29 October 2006

Expect the Unexpected

Thanks to this blog, I have been invited to join a fascinating group called the "CD Mix Project." Every month, someone in the group of fifteen people decides on a theme for a mix CD. Everyone e-mails the leader with Mp3s of their selections, and the leader then burns all those songs onto a CD that is mailed to the entire group. It's a pretty great idea for a club.

I thought we could all play along. The first month's theme is "Expect the Unexpected." In other words, which songs from well-known artists are the most surprising in terms of content or sound?

For my entry, I've chosen Madonna's "I'm Going Bananas." The song is on her "I'm Breathless" album, which ostensibly features music "from and inspired by" the film "Dick Tracy," in which she stars as Breathless Mahoney. (I say "ostensibly" because that album also features "Vogue," which was added to the track list because of its hit potential and was not in any way inspired by the "Dick Tracy" film or its 1920s period. Vogueing is something Madonna picked up from black drag queens in 1980s Harlem. To see them in action, check out the documentary "Paris is Burning.")

Along with three songs that Stephen Sondheim wrote for the film, including Oscar-winner "Sooner or Later," "I'm Breathless" features a pastiche of turn-of-the-century styles, including "Now I'm Following You," a swinging soft-shoe ditty, and "Hanky Panky" a big band number about the joys of rough sex that has to be one of history's most unlikely top ten singles (Number 10 in 1990, right after "Vogue").

The album also features "I'm Going Bananas," which suggests the Latin-flavored music you would might hear in a high-class, low-morals tequila joint in Prohibition-Era Tijuana. There's a saucy rhythm (maybe meringue? I'm not sure), plenty of Mexican horns and percussion, and Madonna doing some kind of Carmen Miranda voice.

As weird as it is, though, the song is also a lot of fun. It features such silly lyrics as...

There's bat's in my belfry
Better make sure that straight jacket's tight
Otherwise I might
Get my self free.
Yes there's bats in my belfry

...and it's got undeniable energy. Fizzy and clever, it's a tune that wouldn't be out of place in a south-of-the-border Cole Porter musical. Not what you'd expect from a Madonna album.

So how about you guys? What makes you "expect the unexpected?" Certain songs? This photo, perhaps?


26 October 2006

Off-Topic: May I Borrow That Oscar, Mr. Abraham?

This Sunday, the time will change and I will make my off-Broadway debut.

Yes, I'm appearing in a play called "An Oak Tree"...

http://www.barrowstreettheatre.com/whatsOn.asp#anOakTree ...

You can see me on Sunday, October 29 at 8 PM.

"An Oak Tree" is a two-character show about a hypnotist who calls a subject on-stage, only to discover they share something painful in their pasts.

Every night, the actor playing the subject changes. In the performance after mine, the role will be assayed by Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham. And in November, it's Leslie Hendrix, who plays the sassy, red-headed medical examiner on "Law and Order."

Apparently, it's very important that I don't know what happens in the play before I appear. As I'm performing, I'll be learning... something. I've been told an earpiece will be inolved. That's all I know. (And if you happen to know what's up... please don't tell me!)

So if you're in New York and looking for a good time, come see my performance!


25 October 2006

Nirvana forever?

I find this story somewhat disturbing. Is anyone else creeped out that Forbes keeps a list of the top-earning dead celebrities?

And is anyone else surprised that Tupac isn't number one? For God's sake, the man is releasing yet another album next month.

Besides... Kurt Cobain? Really? I saw that it has something to do with Courtney Love selling publishing rights, but this whole business reminds me that I've always been a bit skeptical of how cosmically important he is to rock music.

I feel like Cobain's status as the supposed voice of my generation hasn't really been borne out by history. At the time of his death, everyone was describing him as the most important musician in the history of music (or something like that), but has his influence really been that lasting? You can hear The Beatles in Snow Patrol, and you can hear Elvis in every country singer. You can hear Stevie Wonder and Prince all over the place, but can you really hear Kurt Cobain?

Emo/Screamo bands like My Chemical Romance or new punk like outfits like Fall Out Boy seem more influenced by 70s punk, 80s New Wave, or even Green Day than grunge. Your Nickelbacks and Hinders seem more indebted to hair metal than flannel.

