) and will serve as an example you'll want to hear more than once.
Until You Come Home
Until You Come Home: Songs for Veterans and Their Kin is a compilation of songs from various CDs, including Hail To The Thieves, reviewed here a while back. In the meantime, we lost Julius Margolin. George Mann continues the effort, fighting for the common man... and the soldier in the ranks.
Truth in reviewing: One of the reasons I can't identify with the label "liberal" is because of Buffy Sainte-Marie's Universal Soldier. Okay: If no one wanted to be a soldier, we wouldn't have wars. I get it. You get it. Unfortunately, The Bad Guys don't get it. You can convince us peace-loving Americans not to fight, but that leaves the Nazis/Viet Cong/al Queda/Hamas who want to kill us. Many of The Bad Guys would come here and massacre us in our sleep shouting "Death to America" convinced that they will be rewarded in the next life. Having a strong army necessary to a strong defense. Buffy was just wrong, and I had a visceral reaction against that aspect of the peace movement.
Yet one of the reasons I can't identify with the label "conservative" is in the use of said army. The best way to keep the peace is to be prepared to win a war if it comes. Pre-emptive wars need a damn good justification, and wars of aggression are unAmerican. That puts the onus of avoiding wars on politicians and the burden of fighting unavoidable wars on soldiers... and sends the responsibility back to the political arena to end deadly conflicts. I have an equally visceral reaction against the gung-ho pseudo-American types who think that every political disagreement can and should be settled by force of arms. The height of this disgusting stupidity was Bush's refusal to honor our fallen soldiers by showing their flag-draped caskets when they returned home. Thankfully, Obama has reversed that decision.
But I digress.
Until You Come Home is not anti-war; it is pro-soldier. By itself, a tremendous achievement. We don't need songs to say that wars kill soldiers; we get it. We need reminding of the sacrifices made by our brave soldiers; sacrifices of blood, of identity, of family back home.
Even if you survive physically intact, the experience will change you in ways that are intensely personal and yet affect everyone you know.
The Casualty of War is not just the WWII vet, but his family: "They'd haunt his dreams, we'd wake to screams to know the horrors that he saw". Holly Near sees how war causes "the burden in my family and the sorrow in my town" and says I Am Willing to see change: "May the children see more clearly and may the elders be more wise, may the winds of change caress us even though they burn our eyes." Tom Paxton sings for the voiceless of The Unknown, as in The Unknown Soldier, watching people watching him be buried in Arlington. "Time to quit your grieving for your only loving son. Momma, I'm okay."
George Mann gets the first and last songs. Streams of Gold. about the how all soldiers share their hopes in battle, "I will walk this trail beside you till you're home." In Welcome Home, an old soldier at least has the peace of dying in a hospital accompanied by loved ones: "What a life you have led, what a story you've told. Welcome home."
You can preview the songs on Until You Come Home on CDBaby, but they deserve a full listen.
Until You Come Home: Songs for Veterans and Their Kin is from old lefties, but the the viewpoint is the soldiers. Highly recommended for anyone, regardless of politics, who appreciates our warriors or who has had their life changed by someone else's battle experience.
Art Paul Schlosser and Marc Gunn
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Opportunity Workshop Bus Story
More fun with cheap video cameras. This time, I recorded my friend Bo, at one of his retirement parties, after 31 years as a bus driver. Instead of using some of the easiest software ever (from the Flip cam), I used iMovie to make a quickie movie take a long time to make...
Opportunity Workshop Bus Story (2:30)
Best. Concert. Ever.
Jonathan Coulton in Minneapolis 10/26/09, with Code Monkey
(perhaps not the Best. Concert. Ever, but a darn good one)
Best. Concert. Ever. was filmed in February 2008 in front of a sold out crowd at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. I was not there. Indeed, I hadn't heard much Coulton previous to the concert where I took the above picture. Frankly, I went to the Minneapolis concert, at the Guthrie Theater, more for Opening Band Paul & Storm than for headliner Jonathan Coulton.
