Monday, March 17, 2014

It's Makin' Me Crazy

Yet again, they've played something at Wal-Mart that catches my ear, although I've heard it before. It was a rock song obviously from the '70s that I'd originally heard from Everybody Loves Raymond, back when I watched it often over ten years ago.

It was one of the songs they used in their later opening sequences of the episodes. Knowing the lyrics of the song now, it hardly applies to the sitcom at all; they merely used the song for its chorus, which in that context serves the quick scenes of the show's obvious humour/ethos quite well.

"Jungle Love" by the Steve Miller Band, 1977.

Looking at the comments under the video, most people refer to how they saw it on that show, which kind of makes me feel a bit sad for the song itself - I'm no exception. I wish I'd heard it on the radio rather than on a television sitcom. It's kind of like it's up to TV shows to bring back forgotten gems from thirty-forty years ago. I'm sure Glee does that a lot, for which I have no option but to salute it for doing so; no one my age or in their younger teens is going to listen to radio stations that focus on hits from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Or at least not a majority of them. The only problem I have with Glee is its tendency to have its version outperforming the original this many years later - come on, it's a cover version by a group of young adults playing to soundalike music; how is that better than the original? They didn't create it. To me that just makes Glee's actors the new originals, because they apparently sound better than the actual artists did, so will viewers make a point of listening to the original? Apparently that isn't as popular. But oh well. I'm sure you have Glee fans looking up the actual songs often enough, which is good.

They played this song at Wal-Mart both days I worked there, which actually made me remember to look it up, on my phone. I couldn't make out the first two words of the chorus, but I knew it went '...it's driving me mad, making me crazy,' etc. At first I mondegreened those two words as one, being 'Trubloff' which was the (Russian) name of a tall black dog my paternal grandparents owned in Trinidad before I was born. There's a painting in their house of it approaching an entrance gate, with obvious long legs. Recently, I discovered the painting was actually based on an identical photograph of the dog approaching the inner entrance gate of the diplomatic residence in which my grandparents lived. Thinking that was the lyric made me smile because even though I never knew Trubloff I simply liked the reference, even though I knew that wasn't the lyric; the lyric itself is 'Jungle love.'

Upon hearing it, virtually everything clicked for me. Every instrument. The sound of the singer's voice. The lyrics. The verses have an excitement to it thanks to the guitar and its style; I like how the drummer must have hit a floor tom every second snare hit. It gives the drums a sort of rooted 'boom' sound that elevates them into a realm of anticipation and excitement for me. The bass is all over the place, from low to high. Then there's the chorus, where it starts out quite low, which is perfect - then ascends higher and higher in the notes very quickly.

It's a nicely-paced rock song that's exciting and bright and quite enjoyable. I recognize the sound effect at the beginning, just unsure of where it came from exactly, probably an arcade game of the time or pac man. It also sounds like the daily double sound effect out of Jeopardy! (the sound effect intro, not the song).

There's the lyrics, which have a jungle or tropical island theme to them and seem to detail love affair between the voice and a woman on the island or whom he met on the island, which suggests that they remain there, but I'm not sure. One line I like quite a lot is 'you thought you had seen me before.' It makes me smile; perhaps it's the idea that you'll see someone you'll end up with more than once before you actually meet them, without realizing it, or perhaps it applies to that whole lookalike thing I've gone on about for ever, where you think you've seen this person before but she only turns out to be a lookalike of someone else you found attractive, so, great. I just know I liked that lyric right away. But what I really find about the lyrics that seems so natural and right is just the idea of being out in the jungle, experiencing 'jungle love.' Perhaps my delight is inspired by a childhood movie from 1995, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (which takes place in the African jungle) and has a few memorable scenes. I remember loving the atmosphere and look and scenery of the trees and apparent feel of all of it on TV when I was young, and I still do now. Maybe it's an inner desire to go to places like that, like the Republic of Congo or Mindo Nambillo, or wherever it's a tropical climate and jungle, water, and just feel at peace.

