Sunday, October 31, 2010

Strings, Piano, Trumpets and Cleverness

You know, I just realized that I never wrote a song review on the song 'Our House.' I talked about it like crazy over the first few years after hearing it for the first time, listened to it relentlessly, and it often came up all the time up to now, but I never did a review on it.

Firstly, let me just get this out right away, prior to my talking about the song: I want to say that I was going to send a birthday present, originally, to someone, and I think they have to right to know, now, what it was originally going to be: One cheap, inexpensive webcam (fulfilling a condition of mine), a copy of my 'Nice Guy' manuscript, and for Christmas (as I think, despite birthday and Christmas being only several days apart, the presents should be separated), either a Glee-related thing, or a sort of creative piece by me, whether it be some sort of photo compilation poster thing or a photo-realistic drawing, probably pertaining to her. All these would have been either not expensive or don't even incur costs.
If I hadn't said so many nasty, easily evil things at once that I so regret, including on this blog, and they responded, I would have sent these items when the time came. While they got a chance to see me on my webcam, I never got a chance, not once, to see them. 
Thanks a lot mom for really enforcing those theories on me, making me act too fast and waaayyyy too bluntly. God I can't think of anything else, rarely, at the moment...

Now, on to the song. I won't be going crazy about it, just giving it a professional review.

When Chas Smash, the band's original compere, then eventual backing singer and trumpeter, suggested that the band focus on childhood memories for songwriting, everyone got to some sort of result. Chris Foreman began writing 'Rise and Fall' (also the name of the album 'Our House' was featured on) which was then finished lyrically by Suggs, Dan Woodgate got to writing 'Sunday Morning' (his only sole writing credit on both music and lyrics and where those piano chords come from) and Lee Thompson got to writing 'Blue Skinned Beast' (not a childhood memory but a comment on the Falklands' issue back then). Chas Smash wrote 'That Face' (a review I already wrote here) and then started writing lyrics that went 'father wears his Sunday Best...'

Meanwhile, Chris was coming up with something on the guitar that started to work. Eventually, I'm guessing the two paired the lyrics with the piece Chris had come up with, then they started sessions and implemented the rest of the instruments in. Mike wrote a piano part. Mark came up with a bass line.

According to the producers of the band, Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, Langer then began suggesting bits and pieces, like the guitar solo. The beat was fast and fun.

Recording it was one of those really fun processes. Clive would be suggesting different keys to start the chorus in, like starting on D then going to C. Even Langer himself got in and sang the chorus with the rest of the band (while also trying to get them to all sing in the right key).
Mesmerized by the cleverness of the song, they had David Bedford come in to record a string section to push it to its limits. Chas even worked out a trumpet part that took awhile to do through sheer effort (as he was learning at the time).

The song got to #5 on the UK charts when it was released in November of 1982. A year later, released on the compilation Madness, the U.S. managed to get a hold of the song, and it climbed up the charts there, ending up at #7. It was the highest stateside hit Madness had ever achieved after 'It Must be Love' entered in the top forty.

As for the song itself, it is indeed clever. It starts off with a very classical-like piano introduction (the exact introduction is a guitar fade-in, which is perfect as Chris, the guitar player, wrote the music). Then Mark's bass slides in, giving the sound concreteness and foundation. Like it's really there now. Then, Chas's trumpet begins. Great touch, a nice measure to the already runaway sound.
Finally, David Bedford's amazing western-like string section cues, sounding high and lovely, then going even higher. It all segues into Sugg's vocal: 'Father wears his Sunday Best...'

The song is a must-hear, in my opinion, for these reasons: The trumpet, the piano, and the string section. You put all these together in a song like that, with its clever musical patterns, and you've got an amazing hit. It's a simple beginning-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-verse-bridge-guitar solo-chorus-rap-final verse-ending chorus standard. It's not too difficult yet it's amazing.
The lyrics tell of a standard, middle-class household family, likely from the middle son's point of view. There's a lot of nostalgia in the song, especially in the little 'rap' that comes after the third chorus:
"I remember way back then
when everything was true and when
we would have such a very good time
such a fine time
such a happy time

And I remember how we played
simply waste the day away
then we'd say
nothing would come between us
two dreamers"

Chas Smash really proved a clever, mature lyric. It's been said that he came a long way in a very short time; when Madness released their first album in '79, One Step Beyond..., he wasn't in the band, just the guy who announced them at gigs. Then he became backing singer and started learning an instrument, the trumpet. By now he was a pretty strong song-writing force, even writing the lyrics for the band's most recognizable song.