Shockwave Radio Theater podcast with Paul & Storm, April 11, 2008CE; my interview plus a few songs. No Bus Plunge, alas.
Recordings of live concerts are generally not my favorite introduction to an artist. The CDs tend to be for fans who went to the concert more than for a wider audience. One of the options is to purchase all of his songs as mp3s on one USB flash drive, or simply download everything at once. So buying the concert DVD/CD was a bit of a gamble for me. Fortunately, a good one. As concert films go, "Best. Concert. Ever" is terrific. Great sound. Fluid camerawork that keeps you viewing but doesn't get in the way. A tidy set of extras (most of which I haven't watched as yet). The package is superior: Not just the graphics (which are great), but the content: The CD only extracts the songs and doesn't preserve the interstitial dialog or introductions.
Jonathan Coulton is a product of the Digital Revolution. A self-proclaims internet superstar, his songs were always geeky and usually for a geek audience. I've written sketches about Pluto, but Coulton writes I'm Your Moon. Ostensibly a love story from a satellite, we can all relate:Sad excuse for a sunrise
It's so cold out here
Ice and silence and dark skies
As we go round another year
Let them think what they like, we're fine
I will always be right here next to you
In addition to Pluto, he goes to the future, Ikea, revisits the 1919 World Series, describes aMandelbrot Set, writes about George Plimpton's interesting life and does a very nice cover of Baby Got Back (another song I seem to be collecting variants on). One of his earlier "hits" helps explain where he's coming from and why his popularity grows. All of this while bantering with the audience, his guests onstage, and himself. As a Code Monkey software programmer, he was subject to all the stresses of the job, and as a songwriter he generalizes to the larger world experience:Code Monkey like Fritos
Code Monkey like Tab and Mountain Dew
Code Monkey very simple man
With big warm fuzzy secret heart:
Code Monkey like you
Code Monkey like you a lot
I sat down to listen to the CD for this review, and wound up watching the DVD. The concert is loads of fun. Coulton has devoted fans all over, and he knows it. For a guy whose reputation was made over the internet, he's very comfortable in front of a crowd. Paul & Storm contribute great backing vocals and are even better with an audience than Jonathan. They, and his other contributors, are a pleasure to watch. Even the audience members are great. The visuals come from a staggering amount of cameras, from the stage crew (presumably) plus Paul & Storm onstage, plus some fan footage.
And the DVD has a commentary track. Ah, but that's a listen for a different day. The extras will have to wait as well.
Best. Concert. Ever. is highly recommended in any of its incarnations: CD/DVD set, mp3 DRM-free download or FLAC download. You can explore the Jonathan Coulton web site for individual songs and other CDs. He has a lot of material and a devoted following. It's time to jump on the bandwagon.
Bonus plug: Paul and Stormm are still great, and do a podcast worth listening to.
U're The Best
Art Paul Schlosser is hard to describe, though I've tried before and interpreted one of his songs. Art Paul is a street performer in Madison WI, and a fixture on Main Street. Really, you need to see him in person. He is, as we say in the music biz, "a hoot". So reviewing any one of his dozens of CDs is tricky.
U're The Best continues the tradition of CDs that are fun to dip into. As usual with Art Paul's CDs, I check out a few cuts but don't listen to the whole thing in one sitting.
His songs about Donald Driver or Tiger Woods or Martin Luther King will get people to stop and throw a buck into a hat. He offers the dry observation, "I'm stuck in quicksand and I can't get out" but saves the best for last:The world isn't going to end instantly
No, you're going to have to live through it
And you're going to have to get a job
'Cause you're going to have to pay your bills
And one day you'll try to use your phone
And it just isn't going to work.
The world isn't going to end instantly.