I feel like Wilson from Home Improvement saying all of that right there. It's hyperlinked to a specific episode on YouTube I'm referencing when I say that. What I mean though is the idea of the naturalness of being in a place like that, in tune with Mother Nature and having someone at your side, bathing in the ocean, understanding your place in the world, just being surrounded by natural, living things and feeling that way. Perhaps that's part of what makes this song, from the music to the lyrics and title, sound so good and in a way right somehow. You can go ahead and be childish about it in reading this - I'm sure 90% of those who do will - but I don't care, so it is what it is. I'm not saying this is like the music video to Duran Duran's 'Hungry Like The Wolf' (which includes scenes of a man and woman half-naked coming at each other in a forest) I'm saying to be surrounded by and being in a place where there's no human interruption or artificial influence, with someone, sounds nice and right in a way.

I think this song will be my favourite one of the year. It's just plain great and nice and feel-good.

Justin C.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

We Love It!

This is going to be quick - I have an early get-up time tomorrow - so I'll be to the point.

I've seen a few bits and pieces of the new late-night show lineups - Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, etc. - and while I haven't been particularly impressed, what I saw tonight really put a smile on my face.

The musical guest was just starting. A guy named Randy Newman. Never really heard of him yet the name somehow sounded familiar. He started playing the piano. Sang about people dressing like monkeys in New York. Okay.

Then the most familiar musical procession started up. A variation of that same synesthetic imagery flooded my mind, and it took me hardly a second to decode it into the ending of Mr. Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie from 1997. That's where it came from. That "I Love L.A." tune near the end of the film. That was the guy and the song?

Scenes from the film splashed across my mind. Bean's being driven around L.A. in Peter Langley's convertible, taking pictures, and there's imagery of the streets and pedestrians, etc. I thought at the time of seeing it that the song was written specifically for those scenes in the film. Eventually I'd come to know it was a song independent of the film, but I thought the artist was black just judging by his voice. I never looked it up because I expected to see a glossy pro-L.A. party-like thing and I wasn't really interested in that.

Hearing it now, though, years later, completely out of context of that film with its scenes and imagery, it takes on an almost fully different perspective for me. I looked it up on YouTube. It had actually been recorded more than a decade before the film had been released, and not at the same time (as was the case for Boyzone's "Picture of You" which was recorded in conjunction with the film by a boy band that despite my thinking and its sound is actually Irish).

Hearing it independent of the film, it's also the full song and not edited specifically for its scenes. An easy, mellow piano opens it as he sings a verse or two, deriding New York and Chicago - and then a bright piano mixed with synthesizer immediately takes over. D major. D-F#-A. Right away. This synth does the individual notes while a jaunty piano plays D major, F# minor, C# minor, and E major. I figured this out over fifteen minutes with my keyboard and slowing it down in Audition.

These opening notes (apart from the actual piano intro) immediately put a smile on my face, a big one. They're just super feel-good. Like someone's tipping their hat off to you, with a grin on their face. Like it's your birthday and you're behind the candles, about the blow them out. I find it interesting that when I first heard it I didn't associate it with D major at all, it was just a blurry roundabout-looking texture that's a whitish colour, and super feel-good. As soon as I listened carefully and tried playing the chord note by note, it immediately made sense and the texture aligned accordingly in my head. Had the synth been a normal piano, I would likely have known it was D major by ear a lot quicker.

Here's the opening synth, if you play music, or like to know how it works:
D-F#-A,* F#-A-C#-F#-E-C#-C#, E-G#, E-E-C#-E-C#-E-C#... and over again.

*The first three together create D major.

You play D major during the first three notes, then on the F# you're playing the corresponding chord (F# minor). Then you head to C# minor when you hit the two C#'s, and end on E major upon the E after the G#. All the chords correspond easily to what note the synth is playing, very straightforward, in a four-chord progression. Basic and quite rudimentary in music or pop songs.