Not that I don't appreciate Nirvana's music and Cobain's artistry. He just feels like a particularly good artist from a time that has passed, not a sea-changing force on our culture.

Or am I wrong? Am I missing something?


24 October 2006

A Serious Pitch for the Jem Movie

The response to my idea for a "Jem" movie has been so strong that I want to formalize my pitch for a story. Let me know what you think! And if you know someone in the movie industry (or at Hasbro, who owns the "Jem" copyright), then pass this along.

Let's make this "I Totally Hear That's" mission. We cannot rest until we get this movie made!

And let it be declared that the following ideas are all the property of Mark Blankenship, written and devised by him on October 24, 2006.

Jem and The Holograms: The Movie

a short treatment


A live-action, musical film based on the popular cartoon of the 1980s. Mixing action, rock songs, and romance, the film follows the international adventures of a female rock group that also uses high-tech gadgets, secret identities, and their own talent to battle evildoers. This makes them awesome.

Why Jem?

Because Jem is the female James Bond--suave, sophisticated, and able to use high-tech gadgets in the furtherance of international adventures.

Because Jem is strong, intelligent, and powerful without the help of a man. Almost every character in this story's universe is female, and it's frankly a relief to see women making decisions and kicking ass. Just look at the enthusiasm for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Veronica Mars." Think about how awesome the first "Charlie's Angels" movie was, before the franchise got too campy.

Why now?

With "Fraggle Rock" and "The Transformers" both coming to the big screen, the market is open to live-action films based on 80s cartoons.

Plus, Jem is cool. She hasn't been flogged to death by nostalgia, and her story easily could be updated.

What's the backstory?

Jerrica Benton is a successful record exectutive who also runs a shelter for girls. Both are made possible by the money she inherited from her father, a wealthy inventor.

When he died, Jerrica's father also left her Synergy, a powerful computer that creates lifelike holograms. Jerrica has long used Synergy's power--which she taps by speaking to the computer through her high-tech earrings--to turn herself into Jem. Jem is a world-famous rock star who is backed by The Holograms, three other women also transformed by Synergy's power.

The Holograms' biggest rivals are the Misfits, another female rock band. They have a slimy manager--a former partner of Jerrica's father--who tries to undercut the Hologram's good works.

Jerrica's boyfriend is Rio, though he secretly lusts for Jem. He doesn't know they're the same person. RIGHT THERE. Amazing conflict!

What's the movie's story?

We open on Jem and the Holograms playing to packed arena, all of whom are screaming for their favorite band. In fact, JatH have just won The International Battle of the Bands, which means they've collected a $5 million prize. During their performance, we cut backstage to Rio, also marketing director for Starlight Records, who explains that all the prize money will go to fund the Starlight Home for Girls.

Rio's speech is interrupted by Pizzazz, lead singer of the Misfits. Recalling the Courtney Love/Madonna incident at the 1995 Video Music Awards, Pizzazz starts berating the Holograms, saying her band is superior. It's all very fast, flashy, and fabulous.

As soon as the concert ends, Jem races back stage, not even stopping to talk to the reporters. The Holograms have a job to do! The Battle of the Bands is being held in Japan, and Jem has gotten word from Synergy's global alert system that an irate corporate leader, angry that his computer firm is about the be swallowed by an international conglomerate called Tektronix, is threatening to blow up the building where he has done his life's work.

Jem knows she has to stop him. She and the three Holograms --Kimber, Aja, and Shana--
speed off to downtown Tokyo. Using their wits and a series of inventive holograms --all summoned when Jem speaks into her earring--
they put an end to the crisis.

Throughout the course of the film, JatH go on tour, promoting good works and their music, and they notice that The Misfits are always playing nearby, which leads to comic scrapes.

One night, a mysterious envelope tips off Jerrica/Jem that Tektronix is seeking to gain control of both her record company and the home for girls. Eventually, Rio gets catpured as blackmail for J/J to turn over all her businesses to Tektronix.

We eventually learn that the shadowy head of Tektrnoix is none other than the Misfits' manager, Patricia Carerre. Patricia wants to destory Jem and the legacy of her father, while also seizing control of the world's technology. Plus, she wants The Misfits to dominate the music scene.

Jem and the Holograms must stop her! Can they do it? And who sent the mysterious note? Is it possible one of the Misfits is on Jem's side? And what about the tour, the next album, the videos, and the fans?