Art Paul Schlosser is, to be sure, an acquired taste, but one I have acquired. If you've liked his other CDs, you'll like U're The Best. If you've never heard any Art Paul before, this is as good an introduction as any. But really, this is a qualified recommendation: Download a cut or two first.
Confessions of a Celtic Music Junkie
Marc Gunn is trying an internet approach: You can download Confessions of a Celtic Music Junkie for free. It's a compilation of mp3s from previous CDs. Marc, one of the Brobdignagian Bards, accompanies himself on autoharp. Some tracks have bass, vocals or other guests. Many of the songs are traditional, such as Gypsy Rover, or are original songs based on tradition, such as Soul of a Harper, or variants on tradition, such as Molly Malone... The Cat's Perspective. But some are filk, such as Don't Go Drinking With Hobbits or the double entendre-laden The Lusty Young Sith (Star Wars).
Marc is finding his fan base, which is growing. For free, Confessions of a Celtic Music Junkie is an unbeatable deal. It's not quite to my Celtic Folk-Rock tastes, but he's a good singer and the songs are fun. Certainly worth a listen, and you may become a fan. From here, explore the Marc Gunn website and maybe pick up the full CDs.
Marscon CDs 1
The great Luke Ski, Cirque Du So What?
Pre-review essay on digital technology
The speed and ease of file sharing and downloading music has created an opportunity and a headache for musicians. On one hand, a great video can go viral and you can be instantly known to millions. Even if you're not at Susan Boyle's level, your fame and some of your music can be known to a very wide range of people all over the world. The downside is: You don't get paid for any of this. Musicians get paid for performing and selling music. If you're lucky, you get some bucks as a song writer, but that's even farther down the food chain. In many respects, the music scene today is similar to the Tin Pan Alley days:A new breed of popular music publishers were established in New York in the 1890s. These publishers were, essentially, salesmen who didn't sit in their offices waiting for performers to come to them, but went out to the entertainment palaces and badgered not only the singers but also the orchestra leaders, dances, and comedians to use their numbers. This act developed into the profession of song-plugging. They hustled themselves, as well as their hired singers and whistlers into the finest theaters and lowest dives. After a few years on creation, Tin Pan Alley published its first song in 1892, "After The Ball" by Charles Harris, selling six million copies of sheet music!
This sale of millions of copies marked a significant development in the publishing industry and in the way music was being presently to the public. Music publishers were surprised to learn that popular tunes were being sold to individuals with the hopes of playing the songs at home. Up to that point, sheet music was almost exclusively sold to professional performers. Beginning around 1910, Tin Pan Alley found a great resource in sheet music, resulting in the sales of millions of copies. Not only was the Music Chart created (A tracking system of the country's most popular songs), but the sale of sheet music put enormous resources (cash) into Tin Pan Alley. Music publishing companies skyrocketed and, as Johnny Mercer once recalled, "those composers all whistle a happy tune on the way to the bank, because America was whistling their some tune!"
American Popular Music had arrived!
Sheet music could be copied and passed hand-to-hand. It usually wasn't, but it could be shared, and the artist had no control over how many different people played (or heard) their song from a single sale.
For around seventy-five years, depending on when you want make the cutoffs, this wasn't the economic model for musicians. Starting roughly at the rise of radio in the early 1920s through the rise of file sharing in the 1990s, if you weren't at a performance you were either listening on the radio or listening to an album. Various recording devices were available from the 40s on, reaching popularity with cassettes in the late 70s, but each duplication lost some sound quality. Eventually, starting with the LP in the 50s, the vinyl album (replacing the "album" that was a set of 78s in sleeves) meant that you could purchase a recording, and if you wanted one song you had to get the whole thing. The advantage for the listener was that the songs could be much longer than on 45s, and if you liked the musician (or at least a lot of the songs on the album) it was far cheaper (and easier to play) than buying a bunch of individual songs.
