Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays Wire Style

Well, hell, it's almost Christmas. Between work and real life issues, I've had little time to do much other than take a stab at writing something for my Mom. "April Fools" is about the death of my father, who did indeed die on April 1st. Apart from the 15 years of marriage to my dad, my mom spend her adult life in mental institutions. Suck ass recording please forgive, but "Larned, Kansas 1980" is what came to me.
Larned, Kansas 1980 by Bill Odle

While I'm working on not sucking as a singer/songwriter, I'm thankful I've stumbled upon a Brit who does Americana inspired music, as well as just plain great music, in his own wonderful, soulful way.  David Ford flat out is awesome (and his trademark hat is cooler than mine).  I never use the word awesome, by the way. Listen to him and I think you'll agree. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Folks

Given my penchant for artists like Richard Thompson and Joy Division, as well as my own often bleak world view, I tried to think of some songs that, well, make me feel happy and thankful. I could identify just a few tunes which are not necessarily uplifting, but that I associate with happy moments or times in my life. Jethro Tull's "Songs from the Wood" comes to mind.

But the one song that never fails to make me feel giddy is Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill." I don't associate it with any particular period in my life, but it strikes me as such a inherently joyful song and I was hooked the moment I heard it. It is a song about taking a great leap of faith in life (in Gabriel's case, leaving the band Genesis). Without further adieu, here is his transcendant live performance from his Secret World tour. Thank you Peter.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Are You Sure You Want to Delete Imagine.docx?

My handwriting is abysmal, if abysmal means page scratching so spastic it is often illegible. Never an A student in penmanship, after nearly twenty years of typing almost everything I write, pretty soon it may be a miracle if I can even manage to sign my name with a discernible letter X. The PC and email have made the hand-written letter obsolescent and anecdotal evidence at least suggests I'm not alone. Jesus, I guess I am having my Andy Rooney week.  R.I.P. Andy.

Anyway, mostly because I can't even read my own writing, I usually jot song ideas on legal pads but write using a word processor. Others write lyrics with software designed specifically for songwriters such as Masterwriter, used by (at least according to the publisher) Jimmy Webb, Graham Nash, Gwen Stefani, Trent Reznor (seriously?) and Stephen Sondheim. MW is a rudimentary word processor coupled with a rhyming dictionary and thesaurus. It can show the syllable count for each line, suggest a rhyme, etc., but beyond that, the user does the rest. You can also download a free program called Verse Perfect that does many of the same things quite well.

And yet. A yellowed page of stationary with John Lennon's hand-written lyrics--besides being worth a million bucks at auction--is a unique piece of musical history with a beauty all its own. Seeing the naked words drawn by an imperfect human hand, sometimes with corrections or doodles, feels like an intimate connection with the writer. You can see the lyrics to "I Want to Hold Your Hand" written out in Lennon's hand and imagine him showing them to the band for the first time as they begin to work on what turns out to be a deceptively simply arrangement.

But what if Lennon wrote his lyrics today using MW? (Who am I kidding--he would have used a Mac.) Had he worked they way I often do now, we wouldn't have the amazing treasure of his manuscript for "Imagine," complete with cool orange period stationary. It's easy to zip forward, adopting new technologies with unintended consequences. However unavoidable, some of those consequences suck.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Rocking Out to Mammy

Yesterday was the fortieth anniversary of the release of "Stairway to Heaven." Just writing that makes me feel old. Having been born in 1962, I'm technically on the tail end of the boomer generation--arguably the first rock-n-roll generation. As we watch our idols age, some seem to pull it off better than others. The iconic Rolling Stones taunt dignity by refusing to age gracefully into elder bluesmen, Dylan has become an itinerant cranky uncle and Led Zepplin declined to reunite, permitting Robert Plant to reinvent himself into the guy who sings with Allison Krauss. My friend Jeff reminded me that, to put dates in perspective, forty years prior to 1962, Al Jolson's "My Mammy" was the hit record. Both my kids love Zeppelin and one still has the poster at right on his bedroom wall. I'm pretty sure we had no idea who Al Jolson was at that age and no one plastered their wall with Mammy posters. It's still hard to predict how rock music will age, but the odds it will never die are slightly up.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

I'm old enough to remember both the news reports of the sinking of Great Lakes freighter "The Edmund Fitzgerald," and the hit song about it by Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. The EF went down in a wicked November storm on Lake Superior thirty-six year ago yesterday, claiming twenty-nine men. Lightfoot's song was an unlikely hit, clocking in at about six minutes. The lyrics provide almost a journalistic account of the sinking and on the page look far too wordy for radio, let alone the makings of a hit. Just imagine someone telling you to write a song incorporating the mouthful of syllables of the eponymous boat in each chorus. Lightfoot pulled it off. In many ways, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is the quintessential story-song, perhaps even deserving of being called (as it often has been) "epic."

