The best satire makes you laugh at a serious issue and then you quickly realize that it’s absolutely no laughing matter.
From 1984’s comedy classic, Ghostbusters (my emphasis added in bold in the last line of dialogue):
Peter Venkman: Well, you can believe Mr. Pecker…
Walter Peck: My name is “Peck.”
Venkman: Or you could accept the fact that this city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, “biblical”?
Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff!
Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes!
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Venkman: Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!
That the idea of cats and dogs living together in peace should be included in a list of biblical-scale events works as the punchline of this joke, because it’s so tame compared to the other items listed. And yet, it speaks to the endurance of the stereotype that cats and dogs are natural enemies.
Meanwhile, anyone who spends nearly any amount of time on the interwebs or watches any number of home video TV shows is familiar with the near-ubiquitous photos and videos featuring animals from different species — in some cases species known to have a predator-prey relationship in the wild, or would likely be enemies if they shared the same habitat — interacting playfully, or even, though some might call it anthropomorphizing, lovingly.
I have to admit, while I’m a true lover of animals, I’m not someone who goes all gushy over them, regularly browsing cute animal photos and videos on the web, using puppy or kitten photos as the desktop background on my computer, etc.
And yet, the videos that feature friendly interspecies interactions do grab my attention and move something deep inside me, and I suspect the same thing happens for millions of people, even, perhaps, some hardcore cynics. I’m sure there are some who would rather suggest that these are nothing more than the result of artificial domestication, but I suspect that this is a slim minority, judging by how often these videos go viral.
Given that we live in a world perpetually wrought with human conflict, often horrific and deadly human conflict, it’s easy to despair, to conclude that there will never be lasting peace.
Under these conditions, how can we not be moved when we see a cat and a dog peacefully snuggled together, as in the above photo, or, let’s say, a tiger and a piglet doing the same? And even if the two species interacting aren’t known or likely enemies, many of the pairings appear surprising and unlikely and serve as powerful symbols of harmony and hope in the face of differences.
Given that we live in a world perpetually wrought with human conflict, we are drawn to, and I’d even say we need, these images of animal harmony and hope, to keep us from despair. In fact, our biochemistry helps us benefit from these images. Human brains produce a hormone called oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”, because it’s released when we experience love and joy, and it’s been proven that we produce oxytocin when we observe baby humans and cute animals.
I could go on and on with this topic, perhaps by bringing the spiritual component to the topic, for instance how Buddhism, which I dabble with, teaches the value of cultivating harmony with all living things, but I think you get the point.
So, even if you think these interspecies friendship videos are a bit cheeseball, try to let go of your initial resistance, allow yourself to notice the sweetness, to consider the far-reaching implications of the fact that our brains allow us to experience feelings akin to love when we see such sweetness, try to extrapolate how this sweetness could possibly melt away human-to-human and human-to-animal conflicts.
Start now, watch this brief yet powerful video of a monkey affectionately interacting with a litter of puppies, notice how gentle the monkey is with these fragile, practically newborn pups, notice the monkey’s fingers lightly stroking the puppies, truly caring regardless of the fact that these creatures must seem incredibly different and strange.
I’ve got a real treat for this week’s Video Fridays installment!
An Irish singer-songwriter I’m fond of, and who I’ve written about here before, Glen Hansard, tweeted this clip today of his fellow Irishman singer-songwriter, Van Morrison, performing his song Cyprus Avenue, from an amazing 1973 concert, and it is SO great on a number of levels.
First of all, there are singer-songwriters, lead vocalists, even frontmen/women, but not all of these are also bandleaders. And, if you’ve ever read up on Van Morrison you’d know that he was extremely picky about the musicians who played with him, selecting the cream of the crop, demanding that they follow his direction exactly as he wished them too.
This leadership is abundantly clear throughout this performance. You can see how the band, the incredible Caledonia Soul Orchestra, keep their eyes fixed on Van, stopping and turning and blasting out in response to a wide variety of hand and body gestures. As a musician, myself, I can attest that this is an extraordinary thing, it requires deep immersion in the music, deep listening, deep concentration, and, paradoxically, for the music to be good and enjoyable, this has to be done without sounding like any deep concentration is involved at all, so that the music feels natural and flows as if it was effortless, as is absolutely the case here.