Digital files are like Tin Pan Alley today: You sell a CD or a download, and the artist has no control over who listens or what happens to that file. Like Tin Pan Alley, today's digital musicians depend on making their music cheaper to buy (in terms of time and effort) than to copy.
Anyone can be well-known. It's somewhat harder to be well-known without being hated, and it's even harder to translate some degree of fame into some degree of commercial success.
Both the CDs I'm going to review today have been affected by the digital revolution, but in different ways.
The FuMP is like the Tin Pan Alley publishers: A central clearing house where selected songs can be presented and sold. In order to keep interest up, new material must be generated on a weekly basis. While there is no limit to the number of people who want to share their music, there is a limit to the number of good musicians who's work actually deserves to be heard by a wider audience. The great Luke Ski and others have to continuously produce new music, just to keep their names in the public ear and to generate support for their live performances.
Two dynamics are working in tandem: On one hand, a successful musician must keep their fans happy with new music fairly regularly. On the other hand, they have to have something to sell.
The great Luke Ski is a brilliant singer/songwriter who has the disadvantage of being on the scene two decades after Weird Al and MTV. He has to feed the insatiable hunger of his on-line fans, those short-attention span consumers who want it NOW and will forget to buy it later. He also has to earn a living, and the best way, short of a Top-40 hit or filling Yankee Stadium, is to sell CDs and/or downloads. Downloading a digital file is cheaper for the artist and allows a great deal of control by the buyer, but doesn't kowtow to us audio snobs who want the highest sound resolution as well as the album artwork. What that means for many of us is that when we get his latest CD, it's likely to have songs we've heard. Further, he's likely to have written even more songs in the ensuing
hoursmonths and wants to promote the new stuff.
In order to make the CD experience more like an immediate in-person experience, and to give people nearly 80 minutes of value, Luke includes extras, such as "live" reports from conventions.
I can live with that. Playing "a brand new song" on the radio has a certain cache, but I'm into it for the music. I was more than happy to play off the latest CD on Shockwave Radio, but I also played favorites from any time period. One of the reasons Marscon is such a good crowd for Dementia Music is because I would play cuts I liked, not just commercial promotions
Because of his convention and concert schedule, Luke's concert at Convergence is usually the last one before a CD gets released, and when I actually pick up the CD at Marscon, Luke is nine months into new material. Again, I can live with that, but it does create a bit of a time displacement. It's like watching a tv show with the Closed Captioning on, and the CC is very slow, so I'm reading what was said and listening to dialog from seconds ago. Well, okay, it's only like that sometimes. Note to self: Live in the moment.
Meanwhile, Cirque Du So What? is, at the moment, mainly a studio group. They perform when they get together, but mostly produce their material from vast distances from each other. They, like other comedy groups before them, have to bring in the audience not just with their comedy, but with bits of banter and get-to-know-them interstitials that are mainly of interest to fans. Which should be you, but might not be yet.
Too Much Stuff
The great Luke Ski in concert at Marscon, March 6, 2010CE
Too Much Stuff, the latest CD from the great Luke Ski is another strong entry from the comedy musician. Here, he reaches out to his ever-growing Dementia Music compatriots for vocals and music. Partially because of his guests and partially because of his wide range of musical influences, Luke's albums are always a little different from each other yet always uniquely from the great Luke Ski. From the Wisconsin "Luke Ski" license plate on the cover to the artwork on the back, drawn by Luke, you enter his world of pop culture, science fiction references, historical reminders and rap about all his stuff piling up.
The title song is also the first cut. Unlike his parody work, this is an original hip-hop song. Yet as always, tgLS is conscious of his place as part of a long line of comics and funny musicians. From Too Much Stuff:I've saved everything that I've ever owned, and in my homeParodies are still the heart of Dementia Music, but more and more original songs crop up, often using the lyrics to establish the pop culture references. My Favorite Part
I have to move big piles around just to answer the phone.
So because I never throw anything away,
my life has become a George Carlin cliché!
