May 6, 2008

My History with Music

Music has always been a large part of my life. Growing up a game my family would always play together driving in the car was name that tune. The object was to be the first to name the title and artist of the song playing. My Dad refused to listen to anything other than oldies so he had the clear advantage, but today my brothers and I usually have him beat, his memory seems to be a tad slower these days.

The radio was huge in elementary school. My friends and I had our favorite radio station, 95.9 KISS FM. It played all the popular songs and at times songs that I was embarrassed to listen to with my Mom because I knew the content was not appropriate. But still listening to Bitch, by Alanis Morissette was much more enjoyable than listener to her favorite stating 94.3 Light Rock.

In fourth grade I began my first instrument, the violin. I loved the violin; I practiced often and was quite good. But when the opportunity arose in sixth grade to join band I quit the violin and started a new brass instrument. Originally I wanted to play the saxophone, but when it was my turn to try out the variety of mouth pieces for all the different instruments with my future instructor, she decided saxophone was not right for me. Instead she suggested the baritone. I played the baritone through eighth grade, but once I entered high school I decided to give it a rest and take art classes instead.

From high school on music became a self-guided exploration. I was determined to expose myself to as much as possible because I enjoyed it so much. I would go to the majority of the school choir concerts, I never missed a musical, I saw a few band performances, and one orchestra concert. Besides the school-based music I began attending concerts, which quickly became one of my favorite things to do.

Now that I’m living in a larger city I make an effort to support local bands. There’s something about the possibility of knowing that a small band you support may make it in the industry some day. I especially enjoy going to shows are Varsity Theater. It’s by far the coolest venue I’ve ever been to.

I hope my love for music never ends. The day I received my iPod for Christmas began and obsession. I listen to a ridiculous amount of music in a day; while I walk, run, bike, study, relax, read, and write, I’m usually listening to music. As odd as it may sound, music is a near and dear friend to me, I can play different artists to compliment different moods and life experiences. I love the thrill in discovering a new song and band, which is something that theoretically will never end!

on Band Names

I always wonder what goes into coming up with a band name. How much time do bands spend thinking about names, do they take it seriously or lightly? Is a name something that is stumbled upon or is a significant amount of time spent coming up with it? I realize the process is most likely different for each band, but I do figure there are some similarities in the process.

When I was in high school two of my friends started a band and I distinctly remember their struggle to come up with a name. They asked their friends for suggestions and looked to them for inspiration. After nearly two weeks of deliberation they decided on the name, Left at Atlantic. Random to the public but those who knew them well would understand, which is often the sign of a good name. They lived in the same neighborhood and by taking a left on Atlantic Street you could get to each of their houses.

There are many types of band names. Many base the name after the lead singer; Dave Matthews Band, Steve Miller Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Simon and Garfunkel. Others go by their names, but not their legal names, they change them to be more marketable, which I have never quite understood, for example Shania Twain, Faith Hill, and John Legend to name a few. Other bands choose to name themselves after objects for seemingly no reason other than the fact that it’s random, like the Super Furry Animals, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Shins, and Barenaked Ladies. And lastly the name which is nearly impossible to pronounce the first time and is remembered for its individuality; Bjork, Imogen Heap, Jamiroquai, and Matisyahu.

The name of your band is extremely important. If you gain any popularity it becomes a second identity, and you will possibly forever be remembered by that name. I wish each artist would give a little background on where or how they came up with their name; I feel they would be stories filled with randomness, drugs, and adventure.

Van Morrison, why so unknown?

I used to put Van Morrison in the same musical category as Van Halen and Metalica. I thought, maybe because of the similarity in the first name, that Van Morrison and Van Halen had a similar sound. I had not listened to Van Morrison’s music before last spring, or at least did not knowingly, and that was because I was under the (extremely false) impression that he played heavy metal music.