It's a really good piece of music. The instruments make me think of a lot of people synesthetically, and in general the song is a sort of yellow-gold to me, largely due to the piano. Mike did an amazing job on it. It has a distinctive sound of classical music mixed with slight rock and western-style strings fused in.

It's one of their most better efforts. Unfortunately the band really didn't give too much attention to it; had they really played off of it well in the states and promoted it and their image, they would have been known a lot more in the past than just as the people who did 'Our House.' It was the only song of theirs that made it anywhere over here in North America; everywhere else they were as popular as ever. But all we know is that one song.

It's clever, and it has all the right instruments cuing at all the right times, creating a sound that is eternally fun and amazing.

Music: A
Lyrics: A

One more thing: Synesthetically, it is always a great idea to have a tamborine sound at the exact same time as the snare drum, for me. That's the case in the song, and, with the piano to go with it, I get a strong visual image of skyscrapers of Manhatten. In the distance, with the air in between making them look like they're tinted blue.
It's great.

Finally, here's a video of me playing one of the most effective piano parts:

I played the last two chords wrong (they're slightly lower-sounding that what I played, that's all) but it's very close.

Justin C.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Back in 1995, it was Wild

I know that because while I was only four, epic features that I'd fondly remember from my childhood came out that year, including Ace Ventura: Nature Calls and Born to be Wild.

Also, the music video for the song Seal did for the Batman movie that came out that year would end recorded on one of my mother's old music video tapes, and I'd remember the blue lights and the "did you know that when it snows my eyes become large and..." with fond visual memory and synesthesia.

I'll be finally talking about the latter mentioned movie here.

Born to be Wild follows a young teenager and an ape, and it's one of those very predictable storylines where the kid breaks the gorilla out of his main attraction cage at a flea market and escapes with it, making their way out of the country. You know, one of those stories where there's sympathy for the animal that's put on as a sort of crazy attraction or 'freak show' so the protagonist takes it upon themselves to save it.

The main character, Rick, is a sort of juvenile delinquent who appears to like taking joy rides (as seen at the beginning of the movie) even though he's only fourteen. He skips school (which is notably filled with reckless students) and just does his own thing. His father left the family at an earlier point prior to the beginning of the movie.
His mother works with animals and leases the young gorilla, named Katie, recently captured from Africa by a team led by Gus Charnley, the owner of the flea market. After being caught again by the police, his mother puts him to work cleaning the gorilla cage.
After awhile Rick forms a bond with the gorilla (who by the time Rick begins cleaning the cage has grown and knows a considerable amount of sign language taught by the mother) and he becomes proficient in sign language himself (having known some of it from his childhood due to a deaf grandmother). Unfortunately, the gorilla Gus uses at his flea market dies (due to obvious stress from the screaming crowds always gathered around the cage and lack of proper care) and he comes back for Katie, nullifying the lease and the option to buy the gorilla out.

Meanwhile, Rick returns to school in time to upset a high-achieving girl named Lacey who is running for the school election to become president (he throws a pop can in the garbage). When he finds out the gorilla has been sent to the flea market, he goes there himself to see the loud crowds upsetting the gorilla.

Thereafter he kidnaps Katie out of the cage that night, puts her in his mother's work van, obtains a map and directions from the aforementioned Lacey (who sympathizes with him and the gorilla, approves of their escape, and directs them to her uncle's house) and hits the road.
Most of the movie follows Rick and the gorilla's adventure northbound with Lacey's uncle's as the destination. They stop at a store with Rick leaving Katie in the van, and while he's in the store Katie unwittingly releases the brakes. They try to go through a drive-thru at a fast food restaurant and Katie swipes the order out of the ordering window, frightening the clerk and causing them to drive off.
"I just took an order from a gorilla!"
"Did the gorilla pay for it?"
"Good, now get back to work!"
Eventually a farmer with a shotgun catches them picking his apples (as they seemingly now have to avoid stores and fast food outlets) and they run for it, escaping into a river on a boat though leaving the van behind. Ultimately they hitchhike to the uncle's house (an eccentric guy who makes statues and has his niece's sense of freedom) where Katie has by this point fallen slightly ill. They leave early next morning as the police start to catch up to them, and it culminates in a big pursuit that ends in Rick being caught as Lacey (who'd made her way to her uncle's) and the uncle making their getaway to Canada.
In the end in a courtroom hearing, the judge decides that Rick should be Katie's guardian after a display of her intelligence and knowledge of right from wrong. The judge also rules that Gus is not a proper caregiver and that Rick won't be able to drive until the age of 21.
The ultimate ending has Rick sadly leaving Katie to live in Hawaii where she has a natural habitat, as in his words, she "has to go be a gorilla" while he "has to go be a kid." It's a very heartfelt ending, at least for the Rick character; I am not comfortable watching people cry.

