Art Is in the Eye of the Beholder @billyjoel @StarWars @kesseljunkie #movie #music #art #StarWars #BillyJoel

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I have a phrase I like to use. By now, you should know it, but I’ll repeat it anyway: Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. There’s a meme running around . . .  okay, going viral that completely misses this point. I’d like to trash the meme, but it goes all “sociopolitical,” and I’ve already done my annual sociopolitical post for the year. Instead, I’ll address another meme that reimagines the story told in Billy Joel’s fantastic song, Piano Man. The song is actually about Joel during his early days playing seedy bars filled with alcoholics and underachievers. The meme could be said to be sociopolitical too, but I don’t see it that way, so here it is.

Now, there’s a problem with the theory of this meme: Paul never had time for a wife. This means that if would have had a wife if his priorities are different. Also, not everyone who’s an alcoholic, failure, underachiever, or sailor is gay. That makes the statement at the end, “yep, it’s definitely a bar full of gay dudes,” to be rather arrogant, but that doesn’t mean that one can’t fairly infer that it’s at a “gay bar.” It still fits, and you just ignore the imperfections in the spirit of having fun with the lyrics.

Another Theory: They Still Live

Well then, it’s no less legitimate to instead imagine that Piano Man takes place in the They Live universe, but in a sequel called They Still Live in which a few surviving aliens have recovered their ability to hide their true selves. Joel is playing to bunch of extraterrestrials and doesn’t know it. Why can’t Billy tell they’re aliens?

Because those sunglasses are just ordinary ones. Instead of a bunch of homosexuals having a betting pool, it’s a bunch of aliens wondering when he’ll figure out that they’re aliens in hiding. They’re reluctant underachievers because they must remain in hiding until they reclaim control over the Earth. Is this a perfect inference? No, but remember, neither was the “gay bar” interpretation. This interpretation also has no clear contradictions within the lyrics, so it’s just as good. So would any interpretation in which people, extraterrestrial or otherwise, we’re in hiding. I’m sure the song could be put to use in a pretty good Al Qaeda recruitment video, and I doubt Joel would approve.

Revenge of the Sith

Let me give you another example. This one’s more on point with the meme I don’t want to discuss. In Revenge of the Sith, Mace Windu, et al. attack Emperor Palpatine, a.k.a., Darth Sidious. The others fall, so it’s just Mace and Sidious going at it, and Mace gets the upper hand. He starts to reflect Sidious’s force lighting back on him. According to the dialogue, as wells as a (long-lost) interview with George Lucas, the reflection disfigured Palpatine.

I never bought that, and I think Kessel Junkie and I have discussed it.

My interpretation from the moment I saw it was that Sidious was already disfigured from his long term use of the Dark Side. Within the movies – I don’t concern myself at all with the Expanded Universe – there’s nothing in canon to contradict that. With Mace Windu’s attack, Sidious’s power was being tasked, so his veil dropped. Everyone was seeing him for what he really was. He initially lied to Anakin to complete his turn to the Dark Side, then maintained the lie to convince others of the treachery of the Jedi. That in turn meant that he no longer had to use a portion of his power to maintain that veil. Win-win as far as he was concerned.

Am I wrong? Not according to me, so why do I care whether George agrees? Why would he care if I disagree with him?

The point is that you can interpret art, especially good art, in a way that suits you, even if it contradicts the intent of the creator. Unless you’re way off base, your interpretation is as legitimate an interpretation as anyone else’s. Whatever makes the art work for you is fine.

As long as you’re buying it, the creators won’t mind.

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YouTube Music Is Great @youtubemusic #music #YouTube

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I have an android phone, and the native music application went the way of the dinosaur at the end of the year in favor of YouTube Music. Some of the announcements had me worried about privacy, so I was reluctant to make the switch. Instead, I installed an ad-infused third-party music application. Eventually, I decided that I might as well give it a try, so I upgraded.

YouTube Music is great.