When I was hanging out in my friend Andy’s dorm room last spring my perception of him did a complete three sixty. We were just chilling, smoking a hookah, and listening to music when Bright Side of the Road began to play. I was instantly excited about the song and after learning it was sung by Van Morrison I went home and downloaded his greatest hits album. I was completely wrong about Van Morrison, his music is anything but heavy metal, in fact in the year since I was first introduced to Moondance and Brown Eyed Girl as songs performed by Van Morrison, I have fallen in love with him and his music.

His songs are mostly upbeat, full of energy, and extremely catchy. I love to sing them while I drive, while I shower, and while at parties. I’ve found that many people, like I did, know the music of Van Morrison but few actually know the tracks are by him or who he is. How is it possible to have so many successful hits, so many well known songs, but not be well known? He deserves all the credit in the world because he never fails to take my sour moods and reverse them.

Universality of Music

Music seems to be one of the only universal languages on this planet. People of all walks of life, those living in the U.S., third world countries, indigenous tribes, the poor, rich, moderate, the cocky, humble, superficial, people with stable families, people living on the streets, people with three jobs, people with disabilities, healers, law enforcers, and advocates, they all enjoy music.

Music has the unique ability to be seen in every aspect of life. One can find a beat or rhythm in the sound of high heels hitting cement, rain drops hitting a window, the creak in wood floor boards, the spring of a mattress, the sound of an automobile blinker, the person next to you chewing their gum, even the buzz of a fly in your ear. I think this is what makes music so special and desirable. People are constantly surrounded by it and inspired by the natural beat and rhythm of life.

Music is a huge cultural indicator, it seems each culture has certain distinct qualities in the sound of their music, and a great musician has the ability to bring these characteristics to life. It’s undeniable that there is a noticeable difference between an authentic mariachi band and the sound of French street band. The difference between Jamaican reggae and the sound of a traditional Moroccan bongo player is blatantly apparent.
Each country, and specific cultures within each country, make their name for themselves through music. In the United States for example the South is seen as the creators of jazz. New Orleans made a name for the Southern states through the success of the freeness and improve-based jazz. In the part of the country surrounding Kentucky and Tennessee country music is the focus. The music was originally based around the fiddle and country twang. The arguable most relatable lyrics depict rural life, a life that the majority of Americans could relate to until recent years. And lastly the creation of hip hop in the inter-city streets of Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and New York City is one of the more amazing stories behind a genre. Hip Hop was not created in a specific locale of the country; instead it was created out of similar life situations. It focuses on the struggles of urban life through quick lyrics, catchy rhymes, and a time signature complimenting the natural beat of the heart.

Without music it is possible that there would be little common ground cross-culturally. Music is a common area of interest in people, it aids in understanding others, and increasing the desire to get to know others.

April 20, 2008

On MGMT, the soundtrack of my life

I have recently discovered the most exciting band ever! And that is MGMT. I heard them two days ago and have not been able to remove their catchy beats of Electric Feel from my head. The lead singer has an extremely unique voice almost reminiscent to that of Prince. And there is always an unforgettable techno-like beat complimenting his amazing sound. The voice and the beat together are astounding. Usually I am not a huge fan of techno, but MGMT has found a way to incorporate it so that even someone generally opposed to it will enjoy.

MGMT’s CD, Oracular Spectacular, is great and I am quickly becoming obsessed with it. It has the ability to be played front to back repeatedly and not get old. At this very moment in time it is the perfect soundtrack to my life. I have always wished that I could have a soundtrack to follow the daily events of my existence; to have background music to fill in the awkward silences, to have the dramatic sounds of intense moments, and the upbeat melodies during the good times. As of right now Oracular Spectacular would compliment my life because it fits so flawlessly with springtime.

Springtime promotes being active, going outside, and bouncing around. Oracular Spectacular has the perfect beat to walk to, it makes you want to skip around and act crazy, which is exactly what I like to do when winter passes and the new life of springtime, emerges. MGMT grants the listener the ability to move there body freely and enjoy the active nature of spring. And for that I am eternally grateful.

