Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Top Ten Desert Island Albums - Number 8

Number Eight on my list is an album that I didn’t really explore during its popular period – in fact, I avoided it specifically because it was popular, and I was being a music snob. But after one listen, I became obsessed with Maroon 5’s “Songs About Jane.”

Part of this might be that at the time, I was breaking up with a gorgeous, awesome, but emotionally messed up girl. Guess what this entire album is about – yup. You got it. Chronicling both the highs and lows of being with such an individual, there really wasn’t any song that wasn’t something I could’ve written myself, if I were an amazing singer/songwriter with a rock band.

The Band

Lead Vocals: Adam Levine.

Now world famous as a judge on “The Voice,” Adam’s high tenor was both exhilarating to listen to, and frustrating to try to sing along with. After years of working on my high range, I can now sing along with this album. His subsequent albums, with his range going ever higher? Not a chance. When I listened to this album, I could hear some definite pitch correction and studio effects. I assumed that he was one of those singers that couldn’t cut it live, and needed all the studio help he could get. I saw them live a couple of years later – he is far better live. I think the studio was there to restrain him, not help.

Keyboards: Jesse Carmichael

His keyboard playing is really simple, but his chord progressions are never trite. I always sense a touch of jazz and blues background in the voicings he uses on the keys. Listed as a songwriter on most tracks (along with Adam Levine), I assume that the chords and arrangements were largely his doing. So from that angle, quite impressive, even if there’s never a moment when the keyboard playing just blows me away. Also, I’m probably hard to impress on that front anyway.

Drums and backup vocals: Ryan Dusick

Dusick played drums only on this album, before quitting the band. I absolutely love, love, love the drums on this album. I don’t pay any attention to them on any of their later albums. His drumming was spot on, but incredibly intricate. He not only laid down the groove, but he also managed to accentuate the rhythmic nuances of the vocals and other instruments. If you were to play me only the drums on any track on this album, I could tell you the song, and most likely the exact moment in the song, as well. Matt Flynn (his replacement) is certainly a capable drummer. But to me, nowhere near as interesting.

Bass: Mickey Madden

To be honest, I got nothing here. He plays bass. Still, I bet he gets a lot of tail.

Guitar: James Valentine

I’m not a guitarist, so I always feel a little funny talking about guitar playing, as if I’m pretending to be an expert. I’m not. But still, the Funk/R&B/Rock Fusion that IS Maroon 5’s sound is largely produced at the hands of Valentine. Without him, I don’t think they would have ever found their niche. And if Adam Levine wants to call me up and tell me I’m full of shit on this… Dude, that would be awesome.

The Songs (well, the first ten of them)

Harder to Breathe (lyrics)

The beginning of the album sets the tone right away. It is angry, it is hurt, it is raw. But if you know how close love and hate can be to each other... It's right here.

This Love (lyrics)

If divorced from the music, the lyrics of this song make it seem like more of the same. But the sheer sexuality of the video and music make it clear that we're going darker. Alice is tumbling down the rabbit hole, and it's sex that is making the fall so painful. This will be a recurring theme in the album.

Shiver (lyrics)

I want you. You're just playing with me. Sometimes you want me, but it's not enough. I want you to want me as passionately and deeply as I want you. I'm going to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

This is the essence of "Shiver." And it's something that almost any man past his twenties has felt at some point. Some men realize later that this very desire and depth of passion is self-defeating. Most don't. But I've never met a man that didn't know this feeling, and couldn't think exactly of the girl and time of his life that he felt it.

She Will Be Loved (lyrics)

If there's something that almost every beautiful woman knows, it's how to make men want to rescue them. What man doesn't dream of being the White Knight? My brother warned me at an early age that the White Knight doesn't end up with the damsel, but it took a long time for me to really understand how true that was. And this song is exactly that impulse.

She's so perfect, just... lost. Come here, you poor girl. Let me show you what my love can do to make your life so much better. I'm everything you need.


Outside of fiction, that has never, and WILL never work.