Second, the musicians here are remarkable for another reason. This is a HUGE band, with a rhythm section, lead guitar, horns, keyboards, and a 4-piece string section, and yet there is a wonderful spaciousness to the music, the players don’t showboat and step on each others’ toes, they are, indeed, a true orchestra rather than a cacophonous wall of sound.
Third, there’s this sweet thing that happens at around the 3:30 mark, when a little girl appears on the stage, it seems from the smiles of Terry Adams, the cello player, that this might be her daughter, and the little girl stands calmly by Van Morrison’s side, in front of all those people in the audience, just hanging out, the cameras move away, capturing the rest of the band for a full minute and a half, and when it returns to focus on Van, you can see that the little girl is still there by his side, you see him look down at her and smile, smiles being a rare thing for Van Morrison, as he lets out a drag he’s taken from his cigarette, until, at one point, he leans over to say something to the girl, who now has a tambourine in her hand, and the girl starts walking away off stage, with the tambourine, all along with the song continuing, and Van starts to follow the girl, as if he intended to leave the stage in the middle of the tune, only to turn around abruptly and finish it out with an extended improvisational series of fits and starts.
Anyway, ’nuff said. It’s pure awesomeness.
Enjoy, and Happy Weekend everyone!
Back in March 2011, I posted a video clip from the legendary 1968 Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus film, not a clip of the Stones themselves, but of The Who, performing their song A Quick One (While He’s Away).
Legend has it that the film was intended to be aired on BBC television, but that the Rolling Stones refused to let it air because The Who upstaged them with their amazing performance. (Another, more realistic, version of the story is that the Stones were unhappy with their performance due to the fact that massive delays during the filming resulted in their not playing until 5:00am, after having been up all night assisting in the production of the other performances, and indeed their exhaustion shows in the film, which was finally released in 1996.)
Anyway, my March 2011 post described this version of The Who’s A Quick One as quite possibly the greatest live Rock&Roll performance ever, and I’m still prepared to stand by that assertion.
Given that high praise, you can imagine my skepticism when I saw a tweet on Twitter today from Pearl Jam, which included a link to a YouTube video of their frontman, Eddie Vedder, performing A Quick One with My Morning Jacket, from a 2006 concert.
As it turns out, though, it’s a great, great rendition of a song that I didn’t think anyone could pull off.
That said, it is absolutely stunning to consider this: Whereas My Morning Jacket employs two electric guitars, bass, keyboards and drums to recreate this classic song, The Who made it a classic using only one guitar, one bass, and one drummer.
Judge for yourself, if you will. Here’s the tweet, the Vedder & My Morning Jacket performance, and finally The Who.
There’s even an entire website dedicated to this new form of journalism.
I feel so old. I mean, I remember when moviegoers ALWAYS referred to trailers as “previews”, and I never accepted the reason why the term “trailer” is even used anymore.
After all, the suffix “pre-” suggests something that comes before something else, which has two meanings in this case: 1. previews come out before the actual movie comes to theaters; 2. in the theaters, previews come before the feature presentation.
“Trailer”, on the other hand, refers to something that trails behind, that comes after something.
The fact that, historically, previews were shown after the feature presentation — which in the case of the popular serial films of the time made a lot of sense, since you wouldn’t want to watch the preview for the sequel before watching the prequel — doesn’t make up for the fact that any reasonable person would agree that the name should have been changed to “preview” once they no longer were shown after the feature.
Even the Motion Picture Association of America uses the term “preview” in something that appears at the beginning of every so-called trailer:
ANYWAY, ironically perhaps, I’m not actually working toward an outright condemnation of movie trailer reviews. On the contrary, I’m working toward recommending the reading of one such review, one of the funniest reviews I’ve ever read.
Here’s a snippet, from The Guardian:
Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation trailer review – dangles with Cruise
In a year packed to the gills with returning heroes like Star Wars and Jurassic Park and the Avengers, it’s easy to overlook something like Mission: Impossible 5. And that’s perfectly understandable, because what are the Mission: Impossible films if not incredibly expensive excuses for Tom Cruise to dangle off stuff? And, in all honesty, if you’ve seen Tom Cruise dangle from one thing, you’ve pretty much seen him dangle from everything.
