Song invoking filling potholes with cement (which the gov’t is not doing)

Potholes are problems in many places but it isn’t often that the issue makes it into a popular song. Here is part of the bridge for Twenty One Pilots’ “Tear In My Heart”:

You fell asleep in my car I drove the whole time
But that’s okay I’ll just avoid the holes so you sleep fine
I’m driving here I sit
Cursing my government
For not using my taxes to fill holes with more cement

Potholes are costly to the average driver but who knew that they can be detrimental to romantic relationships? Yet another reason for spending more upfront on infrastructure to keep the later potholes at bay. Plus, the artist is convinced that the government is misallocating his tax monies. Seems to be a popular American sentiment these days.

These failed romance/anti-government themes may just be popular together: at the time of writing, the song was #67 on iTunes and is #2 on the alternative radio charts. Or, maybe the reference to filling potholes with cement is the real secret…

Some band had to eventually take the name “Mcmansions”

If you can play lead guitar, you can join the band with the great name “Mcmansions.”

Mcmansions seek lead guitarist (Marietta Ga.)

We are primarily an original band based out of Marietta,Ga. We sing about Love, Loss, sadness, insanity and yes redemption. all of us are over the age of 40 and prefer the same.We are acoustic guitarists/lead singer,bass/backup vocals, and drums. We enjoy live performance and recording,mostly on weekends.We are actively seeking you electric guitarist to make our music even better. We all have obligations but nonetheless we live to write sing and play and will quit when we are dead. Our arrangements are not difficult we just need an energetic new friend to fill in all the blanks with stylistic embellishments to whip the band up into a frenzy of rock n roll bliss.

And the style or ethos of the band?

We are proudly playing a distinct original blend of lightly salted alternative Rock/Americana self styled tunage The music speaks for itself We have a 60s garage sound in our music that draws from the Rock, soul, pop ,punk,country and gospel that we have all come to love Actually we have a lost Identity covered with kudzu, rust and condemned asbestos habitations with chipped lead paint…

Given the criticism the McMansion has taken in the last 15 years, there is a lot of sadness and insanity to explore here with this particular band name. However, I’m not sure audiences would be ready for love and redemption stories regarding McMansions…

Two other thoughts:

1. Even with their many problems of the suburbs according to critics (including a lack of community and poor design), there are a good number of music artists who have emerged from this social space in last half century. Perhaps it provides teenagers lots of time, space, and social connections for putting together a group? Perhaps it is because people in the suburbs get some decent music training as kids or have access to instruments and time? Perhaps suburban ills push people toward music as a way to escape?

2. McMansions may not be appealing to some but they offer a lot of space for music equipment and practice space. Imagine how much sound it takes to fill that two-story great room. Or the way that the loud noise of a rock band might just rattle the poorly constructed abode.

Up and coming Chicago area rock band recycles suburban critiques?

I read an interesting profile of The Orwells, a band from Elmhurst, Illinois that has been getting some radio play and whose major label debut comes out this summer. It sounds like a common story: four suburban kids put a band together during high school, find they have some talent which is affirmed by others, and are forgoing college to make a go at it in the music industry. Yet, I found this bit about their new album interesting:

They’ve got their major-label debut, “Disgraceland,” coming out in June; its cover, shot by Eddie O’Keefe, depicts a cookie-cutter post-war Elmhurst house.

From theorwells.com, here is the cover of the album:

A fairly typical home from the Chicago suburbs: split-level, a yard, detached garage in the back. Why the focus on critiquing the suburbs with the image and the title of the album? I listened to some of the band’s songs on SoundCloud and found the group doesn’t say much specific about the suburbs. (As for their sound, it is a mix of classic and modern rock.) Indeed, the theme of a number of the songs seems to be normal stuff for rock ‘n’ roll: how to get the girl. There is a song called “Mallrats” (with a music video filmed at Yorktown Mall) but its verses talk about a girl and the chorus has numerous repetitions of “la la la.” Of course, the new album may have more material about the suburbs.

Maybe this kind of explicit sexual desire is taboo in the suburbs. Maybe the suburbs are simply boring. But, I wonder if this the new album cover and title simply mimic decades-old critiques of the suburbs as too confining for rock music. Does the album contribute anything new or unique about suburban life? The profile of the band suggests the members had a pretty good family life with plenty of ongoing family support plus good educations. Were the suburbs really that bad or is this a simple way to show the band is turning away from the stereotypical clean, comformist, and dull suburbs? If so, they are in a long line of writers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians.

