Pop Culture Notes

Miscellaneous pop-culture items from the last couple of weeks:

– I’m apparently a sucker for half-finished music, as I bought Dylan’s Witmark Demos album a week or so ago, and Springsteen’s The Promise, a collection of stuff recorded between Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town, last night. The Springsteen stuff is more polished, but I haven’t listened to it as much (obviously).

– Also in the recent-purchases shuffle play: Guster, Old 97′s, the Thermals, Kings of Leon, and Cee Lo Green. This is, as you might imagine, not the most consistent listening experience.

– I kind of hate Dylan’s “Masters of War.” Does this make me a bad liberal? Actually, I kind of hate all his really strident political stuff from that era. The funnier songs are pretty good, but I just downrated “Masters of War” and “The Death of Emmitt Till” to get them out of the shuffle play, because I find both songs really grating.

– Most reviews make a point of noting that some of Dylan’s demo recordings are accompanied by piano rather than guitar. What they fail to note is that at least in 1962, he kind of sucked at the piano. Maybe he’s learned more since then, but the piano backing for “Mr. Tambourine Man” is this incredibly plodding left-hand-right-hand thing that I could probably manage, if somebody showed me which keys to hit over and over.

– Why is Guster singing to me about Jesus? They’ve never done that before, at least not this obviously. And if they had to include a song about Jesus on this record, why couldn’t they have written one that doesn’t suck?

– Turning to books for a moment, reading a bunch of Winnie-the-Pooh stories to SteelyKid has made me really notice A.A. Milne’s writing tics. Not just the Occasional Capitalisation (note British spelling) of Important Words, but things like the way he constantly has characters say things “carelessly” or in Pooh’s case “humbly.” Those crop up a lot.

– In the illustrations for the Pooh stories, Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger are clearly stuffed animals. And yet, Rabbit is drawn like a real rabbit. Why is that?

– Dr. Seuss stories have really been changed by inflation. If the Cat in the Hat got spots on a pair of shoes I had paid $10 for, I’d throw them away and buy another pair. And no circus could possibly make ends meet by charging just $0.10 for a peek at an elephant up in a tree.

That’s about enough for now.

Comments

  1. #1 Jesse
    November 19, 2010

    The Thermals’ More Parts Per Million is one of my all-time favorite albums.

  2. #2 Eric Lund
    November 19, 2010

    Also in the recent-purchases shuffle play: Guster, Old 97′s, the Thermals, Kings of Leon, and Cee Lo Green. This is, as you might imagine, not the most consistent listening experience.

    And this is a bad thing why, exactly? The point of shuffle play is to produce some serendipity (which radio used to have whenI was a kid but has been largely lost). If you want something more consistent, shuffle play is not for you, at least on a playlist like your recent purchases list which is intended to be heterogeneous. For the record: if I had such a playlist it would include various Baroque pieces, a couple of Dvorak symphonies (including the “New World” symphony), some Kingston Trio, Chicago II, Peter Gabriel’s Passion, and more.

    And if they had to include a song about Jesus on this record, why couldn’t they have written one that doesn’t suck?

    Because if you want to write music about Jesus that doesn’t suck, you need more than a single song. We are talking, at minimum, album length here: Handel’s Messiah or Peter Gabriel’s Passion (keep in mind that the latter is a film soundtrack) come to mind as music about Jesus that doesn’t suck. I haven’t heard the Guster song, so I don’t know if it rises to the atrocity level of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” (I suspect that song’s theology to be as bad as the music), but I have heard enough bad songs about Jesus to fill a hypothetical compilation album called (h/t P. J. O’Rourke in the 1980s) I Found God and Lost My Talent.

  3. #3 Jason
    November 19, 2010

    Didn’t even realize Guster had a new album out. Just listened to the two songs with Jesus in the title and not very interested in the rest of the album. Reading the lyrics, I don’t think they’re exactly full of praise. But not very good either way. What happened to the bongos and guitars that made them so different and good?

  4. #4 Chad Orzel
    November 19, 2010

    Didn’t even realize Guster had a new album out. Just listened to the two songs with Jesus in the title and not very interested in the rest of the album. Reading the lyrics, I don’t think they’re exactly full of praise. But not very good either way. What happened to the bongos and guitars that made them so different and good?

    The single, “Do You Love Me?” is really good. The songs with the Jesus stuff in them, not so much. They’re not even interesting, musically.

    Because if you want to write music about Jesus that doesn’t suck, you need more than a single song. We are talking, at minimum, album length here: Handel’s Messiah or Peter Gabriel’s Passion (keep in mind that the latter is a film soundtrack) come to mind as music about Jesus that doesn’t suck. I haven’t heard the Guster song, so I don’t know if it rises to the atrocity level of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” (I suspect that song’s theology to be as bad as the music), but I have heard enough bad songs about Jesus to fill a hypothetical compilation album called (h/t P. J. O’Rourke in the 1980s) I Found God and Lost My Talent.

    I’ll dissent from this a little bit. I don’t demand that the songs be enduring classic works of Art (keep in mind, though, that I don’t like classical music at all…), but a song can be interesting and distinctive without being a brilliant piece of theology. The lyrics for “Spirit in the Sky” are completely dippy, but the guitar riff is distinctive, and kind of catchy. Similarly, Kaye West’s “Jesus Walks” is no brilliant piece of literature, but the music behind the words is pretty cool.

    I’ll happily listen to either of those songs, but the completely uninteresting presentation of the Guster songs is a real turn-off.

  5. #5 onymous
    November 20, 2010

    Cee Lo Green’s marketing is brilliant, I think. If not for the viral popularity of “Fuck You,” he wouldn’t have even been on my radar, but I picked up the album and like it quite a bit.

  6. #6 cheem
    November 20, 2010

    I’d beg to differ on the Jesus songs. Obviously taste varies, but I’d say that All My Tears by Julie Miller is pretty rocking for a Jesus song.

    Mary does seem to get all the good songs, though…