Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why Lady Gaga matters (Yes I'm late to this!)

Ok. I'm late to the game. But you have to understand, I normally ignore the latest diva of the month. I'm sure that I've missed some great music. Shakira, Beyonce, etc. But it's a habit learned from having grown up in the 80s. As far as this guy is concerned they're all some variation of Madonna. And for those of us who grew up in Reagan's America, trying desperately to find music that pushed boundaries, no one symbolized complacency, blandness, and materialism more than Madonna. Yes, yes, yes, somewhere along the line, some journalist/academic/grad-school-loser tried to rehabilitate her as someone on the vanguard of lipstick feminism… an academic discovered girl power while dancing to Papa Don't Preach! Wooo-freakin-hoo!

And somewhere the gay community, jumped on the wagon. To me, Madonna's music was aggressively heterosexual (her lesbian kisses were all for straight man kink) and exploitative . To those of us whose heroes were aggressively confused (i.e. Grace Jones, Annie Lennox ) or even the erotically challenged (i.e. Wendy O Williams, Laurie Anderson) Madonna was nothing more than another in a long line of bad 80s pop atrocities we had to endure. And no, we weren't sourpusses, we just knew when someone was trying to pull the wool over our eyes and Madonna felt cheap, inauthentic and obviously NOT talented on her own (She owes EVERYTHING to her producers).

Fast forward to my 40's and here is this young woman… Lady Gaga. She is obviously using Madonna's musical language and yet, the first time I heard her, three weeks ago, I was first intrigued then entranced and now enthralled.

Three weeks you say! yes I know.. late to the game- Screw you. I've had a bad year.

Why am I enthralled and why analyze it? 'Cause I am and 'cause I can.

But seriously.
I've been accused of over-intellectualizing music. Again, screw you. You don't like it. Go read something else.

I can tell you this.
1. Lady Gaga matters. She's doing things that others quite don't dare to do. She is not using her sexuality to push her music. She is sexual..very. The music is sensual and feels liberating in all sorts of ways. Her voice is hot. She growls and snarls and she soothes. But she is not portraying herself as some hot young vixen a-la Britney who is pushing sexuality to entice you. No. The music speaks sexual volumes and if you get the chance go to youtube and look for her acoustic versions of paparazzi. Damn! Her voice is just gorgeous. So she matters. Matters to what and to whom? Matters to art, and to feminism. She recently said about her album covers; “My album covers are not sexual at all, which was an issue at my record label," she explained. "I fought for months, and I cried at meetings. They didn’t think the photos were commercial enough…The last thing a young woman needs is another picture of a sexy pop star writhing in sand, covered in grease, touching herself.”
That is powerful. And she is powerful and I'm impressed.

2. She confuses people. I read an official iTunes review that said she was a throwback to 80s materialism with no irony. I'd like to state right here- that is fucking stupid. Irony that is well detected by the audience is sarcasm. Irony that stops you in your tracks and confuses you is Art with a big honking capital A. When the Sex Pistols first growled, "We're pretty…pretty vacant" or "I am an Antichrist! I am an Anarchist", audiences used to the saccharin sincerity of 70s singer-songwriters collectively gasped and asked themselves, "Are these guys serious?" Others giggled at the reaction, copied the smirk and growl, cause they "got it". It's in that space that irony is art. Not in "sarcasm" that passes as irony like most late Talking Heads or U2's lame venture into avant-garde posturing. No. Irony as art makes you scratch your head for a bit.

Am I saying that Lady Gaga's fashionista stance is a cultural watershed moment like the Pistols? Not yet, but I can tell you this. She's not wearing stuff just to make her look "pretty". She's not being "provocatively" slutty at a time when that pose is everywhere. She wears outrageous stuff because there is artistic intent behind it. And it's cool to watch- the last scene of the "Bad Romance" video is insanely good- go watch it. While I spent the 80s YAWNING at everything Madonna did, in three weeks I'm consistently being amazed at things Lady Gaga has done.

3. She gets down with the Dada. The non-sense syllables in Bad Romance, the robotic throbbing in Poker Face, the bubble dress, performing "Bad Romance" while sitting on a toilet, the scary red dress and the blood at the MTV music awards. hmm… sorry pointy bras and Madonna's "soft porn" like doesn't hold a candle to the spectacle of Lady Gaga bleeding on stage- dying in front of us and giving us , in vivo, the nauseating thrill of what we seem to love most about our celebrities- their demise. This is after all the year that millions wept over Michael Jackson. She basically said, "Here you go. This is what death is like, this is what you really want to see when you spend hours obsessing about the death or tragedy of a celebrity. Enjoy".

