Call for Music Writers... Rock, Indie, Urban, Electronic, Americana, Metal, World and More

 
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Sunday, Nov 29, 2009

How many times in your life have you have loathed that one guy just because you “knew” he was an utter tool (not like you ever bothered to actually get to know him)?  “Chump” is all about that sort of knee-jerk irrational prejudice. Backed by a distorted ringing guitar that recalls 1980s underground rockers Hüsker Dü (one of Green Day’s biggest acknowledged influences), Billie Joe Armstrong kicks off the third track on Dookie by sneering “I don’t know you but I think I hate you” and going on from there.


In the song, Armstrong takes the perspective of someone who knows he utterly hates another person before he has even met them.  The character’s disdain towards the subject of his woe is the sort of all-consuming preoccupation that tends to inhabit adolescent lives, best evoked by the couplet “You’re the cloud hanging out over my head / Hail comes crashing down welting my face”.  Armstrong’s character is perfectly fine in laying blame for all his misery at the other person’s feet, but notes “It seems strange that you’ve become my biggest enemy / Even though I’ve never even seen your face”.  He’s quick with the insults (“Magic man, egocentric plastic man”) but short of actual reasons.  In fact, all he has is a series of “maybes” that he lists off in the chorus, describing the whole situation as “A circumstance that doesn’t make much sense”, finally conceding “maybe I’m just dumb”.  It’s the song’s final cry of “I’m a chump!” that reveals who’s really the jerk in this story.


“Chump” essentially ends at the 1:25 mark.  At that point, the band segues into a two-chord instrumental jam that lasts about a minute.  It’s rather simple: Armstrong bashes out a few chords over Mike Dirnt’s ambling bassline, progressively shortening the number of rests between beats until the music becomes a flurry of guitar strumming and drum rolls.  Let’s not forget that these guys are punk rockers; they know how to craft an engaging musical section with the barest essentials.  And sometimes just smashing the hell out of instruments in the right fashion is all that’s needed.  After the chaos subsides, a shuffling drumbeat emerges that leads into the next track and the first of Dookie’s many hit singles…


Tagged as: green day
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Nov 26, 2009

“Having a Blast” highlights one of the great fascinations that frequently captivates adolescents: the thrill of blowing things up.  Green Day lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong uses this as the basis for a revenge fantasy where a frustrated bomber plans to take everyone else out with him.  When Dookie was released in 1994, the song’s lyrics were mere cathartic fantasy, about as serious an issue as the pyromaniacal antics of the animated stars of Beavis & Butthead (that is, more idiotically dangerous than truly threatening).  In the intervening years, however, school violence involving troubled, alienated teenagers who have no qualms about unleashing retribution on their classmates has become a fixture of the news media.  In the light of tragedies like the murders at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999, “Having a Blast” has since become Dookie’s most uncomfortable track.


It’s important to note that in no way is the narrator of “Having a Blast” admirable; few characters on Dookie are.  The protagonist is extremely self-centered—with “explosives duct-taped to [his] spine”, he insists, “Nothing’s gonna change my mind”.  He says, “I won’t listen to anyone’s last words”, explaining in the chorus:


“Well no one here
Is getting out alive
This time I’ve really lost my mind and I don’t care
So close your eyes
And kiss yourself goodbye
And think about all the times you spent
And what they’ve meant
To me it’s nothing”


While he rationalizes his actions by stating “I’m taking it all out on you / And all the shit you put me through”, the song’s narrator is ultimately very selfish.  He doesn’t care about all the people he’s about to kill, and he won’t listen to anything else they have to say to try and save themselves.  Everything is “nothing” except the “loneliness” and “anger” that consume him.


As Armstrong sings, he utilizes palm-muted strumming during the verses, gradually building up intensity until he switches to regular strumming for a fuller sound.  This evokes the burgeoning tension of the protagonist, who’s literally ready to go off at any moment.  After the second chorus, the song forgoes repeating the verse chord progression a third time in lieu of an extended bridge section featuring several dramatic pauses to underscore Armstrong’s vocals.  Here, Armstrong employs a songwriting trick he will use throughout the album: introducing a twist into his lyrics to change the listener’s perception of the characters.  Armstrong poses a series of pointed questions, culminating in the clincher: “Do you ever build up all the small things in your head / To make one problem that adds up to nothing”, which insinuates that the song’s protagonist is making a big deal out of insignificant slights in life.  The protagonist of the song may want to “mow down any bullshit” that confronts him, but Armstrong concludes the track by questioning whether or not it’s anything actually worth blowing everything to hell over. 