Sociologist explains how the Beatles really did change the world

In a new book, a female sociologist argues that the Beatles “actually did change everything…It’s not just hyperbole.”

In addition to the fan voice being missing from 50 years of Beatles scholarship, Leonard said, the female voice is absent. Most of the books about The Beatles are written by men.“As a lifelong female fan and sociologist, I knew I had a fresh perspective that would be an important contribution to the conversation.”

The intense six-year Beatles immersion created a fan-performer relationship that had never existed before, she said: “Demographics, technology, marketing, the political moment and of course quality of the music, all converged to make it a historically unique event.”

From the very beginning, fans had a sense that The Beatles were talking to them directly…

Young people, she said, had the sense all along that The Beatles “were on their side, encouraging and empowering them. Looking at it in this way, fans’ strong emotional attachment, 50 years later, makes perfect sense.”

Add these generational changes (could the Beatles emerged in the same way without the Baby Boomers?) to a band that came right at the peak of mass media (by the end of the 1960s, more narratives and media outlets were emerging), was able to do everything themselves as a cohesive group (write, sing, and play) compared to single performers (like Elvis) or made bands (like the Monkees), had a personality that was both somewhat traditional (see the clear contrast The Rolling Stones made with them) as well as cheeky and somewhat rebellious, pushed the boundaries of pop music as well as recording techniques, and sold a ridiculous number of albums. Is all of this on the scale of the Cold War or landing on the moon or the ongoing struggles in the Middle East? Probably not but it helped develop and ingrain the importance of popular culture for American society…

It is interesting that most of the major Beatles books have been written by men. Come to think of it, rock music still is dominated by men whether it comes to performers, behind the scenes operators (producers, record label executives, etc.), and journalists.

Cultural differences: British produce popular bands, Americans produce popular solo artists

Here is an interesting musical argument: among the world’s best-selling music artists, Britain is represented by bands while the United States has mainly solo artists.

That fact conforms a rule that becomes more and more noticeable the further down you look on the list of the greatest-selling artist of all time: The biggest bands in the world are British, and the biggest solo artists are North American.

The top 20 artists, in order, are The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, AC/DC, Whitney Houston, The Rolling Stones, Queen, ABBA, The Eagles, U2, Billy Joel, Phil Collins, Aerosmith, Frank Sinatra, and Barbra Streisand. The list is perfectly split between 10 solo artists and 10 groups. Eight of the 10 solo artists are from North America, while eight of the 10 bands are from outside America, the majority being British. Remarkably, the country that invented rock and roll has not produced any of the top seven rock bands. America’s strongest contender, in at No. 8, is often-derided soft-rock stalwarts The Eagles…

It’s hard to avoid wondering whether political/social mores play a role in the dichotomy. America, after all, likes to think of itself as a land of individualists. Elvis, Jackson, and Madonna all came from humble beginnings, surrounded by poverty and family tragedy. They epitomized the American dream, and so you might argue that the more left-leaning Europeans are happier to celebrate the collectivism of a band. If we look to what’s thought to be the most ideologically “right” genre, this theory holds true: Of the 25 greatest selling country-music stars of all time, all are solo artists. The UK’s two bestselling solo stars, meanwhile, do not fit the rags-to-riches mold of the American singers, but are rather privileged virtuosos who were in stage school from a very young age (Phil Collins, Elton John.)

But an arguably sturdier explanation lies in the way those first two giants, Elvis and The Beatles, influenced listeners, musicians, and recording industries in their respective countries. The most-talented aspiring artists on the east side of the Atlantic, from Bono to Freddy Mercury, wanted to be in a band like the Beatles. In the States and Canada everyone from Madonna to Michael Jackson wanted to be the next King.

I’m not sure I buy this final argument. After all, a number of these important early British bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones learned much of their craft from American solo artists like Elvis, Little Richard, Muddy Waters, and others. Every artist in America wanted to be Elvis and every British artist wanted to be like The Beatles?

Another aspect of this is that even solo artists need backing bands and collaborators. It is not like the solo artist does everything alone even if they get much of the credit. Additionally, many bands have more dominant and less dominant members. Many bands have struggled with this as members vie for attention. In the end, perhaps this is more about notions of who gets to take credit for musical achievements: the front person or the collective?

This topic seems ripe for more prolonged study. This argument is based on the top 20 artists of all time and perhaps represents a statistical anomaly compared to a broad slice of chart-toppers. And why not expand the study to other countries who might have even different musical cultures?

