Posts Tagged ‘music’

Fake News from Around the Office

December 3, 2009

He’s a nice guy, but a Nazi

THE BREAKROOM (Nov. 2) — It seems the nice, friendly guy from Purchasing you’ve been having lunch with, talking sports with and commiserating with over the weekend’s yard chores, turns out to be pretty much a Nazi.

“My wife made me this deli sandwich,” he observed during your shared mid-day meal yesterday. “Too bad the Jews have ruined sliced meats with all that Kosher business.”

Everett Jenkins, a six-year employee with the company who always seemed like a regular guy, then went on to observe that you at least had to admire Hitler’s efficiency, that the Monday night game between the Saints and the Patriots was a real snoozer, and that the German-speaking peoples of the Sudetenland deserved to be a part of the Third Reich.

“And don’t get me started on the bad rap that eugenics has gotten and how the master race has allowed itself to be mongrelized,” he continued. “So, are we still on for that 2 p.m. staff meeting, you think?”

Previous discussions with Jenkins had always centered on non-controversial issues like the weather, traffic, the best route to the beach, and what an idiot that new assistant vice president was. The closest you came to a political discussion with him was shortly after President Obama was elected, when he observed that “at least he’s different from all the other guys that’ve been in there.”

Now you’re not sure what to think of the co-worker. You always thought he had a great sense of humor and a realistic take on internal office politics that helped influence some of your career decisions, but since it’s become apparent he’s a right-wing fanatic with a penchant for genocide, you should probably keep your distance and start eating lunch in your car.

Everybody’s really sorry

THE THIRD FLOOR (Nov. 1) — Confusion over how to make a particular edit to a word processing file caused Sue, who attempted to make the change, to be extremely sorry to have misinterpreted the instructions, and made Barbara, who caught the error,  equally sorry to ask for the rework.

“I thought that one squiggly word was ‘elephant,’ but I should’ve known it was ‘element,'” Sue told Barbara. “I don’t know where my mind is today. I am so very sorry to have messed that up.”

“No, no, that’s OK,” responded Barbara. “You could definitely have read it that way. You didn’t really do anything wrong. I’m sorry to ask you to do it over.”

“Oh, that’s quite alright,” continued Sue. “I’m just sorry you had to send it back.”

“Don’t be sorry,” said Barbara. “I can see how you read it that way. I’m sorry my original handwriting wasn’t clearer — that was completely my fault.”

Observers of the conversation in nearby cubicles all agreed that both parties involved in the mid-morning incident were sorry. Real sorry.

You must be going insane

BUILDING C (Nov.2) — You know for a fact that you held down the Control key, then hit the letter “C”, and yet still the highlighted paragraph you wanted to move to another location failed to copy.

“I hate that,” you muttered to yourself. “This happens at least five or six times during the day, and every time it makes you think you’re going crazy.”

Whether it’s some kind of keyboard malfunction or, more likely, yet another sign that Microsoft knows it doesn’t have any competition so why worry about making users feel they’re losing their minds, it’s still annoying.

“It’s not just copy management functions using the Control or the Alt keys, it’s even simple clicks on a radio button,” you continue. “I see the cursor clearly sitting on the ‘OK’ and I depress the left clicker, and still nothing happens. Then you do it again and everything works fine.”

Even when the mouse isn’t involved, you find that the keyboard itself is sometimes not responsive for several moments at a time. You depress the “Page Up” button and nothing happens, then you depress it again and it works.

“There’s probably gunk inside the keyboard that’s fouling the contacts,” you think to yourself. “But I’m not about to take it apart and clean it. That’s too disgusting.”

The last time you did that, there were sesame seeds, bread crumbs, fingernails and enough dried-up bits of human flesh to make a whole toe. They don’t pay you enough to handle potentially hazardous waste like that.

My suggestions for Thanksgiving carols

November 25, 2009

It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow, and I think I know the reason it’s snuck up on us again. There are no warning songs, like you tend to get for weeks before Christmas. As much as I love the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s difficult to get in the spirit without appropriate musical accompaniment. (I think that’s why I always forget to buy everybody Labor Day presents).

To remedy this sad lack of audio cheer, I’m hereby submitting my ideas for new Thanksgiving carols. I’m suggesting existing holiday melodies, so once the turkey is done, we can easily transition into already familiar tunes for the rest of December.

[To the tune of “Joy to the World”]
Joy to the world
The bird has come
Let us remove his wings
Take out the heart,
Take out the lungs,
But leave the gizzards in
But leave the gizzards in
But leave … but leave the gizzards in
 
[To the tune of “Silent Night”]
Silent night, holy night
Hours until the first light
Time to hit the malls and stores
Time to start the busting of doors
TVs for $499
Xbox for $299
 
[To the tune of “Good King Wenceslas”]
Uncle Wenceslas looked down
On the feast from mama
Said she did a bang-up job
Then started on Obama
“He’s really Hitler in disguise, his policies are failin'”
Then the poor man gave us fright, said he’s reading Palin.
 