I pay for the premium, so maybe that has something to do with it, but when I search for a song and play it, the application creates a playlist of 49 additional songs that are related by artist or genre. As I move from one song to the other, a new song is appended to the list. I suspect, but can’t prove, that the appended song takes into account the songs I skip, because as I get beyond the original list, there’s less of an incentive to skip songs. As a result, every day I hear good to great songs I never knew existed, even for artists I thought I knew well. Sure, there are some stinkers in there, but I’m discovering a lot of hidden gems. I’m also rediscovering music I’ve previously forgotten. Who can’t get behind seemingly unlimited, new music, all legal to download?

I’m still concerned about a potential bait-and-switch on their policies, which may relate to privacy.

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DC Area Radio Stations @947theDrive @washfm @1027jackfm @98Rock @Todays1019 @dc101 #music #radio

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My cell phone recently died, so I had to replace it. It’s an identical phone but nevertheless won’t connect to my car stereo via Bluetooth. Google tech support was worthless, but if you want to hear me whine about that, you’ll have to visit my Facebook wall from a couple of weeks ago. This is a different rant.

Because I can’t connect to my phone, I’ve had to resort to listening to radio stations for the first time in about 5 years. I’m so used to hearing what I want to hear the moment I want to hear it that I’ve become spoiled. I forgot how bad it is to be at the whims of the deejays and program directors of radio stations. They play what they want, when they want, and with a very limited number of songs. I thought CHR went the way of the dinosaur when “mix” stations came into being, but the old habits (and FCC regulations) die hard.

You Know What Grinds My Gears?

But even that’s not my rant. My rant is this: The changes to the radio stations during those brief five years have been monumental. Nothing is as it was (see notes below), and that was an unexpected jolt as to how old I really am. I expect that phenomenon to rear it’s ugly head when I’m looking back at childhood, but I can’t even go back five years without a total upheaval.

Chicago

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this. I left the DC area in May, 1996, to attend law school in Chicago. When I came back at the end of 2000, the restaurants, radio stations, and roads really stuck out as completely different. I actually had difficulty driving around certain areas that were regular destinations for me in the early 90s (and especially those prior to that). I lived in Delaware from 2007-2008, but I frequently came back during that time, so the gradual changes never had an impact.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love change — I always want things mixed up — but this isn’t something that can be ignored. For someone with a fear of aging, it’s probably very difficult.

Notes

Some notes for DC area listeners.

WQSR (102.7) claims to “play everything,” and that sticks when it comes to the relative diversity of what they play. However, they still play a small number of different songs during any given week. It’s been two weeks, and all I’ve heard is Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper, Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi, Hot Blooded by Foreigner, Der Kommissar by After the Fire, and Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran. The songs aren’t bad to a 70s/80s guy like me, but it feels like false advertising (even though they probably have a larger playlist). This isn’t much of a change from where they were when they started, but it’s more frustrating now that I’m dependent on them.

One of our mainstays since my childhood, Mix 107.3, nee WRQX, has changed its call letters to WLVW and gone Christian. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just not for me. With all these changes, I went scrolling through the wavelengths looking for replacements and found tons of new Christian stations where there used to be nothing but static. It seems like a plurality of stations that I can pick up in Northern Virginia are Christian.

At 10:07 am on Labor Day, 101.9 rickrolled me. Thankfully, 94.7 has stayed loyal to me.

Further complicating things are that I live in Northern Virginia, not Maryland, so some of the stations are too far away for me to hear. Losing them in 2000 wasn’t so bad, but now that I need them, their static-filled signal is a tease. I’m looking at you, 98 Rock and 101.9.

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My Bucket List #music #travel

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With far more years behind me than I have ahead of me (absent a game-changing nanobot breakthrough), I’ve made a modest bucket list for myself. There isn’t much I want to do before I die, and I likely have plenty of time to do it. Unfortunately, the pandemic kept me from starting this year, but we’ll eventually get .