The rise of “Seven Nation Army” to sports folk song

Deadspin has the story of how the song “Seven Nation Army” became ubiquitous at sporting events around the world. Here are a few of the important steps in the rise of the song:

The march toward musical empire began on Oct. 22, 2003, in a bar in Milan, Italy, 4,300 miles away from Detroit. Fans of Club Brugge K.V., in town for their team’s group-stage UEFA Champions League clash against European giant A.C. Milan, gathered to knock back some pre-match beers. Over a stereo blared seven notes: Da…da-DA-da da DAAH DAAH, the signature riff of a minor American hit song…

But in Milan, at the beginning, it was purely spontaneous and local. Kickoff was coming. The visiting Belgians moved out into the city center, still singing. They kept chanting it in the stands of the San Siro—Oh…oh-OH-oh oh OHH OHH—as Peruvian striker Andres Mendoza stunned Milan with a goal in the 33rd minute and Brugge made it hold up for a shocking 1-0 upset. Filing out of the stadium, they continued to belt it out.

The song traveled back to Belgium with them, and the Brugge crowd began singing it at home games. The club itself eventually started blasting “Seven Nation Army” through the stadium speakers after goals.

Then, on Feb. 15, 2006, Club Brugge hosted A.S. Roma in a UEFA Cup match. The visitors won, 2-1, and the Roma supporters apparently picked up the song from their hosts…

“Seven Nation Army” made a beachhead in American sports in State College, Penn. According to a 2006 story in the Harrisburg Patriot-News, Penn State spokesperson Guido D’Elia—who is still the director of communications and branding for the embattled football program—was inspired by hearing a Public Radio International story about A.S. Roma’s use of the song. D’Elia, who also introduced the now unavoidable German techno track “Kernkraft 400” to Nittany Lions fans, had found something new…

By the middle of the 2006 season, “Seven Nation Army” was a Beaver Stadium staple. (This year, as Penn State students gathered on Nov. 8 outside the university administration building, they began singing Joe Paterno’s first name over the riff.)

Is this what globalization looks like? The song was recorded by Americans, found its way into bars and soccer stadiums in Belgium and Italy, and then back to the United States as a marching band piece. Along the way, the song crossed national and language boundaries as well as musical instruments.

I bet there could be some interesting musical analysis regarding why this song has become so popular. It doesn’t require words to be sung, particularly helpful for large crowds of (rowdy?) people at sporting events. It only includes seven notes. It has a particular minor edge to it, described in this story as a sound of “doom” which is no doubt helpful in celebrations as the scoring team’s fans want to celebrate as well as taunt the other side.

I would be interested to know how much in royalties Jack White is getting from all of these plays…

Quick Review: Living in the Material World (film)

I recently watched the Martin Scorsese film about George Harrison’s life titled Living in the Material World. Here are a few observations and thoughts about the roughly 3 hour documentary:

1. I think this would interest a lot of Beatles fans. Indeed, 1/3rd of the film is about the Beatles and the rest of the film has a lot of references to the group and other band members. I was actually surprised by the big emphasis on the group as well as the music of Lennon and McCartney. Both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr gave recent interviews for the film.

2. The other 2/3rd of the film deals with Harrison’s career after the Beatles. The best sections include more rare concert and home movies footage to show George in his element. I wish the film used more of the home movies as they would help us get further insights beyond the rock star image.

2a. There is a lot in this section about Harrison’s spirituality. Beyond the music, I think this film wants us to know how important spirituality was to Harrison and how he tried to follow spiritual principles. This reminded me that both John Lennon and George Harrison were both openly spiritual seekers throughout their adult lives.  From what I’ve read and seen about both of them, I’m not sure either really found what they were looking for.

2b. Another big portion of the solo career section deals with the #1 album All Things Have To Pass Away. This makes some sense: this 1970 release showed that Harrison really was a songwriter and musician in his own right. While the Beatles were breaking apart in the late 1960s, Harrison was stockpiling songs. At the same time, the film downplays Harrison’s subsequent releases. They may not have been as good but Harrison made music for three more decades.

3. The music all sounds really good. While Harrison doesn’t have the big back catalog of music that other music legends have, many of his songs still sound fresh and relevant.

Overall, I’m not quite sure what to make of this film. One goal seems to be to try cement Harrison’s musical and spiritual legacy. However, the movie glosses over some rougher patches (such as Eric Clapton falling in love with Harrison’s then-wife) and doesn’t explicitly try to assess where Harrison fits within the field of rock music. Should we see Harrison more of a spiritual seeker than a true music legend? How much did Harrison really do on his own outside the Beatles? These questions aren’t fully answered but there is enough interesting footage here to keep fans interested.

