Journey: The Soul Sandwich

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This is a topic that comes up fairly often here on iblogwhatihear, the intersection of political science, social issues, and popular music. The band Journey has suddenly become the band of the moment. It began with The OC, and continues to this day. It’s a mix of Marc Wahlberg style Hollywood drama, with a sort of retro 80’s nostalgia. Needless to say, it all makes me very uncomfortable.

This morning, as has become a habit I am neither proud of nor apologetic for, I was watching The Today Show. Their guest was Journey, obviously just for the kitsch factor. Leading up to the segment all week they were asking fans to “Wear your most outrageous 80’s gear and text in the hits you want to hear, as requested by the band!” Really? Have you guys become that much of a caricature of yourselves? Your place in history is already set as phenomenal musicians, songwriters, and performers, please just hang it up before you come out of this one looking not so hot (too late.)

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Let’s do a short review, so you don’t have to read the Wikipedia entry: Journey began as a prog rock band founded by guitar player Neal Schon and other former members of Santana’s band, shredding to their hearts content and achieving minimal commercial success. Steve Perry joined the band, and the world exploded in a massive cloud of falsetto vocals and unstoppable hits. They pioneered the arena rock movement. Insert typical band drama, Perry leaves, band breaks up, re-forms, but Perry has medical issues and cannot tour, Schon replaces him, and the rest is history. Well, sort of. They replaced him with a nearly identical singer, Steve Augeri, in both looks and tone (His name even sounds kind of similar!) Several years later, after the massive commercial resurgence, Augeri is replaced with vocalist Arniel Pineda, who was found in a Journey cover band on You Tube! WHAT!? Yes, its true.

No, thats not Perry, it's Augeri
No, thats not Perry, it's Augeri

OK, so lets examine this matter from a few angles. I understand they wanted to take advantage of their recent commercial success after years of dormancy. I also understand that personal conflicts, of which none of us have any understanding play into this, and the band doesn’t want to re-form with Perry, or who knows what. Really, Rock Star with Marky Mark is a fantastic film, if for no other reason than Zakk Wylde and Jason Bonham. But I don’t want to see it reenacted in real life with a band I love and respect.

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It just feels a little bit like Schon is trapped in his head and has an image of himself as a rock guitar god. He’s certainly entitled to this image, he played one of the most memorable guitar solos ever created, but for some reason it just doesn’t add up. He seems like a dude your dad hangs out with, attempting to dress like his image of what a “cool young guy” dresses like, in the year 1996. There’s just something about him that doesn’t compare to Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman, any of those guys. Even Steve Vai, or any of the other note cramming shredders, Schon just doesn’t seem to fit in. Maybe he’s too buff – like he spends as much time in the weight room as he does on stage.

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Just for one second though, can we appreciate the pure magic of this band? We’re not even going to discuss “Don’t Stop Believin” because we have already discussed that. “Separate Ways”? That’s a phenomenal song. “Lights”? Straight up magical. “Wheel In The Sky”, “Any Way You Want It”, “Lovin Touchin Squeezin”, “Open Arms”, “Faithfully”, we could really be here all day. Its a mix of just enough 1980’s shiny polished cheese based bravado…and amazing songs. At the core of it, all of these songs are perfect. They could be played with one guitar and a voice, and bring you to that place where your soul is fed a delicious sandwich at all times. They are the Soul Sandwich™ (I just coined that term, feel free to use it, with proper credit given.)

Couldn’t you guys just leave it alone? I just heard recently The Faces are doing a “Reunion Tour” only without Rod Stewart. Yeah, that’s right. There’s a reason the Beatles never reunited without Lennon. If it’s solely about the money, do as Van Halen, The Eagles and all those other classic rockers do, just get separate buses and play arenas with separate dressing rooms. Here’s a concept: start a new type of arena tour, with 5 separate stages for each member, so you don’t even have to be on stage together! It will revolutionize live performance. Think about it Schon, you have my number.

The chain wallet was totally necessary, Schon
The chain wallet was totally necessary, Schon

How does Perry feel about all this? He’s been hiding in the wings recently, hanging out off the radar. Except when he decides to attend a Giants game and sing “Don’t Stop Believin” with the crowd. For real. But how can his heart not be broken? He seems like an emotional being, and I must admit, I feel for him. Here is something you helped create and were the face of, out gallivanting doing the talk show circuit dressed like uncomfortable dads trying to fit in at a Nickelback concert, and there is nothing you can do about it. I can’t help but think that if Perry were involved, there would be no costumes or hoopla, just pure songs.

