Archive for the 'Music' Category


Lessons in Mortality, with Pizza

    A little airy-fairy.
A little airy-fairy.

This cute musical duo called MGMT has a new video for “Electric Feel,” the second single off their debut album, that I am obsessed with a little bit.

I’m always a sucker for thin, cute, scruffy boys. And these guys seem to perpetually have their shirts off. They’re a little airy-fairy for my taste. They’re, like, all mystic pagan and stuff. Which I’m sure is, like, really cool and stuff. But I’m willing to go along with them, up to a point.


They dance in the woods with their cute human and animal friends. They pull the moon down and cut it open like a boiled egg and spread moon juice on each other. Then they put the moon back in the sky. What could be more adorable — and responsible — right?

The creepiest part of the video is about a minute and a half into the clip, when we get a glimpse of something that brings me back to an uncomfortable childhood memory. We see a hillbilly bear strumming a rough-hewn banjo, a space dog on drums, a disco gorilla on keyboards, and who knows what else, acting as their band. They are the animatronic characters from Showbiz Pizza Place (called the Rock-afire Explosion, I have recently learned), and they terrified me as a little kid.

Rock-afire Explosion
Yikes! Who can keep down their dinner with this staring out at them?

Showbiz Pizza and Chuck E. Cheese’s and establishments of that ilk were fun for two reasons: mass quantities of pizza, and video games.

But they’d also stage these little rock shows where the robotic house band would perform some reworked pop songs and tell jokes and banter with each other. I sort of looked forward to it, they way you look forward to the money shot in a slasher movie. But, like those movies, when the money shot came, I found I could not look any more.

Whenever a character spoke, a spotlight would shine on it, revealing an eerily glowing plastic and fur behemoth with a curve to the mouth and a roundness of the eye that was meant to suggest friendliness but always came off as much more sinister. Their eyes and mouths snapped open and shut. Their movements appeared jerky and repetitive. Stand close enough and you could hear the mechanical skeletons clicking and clacking. The mouse cheerleader was the worst! And when the whole mess of them was moving at the same time, it felt like at any moment they might leap off the stage and carry me off to their evil robot lair where they would tear me to pieces and use me for spare parts.

They’re all over YouTube now in videos where they have been programmed with songs hilariously inappropriate for their pre-pubescent audience. It is brilliant, and it underscores their unavoidable creepiness.

See what I mean? “Electric Feel” by MGMT



Shh! I Can’t See!

One of the finest examples of those things that make remember why you love New York City is the New York Philharmonic’s free Concerts in the Park series. (Other cool free stuff in parks includes Shakespeare in the Park, Broadway Under the Stars, Bryant Park Summer Film Festival and the River to River Festival.)

One could go for the performance alone. It is one of the world’s finest concert orchestras. But plunked down at one end of Central Park’s Great Lawn, and playing to a crowd in excess of 60,000 and relying on a speaker system distributed throughout 13 acres, the full range and power of the orchestra is lost. The music on Tuesday night was fine, a simple roster of crowd-pleasers, a little “1812 Overture,” a couple of standard-issue Sousa marches — nothing too challenging.

But what makes the event is the gathering of friends, the wine and cheese and chips and wine and baguettes and wine, the crossover of strangers from picnic blanket to picnic blanket. It’s a rare moment when we all stop fussing with our super-important lives, take a breather to appreciate some of the beauty we literally pass by every day, and come together like a real community. It’s when New York is New York. Thousands of us all there for one thing: each other. And, by extension, the other guy. And, by extension, the other guy…

I brought five bottles of wine with me, a nice mix of reds and chilled whites, including a nice soave my friend Jamie seemed particularly delighted by. So much picnicking! So much conversation! So many people wandering around on cell phones trying to find their friends!

Seriously — “What did we do before cell phones?” We arrived on time.

A star-filled night (as star-filled as you get in the City) overtook the dusk, and soon we were surrounded by citronella candles and miniature flashlights and glowing cell phones and those infernal multi-colored phosphorescent plastic whips parents are powerless against purchasing for their kids. The Philharmonic stopped, and the fireworks began.

Fireworks never fail to delight me. They are so pointless and wasteful … but they are so brilliant! It’s like, we’re so happy to be alive and to be there that all we can think to do is light stuff on fire and hurl it up into the sky and watch tiny bits of metal burn and fall back to the earth.

