Monday, December 29, 2008

Talking Heads' "Fear of Music" as a Predictor of Future Band Member Activity

OK, here's how it happened.

I was in the middle of writing about Twitority when I chanced upon this FriendFeed entry (via blip.fm) from Friendfeed user Andy Kaufman:

listening to "Girlfriend Is Better - Talking Heads"


Now if you're not familiar with this song, it's the one from "Remain in Light" that includes the line "stop making sense"...which eventually became the title of a Talking Heads concert movie.

But this got me musing about an audio (rather than video) version of a Talking Heads live performance.

Audio-wise, I enjoyed the live double album. The earlier shows have simpler arrangements and a small club crowd, but by the later shows you have an extended band playing to huge audiences.


Then I said:

Now I have "A Clean Break" going through my head...


I continued with my post on Twitority, and was just about to finish it when I had to make a sudden trip from Ontario to Fontana. Having only a minute before I dashed out the door, I thought I'd grab my CD copy of The Name of This Band is Talking Heads (the live album that I mentioned) so that I could listen to "A Clean Break" and other songs about buildings, food, music, light, and the number 77.

But I couldn't find that CD, so I grabbed Fear of Music instead.

For the record, Fear of Music is a near-perfect CD for a commute from northwest Ontario to north Fontana. I listened to side one (except for "Paper") on the way out to Fontana, and side two (except for "Animals") on the way back. (For those who are only familiar with the CD version, the last song on side one is "Memories Can't Wait," and the first song on side two is "Air.")

As I drove on the 10 and 15 freeways, I found myself asking myself the following question:

Self, is Fear of Music a predictor of the later work of Talking Heads and the individual band members?


Fair question.

Fear of Music is in some respects a watershed album. Yes, they had already worked with Eno before and would do so again, but it was the last album in which Talking Heads were a self-contained, self-centered group. After this album was completed, the band members would go off into solo (and duo) projects, and even the definition of "the band" itself became somewhat blurry.

Now, bearing in mind that I haven't heard a lot of Byrne's solo work, here are some of the albums that came after Fear of Music, and my subjective judgement regarding whether inklings of these albums can be found in Fear of Music itself. (I am indebted to these discographies of Talking Heads and the individual band members.)

Talking Heads, Remain in Light, October 1980.

When people link Fear of Music and its follow-up, the obvious link between the two is "I Zimbra" - the marriage of a found lyric with extremely rhythmic music. Yet I think I hear echoes of the later album in the former. The earlier album only had a few guest artists (most notably Eno cohort Robert Fripp), but certain songs such as "Life During Wartime" sounded more effective when they were later played with a "Remain in Light"-size band. Think about it - when the new band played "Take Me To The River," the song was dramatically rearranged. When it played "Life During Wartime," they just filled it out a bit. So for those who assert that "Remain in Light" was a radical departure for Talking Heads, it really wasn't.

Brian Eno and David Byrne, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, February 1981.

When I initially thought about this on my Ontario-to-Fontana drive, I couldn't see any link whatsoever between this LP and the previous Heads effort. It wasn't until a few minutes ago, when I referred to a found lyric in "I Zimbra," that the connection became obvious. Now of course Eno and Byrne used a different technique to find their lyrics, but there is a commonality here.

Tom Tom Club, Tom Tom Club, October 1981.

In a sense, this LP (and its successor LP, of which I only recall "Bamboo Town") is really closer to Remain in Light than to Fear of Music. In a simplistic manner, Tina and Chris took the "Remain in Light" backing band, relaxed, and made a funky album. But there is one small commonality between Tom Tom Club and the earlier Heads work, and you can find it in the beginning of "Air" (and on an earlier song; I think it was "The Good Thing") - female voices. Probably the biggest difference between TH and TTC was that Tina was singing and David wasn't. The second biggest difference - the rapping of Chris - isn't really evident in any Talking Heads work.

Talking Heads, True Stories, September 1986.