[To the tune of “What Child is This?”]
What time is dinner?
I need to know
Should I skip lunch
Or pick up “to go”
I’ll gladly starve
If we’ll eat at 3
By 4 though I’ll be crabby
 
[To the tune of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”]
I watched stupid TV marathons
Nothing else was on Thanksgiving Day
“Dirty Jobs” will make you sick
“Real Housewives” makes you thick
“Hell’s Kitchen” makes you want to bludgeon Ramsey with a stick
 
[To the tune of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”]
Lions stinking in the Silverdome
Cowboys rarely scoring ten
Watching football on Thanksgiving Day
It makes you want to leave the den
Go to the kitchen and help the people cleaning plates
Here there’s fellowship to see
While in Dallas they’re imploding again
As Romo blows another third and three
 
[To the tune of “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer”]
Rudolf the Grey Tofurkey
Had a very shiny glow
Made up of roots and veggies
Making your digestion slow
All of the other families
Eat a real bird of meat
However your hippie grandma
Likes to mix her food with peat
Then one foggy afternoon
Grandpa rose to say
“I refuse to eat this crap
That’s not gravy, that’s tree sap”
All of the other relatives
Jumped and shouted out with glee
“Let’s all run out to Wendy’s
For a burger and large Frostie”
 
[To the tune of “White Christmas”]
I’m dreaming of a Black Friday
Just like the one they had last year
Where the guy at Wal-Mart
Was torn apart
Because low prices started here
 
[To the tune of “Home for the Holidays”]
Oh, there’s no place for you in the dining room
Looks like you’ll have to sit back with the kids
Though they yell and they spit and they smell real bad
Now you know your life has really hit the skids
You met a girl from Tennessee
She looks just like your aunt
But you’re 21 and she is only eight
All she talks about is SpongeBob
While you like Gothic bands
They should have left her with a sitter
Man, you really want to hit her

Revisited: Going to a rock concert

November 22, 2009

As a fifty-something man, it’s been some time since I’ve been to a live rock concert. I’ve been a fan of the genre for as long as I can remember (at least since 1966’s “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” assuming that counts) and grew up being inspired by rock’s energy and message (the Red Baron gets shot down in the end). Nothing beats a live performance of rock ‘n roll to celebrate those two magical elements in a community of like-minded people.

The last concert I can remember attending before just recently was during my final year in college when I drove 180 miles to see John Denver. Now I know a lot of the purists out there will claim that John Denver hardly qualified as a rocker, but let me tell you that the bespectacled moptop could seriously get down. He wasn’t all “Rocky Mountain This” and “Rocky Mountain That.” He actually had a drummer on several of the songs.

This past summer, I got to attend my first arena show in ages as I accompanied my 17-year-old son to a performance of Canadian rockers Rush. I was delighted to be invited, first because it indicated that Daniel wasn’t too embarrassed to be seen with his dad in public, and secondly because he was embracing a style of music that we could share an appreciation for. Also, I wasn’t on restriction, like the friend he originally planned to go with.

We made our way to the Verizon Amphitheatre just north of Charlotte on a hot July day. Walking through the parking lot, we saw numerous tailgate parties featuring abundant amounts of beer and suspicious smoky odors. The rebellious nature of rock was alive and well in these small groups who were openly defying the property-wide ban on cigarette smoking. When we got to our seats, we found ourselves situated in mid-row between a guy throwing back Bud Lites at an alarming pace and a 6-foot-8 student with limbs the length of a primate.

The three-man band took the stage and proceeded to rock long and hard through a set list of new songs and classics. We tried to care about selections from their new “Snakes & Arrows” album but were really there for oldies like “Tom Sawyer” and “Working Man.” To give something of a theme to the tour, they’d produced a short film featuring Jerry Stiller on a nationwide search for rotisserie chicken (I didn’t get it either), and stage props that included upright ovens that roasted rotating birds. The increasingly drunken guy to our left was really getting into this, repeatedly shouting “chicken! wooo!” and “wooo! chicken!” directly into my ear. As the afternoon heat and closeness of the crowd started getting to us, we retreated to the back lawn and spent the rest of the show looking up at the stars and considering how man should “put aside the alienation and end up with the fascination.”

Then, just this past Wednesday, I had an opportunity to join Daniel for another concert, this time with former Talking Heads front-man David Byrne. We drove through a soaking rain to arrive at a trio of venues clustered together on the east side of Charlotte. I had been to this site several times before but became confused about where exactly I was supposed to park. There’s an auditorium, an arena and a theatre, and they are forever changing labels as corporate naming rights come and go. Were we looking for the Bojangles Arena, which used to be the Blockbuster Coliseum after it had been the Cracker Barrel Arena for years? Or did we want the Papa John’s Theatre, formerly the Time Warner Cable Theatre, formerly the Slim Jim Turkey Jerky Performance Space? We found a line of cars queuing up for a parking lot, so we got in it and hoped for the best.

And the best is what we got. David Byrne put on an absolutely brilliant performance with all the quirky lyrics and bizarre choreography of the Talking Heads. Three back-up singers and three dancers lumbered frantically around the stage in hilarious chaos, at one point performing while lying flat on the floor and at another time scooting around in office chairs. The music was every bit as enthralling, with the new stuff as mesmerizing as the oldies. I will say nothing nasty or sarcastic about Byrne who is, remarkably, a fellow fifty-something.

