Tuesday, January 29, 2008

That's cold

I sent this "killer" comedy material to the local country station but I doubt they'll use it...and I just couldn't keep 'em to myself now, could I?

Young TV star Luke Benward, guest-reporting from the annual Country in the Rockies event (which involved country artists skiing, doing music, etc. raising money for charity) in the entertainment column of the Tennessean:

"We raised over $30,000 at Cocoa for the Cure, sponsored by Dunkin' Donuts. There were 20 other kids that helped us sell cocoa and coffee at the base of the mountain."

Benward didn't mention the main reason he made so much money: the rich celebrity customers didn't listen past the first part of his sales pitch. They misheard "cocoa" and thought he was selling something else. (They were disappointed to find out that was only sugar on those donuts).

Also, this story proves that, as any good commercial real estate broker will tell you, the three most important features of a business property are "location, location, location"! And if your business involves sellling hot beverages for charity, it helps if your location is wall-to-wall with wealthy celebrities who are freezing their butts off.

I can hear my dad now (as he shook his head): "Ten thousand comedians out of work and YOU'RE telling jokes!" But he would only say this after laughing at what I said. So blame him.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bono bests Brahms for baby bliss

This is a really interesting book; just a series of recorded conversations between the author, who is an old friend of U2 and wrote about them in the early days, and Bono. The insights he shares in the interviews prove he is at least somewhat less overrated than most rock star activists, and confirms my sense that he's better grounded than most. I recommend the book and the music, not necessarily in that order.

The above bit of vital, award-worthy blogging led me to the following:

I ran across this CD in an online search for U2 music at the library (I like to have a soundtrack when I read about musicians, and I haven't heard any full U2 albums since "The Joshua Tree." I know, I know). A search on amazon.com reveals this bizarre production is part of a whole series of rock songs made into lullabies.

I try to have an open mind about these things...I really do. And I've found I've become more accepting of interpretations of musical works that are unconventional or that seem to stray from the original intent. But this...this is too much. To paraphrase Dave Barry: "And the RIAA does nothing." They should be lobbying against THIS instead of trying to convince everyone that it's wrong to make one copy of a legally-purchased CD onto a computer for personal use.

I mean, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" as a LULLABY? Could this be more inappropriate? Not so much for the kid, but... poor song! Neutered like Bob Barker's housecat. This is not "interpretation" or a musical equivalent to poetic license...this is a Kafka short story in the making!! It's just as well I'm a Baptist because no combination of swear words would be adequate at this point.

The other collections are just as odd...Rolling Stones...the Cure...Led Zeppelin...Nirvana (They had tunes? Who knew?)...Pink Floyd (OK, that last one is more plausible, especially if the baby is medicated). If the phrase "rock 'n' roll is dead" ever meant anything....

Granted, infants couldn't care less about the lyrical content as long as the melodies are pretty and repetitive and the sound is soothing (case in point, that song about the baby falling from a tree..."cradle and all"). And there must be a bazillion recordings out there that meet this standard. If anyone thinks this is mainly about how much the BABIES enjoy the music, I'd put them in the same category as the people (especially cat owners)who project the personality traits onto their pets that they want the pets to have, regardless of the evidence, or lack of it, that said pet has that trait. Ego-based self-delusion is a fascinating thing.

So, OK, clearly the key element at work here is how much the ADULTS like the music because it reminds them of the original songs (usually due in part to associations with their own pre-parent lives, of which the kids are equally oblivious). And even though most adults don't pay that close attention to the actual lyrics, it can't be healthy for a mom to be reflecting on the words, however subconsciously, to the Rolling Stones' tribute to Valium, "Mother's Little Helper":

"And though she's not really ill
There's a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mother's little helper"

The sad part is that this reveals how low the bar is for success in this country. Any resemblance or vague connection to the popular and familiar will move merchandise, never mind the artistic principle being violated. I don't want anyone to be a musical snob...but surely even parenthood doesn't damage one's tastes to this extent!

Is this what losing all that sleep and dealing with diapers and drool does to a person? I can accept the occasional nod-off in the drive-through by the mom in front of me, or a new dad's failure to stay on-topic around the water cooler...but this? Very scary!

Especially funny or tragic (depending on your point of view) are the remarks in the consumer reviews posted on amazon.com--with no apparent sense of irony.

Debra C. Perry of Modesto, CA hoped her nephews would receive "subliminal messages of good music in their sleep." How about: "Grow up quick so you can enjoy good, original, passionate music, and not this watered-down substitute."

