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The Ramones. (long essay for college)

March 6, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that everybody thinks of the Beatles as the most influential rock and roll group of the 20th century. And as there were no rock and roll groups in the 19th century and there aren’t any as influential or universally beloved as the Beatles in the 21st century, it feels safe to call them the most influential pop band of all time. Indeed, it was John, Paul, George and Ringo who invented the self-contained band–a handful of musicians who would write, sing and play their own songs exclusively. During the 60s, the Fab Four were the biggest thing since sliced bread, but after their dissolution and into the 1970s, rock music took increasingly more theatric and ludicrous turns. Acts like Led Zeppelin opened the door for progressive rock (prog rock henceforth) and heavy metal, two genres less focused on songs and more focused on performances. These genres took skill and years of practice to get into, and were only amassing global popularity in the early 70s.

It was into this musical landscape that the second most influential rock and roll group of the 20th century was born. It was a time of guitar virtuosos and organ solos. When performers took to the stage, it was frequently in elaborate outfits. Rock music became less about rebellion and more about hobbits or satan. This was the environment surrounding four “middle class” New York boys determined to make their impact on the world. And to think, all Tom Erdelyi wanted to do was start a band. When he met John Cummings, Douglas Colvin and Jeffry Hyman through their mutual fandom for The Stooges, the pieces were in place for the Ramones to take over the world. Tommy had found Johnny, Dee Dee and Joey. All that was left was for them to convince him that he should play drums instead of being the manager. (He’d stay on as producer for their first four albums.)

Their passion came out of the New York Dolls, the Stooges and a rebellion (at least on Johnny’s part) against the idea that excessive displays of skill were a necessary part of being a rock band. Unlike their primary influences’ focus on clothing and makeup, the Ramones played strictly in jeans and leather jackets with outgrown Beatles haircuts. Their first shows were at a hole-in-the-wall bar in a New York abandoned by young urban professionals headed for the suburbs. CBGB was the only bar that would have them, and even then, their audience at their first shows was mostly comprised of the members of Television, Blondie, the Talking Heads. Being entirely unique in their style, there was no competition with the Ramones. Read more…

The death of MegaUpload.

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Don’t worry about those two unsightly unfinished articles under this one–I’ll be getting to those in time. I just wanted to get this out now, as well as another article I wanted to write today, both of which are going to be short and to the point. Speaking of to the point, enough faffing about. The warrant-less, trial-less takedown of Megaupload–a file-sharing site noted primarily for its ease of use, clean interface, large storage sizes for free users and rampant, unpoliced piracy by its users–was taken down yesterday, less than twelve hours after the Wikipedia blackout ended. It was unconstitutional. It was standard operating procedure for the police state the United States are becoming. And frankly, it scares me as much as the police violence against demonstrators at various #occupy protests.

The takedown of Megaupload only came about due to money from the entertainment industry. If you have the dollars to pay the United States government, they will attack and destroy anything you want them to. Which, in these days, makes them paid attack goons for the American entertainment industry, as well as the food and military industries. Private contractors can pay the United States to do anything they want, and the US will agree. If you are a private entity with enough money, you can pay the United States to ignore “innocent until proven guilty” and tear down an entire company just because their users engage in illegal behaviour and it’s easier to tear down a service with legitimate uses than police its users. You disgust me.

The truth is, I’d love to get ranting and raving on this, I would. But the entire issue depresses me so heavily that it gets impossible to see how any statement anywhere can make it any better at all ever. We’re occupying, we’re protesting, we’re blacking out popular sites, but the internet will continue to be shut down and closed off by a government that has just started to realize its full, stupid power. Its absolute stupid, dumb power. If great responsibility comes with great power, the United States will ignore that responsibility until the end of western civilisation, signing into legislation more and more faith-based, well-funded idiocy with the intent of making every person on Earth a criminal so that they can decide who the people they want to punish are and decide how long they want to punish them for. We’re seeing arbitrary arrests. We’re seeing massive overreaches of power. And some people are still convinced of an external threat, come to kill us all.