Sorry, folks, but in the same way that I love Notorious by Duran Duran and Total Devo, I can honestly say that True Stories is my favorite Talking Heads album. But can you hear this Texas-tinged Weekly World News ripoff in the earlier manhole-cover themed album? I think you can in "Heaven." One could possibly argue that the lyrics predict the later attitudes of the True Stories Texas town, but you can really hear in the music that the band could play American when they wished to do so. (Incidentally, this is truly evident in the film "Stop Making Sense," in which this is performed acoustically by Byrne, Weymouth, and an offstage singer.)

Jerry Harrison, Casual Gods, February 1988.

I don't really remember The Red and the Black, so I'm skipping to Harrison's second album. And, frankly, I'm not really hearing it in Fear of Music. Harrison's work, like the work of Tom Tom Club, is really more closely related to Remain in Light than Fear of Music. Not that Harrison (or Weymouth of Frantz) weren't important in Fear, but the stuff they were doing didn't completely relate to what they later achieved on their own.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to Empoprises readers

When I started creating vertical, special interest blogs, I didn't know what to expect. In some respects I still don't, but I wanted to thank those of you who have chosen to read these blogs.

Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Grievance-Less Festivus, or whatever. I hope to share more Inland Empire, NTN Buzztime, and music stuff with you in the future.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Beyond catchy - from a Berlin bloc party to an And One song

Sometimes musicians do their job all too well, assembling a jingle that's so catchy that the average listener ignores the rest of the song.

In the United States, one of the most famous examples of this is "Born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen. As originally recorded, the chorus is one of those catchy moments that causes you to wave the flag and stand at attention in patriotic fervor. Forget about the story of a man whose country has failed him. In a sense, Springsteen could only blame himself when Ronald Reagan tried to appropriate the song.

Well, I ran across another example recently as I continued to sing a catchy chorus in my head:

Life isn't easy in Germany

The song is from And One, and it's been in my last.fm playlist for over four months now. But I didn't get around to reading the complete lyrics until recently. Here's how the song begins:

The way it was
It used to be
Well it had to change
As we all could see
We're twice as big
And Yet so small
Now we have to share
Here in Germany
When skins broke up
As Lenin broke down
Driving fast
Through united towns
Clubs being closed
And fights ahead
Now we have to share
So the Chancellor said


To fully understand the song, you have to look at the historical context. Let's go back to 1989:

After weeks of discussion about a new travel law, the leader of East Berlin's communist party (SED), G├╝nter Schabowski, said on November 9, 1989 at about 7 p.m. in somewhat unclear words that the border would be opened for "private trips abroad". Little later, an onrush of East Berliner's towards West Berlin began, and there were celebrations at the Brandenburg Gate and at the Kurf├╝rstendamm in West Berlin. On November 10, demolition works began with the aim of creating new border crossings. On November 12, a checkpoint at the Potsdamer Platz was opened, and on December 22, a checkpoint for pedestrians was opened at the Brandenburg Gate. So-called "wall woodpeckers" hammered pieces out of the wall, many of which were sold as souvenirs. A few larger segments were officially donated or sold.

Peter Jennings subsequently described the euphoria:



By the time the And One song was released, in 1993, the euphoria had subsided somewhat as the integration of the two countries proceeded apace. Problems were emerging:

As economic unification proceeded, issues that had been recognized but inadequately understood in advance began to surface. There was massive confusion about property rights. As wave after wave of Nazi, Soviet, and later GDR expropriations had taken place between 1933 and 1989, there was often little knowledge of the actual ownership of property. More than 2 million claims on properties in the territory of the former GDR were filed by the December 31, 1992, deadline. As more claimants emerged, with many winning cases in the courts, potential investors were often scared off.

Another problem was that East German production costs had been very high. The conversion rates of East German marks to deutsche marks often kept those costs high, as did the early wage negotiations, which resulted in wages far above the productivity level. Western German firms found it easier and cheaper to serve their new eastern German markets by expanding production in western facilities.

