Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones
andee's world: July 2005

andee's world

Hello and welcome to my blog. This space will be devoted to opinions, observations, lists, articles and whatever else I feel like posting. Subjects will include music, human nature, politics, life in NYC, etc. If I paste someone else's writing up here, it is because the author said something way better than I ever could. By the way, I don't claim to be a particularly smart guy; I'm just a musician with some opinions. If you disagree with me, that's cool -- but then, you're probably wrong.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Popspeak -- by Leslie Savan

My good friend Dave Adler, who knows me all too well, forwarded this article to me...

On Language
Published: July 10, 2005
We have all heard, and at times we all speak in, pop phrases: Hel-lo? I don't think so. Duh. Step up to the plate. Think outside the box. Give back to the community. LOL. You da man! Pop phrases are not just popular phrases or current cliches -- they shine with an extra glamour. They are words that pop out of their surround, that have built-in applause signs and that, if inflected properly, step into the spotlight as verbal celebrities, the stars of our sentences. And like, say, Britney Spears or Wayne Newton, a You go, girl! or a What part of ''no'' don't you understand? is not necessarily the latest or hippest thing around. A phrase might be so last millennium, but familiarity only expands its fan base.

For all its show-biz quality, though, pop talk is more than pretty prattle. It's an important part of the copy-written, self-dramatizing thinking that powers us all up these days, and nothing makes that clearer than the way the big feet in Washington put boots on the ground in Iraq.

As Bob Woodward tells it in ''Plan of Attack,'' the United States was determined to win Saudi support for a new invasion. But Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the longtime Saudi ambassador, feared that we would fail to get rid of Saddam Hussein, as we failed to during the 1991 gulf war. So Vice President Dick Cheney asked Bandar to his West Wing office in January 2003 to be briefed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Bandar was even allowed to look over a map of the attack plans marked TOP SECRET NOFORN (no foreign eyes). Still, he wasn't buying.
But when Cheney said, ''Prince Bandar, once we start, Saddam is toast'' -- echoing Bill Murray in ''Ghostbusters,'' who led an attack on a Sumerian goddess threatening to destroy New York City by shouting, ''This chick is toast!'' -- the prince agreed to get a thumbs-up from back home.

More infamous -- but in an almost identical display of pop talk outmarketing blander communication -- is the earlier performance of George Tenet, director of central intelligence at the time of Woodward's book. Tenet's deputy had just laid out a tenuous report on Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, failing to persuade President George W. Bush or Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, that W.M.D. could make a convincing case for an invasion. Bush complained that the presentation wasn't ''something that Joe Public would understand,'' Woodward writes. Then Tenet, a Georgetown basketball fan, threw his arms in the air and said (in words that Joe Public would understand), ''It's a slam-dunk case!'' He repeated it: ''Don't worry, it's a slam dunk!'' -- and the mood in the White House shifted from doubt to confidence.

Today, we all use words that are themselves slam dunks -- that jam an argument into the basket and pull consensus our way. Whether we're selling policies, products or our own branded selves, catch phrases like Don't even think about it or It's show time! help to streamline speech into a series of scripted responses with predetermined outcomes. They often do this by replaying in conversation the movie, TV show or commercial in your head. Answering No way! with Way! turns your respondent into Garth and you into Wayne. When producers edit in an actor's Yesss! from a movie into a trailer for the movie -- Hilary Duff hissing Yesss! in an ad for ''The Perfect Man'' is only the most recent example -- they are betting your response will be: ''Gotta see this movie. Yesss!''

Mass-media tropes, however, seldom come directly from an ad agency or a Hollywood studio, as Wendy's Where's the beef? or Homer Simpson's D'oh apparently have. Whether the words began as slang (nonstandard language, à la bling), jargon (insider group talk, like the once-techie-only blog) or ordinary words pronounced to exude 'tude (Don't go there), the vast majority of pop phrases are created by ''real people.'' But when the media pick up on a phrase and showcase it in ads, TV shows, movies and all over the Web, it comes back to real people with a new cachet and sheen.

That is because what pop language really communicates is that millions of others speak it, too. Behind slam dunk or so-and-so is toast is the roar, if not also the threat, of a crowd -- in fact, it is this crowd-in-a-can quality of pop talk that makes it so persuasive. Each modular phrase is part of a franchise deal, confirmed by endless repetition. No matter your age, race, class or lifestyle, terms like walk the walk, I hate it when that happens or that pop oldster lifestyle can be understood across America and often beyond.