I got TOO MUCH STUFF! I fail at file.
I got TOO MUCH STUFF! And I have for a while.
I say I don't have the time, but now you're calling my bluff,
Cleaning up is a pain when you got TOO MUCH STUFF!You set my life's tempo, like when on "Wayne's World"The great Luke Ski doesn't just sing songs, he lives them. The music is by Tom Smith, but the words are Luke Ski's. In the middle of singing My Favorite Part, he proposed to his girlfriend. (She said yes.)
Garth Algar rocks out on his tom-toms. [Wayne & Garth: Schwing!]
And on Sesame Street, if I was Cookie Monster,
I'd eat you up, all like 'om-nom-nom'! [Cookie Monster: Om-nom-nom-nom-nom!]
You pulled me out of a trench, when some taunter who's French,
At my life catapulted a cow. [French Taunter: Your mother was a hamster!]
But like John Astin said, guest starring on Night Court,
"...But I'm feeling much better now."
You're my own Rosebud sled, Please be my Bill & Ted,
I'll be your Napoleon Bonaparte. [Bill & Ted: Excellent!]
In the film franchise that is my life,
You're my favorite part.
The great Luke Ski proposing to Sara Trice during "My Favorite Part"
Convergence, July 4, 2009CE
Originals range from a local hit, We're Going To The Dells (The Wisconsin Dells), a rap song for cheeseheads; God Bless Stephen Colbert, about the tv parody-pundit who tells the truth; to Jello Shots, about Tom Lehrer's army days (really).
Parodies and reprises include a nice retrospective of horror movies in Gory Gory Hallelujah; Tom Smith and Luke Ski channel the Circle of Death in Cthulhu Fthagan; and he digs out an obscure Disney song, Vacuum Cleaner Hoses.
Too Much Stuff has about the right amount of stuff. Guest voices are recognizable to most of the Dementia Music crowd (or if you've been following the recommendations in my reviews). The lyrics are clever and the music is done very well. I can even listen to the rap songs. The interstitials less successful, but you might like them and you don't have to put them on your iPod. You can buy all of Too Much Stuff or individual cuts online or get the CD from the FuMP. Or get it from the Merch Table when he rolls into town.
I'll leave you with one of the first Baron Dave Romm videos, from the great Luke Ski's concert at Marscon:
The Dada Slide, Marscon, March 6, 2010CE
In case the embed doesn't work (and YouTube's been weird lately), here's the direct link to the above video: The Great Luke Ski - The Dada Slide.
Procrastinators of the Apocalypse
Cirque Du So What? comprises four veteran comedy musicians, who have long held sway on the Dr. Demento Show. And are a large part of my CD collection covering the last decade. Devo Spice, the great Luke Ski, =ShoEboX= of Worm Quartet and Chris Mezzolesta of Power Salad. These are names (and voices) which have permeated this column for years, and will continue to do so. Now, they do so together. Why? It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Cirque Du So What?
l-r: Chris Mezzolesta, the great Luke Ski, =ShoEboX=, Devo Spice
Marscon, March 7, 2010CE
Procrastinators of the Apocalypse is their first CD, which premiered at Marscon. No, I didn't get autographs. I can't open their promo video, but you might be able to.
Language warning: They say
bleepand bleepand occasionally bleep. They're not as blue as Redd Foxx and probably would get bleeped less often than The Daily Show. On the other hand, when they use Language, it's usually to effect. I can pretty much guarantee that A Fucking Room will never be played on the radio... though it should be. In a true small-l-libertarian paradise, you could play it on the radio... but I digress.
Not everything on Procrastinators of the Apocalypse works. Still, it's more than an hour of material, and much of it is pretty funny. In addition to the sketch above, I especially enjoyed Mythbusters: The Cat Came Back, CSI: Dora and the sheer semi-randomness of Meanwhile....