The video takes an interesting twist, and adds an illicit affair with the girlfriend's mother, who is being abused. What does this have to do with the song? I have no clue, but it definitely makes for an interesting visual.

Tangled (lyrics)

The downside of getting obsessed over a girl? Well, there's a ton of them. But one of them is that your average guy thinks "if it's not working, I just need to try harder." And you end up making either an ass out of yourself, or a creepy stalker. Or both. And when you realize where you've gone, the shame is pretty bad. And usually deserved, even if the root cause is almost always misdiagnosed. This song is about being in that very spot (and sure enough, the cause is misdiagnosed). Pretty brutally honest stuff, really. Man, I'm listening to these songs as I'm writing this, and amazed again at what a great album it is.

The Sun (lyrics)

Clint Black wrote a song in the '90s called "Better Man" (unrelated to the song of the same title by Pearl Jam). Considered groundbreaking at the time, it was a different kind of breakup song. It was about how, even though things were ending, the relationship had been a positive influence on his life, and he wouldn't trade it because of this (a more melancholy reflection of this nature can be found in Garth Brooks' "The Dance").

The Sun is kind of like that. But it's not at quite the distance that either of those two songs are. It's trying to come to grips with the breakup while the wounds are still fresh and bleeding. While the memories are so fresh they're barely memories. It's about being determined to find the good when all you feel is the emptiness. The end of every chorus assures us that we're only several miles from the sun.

The science geek in me is pointing out that 93 million is more than several, but... I think the metaphor is that you keep going and you find light and warmth, and it's not as far away as you think.

Or it's the end of the world because of a Supernova. But that's probably not the intended interpretation.

Must Get Out (lyrics)

The songs in this album are not in chronological order of the story (unless it's even more convoluted than I thought). This is back to talking about how she's messed up, even though he keeps trying to help her, win her, fix her, etc. And as with virtually every song on the album, he alludes to their sex life. But it's very hopeful and optimistic about how, if they just leave the city, everything will get better.

You'd think that there was a correlation between crazy chicks and great sex. Hmm... Maybe I should write a song about that. What could I call it? How about "Crazy Chick," as in "Hey, you're a crazy chick, but you kiss so good I'm on top of it. When I dream, I'm holding you all night..." Maybe it needs more of an edge.

Sunday Morning (lyrics)

This song is about sex. Yup. That's it. Beginning to end.

An interesting note to me is that the piano part that sets the song up is jazz chord exercise that I used to do in college. Admittedly, I did it in all 12 keys, sequentially, and never thought about writing a sex song to it. But still, when I first heard it, it was like "hey, I know that!"

Also, amusingly, the video is simply people singing karaoke to the song, along with clips of them singing in a studio. I guess they couldn't really film what it was about without shooting a porno.

Secret (lyrics)

This song goes back to the very, very beginning. And once again, it's about sex. But you don't realize that until the very end. He's leaving somewhere, talking about keeping secrets. And at the very end, you realize the secret that he can't keep is how much they want each other. And everything else - just a metaphor for sex.

I wonder what the basis of his relationship was? Probably chaste intellectual conversation.

Through With You (lyrics)

This is it. He finally comes to grips with it all. Her actions aren't saying the same thing as her words. She's never going to live the "happily ever after" with him. And he realizes that if she will turn him away after giving her more than she'd ever get with another man, she doesn't deserve him anyway. And so he's done, and through with her.


There are more songs on this album (at least two, more if you got various other editions). But the first ten should highlight the emotional gist of the album.

Every man I know has had at least one relationship like this one. Most of them learn their lessons and move on. Some keep repeating the same patterns. But with all of them, it's one of the most pivotal moments of their lives. It was for me - it redefined what I thought, believed, and how I acted about relationships. I have never listened to any album before or since that so captured that journey. The fact that I heard it as I was going through the end of it... Totally captivated me.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Conversation With Caleb Baccus

Concerning your number nine pick, "Come On Come On" - you covered the album so well I didn't have much to say on it. However, I would like to go back to one of the topics you brought up, and that's the female artist. Like you said, most of the female artists don't appeal to me, and it has nothing to do with their talent, but with the relatability of their music. Because of this, I don't have any albums from female artists in my Top Ten. That being said, there are some great ones out there; Lee Ann Womack's debut album, Dixie Chicks Live... And anything from Joan Jett I love.