Experiencing My Heritage

Like most Americans, I’m a mutt. According to my family tree, my ancestors had five primary nationalities: Dutch, German, Irish, Italian, Scottish. I’m not one to believe in pride in your heritage. I shouldn’t get credit for any of the accomplishments of my ancestors, so in what exactly am I supposed to take pride? However, I know more about those cultures than I do any others, but have plenty more to learn. With no other reason to choose any other destination than another, I’m going with those five countries. Here’s my thinking.

The Netherlands: Amsterdam, because of course Amsterdam.

Germany: Dachau, because of its historical importance.

Ireland: Dublin, because my maternal grandmother’s mother was born there. This may require some more research to confirm.

Italy: Rome for the Corso family, and Sicily for the Matai family. This is my maternal grandfather’s portion of the family tree.

Scotland: Lochgilphead, because that’s where my father’s mother’s father was born. I’ve also been told of distillery tours where you can sample much of the scotch that country has to offer. Seems like my kind of trip. 

All of this is subject to change if 1) my research uncovers a specific reason to visit a specific site; 2) a DNA test uncovers a significant degree of influence from another nationality; and 3) any of you give me a good reason to choose a different location within these five countries. 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Simply put, I’d like to attend an induction ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Most of my favorite bands have already been inducted, but I’m such a music nut that it’d be hard to choose a class that wouldn’t appeal to me in some way. In particular, I’d like to attend when Warren Zevon eventually gets inducted. Here’s a small example as to why.

The class of 2020 snubbed Pat Benatar, Dave Matthews Band, Soundgarden, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, and Motorhead, any of which I’d love to see get inducted.

That’s it. I’m not asking for much of myself. 

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My Five Favorite Albums . . . Really Five This Time @rushtheband @StevieNicks @LBuckingham @MickFleetwood @billyjoel @IronMaiden @PhilCollinsFeed @tonybanksmusic @officialmatm #music #Rush #FleetwoodMac #IronMaiden #BillyJoel #Genesis

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I’ve provided my favorite movies, bands, and songs, and now we reach the last in this series: My favorite five albums. This should be the easiest of the posts, so I shouldn’t be such a coward this time. You’ll get your five. Again, however, I’m going to give you my favorite albums by the bands I mentioned previously, but my absolute favorite album of all time isn’t from any of them. Despite my methodology, though, this could very well represent my actual, favorite five albums.

Grace Under Pressure, Rush

R.I.P., Professor.

This is an unusual choice for Rush fans, but in discussing it online with several other fans, I’m definitely not alone. I’m not going to go into this in detail, because it’s a personal matter. I’m simply going to make this vague statement: There was a moment in time when I truly became an independent person. For better or worse, this was a significant moment and a significant development, and Grace Under Pressure was part of my life during that moment of clarity. It’s tough to separate this album from that.

Rumors, Fleetwood Mac

If you’ve read the previous two posts, you knew this was coming. I was raised on this album. It belonged to my older brother, but I could listen to it whenever I wanted, and he bought it at a time when I finally had a choice of what music I heard. I had my own radio, so I could listen to which songs I heard on the radio, and from 1977 forward, I slowly started my modest collection of albums so I could listen to the music I wanted to hear when I wanted to hear it. Despite it not being mine, Rumors was the start of that.

Powerslave, Iron Maiden

As with GUP above, I think I’m making a choice that isn’t very popular among fans of the band. Yes, my favorite Iron Maiden song is on this album, but as with much of our attachment to art, this is about more than the art itself. This is about nostalgia. This was my first Iron Maiden album, and the music on it is solid from start to finish. I’m also a huge fan of the instrumental, Losfer Words, as well as the title track. I’ve spent many hours jamming to these songs on my guitar or bass (though I’ll never win an award for my playing).

