Friday, January 31, 2014

Self Help Radio 013114: The Only One

Are you the only one who really knows what the hell is going on?  Are you perhaps the only one qualified to give an opinion on the matter?  Might you be the only one we can turn to in times of crisis?  Or are you just someone's only one?

Huh.  It turns out there isn't only one "only one."  However, there is only one Self Help Radio show about "the only one" & you can listen to it now at the Self Help Radio website.  If you prefer a more direct approach, the show is available instantly by clicking either part I or part II.  The songs (mostly called "The Only One") that I played are below.

Thanks for being the only one who listens!

(part one)

"The Only One" The Computones _Acappella Showdown, Vol. 1_
"Only One" Arthur Lee Maye & The Crowns _The Best Of Arthur Lee Maye & The Crowns_
"The Only One" Lulu _Something To Shout About_
"The Only One" Roy Orbison _Mystery Girl_

"The Only One" Pink Industry _Who Told You, You Were Naked_
"Only One" He Said _Hail_
"The Only One" Billy Bragg _Workers Playtime_
"The Only One" My Dad Is Dead _The Taller You Are, The Shorter You Get_

"The Only One" American Analog Set _Know By Heart_
"Only One" The Ramonalisas _Wintersliding_
"Only One" The Barbaras _2006-2008_

(part two)

"The Only One" The Cure _4:13 Dream_
"Only One" Smith Westerns _Dye It Blonde_

"The Only One" Birdmonster _From The Mountain To The Sea_
"The Only One" Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs _No Help Coming_
"The Only One" The Leftovers _Eager To Please_
"Only One" Colleen Green _Sock It To Me_
"The Only, Only One - Parts 1 & 2" Jack Drag _Little Molly Has A Treat For You_

"The Only Ones" Pipas _Sorry Love_
"The Only Ones" All Girl Summer Fun Band _Looking Into It_
"Only Ones" Burnt Ones _Black Teeth & Golden Tongues_

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Whither The Only One?

Years later, it was 2083 & a lot had changed.  The only human being left on the planet walked up & down the street, in-between the smoldering volcanoes, which was her morning constitutional.  To the abandoned surveillance cameras she would wave.  There were so many fatty insect worms to eat, she could just reach out & grab them, but she had to keep her eyes closed - they had begun to evolve faces, specifically her face, as a coloring to keep themselves alive.  Stupid radiation!  It would have taken centuries for that to happen before!

The aliens came after she had managed to get an old VCR to work, & was trying to remember a time when people with "white" skin had existed in such numbers.  She tried to explain to the aliens that this had once been a vibrant planet, with billions of people more or less like her (with only two eyes, though), that this had been a giant city, the biggest & best city on the planet - at least to her.  She had really never made it out of Indianapolis.  The aliens had come to meet the people who had been broadcasting "Hogan's Heroes" at them for so many years.

An alien doctor - it could've been a doctor - it might also have been a little frisky - took some blood & let her know what they'd discovered.  One, she might live forever, which made her both happy & sad.  Happy because she had so many videotapes to watch.  Sad because she missed her computer.  It also told her that she could reproduce with any one of them, but that their children would be approximately 76% alien & the smaller percentage human.  This made her sad because she felt her children would therefore be at a disadvantage at the good alien schools.

She asked if she could think about it, & also if she could have a ride around on their flying rectangle spaceship.  They showed her the ruins of her planet.  Everywhere human constructs like nuclear plants & oil refineries had, without anyone to mind them, exploded & poisoned the world  Strange creatures were born & died quickly in the volatile oceans, while plate tectonics changed the landscape which she might have remembered from the time or two she actually looked at a globe.  When asked by the aliens if she were too affected by the trip, she said no, she just wanted to see if the mall in Plainfield was still there & maybe open.