There is definitely a relatability issue with women... But I also feel more of them are manufactured tools of the music industry than men are. I don't think the industry cares about female talent anywhere near as much as their looks, and so the great female singer/songwriters don't get a chance if they're not also smokin' hot babes. Whereas ugly-ass men still hit it big, because women care about status more than looks, and men love looks more than talent. Which is a shame.

That point is well made, sir.

That's another reason I like Mary Chapin Carpenter; she was never hot, but she still managed to top the charts. I can't think of another female artist that has done that since. (Topped it on sheer talent, I should say. Some women have topped it based on being freaks - i.e. Macy Grey)

Macy Grey definitely didn't make it on talent.

So all my hopes are on the rare talented and beautiful singer/songwriters.

Talented beautiful female singers are possible to find, even on the radio. Ones that write their own music? THAT'S hard to find. Ones that do all of the above, and are singing songs that both sexes can relate to? Impossible.

"Passionate Kisss" is one of my favorite songs. I had no idea it was a cover song, though. How did you find this out?

Hmm... I think my step-dad told me. He was the one that got me really hooked on her music. But when I was looking up the videos on YouTube, I came across the original. Very similar in concept, just not as polished a performance as Carpenter has.

I also knew that "The Bug" was a Dire Straits song from my early days at "Howl at the Moon (when a customer was irate that I didn't know the origin of every song ever written), but I had never listened to it until now. I still like her version better, but I'm biased.

I do too, which is strange to me, as there are few bands I enjoy more than Dire Straits. They're one of the few bands I felt were truly original. Or sounded original, I should say

They definitely managed to create a unique sound - HARD to do.

I've been trying to think of a female singer/songwriter in the same class as Carpenter. It's hard. Emmylou Harris is the only one that comes to mind.

Can't argue that one. Kathy Mattea is one I have always respected, as well. "Where Have You Been" is a simply amazing song, and she had many others as well. I always had high hopes for Trisha Yearwood, based on her amazing voice, but...

Oh yeah! Kathy Mattea! I forgot about her. Trisha has one of the greatest voices I've ever heard, but I only like one or two of her songs.

She probably has my favorite voice of all living female Country artists. I thought "The Song Remembers When" and "Walkaway Joe" were her best, and she didn't write either of them.

Sadly, I think I prefer it when she sings backup or duets with other people.

Makes sense - she's got a wonderful voice for harmony.

Like she was the main backup on "He Thinks He'll Keep Her."

True! I forgot about that.

Awesome pick for number nine, Jess.
Thanks! Can't wait to delve into your number nine: Hell Freezes Over by the Eagles.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Top Ten Desert Island Albums - Number 9

Number Nine - “Come On, Come On” by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Background: I have always been a fan for the female voice. The most talented vocalists I have known personally have mostly been women. And there are very few things I find hotter than a female vocalist (a female bartender is definitely on that list, but I digress).

With that said, there are almost no female artists on the radio that I enjoy listening to. Part of that is that I think the majority of women on the radio right now are what I call “manufactured talent,” by which I mean that most of them are poor vocalists, can’t write, can’t play, but are merely the pawns of the record companies, auto-tuned and processed until they have a marginally decent product that can be sold as a sex symbol.

No interest here.

Not all fit into that category; P!nk is one artist whose skills I highly respect. However, her songs are not intended to appeal to me, as they are all about female empowerment. I do not dispute the market for that, and have nothing negative to say about that, except that I am not a woman in need of empowerment or validation, so it does nothing for me.

The realm of Country Music seems especially poor right now, in terms of the quality of female artists. The few who can truly sing seem to only produce songs about a) how much they hate men, b) how they love to use violence to retaliate against any perceived slight by a man c) how lonely they are, and how much they want a man

Color me unimpressed.

