Friday, September 30, 2011

White Stripes -- "A Martyr for My Love for You" (2007)

I'm beginning to like you
So you probably won't get
What I'm going to do
I'm walking away from you
It probably don't make
No sense to you
But I'm trying to save you
From all of the things that
I'll probably say or do.

This is a peculiar song.  Of course, most songs by the White Stripes are at least a little peculiar.  

But first things first -- I know you can't wait to hear about another one of my Cape Cod bike rides!

I usually stick to the Cape Cod Rail Trail when I'm not on my mountain bike, but one day last month I rode the paved trails in Nickerson State Park, which is in Brewster. 

Click here to view a map of the park, with the bike trails clearly designated.  (As you'll see, the rail trail connects with the park trails.)

Nickerson, which covers about 1900 acres, is heavily wooded and contains eight of the 300 kettle ponds on Cape Cod (which were formed when the glaciers retreated at the end of the Ice Age about 10,000 years ago). 

Here's Ruth Pond, one of the smaller ponds at Nickerson:

I rode about 15 miles while in the park, and another six miles on the rail trail to get to the park from my parking spot and back again. ( The park's bike trails are quite hilly compared to the rail trail.)

There are about 400 campsites in the park.  I never went camping as a kid, and I think it's much too late for me to learn how to camp now, although yurt camping looks pretty posh:

Here's a picture of the park store:

It's pretty well-stocked.  No beer or wine, unfortunately, and no "Mega Millions" or "Powerball" tickets.  Also, they don't take credit cards.

But they've got basic groceries (milk, bread, orange juice, coffee), a good selection of junky snacks, some toys for the kiddies (although heaven help you if you think a kite or a wiffle ball and bat are going to be satisfactory substitutes for video games and a DVD player), and about a dozen brands of insect repellant. 

Not to mention some unique specialty items for campers -- like this toaster:

Of course, that toaster wouldn't work without firewood, and the camp store is well-stocked:

"The Friends of Nickerson State Park" were running a fundraising raffle for this kayak:

Back to the song.  The lyrics quoted at the beginning of this post may not sound that peculiar.  But here's how the song begins:

She was sixteen
And six feet tall
In a crowd of teenagers
Coming out of the zoo

That makes it a horse of a different color, n'est-ce pas?  Assuming the singer isn't sixteen or so himself.

Here are a few more lines from the song:

And we might share a kiss
But I feel like I can't go
Through with this
And I bet we could build a home
But I know the right thing for me to do
Is to leave you alone

Doesn't exactly sound like the singer is sixteen, does it?  But who knows?

Here's a comment on these lyrics from the website where I got them:

my bf read this song to me.  it hurt heaps, but its true. he read them to me and said its what he had to do coz to hurt me was hurting him 10 times more.

The commenter signed the comment "Broken-hearted."  Sounds like she was equally broken-brained.

This song is from the last White Stripes studio album, Icky Thump.  The title refers to a colloquial expression of surprise used by residents of Lancashire, England.  Jack White's second wife, Karen Elson -- now his second ex-wife -- grew up in Lancashire.

Here's "A Martyr For My Love For You":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Biz Markie -- "Alone Again" (1991)

It took me an hour, to get where I was goin'
And to top it all off, it had to start snowin'
My sneakers was old, and my coat was thin
But my determination kept me goin' within
I had nobody to help me as you can SEE!
I'm alone again, naturally
Alone again, naturally

Like Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie was a member of the Juice Crew, a Queens-based hip hop collective founded by producer Marley Marl.  Unlike Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie was a terrible rapper.

The reason the "Hip Hop 101" syllabus includes his "Alone Again" is that it resulted in a federal court case -- Grand Upright Records, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc. -- that turned the rap music world upside down and inside out.

Gilbert O'Sullivan
"Alone Again" -- the next-to-last track on Biz Markie's third studio album, I Need A Haircut (1991) -- sampled "Alone Again (Naturally)," which was a huge hit in 1972 for Irish singer-songwriter Gilbert O'Sullivan (real name: Raymond Edward O'Sullivan).  

The record company that had purchased the copyright to O'Sullivan's song sued Biz Markie and his record company for copyright infringement.  There was no doubt that Biz Markie had lifted a 10-second instrumental snippet from O'Sullivan's record and "looped" it (that is, repeated it over and over) as the background for his lyrics.

