Wednesday, August 1, 2012

That Would Never Even Get Made in This Day and Age

I was watching Robert Rossen's 1961 classic film "The Hustler" on our PBS HDTV affiliate on the night of July 13th, 2012—the night that I began this writing. It was the feature film on Elliot Wilholm's classic movie. He lauded with great praise the writer/director Rossen, Paul Newman and cast, set designers and everyone but the accounting firm and limo drivers. And then he said this one thing, which is as egregious to me as is it seemingly a bitterly sad statement on our current reality: "A film like this would never get made today. Executives would never green-light its dark and…" And that's when everything "went all black". When I awoke figuratively, I was literally writing the following:

When a great work of times gone by is lauded in apotheosis with the phrase 'It would never get made today', is it an indictment of present culture, or resignation to bow to trends? The obvious follow up would have to be "Why not?" Those of you who’ve read me or have spoken to me have probably heard me make this complaint: in this day and age, where technologically we have to tools at hand to create the greatest artistic works ever, why does mediocrity (and or mediocrity mistaken for minimalism) excel commercially and so often in the arena of critical acclaim? Roseanne Roseannadanna might respond, "Mr. SIDney Howard, you ask a lot of stupid questions."

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word

Has our cordial approach of "soft" critiquing help lead to the degradation of music? The Bernie Taupin lyric starts:

What have I got to do to make you love me?
What have I got to do to make you care?

Then a little later it reads…

What do I say when it's all over?
And sorry seems to be the hardest word?

While the overall narrative along with the singer setting suggests that it is indeed a "love" song of sorts, the words paint a vivid and accurate picture of the awkward place many of us find ourselves when asked our opinion of a far less talented colleague's music offering. Here's my most common scenario:

I play a piece that I've finished and of which I am most proud for someone who has a love for music—like mine. The song finishes and a grin reflects their awe and full appreciation of my artistic accomplishment—like mine, again. Then comes the dreaded response. "Hey. I have something of mine I'd like to let you hear." I play it, hoping for the best. It's nowhere close to the best. Now comes the dreaded question: "Well? What do you think?" What do you say. Fortunately, they haven't asked for my 'honest opinion'—"Oh…and give me your honest opinion." I jinxed it. Again, what do you do? When was the last time you told a friend, family member, or acquaintance that their music, presented to you for your (maybe not) honest opinion, was honestly just mediocre at best? Perhaps the music profession needs one of those common "…professional. Please do not attempt" disclaimer captions. I even saw one used in a Vitamin Water commercial, at the point where a dancer was doing "the worm" Hip Hop dance move.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ana Digs It

"Ana Digs It", if memory serves, was the pun-ny name given to an analog-to-digital device released sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s. Nowadays, it would seem that everyone digs Ana–if you know what I mean. On second thought, perhaps you don't.

What is it that captures the imagination so—when the topic of digital vs. analog comes up in techie to quasi techie conversations? Is it just imagined, the hind-sighted 20/20 aural visions of a better sound?

Some will tell you that analog is warmer, while–they say–digital is bright and harsh. I can tell you, I have heard too bright and very harsh analog. When Rufus Harris and I (google him) worked together at Motown songwriter Sylvia Moy's (google her. hint: "My Cherie Amor") Masterpiece Studios in Detroit, there was a certain engineer in training there who would record and mix at deafening levels. As the session wore on, the engineer's perception of highs waned and the situation was "remedied" by this person raising the highs to subsidize the dullness. Rufus told me how he walked in mid-morning to take over the room for his upcoming session. "Captain Ultrabrite" was just finishing, and asked Rufus his opinion of the mix. I don't remember him telling me how he answered, but I do remember him telling me how overbearingly bright and unpleasant it sounded.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Just Get The Job Done

"Just get the job done." The sentiment is one that one might express in frustration toward a hire who's presented his still uncompleted work as “done”, with nothing but rationalizations and excuses for the unsatisfactory job. The former has been my shared opinion of the state of music today. I have picked on Smooth Jazz and Hip Hop as the culprits. But maybe…just maybe the Digital Audio Workstation is more culpable.

If a child pulls a pot-handle suspended above the edge of a hot stove, or shows up at school with his father’s pistol, we eventually place the blame on the guardians. Such dangerous items should be kept out of the reach of children. Humorist Dick Gregory once said that the way we judge crime is based on money: If an old woman is killed and all the home invaders get from her is a dollar and change, it will be said, "That's a shame; they killed that old woman over a buck-fifty.” If the same woman is keeping her life savings in her mattress, and the crooks haul in twenty-thousand dollars cash, people will say, "It's all her fault; she didn't have no business keeping that much money in her house anyway."  So why don't we blame the manufacturers? …for the same reason you don't sue Chevy for damages from a drunk driver's accident: the consequences were unforeseeable.

When David Smith and his cohorts developed the MIDI protocol, they couldn't have imagined that would mark the beginning of the end for commercial studios.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How's Your Shadow Puppetry These Days?

One famous Sunday evening, gathered around our television sets, many in my "Boomer" generation were convinced that we’d had revealed to us our mission in life. When Ed Sullivan famously announced, "And now…here they are…" and four mop-headed Liverpool lads waved their fretted wands about and casted their spells on us, the music stores next day were selling guitars like snow shovels after broadcasted blizzard warnings. As we passed the showroom window of a Denver music store, I remember my parents asking me what instrument I would like to play. I answered, "Drums." to which mother remarked, "That's not an instrument." No offense to drummers; I'm quite sure she intended that as drums are not typically melodic instruments, especially as she'd heard them played through the cacophony of screaming teen girls on Ed Sullivan.

I remember that before we were treated to the headlining Beatles, we had to endure spinning plates to the tune of Khachaturian's "Saber Dance". The farther we traverse away from that time period, the more it seems incredible that plate-spinners, musical spoon-players, SeƱor Wences, and the like could actually get booked on the same venue along with great fab four. Then one wonders if the Beatles were viewed as just entertainers by booking agents: Rock Band/Plate-spinners…six for half-a-dozen.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hunger Games - *B.A.N.A.S.

On the unofficial anti-holiday known as Tax Day, my wife and I anti-celebrated by taking in the 2012 blockbuster film "Hunger games"—along with one of my oldest friends and music associates (and his wife). At that time, HG was about to reach its fourth consecutive weekend at number one. At a time pre-dating current super widespread international and domestic piracy threats, four weeks would equal maybe ten weeks. Just a little less recently to our movie date, I was quasi reticent to even spend the money on that particular movie because of the subject matter—namely the ostensibly hackneyed premise where humans are being hunted by privileged humans for the sport enjoyed by a ruling sect. There is a popular expression: "I've seen that movie". Based on its trailer, I felt this way about the much ballyhooed "HG". The first of this story of the genre I can remember is "The Most Dangerous Game", bonus-beloved by me for (my interpreting) its use of "Game" as double entendre. Much later last century, along came Da pre-governating Tohminator, along with Hogan's Heroic Feud-meister (the late Richard Dawson); they begat "Running Man"—that incidentally begat an annoying dance move that shows up at times on Saturday Night Live when former Nicklodian'ian Keenan Thompson asks the musical question, "Whazzup with That". This rendition was great. Contrary to my misgivings and to my pleasant surprise, what I saw instead was a new work that did use an overused premise but created something new. Therein is today's object lesson brought to us by Tinseltown.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Record/Water Sales

2011 was a record-breaking year for water sold in the States. With 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water sold, bottled water sales broke the previous 2007 record of 8.8 billion gallons sold in the U.S. of A.

When I was in my teens, there are two things in particular that were facts of that time in life that now are no longer so: few people bought their water in bottles and most people bought their music in packages. Today, the reverse is true. Music flows over the Internet as free and freely as once did water. A fact of commerce is that “If you want something good, you have to pay for it"…otherwise you're stealing. It's not only the product or service, but it is the non-replenishable time given to provide tools, materials, and creativity to provide the former.