It wasn’t always this way; in the early 90s I remember an abundance of exceedingly talented female singer/songwriters. Kathy Mattea, Trisha Yearwood, Suzy Boggus (whose album “Aces” I almost put on here - it’s still one of my absolute favorites of all time), among many, many others. Yes, Martina McBride was all over the man-hating/independent woman scene even back then, but I could just ignore her.

But the absolute top of the pack for me was Mary Chapin Carpenter. A smooth, velvety voice, with a very relaxed and natural rhythm. Melodies that had to have been written a cappella, with haunting accompaniments. And her lyrics were simply amazing. Simple, honest, yet touching on a wide range of human experiences. My absolute favorite album of hers? 1992’s “Come On, Come On.”

Track Listing

The Hard Way

This is a great intro to a mature, adult album (I don’t mean sexual, I mean adult). It’s about how you have to fight for the things that matter, that nothing worthwhile is ever given to you, and nothing meaningful is every easy.

He Thinks He’ll Keep Her

Those of you who know me, know that I’m about as far from being a feminist as you can get. In fact, I think feminism is one of the most ludicrous, damaging, and hypocritical movements I have ever witnessed. However, there are certain aspects of feminism based on reality (as with virtually any philosophy), and one of them is that neglecting a relationship won’t work forever. This song is about a man who completely neglects the woman who makes his life possible, and the unraveling of their future because of it. (yes, this could be a topic of an entire series of posts, but for right now… it won’t be)

Rhythm of the Blues

This one is hard to describe. It’s about the loneliness of a relationship that’s all but over. Listening, you get it. Talking about it… Not so much.

I Feel Lucky

Just a fun song about being in the right place at the right time, even if it seems otherwise at first. Nothing too deep or philosophical here. As an amusing note, at the time I thought the piano solo at the end was one of the most bad-ass things I’d ever heard. Now I’m all “meh” about it. Nothing to see here; move on.

The Bug

This is a Dire Straits song that Mary Chapin Carpenter covered. Since she didn’t write it, I really don’t have that much to say, other than it’s another fun song.

The Dire Straits version

Not Too Much to Ask

A great duet - I just wish it was with someone other than Joe Diffie, whose voice was always a little twangy and whiny, and whose vocal stylings involved a bit too much sliding from note to note for my taste. With that said, it’s really an excellently written foray into expectations versus hopes when it comes to romance.

Passionate Kisses

Another cover song - this time by Lucinda Williams. I am amused by the slow, almost soulful piano intro, which leads into a fun, uptempo song.

The Lucinda Williams version

Only a Dream

This was a true eye-opener to me in terms of what poetry and music can do in relating feelings so hard to express in normal conversation. As a younger sibling, watching your older siblings grow up and move on is a troubling, confusing, painful part of life. You want to hold on to the closeness of your childhood forever, you want that comforting, protecting presence right by you. I have never before (nor since) heard a song that captures that yearning like this one does. The depth of emotion here is astoundingly powerful, and the topic so much more meaningful than yet another song about falling in or out of love.

I Am a Town

Though I find the chord progression/pedal tone usage in this song to make it a little too “drone” like and monotonous for my personal taste, this song really captures a lot of the essence of small towns across America. And quite frankly, small town life comes with a certain amount of monotony and droning, so that might be exactly what she intended.

Walking Through Fire

One of the least original songs on here, this is a basic “take a chance on me, because I won’t hurt you like your past lovers” song. Think Billy Joel’s “Innocent Man,” Hal Ketchum’s “Don’t Strike a Match to the Book of Love,” etc. Not a bad song, by any means, just a bit formulaic. Then again, sometimes you gotta go with the formula.

I Take My Chances

This is one that I think is meant to be an ode to feminist independence, but I always heard it as a libertarian anthem; you do what you think is right, and take the consequences. You take the risks, and get the rewards. It’s my basic political philosophy, which I’m sure is far from what she meant for it to be.