The first verse starts on A major...yeah, I'll stop there. This is a review, not a dissection and tutorial. Anyway, the song is reminiscent of the film for me, and it sounds both positive and pessimistic at the same time. You kind of get a sense of greatness from the song thanks to musical notes that ascend and descend quite obviously. The drums kick in quite nicely in the beginning. There are soft bits and other parts that build up really well. The song's almost like a roller coaster, musically. At the end the guitars come in the compliment the synths to give it a good climax. I get a sense of light-hearted fun, sunshine, even decadence in a way. Like you can go to L.A. or southern California, basically, and it'll be like your perfect, happy birthday or something, or sense of fun times.

Lyrically, Newman sings about general things you'd find just about anywhere. Look at that mountain, look at those trees; look at that bum, he's down on his knees. Good things and negative ones. Of course, go to Vancouver or places in Europe and you'll see mountains, and if you go virtually anywhere you'll see trees. Had he specified a local-kind of tree like the iconic palm trees or others native to California he might sound like he's referring to L.A., but "look at those palm trees" or "look at those California Live Oak Trees" probably doesn't mesh well in a line of a pop song. When he does get L.A. specific, he uses street names.

The real idea of the lyrics essentially is to point out that L.A. trees or mountains or women or bums are different than what you'd find anywhere else, in a much better, grander way. "Look at those women, ain't nothing like 'em nowhere." Makes me think of 'California Girls' by the Beach Boys (also referenced in the song) though their lyrics talk about wishing all great girls of the world were California girls, not vice versa.

I see the lyrics in a positive light compared to how I saw them originally. They're the words of a man who just loves his city. It's not patriotism or "born in the USA!" or anything like that, just positive words and music about a city someone loves. I respect and like that. I wish I could do that with Ottawa. Put some feel-good music down and write about the good things about Ottawa, what I love about it. I could. The issue is that compared to L.A., Ottawa has virtually no culture and only two real iconic landmarks - Parliament Hill and the Rideau Canal. With Los Angeles you way more than just famous people, you have the film industry and its culture, famous theatres, buildings, landmarks, even famous streets and famous signs. What could I say about Ottawa? "Look at that hill, look at those trees. Look at that politician, he's down on his knees. Look at those woman, ain't nothing like 'em over here." Let's yell "Wellington! We Love it!" We don't have a 6th street. We have a Chinatown and a Hintonburg. "Somerset Street! We Love it! Preston Street! We love it!" Rolling down the Queensway with a big nasty redhead at my side/Gatineau Hill winds blowin' in cold from the north/and we was born to freeze...

As for the music video, it had me laughing at first. You get a cold, sepia-tone image of New York from under a bridge in a factory zone as Newman walks away unimpressed...then, with the sudden synth and piano comes a sudden slideshow of summer images mixed with L.A. scenery, chrome and car grilles and bikinis close-up. Way to jump the contrast. Newman spends the video cruising in a convertible with a redhead girl while you get scenes of the city and people saying "We love it!"I can easily applaud his taste; I'd ride in a convertible with a redhead any day. Just not here.

Okay, Randy Newman. Fine. I like L.A. too. You've done your job right. It looks enticing...for someone from the city 'fun forgot.'

Music: A
Lyrics: B+
Music Video: B- (laughable).

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Daniel Morgan

Since mid-January, I've been writing a manuscript. Tonight, it's finished.

It was one of those things that had potential that worked well enough for me to write it fully and finish it because it's in most respects a period peace, although it doesn't stay in the same period. I've been purchasing aerial photos of the same area - Nepean-Parkwood Hills - for three years now, images of the same area but taken in different times. The earliest I have right now is September 7th, 1962. The idea is I'm tracking the visual history of the neighbourhood I grew up in from the 1960s to the present. I've got aerial photos taken in 1962, '65, '66, '67, '68, '71, '73, '75, '78, '81, '83, '85, '87, '91, '93, '96, and '99. I haven't bothered purchasing images post 2000 because I'm filling out images taken in the 20th century first. Every image that was taken, essentially. It's a long but, to me anyway, fun process.