April 19, 2008

On Music...Not so Therapeutic

I find it interesting how I use music as a crutch. Two days ago the guy I was seeing told me we should just be friends because he didn’t want to hurt me. I was incredibly frustrated and hurt by the situation and the second I returned to my apartment I played the one song I knew understood how I felt at the time. I sat there and listened, and sadly enough became more upset.

When I was walking home I was thinking about the song I wanted to play because I thought it would bring me comfort in a therapeutic way. But since then I have decided that a song which perfectly relates to any negative situation only makes you more emotional. The fact that another person has felt the same feelings and was able to communicate them so clearly is a bit moving.

There is a weird relationship between music and memories. When I think back on specific events in my life or people who I have been really close with I always remember the bands and songs we listened to at the time. When I miss someone I play the music that reminds me of them. Music also has this relationship between memory and mood. There are certain CDs that I used to listen to nonstop. Those CDs now remind me of whatever I was going through at the time with friends, family, school, and sports. They have a feel to them, if I was doing well at the time they represent a good feel, while there are others, which were probably used as a crutch, which I play when I’m in a really shitty mood.

April 14, 2008

Norah Jones-Words Without Meaning

Does anyone actually listen to the lyrics of Norah Jones? My question stems from the events in my day. I spent a considerable amount of time walking in the rain, sleet, and snow today, and it’s April! When I returned to my apartment I was drenched, cold, and pissed off. I decided the only way to cheer up was to take a hot shower then lay in bed with candles lit and soft music playing. I made a quick play list of Norah Jones, Regina Spektor, and Death Cab for Cutie. I put the play list on random to mix it up but Norah Jones kept playing in a row. Not that I was complaining, I love Norah Jones, but after a few songs I realized I never pay close attention to her lyrics, I just key into her soft voice and calming piano.

After realizing this I was considerably upset. If I didn’t know what she was saying how could I openly support her? I was afraid that once I began listening to her words she would say something I completely disagree with and would be horrified to show support for. Thankfully she has no such lyrics, as far as I know, that are that repulsive. They mostly depict relaxing days, moments with those you love, and nature.

But this makes me wonder how many bands I like, but don’t know the implications of their words. I love to sing, so many of the artists I support I sing with. But there are certain artists, like Norah Jones, that have such a distinct sound that singing along with them would completely ruin the song. Norah Jones is the artist you listen to when you want to catch up with your thoughts, when you don’t want silence, but you don’t want a musical distraction. She fills the undesirable silences in our lives with soft melodies.

March 27, 2008

On Corinne Bailey Rae

Yesterday I found out that Corinne Bailey Rae’s husband died due to a drug overdose. This news came as quick a shock to me for two reasons, a.) I did not know CBR was married and b.) I feel like I have a strong connection with her because I am a huge fan of hers, and instantly felt horrible for her. The thought of her becoming a widow and how and the negative effects of being a widow would for her profession, kept circling around my head. The majority of CBR’s songs are in fact about love, and I would assume the majority are about her husband or in some way remind her of him. In my opinion, this would make performing extremely difficult. The constant reminder of your loved one, and how they passed away, would be overwhelmingly tragic.

Anyway, despite the feelings of remorse I hold for CBR, I’m going to put them on the side for a minute and explain her appeal to me. First of all I discovered her last year during the being of spring, as an impressionable freshman. I heard her most famous track “Put Your Record On,? right away I was hooked on its catchy beat. I ended up purchasing the album and realizing I really enjoy her unique voice, with its soft flowing sound, and kind lyrics. I can understand arguments against CBR. She’s hard to label, not exacting R&B, Soul, or Pop. But to me that’s what makes her special.

I immediately identified with her image; free falling curls, the spring dresses, and the embellishments on her album cover (they are curly and free spirited lines, much like the doodles I make.) In fact, CBR is the reason I cut my hair short. At the time it was past my shoulders in length and she inspired me to cut into what I called at the time, “my white girl afro.?