It just feels like an opportunity has been missed. Journey could have been The Stones. Well, maybe not the stones, but certainly taken more seriously than they are right now. Being a kitsch act is totally cool if that’s your thing. I genuinely love Weird Al, who doesn’t? But had they stepped back in with Perry, and not went the large scale cover band route, it seems as if they could have at least been America’s version of The Who. So please, think of your legacy. Do it for the Soul Sandwich

Fuck You: Music’s Underlying Message

I had a discussion recently about the underlying message in music. What is all music really saying, ya know? I think it boils down to very few subjects. But we’re not going to discuss all of those subjects here, dear reader, oh no. We won’t discuss Lionel Richie and the longevity of the love song, nor will we discuss the triumphant and everlasting message behind Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” We’re here to discuss the most important message of all: Fuck You.

Who knows what “good” music is anymore. For someone such as myself who is in love with musical superlatives, I am aware that so much of this is subjective. So let me say, this will apply to “Powerful” music. Music that has an exclamation point. This transcends genre, era, performers, context, all of that. Music that if it came on first thing in the morning, your day would be constantly guarded by an iridescent mountain lion wearing a technicolor dream coat and Cosmo Kramer’s lobster shirt. A great song should be saying “Fuck You” to something.

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For all of the Gweneth Paltrow-izing that it has gone through, Cee Lo Green’s mega summer jam is a fantastic song. Do you remember before it was “officially” released, censored, and overplayed, and there was simply a video scrolling the lyrics in different whimsical fonts against a colored background? That may have been the greatest video I have ever seen. The song is so pure at its foundation. Let me summarize; “You, the dude over here, stole the girl I loved, and for that, you may sincerely go fuck yourself. You ma’am, over there, former object of my affection, who once held the keys to my heart, you’re a gold digga’…may also, on your voting registration, join the Fuck You Recipient Party. In this case, I’ll even include the censored version, because Cee Lo deserves to get paid, and the message remains.

But as we said earlier, the message does not need to be explicitly stated. In writing this, I tried to think of examples of amazing songs that do NOT say “Fuck You” in some way. And let me tell you, web user perusing this here blog, it was not easy! “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head?” That song is just one giant “Fuck You” to everything. Listen to the end of the chorus “Because I’m free….nothin’s worrying me!” Bacharach and David are basically giving the middle finger to everyone and everything in that statement. Politics, social issues, sports teams, they’re not worrying me, so take a fucking number.

Let’s continue on the theme of the not so obvious “Fuck You.” We skip the catalogs of John Lennon, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Punk Rock as a whole, The genius Harry Nillson…wait, let’s include that one for good measure:

Hall and Oates? “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” might as well have been parenthesized (is that a word?) “I Can’t Go For That (Fuck You)” The Bee-Gees “Stayin Alive”? Check out the lyrics, man! But even if that song were instrumental, you would get the message. Even Beyonce…”If you Like It Then You Shoulda Put A Ring On It….And By The Way Fuck You” was the working title before it was released.

We want our music, regardless of style, to have some conviction. That’s why these temporary Idol pop songs do not move us. (with the exception of “Since You Been Gone”) Its just generic dance floor propaganda. Yes, we can roll up to the club, say something to the DJ, and find some fly members of the opposite sex, but what then? We need some lyrical sparring, something we can get behind. And if we can’t get behind the underlying message of “Fuck You” then really, what hope do we have as a society? None, by blog browsing friend, none.

Tom Petty On Technology.

A friend of mine once told me while negotiating the purchase of a house, that his real estate company will be called “Tom Petty Real Estate”  because The Waiting Is The Hardest Part.  And he was damn right.  Not that I am speaking about a real estate purchase.  Oh no dear reader, oh no.  What I am speaking about is The New iPhone.

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I’ve resisted the smart phone for a long time.  Perhaps too long.  Yes, I still know how to get places based on memory, or direction based intuition, but how am I going to upload pics to facebook while on the go?  How will I check in at Stumptown enough times to become THE SUPREME MAYOR OF ALL TIME?  Eh??  There are many legit concerns, which you can locate elsewhere on the Internet, we all know smart phones are nearly essential to life.

But the question is, do we wait it out?  When is the time to pull the trigger?  Gadgets just freak me out, man!  Lets relate this to something related to my usual repertoire.  Recording equipment.

A few years back, I made a well documented move away from the mothership of Pro Tools, over to the confusing free-for-all software based clusterfuck that is Logic.  I made this move based on hardware concerns, just before Digidesign became known as Avid, and did away with their proprietary hardware model and opened it up to all.  Yeah.  Timing!  Anyway, I made a fantastic purchase of an Apogee Rosetta 800 for all conversion, and was satisfied for a few years.