Awesome, right?

Right. Just let me know when you want a full-on script outline.


23 October 2006

Truly, Truly, Truly Outrageous

Do no adjust you sense of reality. The following message is true: Ahmet Zappa has been hired to turn "Fraggle Rock" into a live action movie musical.

Obviously, this could be awesome. But let me ask you this...

If the Fraggles can get a movie, and the Tranformers can get live action treatment from Michael Bay, why are there no plans to make a musical out of "Jem and the Holograms?"

Because that movie would rule, and don't even try to deny it.

Let's take a moment to reflect on the cartoon's salient plot points:

(1) Jerrica, a young woman who runs both a record company and a shelter for homeless girls, also performs under the alter-ego Jem. As Jem, she and her bandmates (The Holograms) not only tour the world playing music, but also have dazzling international adventures.

(2) To become Jem, Jerrica speaks to hear earrings, which link her to a super-
intelligent computer named Synergy. Synergy then transmits a hologram that wraps around Jerrica, turning her into Jem. Synergy also creates other holorgrams to help in the international adventuring, and the computer itself has a visual persona as a woman with purple hair.

(3) Jem and the Holograms do battle (musical and otherwise) with The Misfits, a rival rock band. The two acts often compete in battles of the bands, whose exotic locales also allow for adventuring.

(4) Jerrica's boyfriend is named Rio, and he has purple hair.

Can't you imagine the movie this could be? Just start with a battle of the bands in Barbados. From there, watch sparks fly as the Misfits' evil manager kidnaps Rio--on hand to help Jerrica scout talent--thereby forcing Jerrica/Jem to go on a globe-trotting msision to save him. But the only way she can downplay what she's doing is to make each stop on her journey part of the Holograms' tour. Otherwise, the Misfits' manager would get wise to Jem's true identity, which could result in shutting down the girls' home.

Oh, and the Misfits are doing a shadow tour, trying to sabotage every Holograms show.

Let the global chase and pop-tune montages begin!

And for casting? Pink is destined to be head of the Misfits. Jem/Jerrica is Lindsay Lohan, I think. Rio can only be played by Topher Grace.

Synergy? Well, that's Phylicia Rashad. And The Misfits' manager is Sharon Stone.

If anyone out there wants me to deliver a script treatment, just let me know.


19 October 2006

Five (More) Songs For... Making a Mix

My recent post about making mixes only covered half of my sensibility. Those five songs were for my pop-leaning friends, but where does that leave my indie compadres? Herewith, an alternate take on my top mix selections.

(Oh, but before we begin: Jeffrey should not have won "Project Runway." I mean, some of his clothes were cool, but he seems like an obnoxious baby. Kicking a drug habit doesn't provide you an excuse to treat someone's mother like crap, nor does it give you a license to act like a narccisist who's wounded when things don't work out. Or who claims to be spiritually vindicated when things do. Uli rocks. Kayne rocks. Jeffrey... has tattoos.)

Anyway... on with the show...

Five (More) Songs For... Making a Mix

(1) Patty Griffin, "Rain" --
Patty Griffin has one of the most beautifully expressive voices in contemporary music. The ragged ache in her singing makes me think of a woman in a faded sundress, supporting herself against a porch railing as she watches a lover drive away. Add her Lucinda Williams-esque gift for simple lyrics that evoke entire hearts, and you've got an artist people should know. "Rain" makes for a great introduction, since it showcases both her singing and songwriting. There's a couplet in this song that kills me: "It's hard to know when to give up the fight / Some things you want will just never be right." In the context of the song, it sounds like absolute truth.

This track is ideal for shifting the mood of a mix toward introspection.

(2) Decemberists, "July! July!" -- This is an ideal song for walking around city streets, and it's a perfect mix opener. Decemberists make smart rock that's also a visceral thrill.

(3) Pink Martini, "Sympathique" -- A breezy song in French about sitting around smoking cigarettes all day. It has the feel of a sunny afternoon in an outdoor cafe, and it becomes infinitely cooler for being in another language. It's the kind of quirky song that will always give a mix a spot of fun.

(4) Go! Team, "We Just Won't Be Defeated," -- Short bursts of danceable electronica make every song on the Go! Team's album "Thunder, Lightning, Strike" a worthy choice. I like this one because it features a chorus of shouting children.