The Stranger, Billy Joel

This album combines the positive qualities I’ve referenced throughout this series of posts. While the music is all from a specific genre, it’s diverse within that genre. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant is epic. It’s like an Iron Maiden or Rush song in that it has multiple movements, all lyrically tied together, yet clearly distinct from one another musically, producing one hell of an effect. The band has enough members in it to fully fill out the music. The instrumentation doesn’t include merely the traditional guitar, bass, keyboard, and drum set collection, but adds woodwinds and other percussion. Hell, there’s even an accordion in there. Joel is a native New Yorker. He grew up in the ultimate melting pot. This influenced how he collected personnel and wrote his music, and the Stranger is probably the best example of that from his discography. As far as I’m concerned, this was one of my favorite artists at his absolute peak.

My Favorite Album? Drum Roll, Please. Duke, Genesis

Once again, I admit that this is all subjective, but there’s a pseudo-objective reason why Duke is my favorite album. As Duke was being written, you could still say Genesis was going through a transitional phase after the departure of Peter Gabriel. This was their third album after Gabriel left, and second after Steve Hackett left, so Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, and Tony Banks were still trying to figure out what they wanted to do, even having considered for a time writing only instrumentals going forward. After finally settling on six songs that comprised the Story of Albert, the band realized they needed more music to fill out the album. Each of the members wrote two more songs. The result was remarkable.

Because the earlier six songs were telling a common story, Duke was strongly coherent. The later six songs mixed things up a bit to keep the album from being monotonous, but those later six songs were still connected to the earlier six, both lyrically and musically. In other words, you had a strongly coherent album of spectacular songs with just enough variety to prevent you from getting bored. The songs themselves represented a stunning bridge between progressive rock and popular music.

Of course, you must like this kind of music for any of this to matter, but that’s why I admit that it’s still a subjective question. In fact, many Genesis fans hate Duke because it tries to be both things, and to them Duke represents to worst of both worlds. Obviously, I believe it represents the best of both worlds. I’ve occasionally said that I’d be happy to pay full price for a concert ticket where Genesis got back together and just played Duke from start to finish. I’d need nothing else.

Subjectively speaking, Duke is my favorite album of all time. YMMV.

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My Five Favorite Songs . . . Sort Of @rushtheband @StevieNicks @LBuckingham @MickFleetwood @billyjoel @IronMaiden @jumonsmapes #music #Rush #FleetwoodMac #IronMaiden #BillyJoel

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Are you kidding me? How am I supposed to do this? Bands were hard, and movies were harder, but songs are impossible. There are just too many deserving of high praise and to which I have a deep, personal connection for me to pick just five, but that’s been the thing for the past two posts. I guess I’ll have to give it a shot. While I have a clear favorite song, what I’m going to have to do is pick my favorite songs by some of my favorite bands. My sanity depends on it. There’s just no way to organize a list that large.

#1: Limelight, Rush

R.I.P., Professor.

As alluded to yesterday, my favorite song comes off of Moving Pictures, and it’s Limelight. I have no connection to the lyrics, as I haven’t even had 15 minutes of fame, but that music kills me every time. I’ve heard that Alex Lifeson believes this to be one of his most emotional solos. For what it’s worth, I agree.

Landslide, Fleetwood Mac

Simply beautiful. The version from Fleetwood Mac Live adds in Christine McVie’s keyboards to really fill out the music. I won that album as a middle school dance door prize. It was the second album I ever owned personally, and at the risk of shedding my cowardice, I’ll add that Stevie’s performance of Rhiannon on that live album was one of the most powerful vocal performances ever recorded.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Iron Maiden

Sometimes, white people just want to punch someone. Rime appeals to that instinct, but the lyrics are based on Coleridge’s classic poem of the same name, which certainly doesn’t endorse such behavior. The bass solo always amazed me, but I could probably say that about any of Steve Harris’s bass solos. Like progressive rock bands, Iron Maiden didn’t shy away from epic songs that would never get radio airplay. They wrote what needed to be written and took no short cuts. The result, as expected, was always phenomenal.