Once again, I felt a lot of nostalgia coming out of the film. There were many scenes that would play out and I'd shout "I remember that!" There was a particular scene in which Katie takes a soda but shakes it up first. What I remembered was the whole thing exploding in Rick's face.
Instead Rick notes this, advises her to wait awhile before drinking, and after a moment she opens the can while pointing it at him.
"That wasn't long enough."

Originally I thought Rick never knew she shook it up and he'd selected the bursting can out of bad luck. But anyway, things like that which had originally had me laughing as a kid had me laughing all over again.

Another big point here is the different perspectives: As a kid I'd seen the Rick character as a big, rough, almost scary-like teenager, probably about sixteen or seventeen. Big and outward and loud.
As a young adult, I saw a kid only six years older than me (when I was a kid) or so. Smooth-skinned, young, only fourteen. I was actually shocked at how well and often he drove in the movie. He would have only been in grade nine or something. Sometimes I thought the movie was a little too jumpy or sentimental; there's a scene in which Rick first sees Katie in the cage at the flea market, and Lacey sympathizes with him. Five seconds later it's nighttime and Rick's in a bathroom stall, getting dressed in black and ready to infiltrate the place to retrieve her.

I admit I was puzzled, as a kid, when I saw what seemed to be a scene of Rick using the bathroom, then taking the gorilla. Why show him using the bathroom? Obviously I know now it was meant as a transition of him using the bathroom to get ready to sneak in to the flea market, and not as a random scene of his feet on the ground in a stall, using the toilet. It's funny how we see certain things as a kid with our lack of general knowledge and wisdom.

I'm also kind of surprised at how they stop at these places like fast food outlets and things and no one realizes who they are (Gus Charnley has detectives in search for them and police and the media everywhere are going crazy about it). They stop and spend an entire afternoon at the beach not far from the fast food disaster. Someone could track them there easily if they spent the rest of the afternoon there and night.
The only person who notices them at all is the man they hitchhike with, when he sneakily reveals he knew all along who Rick was and the fact that there's a gorilla hiding in the back of his truck.

On the last thing that I didn't find too attractive was some of the overly-sentimental scenes. I mean, come on. The gorilla is in a bathtub filled with bubbles at the uncle's house, there's candles and Rick is leaning on the edge, tearfully telling Katie that he wants her to get better (she has mildly gotten sick by this point) and he's worried about her dying. The way the scene plays out and how the camera slowly rotates around them, how emotional Rick as and how romantic and sad it tries to evoke, it's just too much. By the next scene Katie is fine; she's raiding a fridge in the middle of the night.
On the back cover of the VHS I have, Katie is hugging Rick, whose face is scrunched up in tears. Jeez.

The ending is much the same way. Rick lets her go, then as he's riding in the truck with his mother down a dirt road, Katie runs alongside them at the top of a hill. They stop the truck and Rick bursts up the hill to hug her one last time, crying and telling her he'll come back.

Katie might as well be Rick's soulmate in that scene. Except she's a gorilla. Parting is really "such sweet sorrow" for them, especially the teenage human.

Maybe I'm being a tad bit rigid, cold or insensitive, but really, some of that stuff is just overkill. Rick and Katie bonded over one night of finger painting in the beginning, then they have a lot of fun escaping together, but his passion for her just gets a bit too weepy. To be fair, I'll justify the emotional parting scene, because while it is a bit overly melodramatic, it is in essence sweet. But Rick coming on the verge of tears talking about his departing father during their night on the beach, it just shows how well that actor can turn on the tears.