They poke fun at everything from The Mob to The Bible to hardware stores. For their initial foray, they didn't use their Awesome Voiceover Talents much, but they do get into character. Unfortunately, they seem to have channeled too much of Monty Python's Gumby characters. Fortunately, they know how to do Gumbies well. And with tile.
When performers wanted to have bits between songs, they released a live album. Now, studio albums come with interstitials. Some of these are more fun than others, but generally work to bring the fan closer to the artist. Cirque seems to have made an art form of interstitials. Yet their humor is legion, and there are four (4) bonus tracks.
I found Procrastinators of the Apocalypse to be uneven, but I'm a tough audience for audio comedy. I found much chucklesome material, and am comfortable recommending the CD, especially if you like the music by the artists involved.
Marscon CDs 2
Nuclear Bubble Wrap
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Nuclear Bubble Wrap
Nuclear Bubble Wrap gave a concert at Marscon, but I missed it. So I only have a picture of Jace McClain, "the leading leader" of the group, at Sunday's Smackdown.
Jace McClain of Nuclear Bubble Wrap
Marscon, March 7, 2010CE
I did manage to pick up all three CDs they had at the Merch Table. These are their stories.
Advanced At Nothing
They sing, "Musical complexity does not belong in comedy" but turn out some pretty good music. Frank Zappa and Weird Al Yankovic are major influences, which was apparent long before from the in-joke filled bonus track, "The Ultimate Showdown of Musical Comedy". It's a snappy, tuneful, driving dance number that slips in the names of many of their musical friends (and many that I've talked about here). They have one foot in deep musical roots -- the CDs contain parodies of two Beatles songs -- while the other is planted firmly in the mire of 21st century Dementia Music. I might describe them as Syd Barrett on laughing gas, but that would be going a bit far.
Lots of people make fun of conventions, or use them as personal fodder, from Galaxy Quest to Mpls musician Nate Bucklin's powerfully depressing Convention Report. To my knowledge, NBW is the only group to take on a Teletubby Convention. Indeed, if you Google "Teletubby Convention", their song "Convention" is the second and third listing. Sad, really. But they drive on, fearlessly:I just got a bootleg of the Japanese dub
And I am now a member of the Teletubbies Fan Club
Some people may laugh at me and say I'm immature
But I don't care what people say my fandom is secure
It's such a joy to buy a toy
And keep it in the box
Now I don't know about you, but Teletubbies rocks my socks!
"Bad Spell" is a rare foray into hip hop, a parody of "The Bad Touch" by The Bloodhound Gang. They deftly tap into the large demand for Wizard Rock, in a series of not-so-subtle double entendres. "You and me baby ain't nothing but magic so let's go into the dorm and I will show you some tricks."
"Final Destination" is a parody of the Beatles "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" riffing off the wordplay of the chorus:Holy Geeze
Oh my god
Life is gone, yeah
La la la the life is gone
Yessirree, a bouncy upbeat song about dying gruesomely. Reminded me of The Foremen's Song of Many Deaths
Advanced At Nothing is a strong album, taking on old people, Scientology, the environment and more. The song titles don't always map to the song, but they're probably in-jokes I'm not in on. I've mentioned my favorite tracks, but all were at least good, from the a cappella THX intro to the self-referential Bonus Track.
Kudos to Tom Rockwell, who mastered Advanced At Nothing. The finished tracks involve lots of overdubbing and getting the levels right must be really tricky. The two songs done on later albums sound better on this one. Parody music has to be technically better than the original, and Tom does well taking on the likes of George Martin.
You Are What You Eat
You Are What You East is an EP with 21 minutes of material comprising seven songs, two of which are also on Advanced At Nothing. They continue their slightly macabre theme with "Looks Delicious" about eating pets and other found animals. Presumably, this is the title track. That's followed by a continuation of their fanboy theme with "Miyazaki Pig" with lot of references to the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki
You Are What You Eat has a wide range of subject matter and good comedy music, but seems to be filler until their next major CD release.
Draining The Lizard On A Dead Gay Wizard
Draining The Lizard On A Dead Gay Wizard is even shorter then You Are What You Eat. Three songs, one an instrumental of another, for ten minutes of material. They're only charging $2, which is roughly what you'd pay for a download, with the instrumental as a bonus.
Unfortunately, the title track is one of their few songs I didn't like all that much. Another Wizard Rock entry, slightly groty, as they urinate on Dumbledore's grave. It almost works. The music is bouncy and fun and I actually prefer the instrumental version of Draining The Lizard On A Dead Gay Wizard.
The middle song, "Creepy Internet Guy" is a parody of the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Sleeps", with lyrics like "Must kill them all while they sleep.". A creepy song (though I don't know why they picked that title) that is certainly in the tradition of the Beatles' "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" or The Smothers Brothers "Mediocre Fred".
As I talked about last week, marketing in the digital era means a constant flow of new material for hungry fans. I suspect that's the reason for the two EPs. And in that vein, I'll mention Know Your Power Chords, their Green Day parody, up on The FuMP
Nuclear Bubble Wrap's store sells these three CDs plus two earlier ones. Clearly, Advanced At Nothing is the one to get; unless you see them in concert it's not worth paying $2 for shipping a $2 disk. Still, it might be worth getting all of them at once. Or, you can buy individual tracks from iTunes. In any event, Nuclear Bubble Wrap is recommended, and definitely iPod Worthy.
Still, I'm sorry I missed their concert.
Marscon CDs 3
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Steve Goodie is another concert I missed at Marscon. The Dementia Music Track was packed, and other parts of the con were interesting (including the panels I was on) and sleep beckoned now and again. I eventually caught up with Steve at the Smackdown on Sunday. I had picked up one CD at the Merch Table, and won A CD during the act when I knew what a mohel was.
Marscon, March 7, 2010CE
When Harry Met Charlie
When Harry Met Charlie (click on the "CDs for Sale" link at left) is from 2005, and already a shade dated, But not by much. Harry (as in Harry Potter) doesn't actually meet Charlie Bucket (as in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) but both had movies out that year and both are represented by several songs covering the books and movies.
Wizard Rock is a pretty big deal, probably the music movement with the largest fanbase that hasn't poked its way into regular radio airplay. While the buzz seems to have subsided nearly three years after the release of the last book and a year after the sixth movie, I predict Wizard Rock will come back strong when the seventh book is made into movies (yes, two of them; it's a big book). Much Wizard Rock is original. Some, like Steve Goodie, rewrite lyrics to other songs, making them basically filk.
Fittingly, then, my favorite song on When Harry Met Charlie is a parody of a Weird Al Yankovic original, "Hardware Store" called "Dumbledore". (You can hear a sample off the CD page):On the train I met a guy named Ron
A red-headed kid and we really got along
Making stuff disappear with our magic wands
It was really really really really really really great
Then we met this girl, Hermione
Who knew every spell there is from A to Z
And we had ourselves some lunch, then unfortunately
Old Malfoy showed his face
I can't wait, no I can't wait
Hagrid open up that great big door
I'm goin' (yes I'm) goin', I'm a-goin' to meet
Goin' to meet (Dumble) dore I'm goin', really goin' to meet
Goin' (Dum-) I'm goin' to meet (-ble) oh yes, I'm goin' to meet
When your audience is the fans, you don't have to always be inside the story. You can reference the fact that these are books and movies. "Rowling Must Deliver" is a fun parody of Proud Mary about the angst-filled anticipation of author JK Rowling's next Harry Potter Book. The first four books came out yearly, but the next three were each at least two years in the making. Seven books in eleven years is pretty good, but emotions ran high:I've read every book in the series
'Bout Harry and Hermione and Hagrid and Ron
But Rowling don't write 'em, nearly fast enough
I need a lot more c'mon c'mon c'mon
Young readers keep returning
Big money you'll be earning
Rowling, Rowling, Rowling must deliver
"This Dude Ron Ron Ron" works as a parody of "Da Doo Ron Ron Ron" and I shouldn't have to tell you what inspired "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Malfoys".
The Charlie songs are also fun, and cover the supporting cast as well as much as the main character. "Walk on the Wonka Side" is a cover of Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side" and fits well thematically as Charlie convinces his grandfather to take him to the factory. Charlie then follows the rules and is rewarded with "Wonka Gold". "Veruka", a parody of Suzanne Vega's "Luka", gently tears into the spoiled girl who's daddy 'found' her a Golden Ticket. Charlie gets even with kids making fun of him for being poor in "This Fudge".
The last three songs comprise two originals, two birthday songs and a pirate song. With overlap. "Steve The Pirate" works, and the birthday song he wrote for his nephew riffing off the song "Domino" is good. I'm less sure about "Birthday Munky", which is largely about monkeys throwing Birthday Poo. Some people are into it, I guess.
When Harry Met Charlie is recommended for fans of Harry Potter and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or any of the related movies. While I liked the CD in total, and the package, you can buy individual songs. Any mentioned here and many more at Buy A Funny Song For A Buck (click on the "mp3s for $1" link on the left).
The Least I Can Do
The Least I Can Do (click on the "CDs for Sale" link at left) is his most recent CD and the one he was promoting at Marscon, and the CD I won for knowing a dash of Yiddish. I then caught up with him and had him pose for a shot.
Steve Goodie, after performance
Marscon, March 7, 2010CE
The Least I Can Do comments on current events. The story of Delta pilots missing the Minneapolis Airport because they were on their computer is pounded with geek glee in "Tweeting On A Jet Plane" to the obvious original:Got my captain's hat and my clip-on tie, got my pilot's wings and I'm ready to fly
I even brought my laptop and iPhone
Now I'm bored to tears, at 30,000 feet, I'm on Facebook, and I'm posting Tweets
I'm blogging while I'm logging hours flown
So text me and chat with me, quick, before I hit a tree
I missed my stop, by a hundred miles or so
'Cause I'm tweetin' on a jet plane, the one I should be piloting
OMG, I got to go
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods' affair with Holly Sampson (among many others) is told from her point of view with lots of double entendres and golf puns to the tune of "Eye of the Tiger":Then I find, he's not all mine
I've been in line with ten others
sports announcers: Twenty! Thirty! Forty!
It's not just me on TMZ and ET
How indiscreet, he should cheat, just with me!
I bagged a Tiger, seems it's par for the course
Lots of folks have taken strokes with his 9-iron
Now at least half the planet claims they're swinging with Woods
They're all oogled and Googled 'cause I
Bagged a Tiger
Steve includes a version of "Dumbledore-Live!" The original (his original talked about above, not the Weird Al original from which the tune is taken) is exhausting just to listen to and even harder to pull off live, but he does it. Songs delve into Swine Flu, being lazy about housechores, a straightforward country song about a guy in a bar who's girl just left him, a couple of short but nice birthday songs and a few others. Bartcop-E readers will appreciate the last song, "Bye Bye W" to the tune of "Bye Bye Love":Bye bye Dubya, bye bye Iraqi mess
No more incompetence, you've told us your last lie
Bye bye Dubya, bye bye empty head
Hello brains instead, it's two thousand and nine
Bye bye Dubya, goodbye
There goes the Bush boy, without a clue
Whole nation's bankrupt, and his work is through
He got us into, this depression
Thank God there's no chance, he'll be back again
(and uh, didn't you promise to get Osama bin Laden?)
Steve Goodie has a good ear for parody, an extensive vocabulary and the professional craftsmanship that separates the serious comedy musician from the day trippers. These are only two of his 21 CDs. They all sound iPod worthy.
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