Come On, Come On

A perfect ending to an incredible album. It’s about nostalgia, it’s about love, it’s about trying to capture those perfect moments before they’re gone forever.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Conversation with Caleb Baccus

Concerning my #10 album: Phantom of the Opera

The best part of your description that I saw was the story. As a writer, my favorite part of anything is stories. And you are right; this is a great one. The characters are incredible. On just a glance they seem odd and annoying. But upon closer inspection you begin to relate to all the characters. Which one is your favorite character?

It's hard to say. When I was a teenager, it was undeniably the Phantom. He was an extreme, extreme version of who I was. I was exceedingly smart, talented at multiple disciplines, passionate about music, sometimes had trouble relating to other people, and not that great at dealing with the opposite sex. At none of these was I anywhere near the level of the Phantom, but I could relate. But by my early 20s, I had gotten over that socially awkward teenage stage (and realized that pretty much all teenagers are socially awkward, and I wasn't particularly special in that regard). I still probably like the Phantom the best, though I pity him much more - his character was never given the opportunity to grow beyond that stage. I find myself more amused at the side characters now than I did back then. The two theater managers crack me up every time.

Good call on the vocals. I have had arguments with my friend Carlos Flores about which is better, "Phantom" or "Les Mis" and my point is always I can't find good vocals on any of the "Les Mis" albums. I hate Colm Wilkinson's singing. It kind of hurts my ears. And I don't think I will like anybody's performance of "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" after listing to Michael Ball's.

Yeah, Michael Ball spoiled me on the role of Marius. And I heard "Les Mis" live first, so I heard Valjean sung with skill and passion, before hearing Colm Wilkinson do his tone-deaf Sean Connery impersonation. I still hope to someday hear a good recording, but it is frustrating.

Teenage is an early time to get into musicals for most people today. How were you introduced to it?

I'm not really sure. I'd heard snippets of it as a child, but wasn't that into it. But somewhere around the age of 16, I heard it, and it really spoke to me. It gave me something that said "you're not alone, other people have been where you are." Which is why teenagers love music in general, and why most people latch on to the music they heard at that age. It's a very interesting and turbulent time, when you're figuring out who you are, who other people are, and how to make it all work. I wish I could remember who introduced me to it, but I can't. I delved deeply into other musicals at that time, "Evita" and "Jekyll and Hyde," "Into the Woods" and "Miss Saigon" and about two dozen more. I found a number that I really liked, and a whole lot that I didn't. My friend at the time, Jonathan Fernandez, and I would constantly be comparing notes on which new ones we'd found that we loved, and which ones we didn't. Working at an old movie theater helped; after we closed I'd put the music on the loudspeakers and sing along. Perfect ambience.

I haven't found any musical that really speak to me in the last few years. I don't know whether it's because they're not being written in a style that I relate to anymore, or whether I hit that "I'm too old to like new music" phase. I think it's the former, because I'm still finding new rock and country music that I love, and "new" classical works as well.

You say that you sing all the the male parts loudly when you are alone. Tell me; do you ever try to sing the female roles? Especially the high parts?


In all honesty, I think I can say I've never sung the female parts of that particular work. I do often sing along with female artists I really like (although usually an octave lower), but in this case, I'm usually putting myself in the role of whatever part I'm singing. It's a total immersion for me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Top Ten Desert Island Albums - Number 10

Now, there are probably some questions you have, like “where do they get the electricity to play music on a desert island?” Think of it like “Gilligan’s Island” - the Professor can MacGyver anything in the world except a functioning raft. So maybe somehow Caleb and I tamed an Orangutan who spends time on a treadmill each day powering a generator that powers up our old turntable.

I had to think for awhile on my list; some of my favorite albums are simply too short. I need some bang for my buck, if I have to deal with only ten albums forever. That immediately takes out “Past the Point of Rescue” by Hal Ketchum. Always in my top 5 lists, it only lasts a half hour. Not good enough.

So Number 10:

The Phantom of the Opera; Original London Cast Recording by Andrew Lloyd Webber

This was the soundtrack to my teenage years. To say I was obsessed with this musical is no overstatement. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve listened to it, but it is well in the hundreds, possibly up to a thousand by now. Why?

