Grammys, The Walking Dead, and Chocolate Tacos

This past Friday, I went to a bakery around the cornerThey have this dessert called a Chocolate Taco—a cookie “taco shell” filled with chocolate moose and topped with chocolate shavings (Pretty much a When Harry Met Sally kind of dessert).  Anyway, I’m not sure what the joke was, but their stereo system was playing a song on repeat:  Billy Joel’s “The Downeaster Alexa,” which I subsequently heard about eight times.  But each time it played, one line kept catching my attention:

There ain’t no island left for islanders like me.

And I realized that’s a bit how I feel in regards to mainstream music.  As much as I wish there’d be a return to the glory days, I’m simply longing for something that no longer exists.

But what am I going to do about it?  Put on a pair of skinny jeans and fake glasses? Drink expensive coffee while I piss and moan with the kids over in Silver Lake about how much better life was before Gotye and Foster the People were on the radio?  What good would that accomplish?  It would do nothing to change the current—and more-than-likely permanent—paradigm.

It’s of no coincidence that the Grammys took place the same night as the midseason premiere of The Walking Dead.  Because is there really a better analogy for what has happened to music?  Zombies are human bodies completely void of emotion and feeling, whose sole desire is to destroy all remaining pieces of humanity.  They devour our nation and their sickness continues to spread, even infecting those who were previously clean.  Pretty much sums up what we hear on the radio, right?

But if we are using The Walking Dead as a metaphor, how can we forget about the group of survivors?  Rick, Herschel, Daryl, and Glenn; just to name a few (For the time being, we’ll just ignore those crazy Woodbury people).  While society crumbles around them, and even as they lose those who are near and dear, they continue to trek on.  Hoping to find a way to keep their standard of living as high as possible.

Back in reality, our musical survivors made their presence felt at the Grammys.  Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Frank Ocean, and Adele; just to name a few of the few.  Pushing on the only way they know how, despite what the current standards attempt to dictate.  They may be outnumbered by the callous zombies, but they remain true to their form.

So perhaps I shouldn’t take Billy Joel’s words as an absolute statement.  The island is definitely out there.  Maybe I’ve just allowed the horde to prevent me from seeing the lighthouse.

P.S.

I remember a few years back while mind-numbingly flipping through channels, I came across an HBO airing of The Jonas Brothers:  3D Concert Experience.  The band’s on stage, playing this awful music, but when the camera would pan the crowd, I saw nothing but girls screaming.  Thousands and thousands of young girls, just ripping their vocal cords to shreds.  Non-stop.  Some were even in tears.  They couldn’t even begin to help themselves.  And I had an epiphany:  If this music can bring such jubilation to so many people, can it really be all that bad?  And my opinion as of today … yes, it really can be all that bad.  But at least I’m trying to get over it, eh?

Here They Come To Save (or at least delay the destruction of) The Day!

At the end of every year, the Internet sensation DJ Earworm creates a mashup of the top 25 songs of that year. This previous year, for instance, featured such songs as:

  • Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe”
  • One Direction – “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful”
  • Taylor Swift – “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

A real list of winners, eh? While I commend Earworm on his video and audio editing capabilities, there is something wrong with this picture: you shouldn’t be able to take every top song of any given year, put them together, and have the finished product sound like an actual song. Can you imagine a mash-up at the end of 1969 with the Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Women,” the Beatles “Come Together,” and the Temptations “I Can’t Get Next to You” sounding like a song that was intended to be that way?

Think of it this way: if you took a five-course meal by famed-chef Mario Batali and mixed everything together in a blender, you more than likely wouldn’t want to take a bite. And that’s how it should be. Variety: Who’da thunkit?

So please excuse my jubilation with the recent release of two singles: David Bowie’s “Where Are We Now?” and Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie.” Bowie, never being one to conform to social norms, hits a homerun with his soft, melodic tone. And while JT’s new single is nothing groundbreaking, it’s good piece of music. There’s an authenticity to each of these tracks—both in lyrics and musicality—that has been absent from the airwaves in recent years.

It’s refreshing. We’ve had to deal with Justin Bieber sing about fondue for far too long. And if you are mentioning fondue in your music, it’s not music (Unless you’re Weird Al. I’d gladly let Weird Al fondue the hell out of us).

Music has been in the dumps for a while now. A couple months ago, I watched a PBS special on David Geffen, and I wanted to cry. He spoke of how when he received a demo from Jackson Browne, which was accompanied by his head shot, Geffen said, “This guy should be a model, not a musician.” Can you imagine those words even crossing the mind of a music manager these days? Do we even still have music managers these days? Sex appeal is almost the only qualification to be a recording artist now.

If these two songs were from some unknown artists, they would still be good songs. But instead of getting radio play and mentioned on Huffington Post, they would only get a few plays on a MySpace channel. So today, let us be grateful for a dying breed: musicians with integrity. Because without these two, there’d be fondue all over the place.

Yoga vs. Cycling: A Tale of Two Soundtracks

I had a college professor who went on a rant against exercise and our health-obsessed culture. Mind you, this was a course on Ancient Rome, but this was the topic he wished to discuss on this day.

A central point of his argument was that people in today’s society are so unhappy that they subject themselves to an hour of torture each day, simply to take their mind off all the crap they regularly have to put up with. While I don’t agree with the unhappy society bit, there is some truth to the idea of using exercise to clear your head. When you’re drenched in sweat, panting, and feeling on the verge of death, you can’t think about much else.

But while people use exercise to hide from their own thoughts, they also hide from their workout by listening to music. Each type of training has a type of music that accompanies it. Let’s look at a couple.