This satisfaction is now beginning to wain.  Apogee did away with the rosetta 800, as well as the Symphony Mobile System I purchased to integrate it.  Apple will most likely do away with PCI slots on laptops, and this will cause a few problems.  This all goes along with the concern that apple is making its “Pro” gear decidedly less “Pro”.  Yes, we all have the hope of Thunderbolt to resolve all these issues, but that appears to be a few years off.

This has me thinking…what an incredible and shitty gamble buying any piece of equipment is in this age we live in.  At any point, a manufacturer can discontinue a product, stop creating updates, and cease all support.  I emailed Apogee about this specific issue (of whether the rosetta or symphony mobile would be able to work with future Apogee products, and the response was

We don’t really have any plans to upgrade any of our discontinued models

So the question is, will I have a several thousand dollar brick on my hands in a few years?  There is no long term guarantee anything will be supported a few years down the line.  The line between the present and future of technology is a strange blurry one.  People are still using Instruments, Amplifiers, Effects Devices and many other instrument related things from the long distant past. Sometimes exclusively.  These devices were all inter-connect-able regardless of the manufacturer, and usable for an infinite amount of time.

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Technology of this type carried weight.  Heft if you will.  Like Taft.  Well, it just souns like Taft.  And he was a heavy guy.  Yeah.  The point is, are current devices completely disposable?  Is there anything made today that will be heralded for its quality and cherished for years to come?  Or are we better off buying the quickest and easiest, waiting for it to become obsolete, and re-buy.

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We all love the Prius, but you know that thing is going to explode into flames in 15 years.  Then again, maybe I’m completely wrong, Toyota is not the American car manufacturers of the 1970’s who designed cars to turn into giant robotic grizzly bears while exploding mid air at every yellow traffic light they encounter.  (statement based on 100% fact)

My point here?  I’m likely going to buy the iPhone 4, even if the Wall St Journal reports the new one will be super awesome looking and have a better camera. I just can’t take the waiting anymore kids.  As soon as the iPhone 5 hits, the 6 is gonna be THE BEST THING EVER.  It’s so easy to get caught in this cycle of perpetually waiting for the next to come along.  I’m breaking it.  Deal with it.

Turntable.fm

Lets talk about Turntable.fm, because that’s what everyone is talking about these days. It’s like:
“Hey man, wanna go shoot some hoops?”
“I can’t dude, I got a DJ set on turntable.fm’s ‘Ska-Pop-Ballads for Account Executives Room’ coming up in 10 min!”
“Understandable dilemma!”

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Turntable.fm is a site (do people say ‘site’ anymore?  Should I say it’s an ‘app’ ‘social network’ ‘architectural web integrated paradigm’?) that lets you act as DJ in a virtual club with others, each taking a turn playing some music from a vast library of tunes.  The music is streamed, you have some sort of option to buy, although I’m not sure anyone purchases tunes through Turntable.  There are several elements to discuss, so lets discuss them.

Music has always been a social experience.  There were in fact times, when listening to music was not at all a portable experience.  Think of the dark days when we had to carry a discman about town.  The weight! The related back problems!  But anyhoo, it’s how we relate to each other.  Generations were moved to political and social action by song (I’m thinking mostly about ‘The Right Stuff’ by New Kids On The Block) and this communal experience seemed to be on its way out.

Think about it for a bit, when is the last time you listened to something with a group of people that you do or do not know, at the same time, and discussed it.  We watch a clip on facebook, stream the sample clips on itunes, download the entire catalog of Burt Bacharach, all in our own little bubble.   The concert industry still exists, but how many live performances per year do you think the average American attends? So that element, I love.  Its a positive thing for musicians, because as we all know, radio is so dead right now.

I feel like I’m getting off track here a bit.  I seem to be stating loosely researched facts here, and while iblogwhatihear is your main source for factual information, lets take a sharp left and go straight into my opinion.

I’m intrigued, but slightly turned off by Turntable.   I wonder about the licensing related issues – like a few years back when there was all the talk of charging crazy rates for streaming based radio stations, and if this site can stream everything for free, why don’t we have a subscription based situation from itunes or some reputable carrier…..my brain just exploded.  But that’s not my real concern.  My real concern is the filter.