(Of the 18 reviews counted by RottenTomatoes.com, 16 were positive. Another note: this site says the film is 1 hr, 34 minutes so I’m not quite sure what the critics saw.)

The racial disparities in the Chicago blues scene

An article in a series about the blues in Chicago explores how the white, downtown clubs are thriving while the older, black clubs on the south and west sides are struggling:

Two clubs, two worlds, one music: the blues. That’s how it goes in Chicago, a blues nexus crisply divided into separate, unequal halves. A sharp racial divide cuts through the blues landscape in Chicago, just as it does through so many other facets of life here, diminishing the music on either side of it.

The official Chicago blues scene — a magnet for tourists from around the globe — prospers downtown and on the North Side, catering to a predominantly white audience in a homogenized, unabashedly commercial setting. The unofficial scene — drawing mostly locals and a few foreign cognoscenti — barely flickers on the South and West sides, attracting a mostly black, older crowd to more homespun, decidedly less profitable locales.

Not all the grass-roots places are dying as quickly as the music room at the Water Hole. Some, such as Lee’s Unleaded Blues, on the South Side, attract a small but steady crowd on the three nights it’s open each week.

But how long can this go on? How long can a music that long flourished on the South and West sides — where the blues originators lived their lives and performed their songs — stay viable when most of the neighborhood clubs have expired? How long can a black musical art form remain dynamic when presented to a largely white audience in settings designed to replicate and merchandise the real thing?

Lots of interesting history. Additionally, the conversations about authenticity and tourism are intriguing: why doesn’t Chicago promote its music and culture more and would a major push in this direction water down the product?

It would probably be very interesting to talk to Chicago and suburban residents about blues music. How many of them know its an available option and if they do know this, how many would choose it over other entertainment activities? How many students in the region know that the blues has such a rich history in Chicago? How many colleges teach about American music (blues and jazz and their contributions to the development of rock ‘n’ roll) as opposed to classical music? How much does like for the blues cut across racial lines? Is the blues most acceptable to educated whites (in more sociological terms, cultural omnivores)?

Rioting over cultural works and ideas: Blackboard Jungle and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

Even though I have heard multiple times about the groundbreaking 1955 movie Blackboard Jungle, I finally watched it recently. (Side note: watching the film without commercials on AMC was excellent. Watching movies on TV is often so frustrating as they drag it out.) After watching the movie (and noting how “inspiring teacher” movies of recent years seem to build upon this film), I read on Wikipedia about riots that took place when the movie was first shown in theaters:

The film markedthe rock and roll revolution by featuring Bill Haley & His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock”, initially a B-side, over the film’s opening credits, as well as in the first scene, in an instrumental version in the middle of the film, and at the close of the movie, establishing that song as an instant classic. The record had been released the prior year, garnering tepid sales. But, popularized by its use in the film, “Rock Around the Clock” reached number one on the Billboard charts, and remained there for eight weeks. The music also led to a huge teenage audience for the film, and their exuberant response to it sometimes overflowed into violence and vandalism at screenings. In this sense, the film has been seen as marking the start of a period of visible teenage rebellion in the latter half of the 20th century.

The film markeda watershed in the United Kingdom. When shown at a South London Cinema in Elephant and Castle in 1956 the teenage teddy boy audience began to riot, tearing up seats and dancing in the aisles.[2] After that, riots took place around the country wherever the film was shown. In 2007, the Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture published an article that analyzed the film’s connection to crime theories and juvenile delinquency.

This reminds me of the riots that accompanied the premieres of classical music, such as at the opening of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” (and detailed in The Rest Is Noise – though this description comes from Wikipedia):

The première involved one of the most famous classical music riots in history. The intensely rhythmic score and primitive scenario and choreography shocked the audience that was accustomed to the elegant conventions of classical ballet.

The evening’s program began with another Stravinsky piece entitled “Les Sylphides.” This was followed by, “The Rite of Spring”. The complex music and violent dance steps depicting fertility rites first drew catcalls and whistles from the crowd. At the start, some members of the audience began to boo loudly. There were loud arguments in the audience between supporters and opponents of the work. These were soon followed by shouts and fistfights in the aisles. The unrest in the audience eventually degenerated into a riot. The Paris police arrived by intermission, but they restored only limited order. Chaos reigned for the remainder of the performance.[6] Stravinksy had called for a bassoon to play higher in its range than anyone else had ever done. Fellow composer Camille Saint-Saëns famously stormed out of the première allegedly infuriated over the misuse of the bassoon in the ballet’s opening bars (though Stravinsky later said “I do not know who invented the story that he was present at, but soon walked out of, the première.”). Stravinsky ran backstage, where Diaghilev was turning the lights on and off in an attempt to try to calm the audience.

