I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.
Henry David Thoreau
February 25, 2001
“Chanticleer Calls”, a whenever-I-get-around-to-it newsletter for discriminating readers, thinkers, feelers, speakers, listeners, and cogitators.
In case you missed it, the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards show was broadcast on February 21st. My daughter came over to watch it with me, and it provided a good opportunity for inter-generational communication. I had the chance to explain Steely Dan to her, and she tried to explain Blue Man Group to me.
The awards part of the show was upstaged by the live performances, and the live performances were in turn upstaged by the much-anticipated, much-mentioned “controversy” regarding Elton John’s duet with Eminem. (More on that later.)
The theme of the night, from my perspective, was “Irony Rules”. Such as:
- The “Best New Artist” award went to Shelby Lynne, who’s been performing for 13 years and has released 6 albums prior to her “discovery” last year.
- Despite the over-the-top visual effects, stage extravaganzas and bared skin clearly geared to the tastes and sensitivities of the MTV generation, the top awards of the night went to the two veteran bands, U2 and Steely Dan. Watching them accept their awards, I was tempted to check my remote control to make sure my satellite receiver hadn’t jumped momentarily to the History Channel.
- It was hard to watch Madonna’s opening performance of “Music”, knowing that the 42-year-old-mother-of-a-toddler “Material Girl” is hardly “Like A Virgin” anymore.
Friday night I saw the two-person musical, “Always … Patsy Cline”, based on the true story of Patsy Cline’s encounter with an adoring fan.
This was at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, truly a world-class stage venue. However, on this particular evening, the audience that was seated around us was hardly “world-class.” Perhaps because Patsy Cline died in 1963, the crowd was predominantly ‘older’; relatively-speaking in my case, that means over 60. And unfortunately, their behavior wasn’t exactly up to what you might expect from a “theater crowd.”
For example, the guy behind me kept tapping his foot on my seat back like he was at home in his LaZBoy munching beer nuts. (To make matters worse, he tapped on the on-beat.) And at the end of every song that he knew, instead of just clapping, he emitted this strange, “Ahhhhh-YEEEEE!” sound.
Several ‘older’ ladies around us, bless their hearts, enjoyed themselves so much I had to wonder if they’d laughed out loud since Col. Henry Blake left M*A*S*H.
And I thought it was interesting to observe this group laughing uproariously at a questionable R-rated ‘barnyard epithet’ used late in the show. I mean, I could see these same ladies walking out of Rent at the first mention of it. But perhaps because they were watching contemporary characters from their ‘innocent’ youth, they were more tolerant and accepting than watching the behavior of their grandchildren’s generation(s). I don’t know.
I was familiar with some of the more popular songs, like “I Fall to Pieces,” “Walking After Midnight,” and, of course, Willie Nelson’s “Crazy.” But the lyrics of a song I didn’t know really struck a chord (ahem) with me, particularly since I’ve been so immersed lately in stuff related to dating and relationships.
From “She’s Got You”, by Hank Cochran:
I’ve got the records
That we used to share,
And they still sound the same
As when you were here
The only thing different,
The only thing new,
I’ve got the records,
She’s got you.
OUCH! I hate when that happens ..
Saturday morning I was washing dishes and listening to the ’70s music channel on my DirecTV, and the Fifth Dimension’s “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All” came on. I had to stop what I was doing and listen to it. Because as soon as I heard the opening piano clinks, I was a heart-broken teenager listening to the ‘same’ song on a school bus coming home after a high school basketball game in 1972.
I’ve grown up surrounded by music. I take it for granted. But every now and then, I have a moment when I appreciate the tremendous power it can have to influence my attitude and mood. (Atti-mood? Mood-itude?)
There’s a great Hewlett-Packard TV commercial now that talks about the “soundtrack of your life.” I think it’s interesting to note what music we choose to listen to when we want to evoke certain feelings, or change certain moods.
Sometimes we’re down and want to get downer, so we listen to blues like Keb Mo – “What goes around, comes around … and it’s all coming back to me now”, or Buddy Guy’s “You Damn Right I Got the Blues”.
Sometimes we’re down and want a pick-me-up, and something like Phil Collins’ “Easy Lover” or Frank’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” or Stevie Wonder’s “Do I Do” or Santana and Rob Thomas’ “Smooth” can instantly make our fingers snap, our toes tap, and lift us out of our temporary doldrums.
Sometimes we just want to wallow in whatever mood we find ourselves … “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” …. “Walking My Baby Back Home” … “Losing My Religion” … “Let It Be” … “Popsicle Toes”… “Walk Like An Eqyptian”.
(Hey, don’t you sometimes get in one of those Sphinx-like moods?)
But if we’re aware of how we respond to music … and how we’re affected by it … maybe we can use that to our advantage, to help us “get by with a little help from our (musical) friends.”