Lindsey Justice said:
"My husband and I both really love U2, so I was positively giddy to buy this CD! I didn't have very high hopes for it- I figured it was just too crazy to pass up."
"Too crazy"? She might be onto something here.

Book Lover "JJ" from San Francisco proudly declared that she gave the CD as a baby shower gift...more than once...and spread the disease:
"Both gift recipients LOVED this lullaby collection. One recipient registered for many of this series. Her two favorites were this one and The Beatles renditions. The tunes were absolutely recognizable."
Well, a producer can't ask for a bigger compliment to his work than "recognizable"!

Not everyone was positive--but their comments don't inspire much hope, either.

Pesopusher from Texas clearly bought the CD as a necessary item--he needed to feed his unhealthy addiction:
"As a U2 fan of over 18 years, 15 concerts, a trip to Ireland, and a U2 tattoo, I have over 100 U2 CDs (singles, imports, bootlegs, rarities, and what not) and thought 'what the heck'.
[Unfortunately this sentence doesn't continue with "...am I doing with my life?!"]
"After two times listening to the full album, I still get confused and messed up during the songs."
Guess it's hard to pump your fist when the percussion doesn't quite recreate the original feeling of teen angst. At least he's willing to admit he has a problem; that's the first step.

"Disappointed" D. Ferchland from New York seems to have missed the point, as well as a few typing lessons:
"I bought this and the Pink Floyd Lullaby CD... this is just as bad... Actually both cd's sound the same, nothing like the actual songs, and just like the Floyd cd, the sound is annoying and definitley not soothing... I recomend buying the regualr cd, not the lullaby versions."
Gee, it's too bad there's no way to listen to these things in advance...like, where a person could click a button and hear a sample online....hmmmm.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not without sympathy. I appreciate the pull of a familiar tune and the annoying nature of some music for kids, and I'm all for recycling...but...people. Please. Songwriters and composers are struggling to make a living...this is one more reason why. Let the music you love keep its dignity--what little it may have left after being used in detergent commercials and "American Idol" auditions.

Of course, I know it'll be different if I'm ever a parent; maybe I'll understand. Or maybe not. But until then, I'm looking up entertainment lawyers in the phone book; surely something can be done.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gospel at the Opry

Click pic to see the series

On Sunday I met up with a few friends to enjoy a TV taping at the Opry House. Various country artists performed songs from the new CD "How Great Thou Art: Gospel Favorites Live From The Grand Ole Opry." The CD will be released on Feb. 5 and the TV special will air on GAC Feb. 9.

Some artists made more of an impression on me than others; some were more enthusiastically received. As it happens in many live-performance TV tapings I've attended in town, most did their songs more than once, due to various technical or performance-related glitches. This was where the studio audience became actors in the show, giving an equally raucous welcome to the artist each time.

A cynic might see in all this an effort to cash in on the growing popularity of Christian music (and entertainment in general targeted to the Christian audience). I'd say that pragmatic element of exploitation of "the Truth as product" is always lurking in the background (or sometimes not so much in the background) of any commercial project; the CCM industry would not exist as we know it otherwise (whether that would be such a bad thing might be a topic for discussion elsewhere). But then the traditional church has often been a home base for the music, the artists and the listeners, and few escape the influence of that experience. Closing a show with a "Gospel number" is a long-established showbiz standard. Even in modern country music, those core beliefs and values are often under the surface even if the participants' lifestyles and song choices often don't reflect it. Some, on the other hand, continue to maintain a vibrant faith and are not shy to live it or sing about it.

It's pretty tough to see how real anyone's faith is to them in any moment; it's even tougher to see past the p.r.-created image of a celebrity to make that call. And given the fact that even trying to evaluate another person's walk with God is a delicate matter even when it's necessary (as it seldom is), I found it best to listen to each person's offering of song on its own merits, and fight the tendency to compare the message the artists presented Sunday night with the "message" they might offer in any other given day. I would hope others do the same for me!

That said, here are my random recollections and opinions about the evening.

Some performances were "just there." Ronnie Milsap got the evening started with a fairly standard version of "Precious Lord, Take My Hand"; I was confused as to why he wasn't rocking it out. Sara Evans did a nearly-lifeless rendition of "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" that make me wish it were at least a jog. (I wonder if they'll include Little Jimmy Dickens' version of the church camp parody--"Just a Bowl of Butter Beans"--as a bonus track. Probably not.).