This is what weighs on my mind after the death of Megaupload. This is what I see. Not “oh, if you knock one down, five more will take its place”. I see the greatest nation on Earth falling to theocratic fascism, and my last option is going to be to move to Sweden. I’m tired, I’m sad. An innocent company has been destroyed simply because someone paid a hitman to take it out. Thanks, America. For falling to theocratic fascism under the man who was supposed to make it better and instead wound up selling the American people to wealthy bankers with enough money for nothing already. You disgust me.

Stalling! Now with raps I wrote!

January 11, 2012 Leave a comment

you know those blogs that are nothing but promises to post more?

this is gonna become one of those if this keeps up.

I did my other new year’s thing before I wrote tonight and my mom’s occupying the tv like it’s zucotti park, so I thought I’d do something different.

here’s some raps I wrote a while ago! Read more…

Mission: Impossible, Jack Parow, Foo Fighters, Scream 4.

January 5, 2012 Leave a comment

So, today, I watched Mission: Impossible for the first time in a long time. Since I was about nine years old, actually, and I was surprised by how not-complex the plot was. I wasn’t watching it to review it; I mostly had it on in the background while I trolled the net for a torrent of Eksie Ou, the new Jack Parow album. Which is fantastic, by the way. Gotta get a credit card so I can have copies of his albums shipped to me. Really, this is another one of those days in the life of an amateur critic (read: person with opinions on the internet) where nothing really major happens in their artistic diet. I’ve seen Mission: Impossible before, and I’m pretty sure having memorized the plot through repeated viewings at the age of nine really made it hard to evaluate as though it was the first time seeing it.

Though, I will say this: Brian de Palma loves diopter lenses, but he especially loves his diopter lenses for dutch angles. Starting about ten minutes into this movie, nearly every shot of some intense stuff going down is at a degree sharper than 45 off kilter with something in sharp focus in the background and sharp focus in the foreground. I swear to god, it’s like the arrow in the FedEx logo–once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it for the rest of the movie. All I could think was “jeez, Brian–maybe you don’t need that one guy in the background in focus while these two pairs of lips are hogging the frame to the right. Maybe they could all get a turn on screen in their own shots.”

Other than that, it was a tight, surprisingly grim/gritty/dark/edgy spy thriller. With the direction the franchise took in the latest two installments toward spy-movie fluff, it’s easy to forget these movies started out by killing everyone on screen after revealing the only original cast member left from the TV series to have sold out the entire nation. It’s a weird case of anti-Batman syndrome, where these movies have only gained artistic credence the lighter and fluffier they got. Read more…

Chairs vs chairs.

January 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Think back, in your mind, to the last chair you sat on. I’m going somewhere with this analogy, I promise you, but for now, just think of the last chair you sat on. Perhaps you’re sitting in one right now. (Little computer joke.) I believe in the Zuckerberg Character philosophy that “a guy who builds a nice chair doesn’t owe money to everyone who has ever built a chair”. Chairs are sort of basic, mechanical objects, aren’t they. Enough legs to make balance a certainty; a back if you want your sitter to rest their back on the back of your chair. A seat, preferably, or you have legs jammed up your goolies. And it’s never good to have chairlegs jammed up your goolies no matter how restful your back is on your chair back. But the last chair you sat on is sort of a basic, mechanical thing, right? You can break it down to legs, seat and back. That’s all you need in a chair for it to be called a chair. And you evaluate its quality as a chair by how long it lasts as a chair and how comfortable you are in that chair.

So why do we let manufacturers tell us that other basic mechanical things are so much more complex and difficult just because they’re newer? With a number of things, there’s only really one metric of quality: it works or it doesn’t. Binary. Does it do the job it’s supposed to? I’m not talking about things like guitars with varying sounds or monitors with varying contrast ratios or engines with varying strengths and stuff. I’m talking about things like chairs. Tables. Music stands. Canvas bags. Knives of varying purposes. Do these things do the things they’re supposed to do? And thus, you can judge them. And you’ll notice these are all old things–things we’ve had around for years. But what if I was to tell you there was another thing, a new thing, that’s come along in the last twenty years that has a pretty much binary quality but you’ve been convinced is a matter of highly differing qualities and standards?