There's one more thing I want to point out with this movie: The actors. You just won't believe how many times you'll have seen a particular actor before you realize you saw them. If you watched Lost, do you remember who played the original Man in Black? That Titus Welliver guy? I thought that Lost was the first place I saw him. No, I saw him as one of the detectives in Born to be Wild first, as a child. His partner in the movie, another detective, is played by Thomas F. Wilson. But I thought I only saw him for the first time when I watched Back to the Future and he played the bully Biff Tannen.
It's the same for Alan Ruck, who plays Rick's lawyer. Originally I'd "only" seen him as Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. No, I'd seen him as a middle-aged lawyer in this movie first. Further more, Peter Boyle (of Everybody Loves Raymond) plays the antagonistic Gus Charnley, and John C. McGinley plays the uncle. I'd seen McGinley in Nothing to Loose as a criminal. Never realized there'd been a soft, activist-like side of him in this movie.

So in essence it was like reliving memories from my childhood as well as seeing them from a new perspective and knowledge base, as well as seeing actors, when they were younger and before I'd realize I'd later see them in more prominent roles and properly know them.

It was a good movie. Originally I was afraid when watching it again that I'd see too much crying, something I am completely uncomfortable seeing unless I have something to do with it and therefore can comfort or justify it or do something about it. Those fears weren't realized too much, but it was a little too weepy.

Storyline: B+ (though predictable)
Movie in general: B+

Justin C.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Result of Touring, The

The amount of touring the band had accomplished had taken a toll on them; they were always off to different and far away places. Rarely did they come home to England around that time.

Soon they would be off to Compass Point Studios in Nassau, which is located in the Bahamas. There they'd record their third studio album, 7.

During the recording of this album, the lead singer Suggs would pen a song about the effect of touring and missing loved ones while away. It would be called 'Missing You' and it would be about the desire of one to see his loved one again while constantly away.

Here, after all this introduction, is my review on the resulting song, by the British group, wait for it, Madness.

'Missing You' is one of those fast, almost rock and roll type songs, with a fast beat and many drums. The drums and style helps to set it apart from most Madness songs, which are normally characterized by fairground organs, a basic, simple beat that's not too fast, and dynamic bass lines. Plus a sax.

All of that was in this song but the tempo was faster and it just sounded different. The bass gets higher, the guitar beeps at the beginning and middle of the measure, and the piano is wacky and fast. In the second verse a tenor sax accompanies the guitar. The chorus sounds like it's filled with desire (from the sound of the bass and piano) and the guitar actually makes me think of a busy, bustling coffee shop.

The bridge has a sax solo (played now by an alto sax) that just gets crazier and crazier. Overall, the song just makes me think of those light rock songs that teenagers play in their garages, from the sound of it.

The lyrics also strike me in some places - I tend to like it when days or months are mentioned in a song. For instance, the second verse begins "Monday crossed your room the day." It suggests that the singer is likely on the other side of the world, with Monday happening where his girlfriend or wife is, and him taking that for note as he thinks about her. Some of the other lyrics I can really sympathize with: "the awesome love I feel for you/to see you now what would I do?/the desperate feeling you're not there/to be with you pull out my hair."

The ending of the song is characterized and focuses on the tenor sax following the bass line and a very bright and fun piano that's different on each measure, almost random, which is what makes this song fun. At the end, the bass, piano and sax go higher and higher (like it does at the end of each chorus) until it fades away.

Generally, lyric-wise, the song is exactly what Suggs was aiming for with the result from touring too much: the singer is always away, and very far away, from home or his significant other, and he can do nothing but think of her, interrupting his thoughts with visions of her face and taking note what day it is where she is.

It's almost a classic Madness song to me, and I really like it.
What do you think?

Music: A-
Lyrics: A-

As an afterthought, here's the song played live, in Germany, in 1981:

Justin C.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Home Bound!

Beginning yesterday and continuing today, I've started a sort of nostalgia-type hobby or focus: Watching old movies I used to love as a child.

I was going to write my review for Born to be Wild (the 1995 film I watched last night) but it was quarter after one a.m. when it finished, so I didn't find that prudent. Today I'll be writing about what I watched this evening instead (with a belated and late review for the aforementioned film I watched yesterday later).