EMINEM and ELTON
As I mentioned before, the buzz throughout the Grammy Awards was the featured performance pairing Eminem with Elton John.
To explain for you non-MTV-generation readers … Eminem (pronounced “M & M”, but not the candy), the rapper (but not the candy wrapper), is about the most controversial figure in the pop music world today. He’s a white rapper who has offended and angered just about every identifiable group – principally gays and women – with his defiantly and unapologetically profane lyrics.
His “The Marshall Mathers LP” (get the Eminem now?) was nominated for album of the year, and his single, “The Real Slim Shady,” was nominated for (and won) the Grammy for Best Solo Rap Performance.
Enter Elton John, the formerly flamboyant, flaming and flaunting Captain Fantastic, whose once-questionable bi-sexuality has since been settled and accepted. With his Aida now a Broadway smash, he’s about as “establishment” as any ultra-mega-superstar can be.
Not to mention, of course, that he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997 and is now Sir Elton John.
Sir Elton agreed to perform with surly Eminem on the rapper’s current hit about an obsessive, suicidal fan, “Stan”.
Of course, the knighted, noble gay activist performing with the nihilistic, ignoble gay basher produced all sorts of legitimate, and self-serving, controversies among all sorts of advocacy groups. It seemed the entire awards show was merely the pre-game warmup to the real show – Eminem and Elton.
“Stan” is not for the faint of heart, nor the weak of willpower. If you’re quick to scream “Obscene!” and “Profane!”, you’ll lose your voice listening to this one.
So why would Sir Elton John agree to not only perform this song, but perform with this artist?
I don’t know, but I suspect two possible reasons.
First, given his own controversial career, I suspect Elton John can relate to Eminem as a pop culture figure (icon?) to a degree that few others can. He might be able to relate to him on an artist-to-artist level that supercedes the message-of-the-artist level.
Secondly, and I’m only surmising here, but Elton John might be a sharp behaviorist. Many gay rights activists were infuriated that he was so obviously and transparently trying to “build a bridge” with someone who seemed so offensive and vile to their purposes.
But think about how this gesture, culminating with their post-performance embrace, might – might – affect Eminem’s future behavior, and lyrics, and attitudes. Perhaps Sir Elton John is smart enough – wise enough – to realize the insignificance of condemning Eminem’s past words and behavior, and instead act in an attempt to change his future words and behavior.
Can anyone expect that performing on the world stage with Sir Elton John will not affect Eminem in some positive way? Perhaps music has the power not only to change the moods of listeners like me, but perhaps it can also change the attitudes of the music makers themselves. Let’s watch, and listen.
FRANK and EMINEM
I prepared a presentation for the Language Resource Center at Notre Dame last September, titled “The Language of Awareness: Taking Responsibility for Meanings.” To illustrate how we sometimes are not necessarily consistent in our “meanings”, I took a snippet from that mainstream anthem of individuality, Paul Anka’s “My Way” sung by Frank Sinatra:
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows –
And did it my way!
Don’t we all extol the virtue of those who “say the things” they “truly feel, and not the words of one who kneels”?
Then I played an excerpt of Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady“:
I’m like a headtrip to listen to ’cause I’m only givin’ you
Things you joke about with your friends inside your living room
The only difference is I got the balls to say it in front of ya’ll
And I don’t gotta be false or sugarcoated at all
I just get on the mic and spit it and whether you like to admit it
I just s— it better than 90% of you rappers out can
Then you wonder how can kids eat up these albums like valiums
So now the problematic question is, if you agree with the sentiment and the virtues of the class song-ish “My Way,” how do you then logically condemn Eminem’s manifesting that virtue of “saying the things he truly feels“?
I can’t say that I approve, or even necessarily like, Eminem or any of the rap genre music. However, before we perfunctorily dismiss rap as “that’s not music,” we might put it in some historical context.
Swing, jazz, rockabilly, country, Elvis, rock ‘n roll, the Beatles, bubble gum, heavy metal, disco, punk … at the time each appeared on the scene as “fresh,” naysayers condemned each as “not music” based on what was accepted at the time. And yet now with some historical distance, we can appreciate the migration and fusion of these different styles. (Granted, maybe disco was a bad example …)
Who knows, perhaps twenty-eight years from now, my daughter will be washing dishes and have to stop and fondly reflect on her youth when she hears:
I’m sick of you little girl and boy groups, all you do is annoy me
So I have been sent here to destroy you
And there’s a million of us just like me, who cuss like me
Who just don’t give a f— like me
Who dress like me, walk, talk and act like me
It just might be the next best thing, but not quite me
‘Cause I’m Slim Shady
Yes, I’m the real Shady
All you other Slim Shadys are just imitating
So won’t the real Slim Shady please stand up
Please stand up, please stand up
Or, maybe not.
Maybe in twenty-eight years she’ll still be the “World’s Oldest Hanson Fan.”