There has been more written about this case and other rap-related copyright cases than you can imagine.  Here's a link to just one of the law review articles that discusses the Grand Upright Records decision and digital sampling law generally.  But in today's "Hip Hop 101" lecture, we're going to keep the legal mumbo-jumbo to a minimum.

The federal Copyright Act of 1976 provides that a musical recording has two copyrightable elements.  You can copyright the composition itself and you can copyright a recorded performance of the composition.  Unauthorized sampling infringes both the composition and the recording copyrights.  

Biz Markie
The judge in the "Alone Again" case saw it as a black-and-white matter.  He found that Biz Markie had essentially stolen the sample from O'Sullivan -- in fact, the first line of his decision was "Thou shalt not steal."  His decision didn't leave room for rappers to argue that a short or altered sample was "fair use."  If you used a sample and the sample was recognizable (which was usually the point of using the sample), you had infringed the copyright.

This decision revolutionized rap music.  Before 1991, many rappers not only sampled from other performers' records, but sampled from dozens -- perhaps even hundreds -- of other performers' records on a single album.  After the Grand Upright Records  decision, hip hop artists who wanted to use samples had to obtain licenses for each and every one of them.  The cost of doing that was often prohibitive.  

Here's another complicating factor.  If you simply cover a song, the law provides for a compulsory license at a fixed fee -- you don't have to get permission or negotiate the royalty.  (The artist who records a cover version of a song currently must pay 9.1 cents per CD or download sold, or 1.75 cents per minute if less than the whole song is used.)

But there's no compulsory license or fee schedule for samples of a recording -- any artist who wants to use a sample must get the permission of the holder of the copyright on the recording and negotiate a license fee.

Sampling is as old as hip hop music.  DJs didn't bring guitars and drums to a gig, they brought a couple of turntables, a mixer, and a box full of records.  By mixing short excerpts from those records, those DJs could keep the party going as long as they needed to.  Soon enough, the MCs got into the act, chanting rhymes over those recorded beats.

In most cases, the unauthorized use of samples by DJs probably didn't cost the original recording artist any money.  When De La Soul sampled Steely Dan's "Peg" in its "Eye Know," its doubtful that a single person bought the De La Soul song instead of the Steely Dan song.

But think about that grumpy old man in your neighborhood who always yelled at you when you cut across his yard on your walk home from school.  You weren't damaging his grass a bit, but it was private property -- so if he didn't want you or any other young whippersnapper walking on it, that was his right.

Don't underestimate one other factor.  There are a lot of lawyers out there trying to justify their existence to their clients.  You can best believe that every time some wannabe rapper sampled a tiny piece of a Beatles song in a homemade mix tape and gave a copy to his girlfriend, a couple of dozen lawyers were running to Paul McCartney (or Michael Jackson or whomever owned the Beatles' catalog at the time) and yelling that the sky was falling and the only way to stop the world from going to hell in a handbasket was to sue the little bastard who was stealing their music.

There are reasonable arguments on both sides of the sampling debate.  But thanks in large part to the Grand Upright Records decision, the record companies have won the battle and the war.  So if you want to sample even a lame old song like "Alone Again (Naturally)," you'll have to pay for the privilege.

Here's "Alone Again (Naturally)":

And here's "Alone Again":

Since "Alone Again" was pulled after the lawsuit, you can't buy it from Amazon.  But you can buy "Alone Again (Naturally)":

Sunday, September 25, 2011

White Stripes -- "Black Math" (2003)

Mathematically turning the page
Unequivocally showing my age
I'm practically center stage
Undeniably earning your wage

I've been tempting fate for years -- and getting away with it.  Until today, that is. 

I was nearing the end of a very satisfying ride when my mountain bike's rear tire blew.  Given that I can't remember the last time I've changed the tube on either of my tires -- it's been at least five years, maybe longer -- I can't really complain.  (Throw in the fact that I weigh 200 pounds and ride right over a lot of rocks and tree roots that more skilled cyclists would nimbly avoid, and my lack of flat tires is even more remarkable.)

Here's the culprit.  These big-ass thorns are all over the place.  Usually, all the damage they do is slash your legs if you make contact with them as you ride by.  But if one of these is lying across the trail as you ride by, your tires don't stand much of a chance.