The auditorium offered very comfortable amenities and seating, though the crowd didn’t seem to know how to use the latter. When the musicians first took the stage, we all stood and welcomed them loudly. We continued standing through the second song, and the third song, and I began to wonder why we had bothered to pay for the seats. When a slower-paced song began, most of the audience took the chance to sit down and rest, but then re-exploded onto their feet when a high-energy number followed. My back is not in the best shape and I was starting to wish we could pick a pose and stick with it; I didn’t care which one, I just didn’t like all the up and down. Perhaps the guidance of a program would’ve been handy, like those we used to have in church that prompted “the congregation rises” and “now you sit down.”

The other parts of the concert that gave me pause were the sing-along portions. It wasn’t a formal row-row-row-your-boat kind of thing. I’m talking about how enthusiastic audience members would chime in with the chorus of certain songs, whether they knew the lyrics or not. I wanted to hear Byrne singing “Life During Wartime,” not the bozo behind me who chanted “This ain’t no Hardee’s/This ain’t no Frisco/This ain’t no dueling in town/No time for potluck/Or heebie-jeebies…” and so on.

The end of the set arrived, a reasonable 90 minutes after the show began, and we gave a rousing ovation as the band bowed, waved and then left the stage. Then, more awkwardness – how exactly is this encore thing supposed to work in a way that doesn’t embarrass the performer and afflict the audience with repetitive motion injuries? We all know it’s a sham, that the musicians are going to return for another song or two. Still we play this little game where we pretend we can’t live without them and they pretend to be on their bus, halfway out of town already. Byrne and company seemed to stretch their luck a bit with the amount of time they stayed off-stage, and the cheers were starting to ebb when they finally returned. Embarrassing, yes, and yet we did it all over again following another song. After this one, though, we clipped our appreciation short and managed to get them to stay away.

Though awkward, uncomfortable and slightly scary to someone my age, I must say I enjoyed both of these concert experiences thoroughly, probably slightly more in retrospect than during the event itself. It was a great chance to bond with my son and allow us to share a common passion for a cultural phenomenon that will never die, even if most of its earliest fans will shortly.

Fake News: Lady Gaga accepted at last

November 17, 2009

Lady Gaga, who rose from the New York dance club scene to the top of the pop charts in just over a year, saw her career officially end yesterday when Mr. and Mrs. Chester C. Olssen, a middle-aged couple from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, declared they kind of liked her music.

“Some of it’s pretty catchy, at least the few songs that I’ve heard,” said Mr. Olssen, a 57-year-old banker. “I’m not too sure about some of those wild costumes she wears in her videos, but I guess that’s what the kids like. She’s definitely an attention-grabber, I’ll give her that much.”

His wife, Greta, first became aware of the singer and her music during a trip to the local Wal-Mart. She saw Lady Gaga’s latest video, Bad Romance, playing on the HDTV on display in the electronics section and listed at the everyday low price of $499.

“She’s got some pretty wacky fashion sense, that’s for sure,” said Mrs. Olssen, a registrar with the city government. “That blouse she wears that shoots sparks out of it … I definitely couldn’t pull that off with my figure, but she seems real petite. I can’t imagine wearing a top like that with my ol’ grandma jeans, though. Besides, we have a no-smoking policy in my office, and I’m pretty sure having fire spitting out of your bodice would count as smoking.”

Mr. Olssen said that he’d consider wearing an outfit similar to what he called “the red getup,” which the singer wore at the MTV awards, on a casual Friday at his workplace. However, he was concerned the face-obscuring headgear might violate bank policy.

Mr. Olssen preparing for casual Friday

“No one’s allowed in the lobby wearing a hoodie, sunglasses or a ski mask, as a precaution against robbery,” Chester said. “But as an assistant vice president who works mainly in the back office, they’d probably let me slide.”

Additional reports came in over the weekend that the pop diva’s appeal was spreading to other segments of Middle America. A six-year-old girl shopping with her mother at a Rite Aid drug store in Pocatello, Idaho, was heard to say she wanted a lunchbox featuring the artist.

“Even my baby brother is all, like, ‘ga-ga this and ga-ga that,'” young Courtney told the pharmacy manager. “Lady Gaga celebrates the idea that any kid on the street can buy a bow, stick it on their head, and be making a fashion statement. I find that ability to express myself very empowering.”

Middle school teacher Anna Tegmeier of Norristown, Pa., said she admired Lady Gaga’s many years studying music as a youngster. The performer has said that she counts classic rockers such as David Bowie and John Lennon among her biggest influences.

“She was actually set to join the Juilliard Music School when she was 11, but ended up in a Catholic school at the last minute,” Tegmeier said. “She improved her songwriting skills by composing essays and analytical papers on topics such as art, religion and socio-political order. She even wrote a song for Michael Bolton before she became famous. How cool is that?”

Weighing in from beyond the grave on Gaga’s sensational rise from obscurity to a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording was veteran TV newsman Walter Cronkite. Speaking through a medium, Cronkite called the hit song Poker Face “absolutely epic” and characterized the video for Paparazzi as “a classic, matching anything that Fred Astaire could’ve done at the height of his career.”