The funniest part about the fireworks was the silence in the crowd. All through the performance, there was a low roar of chatter. People were talking about the workday, their vacation, their friends and family, the performance. Laughing. Shouting, “I’m right here waving my arms. See? No. Next to the tree on the other side of the speaker. No, the one with the pink and blue balloons — yeah — see me n— Yeah. Yeah. I’m right here. See me?” into their bloody cell phones. We even saw some guy propose to his girlfriend. We presume she said yes. Or at least that she would consider it.

But as soon as the instrument cases were latched tight, and the Philharmonic loosened their neckties, and we all turned southward to face the fireworks, everyone shut up. It was as if we had to … so we could see.

It reminds me of that line line in Ghostbusters when Ray says, “Listen! Do you smell something?”

It makes the eventual “Oh!” and “Ooh!” stand out. It sounds funny. Like we’re surprised. Like we haven’t seen it all a hundred times before. So my drunk friends and I started saying other vowel sounds, just for the sake of variety. “Aye!” “Uuuuh!” “Eeee!” They seemed as legitimate as the old standbys.

Then we moved on to consonants. “Fffff!” “Kkkhhh!” (which sounds a lot like a sneeze.) “Mmmm!”

It quickly degenerated into animal sounds. “Baa-aa-aah!” “Rrreeow!” “Waak waak!” “Moooo!”

We had killed the silence with our own performance. And the people nearby could hear us more clearly than they could hear the orchestra. I secretly dared someone to shush me. “Why?” I would ask. “Can you not see over the noise?” Annoyance with us would seem hypocritical to me, following a performance that many of them hadn’t even really listened to.

But apparently they had not come to see us, and no one said a word about it. They just continued to gaze back up into the sky, their eyes and mouths wide open, holding each other or holding themselves in the chilly summer night air.

And then it was over.


So Vein

I owe a big thanks to my friend Jon for pointing this out to me. It is a brilliant observation that requires really very little further explanation.

Separated at birth?

You’re So Vain
Carly Simon

Bleeding Love


The Gay and the Godly

A man on the train this morning was witnessing for Christ hoarsely and vociferously. It was one of those moments when you curse the express trains out of Queens, because you know you’re stuck with it for a good number of stops. He started out collecting change for a “food program” for the homeless, which was dubious enough. (It’s how to be a Christian, he explained.) But he soon made it worse by lurching headlong into a tirade about Gee-zus.

You can be saved, he was telling us. Just say a prayer. He was generous enough to share that prayer with us. I won’t remember the words now, but we’ve heard it before: some combination of biblical quotation and plea for salvation in exchange for eternal allegiance.

“Boom!” he said. “You’re saved. Now how long did that take? Seven seconds. That’s all it took to save a crackhead like me. That’s right, I said I was a crack head.”

Somehow it didn’t surprise me that he had been a crackhead. What did surprise me was that seven seconds could save anyone. (Even Madonna had four minutes!)

“A good-looking man like me.” (I can’t confirm how good-looking he was. I was avoiding eye contact.) “I did some terrible things in my life. I did some despicable things in my life. Sold my grandmama down the river for a rock of crack.” (He said “crack” with the same fervent rhetorical emphasis as “Gee-zus” in a way that made me absolutely believe that he was very well acquainted with both, crashing through each consonant and elongating each vowel as if the words were struggling to escape from their sentences.) “But if I can be committed to crack, I can be committed to Christ. If I can be committed to crime, I can be committed to Christ.” And so on and so forth.

He was very interested in us committing ourselves to Jesus immediately. “Everyone believes when they’re dying,” he said, “because you got no choice left. You’re desperate. But you gotta do it now. You could die any time.”

“Yeah, but ain’t no one dying here right now,” one young woman said to her friend.

I have never been much for street preaching and missionaries. It’s sort of a pessimistic approach for a religion to take, if you ask me. No one will believe this unless we convince them by all means necessary. If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light, these guys apparently have very little confidence that we’ll find him. Have they given up on teaching by example?

At the same time, I absolutely respect their convictions and the strength of their faith. I just sometimes wish they’d go get saved somewhere else. But you ride it out until you leave the train or he does. In this case, he backed out the door at Queens Plaza, still preaching his good word, and walked to the local track to transfer. We heard every word until the doors closed and reduced him to a muffled echo.

One night a while back, I saw one of these religious experiences turned around in a way I’d never seen before.