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Here’s a shock.  I’m incredibly particular about the music I listen to.  If a trusted source tells me something is awesome, I give it a listen.  There is not much musical trust going into a situation like this, so our attention spans are going to be fairly short.  When a classic Hall and Oates jam comes on in the “Retro music that is now cool again” room, I’m gonna rock the fuck out.  But when the next song up is “Don’t Stop Believin”, while it’s an amazing song as stated in the previous post, I’m gonna hit the mute button, and go do some other internetting.

Basically what I’m saying is….it’s kind of like the radio.  We want filters.  We want taste makers.  Otherwise, go on ‘The Myspace” now owned by Justin Timberlake, and see how many super awesome bands you come across.

I’m torn.  I want to delve headfirst in, and play some crazy songs and enjoy the experience…I just really don’t want to sit through shitty music in order to do it.  Chances are one of those people up in the little DJ booth has a musical taste that does not mesh with yours.  When I go into the “Dance Music For People Who Gyrate After Consuming Bud Lite Lime” I want to put on some James Brown, and maybe hear some awesome soul music in return.  The moment Girl Talk comes on, I’m out.  See what I’m saying here?  It’s hard to sit through the crappy songs when in your own home (or more likely killing time at work)

What if this guy is the next in line??
What if this guy is the next in line??

In conclusion, PROVE ME WRONG INTERNET!!!!  Invite me to an awesome room where everyone is playing amazing music at least 91% of the time, and I am all in.  But I’m telling you, the second I hear some Girl Talk…..

James Taylor at Tanglewood

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You know what sucks?  Don’t Stop Believin by Journey is a fantastic song.  It’s a beautifully crafted pop tune that will undoubtedly stand the test of time.  It would be a flawless piece of music played on an acoustic guitar, or sung by a barber shop quartet.  Nothing can stop it.   Not even every douchey frat guy or wannabe real housewife that sings it at the top of their lungs in a Murray Hill Kareoke Bar.  Well, maybe them, but even so, every time I hear it, it just gets to me.  No real point to that, other than to listen to the actual song.   Moving on.

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While celebrating America this weekend up in Massachusetts,  I attended a James Taylor show.  This may not be my typical musical event…but I did enjoy it quite a bit.  Lately I’ve come to respect Taylor as an all around badass.  The main turning point, was when he posted free guitar lessons on his website.  What other legendary songwriter/players do such a thing?  Kudos to you JT, kudos to you.

They call this type of music “Easy Listening” and it is just that.  The melodies are  pleasant, the tempos are just in the right place to bob your head a little bit, the show is not too long, there is nothing at all offensive about this type of music.  While I will not analyze James Taylor’s songwriting style, I will talk about the musicianship of those performing with him.

When you’re at that level, you probably don’t have a lot of time to waste with less than stellar musicians.  I once saw a workshop with drummer Greg Bissonette, who played with Taylor.  He basically said, they go to his house in the Berkshires for a few days, have a BBQ and rehearse, and that’s it for the tour.  It’s the old “I cheat, I just use great musicians” thing. There were no extraneous notes, no rushing or lagging, everything was dead on.   There were about 14 people on the stage, 5 backup singers, horn section, extra percussion…but no toes were stepped on.

On drums was Chad Wackerman, best known for his work with Frank Zappa.  Zappa is the musical equivalent of having unquestionable street cred.   Its like playing for The Yankees early 2000’s while winning the superbowl, and having 14 gold medals in various sports.  Are those terms accurate?  I was kind of winging it.  Yes, that was the only sports reference you will ever see on this blog.  Deal with it.  Here is Wackerman and another Zappa Alum:

Not the first person you’d imagine playing with James Taylor…but he can hold his own in any musical situation I’d imagine.  He’s not shredding 128th notes over “You’ve Got A Friend” or something.

On guitar was Michael Landau, who I had never heard of, but who’s Wikipedia page claims played with Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, and all sorts of others.  The guy could play some hella tasteful solos, and even shred a few 12895th notes without looking like a dick.  Serious players all around.

There was one moment when Vince Gil and Amy Grant came out….well, not really a moment, more like 30 unnecessary minutes.  They played some cheesy pop-country, and some 90’s hits, it really had no place happening.  Maybe old JT was just feeling tired and wanted a break?  Who knows, I’ll forgive him

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One notable thing about the venue – Tanglewood up in MA, is absolutely beautiful. They encourage picnicking, and even allow alcohol!  What a concept!  No one gets out of control intoxicated, everyone has a lovely little area set up, some with candles and tables and whatnot, I felt so civilized!  Maybe its owed more to the artist than the particular crowd…I mean, If it were a Dave Matthews Band show or something, you know there would be a few kids in white hats shotgunning beers to Don’t Stop Believin’, ya know?