Contacted in the midst of her European tour about the rising tide of positive sentiment among those whose tastes tend toward the traditional, Lady Gaga immediately cancelled concerts scheduled in Paris and Berlin and flew home to her native Yonkers, N.Y.

“I’m no fool. I’ve been in the business long enough to know when someone is through, and I’ve come to the realization that I am so over,” Gaga told a reporter for TMZ. “I guess what I’ll do now is just roam the streets of the city and live as a crazy person. At least I already have the clothes.”

Exclusive! Kanye and Taylor collaborate on duet

September 21, 2009

Now that nobody cares any more, Kanye West and Taylor Swift have co-written a new song which they had planned to debut at last night’s Emmy Awards ceremony. The duo, who famously met when West interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech at last week’s MTV Video Music Awards, collaborated on “Wait a Minute … For Our Love.” The pair had been promised a spot to close the Emmy presentation if the show didn’t run long, but darn if it didn’t go three minutes over.

The davisw.wordpress.com blog has received an exclusive copy of the lyrics for the new song, perhaps the first-ever fusion of rap and country, and premieres them here. Try to imagine a thumping bass and a banjo in the background as you read.

Taylor Swift:

I’m tall and thin and pale as can be
I could beat you one-on-one, I’m virtually a tree
I like your style, you’re a little bit crude
And I think we’d all agree I need a bad-ass dude
 
Didn’t know you much when you came up on the stage
‘Cept you seemed to be carrying a bit too much rage
The maze in your hair would be hard to get through
But my fingers want to try, can I touch your ‘do?
 
The ventilated shades are as cool as can be
The only problem is they don’t allow you to see
I heard you didn’t care for former President Bush
Only hope you don’t mind that I haven’t got a tush
 
Beyonce wears short skirts
I wear t-shirts
She’s a fabulous dancer
Look like I’ve got cancer
I shimmy when I can
But it looks like seizures
My doctor says I better
Stay put in the bleachers
 
If you could see that I’m the one who understands you
Been here all along so why can’t you see?
Why were you a dong? Why were you wrong to me?

Kanye West

Wait a minute, wait a minute
Can’t be falling in love
Remember Bruno at the last show
Flying in from above?
I can feel it in my bones
I know they needed a stunt
But the rejected my idea
In which I called you a … Yo!
 
Check it out
I know I hit the Hennessey a little too hard
May have had a toke or two out back in the yard
But I’m not so high as to be playin’ the foo’
And get myself involved with a mantis like you
 
Said I’m sorry and I mean it
I really am sincere
Wouldn’t mind if you would “clean it”
But I’d need another beer
 
Yo-yo-yo-yo-yo-yo-yo
Girl would you like a toy?
Here’s a Barbie, here’s a yo-yo
Now go find yourself a boy
 
Won’t make much more money
Now the Kanye name is mud
Can I be your golddigger?
And charge to be your stud?
 
Can I get a what-what?
More likely need a why-why
Still can’t quite explain
I’m usually just a shy guy
 
Get down Kanye, get down, get down
Get yo’ ass off that stage and get it out of town
That Taylor may be swift but I ain’t into ofays
Now they’ll never ask me back to the VMAs

Taylor and Kanye together

We know you’re sick and tired of seeing our faces
(We’re) pretty poor representatives of our respective races
We both produce music that’s banal and trite
And now we’re on the news just about every night
 
Neither country nor rap are exactly high art
They’re the two leading genres that sell at Wal-Mart
One has no melody and the other’s all twang
Listenin’ to both is like being sentenced to hang
 
Now we’re about to head out
And leave America alone
Go talk about your health care
And your subprime loan
You’ll miss us when we’re gone
It’s as clear as black and white
This is Kanye, this is Taylor
Finally saying our good night
 

Fake News: Ga-ga over GaGa

September 17, 2009

The confluence of the MTV Music Awards and New York’s annual fashion week has highlighted a new star on the entertainment horizon.

Lady GaGa, a product of the city’s cutting-edge house/electronic music clubs, has emerged as a brash fashion icon. Her display of elaborately self-designed outfits that combine the need to protect her personal modesty with apparently random combinations of fabric, accessories and found objects has revolutionized the concept of style.

Ga, who says she envisions songwriting and clothing design as parallel creations, was only barely upstaged by the controversial Kanye West at Sunday night’s awards show. She wore one costume that spurted blood, another that featured face-framing black feathers and a third that completely obscured her head in red lace. A performance earlier this year featured a flame-throwing bra that came close to setting her backup dancers ablaze.

Several other examples of her innovative get-ups are shown below.

indian

In the piece above, Lady Gaga harkens back to America’s roots with elaborate makeup, a wig and a false nose in her interpretation of nineteenth-century Native American style.

sheep

Here we see Lady using wool in ways not previously envisioned by designers. Note the passive expression that she’s made a part of her total package.

car

In what doubles as a statement on the currently moribund U.S. economy, Lady GaGa dons a steel and carbon composite full-body suit that positively shouts “beep-beep.”

saturn

One of her most space-age concepts is this ensemble inspired by the planet Saturn. GaGa is truly becoming the gas giant of contemporary American style.