I was only about a mile from my car when my tire went flat, so it wasn't that big of a deal.  A few minutes after I loaded the bike on to my car and started back, I passed a poor motorcyclist who had gotten tangled up with a car -- so I'm not complaining about a flat tire.

Before my tire went flat, I had been riding the "Trail of Tears" (West Barnstable, MA), which offers the most interesting mountain biking on Cape Cod.  The town finally posted some nice big maps of the area on signboards in several parking areas, and that enabled me to locate miles of trails I had never ridden.

I used my trusty Blackberry to photograph the map at the beginning of the trail.  I had to take a total of eight slightly overlapping photos to cover the relevant parts of the map -- I could have taken one photo that showed the entire map, but the lettering would have been illegible on my Blackberry screen.  It was a little clumsy to navigate this way, but at least I didn't get hopelessly lost (which was what used to happen to me when I rode here every summer).

A couple of days later, I was riding the Trail of Tears once more when a thunderstorm hit.  Naturally, I was far away from my car when the rains came -- there was nowhere to run . . . nowhere to hide.

The worst thing about getting caught in the rain while biking is that (1) eyeglasses don't come with windshield wipers, so you are quickly riding blind, and (2) the sweat from your forehead ends up getting washed down into your eyes, so you are not only riding blind because your glasses are blurry but also because your eyes are stinging like a son of a bitch.  The only way to make them sting any less is too close your eyes very, very tightly while you are riding, which is not recommended.

"Black Math" is from the Elephant album, which won the Grammy as the best alternative music album of 2004.  This is a song that takes no prisoners.  It is a perfect mountain biking song.

Here's "Black Math":

Here's a video of a live performance of "Black Math" from Under Great White Northern Lights, a 2009 film that documents the band's 2007 tour of Canada:

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, September 23, 2011

City Boy -- "Deadly Delicious" (1976)

Take care, she'll ask you for small things
Only that you give her the earth
Gladly she gives you nothing for something
She only seems to stop when it hurts . . .

Look how she smiles politely,
Harmless as a hive full of bees(zzz) 
She breaks your heart, three times nightly
When you see her dwarf on a lead
Don't stop, she'll have you arrested
Just for looking into her eyes
Must be she's chemically tested 
Just one glance you're into the vice
Just one glance you're into the vice

There's a famous (and likely apocryphal) story about Voltaire, the French philosopher that is apropos.  Supposedly Voltaire accepted an invitation to participate in an orgy of some kind.  Things went well, and he was invited back for a second go at it.

Voltaire at 24
But he declined with these words: "Once a philosopher . . . twice a pervert."

One City Boy post can be explained as sort of an intellectual exercise -- but two is most definitely an indication of musical perversion. 

2 or 3 lines can't help it -- he just can't help it.  And if you listen a few times to this song or to the other City Boy song I posted about ("Goodbye Blue Monday"), the hooks are going to get you.  

"Deadly Delicious" is from City Boy's eponymous debut album, which I believe was the second of the three City Boy LPs I purchased while I was in law school (and old enough to know better).  In other words, it was the penultimate City Boy album I bought.

(Which is more annoying?  My using "eponymous" every chance I get, or that photo of Kim Kardashian's big booty?  I'll make you a deal: no future 2 or 3 lines post will contain both the word "eponymous" and the big-ass photo of Kim.  I think that's fair.  Do you think that's fair?)

Look at the last lines from "Deadly Delicious" that are quoted above.  The official City Boy website says "vice," not "vise."  I thought at first that was a typo, and almost edited it -- but now I'm not so sure.  "Vise" makes more literal sense, but "vice" also works as a sort of pun, so I doubt that we have a typo here.  City Boy ain't stupid -- its songs are full of clever little touches.

Your free City Boy autographed photo!
For example, listen to the way they sing "bees."  It comes at the end of a line, so they have a little extra time, which they use to elongate the word, turning the "s" sound at the end into an extended "zzz" sound, just like a buzzing bee.

And the "Gladly she gives you nothing for something" is a nice reversal of the usual "something for nothing" formula.

I'm not sure if the "dwarf on a lead" line is another example of the band's cleverness, but I doubt it.  I don't know what the hell that line means, and I doubt that Lol Mason and Mike Slamer (who wrote the song) do either.

