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Words about Music

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What do you think of when you see this bird?

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

When you see the picture on the right, what do you think of? Recent polling suggests that if you were born in:

…the 1940′s or 1950′s, you think: Woodstock – 3 Days of Peace & Music

…the 1960′s or 1970′s, you think: The Partridge Family – Come on, Get Happy!

…the 1980′s or 1990′s, you think: Twitter for Guitar?

(NOTE: This post inspired by a certain cousin of mine, who shall, at least for now, remain nameless…)

Categories: Primetime TV, Random Acts of Blogging, Words about Music | 2 Comments »

Scaling the Internet for really big news

Friday, June 26th, 2009

According to CNN, when Michael Jackson died, he almost took significant parts of the Internet with him. Sites that experienced slowness or outright downtime included Google News, TMZ, Perez Hilton’s blog, CNN, Twitter, Wikipedia, the LA Times’ site, AOL Instant Messenger, and MJFanClub.net (a Michael Jackson fan site).

The article calls it the biggest mobile event in history:

AOL consumer adviser Regina Lewis . . .told CNN that, although the numbers weren’t in yet, the day should prove an historic milestone for mobile internet traffic. “It could go down as the biggest mobile event in history,” Lewis said. She felt that was down in part to people checking news headlines from work. “People wanted to keep tabs on this story, but if you’re an accountant you’re supposed to be working on your spreadsheet. So they were using their personal cellphones to do so,” she explained.

While the scale of response to Jackson’s death might be unprecedented, the pattern of it was not, Lewis added. “With the advent of social networking, we saw a sequence that we traditionally see around the death of celebrities,” she said. “One, people clamour for the latest news; two, they share it; three, they react; and then the next stage, which we’re seeing alive and well on video sites … are tributes. In the case of Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett, (people have) a lot to work with in terms of images and video,” she said.

A similar event that comes to mind (purely from an infromation technology point of view) is September 11, 2001. On that day, cell phones and web sites had huge outages as well, with some web sites reverting to plain text feeds in order to maximize their use of bandwidth to get information disseminated.

What’s different here, is that almost eight years later, the number of mobile devices in the world has dramatically increased, as has the breadth and depth of bandwidth-hogging rich media, like video clips. So, while scaling to handle another 9/11 involved adding more web servers and IP bandwidth, solving this problem is going to be a bit more complex. Network infrastructure folks, responding to Michael Jackson’s death, will have to respond to a wider variety of devices, protocols, and data objects moving around concurrently.

Yet another way Michael Jackson inadvertently changed the world…

Categories: Tech Talk, Words about Music | 1 Comment »


Thursday, June 25th, 2009

How different the world is today than it was just a couple of days ago…

R.I.P.: Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson

Categories: Primetime TV, Words about Music | No Comments »

Billy Joel separates from Katie Lee, 0-3 on marriages

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

The news today says that Billy Joel and his wife of five years, Katie Lee Joel, have separated.

It calls to my mind the words he wrote back in February of 2007 (the only words he’s written in sixteen years):

All My Life, I

Categories: Family Matters, Words about Music | 1 Comment »

Partying Like With a Rockstar, Part 2

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Insanely loyal readers will remember this post from back in February of 2007, in which I recounted my opportunity to perform, along with the University of Pennsylvania Band, with Simon Kirke – the legendary drummer from the bands Free and Bad Company (the latter of which, by the way, is going out on a reunion tour this summer – check it out if you can!).

Anyway, this past weekend, I had the honor of performing with Simon again – this time as part of an actual rock & roll band (Midlife Crisis) on his hit tune, All Right Now.

Here’s some video (I’m the guy in the not-very-rock-and-roll tie, playing keyboard in the back):

The young gentleman playing drums along with Simon is my cousin’s son, in whose honor this party was thrown (Mazel Tov, Austin!). My cousin is Jason Engelhardt of RockStarz, Inc., who has produced an excellent instructional video in conjunction with Simon Kirke. I heartily recommend you checking that out as well, either at the link above, or if you catch the Bad Company reunion tour, you can pick one up at the show.

At any rate, the prep before the show and the subsequent family get togethers after the party/show are my official excuse for the reduced blogging frequency around here lately.