Summer Highland Falls, Billy Joel

My favorite Billy Joel song comes off Turnstiles, which isn’t his worst album, but isn’t his best. The album isn’t bad in my opinion — he’s my #4 artist of all time! — but not everything can be the Stranger, ya dig? (Oooo, foreshadowing!) Anyway, I love how the consummate piano player just sits down with his piano and pours out his heart. Sure, he lets the band in for a bit of it, but make no mistake: This is about a guy, his life, and his piano.

Number 5?

By now, you must be getting the picture. To avoid undercutting the concerns of my post on bands, I’m going to cop out yet a third time. No #5 for you!

Yeah, I’m a coward, but let’s do this one more time tomorrow. I promise you’ll get five entries.

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My Five Favorite Bands . . . Sort Of @rushtheband @StevieNicks @LBuckingham @MickFleetwood @billyjoel @IronMaiden @jumonsmapes #music #Rush #FleetwoodMac #IronMaiden #BillyJoel

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Following up from yesterday’s post on my five favorite movies (sort of), I give you my five favorite bands. As this is all subjective, I can’t really justify my view by any objective metric, but I’ll be damned if I won’t try. Music is my favorite art form, so this one should have been tougher, but it turned out to be a little easier.

#1: Rush (tie)

What’s wrong with the people that don’t like Rush? No modern band in history can say that each of its members (or even just three of them) are in the consensus top twenty, of both music professionals and fans, for their respective talents. Geddy Lee and Neil Peart are often seen as the best bass and drum players respectively in modern music, and Alex Lifeson, while never given a #1 ranking, is solidly in the consensus top twenty. The songwriting isn’t silly and formulaic unless it’s the time for that. You can’t help but like what you like, but at the very least, this band deserves your undying respect for their musicianship. I, on the other hand, love this band’s music. I discovered it, and notably what remains my favorite song (q.v.) by any band, in middle school. The music kept coming until relatively recently. Oddly enough, I never particularly liked Tom Sawyer, which was the first song I heard from them.

R.I.P., Professor.

#1: Fleetwood Mac (tie)

Not only does this band get points for talent and songwriting, but they also get some serious nostalgia points. I was raised on Rumors. The fact that they had five members, three of whom were emotionally troubled songwriters, allowed them to produce rich, varied music packed with heart.

Here’s an interesting anecdote. Stevie Nicks wasn’t even two miles from me when she came up with the title to her masterpiece, Silver Springs. At least, that’s what I want to believe. As the linked map shows, I lived in Silver Spring, MD at about two miles from the exit sign that caught her eye and resulted in the name of the song. Rumors came out February 4, 1977, which is almost to the day when we moved out of that house. That’s when my brother bought the Rumors album and Silver Springs started to get some radio airplay as the B-side for Go Your Own Way. This band’s new music kept me going all the way through college. As soon as I was old enough to buy my own albums, I started going backwards through time and learning their older stuff as well, though nothing beats what was produced by the classic band lineup from Rumors, et al.

I also want to re-quote something an author wrote about the Chain.

[C]obbled together by Buckingham at a time when certain people in the band weren’t even speaking to each other . . . “[t]he Chain” is a stark reminder that you’re forever tied to the people you love most, even while they’re betraying you. –Jillian Mapes, https://pitchfork.com/features/lists-and-guides/stevie-nicks-in-33-songs/

Nothing sums up that song, that album, or my life better than that.

#3: Iron Maiden

I didn’t discover Maiden until freshman year at college, and they hit me like a ton of bricks. I was primarily a bass player, and Steve Harris is one of the best that’s ever picked up the instrument. Bruce Dickinson is no slouch with the microphone either. It’s not just the music, though. One of the handful of concerts I’ve attended was the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son tour in 1988 (not sure if it was the 7/24 or 8/7 show). Along with Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason tour (June 1 of that same year), I was floored by the visuals as well. These remain my two favorite concerts because of how those visuals added to the overall showmanship of the concerts. 1988 was a hell of a year for me, musically speaking at least.