That said, yesterday’s teaser for Mission: Impossible 5 – now titled Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation, presumably because Mission: Impossible: Attack: Of: The: Overzealous: Colons was too unwieldy – had all the makings of Tom Cruise’s dangliest adventure yet…
If only they gave out Oscars for dangling, Tom Cruise would cinch it. Incidentally, this is the moment that I decided not to go and see Mission: Impossible 5 until the whole thing is reedited to be one continuous shot of Tom Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane while it flies all the way to, say, Berlin or something. I cannot be alone in wanting this. Someone should start a petition.
There’s plenty more where that came from, so please do check it out and enjoy some hearty chuckles.
In the meantime, here’s the Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation PREVIEW:
It’s been ages since I posted an Eyecatchers installment featuring a street artist (some past examples: BLU, Sam3, JR), but, thanks to Colossal, my eyes were decidedly caught this morning by the work of Seth Globepainter (aka Julien “Seth” Malland).
Seth has traveled extensively, meeting other street artists, observing their work, and cultivating his own style. The pieces seen here are from a stunning series of murals with a theme running through them, depicting children (and in one case a mother of an infant child) either gazing at or plunging their faces into rainbows or rainbow like concentric circles of color.
Seth’s human subjects are rendered so beautifully, and there’s a lovely, loving, gentle sensitivity about them. Their gazes seem to represent how the power of a child’s sense of curiosity, wonder, and imagination enables them to see beyond the mundanity of daily life.
The figures do not seem to be in any immediate danger or distress, which is something that, I think, distinguishes the works from those of other street artists. While it might seem a more fitting approach for urban art to depict children as products of a harsh environment, in soiled, ragged clothes, surrounded by signs of neglect or threat, it could also be considered obvious or redundant, since the urban setting surrounding the murals already provides that context. Or, it may be the case that Seth’s work isn’t intended as a statement about urban decay.
Anyway, you be the judge as you check out the following photos of his work.
Two weeks ago tonight, while I was in Los Angeles for my mini-vacation, I had the great pleasure to see a music performance that both totally satisfied and baffled at the same time.
Rhett Miller is the frontman and primary songwriter for a band I love a lot, Old 97’s, and he appeared at Largo, a very intimate space, for a show he called Wheels Off: The Rhett Miller Show, described thusly:
Modeled after an old-school variety show, Wheels Off will feature music, comedy, a little bit of discussion, and maybe even a skit here and there.
Rhett started off playing a handful of solo-acoustic songs, a fiddler joined him for a few songs, a comedian did a brief set, Rhett and the fiddler did a few more songs, Rhett and some gal did a humorous skit based off Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip, with Rhett as Charlie Brown and the gal as Lucy, Rhett returned by himself for a few songs, the bass player from Old 97’s, Murry Hammond, joined him for a handful of songs, and finally they were both joined by the fiddler and Largo fixture, songwriter and film score composer Jon Brion.
So, like I said, the show was totally satisfying, but the baffling part can be summed up by what my friend said to me when the lights came up for intermission:
How the HELL is this guy not HUGE?!!
It’s a valid question.
On paper, Rhett Miller seems to have it all. He’s a natural frontman, a highly charismatic, likeable entertainer; he’s got killer, youthful good looks; he’s a rock-solid rhythm guitarist; his voice is strong, with good range; he can summon quintessential Rock&Roll snarls, shouts, and screams; his lyrics are loaded with witty wordplay and vivid visuals, with themes running the Rock&Roll gamut, from sweet and romantic to rowdy and raunchy.
Oh, and he’s constantly writing new music and touring! Old 97’s have released 10 full-length LPs since their debut in 1994, and Rhett has four solo albums under his belt.
The only explanation I can come up with for why Rhett and Old 97’s are not HUGELY successful is a sad one that impacts me personally.
Straightforward, guitar-centric, American roots-based Rock&Roll, I’m afraid, is in a coma. I’m not prepared to declare it dead, because there’s no telling whether or not there will be any significant renaissance in the future, but right now Pop and Hip-Hop rule, and right here in Bellingham, Washington the most popular genres in the bars and other music venues are Funk, Classic Rock, and acoustic Americana.
The band in which I play rhythm guitar and sing lead vocals has a hard time getting gigs, because we play straightforward, guitar-centric, American roots-based Rock&Roll covers, and we intentionally do NOT play radio hits. It’s a matter of principles. Many of the bands we cover can be heard on the radio, but I, personally, can’t bear to listen to Classic Rock radio, where the same hits are played over and over and over again. You’d never know that these bands put out albums with 10-12 songs on them!