Here's the first (also the last) verse of "Deadly Delicious":
Good God, she's deadly delicious, 
Camper than a holiday
Front page in every issue 
Tighter than a one-act play
Don't look without your glasses
She'll turn you to a pillar of salt
Watch out, she's mean and brassy
Sharper than a telephone

Listen carefully to the way "issue" is pronounced.  They don't say "iss-shoe" like Americans -- they do a slick little British thing with that word. 

Lot's wife
The "pillar of salt" line is an obvious reference to the Old Testament story of Lot's wife, but I don't think it would have helped her if she had been wearing glasses when she sneaked a peek back at Sodom.

There's also a more oblique reference to the Medusa myth here, given that we have a man being warned of the dire consequences of looking directly at a woman.

I'm confident that this is the only instance in the English language of "salt" being rhymed with "telephone."  But the listener is likely so woozy from trying to make sense of "Sharper than a telephone" that he or she overlooks the unusual rhyme.

Here's "Deadly Delicious":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

White Stripes -- "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" (2001)

Soft hair and a velvet tongue
I wanna give you what you give to me
And every breath that is in your lungs
Is a tiny little gift to me

After leaving the fish pier, I rode south on Shore Road.  I passed the very pricey Chatham Bars Inn and some very pricey private homes.  Here's an example:

Not all the houses in Chatham look like that -- there are a number of classic "full Cape" cottages:

I think of Chatham as being the fanciest town on Cape Cod.  It has a very upscale little shopping area that is usually thronged with tourists.

One of the most popular shops is the Black Dog General Store -- you see Black Dog hoodies, caps, and canvas tote bags everywhere.

The Black Dog Tavern, which claims to be the oldest year-round restaurant on Martha's Vineyard, opened for business on New Year's Day, 1971.

Black Dog Tavern
The cooks in the open kitchen of the Black Dog wore simple T-shirts with a picture of the owner's black dog on it, and pretty soon the restaurant was making as much money selling T-shirts as it made selling clam chowder.

 Today there are 19 Black Dog stores in the northeast, including nine on Martha's Vineyard and four more on Cape Cod.

There are plenty of upscale restaurants in Chatham.  Many have cutesy, precious names -- none more cutesy and precious than the Impudent Oyster:

The Impudent Oyster
Continuing south on Main Street away from the shopping area, I noticed this little grocery store.  (You'd have to be Ray Charles not to notice it.)

A few blocks later, I came upon the old Chatham Light:

Across Main Street from the lighthouse is a beautiful wide beach:

"Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" is the first track on the third White Stripes album, White Blood Cells, which was released a little over 10 years ago.  I could be wrong on this, but I've got to think that telling a woman that "Every breath that is in your lungs/Is a tiny little gift to me" is going to work 99 times out of a 100.

That music video was directed by Michael Gondry, a Frenchman who's directed movies ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" among others), music videos (for everyone from Björk to the Foo Fighters to Kanye West), and TV commercials (his 1998 Smirnoff vodka commercial features his "bullet time" technique, which was later used in The Matrix).

Click here to order this song from Amazon:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Vanilla Ice -- "Ice Ice Baby" (1990)

If there was a problem
Yo, I'll solve it! 
Check out the hook
While DJ revolves it

When I watched the music video for "Ice Ice Baby" on YouTube recently, these were the top two comments:

1.  "don't f*cking kid your self, you know you love this song!!!"

2.  "Still better than lil wayne" 

Vanilla Ice was born Robert Matthew Van Winkle in Dallas in 1967.  He started breakdancing when he was 13, and got the name "Vanilla" because he was the only white member of his breakdancing crew.  ("Ice" was the name of one of his signature moves.)  Van Winkle wrote "Ice Ice Baby" when he was 16, but didn't record it until he was 22.

"Ice Ice Baby" was the first rap song to hit #1 on the Billboard "Hot 100."  (MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" only made it to #8 in the US.)  It went platinum in the US (which means over a million copies were sold).  The single also hit #1 in the UK and Australia, and was a top 10 hit in most European countries as well.  Given that success, there's no way the "Hip Hop 101" syllabus can ignore "Ice Ice Baby." 