Of course, popular catch phrases run throughout history -- early-19th-century London was enamored of Flare-up!, Quoz and There he goes with his eye out! -- and people have always used them in a rote manner. Imitation, repetition and plugging in ready-made phrases are, after all, the methods by which humans learn speech.

But the enormous growth of the media, especially during the last 50 years or so, has changed the role that pop language plays in our lives. As more media more desperately try to be heard over the noise of other media in order to sell things to people who are more distracted than ever, there is more pressure on language to generate snappy lines that can close a deal.

This language both expresses and shapes a transactional personality, a light, efficient, wise-to-the-world public face that helps us click through the myriad consumer decisions confronting an affluent life: DSL or cable? Low fat or low carb? Public school or private? Pop allows us a certain fuzzy freedom to barge through any second thoughts and just buy (or believe or bomb, depending on the context). When you want to banish doubt, assert dominance, provoke a laugh or just get over an awkward silence, grabbing one of these phrases is, in more ways than one, a no-brainer.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that too much pop talk could prevent you from becoming a brain surgeon. I'll bottom-line it for you: As we talk more and more in pretested, media-favored phrases, the box outside of which we claim we want to think gets harder to escape.

Leslie Savan is the author of ''Slam Dunks and No-Brainers,'' to be published by Knopf in October.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Music for Putrid Hot Summers

Peter Murphy Cascade
I don't have any of Peter Murphy's other solo records and there may be better ones but there's something about Cascade that hits me the right way. It's breezy and optomistic, makes me think of the shore. I saw Peter Murphy on this tour ten years ago. Some chick named Jewel opened up for him. You know her from the shampoo commercials.

Chainsaw Kittens Pop Heiress
Whoooeeee! This is a blazing rock record. If the opening track "Sore on the Floor" doesn't hook you straight away, then unplug the feeding tubes now -- you're dead. Chainsaw Kittens were one of the gazillion or so bands snatched up by major labels in the mid-90's "alternative rock" feeding frenzy, and naturally their label had no idea what to do with them, which is why you've never heard of them. Imagine a weird, post-Nirvana version of Cheap Trick fronted by a drag queen and you may get confused enough to go buy this album. I've got most of the Kittens' records and this one is by far the best. If you drive, take this baby with you on your next road trip.

Fugazi 13 Songs
Fugazi are in a class of their own. I would just sound pretentious trying to explain why. If for some reason you've never heard Fugazi, start with this record. This is like a bracing hot cup of coffee in the middle of July. These guys are not here to cool you off.

Big Audio Dynamite No. 10 Upping St.
I'm a huge fan of B.A.D. I just love Mick Jones -- the guy's so positive and his heart can always be found right on his sleeve. I bought this, along with the B-52s' Whammy!, on vinyl for $1.99 each in the basement of Generation Records back in the steamy August of '96, right after I moved to NYC. Boy, I was broke then. Those albums made me happy though.

The Stranglers Greatest Hits 1977-1990
I'm not crazy about The Stranglers -- this 'best-of' collection is probably all I'll ever need from them. That said, I love some of these songs! The first one, "Peaches" (with the refrain "walking on the beaches, looking at the peaches") is as good a summer anthem as any. I also enjoy their 'soft rock' stuff, like the gorgeous "European Female." This is one of those CDs I like in spite of myself. I bought it at the same time as Dee-Lite's World Clique and Skinny Puppy's Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate in the Times Square Virgin Megastore, June '96. I still have the receipt.

King's X Dogman and Ear Candy
Dogman just sizzles with angst, frustration, and some serious soul-searching, as Doug Pinnick delivers some of the most hair-raisingly heartfelt vocal performances of his career. The music is unbelievably heavy, sometimes bordering on ugly. Its follow-up, Ear Candy, sounds almost like an exhale by comparison. Some beautiful songs on this album. I like it more every year. If you're not yet familiar with King's X, you've got alot of catching up to do.

The Jesus and Mary Chain Stoned and Dethroned
This is one of those albums that may be just a tad too long for its own good, but man, it's such a great, slow-burning listen. No noise or feedback on this one, just stripped-down Mary Chain lazily cranking out fantastic songs with three chords. Sounds like the tunes were all written on the front porch, in the swimmy heat of a dog day afternoon.

Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin I
Where do I start with Led Zeppelin? I can't even talk about this band. Wicked, ancient, sinister, swampy, pitch-black, fetid, diabolical, witchy music. Spectral horsemen howling in the night. See also: the rest of the band's catalog.