4. She is actually talented. She is an honest to goodness musician. She writes her own songs. She plays the piano like nobody's business and her voice has range.

5. I need a new obsession
Music heals me. It always has. Most of what I post about on musicmenow is about the music that has healed me.
You see my best friend died this year. No. My brother died this year. He tolerated and encouraged my inane ramblings. He had infinite patience with me. I could eulogize him all over again but this is not the right forum. Suffice it to say he was the best man I've ever known and not a day goes by that I don't think of him.

What does this have to do with Lady Gaga?
My brother is dead but she makes me happy. She makes me happy for everything I've already said, but because I can get lost in the moments of pure pleasure she provides without making me wince at stupidity or mediocrity.
She melts the coldness a bit. It doesn't make the pain completely go away. Of course not. But the music helps the healing.
She just makes me a little happier at a time when happiness is a little hard to come by.

Brother, I wish you were here. I'd bug your silly ass about Lady Gaga.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Nerf Herder NO Big Drag

I love Nerf Herder. It's not really punk rock. It's bubble gum pop.
You know what... Scratch this...
I'd rather tell you about Big Drag.

If you listened to punk.. there were two places you couldn't have missed in San Antonio.
One was the Bone Club and the other was TacoLand.
TacoLand... that's a whole other entry. If you're from San Antonio-- you MAY know about TacoLand and it's deceased owner, Ram Ayala. TacoLand was quite possibly THE greatest place to drink, listen to music and get stupid in San Antonio. I loved the place. I had quite a few great times there.
When Ram was shot and killed a few years ago, the club closed down for good. And even though I hadn't gone in years, I felt a little part of my youth die then.

Right now, I'd like to share one of the bands that I loved going to see @ TacoLand: Big Drag.

Big Drag, well.. take the Ramones, take the Sex Pistols, take the Jesus and Mary Chain-- and sprinkle some Southern-Fried-Beach-Blanket-Bingo-Play-Me-Some-Songs-with-Lots-of-FeedBack-and-Make-Me-Dance Mojo and you have Big Drag.

It wasn't smart music. It was get drunk and dance music.
There was no pretension to aspire to something larger than loud and sloppy; they didn't need it.

I remember going to see a show--- walking out tired, drunk and deaf.
I haven't had as a good a time since and I doubt I ever will.

Not every Big Drag was a great show-- as a friend of mine said... sometimes they faxed in their performances. But I didn't care, even the crappy shows were loud and full of feedback and whine and lovely rhythm.

They broke up sometime in the late 90s. It was sad. But not as sad as Ram getting shot.
At least they get back together every so often.
None of us will ever share another drink of Ram's funky mix- a bottle he kept behind the counter that he drank from all night. Many of us shared in the back wash.

Good times.

Here is their myspace page... listen to the music

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Husker Du--- again

Whenever I'm down and I feel the need to reset my mental state.
I find my Husker Du. Zen Arcade and Flip Your Wig.
I will probably say more about them later.
But I found these on You Tube and wanted to share.

Friday, July 10, 2009


I was kissed by an older woman at an REM concert in 1987. I was 19. She must have been 35 or 40.

It was a strange moment.
The concert was a highlight of my freshman year in college.
I knew every song and they were at the top of their game.
The album was Life's Rich Pageant. Stipe still had hair. He had yet to get his cueball head on.
They still struggled to say anything directly.
Begin the Begin SEEMED to be a hopeful anthem. But it was so full of pretentious lyrics that it was hard to take seriously.

Birdie in the hand for life's rich demand

The insurgency began and you missed it

I looked for it and I found it

Miles Standish proud, congratulate me 
A philanderer's tie, a murderer's shoe  

Hell, even Dylan's most vague and pretentious songs were more direct than that i.e. Hard Rains Gonna Fall.

REM turned out to be a real disappointment.
It always felt like they were on the verge of saying something great and back then when my own generation struggled with finding a voice--- it seemed appropriate.
But as time went on and we grew up, REM just seemed stuck in the same babbling; incoherent, always seeming inchoate never coming to full voice. And the music became dull and predictable for me. Gone were the powerful riffs, the quiet beautiful chimings, and occasional lullabies.