Homeward Bound was released in 1993 and was recorded by my mother off the TV at some point after it had become one of the movies played as a Disney Special (remember the old Disney blocks that showcased family movies?). Unfortunately she'd also recorded most of the commercials and the little segments before/after commercials that included a host with his golden retriever and we always had to fast-forward them. I have since have no idea where that old VHS has gone.
In any way, commercials or not, I loved the movie as a kid and always wanted to watch it. You know how, at a young age, sometimes when you watch a movie that has a lot of journey/adventure/emotional & mental efforts dealt with by the end, you somehow feel changed a little? This movie did it. This, Toy Story, and Lion King.

In the film, a family makes a temporary move to San Francisco. Their three pets, which include a Golden Retriever, Shadow, a Himalayan cat named Sassy, and an American Bulldog named Chance, are left at a ranch owned by a family friend for the duration.
Not realizing the nature of the family's absence, Shadow decides to leave the ranch and find his way home when he discovers that his loyal owner, Peter, and the family actually won't be visiting that weekend due to miscommunication. Thinking he's in trouble, and seeing the ranch owner leave for a cattle drive (not realizing a neighbor would be watching over them in her absence), Shadow leaves the ranch with Chance and Sassy to follow him.
The rest of the film details and showcases their adventurous journey throughout the wilderness and over the mountains to reach home again. Throughout this, they encounter bears, a mountain lion, a porcupine, and other wild animals. Sassy falls into a river and goes over a waterfall, and the dogs sadly go on without her (she rejoins them after being nursed back to health by an outdoorsman and hears the dogs barking by in the distance). At one point, they help save a lost girl.

Meanwhile the family is made aware of the pets' disappearance, and the stepfather, who was the reason for the family's temporary move, takes it upon himself to put flyers out everywhere in an attempt to find them and help gain the respect of his new wife's children (the animals really belong to and call the three kids their owners). The search party for the lost girl responds to the dogs barking, find the girl, and realize through memory of the flyers that the animals are the lost ones, and orchestrate their transfer to an animal shelter.

Unfortunately Chance, who has horrible memories of animal pounds, is terrified. Sassy manages to escape the attendants and help free the dogs (Chance, who'd been hit in the snout with a porcupine, has the quills taken out by a vet at the pound but has no idea what is actually happening other than his pain). They get away just as the happy family, who was notified by the shelter, arrive.

The pets finally make it home, which apparently coincides with the family having returned from San Francisco (as the animals instinctively return to the same house, which the family is already at). By this time it's Thanksgiving (coincidence, I had forgotten that Thanksgiving is in the movie) and the kids have adopted to calling their mother's "husband" 'dad'. After Shadow falls into a muddy pit near the railroad tracks and thinks he can't make it, they make it the rest of the way and a happy reunion unfolds, with Shadow just managing to make it with a limp.

For me, seeing the film again was a real eye-opener because as a child I never usually took in much details or plot devices or settings. I just liked the adventure and the journey. Now, watching it again, I have to say that there are some real interesting things and facts. I somehow thought as a kid that the family had permanently moved to San Francisco and left the pets at the ranch permanently, even though they were upset and sad that they disappeared. I'd also thought that the pets had tracked the family to San Francisco despite the house looking the same as the house at the beginning of the movie.

The family itself really brought up a lot of ridiculous similarities that I saw in real-life: the movie opens up with a wedding - in the movie, a tall blond with three children, two boys and a girl, marries this man who in turn whisks the wife and unwilling children in their family Jeep to another city for his work. The children don't take super quick to their new stepfather, and don't like having to move or leave their pets behind.

They do come back from that city, though. And of course it ends on Thanksgiving (by the time of their return). And I couldn't believe how adorable the cat was - the most cute blue eyes and dark face, and sweet-sounding meow. Maybe I sound weird describing a cat like that, but I don't know. I just find it heart-melting. I hated watching Sassy being tumbled about in the rapids and the waterfall, she looked so frantic and scared.

The vocal work was great as well - Michael J. Fox has an excellent voice and he did Chance perfectly. Sally Field provided great vocal work for Sassy as well (although she made the cat sound just slightly old, and kind of reminded me of a grandmother's voice). Unfortunately Don Ameche, who voiced Shadow, died the same year as the film's release, but he did a great job as well and made the dog sound world-wise like he is supposed to be.

It's a great kind of look-back to one's childhood memories. I remember a lot of scenes from that film and seeing them again refreshed a lot of how I saw the scenes, especially from a synesthetic point. That in turn reminded me of how I saw other things at that age as well, and other aspects. It revives a lot of thought I had at a younger age and a lot of how I experienced something, so it brings back a wealth of stuff for me.