(5) Bishop Allen, "Things Are What You Make of Them" -- Normally, I leave this spot for reader suggestions, but since I'm revisting a theme, I'm changing things a little. A reader comment on the earlier post suggested this song, and I agree. So it's kind of like I'm representing the reader voice here. Clear as mud, right?

Anyway, this song is just so much fun. Please, do what you have to do to hear it. It's on iTunes. Spend the 99 cents. (But make sure you buy the original version, not the reprise that closes the album. The original is better.)


18 October 2006

Robbie Who-zits?

When I was in sixth grade, my family hosted three Soviet Georgian pre-teens whose theater group was doing a whirlwind performance tour of the United States. (How these kids ended up in Chattanooga is a story that will have to wait for my novel.)

Often, these three seemed like aliens to me. I mean, didn't they know you're not supposed to grind M&M's into the guest bed's comforter? And didn't they know that you should only play your host's Nintendo after asking for his permission?

Common ground was discovered when the conversation finally turned to pop music. The guys knew Madonna! Michael Jackson! Everything made sense again.

That is, until I mentioned Paula Abdul. The Georgians had no idea who she was. For the first time, I understood why Americans feared Communism.

Because in 1991, Paula Abdul was not just an American Idol judge-cum-QVC jewelry saleswoman. She was a star, dammit, a star! She had six number one hits. Six! Aretha Franklin's only had two!

In 1991 I was convinced that Paula was a permanent part of the firmament. I can remember making one of my elementary school teachers listen to "Rush, Rush" and telling her it was the most beautiful song I'd ever heard.

So I'm sure you can imagine my horror when the Russians had never heard of her. It must be how Brits feel when they ask Americans about Robbie Williams.

Because in the U.K., Robbie Williams is some kind of nuclear phenomenon. Remember that sort-of-hit ballad "Angels"? The British named it the best song of the last 25 years. And they also said it was their favorite funeral tune.

Robbie Williams is such a big deal in England that even his failures make news. When a newspaper writes a story about how bad an artist's new project is, that only proves how relevant he or she remains to the culture. That's what happened when countless articles appeared about Madonna's post-"Sex" fallout, and it's what happened with the September 2006 release of Williams' unfortunately named single "Rudebox." You don't get this angry about someone that doesn't matter.

But in America, most people don't even know he exists. This week, iTunes is practically begging us to pay attention to him, offering a free dowload of "Kiss Me," another track from the "Rudebox" album.

Really, the song is not that bad. There's no reason that Robbie shouldn't succeed over here: His music is decent, he' s charismatic, and he's smoking hot. You'd think we'd love him over here. I mean, we took James Blunt to our bosom, and he's not even interesting.

It's not going to happen, though. Robbie Williams' last album didn't even get a physical release in the US. You could only buy it on iTunes. And if that "Rock DJ" video, where he threw pieces of his flesh to a bevy of roller-skating supermodels, didn't get him noticed, nothing will.

All of which must be very confusing to Europeans. So maybe I was wrong to judge the Georgians. Maybe I'm just like them.


17 October 2006

Five Songs For... Making a Mix

Whether it's on CD, iPod, or that dusty relic known as the "cassette," the music mix can still be an art form. Sure, technologically advanced mixes don't let you make elaborate, handicraft covers out of magazine clippings and glitter, but you still get to consider things like song order, emotional arc, which artists merit a second song near the end, and whether or not six minutes is too long for a track in the middle third. (Personally, I think it is.)

I find that certain songs creep up in my mixes time and time again. I'd love to know if any of you guys have similar staples. My selections can probably point to something salient in my personality, and maybe yours can, too. Hence, this Five Songs For... Making a Mix.

(1) Deee-Lite, "Apple Juice Kissing"
-- This sexy, slinky song is a perfect candidate because it's an obscure track from a one hit wonder. You can hear it and say, "Whoa! They had a song that wasn't Groove is in the Heart? Neat!" I feel like knowing this one makes you a little bit cooler.

(2) Junior Senior, "Rhythm Bandits" -- I wish more people knew this Danish dance duo, one of whom is straight and one of whom is gay. Really, their first album--"D-d-don't Stop the Beat"--is just so much fun, and it has this great song called "Chicks and Dicks" that lets the two guys argue over which is sexier. Brilliant. "Rhythm Bandits" is the perfect mix-opener. Short, punchy, and good for getting your attention.

