Forgive my blue humor, Diane. What we have this morning is a link to a blog called Witchpolice, which has very kindly re-hosted and re-posted my Sizzla remix album, and interviewed me about the thing to boot. I suppose it’s pretty masturbatory for me to prattle on so much about my own project, and doubly so to link from my blog to theirs – but anyway, it was really nice of them to do this, and they asked a lot of good questions. Stand-up guys, good blog, check it out.
We Are the World 25 For Haiti: An analysis as long as that crappy title and the actual crappy song, tooFebruary 15, 2010
It’s hard to be cynical about relief efforts and treacly but well-intentioned songs released to raise both awareness and funds. Hard, but definitely in my wheelhouse. Before we launch into the cynicism, I’m just going to say: give to Haiti – seriously, they need it.
There. Now you don’t need to hear “We Are the World 25 For Haiti.”
But if you’re full of morbid curiosity like me, and want the rest of this post to make sense – or perhaps if you’re that rare connoisseur of anything truly ghastly and soul-devouringly horrible – you’ll listen anyway:
Here’s my blow-by-blow, suck-by-suck breakdown.
0:00. “Hi, I’m Jamie Foxx.” That’s right, folks – you have no excuse for not closing your internet browser and walking away right now. This isn’t a bait-and-switch. They’re telling you right up front what you can expect. And it sucks.
0:26. He just promised a “dazzling array” of artists. I anticipate the same dazzle I get from the fried appetizer platter at your neighborhood shitty pub: superficial promise (chicken fingers AND mozz sticks? get out!) followed by grease-soaked regret and ominous rumblings from the stomach of all who partook. And even the parts you liked will be overwhelmed by the terrible ranch dip and the nachos that sat until the chips turned soggy.
1:07. It’s too early for this to suck so hard. No one’s even singing yet!
1:30. The vocals are introduced by four year old Canadian gaywad Justin Bieber and Autotune. This is akin to kicking off your presidency with a promise to rid the world of evil doers – nothing good can follow.
1:43. Oh check it out, talent.
1:58. Oh check it out, the second coming of Rick Astley.
2:03. When grandpa starts singing, you know it’s time to wrap up the leftover turkey and hide the rest of that case of Coors. The holiday and the fun are over.
2:22. Ahhh! The introduction of the ghost of Michael Jackson may be tasteless, but it scared me more than “The Wolf Man” and almost as much as Benicio Del Toro’s weird-looking face. And who says he can’t play Anthony Hopkins’s son? …Sorry, this song is already boring the shit out of me.
2:34. Easily the song’s highlight. Babs takes it to the mat here – she said, “I am going to pin this fucking song! I OWN THIS RING!” And who was gonna argue? Nobody, that’s who. The emotive speak-sing of the word “day” is the jump-off-the-turnbuckle that iced this baby.
2:52. Who just sang the ghost backing vocal for Miley? I didn’t see anyone. I’m kinda spooked. MJ, was that you..?
2:56. I don’t care if you do cry – I’m still taking your lunch money, weiner boy.
3:10. Jamie Foxx: actually decent. Huh.
3:14. What the..? Holy crap! I think Wyclef mistakenly thought he was booked to do a duet with Capleton today. Without question, different music is playing in his headphones than what everybody else is getting.
3:22. The part of Stevie Wonder in tonight’s performance will be played by that white guy from Maroon 5. If, like I did, you remember their hit single “This Love” and can’t get it out of your head for the next four years… I’m sorry.
3:28. Pink: congratulations, I have nothing snarky to say about you. This is what a “We Are the World” vocal part should sound like: just the right combination of seeming like you mean it, eyes closed but not spazzing out or crying, no stupid dramatic hand gestures, and sticking close to the melody. It can only go downhill from here.
3:41. Ahhh, zombie! Shoot it in the head! SHOOT IT! …Seriously though, Michael looks good for a dead guy. I can see why they called him in.
3:48. In a short span, Usher showed us how to do tasteful show-offy, and then Celine threw him to the ground, stomped on his fuckin’ throat, and said “WHO SAID YOU COULD BRING THE MELISMA? I COPYRIGHTED THAT SHIT!” Lionel Richie only looked on with disinterest and did some inexplicable hand gestures.
4:07. Oh good, hand clapping and hushed chorus vocals. Surely this thing is winding down. *checks timer… kills self*
4:08. The rest of this post will be written by ghost Cooper. If they can bring back Michael, anything is possible.
