Posts Tagged ‘music’

Doubt

So, whenever I talk to religious folk, I am invariably told that I am either going to hell or that they will pray for me. Oooh, let’s not forget the look of pitying worry–the kind of look we reserve for the slightly mad as we humor them. Oh wait, that may be an unrelated issue.
I can’t help it, I’m a cynic. Did the whole religious upbringing in an extraordinarily Catholic family. Look up Irish Catholic and you could probably find a family portrait featuring yours truly and my few hundred relations. Seriously, we push maximum occupancy at Christmas what with roughly 90 or so people at our little holiday soiree.
So, religion. I’m afraid that I am an unrelenting skeptic without any reverence for God Almighty, at least in the myriad ways he exists to the various religions of the world. The closest thing I’ve come to accepting since my personal fall from grace is a type of paganism, but even that I must modify and simplify. I just can’t bow down and believe in the big man upstairs and all his omniscience and omnipotence. If I did, I’d probably still be vilifying his divine self for all the many evils of the world, and in particular what my brothers go through every day. I’m a forgiving sort, but if there is a god who is omnipotent, he can rot in hell because the bastard made my brothers and others like them suffer.
But I don’t believe that there is a personified omnipotent being up in the stratosphere who showers us all with his fatherly affections. Christianity just didn’t cut it for my mind. I have no problem with Christians, or Muslims or Jews or Buddhists or Rastafarians, mind you, people can believe whatever they want and I will not ask someone to change their way of thinking. Okay that’s a downright lie. Because there are people who I think should change their way of thinking and they fall under the fun little category of evangelists, proselytizers, missionaries, etc. It’s always been my motto to respect other people’s rights to their own belief, and these self-righteous think-they-know-it-alls just trample on that day by day. Look at Al Queda, look at the Spanish Inquisition, look at that sick fuck who was behind the proposed Q’uran burning in Florida.
So now you’ve got a grasp on my problem with organized religion, or at least one facet of my problem, I shall get to the point. I know, I know, a point Shannon? You haven’t had one of those in a while. Sure you’re up for it? Maybe you should take another few weeks off without blogging, you lazy fuck.
Shut up voices.
Now see, that look you are giving me via your computer screen right now? THAT’S the look.
But I digress. Last Sunday, I found myself covering an event on campus called GospelFest for the paper. Now, considering my aversion to organized religion and preaching, you’re probably surprised I volunteered to review such an event. Fact is, I like gospel music. It’s fun, a lot more fun than gregorian chants and endless Baroque pieces in simpering latin. (I sang a lot of Latin in high school, back in the ole plaid skirt days.) So off I went to GospelFest.
The music was great, the kids who did some urban praise dancing were awesome–I love dancing, having no talent for it myself I find myself constantly amazed by those who do–and the whole service was run by a charismatic and comically stereotypical MC. Yes, friends I am on dangerous grounds, but sometimes stereotypes are actually adhered to. The Pastor who led the ceremony was a loud, large African American man from Chicago, who had a booming voice and tone that you would expect to see on some revivalist televangelist show. That’s not to say he wasn’t a great speaker, he was, and the list of his achievements was impressive. But his constant calls to get on our feet and feel the spirit, the spittle flying from his mouth as he raised his palms and asked us to praise the Lord, these things didn’t move me.
When I witness a performance like his, I view it as just that: a performance. I cannot see someone summoning up that kind of zeal, zest, and genuine inspiration just because they are scheduled to. I think of religion as something that should be felt as truth, it should never be even a tiniest bit forced or false. And to see someone doing a choreographed encouragement that audience feel what they ask feels manipulative. Feeling and emotion are the easiest ways to manipulate a person and I feel that a lot of religious folk use this to their advantage. Guilt, fear, a need to belong, love, inclusion, exclusion, righteousness–these are all feelings that religious groups use for proselytizing. Call me naive, but if what you believe is true, than you shouldn’t have to use charisma and emotion to get your point across. Sincerity and plain speech should do the same. When I see religious types employing the fire-and-brimstone, hallelujah and praise the lord type of emotionally driven speaking tactics, I question whether they believe or whether they want to be believed. And so I am a cynic.
So yeah, I see a man who teaches Sunday school, directs choirs for urban kids to keep them off the streets, and is a pillar of his religious community and all I can see is possible deception and, as Salinger would say, a phony. I take a preacher and construe him as possible manipulator. I fear that which I cannot understand and doesn’t that make me a hypocrite? Maybe this skepticism means that I cannot be deceived, maybe it means that I am an independent thinker who will not be manipulated. Or maybe I really am going to hell.