I hope you feel it was worth the wait. I certainly do…

Categories: Family Matters, Words about Music | No Comments »

In Defense of Those Who Need No Defending

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

My friend and occasional commenter, Mike Starr, knows I am a big Billy Joel fan – both as a listener and a performer. So when he saw a Slate article by Ron Rosenbaum entitled The Worst Pop Singer Ever. Why, exactly, is Billy Joel so bad?, he sent it to me with a one word review: Harsh.

Having read the article, I will add my own review to Mike’s: Ignoramus.

(ED. NOTE: My review refers to Rosenbaum, not Mike, of course…)

I choose the word “ignoramus” because it allows me to combine the two words that came immediately to mind upon reading the article – “ignorant” and “doofus,” while continuing the one-word review meme that Mike unwittingly began.

“Ignorant” comes to mind because Rosenbaum clearly did very little research for this article, short of buying some Billy Joel CD’s, listening to the songs and ripping them to shreds. He appears to be under the impression that Joel wrote all one hundred and eighteen of his (album-released) songs simultaneously, and all of them after becoming one of the most successful musicians/performers in American music history.

Piano Man, for instance, shows “contempt” for “the losers at the bar he’s left behind in his stellar schlock stardom and for the ‘entertainer-loser’ (the proto-B.J.) who plays for them.” Rosenbaum is clearly unaware that Piano Man was written in 1973, while Billy Joel was living in Los Angeles and playing at a piano bar under the name of “William Martin,” almost entirely devoid of stardom, shlocky or otherwise.

The Entertainer is, according to Rosenbaum, about “phonies . . . except exquisitely self-aware entertainers like [Joel], who let you in on this secret.” Again, he is clearly unaware that the song was written in 1974 as criticism of the Wolfman Jack, Friday Night Videos, turn-rock-music-into-a-variety-show dynamic that Joel felt was ruining rock music at the time. He’s also unaware, quite obviously, of the rather significant push-back Joel received from the music industry for making such statements at the time.

About Say Goodbye to Hollywood, Rosenbaum says, “Could someone let [Joel] know he’s phoning it in with all this phoniness at this point? Isn’t there something, well, a bit phony about his hysteria over phoniness?” Similarly, New York State of Mind gets this: “He can’t even celebrate his ‘New York State of Mind’ without displaying his oh-so-rebellious contempt for ‘the movie stars in their fancy cars and their limousines.’ You think Billy Joel has really never ridden in a limo?” Once again, Rosenbaum seems blissfully ignorant of the fact that these were written in 1976 when Joel actually did “say goodbye to Hollywood” and move from California to Highland Falls, New York to kick start his fledgling music career (which he did the following year by releasing a little album called The Stranger, by the way). I’m not sure how an autobiographical song can be described as “phoning in phony hysteria over phoniness.” As for New York State of Mind, he wrote it, as the lyrics suggest, on a Greyhound bus on the Hudson River line, which was taking him to his new home in Highland Falls. It is widely considered one of the most heartfelt love songs to New York ever written. Has he ridden in limousines? Sure. Had he in 1976? Probably not too many, or he wouldn’t have been taking a Greyhound bus from the airport, now would he?

I could go on (the re-issue of The Stranger has a mask on the cover? Did he even bother to look at the original, which has the very same mask?), but I think I’ve made my point. I’m sure it’s hard to be a columnist and to write for a deadline. Heck, I post regularly here at I Should Be Sleeping, but if I don’t have anything to say on a given day, I have the luxury of not saying anything. Ron Rosenbaum obviously had a thesis in search of supporting evidence, and figured he’d make it up with a few lyrics quotes, rather than actually doing, well….research on his topic.

As to the other word that came to mind, “doofus,” the rationale goes like this:

Mr. Rosenbaum – you’re criticizing Billy Joel for being elitist and judgemental, and you’re doing it by telling all of us, the hundreds of millions of people who have made him one of the most successful artists in the history of American music for almost four decades, that we’re all devoid of musical taste. Only you, good sir, have the finely tuned sensibilities to tell us what is good and what is “sentimental schlock.” Now who’s the phony, exactly?

Look – what makes music great is it’s subjectivity. There’s an audience for almost any kind of music, from classical to jazz to hip-hop to rock to Russian Balalaika. I’ll argue the factual inaccuracies in Mr. Rosenbaum’s article all day long, but I wouldn’t dare try to argue that he should like Billy Joel’s music. That’s entirely up to him. In fact, given what he’s written, I’d suggest he save some money and never buy a Billy Joel track or concert ticket ever again.