A third problem was that the inadequate infrastructure also became a problem for many potential investors. Telephone service was improved only very slowly. Many investors also complained about energy shortages, as many East German power stations were shut down for safety and other reasons. Roads and railroads had to be virtually rebuilt because they had been so badly maintained.


And in times of bad economic conditions, people respond in all sorts of ways:

The violence that erupted in Germany over the past several years brought to public attention the neo-Nazi Skinheads, a group previously regarded as only a fringe segment of the youth scene. Operating as lossely knit gangs of juvenile thugs, their menacing presence has been noted in communities throughout the recently united country. They have swelled the ranks of right-wing street demonstrators, acted as security guards for neo-Nazi meetings and served as a ready reservoir for extremist agitators to tap for attacks on so-called aliens in German society....

September 17, 1991 - Skinheads armed with clubs, rocks and Molotiv cocktails attacked a building in Hoyerswerda, an eastern city that housed about 150 foreigners, mostly from Vietnam and Mozambique. Hundreds of local residents gathered to cheer the Skinheads and resist attempts by police to quell the rampage. The assault and public demonstrations of support continued for days, ultimately ending on September 23, with the evacuation of the besieged housing unit.

August 22-28, 1992 - Rostock, in eastern Germany, was the scene of several nights of Skinhead violence against a hostel housing 200 asylum seekers (mainly Gypsies) and 150 Vietnamese guest workers. The hostel was partially destroyed by the 150 attacking Skinheads, who were openly encouraged by at least 500 cheering residents. Authorities evacuated the asylum seekers on August 24, and the guest workers fled as the building was being torched. Once again, violence rewarded the Skinheads with victory; the Interior Minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the state in which Rostock is located, was subsequently dismissed for having failed to immediately order the police to quell the riot.

November 13, 1992 - Two Skinheads in Wuppertal (in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia) kicked and burned to death a man they mistakenly thought was Jewish, after the owner of the bar in which the victim and perpetrators were drinking shouted, "Jew! You must go to Auschwitz. Auschwitz must reopen! Jews must burn!" The Skinheads kicked the victim until he lost consciousness, poured schnapps on him and set him on fire. He died of internal injuries while the Skinheads drove to the Netherlands in the victim's car, where they dumped the body....

November 23, 1992 - Two Skinheads, aged 19 and 25, firebombed two houses in Moelln, Schleswig-Holstein, killing a Turkish woman, her 10-year-old granddaughter, and 14-year-old niece. Several others were severely injured. The perpetrators telephoned the police station and announced, "There's a fire in the Ratzeburger Strasse. Heil Hitler!" They made an identical call to the fire brigade regarding the second address....

The collapse of the Communist regime in East Germany significantly affected the Skinhead situation. The emergence of the eastern Skins radicalized the Skinhead scene in both numbers and militancy. The aforementioned annual reports of the German intelligence services placed the total number of militant right-wing extremists (the majority of them Skinheads) at 6,400 in 1992 (2,600 in the west, 3,800 in the new eastern states) and 5,600 in 1993 (3,000 in the west and 2,600 in the east). Taking population figures into account, these estimates show a disproportionately high Skinhead presence in the new states.


So think of all of this when you listen to this song. Or just dance to it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Before there was love and dancing, there was murder and mayhem (Human League, "Circus of Death")

Follow-up to my November 22 post.

As I was nosing around YouTube, I found this old video from the Human League, pre-dating the departure of Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh from the band.



Just to set this in perspective, "Circus of Death" came out several years before "Seconds," back when Philip Adrian Wright's contributions to the band were primarily limited to visual media.

The song was rooted in the television series Hawaii Five-O:

Jack Lord played Steve McGarrett, head of an elite state police unit investigating "organized crime, murder, assassination attempts, foreign agents, felonies of every type." James MacArthur played his second-in-command Danny ("Danno") Williams, with local actors Kam Fong, Zulu, Al Harrington, and Herman Wedemeyer, among others, playing members of the Five-O team.