"Ice Ice Baby" is constructed on a sample from the 1981 David Bowie-Queen hit, "Under Pressure."  It is believed that Ice paid Bowie and Queen a sizeable sum of money to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit.  

(A lot of people absolutely trashed Vanilla Ice for not giving Bowie and Queen credit for the "Under Pressure" sample.  I don't really get that.  A lot of hip hop artists sampled other musicians' records back in the day -- what Vanilla Ice did was no different than what dozens of other rappers did.  There's a perfectly reasonable intellectual argument to be made that "Ice Ice Baby"-style sampling should be freely allowed, but the courts have held otherwise.) 

Vanilla Ice's debut album, To the Extreme, was the fastest-selling hip hop album of all time.  It hit #1 on the US album charts and sold 11 million copies -- more than Hammer's Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em, which had been released the previous year.  His recording career went straight downhill after To the Extreme, but Vanilla Ice is still recording.  

Wikipedia has a long entry on Vanilla Ice, so I'll keep this post short.  But I can't resist sharing a few autobiographical highlights:

1.  Van Winkle was a very successful professional motocross racer.  He began to focus on rapping only after he broke an ankle and couldn't compete in motocross for some time.

2.  Following the success of "Ice Ice Baby," gangsta rap producer Suge Knight told Ice that he wanted a piece of the publishing rights for the hit.  The story goes that Knight and his bodyguards either threatened to throw Ice off the balcony of his 15th-story hotel room, or dangled him by his ankles off that balcony.  Knight used the money to get Death Row Records (whose best-known rappers were Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur, and Snoop Doggy Dogg) up and running.

3.  After To the Extreme hit it big, Ice had an eight-month affair with Madonna.

Madonna with Vanilla Ice
4.  Ice starred in a 1991 movie about a motorcycle-riding rapper titled Cool as Ice.  The lead female role was offered to the 19-year-old Gwyneth Paltrow, but her producer/director father forbade her to take it.  The movie grossed only slightly over $1 million, and was nominated for seven Golden Raspberry ("Razzie") awards.  

5.  In 1993, Ice toured eastern Europe and performed in St. Petersburg for an audience that included Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

6.  Van Winkle became interested in the Rastafarian movement, and switched to a vegetarian diet, grew dreadlocks, and started smoking a lot of marijuana.  Ice's second studio album was a flop, and his record company went into bankruptcy, so he added ecstasy, cocaine, and heroin to the mix.  He attempted to commit suicide on July 4, 2004, by taking an overdose of heroin.

7.  After his failed suicide attempt, he took a break from music, went back to motocross, and also started racing jet skis.  Within a year, he was the sixth-ranked professional jet skier in the world.  

8.  In 1995, Ice joined a Miami grunge band called Pickin Scabz.  

9.  His third studio album mixed hip hop and metal, and was somewhat successful.  The reviews weren't great, but weren't that bad.

10.  In 2001, Ice released his fourth studio album -- a double album titled Bi-Polar -- and performed at the "Gathering of the Juggalos."  ("Juggalos" are fans of the Insane Clown Posse.)

11.  In the last decade, Ice has become quite the television personality.  He fought former Diff'rent Strokes star Todd Bridges on a celebrity boxing television special, appeared in several episodes of Hollywood Squares, and was a regular on The Surreal Life

12.  A couple of years ago, Ice started filming a reality series about the renovation of a Palm Beach house for the DIY (do-it-yourself) Network.  He recently published a book on how to succeed in real estate.  (Don't be surprised if you see a Vanilla Ice how-to-make-money infomercial someday.)

13.  Last but not least, remember my recent post about the Adam Sandler movie that was being filmed on Cape Cod when I was there in August?  Believe it or not, Vanilla Ice portrays Sandler's best friend from high school in that movie. 

If you watched MTV in 1990, you saw the "Ice Ice Baby" video about a thousand times.  (That video cost only $8000 to make, by the way.)  It's a pretty good song by 1990 standards -- much better than "U Can't Touch This," if you ask me.  

Here's the music video for "Ice Ice Baby":

Here's the "Under Pressure" music video:

Here's a link you can use to buy the song on Amazon:

Friday, September 16, 2011

White Stripes -- "The Same Boy You've Always Known" (2001)

I hope you know a strong man
Who can lend you a hand
Lowering my casket

Something just hit me.  I'm going to end up doing TEN Cape Cod-related posts featuring White Stripes songs.  (Don't worry -- not all of them are going to be about my bike rides.  I only rode on nine of the days I was there.)