By ending “Having a Blast” with the chorus refrain “To me it’s nothing”, Armstrong argues it isn’t.


Tagged as: green day
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Nov 24, 2009
The first in a 14-part series analyzing and showcasing the entirety of Green Day's 1994 pop-punk masterpiece Dookie.
dookie


All the recent name-checking of classic albums from 1994 on this blog got me thinking: wow, wasn’t that a great year for rock music?  Thinking about the Sound Affects posts on Blur and “Soundgarden” as I chowed down at a fast food joint, I instinctively rattled album titles off the top of my head: Definitely Maybe, The Downward Spiral, MTV Unplugged in New York, Vitalogy, and so on. After several titles ran through my brain, I couldn’t help but think I’d missed something blindingly obvious.


And then I remembered: well, of course Green Day’s Dookie was the best rock album of 1994.


Fifteen years ago, scores of critics admitted that yes, this 14-track album full of speedy pop punk tunes about panic attacks, boredom, and masturbation was quite catchy, but no one would’ve held it against them if they doubted that Dookie would have had staying power. It’s too unassuming, too fidgety, and too juvenile to fit the standard mold of a “Classic Rock Album”. But then again, rock started simply as good-time music for teenagers to lose themselves in, not to incite pop culture critics to stroke their beards in contemplation. Dookie was such a massive success (with ten million copies shipped in the United States alone since its release) because not only was it an unpretentious, remarkably consistent hit package with tons of great hooks, it was also fun as hell.


Which is not to sell Dookie short as an artistic achievement. In addition to being the Californian punk trio’s best album, it may also be its most culturally relevant. Sure, American Idiot (2004) captured the zeitgeist of discontent and uncertainty of those who felt weighed down by the Bush Jr. era and conveyed that sentiment through all the rock opera trappings listeners love to dissect for years on end, but Green Day’s major label debut is more universal and far more profound. It’s a record that speaks of the frustrations, anxieties, and apathy of young people (be they Generations X or Y) with an artistry and empathy few would have credited Green Day with possessing before it yielded its “Big Important Album” with American Idiot. At its core, Dookie is an album about coming to terms with one’s self and one’s failings in a manner that is not often triumphant or celebratory, but is nonetheless reaffirming to the underachievers of the world. Dookie is an album that says “Yeah, I’m a fuck-up” in a way that millions of people wish they could express themselves in, and that’s why it’s so great.


Tagged as: green day
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Nov 9, 2009
Mad love for Mariah Carey's artistry, exhibited through her "Fly Like a Bird" performance on American Idol.

Damn! Mariah is just all that. When watching Mariah perform “Fly Like a Bird” before this audience of idols, notice how much stronger her voice becomes once the choir comes out and pumps her up; she raises that hand up high, high, and higher, as if to say Amen! I love how Mariah doesn’t compete with her back-up singers, and can hold her own with that massive choir. Only Phil Spector has created a more comprehensive ‘wall of sound’, and yet this diva does it with her own musicality.


One should also note that Mariah not only hits those whistle tones, but also manages a lyric or two in that soaring tone. Divas like her need not state it, they just do it. The richness, of course, of Mariah’s voice is the range—her coloring of each note as she descends from high to low, a fluttering Mimi mimics with her fingers and open palm.


Watching Mariah perform is like a dyslexic’s wet dream: We see and hear in 3D, and Mariah is giving us mega-mega stimulation to all our senses. We can see the world she describes, while at the same time picture the lyrics written on the page, as she writes them and works with her pianist—Mariah notoriously cannot read the 2D representation of her music. At the same time, many dyslexics respond to the audio stimulation, how they, too, are rendered in 2D, but also sees the band, their fingers strumming or snapping, horns blowing, sticks striking, toes tapping, and symbols calling. One can even smell the sweetness of the flowers near the butterflies in all the imagery Mariah surrounds herself with, and feel the crispness of the air as the dove Mariah uses for her background in this performance soars, flying to the sky, praying only, that we know peace.


Will we recover
Will the world ever be
A place of peace and harmony
With no war and with
And no brutality
If we loved each other
We would find victory
But in this harsh reality
Sometimes I’m so despondent
That I feel the need to
Fly like a bird, take to the sky


Mariah imagines this world, and the music comes out. To many it sounds like sheer fantasy, since the presence of war, for the 2D seeing world, implies that war should be. The persistence of war convinces many that war is normal. Yet, the dyslexic who has honed in on their skill in seeing in 3D uses each and every sense to comprise this comprehensive vision of what is being presented, and therefore we can more easily see how things can also just be different. In popular culture, we can see 3D perception in The Matrix during that famous scene in the trilogy’s first installation where the actors are frozen in space, and the perspective shifts around—we find out later that several cameras and digital tricks produced these seamless images, but this is basically how many dyslexics perceive the world around them. We also witnessed this same skill in A Beautiful Mind, where John Nash, portrayed by Russell Crowe, can look at social situations and ‘see’ patterns. In the movie these patterns were cinematically drawn over the screen, but this is how people see in 3D.  The same was shown in X-Men: The Last Stand. The character Jean Grey’s alter ego Phoenix threatens Magneto with a gun that she takes apart, disassembling it into several pieces; the audience sees this in 3D, but this is how we normally see.


We also see 3D perception in the popular TV show Heroes, in which the character Sylar can take things apart and put them back together. He knows how things work. And that’s just it, dyslexics are often portrayed as mad. Only the astute dyslexic would have caught the reference to dyslexia in how Sylar’s nemesis, Peter Petrelli, was able to access that same ability through identifying with other people, but it is his father, Arthur Petrelli, who clarified that the skill was really based on empathy—knowing how people work by genuinely seeing another person’s perspective. Unlike all these fictional characters, we do not have to destroy others—like Sylar—in order to embrace their power. That’s 3D vision, for it is not just a way of seeing, but also a way of looking at things. In the real world, a famous dyslexic once penned:


Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace


Religion or not, it’s bossy how these talented people keep pressing for peace. It’s all that to just witness Mariah’s pleas, and uplifting to bear witness to her testimonial, and praise for living. In that way, it’s blues at its best. She doesn’t shy away from despondency, nor does she ail in calling out the war and inhumanity that others let slip by in our daily lives. She witnesses and testifies, and on that account she embraces her own strength and realigns that with her convictions. It’s just something real for a change, and it’s nice to share it in 3D.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Sep 2, 2009
Pontificating on the words behind the meaning behind such words as: "Now that it’s raining more than ever / Know that we’ll still have each other / You can stand under my umbrella, ella-ella-ay-ay-ay".

What happened to unconditional love? Or is it just regulated to Grandma, and her wonderful hands.  “Grandma’s Hands” was penned by Bill Withers in a ‘70s soul beat. And just like Prince singing “Adore”, or a million other balladeers crooning in their best falsetto, it’s catchy and captivating when men wear this sort of vulnerability. Yet, societies have even contended to cut off boys’ balls in order to maintain that pre-pubescent, innocent, unthreatening sound—the emasculated male is somehow so alluring.


Nonetheless, it’s all fantasy: We prefer our men so-called ‘real’. So we give all our stars a damn hard time for the ways in which they effeminate themselves just to maintain our titillation: the make-up, the feather-light hair, the hairless face, the fitted clothes, the glitter, the glam, and, of course, those high voices. We might call them “faggot” in public, then swoon and swing alongside their beats in private. Even as fans, we love conditionally.


Until the end of time
I’ll be there for you.
You are my heart and mind
I truly adore you.
If God one day struck me blind,
Your beauty I’d still see.
Love’s too weak to define
Just what you mean to me. 



“You gotta stand by your brother”, Erykah Badu croons in a soft, lofty voice in the live version of “Other Side of the Game”. “Work ain’t honest, but it pays the bills”, her talented back-up singers say. “Through whatever, whatever, whatever”, she says, and again members of the crowd slap their palms together while others shout and cheer.


An expectant Jennifer Hudson bouts out

An expectant Jennifer Hudson belts out “Will You Be
There” before a mourning crowd at Michael Jackson’s
Memorial in July 2009


“Carry me, like you were my brother / Love me like a mother”, Michael Jackson opens his song “Will You Be There”. And since his childhood, fans around the globe have watched this artist dance and sing on stage with his brothers, envisioning the unconditional love of family while singing about how unconditional his love was in songs like “I’ll Be There”.