And yes, McGarrett was a little violent:

[T]he popularity of action-adventure did revive, especially in the early 1970s when crime shows became all the rage. The Nielsen rankings of 1974-75 had nine in the top twenty-five, although only CBS' Hawaii Five-O was in the top ten. Some of the most graphic violence appeared on this series (1968-80) in which a stern Steve McGarrett led a highly competent team of detectives against local crime and international intrigue.

Some of the stuff was too strong for today's audiences, and even for yesterday's audiences:

Why has the second season episode "Bored She Hung Herself" not been seen since the original broadcast in 1970 and is not included in the second season DVD box set?

No one at CBS or Paramount has offered a direct explanation as to why this is so. According to Mrs. Leonard Freeman (wife of the late creator of the show), speaking to some fans at the 1996 Five-O convention, someone tried the hanging technique depicted in the show (supposedly yoga-related, but more like autoerotic asphyxiation) and killed themselves. As a result, the show was not rebroadcast and never included in any syndication packages.


By the time the Human League wrote their song, there was some clowning around - well, in a Stephen King sort of way:

The narcotic that forges their union
Is a substance known only to one
To the clown it is known as Dominion
It's a secret that he'll give to none
The drug which gives the clown power
Means the circus can never be stopped
And his dream can go on unhindered
Till the last human being has dropped

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Updating a classic - Limp Bizkit, "Take a Look Around"

I'm not a movie person, but I'm a music person. And I realize that when you're updating a classic movie, or putting a classic TV show into movie form, the music can form a key part of the update. Do you retain the original feel of the music, do you junk it for something completely new, or do you moderate and take a middle path?

I submit to you Limp Bizkit, the pinnacle of moderation:



And the video's interesting too. But back to the music. ASCAP records the following information for "Take a Look Around":

TAKE A LOOK AROUND
(Title Code: 500694048)

Writers:
DURST WILLIAM FREDERICK
SCHIFRIN LALO

Performers:
LIMP BIZKIT

Variations:
THEME FROM M I 2
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 2 THEME
M I 2 THEME
MI2 THEME
TAKE A LOOK AROUND (THEME FROM M: 1 2)
M:I-2
"M:I-2"

Publishers/Administrators:
SONY ATV HARMONY
% AMY CRANFORD
8 MUSIC SQUARE WEST
NASHVILLE , TN, 37203
Tel. (615) 743-1779

Contact ASCAP Clearance representative at (212)621-6160
for other publisher information.


In a nice little twist, the original theme is a BMI work:

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE THEME (Legal Title)
BMI Work #998226
Alternate Titles:
THEME FROM MISSION IMPOSSIBLE
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE THEME MISSI
Songwriter/Composer Current Affiliation CAE/IPI #
SCHIFRIN BORIS CLAUDIO BMI 27889341

Publishers
SONY/ATV MELODY BMI 538928114

Artists
ADAM CLAYTON AND LARRY MULLEN
ELFMAN DANNY
GRASS ROOTS
JAMES TAYLOR QUARTET
MICHAEL E JOHNSON AND THE KILLER BEES
MORELLO JOE
SAN DIEGO SYMPHONY AND LALO SCHIFRIN COND
SCHIFRIN LALO
VENTURES


But the songwriter was more than a TV theme hack:

Movie audiences may know Lalo Schifrin for his themes to Bullitt, Cool Hand Luke, Enter The Dragon, Rush Hour and Mission: Impossible, but jazz lovers know the pianist, arranger and composer as a master of orchestral works, such as his Gillespiana suite, written for his early idol and mentor, Dizzy Gillespie....

Boris Claudio Schifrin was born on June 21, 1932, into a musical family in Buenos Aires, Argentina....He was nicknamed "Lalo" in his youth, and legally adopted this name after he became a U.S. citizen in the 1960s.


This accounts for the differing names in the ASCAP and BMI catalogs.

After several years with Dizzy Gillespie, Schifrin relocated to Hollywood in 1964.