It was the end of the night for me and my boyfriend, and we were on our way home. We were comfortably lit and a little sleepy on the subway seats, not particularly in the mood for anything remarkable, looking forward to bed.

Three women stepped into the train and assumed spots standing directly in front of us. They looked very well put together, if not a little gaudy, like they had just come from a wedding, all long, gleaming fingernails, iridescent lips, bright brown and beige tones across their cheeks, gold and silver synthetic fabrics.

One of them had her eyes closed, and she was bobbing her head like she could hear music that the rest of us could not. When it became too much to contain in her head, she began to sing. It was “Amazing Grace,” and yet… it was not.

The other ladies perked up and sang along:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

It’s a beautiful song. Or, rather, it can be a beautiful song. But after the first verse, she ad-libbed the rest, singing simply “I love the Lord, I love the lord…” over and over against the same melody. It seemed spontaneous — and unplanned, judging by the uninventive lyrics. Occasionally one of the other women would join or take over the “song,” none of them contributing much but the odd vocal flourish or worshipful gesture of the arm. It must have been past midnight, so I guessed they had just come from some sort of day-long worship service — Methodist or Southern Baptist, by the look of it, if my sense of stereotype is anything to go by — and they were still a little touched by the holy spirit.

Unfortunately, very few of the other passengers seemed to be feeling it. I was annoyed by their righteous and presentational self-indulgence. What’s worse, it was all very monotonous.

Many people just looked away. Some glared up at the women. A gay couple across the aisle from us were rolling their eyes. I closed my eyes and sighed and hoped it would end, or that at least she would break out of the trance and sing something different. But rather than merely being annoyed, or telling them to shut up as we all wished we could, Jeff looked up and tapped one woman’s arm. “Hey, excuse me. Excuse me. Do you know ‘On Eagles’ Wings’?” he asked.

“On Eagles’ Wings” is one of those post-Vatican II hymns from the ’70s. It’s taken from Psalm 91. Everyone raised on Catholic Mass knows it.

No, they said, they didn’t.

Jeff stood up. “Can I sing it for you?”

I wasn’t sure if I was amused, pleased or embarrassed, but I looked at the floor for a moment. Not only was he responding to a pack of crazies, but he was actually participating. I was preparing to be mortified, but he began singing the refrain:

And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His hand.

And just like that, they were totally disarmed.

Ooh! they said. They did not know it, but they certainly liked it. How does it go?

So Jeff sang it again. It was like a walk-off for Jesus. The ladies enthusiastically tried to sing along with him as he stood there with his hands outstretched like a youth minister. All that was missing was a guitar and a tambourine. The gays across the aisle were laughing. Almost everyone in the car had a smile. And we were — what bliss! — approaching our stop.

“That boy has the Lord in him!” one of them called out as we stood to leave.

“Yes he does,” said another.

I had never thought of that before, but I supposed it was true. Jeff had succeeded in undermining their annoyance in their own language and in a way that was not disrespectful. It was brilliant and accidental, an unlikely connection between people very unlikely to cross paths outside of the Great Equalizer, the New York City subway system, and I have rarely been so amazed by him as I was then.


Kids Are Dumb and Therefore Funny

Babies are dumb. Little kids aren’t much better. And what are adults at the end of the day but tall kids with bumps and more hair. But as we grow and learn and try to make sense of things, we can come up with some bloody funny things.

Intelligent Design, for example.

Or The Bush Doctrine.

I was reminded of this when someone told me a story about his introduction, at the age of about 10 or 11, to a woman named Naomi.

“Hi, I’m Naomi,” she said.

“Naom-you?” he responded. He thought that when she said her name to someone it was Nao-me, and when someone else said her name to her it was Naom-you.

I myself am guilty of such leaps in logic. In kindergarten, I loved to bring in record albums (those were the days) for Show-and-Tell. It made me popular for a day if I chose the right record. There was the Grease soundtrack on one hand, and a reading of “The Three Little Pigs” on the other. Guess which one won me respect and admiration among my peers. Lord knows I can’t remember.

I forget which one it was — probably Grease — but a substitute teacher once forced me to hand over my record. My favorite song at the time was “Greased Lightning,” which contained a sexual reference or two in its lyrics that my young ears were too green to comprehend. I imagine she was trying to save me from myself, or to have a word with my mom or some such thing.

