used for the "Big Rock Candy
Mountain" cover above is a 1940 publicity shot of Woody Guthrie
and Burl Ives in Central Park. Their casual closeness mirrors the
homoerotic storyline of the song, in which a burly bum recruits a young
boy into an alternative lifestyle, at least for awhile. Since
first being released in 1928, everything about "Big Rock Candy Mountain"
has been controversial, especially its liquor references and its
cheerful championing of sloth and laziness. It has been released in many
versions, and sanitized as a children's tune. In the bite of its true
form it is a true product of the Depression Era, an artifact of a
yearning need to believe in a place of ease and plenty. In that,
it is a story type as old as written language, represented by the
mythical land of "Cockaigne" in Middle French. This may be why my
generation has long wanted to believe that the real meaning of this
"children's song" we all grew up with - we got the clean versions on
daytime TV - was that "big rock candy mountain" was code for
cocaine. The true concept is far deeper than that, which is why it is
this election cycle's offering. U.S. politics is a sort of Cockaigne
that is offered up in a presidential election year, with hard choices
related to both "the home guard" and "the union card". Click on
the cover above to have a listen and see if you don't think 1928 sounds
a lot relevant in 2012.
We lifted this image from
FalseNorthing.com. Not sure where they lifted it from.
In an effort to spare gentle readers from the
sharp sticks and pointy stones that this site occasionally throws at our
favorite cultural targets, all of our outright negative stuff will
hereafter appear on its own bummer page, set aside for "Mr. Grumpy".
This stuff is always rude and offensive, finger-pointing and filled with
rage and judgment. Or, otherwise put, the best stuff on the site. This
edition Mr. Grumpy picks on Bruce Springsteen,
Steve Perry, Robert Plant, and
Gordon Sumner, who we refuse to call "Sting".
Use this link to go to the grumpiest page in
all of whatever it is we do here!.
Interscope Records CEO
was featured in a recent piece in Rolling Stone, and it was one
of those rare celebrity interviews that actually yield insight and
useful information for people interested in music production and
New Releases on
RARadio: "1,000 Leather Tassels"
by The Blank Tapes;
"We Are All Stone" and "Those
Outer Minds; "Another Dream"
by MMOSS; "Susannah" by
Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, Michael
Jackson and other dead celebrities / news by
A SECRET PARTY; "I Miss the Day"by
My Secret Island,
"Carriers of Light" by Brendan James;
"The Last Time" by Model Stranger;
"Last Call" by Jay; "Darkness"
Cohen; "Sweetbread" by
Simian Mobile Disco and "Keep
Actress off the Chronicle
movie soundtrack;"Goodbye to Love" from
October Dawn; Trouble in Mind 2011
Black Box Revelation Live on
Minnesota Public Radio;
Apteka "Striking Violet";
Mikal Cronin's "Apathy" and "Get
Along"; Dana deChaby's
Mr. Grumpy with Mrs. Grumpy outside of
their grumpy home.
Mr. Grumpy Coughs One Up!
Terrible things that the publisher of RARWRITER.com has to say about
your favorite celebrities and more!
RAR NOTE: When my
brother and I were kids, we would occasionally drop the
"F-bomb" in conversations with our Mom just for the sake of
setting her off. It was funny. My point then was that it is
ridiculous to allow words like "fuck" to have any
power at all over us. That now seems like an odd pitch from
someone who makes a living peddling words with the
expectation of manipulation and power, but as a kid it
seemed implausible to me that a single, silly word could set
people off so. "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" somehow
breaks down into the most offensive true acronym in
existence. (It's an acronym if it is pronounced as a
word, otherwise it is a mere initialism, e.g., NASA
versus NAACP.) Perhaps because we use the word in so
many ways - as an expletive, a descriptive, a generic
catch-all (What the fuck?), a request, etc. - it long ago
became an over-used cliché vehicle for simplifying our
emotional response to whatever it is we are talking about.
Perhaps as bad as leaning on cliché is the insistence on
using the offending word loosely - it is a staple in the
conversations of many, which to me immediately ranks them as
louts - when clearly it continues to offend large
numbers of people. As a guy who gets pissed off every time I
see Atlanta Braves fans doing that stupid "Tomahawk Chop"
and moaning their Indian chant, I find open disregard for
the sensitivities of others to be offensive, and outright
stupidity to be even worse. For all these reasons, I wish
people would grow the fuck up and stop using the word fuck.
It just sounds stupid, doesn't it?
Takes One to
Glenn Frey and the College Try
So here is a
story that allows those of us who cannot gain admittance to
the guilded world of Nashville pop music or those of its
more citified counterparts to chuckle with satisfied
amusement. Glenn Frey has been teaching at NYU this past
semester, apparently prompted to do so after attending a
Country Music Awards show a few years ago and hearing a
series of poorly written songs.
written hit songs out of Nashville?
amuses because Nashville, as a personification of an insular
industry, sees itself as the place where songwriting has
gone to survive. Apparently motivated to counteract such an
absurd notion, and rollback the tide of mediocrity, Frey
took to the lectern to explain the intricacies of writing
mediocre music as it is done in the larger cities, like L.A.
After all, there are no poorly written songs becoming hits
anywhere but in Nashville, right?
For those of us
who were heartened many years back by
Mojo Nixon's minor classic
"Don Henley Must Die", i.e.,
"He's a tortured artist
Used to be in the Eagles
Now he whines
Like a wounded beagle
Poet of despair!
Pumped up with hot air!
He's serious, pretentious
"And I just don't care
Don Henley must die!
Don't let him get back together
With Glenn Frey!
Don Henley must die!"
...this is an amusing pot calling the kettle black type of story. Who
ever suggested that the Henley-Frey songwriting team was any kind of a
gold standard in pop music composition? Many, you might say, would say
their long list of hit songs, including AM radio pabulum such as "Take It Easy",
"Peaceful Easy Feeling", "Already Gone", "Tequila Sunrise", "Lyin'
Eyes", "New Kid in Town", "Heartache Tonight", and "How Long"
is all one need to offer in the way of evidence of their sublime
songwriting skills. Agreed. These are many of the exhibits that have led
Mojo Nixon and his adulators to believe as they do about Mr. Frey's
counterpart, and the need to keep him distant from Mr. Frey himself.
According to a November 16 Associated Press story, the 16 students
fortunate enough to fall under Frey's tutelage were not initially
intimidated by their proctor because they didn't really know who he was.
But when Frey started dropping the names of his songwriting mentors -
Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Bob Seger - the kids started to catch on.
A.J. Smith, a senior studying music composition from Washington, D.C.,
said Frey helped focus the students on the songwriting process and the
idea that all parts of their songs "should be something someone can feel
and appreciate." He also said Frey noted that the Eagles even tried to
make their guitar solos "sing-able" — thus the reason almost everyone
knows the final minutes of the song "Hotel California."
It is most certainly worth noting that "Hotel California" was
composed as an instrumental by the Eagle's too-little heralded guitarist
Don Felder. As Frey has noted,
Felder had "been submitting tapes and song ideas to us since he'd joined
the band, always instrumentals, since he didn't sing. But this
particular demo, unlike many of the others, had room for singing. It
immediately got our attention. The first working title, the name we gave
it, was 'Mexican Reggae'."
"Hotel California" is arguably the best song in the Eagles catalog,
and certainly a significantly greater musical achievement than any of
those listed for Henley-Frey, who got songwriting credits for their
lyrical contributions. So a grump such as I suspects that the
fine Mr. Felder should rightly be the Eagle getting the university teaching gigs, but then
life is like that. It makes me want to take in some Mojo Nixon.
- RAR edit 11-26-12
Music Industry Currently Likes:
From the Just Shoot Me soundtrack of our lives, and further
proof that the end is past but it was so boring that no one noticed.
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And So the Keys to the Kingdom Were
Century Singing Competition for Professionals
Springsteen – Comes with a hemorrhoidal approach
to vocalization, producing a sincere facsimile of what it
must be like to squeeze a song out through badly swollen and
torn tissues. But does sounding like singing is hard for a
person make them competitive in this company? Yes, probably.
Perry – The journeyman singer suffered traumatic
events as a young girl that left him incapable of singing
below a 4th register C, but eager to sing an
excruciating 7th register A with embarrassing
Plant – Pleasant human voice, but his feline
genetic code often overwhelms his better senses and in those
long, long moments, he caterwauls like a wanton alley cat,
which is frightening for everyone in ear shot and is
probably the source of myth and legend. He ripped the cosmic
envelope that separated this world from that, allowing in a
host of very similar hair creatures who were/are also prone
– He isn’t, of course, really “Sting”, because Sting
is a well-known sword that Tolkien meant to be used on
people like Gordon Sumner. We enter this competition pretty
certain that this guy is an Orc. Gordon, as we shall call
him, became well known for removing the bottom end of every
note he sang, handing tonal responsibilities over to a bass
playing technique known as
which became popular among non-musicians. Later in his
career, Gordon took vocal training that allowed him to sing
in a less grating way, but then so much of his style rests
with the character of his Orcan soul.
we listening to?” my 17-year old daughter asked. She has
this way of phrasing questions with answers already
embedded, and I have come to interpret her real meanings. In
this case, we were listening to Bruce Springsteen perform “Jungleland”,
and her review was “Change the station, this is crap!” And
how is one to argue with that? Sure, Springsteen plays a
nice little piano figure over and over, and over and over,
and then some more, and then sings the same song he always
sings, just changing the names and locations. It is the
formula that made him famous, beloved to New Jersey natives
most of all.
Springsteen has a vocal range of some notes in a single
octave, but thank goodness as a poet he is…well, he is still
crap, just a pseudo-Dadaist without inspiration beyond what
he saw around his apartment.
worth noting that “The Boss” – a title that stands as a
clumsy spin on the sobriquet of another New Jersey native,
Frank Sinatra, and his “Chairman of the Board” thing – is
not even on the radar of today’s young people. If they know
him at all, they tend to see him as a bore; a noisy,
out-of-date annoyance from another time who can’t stand up
to comparisons to today’s singers. Think Bruno Mars and Neo.
Next to them, Springsteen sounds like a guy who never had
any training to develop his limited skills. That worked in
1971, at least better than it does today.
who the kids today do like? Steve Perry.
to sing along with old Journey records, for reasons that
completely allude me, and it is no accident that Journey
became a staple of the “Glee” soundtrack. However sappy
their songs, particularly a confection like “Don’t Stop
Believing”, kids in 2012 seem to respond to the vocal and
compositional dynamics. And they admire Steve Perry’s pipes,
which among this group of singers are probably the most
pure. But then again...
tunes with dynamic range seem to work, and screamers remain
in vogue for the still-going-through-pubescence set. Robert
Plant, the father of the heavy metal vocal style that makes
non-devotees want toss their radios out of their car
windows, is popular as hell today, as beloved as Ozzie
Osbourne, who is not that distantly related. And then there
are all the other bastards, which is the calling card one
must carry to be accepted into the Metal community. They all
sound essentially the same, just lesser or different
versions of Robert Plant in full psycho mode.
the world of disparate returns and riches be without the
self-nullifying among the storied elite? Why, exactly,
Gordon Sumner is in that elite category owes a lot to the
dearth of musicality that also allowed the rise of Bruce
Springsteen and Steve Perry. By the time The Police hit,
some of the world was so sick of Country-Rock and Disco that
it needed to puke, and this happened to coincide with the
birth of MTV, which was puke incarnate. The Orc Sumner was
perfect for that, because at one time he was young, blond
and pretty in a sculpted sort of way. But he was always a
jerk, like an Orc would be expected to be. And he was always
phony as a three-dollar bill, an early enlistee in the faux
world of midi composition and musical arrangement. A lot of
looping in Police material, which was a precursor of things
to come, like the bluish glow of the real “Sting”. Sting
revealed to the world that it doesn’t take a lot of talent
to string together big beds of notes when all you are doing
is clicking on a computer program. One suspects the
fraudulent Sumner was driven by guilt to do something about
his vocal style, which in his early years sounded high out
of his natural range, and had the intonation of finger nails
on old car paint. But around the time that he did the
soundtrack for Leaving Las Vegas he began to retreat
to more comfortable keys, and his sound became richer. But
he’s still “Sting Sumner”, weighted to irrelevance by his
own certainty of self-importance. His points are all lost
through apparent misapprehension of higher purpose, beyond
“Sting”, the phony appropriation of his self-revealing
shallowness. You know any other 60-year old men who have
given themselves a special moniker? Or any that weren’t
clever enough to come up with something not quite so clichéd
as a name from one of the most popular books in all of
English literature? I think when you are past sixty, “Sting”
as an appropriated name translates into “Stupid”.
you kidding, there are no losers in this crowd. All of these
contemptible crappers have already won big in the game of
life’s singing competition. That one of them can’t sing at
all, and that the other three are annoying as hell, is
irrelevant now, because these four somehow snuck over the
wall that protects us from deteriorations in cultural
quality. And they, and hordes of others exactly like them,
have diminished our communal sense of what quality music may
all be about; “may” because its value and meaning and
purpose has all been subjugated by the commercialization of
the unhelpful, the Kanye Wests and Britney Spears of the
world. The creeps in this competition let all those lesser
people in to corrupt our sonic worlds, our sense of musical
winner? The winner is the Devil, of course, for music as
defined by the menstruations of those above, is a temptation
to foolish thoughts and shallow perspectives. Springsteen,
Perry, Plant and Sumner have won the right to stand atop the
mountain of mirth made by an industry that took music away
from adults forever, and put it in the hands of very young,
rather like turning control of the world over to the winner
of a singing competition judged by Simon Cowell, Christine
Aguilera, Randy Jackson, Paul Abdul, Lady Gaga, and Cee Lo
NEIL YOUNG RANT
Regular readers of RARWRITER.com will
recognize this as my annual holiday Neil
Young/Bridge School Benefit
rant and part of an on-going peeve at what has
happened to the California K-12 educational system.
Nothing personal here against Neil or his family, nor
any of the students or parents of students at the Bridge
School. The issue is all about public funding, which we
need a lot more of to meet the needs of special needs
and run-of-the-mill students. (Advanced students always
seems to find ways to take care of themselves.) One
cannot gain by entering these emotionally charged
grounds, however worthy the debate. It brings to fore
our most vociferously-defended passions: our kids
and our money. It is odd, or so it seems to me,
that in a period in which home schooling is going
through a boom in popularity, that we have this other
special interest group focusing on getting into the very
public school system that the parents of home schoolers
want their kids out of. The mainstreaming
experience that we seek for our special needs students
is the same that some among us seek to escape. There is
the state of California public school funding issue in a
nutshell, with points of view driven by personal stakes
and self-interested points of view, which is inevitably
the bottom line in democracy and political debate. The
current funding dilemma, with huge portions of local
public school funds going to special education programs,
is the result of California taxpayers being unwilling to
fund systems that don't diminish the prospects of many
in hopes of improving the prospects for a few.
Would Neil Young Please Retire?
Here (video below) we have the inestimable talents of
Axl Rose and
Neil Young joined
together to remind us all that no one other than Neil Young
can sing a Neil Young song, and when Neil sings them they
don't really make much sense. Neil's alto-soprano voice does
cut through the...uh...music though, which has always been
the authority behind Young's unique power to please.
On the other hand, his annual Bridge Benefit
Concert, from which this video appears to have been
bootlegged, is an annual discomfiture complete with special needs
students from the Bridge School seated on stage behind a parade of rock
acts that usually don't behave with great decorum. The whole thing is a
fund raiser for the Bridge School, which endeavors to prepare special
needs students for mainlining into the public school system.
While understandable as a parental objective - I would likely support
this if I had special needs kids - in practice the mainlining of special
needs children into public schools has been disastrous to the California
educational system, sapping school budgets to provide for the few at the
expense of the many. It is well-intentioned work gone off the rails,
which is fairly typical of California's proposition-based legislative
Neil Young's high-profile annual event unfortunately deflects the
public's attention from what has become a critical public policy issue,
i.e., what is the public responsibility for caring for an individual's
special needs child? I am all for using public funds to help with the
development of these children, but it must be accompanied by appropriate
funding increases. You cannot just take funds from existing programs and
move them into special needs support.
As a father of two high school-aged kids, the husband of a special
education teacher, and the acquaintance of many other special education
teachers, I feel like this Bridge School benefit is bullshit, a shrill
whine over the sound of thunder, very like Neil Young's own weird
musical and film documentary legacies. It seems to me Canadian citizen
Young - correct me if he has become naturalized as a U.S. citizen - who
has resided in the United States since 1966, ought to petition his
mother country for financial help, if his royalties aren't doing the
job. For the sake of we California citizens, whose share of the pie Neil
seems more than happy to take, I hope he keeps doing these duets with
Axl Rose. That should finally kill off that long-over-served Neil Young
influence. - RAR
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