As his prominence in Hollywood grew, Schifrin shifted his attention away from jazz performance. But the best of his TV and film music retained a strong flavor from the many different shades of jazz Schifrin had mastered. "Mission: Impossible," Schifrin's most popular song, which ties "Take Five" as the most popular song in 5/4 time, as well as "Down Here On The Ground" from 1967's Cool Hand Luke, which was made popular by Wes Montgomery and Grant Green, and the entirety of the Bullitt soundtrack from 1968 stand side by side with Schifrin's best jazz work.

Of course, Durst (whoops, William Frederick Durst) and Limp Bizkit took that 5/4 song and...um...re-arranged it to 4/4 time. And then it made the soundtrack. A Tori Amos fan site collected several reviews of the soundtrack, including "Take a Look Around." Reviews varied:

There's not a single cut on this soundtrack to the second MISSION IMPOSSIBLE that could be described as "feel-good music"; in fact, most of it--a very au courant mix of extreme metal and rap--is typified by Limp Bizkit's effective bludgeoning of the familiar theme from the original TV show. [half.com]

Right: you're making an action film, and you need some bands to give you a kick-start. Are these the right bands? Well, the show opens with an explosive version of the main theme from Mission Impossible: 2, Take A Look Around by Limp Bizkit, a grunge, in-your-face mega-voyage through guitars, drums and a raging voice. [The Irish Times]

[Y]ou've got Fred Durst and company turning the usually compelling Mission: Impossible theme into a standard Limp Bizkit throwdown, with Durst ranting and railing against us rock critics who make poor Fred's life so miserable. [MTV.com]

To his credit, Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst offers up his own restrained, dreamy take on the Mission Impossible theme, until raging guitars kick in at the end. [Toronto Sun]

Limp Bizkit...twists the famous "Mission Impossible" theme into the surprisingly easy-to-digest rock/rap tune, "Take a Look Around"... [CDNOW.com]


Well, I liked it...

Friday, December 12, 2008

He likes to push the pram a lot (Reed Kelly and Clay Aiken)

The readers of Empoprise-MU will be pleased to know that Clay Aiken has found happiness:

In the Dec. 22 issue of Star...we report that along with his new baby and new life out of the closet, the former American Idol star has a new boyfriend to enjoy it with! The lucky fella? Broadway dancer Reed Kelly.

"Everybody knows Reed as Clay's guy," a Broadway insider says of the Wicked ensemble member. "Clay met him when he was doing Spamalot in early 2008, and that's one of the reasons he came back to the show again."


But the Star isn't revealing everything online. You have to buy the paper to find out about this:

For all the details on their romance — including Reed's role in helping to raise Parker...

So who is Reed Kelly? Playbill has the scoop:

REED KELLY Workshop: Wicked, Japan. Film: I Am Legend starring Will Smith, Music and Lyrics. He has worked with Elton John, Cher, Jessica Simpson, N*SYNC, Stevie Wonder, Michelle Branch, Vanessa Williams, Kristine W, Mai Kuraki. Multiple commercials/industrials for Radio Shack, Redken, Warner Bros., Target, Marshall Field's, GAP. Trained at Larkin Dance Studio, MDT, Julliard, ABT. He is also an aerial arts performer.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Get ready for Hansons - The Second Generation

Mmm-bop. Remember them? Time has passed, but the trio are still making music, when they're not making other things:

World, get ready for Viggo Moriah Hanson.

The newest Hanson is child number four for musician Taylor (the 25-year-old middle brother of the pop trio)....

Baby Viggo is the latest in a growing Hanson brood. He joins two older brothers (Ezra, 6, and River, 2) as well as his 3-year-old sister Penelope. He also has a handful of cousins thanks to the other Hanson brothers having babies recently (three in total).


So they're clearly in position to unleash a second generation of bopping. Second generation musicianship has happened before, with Tito Jackson's kids forming 3T. We'll see what happens.

Hot Gossip and Sarah Brightman, "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper"

Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. Clifford of Red Stick Rant shared this joy with us. From YouTube.



Hot Gossip ended up in an association with British Electric Foundation and its popular offshoot, Heaven 17.