4:20. American Idol dude.
4:28. Bald guy – Michael Stipe? Moby? Why he’s doing that soulful hand thing? That’s it, I’m nodding off until something good happens.
4:48. That is NOT it. Listen, Lil Wayne. I have resigned myself to your weird turtle-like looks and your insistence on recording four songs a day and even your shitty new “rock” album, but you + Autotune + squealing electric guitars + “We Are the World” = fuck you, Lil Wayne. I didn’t even know it was possible to ruin something that already sucked.
5:00. Is it wrong that I’m thinking of buying a Pink album? Maybe this song has created a parallel universe where music is much worse than normal, and as a result Pink seems completely awesome. If a stewardess hands me a tiny bottle of liquor in a minute and then my plane starts shaking but doesn’t crash, I’m going to freak out.
5:29. Sorry, T-Pain: just like in real life, we don’t need you now that we have Weezy. Hand him the keys to your Autotune and get the hell out.
5:31. Was that… Jeff Bridges? Turk 182? TRON? The Dude? Jeff has put his stamp of approval on this monstrosity? Jesus Christ, now I HAVE TO listen to the remaining… three minutes… *sob*
5:40. The comedian usually opens for the band. Who let this dipshit hang around and who gave him a mic?
5:52. At the risk of sounding like the world’s oldest fogey, this hip hop breakdown sucks and it has permanently destroyed everything that is good in the universe. My copy of “The Chronic” fell apart in my hands and a single tear rolled down my cheek as I listened to that.
6:30. Wyclef brings it back home with the single funniest and most bizarre moment in the song.
6:56. Kanye West cares about black people. Weird thing is, when he raps this kind of sounds like a Kanye song, and it’s like 60% better.
7:38. We’re not just increasing your awareness of the earthquake, we’re also increasing your awareness of how Haitians pronounce “Haiti.” I’m down with this, but I still don’t care for Meh-HEE-co. Or DOYCH-land, which is a terrible mangling of the word Germany, if you ask me.
8:00. Sweet relief. It’s over. And Lionel agrees with me – I’m pretty sure that “Wow” was sarcastic as hell.
The site has just added some huge chunks of music from the RCA Records and Sony back catalogues. I just downloaded Gil Scott-Heron’s classic album “Pieces of a Man,” which is one of those “love to own it but not sure I want to pay new-CD-prices for it” things for me. I plan to plunder this collection as mercilessly as my current subscription will allow. I know this is part of the change that is jacking up subscription prices – hopefully you, like me, just renewed recently and have months ahead to enjoy this stuff at the usual rate, before they start yanking your wallet out through your nose.
I will also point out that while emusic’s new pricing plan screws over nearly everybody in most ways, here’s one way that it doesn’t: yours truly has four albums up on emusic that are stuffed with tracks (19, 19, 23 and 29 songs each). And thanks to emusic’s new frustrating pricing policy, you can now download any one of these for 12 “credits” instead of the 19, 23, or 29 downloads it used to cost you. So… there’s that.
Bet you thought I forgot about this. Didn’t ya? (Didn’tcha? Dincha? Dinya? Dimsum? What the fuck is happening?)
Well, I didn’t. Whether or not you cared, whether or not you even remembered about whether or not I was going to forget, I did NOT forget, and here I am to rub. It. In. Your. FACE.
Today’s entry is a sub-two-minute slice of New Age, Windham Hill treacle called (with appropriate hippiefied, leftist solemnity) “Pacific.” It’s Yanni and John Tesh banging out a soundtrack for a National Geographic special on whales. It lacks irony or hipster quotient; just listening to this will turn you into a sexless old person.
Having completed the undersell, I will move on to the story. I had a wife at one time, and she was a sweetheart, but it was not meant to be. We had our good times though, and she left me with a lot of pleasant memories. One of the frontrunners in that pack is this one: her brother-in-law, the amiable goofball who loved to eat pizza with me, drink MGD near me (I stuck to IBC), and help me record music on my 4-track tape recorder. Ed was a stand-up guy who I talked to for some years after my marriage fell to bits, and one of the things we always talked about was our stint as Social Animals.