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The American Idol Experience

Being the facebook junkie that I am, I recently noticed a friend of mine had passed through the first round of American Idol auditions. Hey, what’s in the feed is fair game! After wishing my friend good luck with the next round, I found myself reminiscing about my own American Idol experience. No, my friends, you will not be seeing me rocking out in Hollywood anytime soon, but I did come away with some rock-and-roll battle scars.
Most people don’t understand how American Idol auditions work. I sure didn’t have a clue what I was getting into when I registered at the United Center in Chicago last summer. Like all other tv shows, AI goes through many stages before you get to see the audition reel.
For those wanting to audition, here’s what happens: After hunting down the locale, you need to go in a day or so before the actual cattle call style audition and fill out the appropriate paperwork. Being a newbie to the whole AI gig, I went the day before, around noon. I was shocked to see no one milling around the parking lot, just a few bored looking employees passing out the registration forms and bracelets. One such bored employee gave me my ticket for a seat in the stadium and bade me come back tomorrow. The gates would open around 7, but you could come sit in the parking lot at 5am.
Taking the parking lot opening time as a hint, I and my oh-so-amazingly-patient friend Liz parked our butts on the asphalt at 5am the next morning, amidst a throng of various people vying for attention from the cameramen who occasionally swept the area. Since we had a few hours, we contented ourselves with our packed breakfasts and people-watching.
Something about competition and the glittering oasis of fame-mirage though it may be– turns what would be normal, sane people into idiots and complete fruitcakes. There were people there who, like me, were obviously there because they actually have experience and some degree of talent in the musical arena, and they dressed and behaved accordingly. There were the obviously delusional, who tended more towards the aggressive side, mauling people who got between them and the camera. And then there were the Camera Ticks. These were people who suffered no delusions, who knew they weren’t going to be kicking out footlights on stage at any point in their lives, but still wanted their fifteen seconds of fame. They were painfully easy to find. For instance, we saw “The Bride of Simon” who dressed in a wedding gown wearing a sign with her proposal to our friendly neighborhood Brit, “The Hotdog Man”, Santa, one of the Bananas in Pajamas who apparently had taken a solo career, and other such characters. At first, it’s funny, but as the hours pass and your sanity thins, and you realize that idiots like these are the reason the goddamn wait is so long, you start picturing the various misfortunes that could befall the Camera Ticks.
And the hours do get long. At seven, we poor, gullible Idol hopefuls are herding en masse inside United Center. Being towards the front of the crowd I thought, oh hey! I may actually not have to wait so long! This isn’t so bad! Beginners mistake, grasshopper.
Contrary to what the bored employee had told me the day before, our ticket numbers were not simply to insure entrance into the ninth gate of hell–I’m sorry, the United Center–They were actual seat numbers. Turns out, the day to wait in line at five in the morning is the first day of registration. But no one tells you that. So, with our enthusiasm only slightly dampened, Liz and I head up to the third floor of the United Center. Once the victims–ahem, hopefuls–have all filed in, the world’s most obnoxious man with a megaphone explains how this is all going to work. But first, he explains, and although I can’t see his face from way the hell up in the stadium I can hear the evil grin in his voice, we must all sing the group song.
I used to like Katy Perry’s “Hot n’ Cold”, it’s a fun song. However, after two hours of singing that damn tune with 12,000 other people, the majority of which have no place near a musical competition, I want kill Mr. Megaphone next time he instructs our section to smile for the camera. Finally, the song that never ends ended, and the first section got in line to sing their little hearts out. Now, at these first auditions, you do not sing for Paula, Randy and Simon–yes I know two are gone now, but they weren’t when I auditioned–you sing for two local judges. There are twelve booths on the floor of the United Center, with two judges a piece. Four people at a time go to each booth, stand in a line and sing for 30 seconds by turn. The judges confer, and then keep who they want and send the rejected out the door. They did this by sections, starting with section one on the first floor. I was in section nine on the third floor.
From our eagle-eye vantage point, the other inmates and I could see who came away from the judges with a gold ticket and who didn’t. They were pretty generous with that first floor. By the second, they’d gotten stingy. By the third, they were just as sick of auditions as we were. I got my chance around 6:30pm. During this wait time, we were told we could wander about on our floors, so long as we did not leave our floor. There were a few vendors selling hotdogs and pretzels, thank the lord, but little else to distract us. On the third floor, there were about two thousand other hopefuls, and most of them were trying to out sing each other.
I mentioned before that there were the “real” singers, and the delusional, right? There’s also an in-between group who I’ve dubbed the choir boys. Not limited to just males, the choir boys think that because they can carry a tune, they have a divine right to be a rock star, and heaven help you if you do not bow down to their talent. To prove their superiority, they had little sing-offs the whole eight hours between our release from group sing to when I got the hell out of dodge. They knew we weren’t seeing the judges any time soon, they knew everyone there couldn’t care less about their song choices, but they wanted everyone to admire and fear them. The choir boys, as well as many of the real singers, had engaged in psychological warfare.
They gathered as many to them as possible and sang like they were being judged–which they were. The purpose? To psych themselves up, and others out. So many people were singing and playing, I was thankful to be on vicodin. (I had my wisdom teeth out two days before) My sole comfort is that I ran into my ex and his new girl, and she was one of these psychological warfare believers. Only, it doesn’t really work if you suck. Hey now, I never claimed to be a nice person!
After twelve and half hours of “Hot n’ Cold” and every other song and shenanigan known to man and watching those gold tickets become endangered, my section was finally called to go audition. Liz wished me luck and off I went. I had chosen a country song by Sugarland called “Stay.” Beautiful song, I hadn’t heard anyone else sing it all day. Until the girl in front of me sang it. I felt like smacking myself in the head like one of those V8 commercials. I got up, sang, and when they turned away my whole group of four, I practically thanked them I was so grateful to just get out of there! When me and Liz finally made it outside again, it was 7pm. Thirteen hours, my friends. I saw a lot of people trowing tantrums outside the United Center, and a lot of cameramen eager to catch the juicy meltdown. Me? I took a nap on a bench until my ride arrived. While a lot of this pissed me off to no end, very little of it was AI’s fault. I mean, they can;t help that the music business is full of divas and drama, or that so many wanted to audition. What really chafes my ass is that I’ve watched this show. I’ve seen them put the awful people in costumes on for a laugh. Or worse, I’ve seen them take someone with some obvious mental issues, exploit their delusions up until they actually get to Simon, Randy and Paula, and then rip them apart in front of millions of viewers. That’s just sick. There are three rounds before seeing the actual judges. That kind of thing is no oversight, it is a purposeful, cruel prank to pull for viewers. Not mention, for every idiot they put up there, another person with real talent doesn’t get their shot. So, for those of you reading this who thought, “well maybe I could just try for it. It’s a long shot but it could be fun” I hate to quash your dreams, but stop right there. It’s not fun, I’m afraid, and unless you have real experience, a killer voice–and I don’t mean grandma told you you sing so lovely in the church choir– and a seriously high tolerance for idiots, don’t bother. You’re clogging up the system, and it’s not worth it. As for my friend who made it? I’ve heard her sing, she’s great. I hope she makes it. After all, the torture session is over.