And Sarah Brightman didn't do too badly either, although in the end she didn't lose her heart to a starship trooper, but to a composer of musicals.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

John Lennon thought the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. These people KNOW.

But Lennon was only one of the music celebrities on Graeme Thomson's list. Here are a few more:

Kanye West
His late mother compared him to 'Gandhi, Jesus Christ, people whose job it is to tell the truth'. Apparently approving, West posed in a crown of thorns (above) for the cover of Rolling Stone....

Marilyn Manson
'I believe I am God,' growled the pantomime overlord of industrial goth-rock. But not in a good way, oh no....

Madonna
Sang 'Live to Tell' in a thorny crown while being 'crucified', claiming: 'If Jesus were alive today he'd be doing the same thing.' If you say so, Madge....

Bono
Flag-waver, peace-bringer, famine-fighter, Pope-pal, international conscience and example to us all. Need we say more?...

Michael Jackson
His Messianic mania at the 1996 Brits prompted Jarvis Cocker to proffer his arse in drunken disgust.


To be fair to Bono, he has admitted his own subservience to Christ and his own sinfulness. I think.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Insert "do you really want to hurt me" joke here

I never got around to blogging about this:

A jury convicted pop singer Boy George Friday of falsely imprisoning a male escort.

Norwegian Audun Carlsen had alleged he was restrained with handcuffs by the musician at the singer's London apartment on April 28, 2007.


Doesn't O'Dowd know that war is stupid?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Let's put Kathy Griffin, Clay Aiken, and Donny Osmond in the same post

We'll start with Kathy and Clay. But they're not sitting in a tree:

For years, the brash jokestress [Griffin] has poked fun at the "American Idol" alum, calling him "Gayken" and urging the singer to come out of the closet -- which he ultimately did in September.

So Griffin tried to make up:

"I held up one of those ghetto blasters playing one of Clay's songs, and I begged him to take me back and he said no," Griffin told E! Online....

"There were no words of thanks or even really any words at all, for that matter," Griffin said. "I would have to say he was not very nice."


Now if you're going to talk about nice, you have to talk about Donny Osmond. But some people think of him as O.J. Simpson personfied.

This is what he said. This is what Donny Osmond said:

Osmond, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, responded to a fan's question about his stance on gay marriage. We think he opposes gay marriage, but his diplomatic answer also seems to support the merits of personal choice. He writes:

"Some of my best friends are gay... I do support our Church leaders who say that we can accept those with gay tendencies in our church as long as they do not act upon their temptations. Everyone has tendencies to succumb to temptation... Whether we may be tempted to be immoral with members of our own sex or of the opposite sex, we are expected to live chaste lives."

"I am not a judge and I will never judge anyone for the decisions they make unless they are causing harm to another individual. I love my friends, including my gay friends. We are all God's children. It is their choice, not mine on how they conduct their lives and choose to live the commandments according to the dictates of their own conscience."


I think that the thing that threw PopEater was that Osmond was nice about it and didn't bash. Not that it mattered to John Aravosis:

He kind of equated us with men who beat their wives and children, or perhaps men who have sex with their own children, it's a bit hard to tell. But what isn't hard to tell is the part where he says that gays are "immoral" and that they "will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets."

What a pompous bigoted ass. Do you forcibly convert Jewish Holocaust victims to Mormonism too, Donny?


Just imagine if O.J. Simpson became a Mormon while in prison. Then John Aravosis and Fred Goldman could both go after him.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The greatest song of all time - Henhouse Five Plus Too, "In the Mood"

At various times I have discussed the cover version of "In the Mood" by Henhouse Five Plus Too (a pseudonym of Ray Stevens).

But I've never found a sound sample of the song, which I haven't heard in years.

I finally found a sound sample on this page. (Actually, I found the page several months ago, and just rediscovered it.)

If you've never heard the song, I encourage you to click here (m3u format).

If you don't agree that this is the most beautiful song ever, then you just don't know music.