Dierks Bentley did a couple of Hank, Sr. tunes: "A House Of Gold" and "I Saw the Light." He did get points for dressing up; I think the suit and skinny tie were as much a tribute to Hank as the songs were.

Loretta Lynn did a good job with a Mosie Lister tune called "Where No One Stands Alone." Not earthshaking, but, hey, it's Loretta! She got a laugh with (apparently) a self-deprecating comment I didn't quite hear when she told everyone she'd be doing the song one more time.

The high points included Trace Adkins' soulful rendition of "Wayfaring Stranger." Made me think "this oughta be on the radio"--if not mainstream country, then at least the country Gospel shows you might hear on Sunday mornings.

Vince Gill, the most natural & relaxed entertainer I've seen at any Opry show, put his unique stamp on a spiritual called "Give Me Jesus" in an understated piano-vocal arrangement. He gave credit to CCM artist Fernando Ortega for recommending the song. A standout performance. Between takes a lady called out "I love you, Vince!" and he immediately responded "I love you too, sir!" and said he liked men with high voices. A standard stage joke of his, but always effective with the adoring audience he attracts.

Charlie Daniels, still excited about his induction into the Grand Ole Opry the night before, still had plenty of energy to put into "I'll Fly Away." He and the house band got some signals crossed at some point and the train came to a grinding halt, but of course it was up and running again before long. I'm not sure if he was singing the same lyrics I learned long ago, but that was a minor issue at most for any sensible listener; besides, the way some of these songs have been passed along, minor modifications are bound to happen.

Carrie Underwood closed the show with an ambitious version of "How Great Thou Art"; I would like to have heard it about a step lower, given her range. On the first try she started into the wrong verse about halfway through and stopped with a "dadgummit!" and a laugh at her own expense. The second try wasn't quite there either. As she shuffled back to the side stage to be introduced yet again, she displayed the difficulty of hurrying in high heels, to sympathetic giggles in the audience. But she proved the old adage about the third time being a charm, as that one was a keeper.

I don't think I'll be buying the CD, but I hope to see the special; since I just lost my free cable and don't plan to restore more than the "limited basic" range of channels, you may be hearing from me about a viewing party--volunteer hosts/hostesses needed!

Friday, January 18, 2008

For the love o' Lorna

Nashville songwriters are coming together to raise money and other means of support (love, hugs, prayers, etc.) for the impossible-not-to-like Lorna Flowers, a British "import" to the Nashville community. She is in a battle with cancer without benefit of insurance. Please come by the Commodore on West End Avenue on Saturday, Feb. 2 for this event, and if you can't get in the door due to the crowd (which is possible, given the stellar lineup), contact Lorna or Debi Champion to find out how you can give.

Meanwhile, YOU CAN HELP by spreading the word:

Read the full news release:
Music community comes together to help songwriter battle cancer Right-click or Cntrl-click above and "save as..." to download document; if you're asked for a password, click "cancel"

Print out a flyer for your office, club, favorite bathroom stall, whatever
Click to download (500kb pdf)


Paste the flyer into a comment or bulletin on myspace:
1. Right-click or Cntrl-click here and "save as..." to download document (Make sure "Save as type" is "All Files" and the filename ends in .txt, not html)
...OR just e-mail me and I'll send it to you
2. Copy-paste into a comment or bulletin or blog

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Turn down the treble for this one

From today's Tennessean:
"Sara Evans will tape CMT Crossroads with Maroon 5 on Jan. 29 before an invitation-only Nashville audience. The show airs in May."

Brought to you by Breathe Right® nasal strips!

Some sponsorships are no-brainers.

(Hey, if you can't make snarky comments about people who are more successful, popular and attractive than yourself...the terrorists have already won!).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bob & Larry make the Scene

This week's Nashville Scene has a story about the new Veggie-Tales movie, including an interview with one of its creators, Mike Nawrocki of Big Idea.

Nice to see an article about a Christian venture in a publication that's hardly known for championing a conservative OR religious viewpoint, much less a combination of the two!

P.S.: One thing I discovered by visiting the movie website photo gallery is that the movie contains a parody of the song "Rock Lobster" by the B-52's. That's cool.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Dave Barry recaps 2008

My holidays were pleasant but far from noteworthy (not that it would stop most bloggers from talking about it, but I'm not in the mood to self-indulge). So I'll let an expert take the spotlight for now (but not for good).

If you think you might be a funny writer...read this recap of 2008 and think again.