Britrock, meet R.E.M.

Time for another music post.

Something occured to me today: there are a few British rock bands that are really into R.E.M. A few years back, when I saw Radiohead at Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver, Michael Stipe joined them on stage for a couple of songs (including an excellent version of “Karma Police”). I thought nothing of it at the time; R.E.M. played the night before and had Thom on for a few songs, so it seemed like they were just returning the favour. Then a couple of years later, on Austin City Limits, Coldplay bring in a surprise guest to accompany them, and sure enough, it’s Michael Stipe. They even played an R.E.M. song (“Nightswimming”) and another unreleased one. Now, most recently, it’s the Editors doing a cover of “Orange Crush”. Originally done live, it made its way onto The OC. R.E.M. then did an unplugged version of “Munich”.

I’m curious as to where this connection comes from. There’s no denying that R.E.M. has had a noticeable influence on many pop-rock musicians, as well as fans of the genre. What interests me is the British angle to this. There isn’t really a single R.E.M. song that comes to mind as being in a style that is typical of Britrock, or Britpop for that matter. Is it the British love for the well-made pop song?

Hmm…I have a feeling this will occupy more of my thoughts than it should over the next few days.

Published in: on April 29, 2008 at 10:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Music Video: A Lament – Part II

Funny how once one gets going on a subject, suddenly it starts getting the thought processes going, thinking on the subject matter in new ways that weren’t realized before. That’s how it is often for me. And since I tend to write my posts here in an as-I-think-of-it matter, all sorts of ideas are bound to emerge merely as a result of writing. This is exactly what happened with me with the last post and is the whole reason why I’ve been thinking about the purpose of the music video for the last week or so! I guess the rant wasn’t finished after all…

I suppose if one goes back to the early 1980s and looks at the whole reason why MTV was created in the first place was to provide an outlet to get music exposed over TV in a way beyond just live performances. Music had been showcased as something near video format before the days of MTV by bands like the Police and even Bob Dylan, in his iconic “Subterranean Homesick Blues” montage. But now it was getting round-the-clock treatment in a way never seen before. Coupled with teen and celebrity culture to boot, it was a record label’s dream. Of course, this was back when the cable TV landscape (and I think it was the same in the US as it was here) was barely above a dozen channels. It was much easier to hold a viewer’s attention, to say nothing of the eventual emergence of the Internet.

Some interesting points were mentioned to me on this angle: if in fact this was the primary reason for the music video all along, then its decline as of late makes alot more sense. With the ascendance of other means of exposure, especially in the form of the mp3, the all-music channels were suddenly left in an untenable position. If they can’t hold the audiences like they used to, then the advertisers won’t be there like they used to either. So something’s gotta give. Ultimately, it meant that the more music-oriented programming slowly fell by the wayside to be replaced with programming that had very little to do with music at all, the wave of so-called “reality” TV. Now the networks like MTV and VH1 in the US, MuchMusic and M3 here are now shells of themselves, devoted to music in name only.

So where does that leave the music video? Despite the fact that its champion of so long has diminished a great deal, it’s not all doom-and-gloom. It just means that it’s had to adapt. DVD collections of music videos by various artists have proven popular, or even by certain directors, such as Chris Cunningham and Michel Gondry. And now there’s YouTube, something that the labels have been using their advantage for awhile now.

So maybe it’s not an overall decline in the music video, it’s just that the delivery method has changed, which in itself is a major move. As Marshall McLuhan said: “The medium is the message.”

But I still think there’s room for videos on TV. After all, shouldn’t the music stations be about music?

More Favourites – I can’t believe I forgot to mention them in the last post on this topic, but Tool is another favourite maker of music videos. Adam Jones’s strange, other-worldly creations have been a favourite of mine since their beginning.

Sober (1994)

Stinkfist (1996)

And of course, there’s always the delightful weirdness of Peter Gabriel.

Sledgehammer (1986)

I give an Honourable Mention to Soundgarden’s “Burden In My Hand”. While it’s only the band walking through a desert, the cinematography is excellent.