One of Shakespeare's characters asked, "Can one desire too much of a good thing?"  Obviously, 2 or 3 lines would answer that question with a loud "NO!"

Don't worry -- I'm going to mix it up.  I won't do more than two White Stripes posts consecutively just in case some of you disagree with me (and with Shakespeare) and think that you can have too much of a good thing.  (Because White Stripes songs are most definitely a good thing.)  Also, I've got lots of interesting Cape Cod pictures and videos to distract you.

One reason I'm posting about this many White Stripes songs is that the band that currently ranks numero uno in terms of 2 or 3 lines posts is . . . (gasp!) . . . Grand Funk Railroad?  And while I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Closer to Home album, there's a problem here -- when I go to the regular meetings of the cool music bloggers, the other guys make fun of 2 or 3 lines.  

One of them is really mean, and he hurts my feelings.  And when I tell him to STOP IT, he calls me a loser and yells "BABY WANT A BOTTLE?" even though I wasn't really crying!

Anyhoo, as mentioned in an earlier 2 or 3 lines, there was a spur line that branched off the main Cape Cod Railroad and terminated in Chatham, which is a picture-postcard town at the extreme southeastern tip of the Cape -- in other words, at the "elbow" of the Cape.

Here's a map of Cape Cod and the islands that you will help you get oriented.  Once you've located Chatham, scroll down and continue reading:

The Chatham spur line was the last part of the Cape Cod Rail Trail to be opened, and there are some stretches where you're riding on streets, not on a dedicated hiking-biking trail.  But if you don't get lost, you eventually come to the old Chatham railroad station, which is now a nice little museum.

Here's an old pic of the Chatham train station:

Here's what it looks like today:

This old Missouri Pacific Railroad dining car service plate was on display at the museum.  (The Missouri Pacific never got within a thousand miles of Cape Cod, but the museum's holdings weren't strictly local in nature.)  This plate depicted the  capital buildings of all the states served by the Missouri Pacific:

After looking around the railroad station, I rode to the Chatham fish pier.  A good number of fishing boats are based in Chatham.  Here are a few of them at anchor:

 These 42-foot Coast Guard "Special Purpose Near Shore Lifeboats" (which were launched in 2008) are the only two of their kind -- they were designed especially for the shallow waters and constantly changing sandbars around Chatham.  Click here if you want to learn more about them.

Quite a few people were buying fish and shellfish at the pier when I was there.  Here's a photo of some lucky bastard's lobsters being weighed:

The "Same Boy You've Always Known" is on White Blood Cells, which was the third White Stripes studio album.  Musically, it's very simple -- Meg on drums and Jack on guitar and organ -- but very satisfying.

I don't have anything insightful to say about what the lyrics mean, but I don't think it's a very happy song.  Songs where the singer refers to his casket rarely are.  Also, the singer may be the same boy she's always known, but I don't think she's the same girl -- wherein lies the problem.

The only possible connection between this song and Chatham or Cape Cod are these lines:

The coldest blue ocean water cannot stop 
My heart and mind from burning

But that's not why I chose it for this post.  I didn't have a particular reason for choosing it for this post.

Here are the final two lines of the song:

If there's anything good about me,
I'm the only one who knows

On that less-than-cheery note, 2 or 3 lines presents "The Same Boy You've Always Known" -- and takes this opportunity to wish happy birthday to a boy I've always known: my older son turns 28 (!) on Monday.

Click here to download this song from Amazon:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Roy Orbison -- "It's Over" (1964)

All the rainbows in the sky
Start to weep, then say "Goodbye"
You won't be seeing rainbows any more
Setting suns before they fall 
Echo to you, "That's all, that's all"
But you'll see lonely sunsets after all
It's over, it's over, it's over -- 
It's over!

I was walking my dog in the pouring rain one morning last week when this song popped up unexpectedly on my backup iPod.  How did it know that I was planning to do a post featuring photos and videos of Cape Cod rainbows and sunsets? 

The appearance of "It's Over" on that iPod was timely for another reason.  Something is over for me today, and I had been mulling over what song I would use to observe the occasion.   