According to interviews, the seventy-two year old Lightfoot regards the song as by far his best work and has played it at every show since he first wrote it. One day late of the anniversary of the EF's last voyage--it's a good song for remembering loss and sacrifice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In Which I Go All Andy Rooney on Digital Music

The Internet and digital formatting continue to transform the music industry and forever change the way the large record companies operate. Steadily decreasing CD sales continue to shrink inventories at the few brick and mortar places you can still purchase them. There just isn't the money in it for Best Buy to continue to stock all but the highest selling artists. Forget independent record stores. Various estimates suggest digital sales now account for anywhere from 40-50% of music sales. More fans are content to go without traditional album artwork, CD sleeves and jewel cases.

You're left with binary bits of digitized music compressed into an mp3 file. The audio quality falls well below the endangered CD, as well as other "lossless'" digital formats that Apple has said it will support for years but never has. No album artwork to clean your pot on. No jewel cases to break the first time you open them.

Not to go all Andy Rooney, but in college my Friday afternoon ritual was to walk down to Kief's Records on Iowa Street and browse LPs and cut-outs for an hour or so until I found one or two to buy. I'd go home to my apartment eager to hear my discovery. Sliding out and carefully cleaning the vinyl with my Discwasher, it went onto to my prized B&O turntable. I'd sit back and listen, reading over the liner notes and gazing at the album art. First side one, then side two. Sometimes I hit paydirt (in which case I put the LP on cassette and into a plastic sleeve), other times it would just go into my orange crate shelves. My friend Paul used to call it my archival approach to record collecting, after seeing Foreigner, KISS and Starz albums and observing that I had a lot of "fat" in mine. (Thumbing through someone's record collection was not considered intrusive, but was almost expected.)

Maybe the next format isn't a format at all. Spotify, Pandora and the iCloud may once again make music something you listen to rather than own or collect; in other words, radio.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Writing Rap Lyrics: Yep, There Will be App for That

The lyrical content of metal (a manageable amount of variables) means that it doesn't exactly take the computing power of Watson to pull off a few verses worthy of a Black Mass. Not so with the the frenetic, mad rhymes busted by your average free-styling MC rapper. It's clearly going to take more than a flash program to handle this stuff.

Stanford Coming Through
 Rest easy friends. Straight outta the streets of Palo Alto, a couple of Stanford computer science students have developed a rap lyric generator using the methodologies outlined in their 2009 paper (which is worth reading) It appears that Hieu Nguyen and Brian Sa at least had a prototype capable of yielding relatively "real" sounding lyrics, if not very clever. 

i 1ike getting head,cause it's so convenient  huh 
you can do it any time you don’t have to beat it
you can get it in the car or even in the park
yeah but most head-hunters go out alter dark true
there’s nothing like a pretty hoe on her knees
suckin’ my d yeaaah. and 1ickin, my b's
we don’t have to take our clothes off to bust a nut
when I pu11 out my dick biiiiatch pucker up
and gimme some coolin’ in a club on a saturday night
gettin’ fucked up with the boys and feelin’ all right
yeah when a saw th1s bitch who had to be a winner
and the only thing on my mind was to run up in her
so i got her kind of tipsy with some sex on the beach
then the bitch got hot and she wanted to eat
so for me to get over took her straight to the bed
what she got on her knees and gave some good hot head
Yeah hot head hoes some white some niggeroes
but I 1ike the ones who suck toes and assholes
with tongues 1ike razors that cut when she 1icks
ooh how can i fuck you with a skinless dick ha ha ha ha
you take pride in suckin’ a good dick
and after i nut bitch you better not spit ha ha ha ha
you're a dirt dobbler a goop gobbler
you’1l fuck satan for the righteous dollar 

Try as I might, I can't find if their dream ever came to fruition. Guys? Did you abandon your work for the good of mankind? A computer that appreciates a good blow job means we're just that much closer to Skynet.

If anyone knows, please email me. I gotta have this thing.