Three years after the original movie was released, a sequel was made, Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco, where the family has inevitably moved permanently to San Francisco. There we go, that similarity is cemented in. My mother bought me the actual movie on VHS, which I still have, but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as the original film. Incidentally, the family goes on a trip to Canada while the animals escape from the airport due to Chance panicking and breaking free.

There's also a big sense of home in this movie - The character of Chance has had a rough former life, in which he was abandoned by his owners, picked up by a pound, and therefore doesn't have a sense of home or belonging within that family. He thinks they were abandoned at the ranch and is terrified of the animal shelter in result. By the end of the movie, however, he comes to feel loyalty to his owner, Jamie, and feels like he belongs and has a home when they eventually get there.

Very soon I'll be writing about the movie Born to be Wild, which I watched last night. That was a great movie in my childhood as well, and very fun to watch again.

For now, I am once again happy and pleased that Shadow, Chance and Sassy got home. It's a great old classic from 17 years ago.

Justin C.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

It's the Most Exhilarating Experience Ever

In my life, I have only been up in an airplane about six times. To Vancouver and back in 2004. To Atlanta, and then San Diego, and back, in 2008.

You wouldn't really find me fun to sit with on an airplane unless you enjoyed or liked or appreciate my marveling out the window, the look on my face, and my excitement.

It's an experience for me that very few things can match, other than deep emotional stuff. While some people use drugs or love (me included in that one) to get high on something, I get high by getting high - up in the air (and experiencing love).

I've always mentioned my huge interest in aerial photography. Being actually up in the air, however high, though, is the real thing, and I go crazy for it. I love heights while people are scared of them.

The first time I went up in an airplane was on my 12th birthday. It was cool. I really enjoyed it. We flew around the city in a big circle for about an hour at a height of 2000 feet. My mother took many photos. The only problem was that the plane flew nowhere near my neighborhood at the time. The most I saw of Meadowlands was a big green square in the distance (we were flying somewhere over Westboro and I was trying to look south). I knew that I was looking at the field that is Inverness Park. I could also barely see the four apartment blocks that surround the townhouses in which I lived, just rising over the sea of green trees.

My trip to Vancouver in 2004 though was several times better than the fly-over on my 12th birthday. We were in a big Air Canada plane that took off and went many many times higher than the little thing we'd flew in last time. It was the takeoff that got and always gets me to this day - we took off in a northwest direction, not an east direction away from Nepean, and I immediately recognized everything in astonishment. I couldn't believe the pinpricks of light on the roads that were cars (this was the late afternoon), and I couldn't believe how small and narrow some busy roads looked, like West Huntclub or Merivale Road, which I'd always known to be wide and busy and just big. I saw landmarks I recognized from a neighborhood perspective, not a city perspective.

Then in 2008 I'd be sitting in another, smaller plane in the early morning. I'm lucky I had my camera with me right then. I got as many photos as possible.

It's always the takeoff that will get me because it is over Ottawa and things get smaller as we get higher. I end up almost worrying people near me who are wondering what I'm going nuts about. 
The only thing I hated about my photos was that it was hard to focus through the thick window when I zoomed out with the camera (I had the point and shoot then) and it blurred potential images of Arlington Woods (where my grandparents live) The College shopping centre and Baseline Station, one of my shots of Barrhaven (I was super-excited to finally see the big rectangular suburb for real from the air) and other scenes.

The next time I'm on an airplane I'm definitely getting more shots. If I get a window seat - which I better! As well, I've annoyingly never been on a plane that has descended into Ottawa over Barrhaven - it's under a flight path yet I've never been on a plane that uses it, I've always come in from the darn east. My darn mother has been luckier than me in that regard, as well as a friend of mine, and I end up looking at their oblique aerial photos taken from the window instead.

Heights are where I am the most comfortable, at the moment. Even if it's just at the top of a big ferris wheel. Or the CN Tower (which I'd spent many hours in when I went).

Justin C.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Moon Walk

One great example of well-executed minimalism and simplicity in music, I think, would be the song 'Walking on the Moon,' by The Police, off their album Reggatta de Blanc (1979). 

I've mentioned the song on here many times; just look up my post on the different synesthetic response I get from bass guitars in songs. It's mentioned around here all the time, often enough.