She was on a relatively long assignment, filling in for our regular teacher. Those were the days of Miss Nelson is Missing!. We did not like teachers, but a sub was the Devil incarnate. So naturally, I thought she was using her bully powers of adulthood (Oh, I couldn’t wait to grow up!) to steal it from me forever.

As I recall, I got it back by pouting at the end of class. Whether she had intended to give it back then or not I can’t say. I hated her and feared her. But I had no idea what would soon happen to the poor woman.

One day she wasn’t in class and we had a different sub. I asked what happened to Miss What’s-her-name, and someone (a student? my memory!) told me breezily that she had been fired.

I’d never heard of such a thing, and naturally I was horrified. They burned her to death? Just for taking my Grease album? Word got around, I guess. Maybe she had been mean to other kids at other schools. I felt vaguely responsible. I didn’t hate her that much. But also I felt vindicated, like a reign of terror had ended.


Keepon Dancing

This is an old one I forgot to post.

I don’t want to be one of those guys who mistakes commentary on YouTube videos for original thought, but this one is too cute to pass up.

This thing dances better than most people.

Here’s that little robot, Keepon, again in Spoon’s video for “Don’t Evah,” one of my favorite songs at present. It’s crazy how a pair of google eyes can trick you into having an emotional response to a motor and a pair of sponge balls.

Someone at work turned me on to Spoon. I’m scared to buy a whole album, so I just picked up a few tracks from iTunes. (Who buys albums anymore, anyway?)

I made that mistake once before when I fell in love with Combustible Edison after seeing Four Rooms, which featured their music in the opening credits. I only saw the movie because Madonna was in it. I bought one of their albums and sort of hated it.


What Has She Done To Deserve It?

Whose genius idea was it to get Iggy Pop to play Madonna … in front of Madonna? Is someone on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame board trying to punish her? It was possibly the weirdest music pairing I have ever seen. I imagine she thought much the same thing, sitting there at that table near the stage, gamely, awkwardly perhaps, smiling up at him.

I turned on the TV in the middle of his rendition of “Burning Up.” It was pretty punk, pretty kitchy, trashy and flat enough to be funny, and she looked like a nice, conservative, middle-aged lady having a good time. A blonde and ivory vision carved out of butter. Then he broke into “Ray of Light,” introducing it as a “beautiful song,” and wasted no time in performing it not at all beautifully. Her pal JT bobbed his head with the beat, but Madonna looked like a mannequin.

To his credit, Iggy seemed delighted to be playing with these songs, like a little boy wanting to please his mommy. He is plainly very fond of her. Madonna must have been aware of this as she greeted him graciously in the kitchen of the Waldorf-Astoria. “Very well done,” she said. “I liked the horns, actually.” What else could she say 𔃉 Go boil your head? She signed a guitar. Posed with a gaunt, glistening Iggy. And exited stage left.

I could stab myself in the eyes for forgetting to set the DVR to record the show. I wanted to hear her acceptance speech. But I’m sure VH1 will rerun it ad nauseam.

To be inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame after releasing a dance album is a peculiar trick of American pop music. AfterEllen addressed the question today: Is Madonna, in fact, a rock’n’roller? The writer concluded, much as I do, that it doesn’t matter. It is her influence on everyone else and her status as an auteur that qualifies her. Can you imagine that? The woman who rolled around in a tarted-up wedding dress. Of course she should be inducted.

John Mellencamp was another highlight. His bit was after hers. I saw Mellencamp a few years ago in Minneapolis — a city in which Madonna never tours. Mellencamp strolled out on stage smoking a cigarette. He’s never been what I would call a good-looking man, but in those tight black jeans, those dulled and scuffed boots, that dangling, smoldering cigarette, that swagger of the hip, that slump of the shoulder, he is definitely what I would call sexy. He gave an authentic, simple, old-fashioned, unadorned rock ‘n’ roll performance that remains one of the single best shows I have ever seen.

At the ceremony, Billy Joel’s bizarre, crotchety I-don’t-give-a-fuck New Yorker introduction rambled and barely paid him any sort of tribute. It included a fair number of uninformed and disparaging remarks about farmers and Midwesterners — antithetical to the work Mellencamp was being honored for. He could have used the same speech to introduce Randy Newman; it was more about him, anyway. At least he got in some well deserved digs against VH1 and the music industry.

Mellencamp of course walked out on stage with a cigarette in his lips, stamping it out just before he took the mike. Thankfully he played his own set.

the untallied hours

the tweets

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