I was a big fan and, for me, they sadly deteriorated. Personally, I blame it on an inability to say anything directly caused by the pretension that it's somehow more artistic to be vague.

I remember the moment that I lost respect for Stipe. I read in an in interview that he never wanted to write or sing a love song because he didn't think much of love songs. And I thought, "What a pretentious ass. People will be singing You Must Remember This or I Love You For Sentimental Reasons LONG after your sorry ass is gone".

Yet, some of their songs remain deeply lodged in my psyche. If I want to really remember my college years, all I have to do is put on Pretty Persuasion or anything from Lifes Rich Pageant and suddenly I'm 19 again. I'm at UT Austin. The drag is still a cool place. I still have a record player. The sun is shining and the world is open and inviting.

Monday, July 6, 2009


With all the media coverage around MJ... I thought about "classical" pop stars of the past...
I thought of Liszt and Paganini... both crowd pleasers.
And Paganini-- well people used to say the he done sold his soul to the devil

The dreaded 24th caprice.
scratch that...
I mean...
I won't go into details about Paganini and the 24th caprice- I won't tell you how it's one of the most difficult violin pieces, how it's a theme, with eleven variations, and a finale, how he was supposed to be all demonic and stuff,


My favorite version is by Izthak Perlman. It's the warmest and most tasteful.
Often people play it too fast.

Hilary Hahn's version is my favorite on YouTube.

Listen to it... in the dark. It's not a transcendental piece of music, although parts of it soar-- The older I get, the more it strikes me as darker than when I first obsessed over it . I can truthfully say that I've heard the 24th caprice-- close to a thousand times, maybe more. How can I say that? Over a two year period I probably listened to it-- at least, 3-5 times a day.
There are a couple of other pieces that I can say the same thing about- Ry Cooder's "She's Leaving the Bank" from the Paris, Texas soundtrack is one of the others.

But back to the 24th Caprice, it does seem to attract the obsessives-- there are tons of versions of this...on different instruments as well. I'll hunt some of them down for you- but honestly. they won't mean much if you haven't heard it on a violin.

I don't know why I've come to think of it as a dark paean, maybe I'm a happier person, but as I listen to it now I can't help but shiver a bit.. not because of the diabolic silliness, but because it sounds so desperate.

A biography

Saturday, July 4, 2009

80s pop songs that don't suck

I loathed the 80s. Really. 80s pop music. Yuck.

These are the number 1 hits from the 80s-
Number 1 80s hits

I looked through it and I suddenly wanted to call my therapist.

Sure there were some great pop albums in the early 80s (Double Fantasy, Blondie, and I will even grant you Thriller -- even though I can't listen to it.. I'll admit that it was well crafted but when I sit and try to enjoy Billie Jean... well.... it just doesn't move me.)

I will repress my inner Jack Black at the moment and will share with you My favorite 80s moments,
I've left out some stuff... like the Eurythmics.. because as much as I loved Sweet Dreams-- it used to piss me off that the song never seemed complete.

I would include When Doves Cry but....You Tube has restrictions on it... go figure..

I realized something about these songs after I listed them... all the melodies...well.. resolve...

I don't really like intellectualizing this stuff... pop songs are powerful w/o intellectualizing...so just enjoy.

Friday, July 3, 2009

and then there was this.... the Irish Mexican

I don't drink. I used to. But... it's just too much trouble. It's one of those basic universal laws you can't get something for nothing. So it is with drinking, you drink , you feel good... next day... the universe forces you to pay up.
And so it is with me. The universe forces a higher tax on me than with most...even with a couple of beers my hangovers are just terrible.

I used to love Guinness Stout...because it was dark and chocolatey... AND because I think I was Irish in a former life (I'm also sure that I was a rabbi... thus my love of klezmer music... oy!)

Today I will share one of my favorite Irish songs with you.

She moved through the fair.

There is NO way to put a happy spin on this song. It's dark, depressing and haunting.
Here is a version of it by an Indian woman. Her voice is simply amazing. I've heard dozens of versions of this song. This is one of my favorites.

While You Tubing I found this version,

The riff has been used for other songs.... some Zeppelin songs owe quite a bit to Davey Graham's version ... but Simple Minds reworked it for a more ...well a bit more optimistic song called Belfast Child