The song is extremely simple and laid-back. There's just a quiet guitar, bass riff, and a constant beat. Plus the vocals.
Extreme simplicity, really, is what the song really evokes. The bass has only five simple notes during the verses, C-D, F-E-C, and the A#-F-C-G procession for the chorus (the kind of note progression wildly used in many songs). The guitar has two chords that play in quiet rhythm during the verses and then four more louder flourishes during the chorus (following the same keys as the bass). The drums have a constant bass and rim-click beat, with hi-hat flourishes.

Of the entire song, the star of the whole sound is the hi-hat, Sting's voice, and the guitar during the chorus. It's one of the things I like about that song: during the verses, your attention is always on the hi-hat, and what Sting is singing. Drummer Stewart Copeland basically focuses all the energy on the hi-hat during this song, while, almost lazily, it seems, punching the bass drum and emitting rim clicks at a slow, constant beat. The cymbals are hit at a faster rhythm and beat, and there are many flourishes.

I've often heard that simplicity is always the best way to go about things in music or whatever. The simpler it is, the better it sounds. This song is a good example.

Ironically, it has taken me a long while to practice and get up to beat in drumming this song myself; the hi-hat was virtually impossible for me to play on it because it seemed so random. I had to learn all the different flourishes and had to become expectant of what kind of sudden change in beat or open/closed cymbals would come up next. All while hitting the bass and rim of the snare equally and constantly.

Playing the bass guitar to the song was no problem for me at all.

According to Sting, the song is about being in love.
After hearing about that, I immediately thought about the lyrics "walking back from your house, walking on the moon." Originally the image to me conjured up a young man, in moonlight, walking out from under a low-hanging tree branch on the sidewalk and into the pale moonlight. "Your house" is his girlfriend's house, and he feels calm and happy and like everything is wonderful and alright and peaceful as he walks home from the one he loves.
What's interesting is that it's exactly what Sting is quoted as saying in the Wikipedia article I read all this from - walking back from his girlfriend's house in the early days eventually became the song.

The same article reads that it was his idea and he got it while walking, drunk, around a hotel room. A riff - probably the guitar or bass riff - suddenly appeared and he started singing 'walking round the room.'
Then to make it sound even more ludicrous, he replaced the lyric with 'walking on the moon.'

I actually think 'walking round the room' is more ludicrous, because while walking on the moon isn't something everyone does, including when they are in love, it is something they can imagine doing while feeling great. Walking around a room isn't and sounds stupid and useless, so I would go with that as being more stupid. How can one imagine walking in endless circles around a room as a fantasy during their emotional high?

It makes me remember something I did when I was probably five or six: I was at an apartment (my mother left me in the care of someone while at work) and in this play room. A TV commercial for Zellers had come on the TV in the adjacent living room, with one of their slogans being something like 'it's the law" or similar. I would proceed to walk around this room, repeating the word 'it's the law' over and over, while stopping to fiddle with a toy hanging on one of the doors now and then.
I remember this so well because the person who looked after me and a few other young children had a daughter who would then proceed to come into the room and copy me in annoyance, wondering why I was doing that. I'd found her characterization of me extremely funny.

Oh yeah, and that caretaker was the first person to give me a nickname - "Juicetin." (Not to be confused with the similar 'Juice' that a certain drama teacher calls me to this day).

Back to the song, that's basically what it's all about, all to basic instrumentation. It's something to listen to at the end of the day, prior to going to bed, like winding down, sort of. Only it's the most effective during a full moon, and if you can be in a position to see this moon while listening at the same time.
Just kidding.

The music video was also quite simple and easy and laid-back - the two of them stand around playing guitar and singing while Copeland hits his drumsticks against a rocket booster. It was filmed at a space centre with rockets and all that, as well as featured footage of astronauts on the moon and in space.
The best thing about the video to me is the way it looks like it's during the morning, so the sun is perfectly in the best spot. In my head I evoke a sunny morning landscape to the song, so it matches well. Plus their moves and slow dancing and lazy playing emphasizes the mood of the song, so it's perfect.

It's delightful and I like the nature, the lyrics (and how Sting sings some of them, like the phrase "feet they hardly touch the ground") and what it makes one think about (in my case, the synesthesia it evokes). It's all generally pleasurable and delightful. It's simple.
The song is a complete blue and green and moonlight color to me.

Music: A
Lyrics: A

What do you think?

Justin C.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Released

I went to this release party last night. Or was it a gig?