Roy Orbison
The lyrics quoted above aren't particularly convincing when you see them in print.  They're sentimental, even maudlin -- perhaps a little over the top for most of us.  But when Roy Orbison sings them, the effect is overpowering.  

Elvis Presley and Bono (among others) have said that Orbison had the greatest and most distinctive voice they had ever heard.  His range was extraordinary, and his singing strikes the perfect balance between passion and restraint.  

Unlike many singers of his era, Orbison had no swagger when he performed.  He didn't rely on sex appeal or charm or charisma to win over his audiences -- he relied on his voice and his music.

In 1963, Orbison was asked to headline a tour of the UK that included the Beatles.  The tour kicked off months before the first Beatles single was released in the US, so Orbison was unfamiliar with them.  

Although was nominally the headliner, he chose to go on stage first on the opening night of the tour.  The "Fab Four" -- whose live performances were raucous and uninhibited -- watched as Orbison stood completely still as he sang, trusting his voice and his music to win over the audience.

Orbison with the Beatles (1963)
Orbison left the stage that night after performing fourteen encores -- the crowd continued to chant his name until the Beatles took the stage.     

When we were on Cape Cod last month, my family and I came home from dinner one night to an extraordinary double rainbow.  This photo doesn't do it justice:

Here's a video that shows how that towering rainbow seemed to be located directly over our house:

We're used to seeing wonderful sunsets when we're there.  But the sunset we saw that night was as extraordinary as the rainbow.

Here's a picture of my older son and one of my twin daughters enjoying the view:

Here's one more view of that sunset:

Here's Roy Orbison singing "It's Over."  It has a somewhat complex structure, although you don't really notice that unless you pay close attention:

I believe this video was made in 1988 -- the year Orbison died:

Here's a link you can use to buy "It's Over" from Amazon:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Big Daddy Kane -- "Smooth Operator" (1989)

I give nightmares to those who compete
Freddy Kreuger walkin' on Kane Street
Confuse and lose, abuse and bruise the crews
Who choose to use my name wrong, they pay dues
Destruction from the exterminator
But in a calm manner, 'cause I'm a smooth operator

Unlike De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, Big Daddy Kane (whose real name is Antonio Hardy) was "old school" all the way -- and no one ever did "old school"-style rap better.

Big Daddy Kane got his start writing rhymes for his friend Biz Markie (more about him shortly).  Both were members of the "Juice Crew," the Queens-based rap collective headed up by producer Marley Marl.  (You "Hip Hop 101" students who have been doing your homework will remember that name from my lecture on UTFO and the "Roxanne Wars.")

Big Daddy Kane
Kane was cool and smooth, like an ice cube -- he had style (no one ever had a better-looking high-top fade haircut) and he overflowed with flow.  

Big Daddy was no gangsta.  Like other old school greats, his weapon of choice was a microphone, which he used to spray killer rhymes at less talented MCs.  He could rap slow, and he could rap fast -- but no matter how quickly the rhymes came, he always sounded calm and relaxed.  

While Big Daddy Kane's first two albums (which were released in 1988 and 1989) are considered to be his best work, he is still performing today.  He is highly respected by  other rappers.

In 2006, Ice-T said that Kane "will devour you on the mic.  I don't want to try to out-rap Big Daddy Kane.  Big Daddy Kane can rap circles around cats."  Eminem referenced him in one of his raps, freely admitting Kane's influence on his style.

Freddy Krueger
The first two lines quoted at the beginning of this post refer to Freddy Krueger, the ultra-creepy bad guy in director Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street series of horror films.  Big Daddy's rapping is so good it gives his competitors nightmares -- not nightmares on Elm Street, but rather nightmares on Kane Street.

The next two lines are a tour de force of sorts, with no fewer than eight rhymes -- confuse, lose, abuse, bruise, crews, choose, use, and dues.  Note that the first seven of the rhyming syllables are separated from one another by only one nonrhyming syllable, so the rhymes pile up thick and fast.  But you have to wait awhile for the eighth and last rhyme in the series -- dues is separated from use by five syllables. 

With that kind of rhyming skill, Big Daddy Kane destroys and exterminates his competition -- but he does so calmly.  After all . . . he's a smooth operator.  

