Showing posts with label musings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label musings. Show all posts

Saturday, June 15, 2024

How To Not Make Waves

A writer for The Federalist got in hot water recently for pointing out that Dolly Parton is non-committal when it comes to social issues. Because, you know, everyone loves Dolly and thus she has no faults. One of the "perks" of getting old is the freedom to speak one's mind, and no bones about it, at age 78, Dolly Parton is old. But the fact is, Parton has never expressed an opinion on anything. That's her modus operandi. One could ask her if she prefers okra or collard greens and she'd say, well, I don't want to make a judgement on that. Is that why she's so beloved? Because she's an empty vessel (or pretends to be)? 

I'm old enough to have witnessed Dolly Parton's rise. I watched her on The Porter Wagoner Show in the sixties when she was the new "girl singer", replacing Norma Jean. She was tiny with a big blonde beehive and other big things, and she was definitely bubbly. And she complemented Wagoner's voice, which is one of her talents ~ she can complement nearly anyone's voice, from Kenny Rogers to The Trio to whomever she's singing with. Porter would let her sing one of her own songs solo each week and they were "good", in that they had an original point of view. Up to that time most female country singers, except Loretta Lynn, of course, recorded songs written by men. Truthfully, though, when she began recording her own albums, most of the songs weren't great. Except for her first couple of releases, she leaned toward sort of folk, with tracks like "Joshua" and the dreaded "Jolene". And she foisted the awful "I Will Always Love You" on the world. I bought her albums and really wanted to like them, but aside from her duet LP's with Porter, which I adored, Dolly was never really my cup of tea.

Then suddenly she went Hollywood and became a gay icon. Fine. Don't care. She made her debut in Nine To Five, which was a cute, funny movie, although actually Jane Fonda's character was the best (and I'm no Fonda fan). It was really the late Dabney Coleman who made that film, but Dolly's performance was "fine", albeit a bit amateurish. She was in all the tabloids, attended all the parties, posed for the cover of Playboy. She may have no opinions, but she's always had plenty of ambition. And naturally she strayed farther and farther from country. "Islands In The Stream" is a Barry Gibbs pop song, but again, her duet partner, Rogers, was a pop singer. 

Maybe it was longevity that turned her into a "legend", but now even people who've never listened to one of her records considers her the queen. One would think after all these accolades that she wouldn't be afraid to speak out about...something. Doesn't she have enough millions by now? (Yes, I know she's a very charitable person. That's not what this post is about.)

I, for one, think she would be admired more, and actually listened to, if she didn't always deflect. At age 78, it's okay to say something.  


Saturday, April 27, 2024

Why Is Everyone So Depressed?

I enjoy browsing Reddit, particularly a few forums I've joined, but when logging onto the site, one is presented with a variety of topics, and many contain posts from Gen Z'ers asking a variation of "Who else is depressed?" or "How do you handle your depression?" I generally skip past those posts because I hate self-pity. Then I realized that depression has even invaded the music market.

Years ago when we were plugging our music I joined a few licensing sites. The only one that ever offered a return was AudioSparx, which isn't even listed among the top sites anymore. A few times a year we'd get a check for twenty or so dollars from them because they'd included a few of our tracks on their compilation CD's (although who was buying those CD's is a mystery to me). I'd forgotten that I'd joined Broadjam. It had to be a long time ago, because only our early songs existed on the site. But every once in a while I'll get an email from them offering a free submission credit. I generally take advantage of it because free, after all, is free. With our newer (better) tracks uploaded, I figure there must be one or two licensing opportunities we would fit. Not particularly.

There are a lot of calls for "melancholy". If this is what people are listening to, no wonder they're depressed! I don't do melancholy, and on the rare occasions something depressed me, the last thing I felt like doing was writing a song. Lie down and pull the covers over my heard, sure. Maybe kids need to steer clear of depressing music and everything else in their environment that encourages them to wallow. When, in what decade, was life ever easy? I must have missed it. But at least I could always count on music to lift my mood, and yes, as I've written before, even sad country songs can make one feel happy in a way. A pouring out of emotion is cathartic. "Hey, at least I don't have it as bad that singer does!"