It’s cables. Read more…

Whoever’s autotuning Michael Bublé should seriously stop.

January 3, 2012 4 comments

I think I had a serious article planned for today, but when my girlfriend dragged me to the dollar store in order to find materials for one of her art projects (the assignment was “find materials at a dollar store and make something”, not a lie), I was reminded again of one of the tragedies of the modern age. We live in a plastic, synthetic world, and the worst place this unreality has affected the most deeply is our pop music. It’s been pointed out before that my generation–the kids growing up who are ten years younger than I am, basically–lack any rebellious figures in music. Every single performer is so committee approved and prefab that it’s hard to tell them apart and hard to tell just what personalities they’re supposed to have.

Whoever controls the money behind the recording of popular music in this entire past decade decided that every song should sound the exact same mechanical kind of perfect and that exact same “perfected” brand of mechanical. And while this is indeed a problem with the songs these people are writing and performing, it’s most insidiously found in the production of these songs. Every drum is a synthesizer. Every guitar one of five or six preset digital tones. Every synth one of a bank of 200. Every bass mixed to just the right inoffensive bottom range. And every vocal performance has been strangled into a lifeless heap by autotune. (I know I’m a bit Slowpoke on this, but hey–the world could end this year. Y2K is very real.)

Now, the overuse and overabundance of autotune hadn’t offended me in any personal way when it was relegated to the pop, pop punk, pop rock arenas. You can hear the autotune breaks on the last three Green Day albums as well as the cold precision of every Lady Gaga tune, but that’s all well and good–because I already don’t like the music or the lyrics (for the most part). And when you don’t like something that’s happening in something you don’t like, you just go back to whatever it is you were doing previously. But then I heard the latest output from Michael Bublé and my heart was legitimately broken. Read more…

Categories: Music, Not-A-Reviews

Scores vs soundtracks: Why Hans Zimmer can blow me redux.

December 23, 2011 1 comment

There’s an interesting thing that happens when you take a hiatus from writing. Your posts keep generating their own traffic independent of your promotion of them, and you get to see which posts are the ones that generate traffic merely by existing. Back in January, it seemed like “Rap and the persona.” was that post. It got one to two views a day, steadily, for over four months. However, when I stopped writing and stopped looking at the stats on my dashboard, another post took off like a rocket. It was a piece of ranty filler posted over a year and a week ago called “Why Hans Zimmer can blow me.”, in which I spoke at length about how I disliked Hans Zimmer’s music. That was really my only thesis in that essay, yet it’s the most-commented article on my blog, with the comments full of people who love Zimmer and think I’m an imbecile for not loving him like they do and others who simply don’t like his music and don’t get the hype.

I made a mistake in writing that post: I didn’t define my terms properly. Most of the comments I’ve received on it, positive or negative, seem to confuse film scores and film soundtracks. The difference is one of those things I’m gonna put in my glossary when I get around to uploading it. The way I’ve defined it is as follows: a film score is written to picture. It is the work of a composer who has sat down with the finished movie and written the music to it. That is it–it does not define what instruments are used to play the music or how it’s recorded or if it even exists at all. A soundtrack is music that is written outside of the picture that is then put to picture after being written. It can either be an original soundtrack written for the picture specifically by any number of composers or it can be just a collection of songs–pop or classical–selected by the director or someone else on the crew for the movie.

All of these approaches to music in a motion picture can be used to make great movies with great music. Not a one of them is inherently wrong. And here’s where a lot of people got confused. Let’s walk through a number of examples of movies with music that I’ve seen and you’ll see what I mean when I say I wish Hans Zimmer would try writing music to picture. Read more…