#4: Billy Joel

For the longest time (yes, that’s a pun), Joel was my favorite artist. Sorry, Billy, but you’ve been demoted to #4. What a fall from grace (almost a pun), loser! Seriously though, this guy goes back farther than I can remember. Like the other entries on this list, he was top five the moment I heard his music, and he never left that list. He’s also the only headlining artist I’ve seen live twice. (I saw Black 47 in a small bar in Soho and then again at the Guinness Fleadh, 1999, but no repeats otherwise.) I saw him on the Bridge tour with my sister and then again decades later with my sister and her eldest son.

Number 5?

Sorry, but I’m going to cop out again. I can’t name a fifth band because then I’d be slamming the door on a bunch of bands I’d instinctively call “top 5.” I also won’t even provide an “honorable mentions” list (again) for fear of leaving some deserving bands off that one as well. I challenge you to do better. See if you can limit yourself to just five without feeling dirty.

The lesson here is that there are really just four at the top, and then a bunch of stuff … bunched together beyond that. Or I’m a coward.

To all these musicians, including the ones I didn’t mention, whose music I listen to repeatedly, I sincerely thank you. Technology make life livable; art makes life worth living.

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The Two Perfect Albums? @stevevai @BillyonBass @JWatsonRanger @davidgilmour #music

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A recent Twitter conversation had me reminiscing about my days as a new guitarist. I started with saxophone in third grade, but as a high school senior, I switched to bass and (to a lesser extent) guitar, which were the first instruments I played that I chose myself. Beyond junior year of high school, I’m entirely self-taught, including heavy music theory. At 52, I’m finally taking a legitimate stab at piano. Sure, I’m probably developing some bad habits, but I have those with the guitar, and as a pure amateur, I don’t care whether I impress anyone else. I’m having fun.

Guitar Magazine

In the mid-80s, I subscribed to Guitar Magazine. Because I wasn’t a good ear player, having four or five pieces of sheet music (both tablature and staff notation) mailed to me each month was a godsend. Some of it I was never good enough to play, but there’s a great feeling of satisfaction when you take a song from the radio (e.g., Mood for a Day by Yes, Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd) and learn it note for note without any help other than the sheet music. I’m not a musical genius, so it’s the result of a decent amount of work on my part.

I also enjoyed the insights of the professionals that were interviewed in those magazines, as well as their direct contributions to the content. Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan had a monthly column. Jeff Watson of Night Ranger eventually took over Vai’s column. Frank Zappa personally approved the sheet music for Peaches En Regalia. It was a great magazine and, to my knowledge, the first of its kind in that it published the sheet music. Others posted only lyrics.

The Two Perfect Rock Albums

This brings me to a point I raised in that Twitter conversation. In the Listening Room (I think) was a column in which a professional musician was asked to listen to some songs. Maybe they knew the song; maybe they didn’t. Steve Vai was once interviewed in this column, and one of the songs he was asked to critique was his own (if I recall correctly, it was the Attitude Song, which I love). Between this column and all the interviews, a common issue was raised by context or by the asking of a direct question: “Are there any perfect rock albums?”

There were two albums, though, that the professionals consistently agreed were perfect: Boston’s self-titled, first album, and Def Leppard’s Pyromania. Each of us, from the professionals to the tone deaf, have our own ideas of what a perfect album is, and that’s great. I hope everyone has an album or two that they can call perfect. I certainly do (q.v.).

I found it interesting that there seemed to be such a clear consensus among the pros. I happen to agree that there are no bad songs on either album, and Pyromania was one of two cassette tapes that I owned (along with Get Nervous by Pat Benatar) when I started driving. I always went back and forth between those two albums and never got sick of either of them. I wonder what the current consensus would be 30-some years later.

Music is a huge part of my life and my favorite art form, which is why I find goofy anecdotes like this fun. YMMV. 😊 Feel free to share yours in the comments.

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