For instance, yoga. While some yogis swear it should be practiced in silence (the hardcore types), the typical soundtrack of a yoga class will feature slow, thought-provoking lyrics, such as:

Who can say where the road goes
Where the day flows, only time
And who can say if your love grows
As your heart chose, only time

Start out with your classic Enya, throw in some renditions of Om Namah Shivaya, and your yoga soundtrack is complete. The objective is to calm the mind, soothe the breath, enrich the spirit. The lyrics must echo these sentiments. Sure, you may not want to dance to this, but that isn’t really the point.

Contrast that with what my indoor cycling buddies are blaring during their spin classes. Here’s a bit of a new song they just can’t get enough of:

Vroom vroom yeah I know my car sound like a T-Rex
I’m 23 years old and I ain’t riding in a Prius

And…

I slam dunk in that p***y
Blake Griffin’d your ho

This comes from a rapper named Meek Mill. Obviously, the connection here is Toyota’s hybrid car: Yogis love to drive them; Mill would rather not. I don’t know what energy-efficient transportation ever did to him, but he clearly doesn’t realize their impact on keeping us from going the way of the T-Rex.

And how did Blake Griffin get brought into this conversation? Why he is the standard on relating slam dunks to the act of coitus? Look, I’m an Oklahoma boy and a Clippers fan, so Blake is my guy. But if it’s true that “it’s about the motion of the ocean,” wouldn’t Vince Carter—with his through-the-legs-360°-windwill dunk—be more suitable? Or what about Michael Jordan? He literally dunked from the free throw line. I know that length is said to be overrated, but that’s still pretty damn impressive.

And just look at that facial expression.

The music that yogis choose to play during class makes sense. It aligns with their beliefs and with what their practice stands for. I can’t say the same about those who belong to the indoor cycling cult, but apparently it just works. Perhaps if that college professor I had would’ve just Blake-Griffin’d-a-ho at some point, then he wouldn’t be so against the exercise movement. But maybe he should try going the Om route first.

Breaking Bad: Season 5 featuring Carly Rae Jepsen

Pop music is a term that’s been around since … well, the beginning of pop music.  People tend to refer to pop music as whatever happens to be popular at the time.  But what do you refer to pop music after “the time” has passed?  Think about it:  The Archies were, at one point, a popular group.  In fact, “Sugar Sugar” was the number one single in the country.  But today, not so much.  Granted, we still refer to it as “pop music,” but typically it carries the inflection that it was a dark time during our lives.

Let’s pretend this never happened.

Obviously, The Archies are an extreme example.  Hell, even The Beatles were considered pop music, so it can’t all be bad.

A quick Google search shows the definition of pop music as:  “music of general appeal to teenagers; a bland watered-down version of rock’n’roll with more rhythm and harmony and an emphasis on romantic love.”

A bland, watered-down version of rock n’ roll?  How you can use “rock n’ roll” in any comparison to what is currently referred to as “pop music” is beyond me, but we’ll agree to disagree.  Ultimately, there is only one thing that matters when it comes to pop music, and it’s the obvious reason for writing this post:  addiction.

Now, this isn’t an all-encompassing addiction.  Generally speaking, I digress that most music on the radio is utter crap.  I don’t enjoy listening to it.  I don’t see how anyone could enjoy listening to it.  I find myself longing to be a child of 60’s.  Good Lord, to be a child of the 60’s.

But every couple of years, a song slips onto the radio, generally from an unknown singer, that tends to catch my ear.  No, before you start thinking too much, I don’t mean catches my ear in a “Oh wow, this person is incredibly talented.  Listen to those harmonies.  Is that 7/8 time signature? ”  Maybe catches my ear isn’t the right term.  Perhaps “Violently grabs my head, inflicting so much pain on my ears that my brain has no choice but to release an unprecedented amount of endorphins so I can go on living” is a more suitable phrase.  Yes, that will work.

This applies to none other than the current #1 song in America:  “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen

I will call you … maybe.

Look at those eyes.  She knows exactly what she has done.  I was stuck in traffic a few weeks ago, when this song comes on the radio.  As if my hand was possessed ala Dr. Strangelove, it reached for the radio console but instead of changing the station, it increased the volume.  Even more bizarre, despite this being the very first time I’d ever heard this song, I knew every freakin’ lyric!  Add in the fact that my feet tapped in unison with my head bobbing, I could have sworn that I’d been brainwashed the previous night.

Pop music has the innate ability of making the listener–regardless of their actual age or gender–feel like a fourteen-year-old girl.  Maybe it’s because this music is intended for that demographic, who knows?  But that is what it does.  Everyone likes to daydream about not having any responsibilities and your only worry is if the cute boy down the street will call you up.  Don’t try to hide it.  You know you do this.  Male, female, elderly, late 20’s; doesn’t matter.  And, in that regard, this song is textbook.  (Note:  Ignore the fact that this girl is actual 26-years-old.  Don’t let facts get in the way of your fun.)

The catchiness of this song is absurd.  You hate yourself for it, but you want to be listening to it constantly.  You want to hear to it so bad that you will search the iTunes store on your phone while you’re driving down the freeway.  Even worse, when you get pulled over, the cop will understand what you were doing and will let you go scot-free, because he was just searching for the song, as well.

Keep on rockin’, son!

In short, to honor this past weekend’s premiere of the new season of Breaking Bad, I can only conclude one thing:  Carly Rae Jepsen is the true Heisenberg.

The resemblance is uncanny.