“Just call my name…”. That’s the most that we could ask of anyone. Sadly, today’s divas and divos would rather just watch us pack, treating each other as if we’re simply replaceable. And despite all that we have, love cannot be bought at Ikea, nor is love found in the aisles of Walmart. In spite of their lifetime warranties, retailers LL Bean and Lands’ End don’t sell unconditional love.


I wanna be
More than your mother,
More than your brother;
I wanna be like no other
If you need me,
I’ll never leave.
I know that you know….
Be with me darlin’ till the end of time



Just like his own androgyny, Prince is notorious for exploring the fine division between the erotic and the platonic, the parental and the lustful. Furthermore, given his backdrop of gender-bending and unadulterated sexuality, Prince’s force is intense and unconditional. Again, it’s this unconditional love that makes His Royal Badness so fascinating to fans spanning a range of musical genres. “I wanna be your lover / I wanna turn you on, turn you out”, he chants over an earlier, funkier beat that he thankfully extends well beyond the dope lyrics and pop radio strip.


Then, of course, there’s Purple Rain. On screen, fans witness that the madness and fervor with which the artist approached love—the willingness to abandon all reason in tunes like “Darlin’ Nikki”—clearly stemming from the dysfunction at home.


His lack of fraternal love—fraternal disapproval and the maternal abandonment in tolerating the abuse—all lead the character portrayed in the film to supplant the erotic over and above all that he lacked. He was a man who would do anything for love, and it’s this illusion and allusion of success that draws women and men, the premise and promise of unconditional love. Yet, in spite of the fantasy, we’d all rather settle for so much less, like sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.


“Drugs / Rock-n-Roll / Bad-ass Vegas hoes / Shiny disco balls”. Ecstasy. Illusion and fantasy. The fantasy of unconditional love is all that it’s about, and any amount of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll can lead us there. Yet, like any cheap high, it’s unsustainable.


If I was your one and only friend,
Would you run to me if somebody hurt you,
Even if that somebody was me?
Sometimes I trip on how happy we could be


It is a trip. It’s a vacation from life to believe in unconditional love, yet abandon that promise as soon as anything real occurs. “Baby, baby, baby: What’s it gonna be”, Prince begs Apollonia (or wasn’t it Vanity?) on bended knee as she sits and sips with the next man. Just as soon as we promise love, we withdraw these pleas and lament over loss, which we seem to do as easily as we do the falling in love. It’s unrealistic and juvenile to believe in infallibility, for that is what makes us human. So, “let’s just pretend we’re married—tonight”.


And Michael McDonald bridged:


I know you’re not mine
Anymore
Anyway
Anytime.
Tell me how come I
Keep forgetin’



People lie, cheat, and steal. And all this stems from the abandonment we’ve felt at home, often in spaces were there is lovelessness, even with an abundance of care. Indeed, few heal from those scars, yet pretty much all are involved. Like “Thriller”, where each and everyone crawled out of tombs and graves, mortified and decrepit—we are all perishable. Yet, even in Michael’s fantasies, we don’t all remain that way. “Heal the World”, the Jackson family has inevitably advocated in their music, from the Jacksons and “Can You Feel It” to Janet’s “Rhythm Nation” among several other tunes, to most of what Michael Jackson had to say in his music.


Hold me
Like the River Jordan
And I will then say to thee:
You are my friend. 



You are my friend? “I’ve been looking around / And you were here all the time”. So the message seems to be, “through whatever, whatever, whatever”, if we genuinely know how to cherish those around us, we’ve probably known unconditional love all the time. “You are my friend / I never knew it till then, my friend / You hold my hand / You might not say a word / But I see your tears when I show my pain”, Patti drones in that other-side-of-the-‘80s soul beat. Now, there’s the unconditional love that recognizes friendship through each other’s humanity and occasional fallibility.


But they told me:
‘A Man should be faithful,
And walk when not able,
And fight to the end’
But I’m only human



Love, it seems, is only as conditional as our wiliness to heal. Recognizing that, as REM says, “Everybody Hurts”, then will we be there when our lovers, friends, parents, neighbors show out? Will we be there, as Michael suggests, in our darkest hours? Or are we just fair-weather friends? The weatherman can’t predict those conditions with any real accuracy. And Rhianna said: “You can stand under my umbrella, ella-ella-ay-ay-ay / Under my umbrella, ella-ella-ay-ay-ay. (BTW, that’s just the catchy part of the chorus, the song’s actual verses are significantly more instructive).


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.