(3) Toad the Wet Sprocket, "All I Want" -- Every mix needs a blast from the past: Some song the listener will remember but may have forgotten about. That way, they can rediscover an old friend. This tuneful, mournful song from Toad (oh, Toad, we loved you so!) almost always gets a smile.

(4) When in Rome, "The Promise" -- This brilliant 80s classic could also be the blast from the past, but I think it best fits the bill as a closer. To me, a mix should send you out on something soft and sweet, just like this hit does. (Side note : The song peaked at number 11. Tell me this isn't top ten material!) "The Promise" makes for a particularly great finish because it's got one of those choruses that really makes you want to sing along in a romantic, I'm-in-a-meaningful-80s-teen-movie way. "I'm sorry but I'm just looking for the right words to say..."

(5) YOUR CALL! Which songs make a mix perfect for you?


12 October 2006

Dance 'Til You Puke

My life in music has not been all dance offs and dreams. Oh no. Yesterday, my friend Laura reminded me of the gritty underbelly I've often seen on this beast known as pop.

A few years ago, I was dancing at an Atlanta club called My Sister's Room, and I got so into my moves, flailing my arms and such, that I smacked a woman in the face. I was so focused that I didn't even notice. Laura had to point it out to me, and then I was able to make the necessary apologies. Dancing: 1. That lady's face: 0.

And a few years before that, I was in the basement of the SPICE House, a now-defunct co-op at Emory University that was meant to house Students Programming for International Cultural Exchange. Instead of international students, though, it mostly held artsy folks and liberals. (I lived there for three years, two as RA. Holla!)

Anyway, during my SPICE time, I frequently hosted a party called "Club SPICE" that turned the basement into a disco. In fall of 1999--the very first Club SPICE--I was getting jiggy with my friend Katy Carkuff.

Now Katy and I were both theater folk, so we liked to add a little flavor to our dancing. At one point, she somehow got my belt off me and started whipping it in the air. You know, to add emphasis. And on the third whip, she cracked the shit out of my arm. It really, really hurt. Dancing: 2. Me: 0.

At next fall's Club SPICE 2, I danced until I threw up. I was already exhausted when "Ray of Light" came on, but I couldn't say no to one of the best dance songs ever! So I went all out, literally collapsed on the floor from fatigue, got helped to my feet, staggered to the bathroom, and puked.

And I wasn't drunk.

So remember everyone: Just like love, pop is a battlefield.


10 October 2006

Chavs and Chav-Nots

Say what you will about Wikipedia--that it's a great democratizer, that it's a dubious hodgepodge of inaccuracies--you can't deny it's an easy way to learn interesting factoids. For example, did you know there are people who have a sexual fetish for dental braces? Or sneezing? I sure didn't!

Also, did you know that in England, the word "chav" refers to a subculture that's obsessed with flashy jewelry and certain designer labels? And that there's an anti-chav sentiment in portions of the British hip-hop community? It's mind boggling that hip-hop artists who are associated with bling and brand names would be rejected, considering how many American rappers are venerated for the very same thing.

Of course, based on my (very light) reading, I also get the impression that chavs are the U.K. equivalent of white trash or Jersey girls, so perhaps their brand-labelry is sneered at in the way some Americans sneer at "low-class" folks who dress the part of opulence so gaudily that they clearly don't belong to the moneyed ranks. You know, like the people who wear so many gold chains that it becomes a sign of their insecurity instead of their wealth.

But people who judge someone else for being low class are just being classist assholes, so nobody really wins in this scenario, either in the U.S. or the U.K.

Are there any British readers of "I Totally Hear That" who can enlighten me on this? Kalle? Others? I'd be fascinated to know more.

Because speaking of hip-hop artists, Americans have given rappers like Bubba Sparxxx a career precisely because they are low class, and that might explain why we've been quicker to embrace Lady Sovereign. She's a white, female, British hip-hop artist whose first single "Love Me Or Hate Me" is doing pretty well on iTunes right now. (Plus, she's got a record deal from Jay-Z.)