The aliens were nice but she was glad to see them go.  They said they might return in three hundred years when they fly back this way, but she didn't think they were the sort of aliens she needed to be hanging out with.  Mate with them!  That's absurd!  You might be the only one here, she thought to herself, but you have to have some kind of standards!  Anyway, she found the complete series of Matlock on VHS & that would keep her busy till volcano season was over.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Preface To The Only One: Not Only One Only One Song

Oh god, there are times when I think I'm not going to find enough songs for a dumb theme - this week's being "the only one" - songs in which people talk about being someone's only one.  After digging through my collection - over the past week - I found almost three hours of songs with the words "the only one" featured prominently.

Three hours?  I need half that!  What happens next?  Oh, I'll tell you what happens next.  I decide, let's narrow this down.  I don't mean "narrow this down" to the best songs as I think they are - the three hours I had were all great songs - no, I decided to use one more filter in deciding what to play.

This is something I dream of doing from time to time: having an entire show feature all the songs with the theme as the title.  I've only done this once, for a show back in 2010 with the theme "tell me."  I was so proud of myself - 24 songs all called "Tell Me"!  Too bad I did the show in West Virginia & no one heard it.

I came close to doing again recently - back in November, I did a show with the theme "wonderful" but didn't have enough to fill the entire show (I would have if the show were ninety minutes long, though).

The dream lives.  I will try to only play songs with the theme's name as there title!

Will I be able to do it with songs called "The Only One"?  Probably not - but I'm still whittling that list down for the show on Friday!


My wife just asked me, "Whatcha doing?"
I said, "Writing in my dumb blog."
She said, "Are you writing about how much you love me?"

Well, now I guess I am.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger

I was going to tweet this today, but thought it might be too stupid: "It's too sad to keep writing about great musicians who have died. We should spend more time writing about the great musicians being born."

The exhaustion, though, is omnipresent.  Time marches on, everyone dies, even important people, people you love & admire, & you comment on it - you reflect on their lives, on how they changed or affected you - & before you know it, someone else has died & the cycle repeats itself.

My mother, who is pretty old, talks a great deal about people who have died or (more unnervingly) people who are dying.  It must seem a strange thing when all of your friends & immediate family are gone.  As I've gotten older & health issues have reared their ugly heads, I've become more acquainted with mortality - & of course it sucks.

If I die, a few people who cared about me would perhaps be sad.  But Pete Seeger was a giant.  I don't think I've known many people like him personally in my life.  He wasn't just a musician, or a singer, or a poet, or an activist, or propagandist, or entertainer.  He had all that inside him & more.  He certainly was full of love, love of the highest order, for all humankind, working tirelessly & facing obstacles that would defeat & wither most of us.  & he sang.  He sang & played guitar & performed to countless folks.  He never stopped believing, he never stopped fighting.

I often say things like, "If so & so hadn't existed, so much of what I love wouldn't exist."  Pete Seeger championed Bob Dylan, one of my musical idols, but there's no reason to think Dylan wouldn't have broken through without his help.  Probably more importantly, Pete Seeger influenced the hell out of Phil Ochs, an underrated musician whose politics often had to compete with his own musical ambitions.  Both Ochs & Seeger had voices critics described as "wooden" - & both put their lives where their mouths were when it came to the causes they believed in.  It's not too hard to draw a line from Seeger to people like Billy Bragg, who wrote something nice about him today.

Of course I love Pete Seeger's songs, I love the Weavers, I love the feeling of being included in a mass of humanity who want to be free of oppression, of greed, of hate.  I am so grateful to live in a time when it's as easy as a click of a mouse to find recordings in video & audio of Pete Seeger doing what he did best.  There are great photos my friend Aaron is posting on Facebook of Seeger live.  I have stolen one, & put it here:
Credit where it's due: Pete Seeger performing at Folk Festival at Town Hall, 8 March 1958. Photo by Ray Sullivan for Photo-Sound Associates.

