“Hold On” (Donkey Kong Variations)

Oh, my. So, as my regular readers both know, I am a Tom Waits fan. Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan are incredible songwriters; I know personal tastes differ, but if you disagree, you are quite simply wrong. And Mule Variations is a great album, with a taste of all the different facets of a musical life; it has some of my favorite songs ever–which I would elaborate on, but I would go on forever, and that’s not my point.

My point is, somebody (Buddy Peace, is his internet name) also loves that album, and a couple of months ago put out a tribute, “Donkey Kong Variations”, in the 8-bit musical stylings so familiar to video game enthusiasts of a certain age. I am roughly of that age, but was not a gamer, so the Waits/Brennan angle is the hook for me–and Kathleen Brennan herself linked to Buddy Peace’s version of “Hold On”, which is how I found it. “Hold On” was the most successful single (do they still use that term?), so the most likely to be known by those of you who are not necessarily fans… anyway… [Read more...]

America, America

I remember reading a particular issue of Mad Magazine back in the seventies. As it so often did, it included some song and poem parodies, this time on an environmentalist theme. I can recite two of them from memory–one a spot-on Dr. Seuss, and the other a version of the song “America The Beautiful”:

O cancerous, for smoggy skies
For pesticidal grain
Irritated mountains rise
Above an asphalt plain

America, America
Thy sins prepare thy doom
Monoxide clouds shall be thy shrouds
Thy cities be thy tomb!

[Read more...]

Repeat After Me:

So you’ve got a new ambition—it’s to write a gospel song—
They will play it on the radio, and maybe sing along
But your knowledge of the bible isn’t really all that strong
If you’re thinking that’s a problem, I can tell you that you’re wrong!
You can write it with a single verse—not even one that rhymes,
Cos the trick is, you’ll repeat it several times!
You can write it with a single verse—not even one that rhymes,
Cos the trick is, you’ll repeat it several times!

Yes, you’ll write it with a single verse—not even one that rhymes,
Add some power chords and cymbals, and the feigned excitement climbs—
With your keyboard synthesizer you can make-believe it’s chimes
And repeat it, and repeat it, and repeat it many times
If it all gets too depressing, pick your chin up off the floor
And repeat the line you’ve written six times more!
If it all gets too depressing, pick your chin up off the floor
And repeat the line you’ve written six times more!

When you’re out of ammunition, take this little tip from me:
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Yes you’re out of ammunition, so this little tip from me:
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition
Repetition, repetition is the key!

You can throw in “hallelujah!”; you can throw in “blessed be!”
(Hey, with just those words, you’ve got a verse—or maybe two or three!)
And for extra points, be sure to use a random “thou” or “thee”
And you’re ready for the radio, as far as I can see.
You’ll be ready for the big time—Christian love and Christian fame
No one cares if all your verses are the same!
You’ll be ready for the big time—Christian love and Christian fame
No one cares if all your verses are the same!

When you’re out of ammunition, take this little tip from me:
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Yes you’re out of ammunition, so this little tip from me:
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition
Repetition, repetition is the key!

When you’re out of ammunition, take this little tip from me:
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Yes you’re out of ammunition, so this little tip from me:
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition
Repetition, repetition is the key!

As I said, I’ve been listening to Christian radio. I found it offensive–not because of my atheism, but because of my aesthetic commitment to proper rhyming verse. Again and again, song after song, lazy songwriting! Maybe one song in a dozen would start off with a passable verse, but as if the effort had exhausted the songwriter, the remainder of the song would be the repetition of one phrase (say, “he is mighty” or “blessed be” or “certum est, quia impossibile“–ok, that last one is my own, I cheated), and perhaps a repetition of the first (and thus, only) verse. The rest of the songs were repetitious pablum dressed up in power chords and saccharine synthesizer riffs.

See, and I’m even a moderate fan of old-time gospel music and older, more serious, hymns. Done well, there can be beautiful music there. But, I suppose, done poorly takes much less time, and has to be that much more profitable.

Liberated Atheist

… That’s the name of the new release, a 15-minute instrumental composition in three contiguous parts. Put it on in the background…

It showed up in my aggregator, via Decoder Magazine; I’m not at all certain how I feel about it. It takes me back, really, to my high school years in the late 70′s, when a friend of mine worked at a local radio station, and we’d get together after the station went off the air at midnight, looping music together and creating odd sonic concoctions. Mind you, what we created wasn’t necessarily good

I don’t think it’s my sort of thing. Is it yours?

The Second Song

My iTunes is set on “shuffle”
I like it much better this way
I’ll listen to one, cos I want to,
But I don’t know the next that will play

I sometimes engage in obsessing–
A song will get stuck in my head–
And I think I will know what comes after,
And a different song plays, instead

And it shakes up the way that I’m thinking
It’s a virtual kick in the butt
And I’m off in a brand new direction
When I might have been stuck in a rut.

So I give it my recommendation
As a way you can shake up your brain
Put your musical whatsit on “shuffle”
And enjoy the perspective you gain!

So, yeah, I wanted to hear a particular song. This one, actually. But I had no idea what would come up next, and what did… just turned my evening right-side-up. (It happened to be a Tom Waits song, but with my music collection, that would happen to be the best odds.)

And the last time I listened to the former song… (this was recently, or I likely would not have remembered), it was followed by something completely different. As with the time before that. Were it not for my obsessive listening to the first song over the past few days, I don’t think I’d have noticed.

But there are times when the second song comes on (or the third, or fourth, so long as you keep listening) and it just makes you laugh. Or cry. Or dance. Or whatever it is that that song does, that nothing else in the world can quite do the same way.

Choose excellent music, and put your music-thingamajiggers on “shuffle”. Too much of life is predictable anyway.

So…ever have a song come on unexpectedly and just rock your world?

There Will Be Light

One of the great things about today’s technological infrastructure (well, until the whole thing collapses and we revert to banging rocks together) is that you can have your favorite local radio station somewhere on the opposite side of the planet. Which is the case for me. Which means I get to hear stuff that will likely never make it to American radio (which still exists) or my students’ mp3 players or phones (my other source of new music recommendations).

I liked this one enough to buy it, to support the band. I recommend listening late at night, in some deserted parking lot or seldom-travelled back road. Extra points if you have someone there to dance with.

This Machine

Roots are neat things–they can intertwine in odd ways sometimes. I mentioned a couple of days ago that were it not for Pete Seeger, there would be no Digital Cuttlefish. Seeger’s influence, though, does not take just one direct path–Seeger influenced lots of people who (unintentionally, I assure you) shaped me in turn–Dylan, for instance, and Mojo Nixon, and Tom Waits, and Bruce Springsteen… sometimes you can see direct influences of these people in a verse I write (in such cases I usually try to apologize to Bob Dylan, for instance), and sometimes it is more subtle.

One such intermediate influence is Roy Zimmerman. He doesn’t know it, but we’ve met, a couple of times, and I have quite a few of his CD’s autographed by him (the others, not yet signed). His facility with wordplay is as inspiring as the ideas thus presented, which is saying something. Anyway, the video below was just sent out via his newsletter–if you aren’t already receiving it, click through to youtube and follow the link to subscribe (I’d link here, but I’m assuming he gets revenues through youtube as well, so give an artist some clicks)–and it is inspired by and dedicated to Pete Seeger. I’d explain the “this machine” reference, but Zimmerman does, and I don’t want to steal his thunder.

My own machine has no strings at all, but (I am reliably told) it is mightier than a sword.