In closing, I think these words (written by some phony, elitist rock star back in the ’70s) sum up my feelings about Mr. Rosenbaum and his article pretty well:

Give a moment or two to the angry young man,
With his foot in his mouth and his heart in his hand.
He’s been stabbed in the back, he’s been misunderstood,
It’s a comfort to know his intentions are good.
And he sits in a room with a lock on the door,
With his maps and his medals laid out on the floor-
And he likes to be known as the angry young man.

I believe I’ve passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage
I found that just surviving was a noble fight.
I once believed in causes too,
I had my pointless point of view,
And life went on no matter who was wrong or right.

Categories: Words about Music | 7 Comments »

More Disney – This from a year ago…

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Better late than never, I always say. Here is The University of Pennsylvania Band (including yours truly) performing at Walt Disney World in January of 2008.

The MST3K-like commentary is from a fellow band alum and her family.

Categories: The Disneyverse, University of Pennsylvania, Words about Music | No Comments »

The Muppets Do Billy Joel

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

SamuraiFrog over at Electronic Cerebrectomy points us to this awesome clip of Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem (a.k.a., the Muppet Band) covering Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind:

The clip is awesome for several reasons. First, I’ve never seen it before (and I have the TimeLife issued complete Muppet Show DVDs, so this must have been recorded but never incorporated into a show Best of the Muppet Show DVDs, but this isn’t on it). Second, with the exception of the standard Statler & Waldorf tag at the end, it’s done straight – no anthropomorphic Greyhound Buses or newspapers popping up during the song for our amusement – just the music.

Third, and most interesting to me, they do some really cool things with the song musically. For instance, the bridge is sung in a higher key than the verses, rather than a lower key as Billy Joel recorded it. In Joel’s version, the bridge is a quiet reflection on his time away from New York, and an admission that he misses the rat race and wants back in. The lower key gives us a sense of this “break” from the story. When it’s over, the song returns to a somewhat angst-laden traveler who just can’t wait to get home already, and the key goes back up to reflect the tension.

The Electric Mayhem reverse this to great effect. Floyd sings it as a guy who’s perfectly comfortable being on the road. His travel back to New York is just another Greyhound bus in a string of thousands, and it doesn’t phase him at all. At the bridge, though, the key goes higher as he gets downright mournful (and maybe even a bit annoyed?) about having spent so much time off the road, disconnected from the rest of the world. When his bridge finishes, he sounds downright relieved to be singing about his travels again.

The line to listen for is “Don’t care if it’s Chinatown or Riverside.” When Joel sings it, he means “I don’t care where you take me, just get me there already.” Floyd means it more literally – he really doesn’t care if he winds up in Chinatown or Riverside. It’s just another stop on the tour to him, and he’ll be leaving soon anyway.

I expect this kind of emotional depth from Billy Joel – he’s a consummate artist and a storyteller at heart. But a bunch of felt puppets? Jim Henson and his crew were so much better than anyone else at that genre, it’s staggering. Oh, and we need to remember that there was a real band providing the music off stage, and they had some serious chops too.

Categories: Primetime TV, Words about Music | 2 Comments »

Imagine a Video…

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

This has always been one of my favorite songs, but I so rarely see the video. In case you’re the same way, here’s the video (the one with the white piano):

Categories: Words about Music | No Comments »

A Different Kind of Bailout

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Ladies & Gentleman, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber:

Andrew Lloyd Webber is offering free theatre tickets to bankers who have lost their jobs in the current financial meltdown.

Between now and October 15th, bank employees who visit the box offices of The Sound of Music and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will be able to claim two free tickets for one of the shows on production of a P45 issued after September 1st, 2008.

Andrew Lloyd Webber said: “Both The Sound of Music and Joseph are feel good shows and I thought that free tickets might offer some respite, albeit for a couple of hours, for some of those people who have sadly lost their jobs in the current economic upheaval. All you have to do is present your P45 as proof at the box office and two free tickets are yours.”

The offer is subject to availability and terms and conditions apply.

That’s seventeen different kinds of awesome…

(Hat tip: Erik Hickman)

Categories: Money Talk, Random Acts of Blogging, Words about Music | No Comments »

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