After the première, Diaghilev is reported to have commented to Nijinsky and Stravinsky at dinner that the scandal was “exactly what I wanted.”

Some scholars have questioned the traditional account, particularly concerning the extent to which the riot was caused by the music, rather than by the choreography and/or the social and political circumstances. The Stravinsky scholar Richard Taruskin has written an article about the première, entitled “A Myth of the Twentieth Century,” in which he attempts to demonstrate that the traditional story of the music provoking unrest was largely concocted by Stravinsky himself in the 1920s after he had published the score. At that later date, Stravinsky was constructing an image of himself as an innovative composer to promote his music, and he revised his accounts of the composition and performances of The Rite of Spring to place a greater emphasis on a break with musical traditions and to encourage a focus on the music itself in concert performances.

While we could do without the violence at these events, it suggests an era when ideas and cultural works prompted vigorous reactions. Today, do we have an equivalent? People going home and writing on their blogs (guilty as charged)? Critics spreading popular or contrarian interpretations? The occasional talkback session after a theater production?

I suspect that if people today read about these reports, they would do something like this: shake their head and ask why these moviegoers or concertgoers got so animated. But perhaps we could ask the opposite question: why don’t new ideas, particularly ones that push us to think beyond our accepted categories, animate us? Are we just so numbed by novelty and a plurality of ideas that nothing really shocks us anymore? Do we have space in our society to truly think through and debate the ideas presented in “entertainment”?

Of course, not all cultural productions are intended to push us in new directions. Some are there just for entertainment. But others push beyond typical boundaries. Take a recent movie like The Tree of Life: I saw it on the recommendations of a few friends and I’m still not sure what to think about it. But it certainly was thought provoking and wasn’t a “typical” movie. Is this simply an “art film” in its own category or is it more like what all cultural productions should be doing?

Can you replace a $4.1 million dollar Malibu home with a McMansion?

The typical image of a teardown McMansion is something like this: in an older neighborhood, a 1950s ranch home is purchased, torn down, and replaced with a 3,500 square foot new home that dwarfs its neighbors. While this is a concern for many communities across the United States, can you possibly have a teardown McMansion in Malibu that would replace a $4.1 million dollar home?

Shangri-La was recently listed on the Malibu real estate market for $4.1 million — the first time it’s been for sale in over 30 years. Known best as Bob Dylan’s recording studio, Shangri-La was also a studio and hangout for other rockers like Clapton, Robbie Robertson, Joe Cocker and Pete Townsend. More recently, the house hosted Adele and Kings of Leon while they each spent time in the recording studio…

Listing agent Shen Schulz of Sotheby’s International explained that the current owners are looking for a buyer who will carry on the property’s legacy.

“This is a very special property,” Schulz said. “They don’t want it to be torn down and turned into a McMansion. We want a musician that will carry on the energy and pass the baton.”

Although perched on the bluffs above picturesque Zuma Beach, this home doesn’t look like a typical million-dollar beach retreat in ritzy southern California where median Malibu home values are over $1.5 million. While the home doesn’t have a pool, it does have two recording studios — an extensive one in the lower level of the home as well as a smaller one in the vintage Airstream trailer parked on the lawn.

The price of the home would suggest that it is not just any old ranch home. It is difficult to find specifics about the home itself rather than its recording legacy – even the listing or the house’s own website doesn’t say much about the actual home. The real estate listing does say that the home was built in 1958, it has 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms, and has a total of 4,449 square feet. This is a rather large ranch home.

But all of this makes clear that this particular home should not be bought because of a remodeled kitchen or even the views of the ocean. A buyer of this late 1950s ranch will be buying into rock history. The idea that the home would be replaced by a McMansion seems to suggest that the term McMansion here refers to a home without true character. Shangri-La certainly has character and a new home simply can’t compete with a background as a bordello and analog recording studio. While a typical argument against teardown McMansions is that they change the character of a neighborhood, the argument here is that a teardown would deprive musicians (and others?) of hallowed ground. You could build a beautiful and bigger new home with even more recording space (and egads, digital equipment?) and it just wouldn’t be the same.

By the way, this is one of the most expensive positive teardown properties I’ve ever seen. Is the price high because of the ocean views, the house’s history, or is it an effort to discourage someone from tearing down the home?