Lady GaGa has inspired several other avant-garde performers with her ground-breaking work in music and fashion. Archduke GooGoo recently premiered a set at several Los Angeles area hotspots in which he wore a surgically implanted javelin in his chest wall. Another disco pioneer, Senior Vice President of Human Resources PeePee, drapes his body in a knit blend combining Spanish moss, sweepings from a neighborhood Great Clips, and corn silk. His performance concludes with a prank phone call in which he threatens former secretary of state James Baker.

Fake News: Beatles sold out long ago

September 10, 2009

LONDON, England (Sept. 9) — Beatles purists who were disappointed to see the release of the group’s catalog on the video game Rock Band were further shocked when news came yesterday that the music legends were paid to produce a commercial jingle in 1967.

The enigmatic “I Am the Walrus,” previously thought to be the psychedelic account of John Lennon’s LSD experiences, was actually commissioned by England’s South Umberton Regional (SUR) poultry cooperative as part of a campaign to discourage the import of overseas fowl and boost domestic consumption of poultry. Lennon received a $1,500 payment for the song, which was never actually used in TV commercials because the anti-import Asian Tariff Act was so quickly passed by Parliament.

The former director of marketing for the SUR confirmed the surprising arrangement in her upcoming memoir Chickens: My Life Among the Birds. Cryptic lyrics that have confounded fans for over four decades were intended as a subliminal call for the Beatles faithful to consume more turkey, chicken and egg products.

“We asked Mr. Lennon to keep the whole arrangement quiet, and he was more than happy to oblige,” said SUR executive Semolina Pilchard, now retired. “We were simply interested in helping the farmers of the northern Midlands market their livestock.”

Pilchard’s claims could lift much of the mystery that surrounds one of the Beatles’ most analyzed works. Released as the avant-garde B-side for “Hello Goodbye,” the song was believed by experts to be primarily nonsense verse, but now reveals several hidden meanings.

“He wrote ‘I am the eggman, they are the eggmen’ to make the argument that, in a sense, we were all eggmen,” Pilchard said. “All of us had a vested interest in the success of these small farmers.”

Other lyrics such as “see how they run like pigs from a gun” and “sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come” were veiled swipes at competing breakfast foods. Pork products such as bacon and cured ham were making inroads into the egg market at the time, as were packaged cereals.

The line “man, you should’ve seen them kicking Edgar Allen Poe” was an apparent response to negative publicity surrounding the poultry co-op’s aborted efforts to introduce crow, raven and jackdaw as bird-derived meats. Poe wrote the supernatural narrative poem “The Raven” in 1845.

Lennon even included a message to the farmers themselves, a prescient warning about the dangers of avian flu that the industry wouldn’t encounter until over twenty years later. The repeated chorus of “cuckoo kachoo” hinted at the public relations nightmare that sneezing birds would ultimately cause.

Pilchard said working with Lennon was difficult because his anti-establishment nature would often flare. When he became disillusioned with the project shortly before the partnership was dissolved, he added the lines “yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog’s eye” to show his distaste for eggs served sunny-side up, over easy.

As for the song’s signature line and title, Pilchard said it was a sign of Lennon’s fondness for wordplay that led him to chant “I am the walrus” repeatedly throughout the record.

“If you spell it backwards, you’ll note that ‘walrus’ becomes ‘surlaw,'” Pilchard said. “The Asian Tariff Act was referred to in the press as the ‘SUR Law’ because of its sponsorship by South Umbertron Regional. That John was quite the jester.”

“Even now, so long after he left us, I think it’s safe to say ‘the joker laughs at you,'” Pilcher concluded. “Ho ho ho, hee hee hee, ha ha ha.”

Woodstock: I was there (I think)

August 17, 2009

Well I came upon a child of God

He was walking along the road

And I asked him where are you going?

And this he told me

Said “I’m goin’ down to Yasgur’s farm”

So wrote Joni Mitchell some 40 years ago this weekend when she ran into me during my journey to the epic music festival that would become a touchstone for the entire baby boomer generation. For many my age, Woodstock fills the imagination with what it was like to be free and young and extremely high during the turbulent Sixties. For a fortunate few of us, though, it’s an actual memory of joining a half-million people in peace and love on a farm in upstate New York.

You see, I was at Woodstock.

As you might imagine, my recollections are a little cloudy after all these years. I was 15 years old on that August weekend my family was visiting my cousin in Binghamton. I was getting a little tired of the living room chats about long-lost aunts I had never known when I decided to slip out of the house for what became the adventure of my life.

I wasn’t normally a rebellious teenager, but there was just something in the air that called to me. I caught a ride with my cousin’s neighbor to the next town over, where I was dropped by the side of the road and started hitch-hiking north. I tried for over an hour to catch a ride when I came across three slightly older “hippie” types who “turned me on” to what was “going down.”

We traded only nicknames at the time although I later came to learn that the trio included then-reigning homerun king Roger Maris, a crazy dude named Fred Sullivan (son of TV host Ed Sullivan), and a young cowboy named Bobby McGee. We finally caught a lift as far as Bethel, NY, but the New York State Thruway was, as famously announced by Arlo Guthrie, “closed to man.” We were lucky enough to be spotted by the low-flying helicopter of singer Richie Havens, a remarkable pilot despite his lack of sight. Richie set down in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen, invited us aboard, and soon we were landing behind the stage where he’d be performing just a few hours later.

It quickly became apparent that festival organizers were overwhelmed by the unexpected turnout, so we were pressed into service as stage hands. We’d be getting a front-row seat to rock-and-roll history.

In between the routine roadie chores of hauling amps, separating M&M’s by color and periodically wiping down the members of Canned Head, we found ourselves offering advice to some of the legendary performers in attendance. I still remember telling Pete Townsend to “turn it the hell down – people are trying to sleep here” as The Who ran through their 4 a.m. set from the rock opera “Tommy.” On the final night, I saw Jimi Hendrix pacing nervously before the final set of the concert. He was debating whether he should close with “America the Beautiful” or “Onward Christian Soldiers.” It was I who suggested that instead he play the Star-Spangled Banner.

We were worked pretty hard during those four days and got hardly any rest. We did take a break one afternoon and Roger, Fred and Bobby tried to get me onto that mud-slide you’ve probably seen in film clips from the time. They became totally soaked and dirt-encrusted while I remained neat in the crisply pressed dress pants I had been wearing…

Wait – something doesn’t sound right. I may be a little confused about my presence at Woodstock. Something just doesn’t ring true about these memories, and I bet I’ve gotten the highlight of the Age of Aquarius confused with a 1995 business trip I took to Washington. Both locations start with “W”. I’ve always gotten Woodstock and Washington mixed up.

What I actually attended was billed as the “Woodstock of Statistical Process Control (SPC),” a four-day conference and training session for corporate quality administrators interested in being certified as ISO 9000 auditors. I was joined by three coworkers in a suburban Ramada Inn while we studied day and night to learn the proper ways to document workflow and process variation. It was an event unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since – four days of modes and tolerances.

To this day, it remains the only business trip where I was forced to share lodging with a roommate, but the hardship forged a lasting bond between us that was only slightly frayed by his questionable Spectravision and pajama choices. We’d get up early each morning for a vigorous jog around the hotel grounds, then spend the day with our noses buried in loose-leaf binders. We kept thinking we’d get at least one evening free to see the sites of the capital but the organizers of the event, a couple of Brits from Lloyd’s of London, were real taskmasters. (It was those English accents that probably reminded me of The Who).

On the evening before the last day, we were grilled during a “live-job scenario” wherein we pretended to be inspectors looking over the books of a company seeking ISO certification. The instructors played the parts of defensive company executives, trying to mislead and distract us, and we were supposed to insist on seeing the records. We did badly enough to realize we had to spend the rest of the night studying for the Friday exam.

Again, my recall might be a little off, but I do know the test was not at all what we expected. After the grueling preparations, I thought there’d be serious questions presenting difficult circumstances that required us to prepare, in extensive essay form, what our responses would be. Instead the questions were so simple as to be confusing.

“Give me an F… give me a U… give me a C…” began the examiner standing before a conference room of puzzled participants. He gave us the final letter, then yelled the question: “What’s that spell? What’s that spell? What’s that spell?” The rapid-fire interrogation made it impossible to think straight, and I flunked the spelling portion of the test.

Then, came the multiple-choice questions: “And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for?” One, two and three? Is this how they do it in Britain? What about A, B, C or D (all of the above). D is almost always the answer when questions are phrased in this format, but we don’t have that choice. Again, I fail.

Finally, there was the essay question: “What would you do if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me?” I had learned that SPC was all about reducing variation, and that any singing out of tune could only be acceptable if it were within a predefined tolerance. I wrote something to this effect on my paper, but this too turned out to be wrong.

I tried commiserating with my coworkers on the flight home, but they actually had performed pretty well on the exam. They understood there were fundamental truths underlying the event, that it was impossible to quantify the heady experience we’d just been through, that “answers” were a fleeting concept and sometimes the questions were more important. In other words, they had been certified while I had failed.

I could’ve gotten by with a little help from my friends.

Guilty pleasures from my iPod playlist

July 20, 2009

It sure was great seeing Paul McCartney perform on the David Letterman show the other night. It brought back lots of great memories of some great songs from my youth. It was an inspired touch to have him performing on top of the building marquee, recalling the Beatles’ final public performance on a London rooftop 40 years ago. He looked great for a guy in his sixties; a little jowly maybe, but hardly deserving of the steel girders propping up the marquee beneath him.

As a baby boomer, the soundtrack of my youth included a stunning variety of the most innovative music ever produced. Much of what we still recall today justly deserves the designation of “classic.” However, there are quite a few compositions that would be better off lost.

Some of these songs just had unfortunate titles. There was a Journey hit of the seventies, a soaring melody sung by Steve Perry, one of the best power ballads of the time until it came to the chorus of “So now I come to you, with broken arms.” There was the Boston classic “Four-Letter Feeling,” truly great guitar rock unnecessarily spoiled by the suggestive title. Even the Beatles themselves, widely acknowledged for three generations now as the greatest pop group of all time, stumbled with the unfortunately titled “Hey Jew.”

Other songs may have seemed like a good idea in an earlier, less-sophisticated time, yet just don’t fit the politically correct sensibilities of today. Take “Young Girl,” a number-two smash from 1968 by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap:

Young girl get out of my mind
My love for you is way out of line
You better run girl
You’re much too young girl
With all the charms of a woman
You’re just a baby in disguise
And though you know that it’s wrong to be alone with me
That come-on look is in your eyes.

It might be easy to dismiss a little-known band trafficking in pedophilia like the Union Gap, but even some of the greats had moments of questionable judgment. John Lennon wrote lyrics to “Run for Your Life” that included the line “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to see you with another man.” Neil Young penned “A Man Needs a Maid,” reacting to a fictional breakup with the reassuring thought that he could always pay “someone to keep my house clean, fix my meals, and go away.”

There is a difference, I would contend, between popular songs about misogyny and sex crimes with minors, and the songs that are bad for more innocent reasons. These are the so-called “guilty pleasures” that populate many of our iPod playlists, mine included. When you’re looking for a certain beat, a catchy interlude or a fond but distant memory to inspire your workout at the gym, quality of composition is not a prerequisite.

So here I come clean with some of the favorites from my music player, along with an attempt to justify my choices. If no justification is possible, I’ll admit that too.

 “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” by Abba. Answering the musical question “Do you realize how many people loathe your music? Do ya? Hunh? Do ya? Do ya?”

“The Stroke” by Billy Squier. A rhythmic masterpiece (or master-something) containing the unforgettable lyric “stroke me, stroke me, do it, stroke me, stroke me.”

“The Good Ship Lifestyle” by Chumbawumba. Inexcusable.

“Life in a Northern Town” by the Dream Academy. If the makers of Ambien set up a charter school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, this might be their senior class project.

“1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky. Originally composed for a cereal commercial in the 1960s (“this is the cereal that’s shot from guns,” for those of you under 50), the piece was later adapted and expanded for use at the conclusion of the annual Boston Pops Fourth of July concert. I’m pretty sure it’s the only song on my playlist that features a solo for cannons, and makes me wish Abba had thought to write more music for medium-range artillery.

“All We Like Sheep” from Handel’s Messiah. A celebration of our relationship with the Lord, or, a discussion of the many advantages of domesticated herd animals (wool, mutton, milk, nursery rhymes, etc.). In either case, an inspiring example of Handel’s genius, regardless of whether you’re a Christian or an animist.

“Wind It Up” by Gwen Stefani. What do you get if you combine the yodeling song from “Sound of Music” with a dance-club beat, then throw in the occasional voice of a black guy noting that “she crazy”? My sad, sad attempt to enjoy the latest sounds in pop.

“Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. A breezy summer hit that captured the spirit of warm-weather efforts at “tryin’ to feel good,” until later connections to a certain killer hurricane with 25-foot storm surges dampened Katrina’s career.

“Beautiful Stranger” by Madonna. Indefensible.

“Word Up” by Melanie G. Former Spice Girl tries to go urban but instead ends up in the central business district.

“Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield. Hypnotically repetitive, this piece is best known as the theme from the movie “The Exorcist.” The only lyrics are spoken introductions of the musical instruments – bagpipe guitar, glockenspiel, mandolin, fuzz guitar, Farfisa organ – capped off with the triumphal announcement of “tubular bells!”, apparently a kind of chime.

“Kicks” by Paul Revere and the Raiders. An early anti-drug anthem that would’ve been a lot more effective had it not been sung a band that sported tri-corner hats.

“Grand Hotel” by Procol Harum. Most regrettable.

“Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin, “YMCA” by the Village People and “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. There’s just something about the heresy of listening to gay anthems like these while watching Fox News on the Y’s treadmill that gives you a tremendous energy boost.

“El Condor Pasa” by Simon and Garfunkel. This ethereal but little-known piece, featuring ghostly Andean flutes, is either about the endangered scavenging vultures of South America, or Paul Simon’s disappointment at losing a bidding war on a townhome in Manhattan.

“Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman and “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum. I always thought of these songs as being a paired set, but didn’t realize why until I typed them here and considered the similarities in the titles. They’re both incredibly pretentious.

“Chariots of Fire” by Vangelis. A must for any treadmill runner who looks as bad in shorts as I do.

“Clones (We’re All)” by Alice Cooper. A wonderfully clever song from late in his career, except for The Title (Being Too Clever With).

“How to Kill” by Art of Noise. Inexplicable.

“Walk Like an Egyptian” by the Bangles and “Venus” by Bananarama. These could easily be the same song – “Walk Like a Venutian.”

“How Can I Keep From Singing?” by Enya. One might suggest this now-aging new-age ingénue consider stuffing a large, wet sock in it.

“Flying Dutchman” by Richard Wagner. Not sure you can characterize Hitler’s favorite composer as a “guilty pleasure.” This is also the tune used in the Looney Tunes classic wherein Elmer Fudd, another of history’s homicidal maniacs, sang “kill the wabbit.”

“Circle of Life” by Elton John. I forget now where the circle started for Elton but I know it ended up on a tour with Billy Joel performing before half-filled arenas.

Website Review: Muzak.com

April 17, 2009

My wife arrived home from a bread-making class the other night with nearly a dozen still-warm, fragrant loaves. Within the next ten minutes, I found myself humming the following:

If a picture paints a thousand words

Then why can’t I paint you?

The words will never show

The you I’ve come to know

And when my love for life is running dry

You come and pour yourself on me.

 

As much as I’d like to consider myself a romantic, I don’t think this qualifies. Just about anyone who survived the soft-rock trends of the 1970s probably recognizes this as the song “If” by a miserable band known as Bread. Somehow, deep in an obscure neural pathway within my brain, I had made a connection between freshly baked bread and half-baked pop music from a quarter-century ago.

It’s probably a synapse much like this one that is responsible for the success of a company headquartered not far from my South Carolina home. Muzak, Inc. is now celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary, if it’s possible to “celebrate” on the brink of bankrupt dissolution. The firm responsible for making music as ubiquitous as the air we breathe is the subject of this week’s Website Review.

The original technology for Muzak was developed by inventor Maj. Gen. George Squier. For a time, it consisted of old-fashioned turntables playing records over a microphone, though the cost of sending out a repairman from the central office every time it started to skip quickly became prohibitive. Soon switched over to radio waves, it was pumped into factories during World War II to increase production, and later found its way into post-war offices with a signature bland background style that wouldn’t intrude on foreground tasks. This is where it acquired its label of “elevator music.”

When some members of the public discovered its attempt to manipulate behavior on a subliminal level, it was accused of brainwashing and hauled into court. It was later exonerated to such an extent that President Eisenhower had it installed in the West Wing and NASA used it to soothe nervous astronauts in space, where it’s well-known that no one can hear you scream. In 1989, rocker Ted Nugent offered $10 million to buy the company and shut it down but the bid was refused. Maybe showing off his collection of automatic weapons could’ve sealed the deal, though it’s too late for that now.

Today, Muzak is desperately trying to rid itself of a stodgy image, and claims at its website that it’s actually in the business of “audio architecture.” Clients can choose from a list of more than 80 programs, ranging from traditional categories like Environments (adult contemporary), Aura (new age) and Moodscapes (more new age) to modern offerings like Half Pipe (skate punk/hip-hop) and Ink’d (power metal). You can also customize a playlist that’s exclusive to your brand, as was probably done to torture detainees at Guantanamo Bay and dislodge loitering teenagers from convenience store parking lots. (It’s easy to worry that this weaponization of music degrades the beauty of the arts, but consider how the North Koreans might settle down if we laid a little dinner theatre on them.)

Muzak scientists can cite considerable research about how creating the right ambience in a business encourages clients to buy more, stay longer, spend higher amounts or even resist robbing the cashier. Customer Linda L. is quoted as saying “I’m so impressed with the music that’s being played at the 99 Cent Store that I found myself shopping longer just to hear the music.” So the addition of Hot Chocolate’s “I Believe in Miracles” to the retail experience has the potential to turn $1.98 in revenues into something approaching $4.95.

To broaden its appeal in our increasingly multimedia age, Muzak now offers not only music but also voice (professionally produced on-hold messages), video and, following a 2005 distribution agreement with ScentAir Technologies, fragrance systems that enhance the customer experience using smell. A press release at the time describes “aroma marketing solutions (that) create a unique in-store experience by engaging memory and emotions through patented scent-delivery systems.” Muzak uses a chocolate fragrance system in New York’s Hershey’s store, a leather aroma in Marshall Field’s furniture stores and, presumably, a cat-urine scent to keep people from tying up gas station restrooms for any longer than they can hold their breath.

As Muzak tries to evolve to meet twenty-first century demands, it faces more challenges than just the $438 million in debt that’s due to be paid in 2009. Fairly or not, it’s still saddled with a reputation that’s not exactly modern. The frequently asked questions portion of the website addresses this issue head on. “Is Muzak still elevator music?” is answered with a firm “No way!” A protest as vigorous as that is always suspect, and others in the industry acknowledge that although “they’ve been working hard at being perceived as hipper, Muzak has a giant elevator on its back.” Though being temporarily imprisoned in cramped box with strangers who could join you at any moment in a 50-story plunge to your death can be made marginally more enjoyable by Dexys Midnight Runners, it doesn’t seem like the best basis for a marketing campaign.

Muzak is also trapped by a level of brand recognition so high as to be almost detrimental. They are dangerously close to becoming the kind of term that passes into the public domain as a generic, much like Kleenex-brand tissue, Post-It-brand sticky notes and Syphilis-brand STDs. Nowhere in the website is there any hint of a possible name change – though CEO Steve Villa’s letter to customers mentions “many exciting opportunities” in the year ahead. If its proposed merger with rival DMX is ever approved, I suppose they could always work an “X” into their name. Perhaps Muxak, Muzax or Xuzak could create the kind of edgy, post-modern ambience that sounds and smells have thus far failed to deliver.