Social Animals – precious, right? SOCIAL ANIMALS IS PEOPLE! This project was a way for me to exercise the calmer parts of my creativity. It was also a way to meet Ed halfway, or maybe two-thirds of the way; y’see, Ed was really into Pink Floyd. When a guy’s primary influence is David Gilmore’s glacial, somewhat bluesy solos, you have to tamp down on those punk and grindcore urges. There was no way I was going to get Ed to blast out 150 BPM riffs on songs with titles like “Our Mothers Tried to Abort Us.” So instead we fired up a lava lamp (really), busted out the keyboard and congos (really), and acted like we were too high to care about things like vocals or song structures – even though neither of us was exactly Snoop Dogg or Matthew McConaughey. In the few years Julie & I were together, and a few years after that, Social Animals cranked out five tapes full of aural wallpaper – to borrow a Brian Eno-ism. It would be hipping it up too much to say we approached the ambient excursions of Aphex Twin, though that was in fact an influence on me; closer to the truth is that we put Aphex, Floyd, and various New Age “sound of the rainforest” CDs in a blender and came up with a palatable, if often bland, fruit smoothie of music.
But it’s still far and away the most relaxing shit I’ve ever put my imprimatur on.
This “Pacific” is from the very last Social Animals tape, so it follows my split with Julie and stands in the middle of the fading end of my relationship with Ed. (Nothing bad went down there; I think things simply went their natural course and we eventually just stopped talking. I imagine if I ran into him today though, we’d still share a hearty handshake and a lot of fond reminiscing, and might end up recording another one of these things.) The song concept was simple and pretentious, which marks it as prime Social Animals crap: I recorded a very stripped down keyboard track of a synth pad playing two New Age-y chords over & over; then Ed and I each took a run at a guitar solo for it. His version became “Atlantic” and mine, “Pacific.” And it’s going to sound egotistical of me, but I think mine won. This is one of the best bits of guitar playing I ever did. Technical proficiency is absent – as it basically always is, when I play – but I tapped into my inner Mark Knopfler and found some deep well of lyricism (or something) that made two boring chords sound kind of lovely. It’s strange to say this about a piece of music that I played and wrote entirely on my own, but this reminds me of Ed more than anything he was actually involved in. It reminds me of a whole time in my life that he was a huge part of. It makes me a little sad and wistful. It makes me hungry for deep dish from Giordano’s and a frosty bottle of root beer.
Postscript: “Pacific” was used by some local filmmakers for the closing scene of a short movie they made about a hitman (or something). It was not a great movie, but it was neat to see someone just trying to do something like that, and it was nice that they saw something in this song and decided to use it. I never did get a copy of that movie, but I’m satisfied with my memory of it, I think.
Various albums of mine have finally made it online in digital download format. You can find them at the links below. Brazen plea for your assistance: if you contribute any user reviews or include these albums in content lists on any of these sites, I’ll be forever in your debt.* That kind of thing is what may push this endeavor from pure loss to only marginal loss for me.
* Actual time I will be in your debt: seventy minutes.
1.99 Millers: Drink Your Way Out of This One (vol. 1)
1.99 Millers: Drink Your Way Out of This One (vol. 2)
The Insaniacs: 29 Goddamn Phat Tracks
Breakfast Jones: Consolidation
Today’s discussion is about people pretending to be other people. The only thing separating me from them is that they invented new identities to become, while I just stole an existing one. Ergo, I am more than qualified to try to give insight into the dementia and rapid ego inflation that results in this public wankery.
On to the list, which I will note is ordered by combined artistic and commercial merit, from 1 (an iconic and influential presence in music) to 10 (a laughingstock):
1. Ziggy Stardust. Let there be no doubt that anyone who takes on an alter ego in a musical context owes a debt to Sir David Bowie. (He was knighted, right? If not, let’s get on that.) Bowie made it OK to be a chameleonic faker of the first order. In the parlance of the previous decade of hip hop, David Bowie did NOT “keep it real”; he persistently kept it very UN-real, hopping between personas and styles in a constant attempt to either confuse and alienate fans, or keep himself relevant while holding his real personality out of the media spotlight. Who is David Bowie? Who knows. Anyway, Ziggy Stardust was the best Bowie mask, and the greatest musical alter ego ever.
Art: 10 $: 7 Total score: 17
2. Dr. Octagon. The idea of a guy who calls himself Kool Keith having an alter ego is kind of funny, but Dr. Octagon was the shining star in the galaxy between Keith’s weird ears. First of all, the album is Keith’s best, with excellent and spacy production by Dan the Automator, a Metallica-t-shirt-reminiscent cover by Pushead, and classic Keith lyrics like these: “Your homey’s tape deck gets wet/ You my pet, my poodle chicken noodle’s on the rise/ Open your eyes and see my life/ Rap moves on to the year three thousand!” Wha..? Anyway, the good doctor’s album was so great that it became an underground hip hop classic, and Keith later made a completely inferior sequel (without the Automator) to attempt to recapture the glory.