I admit that my musical knowledge is antiquated. Apparently that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Oh, The Controversy

Granted, Beyonce's rendition of Jolene is awful, but people seem to forget that Dolly Parton's original is no gem, either. I hated the track when it was released in 1973; thus, it was played constantly on radio. All the worst ones are. Don't get me wrong; the original lyrics are fine, but that melody! Not only banal, but depressing. (Don't tell me, well, it's a depressing message. A good song isn't just lyrics. That would be a poem.) Dolly is a decent enough songwriter, but melody is not her strong suit (see: Coat of Many Colors; To Daddy)

I've seen a lot of commentary this week about Beyonce's version. She took the only adequate component of the song, the lyrics, and changed them completely! And need I say that those changes reek? A commentator I admire said it best. "Now the song doesn't mean anything." I agree that it presents no message other than, "I'm gonna whup your ass". Okie-dokie. And really, no one can convey that message quite like Toby Keith. It's not even a contest.

I suppose what annoys me about the commentary, though it really shouldn't, is that these people are suddenly country music experts. I don't doubt that they've heard the original version of Jolene. It's probably the only country song they've ever heard, yet each of them is quick to pronounce their "fondness" for country music. "I like Brad Paisley," said one. I'm surprised no one said, "I shore could use me some of that Hank Williams." It's okay, guys; everyone is not required to like it. 

I freely admit that I'm not a fan of current R&B, or whatever it is that Beyonce does. I'm also not a fan of her voice. It seems to me that she used to at least stretch her vocal cords a bit, but on this album she's singing in a dreary alto.

And why is there any debate over whether Cowboy Carter is a country album? The answer is: It is not a country album. Plain and simple. It's not. There can't possibly be any argument over that. And by the way, why is it so important for her fans to try to label it one? Big George Strait fans or something? Honestly.

What's almost worse are the songwriters/original artists who've praised her cover versions. Sincerity seems lost nowadays. Dolly and Paul McCartney certainly have good musical taste. They can't possibly think these lifeless dirges are "awesome". Was she really tired when she recorded them?

I suppose, like Taylor Swift, Beyonce is a pop culture star; mediocre but with a ton of flash. Flash is what matters. Beyonce's new album has zero impact on my life, so people can call it whatever makes them happy.



Sunday, August 20, 2023

To Be Honest...


I haven't posted in a while, mostly because I've been working on other projects, but also because this is primarily a music blog and I don't think much about music anymore. It stings to admit it. I click on Spotify once a week at the most and even then I struggle choosing what to play. 

Music and I go back a long ways together. When I was a little kid, too young to even buy records, everything that poured out of my mom's kitchen radio was magical. I didn't totally understand how it all worked -- my big sisters had a few records and my parents had two, but who was the guy inside the radio playing his records for me? And he sure must have owned a bunch, because I heard a different song every two and a half minutes.

Once I turned nine I somehow managed to collect enough money every month or so to walk to the record store and pick out a '45. There were so many hot singles swirling around in my head that choosing just one was excruciating. Admittedly, I generally went with The Beatles, but I was also enamored with "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration" by The Righteous Brothers and oddly, The Tijuana Brass's "Spanish Flea". Luckily I requested those two '45's from my friends for my one and only birthday party, so I didn't have to interrupt my Beatles buying spree.

In junior high before I defected to country music I picked up "Thank The Lord For The Nighttime" and "(It's A) Beautiful Morning". Pop music around that time wasn't especially scintillating.

Once I immersed myself in country I became fanatical. In the summers I'd stay up late just to tune in to clear channel radio stations like WHO in Des Moines and WBAP in Fort Worth (which was still kind of scratchy, even at one a.m.). Mike Hoyer from WHO always had the newest tracks and I got to hear them before they even hit the stores. My summer job made me "rich" and thus I picked up country albums willy-nilly -- Merle and Porter and Dolly, Loretta, Tammy, Tanya Tucker, Faron Young, Lynn Anderson. I bought most anything the tiny country section in JC Penney's basement offered. I was big on greatest hits -- more bang for the buck -- George Jones, Connie Smith. I spun the hell out of all those LP's, knew the track listings by heart, scoured the liner notes (where I learned who Pig Robbins and Lloyd Green were), became familiar with the go-to songwriters. 

The early seventies didn't slow me down. I was just as thrilled to select albums by Barbara Mandrell, Johnny Rodriguez, Eddie Rabbitt, Emmylou, Gene Watson, Gary Stewart, Ronnie Milsap, the Gatlins, the Statlers, even new acts like Dave and Sugar (yes, I admit it). Country was still as exciting as hell...until it wasn't.

(Insert ten-year intermission here. I gave up on country because it forced me to. Sure, I still kind of knew what was going on in the country world, but that didn't mean I liked it. It was the era of Kenny Rogers and John Denver and Rhinestone Cowboy, and Sylvia. Dolly took a pop swing, Tanya didn't seem to know where she was most of the time. Music became more of an irritation than a rush.)

Ahh, but then came the mid-eighties. You gotta hand it to whoever wrested the reins from Nashville producers' hands, because country was back and it was good. I mean, really good. That old tingle of excitement returned when I slapped on my minty-fresh albums by Highway 101, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ricky Van Shelton, Randy Travis, George Strait, Dwight, Rodney Crowell, Clint Black. It was like waking from a decade-long coma. The sounds thrilled me. I couldn't get enough of it. It was like I was sixteen again. Or nine.

By the nineties, I no longer felt alone in my country music rapture. I don't know what happened, but suddenly everybody liked it -- everybody I interacted with, at least. At work kids ten years younger than me had their radios tuned to the local country station. As a teen I kept my country predilection a secret. Nobody at that age wants to be an outcast. Really, the only people who knew were my best friend who turned me on to country in the first place and my parents (it gave us one thing in common). But now? We all began comparing notes about our favorite artists, the latest hits, even a bit of country gossip. It was liberating. Dwight and George were still hotter than ever, but now we had Alan Jackson and Mark Chesnutt and Pam Tillis and Mary Chapin Carpenter and Patty Loveless. Diamond Rio, The Mavericks, Brooks and Dunn. Tanya was releasing her best music ever. There was such a glut of great music it was almost overwhelming. I collected CD's like my son collected baseball cards.

After the nineties, I held on. I somehow found a Texas independent radio station online and listened to it at work. Every so often I'd catch a track I liked. But let's put it this way: My Spotify playlist for the years 2000 - 2010 contains 74 songs. My '90's playlist has 227. Something bad was happening to country. It was almost as if all the creativity was spent the decade before and everyone was tired, even the new acts. The word came down from on high -- "No more of that 'country shit'. It's a new millennium." And thus Faith Hill and Tim McGraw were borne. The Dixie Chicks turned surly. Kenny Chesney was lying back on a beach somewhere. A few, like George and Alan and Dwight, refused to bow, but it was a new, loathsome world. I recognized few artists' names, and worse, I didn't care that I didn't know them.

That's when I stopped. Just stopped. Stopped listening to music in general. Sure, here and there something would strike my consciousness -- an album, a song I heard while I was buying coffee in the morning --  and I might buy it or I might not. 

I no longer felt that chill. 

I miss it.

I miss getting so gobsmacked by a song that I couldn't wait to go out and grab the CD, come home and rip off the cellophane, peel off that stupid adhesive strip, fling open the CD changer and swirl up the volume, stand back and swoon. Then play it again. 

I miss hearing Ralph Emery in the middle of the night spin a new track by Faron Young and losing my breath, then zipping a money order off to Ernest Tubb's Record Shop to get my hands on it because my local record shop across the river didn't bother to stock it. 

I miss falling so in love with "Silver Wings" that I sang all three vocal parts into my reel-to-reel tape recorder, which required sleight of hand I didn't even know I possessed at sixteen. 

I miss hearing "The Big One" on my car radio for the first time as I waited for my kids' classes to dismiss and hoping against hope that the DJ would it again.

I miss playing Marty Stuart's "Sundown In Nashville" on repeat, over and over. 

I miss Roger Miller's "Engine Engine #9" becoming an earworm when I was eight years old, hearing it on the radio inside my big sister's first apartment after school. 

I miss writing a rock opera to The Beatles' "Help" album when I was nine as a testament to my devotion. 

I even miss sitting in the rocking chair in my bedroom and playing Ray Price's "Soft Rain" on repeat with tears streaming down my face the day my dad died.

To be honest, music will never touch me like that again.

I try to keep up. I have a favorite country website that features the latest from the country world. I click on the videos the writer embeds, but I rarely make it all the way to the end. Even with the few I like, it's more on a cerebral level. "Yea, he sounds authentic; tight songwriting; wish he would've gone to a bridge here." I can't remember the last one (was there one?) that stabbed me in the heart. I don't know if it's them or if it's me. It's probably both of us. I've lived through wondrous times in music. I'm jaded. You're gonna have to give me something otherworldly to knock me over. Trust me; I don't want to feel this way. I want to fall in love with music I've never before heard. But maybe it's simply too late. It's all been done, and done so much better that the deck is stacked. 

If you're wondering why I have been silent here so long, it's because there is really nothing left to say.