In the pictures, Seeger is often tilting his head upward, possibly a result of singing at too many places where there wasn't amplification, but I have been charming myself with the notion that that's not entirely it.  Sure, he was singing to the audience assembled there, but maybe he thought that - just maybe - if he sang a little louder, projected a little more, & aimed his voice a little higher than the folks immediately in front of him, the rest of the world would hear, too.

Oh, Pete Seeger, didn't you know?  They did.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why I Don't Watch The Grammys

I like to watch awards shows, & regularly tune in (though I DVR them so I can fast-forward through the commercials) to watch the Emmys, the Oscars, & the Golden Globes.  But I don't watch the Grammys.  & there are two big reasons.

The main one is I don't much care for modern commercial music.  I have been out of touch with what passes for mainstream music for over two decades now.  If you like that music, that's fine - I'm not here to tell you you're wrong or you have terrible taste.  I don't believe anyone's opinion is more "right" than another's.  I will pay more attention to someone who is more passionate about what they like, or who can explain to me why they like it, but I won't dismiss you because you just listen to whatever's on the radio.  It's how the industry functions, & commercial radio exists for the industry.

The bigger one is this: there are very few people who win a Grammy who haven't already made a lot of money for themselves & their record company (& their record company is probably going to be owned by a corporation).  This is markedly different from the Oscars & the Emmys - a small budget film can snag an Oscar, & a television show no one is watching can win an Emmy.  But just a small sampling of this year's "best new artist" nominees (not a terribly scientific sample, but I think it's typical) will give you a sense of what I mean.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who won the award, sold, according to Wikipedia, "78,000 copies in [the album's] first week, & debuted at number 2 on the US Billboard 200 chart, but debuted at number 1 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums & Top Rap Albums, while entering the Canadian Albums Chart at number 4. As of November 2013, the album has sold over 1,132,000 copies in the United States."

James Blake I could find no sales information about, except that after he won the Mercury Prize last year, his album sales went up "2500%."  But you can see how well his most recent record did on  charts around the world here.  (He's had more than one record, which means his nomination for "best new artist" is weird.)

Kendrick Lamar (who has released three albums) had his most recent album, according to Wikipedia, "debut at number two on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 242,000 copies in its first week – earning the highest first-week hip hop album sales of 2012 from a male artist, along with the best-selling debut from a male artist of the year. It became Lamar's first album to enter the UK Albums Chart, peaking at number 16, & entering the UK R&B Albums Chart at number two. The album was also met with rave reviews from music critics, being named to many end-of-the-year lists. It was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) &, by December 2013, had sold over 1,109,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan."

Kacey Musgraves (another person with multiple albums under her belt) released a record last year that Wikipedia says, "debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, selling 42,000 copies in its first week. It also entered at number one on the Top Country Albums chart. As of January 2014, the album has sold 302,000 copies in the US."

& Ed Sheeran - who released his debut three years ago - had his record "debuted atop of the UK Albums Chart with first-week sales exceeding 102,000 copies The album performed well on the US Billboard 200, peaking at number 5, selling 42,000 copies. The album is the highest debut for a British artist's first studio album in the US since Susan Boyle's I Dreamed a Dream."

The bottom line is this: unlike other awards shows, which seem to honor artistic excellence, the Grammys celebrate success.  The Grammys not only suggest that commercial success means artistic success - they insist it does.

I listen to a lot of new records, but many of them probably don't sell a whole lot.  To the Grammys, & to the critics who don't get free copies because their (independent) labels can't afford to send any to them, they're not even worth consideration.

Here's why I suspect that financial success doesn't always equal artistic success: the list of "best new artists" from 1994, twenty years ago.

Toni Braxton
Blind Melon
Digable Planets

Toni Braxton won, & now instead of making amazing records that music critics are swooning over, she's on Dancing With The Stars & has her own reality television show.

Again, I'm not insisting that what I like is better than what others like.  I just think the Grammys could be more honest about what exactly the awards are given for: they're mostly celebrating achievement in making money.

That's the reason why I don't watch their awards show.