Burden In My Hand (1996)

Published in: on March 21, 2008 at 3:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Music Video: A Lament

Art and the music video: can they co-exist? I’ve always thought of them as being a perfect match, a visual accompaniment that can take the music in either a whole new direction or give it

But it seems now more than ever before that the music video simply exists to showcase the musician, what they’re wearing or some other product-placed schlock that turns it into a glorified commercial. (If you’ve seen Sting’s video for “Desert Rose”, you’ll know what I mean.) And this is if you actually can see a music video on MuchMusic or M3, now that they’ve almost been totally eliminated in favour of “reality” TV programming.

Now it’s debatable as to whether or not there ever was some ideal time period for the artistic music video, but it definitely seemed like even as short a time as a decade ago, that videos were getting a much more fair deal from their TV distributors. But is this more a symptom of the bands that exist than the environment itself? Well, that’ll be another rant for another time.

But I can certainly say that there have been a few that have stuck with me well after I had seen them on TV, and were really a treat for the senses. Here are some of my favourites of all time:

Radiohead – Pyramid Song (2001)

Live – Turn My Head (1997)

Sigur Rós – Track 1 (2001)

For me, these gave the song something even more than before, a new quality that hadn’t been before realised. Now of course it would be a bit much to expect such a quality all the time, but to see the whole art form in such a state as it is right now can be tough to take at times. Is it meant to be just another tool for marketers and promoters to sell their business and affix a dollar value to yet another element of this world? It sure seems that’s what the TV programmers and record labels think.

Thus I lament. </rant>

Published in: on March 8, 2008 at 10:21 pm  Comments (1)  

Singin’ the Alberta Blues

Well, so much for predictions…

I was one of many who was not expecting such a Tory sweep of the Ledge. At the very least, some modest gains on the part of the Opposition parties. But nothing. Even Wildrose Alliance leader Paul Hinman got the boot. But there are a few reasons not to read too much into this massive win.

First off, one only has to look at the turnout for this election. Only 41% of the electorate even bothered to cast a ballot. 41%! That’s the lowest turnout in over 50 years! Can anyone say that this new government truly represents the people if this province? It gets worse when one considers that the Tories only won this overwhelming majority with a little over 50% of the popular vote. Which translates into support from a little over 20% from the total population. And they now hold 88% of the seats in the Legislature. Ridiculous. Fortunately, there is a solution, though it remains to be seen if the new government will even consider it.

And then there’s the issue of the Opposition. Wow. They had the perfect opportunity: a decrepit government led by an uncertain leader facing fallout from misdeed within their ranks and from their predecessor’s (in)action, coupled with a desire for change that comes after keeping the same party in power for 37 years! And they failed.  Miserably.  Thanks to having run such a lacklustre campaign that completely failed to capitalise on their adversary’s misfortune and inspire any passion whatsoever, they paid for it in fine form. No doubt a major reason why many stayed at home or simply endorsed the status quo.

And to top it off, the provincial election overseer did a fine job in getting things screwed up. Their less-than-informative website crashed prior to election day. Many were not informed at all as to where they were supposed to vote. And this is to say nothing about the case of a large number of returning officers having Tory connections.

Hardly a ringing endorsement of democracy, I’d say. But the bigger question remains: will anyone do anything to redress the vote-representation dischord and staggering voter apathy so that this doesn’t happen again? Somehow, I’m not optimistic…

Published in: on March 6, 2008 at 8:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

And Now It’s Our Turn

Just a few days ago, the writ was dropped: time for another provincial election!

I’m not expecting anything earth-shattering from this, although this would be the most likely time that the Tory dynasty could come to an end. In my riding, the Liberals are a lock to repeat, but beyond that, it’s a bit difficult to say where this will all go. As it stands right now, neither of the main opposition parties are looking poised for an upset. Funny, that seems to be the way of things in most of the industrialised nations and even their regions, like here. But again, it’s still early.

Current prediction: the Liberals and NDP will split just enough of the opposition vote to bring Stelmach and the Tories back, but with a minority government.  It will also serve to highlight the growing split between town and country voters.

Published in: on February 10, 2008 at 6:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Was it really that super of a Tuesday?