I hear over and over again that bar patrons like bands to play songs that they know well and can sing along with, but I don’t want to be a human jukebox! Why pay me and my band to play when you could just turn on the radio or play a Pandora station? What happened to going out to see music performed that you may have never heard before?!
Anyway, fortunately, Rhett and Old 97’s have a devoted cult following, I proudly count myself among their numbers, and I’ll wrap things up here singing their praises and presenting two clips for this week’s Video Fridays installment. The first has Rhett performing a solo-acoustic version of a song, Out of Love, from his 2012 album The Dreamer, and the second features Old 97’s playing a song that my band covers, Barrier Reef, from their 1997 album, Too Far To Care.
Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!
No, the photo you see here is NOT that of a rejected Muppet design for a skit about an alien from outer space. (Clicking on the photo to enlarge is a MUST!)
Yes, it’s a real spider, but this creature might as well be a Muppet, considering the nickname researchers have given to this particular species: Sparklemuffin.
Yes, Sparklemuffin. Who says scientists can’t have fun?!
Many male animals, birds especially, use bright colors and elaborate behaviors to attract females, and the Peacock Spider is no exception. Therefore, the spider’s gaudy, pimped-out appearance only tells half the story, and you absolutely MUST see this arachnid in action.
The first video is a short snippet set to music, and the second contains more footage as well as some great info on the spiders.
I came across an article at Wired.com today that touches on something I’ve thought about a LOT!
Since I am a musician and play in a Rock&Roll band, since I play a guitar specifically, THE iconic instrument of Rock&Roll, the instrument most commonly used to write Rock&Roll songs, I am often asked whether or not I write original songs.
And, for years, I’ve had a pat answer that includes these points:
- No, I do not write original songs.
- Yes, I’ve tried, but the world is better off without the songs I’ve written.
- There are only so many notes and combinations of notes, only so many chords and combinations of chords, only so many words and combinations of words, it’s all been done.
Back to that Wired.com article, the author starts off referencing a couple of recent high-profile cases, and one legendary case, of alleged songwriting plagiarism, and he posits essentially what I stated in my third bullet above, that, mathematically speaking, with only 12 notes in the Western chromatic scale (he actually uses the figure of seven notes, omitting the sharps and flats), there are only so many combinations you can make of these notes, therefore only so many songs that can be written, and so plagiarism is unavoidable, regardless of intention.
It doesn’t take long, reading the Wired piece, to conclude, thanks in part to the author’s clear and oft-stated admission, that he doesn’t know much about music theory.
Additionally, about halfway through reading, I was reminded of an axiom of my own invention, which states that over-analyzing art kills it. (I also argue that it induces pain in puppies and kittens, but some disagree with me on that point.)
And yet, I believe he makes a valid point.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve heard thousands and thousands of songs over my 50 years, and I’ve learned to play some thousands of these thousands on the guitar. As a result, I’ve learned a lot about how songs are constructed, and one thing that jumps out at even a novice guitar player is that many, many, many songs share the same or similar chord progressions.
My attempts at writing an original song, then, go something like this:
Ok, let’s start by strumming this G chord, la-la-la, nice…
This feels good! La-la-la…
Now, let’s move to a C chord…yeah…I like that! La-la-la…
Hmmmmm, where to next? La-la-la…
Let’s go to D…um…wait a minute!…
Shit! That’s a Beatles song!
In music-theory-speak, this chord progression is referred to as I-IV-V. The song is in the key of G, because it starts there (I), then it goes to C, which is the fourth (IV) note in a G Major scale, and then it goes to D, which is the fifth (V) note in the scale.
HUNDREDS of songs have been written using the I-IV-V progression, and thousands more have used the same exact chords, just in a different order. (Check out this great article at Gibson.com, titled I-IV-V: The Little Chord Progression That Could, where they break down just 10 well-known songs using I-IV-V.)
Now, put these chords in a different order and add a minor chord — I-V-vi-IV — and the list of popular songs using the progression is staggering. (See many of these songs put together in a briliant medley in the video below.)
This is why I don’t write original songs, and why anyone who does earns my deep, deep respect. Because, they’ve heard the same thousands of songs that I have, and yet they conclude they’re capable of writing something that no else ever has.
That is awesome.