It was another thing I was invited to via Facebook. Gee. By joining that website I sure have become active in night life, haven't I? After all - this was my, oh, second time!

I entered this tall, narrow red-brick building on Rideau Street apparently called 'Cafe Dekcaf.' Something extremely loud was emanating from the doors. I went in. And expected something totally different.

I couldn't speak. It was too loud to be heard. To my surprise, it was $17 bucks, not 7. I still asked about this, feeling like an idiot (which the vendor appropriately looked at me as) and hastily paid the money. I only had five dollars and change left.

After standing around for about ten minutes, I took in the scene and felt dumbfounded. No one I recognized was here...the room was filled with small crowds of older, grungier-looking people. Lots of leather. Lots of people who looked like they were into meaner interests. The band on stage was so loud and off-sounding (this wasn't the kind of place the band I'd come to see would perform in, was it?) and I seriously doubted my true whereabouts despite the fact that I'd seen two people I knew from high school just outside the building a minute ago. Where had they gone?

I wandered back into the outer foyer...and then noticed the name of the club on the wall.

'Cafe Dekcaf - second floor, yellow door.' A yellow arrow pointed up a flight of narrow stairs.


I dashed up the stairs, and again felt dumbfounded. I faced a black door. Really? It said on the sign, 'yellow door.' Where was it? Further up the stairs was another black door shaded in darkness. And I'd come far enough up the stairs for this to be the second floor.
Uneasily, I pushed the door inward.

"That'll be $7," a familiar face immediately asked me.
There was the correct price! Okay, I must be in the right place now.

People that I did recognize stood around the dark, sparsely-lit room. I knew because they were shorter, more slender, and wore civilian clothes. What's more, they looked like college students. There we go.

I paid the money (my last five and a toony) and walked around. I met with the band - 'Birthday Girls' - which consisted of three people I knew by sight from high school. There was Lloyd Alexander, drums, and who immediately greeted me with happiness and delight that I came, then Kevin Donnelly, on keyboards (and doesn't he also play a guitar?) who was also happy I came. Finally Kyle Kilbride greeted me, again happy, who played bass guitar and shouted the vocals.

The band itself has an interesting sound - it just consists of the bass, a small electronic keyboard and percussion (drums) plus the vocals. It gives them an advantage of sounding different from other normal bands who would almost always implement a lead guitar. That's what every band before them had - two bands came on prior to them, one called 'Trees' (or Earth, the lead singer had a knack for cracking jokes in between songs), another called 'Modern Superstitions' which consisted of a female vocalist, a lead guitar, bassist and drums, and then finally the major act everyone had been waiting for - the Birthday Girls (I do not capitalize 'the' because, as the band says, every girl in the world at one point is the birthday girl, so just the more generic 'Birthday Girls' keeps them distinctive).
While my taste in music lies elsewhere, I still found their sound pretty cool. It's a good taste of live acts; Loud, forceful bass noise, fast, sometimes off-beat drumming (which I like), and simple yet melodic keyboard bits to tie it together. Throw in some vocals for good measure and it's a fun, danceable act to listen to, and support.

Free cupcakes were available as well, and as much as I would have wanted to, I couldn't get their EP - it was seven dollars, and I'd spent the last majority of that on a Budlight. I was thirsty. There was a photographer on hand as well, and I'm sure she got some amazing shots.
Meeting people I'd known almost all my life was refreshing as well; people I'd known since kindergarten were there. I engaged in a chat with a girl who, on the first day I met her, spent the entire school bus ride punching me in the shoulder to 'push over.' I'd been crammed against the window already. And I was probably five or six years old.
"I haven't gotten around to reading that famous blog of yours, but I will," she said at one point. What? How many people read this anyway?
No, it was a pretty good time. At least I didn't spend the whole night standing around, I talked to people, re-connected with old acquaintances and school friends (all the way from elementary school) and saw a pretty good live act. I can't believe how awed people seem to get when I tell them I wrote an entire novel and keep up a blog like this. I haven't even published it yet. When and if I do, then I will appropriately act awed.

I just don't know how. But anyway. Overall, the night was fun and the sounds were good. Even if it's not necessarily my taste in music, I am happy to support and appreciate it. I like the band. I like the music. I like the camaraderie I have with people my own age - my generation - and what they're into, which is this fantastic band.
We all danced. We all jumped. We all sang with'em.

Justin C.