So the frenzy of ballots has subsided, and the race for the Democratic nomination is still no clearer than when it started, though the Republicans are much closer to seeing who will lead their charge to retain the White House in 2008 (no small feat at this point.) Being able to look on this process of primaries and delegates and such is a bit weird for an outsider like me. Here, the parties select for the masses, and there doesn’t seem to be much interest in changing that.

But for all these attempts at securing the people’s consent for their candidates, does anyone else feel that the whole thing feels like a wasted exercise?

Granted, whoever does win the election will be a vast improvement over what’s currently occupying the White House. But even with the current crop of finalists, it still does not feel (at least to this writer) like any of them will be willing or able to make the sort of changes that the US is in such desperate need for. The nation’s finances are a mess. The social support network is in rough shape, and their foreign image…well, I don’t need to elaborate on that one.

Quite simply, the next president of the US is going to have quite the task ahead. And I remain unconvinced that they will be able to successfully take it all on. And I have a feeling that I’m not alone on this.

Published in: on February 10, 2008 at 5:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Coincidence?

Wow, it’s been awhile since the last post. But no time like the present to set things right!

Here’s something I noticed when I happened to be watching a recent re-run of The Blues Brothers. As with so many similarities when you catch them, you can help but be astonished by the connection and why you didn’t notice it sooner. So consider this one:

Frank Oz

Here is a shot of Frank Oz, actor/director and voice talent for many of Jim Henson’s creations, from about the late 1970s. He appears in The Blues Brothers as a prison guard. Now compare with this:

David Cross as Tobias Fünke

None other than David Cross in his Tobias Fünke role from Arrested Development. Now I have no idea if Mitch Hurwitz and David Cross had in mind to have Tobias look like an earlier Frank Oz, but still, it’s uncanny, no?

Published in: on September 29, 2007 at 2:07 pm  Comments (1)  

Amusing Sign of the Day

On the way home from work, I saw a vagrant with the ever-familiar cardboard and permanent ink sign. It read:

“Dumb & Useless.  Spare change? ¢/$ = <happy face>”

Published in: on May 12, 2007 at 2:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Why the Labour Market Sucks

This made me really sad today: McDonald’s experience counts more than university degree

While it is written with a Swedish perspective in mind, the circumstances are hardly that much different here in Canada. It continues to baffle the mind seeing all these job listings in a whole bunch of different fields that look for university education but ultimately have little regard for it anyway. So many of them also look for various job-specific training that one would assume would be offered by the employer. But instead, many employers are divesting the responsibility of training future employees onto the candidates themselves. It appears to me that many of these jobs have decided that it’s better not to consider how well educated these individuals are or how much time and resources they’ve committed already to a particular field, or even the potential for equivalencies.

So what’s the motive behind this? Passing the onus of training onto the candidate employee whilst still demanding a formal education seems like an employer that wants to defer the costs of training to the candidates. From a business standpoint, it makes sense, but to anyone on the outside, it seems like a massive cop-out. Spent alot already? Well, get set to spend some more if you really want this job… It all makes for a labour market that is very pro-employer and almost anti-employee.

And I’m not even going to get started on the work experience paradox.

Published in: on April 22, 2007 at 4:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Happy Easter!

I hope everyone’s been enjoying their Easter weekend. Here, it was much the same as every year, having relatives over for the big feast and all. But there’s one thing I have to say about this time of year: hasn’t this become one of the most screwed-up holidays ever?

Now really, what does a rabbit have to do with anything surrounding the Crucifiction? To me, it’s always been about the corporate imagery, regardless of whether or not it started that way. Keep the kids identifying with some gift-bearing being of nebulous origins versus its real meaning, push the chocolate angle and we can turn this into another Christmas!

And really, you’d almost think that’s what is happening. I saw in a mall recently a line-up of kids waiting to get their pictures taken with the Easter Bunny. In the news recently was word of a school in Rhode Island, USA, where they’ve banned the Easter Bunny altogether because it was felt his religious symbolism was too strong. He has since been renamed Peter Rabbit.

Man, this is boggling my mind even whilst writing this. I think I need some more chocolate…

(For a real funny look at the Easter holiday involving a fish and Lincoln Logs, check out Bill Hicks’ Rant In E Minor.)

Published in: on April 9, 2007 at 10:13 am  Leave a Comment