1) Story: I loved the tale of the misguided genius that, upon realizing he could never fit into the world, created a world that fit him instead. There was a great deal of nuance to the story, as well. The psychology behind a person denied physical contact, the girl missing a father seeking a powerful male figure, the ways we are all shaped by love, passion, fear, hope, and music. All these rang true for me, albeit delivered in a melodramatic setting. The love story was doomed from the beginning, but it felt so true to me at the time. Considering how doomed most of my relationships were, there’s probably something to that.

2) Setting: I tend to be fond of historical settings for stories, and where better than late 19th century Paris? Grand, dramatic, sophisticated and elegant, it seems like an ideal time, as long as you don’t think of medicine, climate control, and personal hygiene. Add in that it takes place in a Opera House, and in caves and tunnels underneath. Being a person that has always loved theaters of all varieties (especially after closing), that has always felt at home in dark places, and that has a personal love of secret tunnels, passageways, and so on… Perfect setting for me to set my imagination free.

3) Vocal Performance: I have never been a huge fan of Michael Crawford’s singing in any other work. Yet the role of the Phantom feels like it was written just for him. His great lung capacity for long notes, the almost creepy timbre of his mid range, the amazing ring of his high voice (like the climactic Ab in “Music of the Night”), his sinister laugh; all these things sound incredible in this work. And the role of Christine WAS written specifically to show off Sarah Brightman’s voice, and it does it in magnificent fashion. I have never heard any other soprano nail the huge vocal range of this role with the authority she did, from the timidity of “Think of Me” to the vulnerability of “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” to the triumphant climax of the title track “Phantom of the Opera.” All of it is simply impressive in her voice. One of my favorite musicals of all time is “Les Miserables,” but there’s not a single recording where I enjoy all the vocal performances. Whether it’s Colm Wilkinson butchering “Bring Him Home” or Nick Jonas struggling and failing to sing “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” each recording is seriously flawed. Not so with Phantom.

4) Characters:

I mentioned them somewhat under “story,” but like most of my favorite works, the story is character driven. You have

A ) the Phantom, who is not by any means healthy (physically, emotionally, mentally), but you can truly understand why he got to the place where he is. He is not exactly a hero, but he’s not exactly a villain, either. He’s the smartest person in the play, the most passionate, the most gifted, and the most willing to sacrifice for love. But he’s also manipulative, unable to empathize with others, and oh yes, a murderer. Then you have

B ) Christine, who can come across as immature, flighty and fickle, and more than a bit cruel. Until you realize that she’s a 16 year old girl who has lost the father who raised her, and never knew her mother. She is loved by two men, but neither wants her for who she is; the Phantom loves her for her voice, and Raoul loves her for her beauty and a shared childhood. She’s simply looking for someone to replace the father that she lost, someone who will take care of her, and both men manipulate her with that.

C ) Raoul. The spoiled rich aristocrat. He means well, but thinks far more highly of himself than he has any reason to. I’m sure none of us have ever met anyone like that.

D) The supporting cast - from the sinister Madame Giry, to the buffoonish tenor Piangi, and the comically overwrought diva Carlotta… All have roles to fill that, while a bit two-dimensional, are perfect in their place.

5) Songs:

Phantom of the Opera : I don’t actually like the title track to this work, and it took me a long time to figure out why; it is the orchestration. It is the first song that Lloyd Webber wrote for this musical, and it was when he was thinking it would be a “Rock Opera.” He later changed his mind and went with a very classical approach to the orchestration (and yes, I know he didn’t do it himself). But in the midst of this quasi-classical work, suddenly you have one song with electronic drums, bass guitar playing a dance groove, and keyboard synth sounds. None of those happen before or after this track. This is one reason this is not my number 1 CD on this list. I consider it a serious flaw. Still, with that said, some incredible tracks include

Music of the Night : By far the most well known song from this work. What can I say that hasn’t been said?

Notes/Prima Donna : I like this simply because I like polyphony (more than one melody being performed simultaneously). This incorporates six voices, each singing about their own concerns. If you know each part, it tells a complete story - if you can’t distinguish them, it’s still pretty music.

