Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Swivelheads, The

I am not that prone to taking an interest in songs from movies; most of them are generated from a symphony orchestra, and if it's something from pop culture, I rarely tend to like it.

There was one instrumental, though, that I liked. It was kind of from pop culture, but the main point of that is that it was from the pop culture of the mid-80s. It was from the movie Ferris Bueller's Day off.

When I heard it, I had no idea what it was, who played it. It was just the backing music to the running scene of the main character leaving his girlfriend in her backyard and trying to beat his older sister home, ending as he jumps over a fence into his backyard in slow-motion.

It has these fast middle-eastern drums, a little bit of brass, a fast bass, and a bright guitar, among other things. Oh, and a bit of sax. Tenor.

Much later, I would be reading a Wikipedia article on the The English Beat. I'd heard of them through knowing a lot about (here we go) Madness. 

Here's some intertwining history:

In the early days, the late 70s, Madness would become known as one of the bands of 2-Tone, which was started by Coventry-based band The Specials. Interestingly, I have heard about The Specials way more often than I have heard of Madness; they show up more often when referring to England's first ska revival. They were quite popular, and them and Madness were close. They had similar style and interests. I will read about or hear about The Specials a lot more often than I ever even hear of Madness at all when Madness lasted three years longer, achieved success that lasted longer and changed and matured with the times. But the reason I will hear more about The Specials is probably just because of that; they stuck with their ska-based roots, were pioneers of the revival, and brought it altogether to begin with. They worked with their contemporaries like Madness and other artists of the time, including Rhoda Dakar of the Bodysnatchers and several members of The Go-Go's (I wrote about them on here already). 
After The Specials disbanded, their members went on to other projects. Three of them, Terry Hall, Neville Staple, and Lynval Golding created Fun Boy Three, and they ended up writing a song with The Go-Go's called 'Our Lips are Sealed,' which The Go-Go's would then go on record as a single. The Three would also appear in the music video for 'Driving in my Car,' a single by, here we go again, Madness.

I talk about all this prologue because all these bands eventually fueled into one another and had some sort of connection, which I find very interesting. The English Beat (just known as The Beat in the UK) was another contemporary band to the aforementioned acts and formed in 1978. The went until 1983 before breaking up. Again, the individual members would go on to create other interesting bands whose songs I would eventually take a liking to, with good examples being Big Audio Dynamite (I made a 'clip video' to their song E=MC2) and Fine Young Cannibals (I wrote a review of their song 'Good Thing' here). Of all the original ska and 2 Tone bands and their contemporaries, Madness were the only ones not to disperse and attempt to create 'supergroups' with other members from recently dissolved bands they were close to. They instead tried creating mini-bands out of themselves (Suggs and Chas Smash created 'The Fink Brothers,' then 'The Madness' along with Chris Foreman and Lee Thompson, and Foreman & Thompson created both 'The Nutty Boys' and 'Crunch'). None of these smaller duos and bands went far or continued after producing on single.

In 1983, The English Beat would produce an album called 'What is Beat?' On this album would be an instrumental called 'March of the Swivelheads.'

When I read the Wikipedia article on the band, like I began saying before all the history preamble, I'd read that during the time after they'd broken up, their instrumental 'March of the Swivelheads' would be featured in Ferris Bueller's Day off and gain a sudden re-surge of popularity. I quickly went to the page on the film, and located the song in the 'songs featured in the movie' section.

Then I went to it on YouTube, and that was it.

It's a nice song and has a lot of worldly musical influences. The brass is kind of fun, I like the meandering bass line and the beat. The guitar invokes a very bright yellow-green texture and makes me attribute the word 'zesty' to it (because my synesthetic imagery of that word produces similar, summary colors). I like the sound of the drums, both the middle-eastern ones and the snare drum, which makes me think of a beam of daylight across the floor from an open door, looking south during the afternoon.

It's just a very dynamic, fun song with a lot of influences to it, which I like. The variety it has. The sound. And due to the film, it kind of makes me of the afternoon after school, while either going home from it or whatever.
Around about two and a half minutes into the song, there's this slamming sound, like someone slamming something down, and I immediately attributed the effect to someone slamming a plastic cup down on a counter.
I tried that myself, and the sound was so similar, I'll bet you someone decided to slam a plastic cup down once or twice while they were recording. It's very ingenious of them, to try that. It's another thing I like.
The tenor sax is very nice too.
The title itself makes me visualize a line of miniature tripods, with ball-pivot heads, marching along while their flat heads rotate and swivel along. It's a funny image to me.

Once again, another great thing I like is, well, gee, that director had a great taste for music for his films. Other than 'March of the Swivelheads,' songs from both General Public (The Beat's next incarnation of its members) and Big Audio Dynamite also feature. The films of John Hughes, including this big icon of one, all used songs from artists that weren't far from Madness at all, which therefore connect the film, indirectly, to them. Later, in 1983, the two vocalists of The Beat, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger, would guest-vocal on the Madness song 'Victoria Gardens.' Maybe I go too crazy about that band too often, but I just like it when they are somehow connected to something. They always are. It's always remote and hard to see or notice, but they are. None of their songs are in the film nor are they in any other of the films of that director, that I know of. But he has good taste.
It's why he's the only one who's had me take a liking to a song from a motion picture. 'March of the Swivelheads' is great - it's dynamic, always changing, filled with variety, and is just fun and cool and soothing to listen to.

Justin C.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"It's Not Equal"

My friends all used to say it would never work
To think she was interested was just me being a jerk
It would never be true or genuine
It would just be me, left to change my mind.

You will always say 'right,' 'yeah,' and 'okay,'
But is it really just a complete feign?
Not with you, no, it will always be equal
My friends were always right in the prequel

I can always open up, say how I feel
But you can never do the same
People will always like you
But you can never see it through

If you call everyone equal, you can never love them, 
infatuation's off the table
And if you consider all the good and well-meaning you equally like
You're bound to go unstable

But it's not equal, no way
Because I know you like me anyway
Liking everyone good all at once
That's bound to shatter on a pounce

You contradict your generality with one person
plus any of your friends like Jim and Kirsten
But you never knew me as a friend in the beginning
You just stared and smiled at me in the first inning.
I saw your eyes, I saw your expression
Your body language gave the impression
-But no, that's reserved for everyone
Because you'll never like or love someone

If you call everyone equal, you can never love them, 
infatuation's off the table
And if you consider all the good and well-meaning you equally like
You're bound to go unstable

Don't bother opening up to me
I know what you will say, all to a tee
Everyone likes you, but I don't mean everyone
Just the people who thought you liked them back, (simple one)

I can tell you how I feel
I know you will like that
Because you're just curious, and like to be pat
And I can fully take charge of our chats

Nothing will come from you though, whether it's from the present or the past
You'll just say 'right,' 'yeah,' and 'okay,' as if that is a blast
But you won't fool or con me, no way
Because I know you like me anyway

If you call everyone equal, you can never love them, 
infatuation's off the table
And if you consider all the good and well-meaning you equally like
You're bound to go unstable

It's never equal, not in this world
Because when we have each other, it means so much more.
Yeah, I just wrote this out of slight frustration over something. I wrote a nutty, over-long, over descriptive, messy post on how I annoyingly found every girl that seemed extremely interested in me, through body language and how they looked right at me so often or knowingly manipulated things in such a way as to bring me closer, unable to bring themselves to admit that maybe they like me.
I argued that of course there was the idea that I misread things, but it would end up meaning that every single girl I've ever kind of liked never liked me at all and just felt like staring at me for prolonged periods or bumping rudely into me.
Don't read the post I linked; it's overlong and too messy and descriptive.

The little song I wrote is about how someone has come to love another, and they know each other, and the boy is certain of how she acted towards him in the past, even though they weren't friends then, but the girl is adamant in that she liked everyone she saw inherently good, equally. The boy is basically saying that it's not possible to like everyone the same way she has focussed on him, which contradicts her equality, and is basically trying to get her to say more than her three words of choice, maybe admit she has at least some feeling towards him. Oh, and by the point this song is written, they do know each other and the boy has (repeatedly) said how he feels.

It's basically all about equality; the fact that you can't like everyone (good) equally, but also the lacking equality in the relationship or friendship or whatever the boy is in with the girl, because the boy knows he likes the girl but the girl can't reciprocate when the boy knows she obviously can to an extent.

On an different note, it isn't wise for anyone to tell me to be positive on the idea that maybe someone likes me; it's been enforced too much, both by my friends and by certain girls that I've come to like, that no one does. If I tell you I kind of think someone likes me, don't ever tell me that you hope they do or suggest that maybe they do; you're giving me false hope or positivity in lieu of your already telling me you don't like me that way, along with all my past friends who've advocated for that. I refuse to believe anyone has interest in me anymore. They'll just back up my friends and tell me what you said.
'Yeah. Right. Okay.'

Justin C.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Telltale Lightning

I don't know if this will become a habit, but I am writing, for the first time here, a book review.

Lightning is a book written by Dean Koontz, an author I came to like after reading several of his books before. The first book I'd read from him was Watchers, which I like almost as much as I like Lightning, which puts it very high in my list of favorite reading material, as Lightning is probably the best book I've ever read in my opinion. It's why I've decided to write a review on and talk about it.

It was published in 1988, three years before I was born. It was suggested by my mother after I finished the aforementioned Watchers in high spirits; that was a good book.

It tells the story of a girl, Laura Shane, who runs into multiple issues in life only to be saved every time by this mysterious man, who basically serves as her guardian. The book comes in two parts; her life from birth in 1955 to 1988, then, due to the plot, the next part on her escape from German Nazis and the plan to save the world from the Nazi's preferred result of the Second World War.
Sound kind of backwards? That's because time-travel is a key plot point.

I'm outlining the plot here, so if you want to avoid spoilers, read beyond the small print.
The setting takes place sometime between March 1944, and August 1992. The Nazis have developed a way to travel through time, but only forwards in time. They use this advantage to determine how the Second World War will turn out for them, and how they can rework their military strategy in favor of them by knowing where they go wrong and what the Allies will do. They also use it to bring back futuristic weapons and knowledge.

Stefan Krieger, a well-respected SS soldier, has turned traitor to his fellow colleagues and state, and has been using his position to sabotage their mission in whatever small way possible. On one trip to 1984, he sees Laura Shane, a quadriplegic author, signing books, and buys one. He loves her book, buys the rest of them, and ultimately falls in love with her through her writing. Thereafter he devotes the rest of his mission to both sabotaging the Third Reich's plan to rework their future in their favor by destroying the institute and scientific minds that created the time-travelling machine they call the Lightning Road, and fixing various aspects of Laura Shane's life for the better.

He prevents the drunk doctor from delivering Laura, saving her from a wheelchair, saves her and her father from a junkie that attempts to rob their store as well as rape her in 1963, threatens another child molester who has his eyes on Laura at the foster shelter he works at in 1967, and otherwise monitors her life by travelling through time at various intervals. Laura comes to believe that he's her guardian angel. She lives with her father, a grocer, as a young child (her mother died in childbirth), then comes to live in a foster shelter when her father dies of a heart attack in 1967, called the McIlroy home. Her teenage years are spent with her best friends Thelma and Ruth Ackerson in these dormitories, avoiding 'The White Eel' (the aforementioned child molester who works as the maintenance man).
Tragedy hits when Ruth dies in a fire, but both girls move on, with Laura going on to become an author, and Thelma a comedian and actor. Both are successful as Laura marries Danny in '79 and they have a son named Chris in 1980. Everything continues rosy for nearly a decade until Stefan returns in 1988 to save them from a fatal car crash on a mountain highway.

Unfortunately for Stefan, his treason is discovered in 1944 when Heinrich Kokoschka finds out he murdered the two scientists responsible for the project, and he subsequently watches Stefan do everything he does throughout the decades for Laura, ultimately deciding to kill them all when he makes that trip in 1988. Stefan successfully murders Kokoschka, but not before Kokoschka kills Danny. The latter part of the book focuses on Laura, her son Chris, and Stefan avoiding the German Gestapo and the SS in 1989 (Stefan would return to the institute in '88, wondering why no one was waiting for him after he killed Kokoschka, then go on to murder those aforementioned scientists, revealing his traitorous intentions).

In the end Stefan manages to reassert the proper pattern and direction the Germans would go in World War Two as Laura defeats the SS soldiers, and ends up living happily in their life and time. Time-travel in 1944 is destroyed when Churchill, operating on Stefan's urgent advice, bombs the institute. The final scene is "the year Chris was 12" as Laura and Thelma are peacefully rocking in chairs on a vacation in Monterey, all the men in the story by that point down walking on the beach.
For me, the story of Laura's life up to 1988 is the best part for me. I just love reading about the various events that take place in her life throughout the first three decades, and the memories it makes up to me. I consider many of the events in the plot line memorable and good to think about. Like Laura's father telling her, when she was eight, about the fictional toad on 'the queen's business' that had taken up residence in their apartment above the store. It kind of made me think and delight at the childlike wonder both she would have had, as well as I did at that age when my own mother told stories like that. Or the scenes that I had when I read about Laura and her two friends in the foster shelter. The scenes of teenage life, the memories of sharing stories and friend-to-friend talk on the rug before bedtime, or being together at the table to watch the White Eel serving food interestingly as he bore the mysterious injuries he'd no doubt gotten from Stefan. The descriptions of her family life throughout the 1980s, how things changed and her work paid off as an author while her husband managed her money and supported her.

One thing I really loved reading was the discussions between Laura and Thelma - the way they interacted and the dynamic and love their friendship had. And it made me think of real girls I knew that had similar kinds of friendships. I just loved reading how it played out and the characters acted and developed. I loved how it swiftly advanced through the decades (at least until 1988, when everything kind of slowed down), although I also think that it outlined Laura's life through the 80s a bit too quickly (she and Thelma are comforting each other after Laura's difficult labor and delivery of Chris in 1980 on page 125, and by page 132, it's already eight years later and she's stopping on the highway in response to her 'guardian's' signalling, to avoid the fatal crash). I could have enjoyed reading more of the passion, security, and sense of family she had with her husband, who is killed by Kokoschka on that highway.
No, I am not talking about passion in terms of sex, I am talking about reading more of their family as a whole, full, loving entity, before the tragedy and before it was broken up and reduced and things became lonely and melancholy for both Laura and her son.
It's a great biography and it inspires many realistic visual scenes for me, as any book does, but the way it is told is brilliant and just plain good. Then they have to find a way evade and defeat the Nazis from another time and age, all of who are bent on killing all of them.

The book also brings up to the front a lot of discussion and observation and debate about fate and destiny; Laura particularly wonders and ponders on the idea that fate will eventually reassert its intended pattern, that she will be forced to be a cripple and her son erased from existence. It was noted by Stefan that after he killed the junkie in the grocery store in 1963, only four years would pass, and she would once again be the target of a child molester in the foster shelter, of whom all the children loathed.

Ultimately, what I find best about the book, what I love reading, is the first part, the scenes of Laura and her father, the events in her early teenage life with Thelma and Ruth, and her young adulthood. It's just a great story. Watching someone grow up and mature, watching someone who has to clean out her room at the age of 12 after her father dies, watching her get friendly with the Ackerson twins, and then have the best times with them at McIlroy, the secret toad gifts she gets from a secret admirer, her future husband Danny, while in college (it is established, from the original toad story by her father, that she would grow up liking toads). The family she builds. It's all just a great story.

The ending's also cool too - in real life it would be the summer after I turned one, and had moved to 1210 Meadowlands. And people I know would be born that year. One more great plot point in the ending that I find sweet and does justice to the Thelma character is that it is revealed that she is seven months pregnant - with twins. Just like herself (her and Ruth were twins).

It's a great book, and I count it the best one over all the others I've read. The character development, the events and close friendships and life's sudden tragedies or miracles - it's all perfectly told. And the second part is also great too. The pursuit is action-filled and thrilling, as they have to evade German soldiers from the past who are bent on eliminating all of them, for they are the only people who can save the world from ensuring that it is run by the Third Reich.

I give it an A+, something I rarely, if ever, give.

Justin C.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Something from Today...sort of

It is unusual for me to find something that I like from the 2000s decade in terms of music, but despite what you might think, I do actually keep an eye out for something that does sound good. No, I don't really listen to the radio, and if I do, it would be Bob FM (80s, 90s, whatever) but I am not completely closed off to today's music.

For instance, one good example was a song I heard in one of those many PS2 commercials a few years ago that had a really nice horn section with female vocals (it also briefly appeared in an episode of Chuck). It turned out to be a song called 'Around the Bend,' and the first chance I actually got to hear the song in its entirety was during a summer camping trip to Algonquin Park in 2009, when my cousins plugged their iPod into an external, battery-powered speaker on the beach and the song was on it. It didn't sound too bad, though the female voices sometimes got way too-high-pitched. The source for my knowledge of the title of the song comes from my eldest cousin Olesia.

The other night, I heard this interesting tune on TV (my mother watches the music stations) and it got me for, as every song does, its bass line. It was called 'Steady, as she goes.'