Art: 9 $: 4 Total score: 13
3. Hannah Montana. Hannah Montana is a TV show, a character in that show, a singer, and a commercial money-making fever dream. And this description of her from Wikipedia broke my brain: “Hannah Montana is an Emmy Award-nominated American television series, which debuted on March 24, 2006 on Disney Channel. The series focuses on a girl who lives a double life as an average teenage school girl named Miley Stewart (played by Miley Cyrus) by day and a famous pop singer named Hannah Montana by night, concealing her real identity from the public, other than her close friends and family.” Miley plays another Miley who is a famous pop singer (like Miley) under the name Hannah Montaaaaaaauuuugggghhhrrrrrr. Stupid brain, be more smart! The apex of the Montana extravaganza was a tour where Miley and Hannah did shows together. Now that, Diane, is post-modernism eating itself.
Art: 3 $: 10 Total score: 13
4. The Thin White Duke. Our second Bowie on this list is the plastic soul-era Bowie. As personas go, the Duke is a wispy one – he seems more like a nickname than a fully realized alter ego. But he moves up this list by virtue of starring in “Station to Station,” the last great Bowie album. (The Brian Eno-collaboration albums that followed are all good, however; he didn’t totally lose it until around the time of “Labyrinth” and its soundtrack. I imagine that the young Jennifer Connelly probably siphoned off much of his power to become the radiant sex goddess she was about five years later, in such glorious cinematic milestones as “Career Opportunities.”)
Art: 6 $: 6 Total score: 12
5. Aladdin Sane. Even though he is the title character from a classic Bowie album, there’s no disguising that Aladdin Sane (the character) is basically Ziggy Stardust with a much sillier name. Points for the music, not so much for the concept. Which is why we find him at the midway point on this list. It’s all downhill from here.
Art: 5 $: 6 Total score: 11
6. Dr. Dooom. Kool Keith’s next persona after Dr. Octagon borrows the professional title from his predecessor and the overall concept from a certain Marvel Comics supervillain – was Keith running out of good ideas? Well possibly so, when you notice that the album art seems to involve fast food… and a gorilla… and, uh… what the fuck, I can’t make heads or tails out of this thing at all. Add in the fact that this dropped the same year as MF Doom’s superior “Operation: Doomsday” album, and you end up with a decidedly second-rate Keith character.
Art: 4 $: 3 Total score: 7
7. Black Elvis. And if Dooom was second-rate, what is Black Elvis? You’re a smart one, Diane – I’m sure you can supply the answer. Stop it, Keith, stop it right now.
Art: 3 $: 3 Total score: 6
8. Tori Amos’s American Doll Posse. It’s time for many of us who were really enamored with Tori circa “Little Earthquakes” (what can I say – I was a sensitive little girly-boy in high school) to admit that most of her ideas, apart from that album, were bad ones. Referencing Nine Inch Nails album titles in your lyrics? Check. Exhausting the good will from an interesting Nirvana cover by putting out a random, no-relationship-to-the-original version of “Raining Blood”? Check. Y Kan’t Tori Read? Triple check. This album, in which Tori takes on multiple different personalities (one of which is a fake-O version of herself, even) and lists them all separately in the credits? Big fat check.
Art: 1 $: 5 Total score: 6
9. Sasha Fierce. Beyonce reveals what’s beneath her gorgeous exterior: a robust pair of lungs floating in the void of emptiness and despair. Sasha FIERCE? Where were her marketing people when she came up with that one? Good god. Sure to sell a few million copies, though, unlike the next item on our list, which is currently ruining the planet in a landfill near you.
Art: -3 $: 8 Total score: 5
10. Chris Gaines. “Hi, I’m inoffensive country singer Garth Brooks, pretending to be a giant douchebag! Buy my douchey album – if you don’t, I may not make that Chris Gaines movie. And wouldn’t THAT be a giant tragedy?”
Art: -50 $: 2* Total score: -48
* I’m quite sure this album sold a lot of copies eventually (relative to your standard indie release, if not Garth’s other albums); however, the number of copies printed and the giant hype machine that ran for seemingly endless months add up to my best guess that the label broke even or lost money on this ego trip.