According to Wikipedia, Lady Sovereign hasn't quite exploded in the UK, though she has had decent success. Her entry suggests she would be more popular had she not figured in a British TV documentary about chavs. Though the film sought to explore the inherent classism in the term, there were apparently viewers who used it as a guidebook for people to boycott.

But chav or not, Lady Sovereign is an artist worth noticing. Check out her MySpace page here and her official website here. (The sound quality on the official site is lower, but you can hear more samples.) She's got a good flow, solid beats, and an obvious sense of humor about herself.

Lady Sovereign fits into the genre known as "grime" or "grimy." That's a particularly British brand of hip-hop that trades in stripped down beats and hella thick accents. Dizzee Rascal is a leading artist in the field. Would you put The Streets and Ms. Dynamite in there, too? Maybe a little. Anyway, Lady Sovereign's grimy.

And she's a white woman. Rapping. Whoa! I can now officially name three white female rappers or rap groups. (The other two are Northern State, and God-Des.)

For being a trailblazer in her genre, Lady Sovereign deserves respect. I always root for artists who make good music while seriously bucking a trend. Maybe I'm glorifying or sentimentalizing them, but I feel like they're making statements by even producing their work. It can be so easy to believe that artistic boundaries are real instead of just created by random cultural norms, but then we have people like Lady Sovereign, Cowboy Troy, and Tori Fixx reminding us that conventions are not the same as absolutes.

So call me a chav-lover if you must, but I'm in Lady Sovereign's corner.


09 October 2006

The Plot Against James Blunt

It's never a good sign when a new artist's second album is... his first album. Yet that's just what James Blunt will bring to the masses next month when he re-releases "Back to Bedlam," packaged with a new live disc. Really, James? Giving up so soon? It took Alanis Morissette nine years to release "Jagged Little Pill Acoustic." She at least tried to convince us she hadn't peaked early.

And remember when Depeche Mode released "Song of Faith and Devotion: Live," and every song was just a retread of the studio album, played in the same order and in the same way? At the time, Depeche Mode frontman David Gahan was seriously messed up on drugs. That was his excuse. What's yours?

Of course, it's probably the decision of Blunt's label, Atlantic Records, to fling more Bedlam our way. After all, the story linked above reports that Blunt is writing new material, so he's likely disinterested in what's already behind him.

Record executives, however, surely have noticed that none of the follow-up singles to "You're Beautiful"--that ubiquitous ballad of the spring--have been successful. This first album sold 2.2 million, but all signs point to James Blunt being a one-hit wonder.

For Atlantic, milking a few more dollars out of people must seem like a good idea. Listeners won't realize they don't care about Blunt anymore until he's trying to deliver something new. Then he'll no doubt fall down the same pit that swallowed Jason Mraz. And will surely claim Daniel Powter, unless he writes another obnoxious song for "American Idol."

If my theory is remotely correct, it just continues to prove that the marketing team at Atlantic doesn't know how to make an artist cool. They've already hurt Blunt--in my opinion--by refusing to let Weird Al put his parody of "You're Beautiful" on his insanely popular new album.

(As a side note: This week, Al will probably have his first top ten hit with "White and Nerdy," a parody of Chamillionaire's "Ridin." In response, up will be replaced by down and cats will lie with dogs in connubial ecstasy.)

It's like Atlantic wants Blunt to come across as a humorless, repetitive square. Are they secretly working for Jack Johnson and trying to kill off the competition?

If so, what's next in Atlantic's sinsiter plan? Are they going to make Blunt write the score to Screech's sex tape?


04 October 2006

Head for the shelter, Ma. The Apocalypse is here.

Some things are absolutes.

(*) No matter how many times I read over them, my posts on "I Totally Hear That" always will have typos.

(*) No matter when I call her, my friend Stephanie always will be at, driving to, or just returning from Target.

(*) No matter what time of day I get on the A train, I always will be riding with those kids that sell candy. If you live in New York, you know which kids I mean. Their pitch goes something like, "Ladies and gentlemen, excuse me for my interruption. I'm not here selling candy for no basketball team. I'm here trying to stay out of trouble, stay off the streets, and put a little money in my pocket. Each candy is a dollar, and all I have is M&M peanuts."

These certainties soothe me. However, not even the warmest blanket of habitual truths could protect me from the apoclayptic chill blowing over from the music world.