There was a specific day I remember being the most influential to my love for CBR. I was walking home from class on the Washington Ave bridge and “Put Your Record On? came onto my iPod. It was a sunny day, with a blue sky, and puffy white clouds. I was wearing my favorite pair of sunglasses and had this uncontrollable urge to let my arms fall freely and spin around in the moment. The way her sound connected with the feeling of the sun on my skin was freeing and enjoyable.

I don’t know exactly what it is about CBR that makes me enjoy her so much. I realize that she isn’t the most talented artist out there, but I love her anyway.

March 12, 2008

On A Fine Frenzy

Last night I attended the A Fine Frenzy concert at Varsity Theater in Dinkytown. Many aspects of the concert were amazing and unique to me. The band arrived on stage and immediately began playing their first song, without acknowledging the crowd. After completing the first song, “Come On, Come Out?, Alison (the lead singer) simply looked at the crowd, thanked them for their applause, giggled innocently, than began her next song. I was surprised how few words Alison shared with the crowd throughout the night. In fact, she surprised me every time she spoke. Her demeanor reminded me of Drew Barrymore; soft spoken, polite and always smiling playfully at one thing or another. She would make eye contact with her fellow band mates and let out a large, genuine smile. It was apparent she enjoyed the music she performed. She mentioned—in fact several times—how awesome Varsity Theater is and how much she loves Minneapolis.

The singer/songwriter/pianist is a unique individual. She drank tea between songs, not bottled water, not beer, tea. I must say I was nothing short of shocked when I saw that. The feeling placed in each song resonated through Alison’s body language. She danced to each song while strumming away on her piano, often jabbing her shoulder and shaking her head to the beat. Several times she would pull her face close to the keys when the beats were pounding and powerful then as the melody returned she would straighten her back and whimsically let her head fall back.

The band was awesome. Alison played the grand piano, a man in a top hat played the synthesis, and the third band mate played the drums, classical, slide and bass guitar. The three together had a terrific and unique sound. They played two amazing cover songs; “I Will Follow You Into the Dark? by Death Cab for Cutie and “Across the Universe? by the Beatles. Each fit the character of the band and their abilities perfectly.
The concert gave me a new found appreciation for A Fine Frenzy. I had always enjoyed their music, it is beautiful, however, extremely calm and at times too slow for me. However, after seeing their live performance and seeing the incredible amount of energy, love, and enjoyment of the band I think their music will be forever changed for me—in a great way. With the visual of Alison’s playful smile and bobbing shoulder in mind, I will no longer see the music as overly relaxing.

February 2, 2008

Bluegrass--instant mood booster

When I envision Bluegrass music I picture a group of families gathering around a porch at dusk. The women are in dresses while the men have trousers, dirt-stained shirts, suspenders, and taxi cab hats. I picture a few fathers playing their fiddles, strumming their banjos, and plucking their stand-up bass’ while the children show off dance moves, kicking up clouds of dust. Although, however my imagination chooses to see Bluegrass visually isn’t the reality of the genre to me.

After recently spending time listening to the Bluegrass band Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, I have discovered a new purpose and place for Bluegrass music in my life. Picture an overcast day; the sky is gray and sending an ominous hue over the surrounding landscape. You do not feel like going outside, but at the same time you feel trapped in your house and are in a sour mood due to positive sensory deprivation.

How do you better your disposition?

Simply listen to Bluegrass. The reminiscent feeling of being with a group of close friends, continually creating new music; new melodies, rhythms, and styles, and dancing to the bouncy, upbeat tunes is an instant mood boost.

The fiddle’s sweet melody takes away the need for vocals. You can feel the mood of the song through the varying beats and imagine the story of the song yourself. The bass being the foundation and background of the story, the fiddle is the narrator, and the banjo represents the ever-changing storyline. Bluegrass has a naturally upbeat sound to it. And because of this quality I believe it can be an instant boost in any mood crisis for anyone with an open mind!