The story started out as an interest of writing about a character who lived where I grew up, in the 1960s or any time that wasn't the present, particularly before I was born and lived there myself. Then I thought of the idea of writing about this character's life by tracking it through the same dates as most of my aerial photos in my growing collection. I'd start in 1962, and make my way forward through history, eventually to the present. It made perfect sense in terms of not just tracking this character's life but the physical setting in which he lives and grows, because I have the visual image of it in front of me via aerial photos. There's his house, there's the school he goes to, the store his mother buys milk at, the park he plays with his friends in. All physically there in the image, and present in real life accordingly (if whatever specified setting is still there today).

The story starts with this family moving into a brand new bungalow at the corner of Meadowlands Drive and Deerpark Road. The house is real. They have a four-year-old son named Daniel. In the first chapter, his maternal grandfather takes him to Mooney's Bay and they sit atop the hill, where Daniel asks him what the meaning of life is.

It continues on from there; the theme of the meaning of life is recurrent throughout the story. Daniel grows up, and his parents have two more children, a younger sister and brother. He goes to Fisher Heights for school, and throughout his education does very well, being gifted academically, though unfortunately he gets bullied throughout high school. Eventually he begins a career in news journalism and makes a family of his own, having three children in the late 80s and early 90s (Colin, Edwin and Brooke, respectively). He struggles mentally with his career choices as he gets more and more famous on TV, and has a major personal setback in 1999. By the 2000s, he has his own show, and the story focuses on his siblings, children and friends almost as equally. It finally ends in this year, in June.

Other than the recurrent meaning of life, the story ties things together throughout and uses family, familiarity, tradition, and personal emotional growth as its main themes. Past 2002, I stop using the dates of aerial photos as I can't locate the dates of images taken in years after that, but that's okay. I based all of the characters on bits of people throughout my life, as well as myself, and there are many 'hybrid' characters, those who are based on more than one person or his or her actions. Daniel's best and longest friend Nick has some of my father's actions in him as he unintentionally gets someone pregnant in 1991 and leaves the city for a job opportunity, then later marries a young foreign woman and has a child with her. Colin has Asperger's Syndrome, though Edwin, Daniel's second son, doesn't and takes part in the Swim Team in high school, like I did.

These are the real-life settings that are mentioned or included in the manuscript:

Rockliffe
Hintonburg
Mooney's Bay
Fisher Heights Elementary School
Century Public School
Merivale K-Mart (closed in 2002)
Long Park (Steve Maclean Park)
Parkwood Hills Foodland store (the 'corner store' of my childhood)
Merivale High School
Auto-Sky Drive-in (closed 1981)
Merivale McDonald's
Inverness Park
Carleton University
CJOH-TV station (1500 Merivale Road, destroyed by fire in 2010, demolished 2011)
Algonquin College
Toronto
Baskin Robbins 888 Hog's Back location
Dairy Queen Merivale/Clyde location
Los Angeles (or L.A.)
Los Angeles City College
Zena's Fisher Heights Plaza
Civic Hospital
Sir Winston Churchill Public School
Zellers Merivale location (closed 2013, replaced by Target)
Meadowlands Mall
Wendy's Merivale location

If I remember more I'll add to the list, but just about all of them are local settings or places. Despite the story taking place in a developing neighbourhood in the 60s, 70s, and so on, I stayed away from focusing too much on the detail of how it was changing because while it applied, it wasn't a history of Parkwood Hills/Fisher Heights/Borden Farm, it was a story about this character's life, as well as the lives of his family and friends. That said, a lot of places in the area are referred to or mentioned, and some places, particularly Mooney's Bay, have a recurring tie-in to the story. Daniel gets a Ford Maverick for his 20th birthday in 1978; a lot of things, some of them which tie things in his life together at different times, happen in that car. Playing with those kind of story elements is part of my style.

Anyway, you can read the story here. Just click on the 'More' next to the 'Latest Writing' and a drop-down list of all the chapters of Daniel Morgan show up in chronological order going up. I think it's a pretty good story. I'm pleased with it.

Justin C.