Here are three signs of Armageddon.

(*) Jessica Simpson has covered a Patty Griffin song. Her album "A Public Affair" came out a few weeks ago, but I was too busy shuddering at Clay Aiken's bangs to pay it much attention. Thankfully, my friend Jenni was kind enough to bring this horror to light in her recent comment on the cover songs post.

I listened to a sample of Jessica's take on "Let Him Fly," which happens to be the first Patty Griffin song I ever heard (and so signaled the beginning of my relationship with one of my favorite artists.) It's not terrible, really, but it's just so wrong. No matter how pretty their voices, starlets whose careers are built on reality shows and trashy films of old TV shows should not be allowed to cover songs by legends of contemporary folk. What's next? Will Richard Hatch be covering Joan Armatrading?

(*) "Weird" Al Yankovic has a top ten album. That's right. Check the seventh paragraph of this story. His new album, "Straight Outta Lynwood," is a smash. Granted, in today's depressed market, selling 77,000 copies will get you higher on the charts than in the past, but it's still a notable feat.

And again... it's so wrong.

Now, I have nothing against Weird Al. Like many boys, I spent my elementary school years thinking he was a genius. I memorized every song on "Even Worse," up to and including "Stuck in a Closet With Vanna White."

But since when did 2006 become the year for Al to have his biggest hit? Wasn't "Eat It" his peak? Has the world gone mad?

(*) Prince has recorded a song for an animated movie about penguins. Called "Happy Feet."

And that film's soundtrack will also feature a Hugh Jackman-Nicole Kidman cover of his song "Kiss."

I'm not made of stone. The penguin on that poster is cute in a way that could make me insane. Hell, that movie might even be cute. But Prince? Sex-freak-Jehovah's-Witness-
still-cool-after-all-these-years Prince? When did the most eccentric guy in pop--sorry Elton, it's true--get happy feet?

Oh... wait. Maybe the song is about penguins having sex. That would make sense.

Otherwise, the end times are nigh.


01 October 2006

Ludacris : My Heart Divided

Part One: I Love Ludacris

Do you guys remember the song "Welcome to Atlanta" by Ludacris and Jermaine Dupri? It came out in 2002, while I was still living large in the ATL, and there's a verse where J.D. gives me a shout out. Listing all the parties he hits during the week, he says, "Wednesday, I'm at Strokers on lean."

Let's parse that, shall we? "Lean" is a Dirty South cocktail that mixes codeine-fueled cough syrup with Sprite, usually served in a styrofoam cup. And Strokers is a strip club in Clarkston, a small Atlanta suburb that's OTP (or "Outside the Perimeter" of downtown.)

I know for a fact that Strokers is on Brockett Road. How? Because I used to live in the apartment complex that's right across the street. Dizzamn!

How awesome am I? I never actually went to Strokers, but if I had, I might have seen J.D. Therefore, it's like he's giving me props.***

Or better yet, Luda is. You may remember that I don't have much love for Jermaine Dupri, but I've always thought Ludacris was awesome.

In last week's New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones did an excellent job of summing up why. For all his bravado and dirty talk, she notes, he still comes across as vulnerable and human.

She notes the doubt in some of his lyrics, but I'd add itg's also because Ludacris is the rare rapper who doesn't take himself very seriously. In his videos, he almost always looks ridiculous. Remember "Stand Up," where we saw his giant-afroed head digitally imposed on a baby in diapers? No? Scroll to 2:45...

That shit is funny, and it makes Ludacris seem fun.

Part 2: But Should I?

But as Frere-Jones notes, Ludacris can also be obscenely misogynistic. His first top ten hit was called "Move Bitch," for God's sake.

I've been dancing, though, and I know how easy it is to ignore the degradation in hip-hop lyrics if the beat is good. However, there's always a part of my brain burning with the awareness that it's against my ethics to swerve to words that I find so personally offensive. I think a lot of people feel that way... we turn off our consciences as much as we can, but we know that the music making us wriggle is demeaning half the population of the planet. (And demeaning men, too. This type of song fosters the idea that we're all sex-crazed fiends.)

Yet we party on. Or at least I do.

I guess that makes likeable Ludacris my truest guilty pleasure.

***I ackowledge that no one has given anyone props since 1996. I ran out of slangy synonyms.

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