Masquerade : The very height of theatrical extravaganza. A visual treat as well as aural. Even better live.

Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again : With Christine singing a song to her dead father, this has always stood out for me as one of the most emotionally challenging songs in the work. I’ve seen it performed many times, and finding the right balance of despair, determination, sadness, acceptance, all while singing a not easy vocal work… Very difficult to do.

The Point of No Return : As it is part of an opera within a musical, this is quite an interesting piece. A very different look at seduction. I don’t find the Phantom’s take on how seduction works to be all that convincing, but then, what would he really know about it? But I do find it musically quite compelling.

6 ) Construction

Of more interest to me than the songs is the construction of the piece. In opera, you have the songs, which are called “arias,” and then you have all the stuff that happens between arias, where they’re moving the plot along, which is called “recitative.” All of it is sung, but the recitative is generally boring, forgettable, and mainly exists to get you from one aria to another. In musicals, they simply speak between songs, then somewhere along the way, they suddenly start singing out of nowhere, and sometimes a big dance production spontaneously happens. I find the transition from speaking to singing to be quite jarring, and as a result, I’ve never been able to get into most musical theater. Somewhere along the way, some composers found a blend of the two, and “Phantom” is one of the best examples of this. There is very, very little talking in this work, but the music between songs, the “recitative,” if you will, is sung using themes from songs found elsewhere in the musical. For example, “Angel of Music” is explored as almost a leit-motif, with the Phantom, Christine, and Raoul all using it at various times when the Phantom is appealing to Christine, as is the abrasively whole-tone “Don Juan” theme. Some of the most tender moments are with the Phantom singing echoes of other character’s songs, knowing that he is an outsider and not invited to be with the other characters.

Some purists HATE this, as they feel it’s an endless rehash of a very small trove of musical ideas. I personally love it, though. It helps audience members who are not musically trained to really take hold of the musical themes and remember them after just one listen. It allows for the exploration and development of musical ideas that you simply can’t do in one three or four minute song. And finally, it eliminates the “I’m talking, now I’m talking excitedly, now I suddenly burst into SOOOOONNNNGGG” aspect of musicals that I was never comfortable with.

7) Conclusion One of the most powerful aspects of music for me is its ability to transport me to another place, another time, another state of mind. A good story can do this as well, which is why I love reading. “Phantom” combines a great story with great music. During the time I’m listening to it, I’m not here - I’m in Paris, at the Opera House, living the story with the Phantom, Christine, Raoul, and all the others. I generally listen to it when I’m by myself, so I can sing all the (male) roles at full volume. I have done this since discovering it at 16 (though I couldn’t hit the high notes then). I will probably still be doing this at 61.

And if I’m on a desert island, where better to be transported to, if just for a couple of hours?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

And... We're back in 5, 4, 3, 2...

So it’s been several years since I’ve written on this blog. The reasons for that are numerous, but one of the biggest was the tone of the blog. I had used it to update friends and family about my ever-changing life, and to vent about politics and society. But then… My life stabilized, and not much changes these days. And politics and society got too painful to vent about. The few people I knew who would actually consider things on a logical basis already agreed with me. So what did I have to write about? The obvious answer is to write about music, but for someone immersed in it as I am, that’s a little harder than you might at first think. Should I delve deep into theory? Personal philosophies behind music? Or be general and abstract? For that matter, who was reading the blog, anyway? Probably nobody. But recently, the writer and director Caleb Baccus (coincidentally one of my best friends in the whole world), suggested a topic that he and I could both write about: what ten albums would you take with you on a desert island? We could make our own list, and make an entry for each one, explaining why we love it so much, and also examine each other’s lists. The one rule was that you can’t have more than one CD by the same artist (to avoid having 5 Willie Nelson albums and 5 Eagles, for instance). Caleb is starting us out - check out his blog, "Tall Tales from Texas" So forthcoming - Top Ten Island Albums!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Occupied Territory

Perhaps not as brilliant as the Ron Paul blimp being weighed down by too much gold, but still... XKCD never fails to deliver: