Sunday, December 14, 2014

Scott Stapp Threatens President; Obama Quaking in His Boots

Link Between Christian Rock and Mental Illness Found

Rock Royalty, Scott Stapp
Last week, news surfaced that Creed frontman Scott Stapp made threats against President Obama before jumping on a bicycle with a bag full of papers which he asserted proved that he was an agent of the CIA charged with assassination. Stapp has denied the allegations (as anyone, sane or otherwise, would naturally do).

According to People Magazine, the Secret Service are aware of the threats and taking “appropriate action.”

A member of the Secret Service, who spoke to me under the condition of anonymity, told me that the agency is currently trying to determine whether the threat is credible or not. “Naturally, all threats of this sort need to be taken seriously,” he said, “but let’s be serious. Scott Stapp? Even President Obama thinks he’s a pussy.”

Later, President Obama, also speaking under the condition of anonymity, told me that, more than concern for his own safety, he felt sympathy for a man who was clearly in the midst of a mental health crisis. “Obviously, my heart goes out to Mr. Stapp and his loved ones, and I sincerely hope that he is able to get the care that he needs. I also hope that these recent episodes will not overshadow the achievements of a man who used his talents as a second-rate Eddie Vedder sound-alike to try to bridge the gap between Christian and mainstream rock. Honestly, I’m not sure that was such a good idea but… I mean, really, I know a lot of people apparently listen to Christian rock, but nobody that I’d want to talk to. If we’ve learned anything from this episode, it’s that you have to crazy to be into that garbage.”

Dr. Richard Branleur (artist's conception)
Elaborating on the connection between mental illness and Christian rock, clinical psychiatrist Dr. Richard Branleur, speaking under the condition of severe intoxication, emphasized that mental illness needs to be de-stigmatized and addressed as something that is, if not curable, is at least treatable. He stated, though, that the effects of Christian rock were less easy to address, and in the his opinion, should not be free of stigma, if for no other reason than to deter people from embracing a genre which, in fact, could have a negative effect on mental health.

“Christian rock puts the practitioner in a classic double bind. He is beholden to two different and morally diametrically opposed masters. Rock and Roll speaks to rebellion and self-expression, Christianity speaks to submission and placing one’s salvation outside of oneself. In other areas of life, these opposing viewpoints can often find balance, but not when these mixed signals originate from the same oppressive and solitary source. Also, the victim is unable to escape from the situation, as the Christianity aspects demands devotion, and Rock and Roll, ideally, is impossible to ignore.  Mr. Stapp’s situation would really be quite sad if we weren’t talking about the guy who polluted the radio with self-righteous dreck and once challenged (Limp Biscuit frontman) Fred Durst to a boxing match. I mean, talk about a conundrum. I was hoping there was some way that they could both lose.”

 “Are your assertions based on any textual analysis of Christian rock, or the music of Creed?” I asked.

“Fuck no. I don’t listen to that shit,” he responded before kicking me out of his office.

Eww. Just... Fucking Eww.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

That Song from Transcendence

Trying to Not Let a Bad Movie Ruin an Old Favorite

No real need to see this movie
The other day I went to my local multiplex to see Transcendence, the new techno-thriller starring Johnny Depp. As a movie about the possibilities and consequences about replicating or transferring intelligence and consciousness into digital networks, it had the potential of exploring many scientific, sociological, and philosophical issues raised by our actual current technological environment. As a big budget Hollywood movie, of course, it did none of this or did so in the most cursory, and/or ham-fisted ways. This did not surprise me, of course, nor was I surprised by the ponderousness of the script, or the heavy-handed use of religious metaphors. What I was surprised at was hearing Jorma Kaukonen’s beautifully wistful 1974 song “Genesis,” playing throughout the movie.

My first thought was, hey, good for Jorma. It’s a beautiful song and he deserves the windfall of royalties that he’ll be (or should be) receiving due to its prominent placement in a major motion picture.

My second thought was specifically about how the song was used. Though it seemed like an odd choice at first, the pastoral song seemed to be a nice, albeit completely unsubtle, counterpoint to the paranoid techno-fear theme of the movie. The characters seemed to recognize this. The song is heard in the film when the main characters of Dr. Will Castor and his wife Evelyn (played by Depp and Rebecca Hall respectively) repeatedly play the LP on their portable turntable as a way of distancing themselves from the technologies to which they devote their lives and work. In fact, the actual physical record is shown to be a prized possession for the couple and, as the film goes on, a nostalgic artifact of their earlier simpler lives before murder, robotics, and other amusements intervened. There was one thing that bothered me, though, and that was that the filmmakers or set-designers or whoever is in charge of these decisions, decided to give the LP a different, older looking label.
Does this label seem too modern?

I was almost embarrassed to write that last line. I mean, what kind of geek would care about something like this? Here’s the thing, I think it matters more than some other trivial inaccuracy that only a sexually frustrated overgrown child living in his mother’s basement would point out. The reason I think it matters is that by making album look older, it seemed as though the filmmakers were trying to make the practice of playing records and cherishing them appear to be an even older and more antiquated practice than it already is. One that is more associated with industrial revolution era luddites than something from our own childhood memories. Why did they have to make it seem so foreign? Why do they have to make me feel so damn old?

My last thought was that the song was somehow being taken away from me. If Transcendence gets to be widely seen, the song will become far better known than it was a few weeks ago. Now, I wouldn’t say that the song “Genesis” is all that obscure a song. In fact, most of my friends would even consider the song to be a bit of a classic. But then, many of those friends are people who spent the bulk of their twenties going to hippie music festivals and have a preference for, how shall I say it, post-psychedelic roots music.

Jorma Kaukonen, circa 1978
My own introduction to the song was when I saw Jorma perform at The House of Blues in Cambridge, Massachusetts, sometime in the summer of 1998. I was already a fan of Jorma’s through his work with the bands Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, but I did not know any of his solo work. In the middle of Jorma’s set of masterful finger-style blues, he dropped in the song. Its lilting melody and contemplative lyrics set it apart from the rest of the pieces, even in an all acoustic show. I was taken aback. I asked the guy next to me what the name of the song was. “Genesis,” he screamed into my left ear.

(Prior to that, when I was hearing audience members shouting “play ‘Genesis,’” I thought they were drunks who thought that the ensemble in front of them was a cheesy bar band taking requests and were just dying to hear “Invisible Touch” at that very moment.)

Quah - 1974 - Grunt Records
I went out the next day and bought a copy of Quah, Jorma’s first solo album which opens with the song. I immediately began to play the song for everyone who would visit my studio apartment. I would put it on mix tapes for friends. The song was my gift for them.

Now it’s just “that song from Transcendence,” and utilized in the movie in such an overly dramatic way as to make the song seem even more saccharine than it is, and I guess that irks me a bit. I always feel the need to say that I am not a hipster, but maybe I share some unfortunate traits with that group, namely the feeling of self-satisfaction that comes from knowing something that is not common knowledge in mainstream circles. However, I will defend myself by saying that while hipsters guard their stockpiles of useless information like Masonic secrets, I like to turn people on to things that I have discovered, and I guess I just resent the fact that Transcendence has taken away my ability to play someone “Genesis” for the first time.

On the other hand, it was nice to see the song used in a way that reaffirmed the importance of the musical artifact as a thing to be treasured in of itself. It also illustrated how the power of those objects lies not only in the ability it give to replay and relive music, but also to share it with others in a more intimate way than via networks. I know I’m a bit out of touch, but “Hey man, I want to play you this record” will always trump a link to a Spotify track or YouTube clip any day of the week. So, in spite of the fact that I heard the song probably one too many times throughout the movie, I still went home and played it one more time for just my girlfriend and myself.

And at any rate, the movie isn’t doing so well. With a bit of luck, maybe the song will maintain some its semi obscure status.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

When You Play It, Say It!

A New Podcast That's All About Music... Except When It's Not

Click Here to stream Episode 2 of When You Play It, Say It

Those who are acquainted with me already know that I am at my best/worst when I get a few drinks in me and start talking about music. I am known to seize control of the jukebox at bars or the stereo at parties, and engage in lively discussion of (pontification about) songs and artists as they come up. My favorite “house-hangs” tend to be just one or two friends, a bottle of something, my record collection, and a lot of arguing. Opinions are indelicately asserted, connections are discovered between artists and songs, personal stories and associations are shared. Sometime there is crying.

Sounds fun, you say? How can I get in on one of these, you ask? Well, it is tough. With much regret I have had to turn down requests from celebrities, royalty, and heads of state. In fact, just last week the King of Laputa dropped by unannounced bearing gifts of a bottle of Henri IV, Cognac Grande Champagne and an original 8-track cassette of Frank Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy. I had to turn him away, as my apartment is not very big and I have few chairs.

That embarrassing episode did get me thinking, however. How can I share this marvelous experience with everyone? How can I insure that everyone who wants to can have a little time with a verbose, slightly tipsy, pretentious music freak like me? I felt sad contemplating the huge masses of people who were bereft of my knowledge and company. It was while pondering this question that I was looking through a stack of records at one of the few still existing vinyl shops in New York and came across a DJ copy of The Best of Marcel Marceau bearing a white sticker that read: “When you play it, say it.” The sticker, a common sight during the mid-eighties (when DJs often would play blocks of songs with no introduction or commentary, only interrupting the music to announce the time and weather), was a reminder from the record company to the DJ to stop now and then and actually tell the listeners the name of the songs and artists (this was particularly important in the case of the Marcel Marceau record in question, as many people listening on the radio thought it was John Cage).

Holding that record in my hand, I had an epiphany. A radio show… or something like it. Anyone who wants to be can be a fly on the wall while I’m joined by a rotating cast of characters and we engage in inane banter about music and musicians and make complete assholes of ourselves. My living room, my records, my friends, probably some cheap tequila, and maybe some beer nuts.

So now for your entertainment and edification, the second ever episode of “When You Play It, Say It.” (Yes, there was a first, but we’re just going to say it’s like an unaired pilot for now.) On this occasion, I was joined by me old friend, actor/musician and front man for the band The Trembling Turncoats, Brett Warwick, for a lively discussion of that obscure little English band, the Beatles. Enjoy!

(For those who get through the whole thing and want additional information about the tracks discussed, as well as where Brett and I may have fucked up, click below to read more...)