Though The Great Song Return No More

That’s right folks, I’m whipping out Yeats for you. One of my favorite poets–The Stolen Child being my favorite poem– although the world sees little like his poetry today. This particular line, from The Nineteenth Century and After, really resonated with the lyricist in me.

What has happened to songs these days? Why are the chart toppers endless repetitions of vulgarities instead of the music and poetry coupling that a song should be? Example: Number one of the top forty? “Rude Boy” by Rihanna. Most repeated phrase in this “song”? “Come here rude boy, boy can you get it up?/Come here rude boy, boy is you big enough?” I’d weep, but weeping belongs to better spoken days. Honestly, most of this supposed “song”, and yes it is necessary that I put it in quotations, consists of “can you get it up” and “I like it when you…” And of course, there is the requisite number of “babys” and “Love mes”. Come on people, put some imagination in it! Just because you’ve decided to objectify yourself doesn’t mean you can’t do it creatively. It took one man to come up with “the beast with two backs” surely the rather pathetically high number of people writing “Rude Boy” could have come up with something remotely resembling art.

It’s not as if all lyric poetry died with Shakespeare, Sappho, Yeats and so many others. Warren Zevon was writing truly astounding and provocative lyrics up until his untimely death in 2001. And for those of you who think my objections to “Rude Boy” lie along the lines of prudery, I suggest you take a look at Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” or “Excitable Boy”. Just an iota of thought into song lyrics, that’s all I ask.

It pains me as a writer–amateur yes, but I still think even my lyrics would shame the writers of “Rude Boy” and “Soldier Boy”, if they had any shame–to watch songs like these become hits. I mean, the music is hardly anything above mediocre and unremarkable. It’s mostly some techno crap with a heavy base, and the vocals are almost spoken words. Rihanna has a voice, but any hack who hasn’t undergone a tracheotomy ¬†could ‘sing’ that song.

And sure, fine, sex sells, but again can you say something? I can hear people having sex and talking dirty any given day in the dorm where I live. (Walls are thin, people.) If I switch on the radio, I want to hear music, I want to hear something my next door neighbor isn’t capable of creating. That’s why we pay entertainers the big bucks. Say something about sex that’s new, or at least different, if that’s really all your tiny brain can think to write about.

Maybe you can tell, but I have a rather strong dislike of rap and R&B music. Most lyrics seem to just blend together after a while, those that I can understand. Why do the lyrics blend together? See above rant. It applies to most of the music I hear from these genres.

Why aren’t songs like Miranda Lambert’s “House That Built Me” or any one of Regina Spektor’s songs at the top of this top 100 list? (Lambert’s is 71.) I’m starting to think it’s the banality of our culture. No one wants to think anymore, no one¬†wants to interpret. People are bored by poetry. People are bored by thought. Well, folks, poetry and music are what separates us from the rest of the beasties. You want to hand in your humanity? Fine. I can think of some monkeys that, given typewriters, could make better use of it.