I had never heard of it before, though it had come out a few years ago. It was played by a band called The Raconteurs which consisted of people from other bands like the White Stripes and Greenhorns, etc., most of which I had never heard of (I know who the White Stripes are though).

It's a pretty good song, and if I were to review it, I'd give it a B+. It's not bad, it had a good sound, however it is extremely simple - which is also good, but I tend to think a song should a have more substance than just a verse-chorus-verse style, no bridge or solo perhaps. When a song can only depend on its eye-catching chorus or verse, or lyrics, then I think there should be a bit more to it.

Maybe it's part of the reason I don't have much interest in today's music, because they're a lot less structured or dynamic - going back to Madness for a second, most of their songs were very wide-ranging and had a lot of dynamic and structure in them, which keeps them interesting to the end.

Before I break the song down to its familiar sound though, I must note that the music video is interesting. Two were produced, but like most people, I am sure, the second one was more fun to watch. It's basically the band racing each other in an old-fashioned soap box race, but there's deceit involved - the bassist fixes the race for him to win.

I would never have thought the bassist would do that. It impressed me because I play the instrument myself, and am most in tune to its sound. I have a natural tendency to synesthetically evoke myself out of its sound all the time, and I also see myself as sounding the closest to that instrument in voice and demeanor. Therefore I really liked that he won, even if he orchestrated the drummer's 'crash and roll' down a steep hill, manipulated the guitarist into hitting a wall of hay due to 'slippery pavement,' and had the lead singer taken down with a blow gun.

Besides, you always expect the lead singer to win, or at least the lead guitarist - they are the part of the band that get the most attention, maybe the drummer too. The bassist is the guy in the corner or the other side doing his own thing. In footage of concerts and musical acts on stage, I try as hard as possible to watch the bass player and drummer, but can't because the camera always focuses on the darn guitarist or singer. You hear them the most, so you focus on them.
I've even found that when you don't hear other certain instruments but others like the bass or keyboards or whatever, the camera still focuses on the guitar or singer! Not usually, but in some instances. I just think that's bad camera work though.

It makes me a tad bit proud of the fact that the bass player was dominant for once. I know there are all sorts of bassists out there who are the lead singers (Sting is a perfect example) and therefore get a lot of exposure, but I mean generally. In the music video you don't see a lot of bassists up front and center, and for once, in this one, you do. Even if he fixed his outcome for the better.

Now the reason I think I liked the song in the first place wasn't because of the bass, but because of the notes it was playing. This is the familiar sound I mentioned earlier.

It goes C-G-A#-F. Play this on a piano or bass guitar, and you'll recognize it instantly. It's one of those bass lines that are frequently used, it's popular. The first song I can think of that uses the same bass is the song 'Is She Really Going Out With Him?' by Joe Jackson. The verses follow the same notes, only a semi-tone lower (beginning on B instead of C). I can spot that kind of bass line in an instant, and it's why I warmed up to the song very quickly, because it's a very likable and popular sound. It's quite bright in this song, as the guitar follows the same note procession with chords.

The Joe Jackson song only uses that bass line for the verses, while this song uses it for the entire thing, with slight variation. For example, in the Joe Jackson song, the notes go exactly B-BF#-F#AA-AE. The bass line in 'Steady as she goes' is C-CG-CA#-A#F. This is a key one semi-tone higher up than the other song, and there is slight variation on how much a note is played or how it transitions, but it still follows the same musical pattern.

Visually, if a note is visibly higher or lower, than it would look like this:

-       _
    -         _

So, for 'Steady as she goes,'

-   -      -_     _
       -                _

Another good example of similar, popular and well-used bass lines is the D-C-G riff. I've recognized it on songs like 'Werewolves of London" Warren Zevon, 'Sweet Home Alabama' by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kid Rock's sampling of that same song, and the guitar introduction of 'Please Don't Go' by Madness. Again, there are small variations between each and extra notes, but they're all stylistically the same.

Even the song a friend of mine and I started putting together has the exact same note progression, though it was suggested by me.

One more thing before I end this post: The song I briefly mentioned at the beginning of the post, 'Around the Bend' - I think another reason I liked it was because again, the bass and instruments followed the same pattern as they do in 'Summer Breeze' by Seals & Croft (the verses) and the chorus of 'Alive' by Pearl Jam - the F-G#-D#-A# procession ("Alive" ends with high A#, not the low A#).

All sounds the same, doesn't it?

Justin C.