Swervedriver Mezcal Head
Swervedriver were a brilliant band whose career was fucked by unfortunate experiences with way too many record labels who didn't know what to do with them. Originally lumped in with the early-90's "shoegazer" scene (that also included My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Lush and Curve), Swervedriver's brand of dreampop actually has alot more in common with the MC5 -- and Detroit rock n' roll -- than it does with the Cocteau Twins. The stomp-box-damaged guitars sound like car engines racing (or, in the quieter moments, idling) on scorched desert highways. The music is hot, dusty, greasy and a little late-afternoon-drunk/weary. This album really takes you somewhere. The 12-minute closing flameout "Never Lose that Feeling/Never Learn" is a journey unto itself. Also very highly recommended: Swervedriver's next two albums, Ejector Seat Reservation and 99th Dream. You'll probably have to hit eBay because they're out of print.

AC/DC If You Want Blood...You've Got It
You think you're hot? Listen to this live album from AC/DC's 1978 Powerage tour -- you can hear these guys sweating. AC/DC -- what a great, great, great live band. How many other heavy rock groups can groove like this? Zero. Everyone thinks it's easy but no one has the restraint to actually do it. Most white fellas have this problem.

Primal Scream XTRMNTR
It's a shame more people don't know about this album because they would be worshipping it. Primal Scream never really appealed to me before XTRMNTR; for whatever reason I never dug the hippie-ish Madchester vibe of their early work or the Stones-wannabee-isms of Give Out But Don't Give In, but the Scream reinvented themselves as a pretty devastating dance act in the mid'90's. When I heard the Chem Bros' lascerating, four-on-the-floor remix of "Swastika Eyes" in the spring of '00, it hit me right in the stomach, so I bought the XTRMNTR album. Whoa. This is a furious, desperate protest record against complacency, fascists and the notion that the entire world has finally gone mad. The claustrophobic black noise production and relentless terror-techno pulse let up only once, for the cautionary lullaby "Keep Your Dreams." Stunning, in my humble opinion. I've since discovered the Screamadelica album, which is pretty great, too, but in a much kinder way. XTRMNTR is deadly -- nothing touches it.

311 311
Alot of people think this is lame but I like it. What's so bad about 311? Maybe their other albums suck but to me this one sounds good.

Mercyful Fate Don't Break the Oath
Only for night-time consumption! This is scary, scary stuff -- classic, seminal black metal (don't you love the word seminal, by the way?). King Diamond intones blood-chilling, Satanic lyrics in an operatic symphony of ghostly voices over a churning bed of evil-sounding guitar riffs. This was before Diamond became a goofy caricature in his solo career. Listen to "The Oath" with the lights off, I dare ya.

Fatboy Slim Better Living Through Chemistry
This music makes me think of air-conditioning. Part of the soundtrack to an utterly chaotic summer of '98. Ask me about it sometime.

Depeche Mode Some Great Reward
Big Depeche Mode fan here. I love most of their albums and this might be my alltime fave. Another one I scored in the $1.99 bin (along with B.A.D) back in the broke-ass summer of '96. Some Great Reward is great from front to back (with the possible exception of "People Are People," whose chorus makes me cringe, but is still totally catchy). Most of you know the classics "Blasphemous Rumors," "Master and Servant" and "Somebody," but I am equally infatuated with "Something to Do," "Lie to Me" and "Stories of Old." Martin Gore deserves a reward for being such a phenomenal songwriter. But I guess massive royalty checks will have to suffice.

Love/Hate Wasted in America
Love/Hate came out of the same LA cesspool that bred LA Guns, Faster Pussycat and Guns n Roses. But there was something different -- darker, uglier, more fucked-up and twisted -- about this band. The lyrics are bizarre, sometimes hilarious ("she said let's dance/said I gotta wooden leg") and the music is nasty and raging -- filled with wicked riffs and and loads of strange twists and turns. I bought the one before this and the one after it but Wasted In America remains, by far, the best in my book -- and unlike anything else I've heard. Seriously.

My Bloody Valentine Glider and Tremolo EPs
You know how, on reeeeeally hot days, the waves of heat coming off the street make it seem like you're looking at the world through a shimmering sheet of melting glass? That's the way this music sounds. MBV imploded after their masterpiece, Loveless (released in 1991), which is one of the biggest tragedies in music (aside from all the fatalities, of course). Hoard up the EPs for those B-sides. They are yummy.

Pet Shop Boys Nightlife, Release
Pet Shop Boys have a very deep well of superb songs. These two albums, their most recent, are chock full. Love that duet with Kylie on "In Denial" and the ultra-clever but warm-hearted "The Night I Fell in Love" -- listen and you will never think of Eminem quite the same way again.

Alice Cooper School's Out
Well this is an obvious one, right? -- summer vacation music. You've heard the title track a million times but check out "Luney Tune," "My Stars" and "Public Animal #9" for equally great, vintage Coop. Very nice West Side Story bit in "Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets," too. No major record label would ever let a band do this kind of thing today. I mean, can you imagine it? -- it's inconceivable. Depressing.

Wool Budspawn EP
Another sadly overlooked mid-90's band that got lost amidst the glut of "alternative" bands like Bush and Seven Mary Three. Wool were a veritable supergroup of DC punk veterans (the Stahl brothers were in Scream together; drummer Peter Moffett served in Government Issue) and this incredibly heavy EP was their debut. This is just crushing, pile-driving, anthemic hard rock. Irresistable. Moffett is one of my favorite drummers. I saw him with a short-lived band called Girl Drink Drunk in '96 and then with the mighty Burning Airlines a few years ago. I love Wool's full-length album, Box Set, too -- but I usually save that one for fall.

Other summer-licious gems:

One Dove Morning Dove White
Underworld Second Toughest in the Infants
Van Halen Van Halen
Neneh Cherry Raw Like Sushi
The Clash London Calling
Queen Sheer Heart Attack
B-52's Whammy!
Pills Electrocaine
Massive Attack Mezzanine
Prince Around the World in a Day and Parade
Marshall Crenshaw This Is Easy
The Cure Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
Deee-Lite World Clique
Parliament Give Up the Funk; The Best of Parliament
Nellie McKay Get Away From Me
Hot Hot Heat Elevator
Eleven Eleven and Howling Book
Ozzy Osbourne Diary of a Madman
L7 Hungry for Stink
Denzil Pub
Mr. Bungle Mr. Bungle
Eminem The Slim Shady LP
Helmet Betty
Prong Cleansing
Luscious Jackson Natural Ingredients
Led Zeppelin III and IV
Beastie Boys Hello Nasty

Friday, July 01, 2005

Bite Yr Tongue!

Isn't it funny, the fine lines we draw in our language between what is obscene and what isn't? Between what is sacrilegious and what is A-ok? It seems that all you have to do to make a filthy four-letter-word clean or a blasphemous oath chaste is to change a vowel or consonant here or there...

For instance: using the word shit is bad. Foul-mouthed! But -- merely tweak the vowel sound and you can say it all you want, guilt-free! If, for example, you yell out "shoot, I forgot my King James Version!" at a crowded church picnic, nobody will even turn around. But what you are really saying is shit. Even Webster's defines shoot, the interjection, as a euphemism for shit. So why is it ok to say "shoot, it looks like rain today," but not ok to say, "shit, this jello salad is tasty!"?

What about damn and darn? Webster's defines them as synonyms. So if the meaning, the inflection and the intent are exactly the same, then why is one acceptable and the other not? Billy Graham could use the word darn twenty times in a sermon and no one would blink an eye. But could you imagine Billy's face if, after the service, you shook his hand and said, "Damn, that was a great message today, Reverend! I damn near shit myself!"

And fudge?! I can't believe this is considered a perfectly acceptable, G-rated interjection, when all it is is a thinly-veiled substitute for fuck. Oh, yes it is. And yet I've heard kindly old grandmothers use it. You know, "oh, fudge! I'm late for the pot-luck dinner!"

It seems that only a consonant stands between the righteous and the profane.

And speaking of righteousness -- how about the god/gosh and jesus/jeez loopholes? Saying "oh my God" is using the Lord's name in vain, and therefore sacrilegious. But somehow "oh my gosh!" is just fine, even though we all know it's just another cheap way to slip past the censors by changing a consonant sound (again, Websters calls it a euphemism for god). Put it together with darn and you've got a perfectly Christian substitute for goddamn -- "goshdarn!"

Puh-lease. Is the Lord really buying this?

And what the hell (oh, sorry -- I mean heck) is jeez? An aborted Jesus?! An oath that stopped short?

I'm sorry, but shouting "jeez!" instead of "jesus!" after you stub your toe in the all-purpose room isn't going to save your ass from the fires of hell, my friend. Dropping that last syllable isn't going to fool the man upstairs. God isn't that stupid.