Let's look at some lines from a subsequent verse:

Now ain't that the pot callin' the kettle black
Sayin' I'm a new jack, you need to be smacked
The smooth way I say 'em and the way I display 'em
To make them sound different in a way that's gifted
And hey, I'm makin' sure every lyric is done fine
And I make one line, bright as the sunshine
Attack you like Robitussin on a cough
If you know like I know . . . step off!

In the first rhyming couplet of this verse, Kane laughs off those who call him a "new jack" -- a term that refers to a novice rapper, or to anyone who is new to the scene and has a lot to learn.  (It's more likely just the opposite, of course.)

The second rhyming couplet -- the third and fourth lines -- may throw you at first, because display 'em and gifted don't come close to rhyming.  The third line contains an internal rhyme -- say 'em and display 'em -- so the lack of a rhyme at the end of the fourth line is even more jarring.  But Kane gives you the rhyme you're waiting for at the beginning of the next line: hey I'm.

Gangsta rappers would no doubt use a Glock or MAC-10 to silence their rivals, but Kane is a smooth operator -- all he needs is over-the-counter cough medicine.

Here's the music video for "Smooth Operator."  It's an eponymous track of sorts, since Big Daddy Kane was as smooth an operator as ever existed -- both while on stage and with the ladies after the show.

Click here to download a copy of this song from Amazon:

Friday, September 9, 2011

White Stripes -- "I'm Bound to Pack It Up" (2000)

The bus is warm and softly lit
And a hundred people are ridin' it
I guess I'm just another running away

Adam Sandler was filming a movie on Cape Cod when I was there this summer.  They've changed the name from "I Hate My Father" to "Donny's Boy," but it's always possible that the final name will be something else.

I have no idea how this fits into the plot, but the movie crew built a kid-sized replica of Fenway Park at a middle school that's only a couple of miles from our house.  Here's a picture of it.

Here's a closer view:

The facsimile of Fenway isn't intended to stand in for the real thing.  It may be presented as a youth baseball park or a minor-league park.  It's a little small for an adult baseball stadium, but the standings that appear on the left-field wall are not major-league standings (which appear on the real "Green Monster") but simulated Cape Cod League standings.

The Cape Cod League is the oldest summer collegiate league in the country.  Its 10 teams consist of college players from all over the country, most of whom are considered professional prospects.  They use wooden bats, not aluminum bats, which enables pro scouts to better judge the potential of the players to succeed in the major leagues.

The Orleans (MA) Cape Cod League field
Some of the more prominent Cape Cod League alumni are Lance Berkman (who played for Rice), Jacoby Ellsbury (Oregon State), Nomar Garciaparra (Georgia Tech), Todd Helton (Tennessee), Tim Lincecum (Washington), Evan Longoria (Long Beach State), Nick Swisher (Ohio State), Frank Thomas (Auburn), Chase Utley (UCLA), Brian Wilson (LSU), and Kevin Youkilis (Cincinnati).

Here's two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum pitching in the Cape Cod League in 2005:

Here's what the left-field wall of the replica Fenway Park looked like from behind. 

Here's a view of the real Fenway Park:

Note the CITGO sign that towers over the left-field wall, and is a beloved local landmark and symbol of the Red Sox.  CITGO is the property of the Venezuelan state-owned petroleum company, which means that is essentially owned by Venezuela's crackpot president-for-life, Hugo Chávez.  (As if there weren't enough reasons already to despise the Red Sox.)

Chávez is one of the ten most despicable people in the world, along with Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Varitek, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Pedro Martinez.  (Kim Il-sung just missed the top ten.)

Here's the crew getting ready for the day's filming:

As for "I'm Bound to Pack It Up," it's on the White Stripes' second album, De Stijl.  ("De Stijl" -- "The Style" in English -- was a post-World War I art movement in the Netherlands.  The movement's most famous practitioner was the painter Mondrian, whose paintings were simple geometric compositions that used the three primary colors plus black and white.)

Piet Mondrian's "Composition No. 10" (1939-42)
This song is uncharacteristic of the blues/punk style of most of the songs on the first two White Stripes album.  The song's structure is very simple -- three verses alternate with the chorus.  The muscial accompaniment is also very basic.

Here's "I'm Bound to Pack It Up," which I think is rather Led Zeppelin-ish:

Here's the Aluminium version:

Here's a link you can use to order the song from Amazon: