Monday, July 13, 2009

Listening...(July 13, 2009 edition)

Jai Ho--A.R. Rahman
Stay Where I Can See You--The Starting Line
Audience of One--Rise Against
Cocaine--Eric Clapton
Suzie--Boy Kill Boy
In The Lord--Taize Community
Any Way You Want It--Journey
Meet James Ensor--They Might Be Giants
Revival!--Me Phi Me

I've never really understood why Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" was such a "great" song. Is it because the lyrics seem vague about cocaine, and that kind of message coincides well with the blues of drug use? Is it cool in and of itself to sing about drug use? I remember some of the rumored drug users from middle school to college thought this song was great. Was it that they thought it was great because they recognized that highs felt good but that drug use was a dead-end habit? Or is any song mentioning drugs cool? Clapton claims the song is anti-drug. The riff isn't exactly inspiring, and its repetition calls to mind water torture. What got me listening to the song was watching a portion of the newer version of the film "The Bad News Bears (Billy Bob Thornton version)" He takes his youth baseball team to Hooters for a celebration--and at the peak of this celebration, the team chants this song as it blares in the background on the jukebox (I could see something like this happening in the 70's, but today???). That connection to "Cocaine" was humorous enough as I watched the film with my dear wife Sunday morning. In almost a Twilight Zone moment, I'm sitting in a "contemporary" worship service with my family about an hour later. After the sermon, the band goes into a sung interpretation of the Apostles' Creed. As I reflect on this creed, I see the language is a bit different, but acceptably similar (pastors think about this stuff). What piques my interest about this worship song is the guitar's..."Cocaine!" My eyes bugged out of my head. I don't want to say the word "cocaine" in a worship service, especially in the relatively small room we were in. But I point this out to my dear wife, who doesn't see this realization as the surreal moment that I do. This story is going to end up in one of my novels someday. I couldn't make up something like this.

I had only marginally heard of the band Rise Against, but Keith Law wrote about this band in a blog post. I've found I like looking for music reviews from non-music critics with writing skills. Of the songs he evaluated, this is the song I liked the most. The song has some arena rock drive, but it's a much more poetic reflection upon contrasting youth and adulthood than a typical rock anthem--something I appreciate as I approach 40 years old. I have a feeling I'm going to be listening to the song "Audience of One" often in the next year or so.

Journey can put together some of the most horrendous songs of my rock and roll memory: "Chain Reaction" and "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)" come to mind. But for some reason, "Any Way You Want It" is a great rock anthem. Why? The first two Journey songs try too hard to be deep about love and relationships. The power ballad seems to be a better place to take the sentiment of those songs. "Any Way You Want It" is shallow in its statement, yet simply and pleasantly emotive. It rocks with a broad appeal, with appearances on Caddyshack and in a Toyota commercial in the past two years. It's also a rare song to which I enjoy both driving and running.

I personally find it hard for prayer life and Bible reading to come together well. Taize music helps me when I can't seem to meet words in a place for meaningful prayer. "In The Lord" is an excellent example of a simple, beautiful song that expresses the movement of God in the world and the thankfulness that comes when I reflect upon the Spirit's action.

The Starting Line is not a particularly gifted bunch of lyricists, but they have an uncanny way of matching little vocal shifts and words to music, beat and harmony. If anyone else put the cheesy lyrics, "When you go away, I get so low, like temperatures when they're at their coldest," I think the idea would fall flat. But it works in "Stay Where I Can See You." I love listening to this band.

Sometimes I forget to listen to Whiskeytown. I'm not exactly sure why. They write great songs that tell a unique story about common themes--a bit like Lyle Lovett's country songs with a vocal quality after having swallowed a few burning cigarettes and sounding a bit more melancholy and unpolished. "Avenues" is a well written song, delivered with appropriate sentiment. I've already listened to this song 10 times today. Polishing (producing) a song doesn't necessarily make it better.

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