Growing Up and Growing Old With Tom Brady, Part 2

In honor of the Patriots’ first game tomorrow, here’s the second part of my paean to Tom Brady, complete with songs, recrimination, and anxiety. What will a year with no tight ends and without Wes Welker bring?

(This post is an insane continuation of part 1…)

Tom Brady is now in his 14th year in the NFL. I worry about every change in his offensive line. I watch every scramble for a sign of weakness. When the Patriots lose, I wonder if this is the game that heralds the beginning of the end. I fret over him as I do not even for myself. And, I know I am not alone in this.

We are all young. For a time.

But when Tom Brady was young, there was magic in the air. It almost seemed like the sudden excellence of the Patriots raised the tenor of the entire region. The Red Sox were transformed and it even looked for a moment that we would have a president from Massachusetts in 2004. Of course, most of this was simple escapism—I had my head in the sand to avoid the terrible truth of two wars, a nation speeding off into some of its worst inequalities in its history and a graduate career that at times seemed stalled and going nowhere.

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Bad Band Names (and good ones?)

The subject I am about to touch upon–and don’t be distracted by the brevity with which I treat it–is one that is close to my heart because I was in two bands for nearly four years each and both  had rather terrible names. How do I know that the names were bad? When people ask me what the names of my bands were, I am too embarrassed by them to even utter them. In fact, I often find myself saying a silent prayer of thanks for the fact that both of my bands disappeared before the full rise of the internet. It is very, very hard to connect my proper name with those terrible, awful names.

This band has some pretty good beats and a rather tough sound for some ladies. Where are they now? While a rose by any other name still sounds as sweet, words have intrinsic attractiveness based on their sound and that sound’s relationship to the language at large. If a thorned flower were called ‘turd’, would we have bands named the Stone Turds and Guns N’ Turds? The sound matters.

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Old Friends, New Friends and New Music

So, one of the interesting things that has happened since I started telling people about this blog (which I have done only sparingly and sometimes with trepidation) is that many have almost immediately asked me about bands they love. It is nice to witness people get so voluble and eager to talk about music.

This volubility comes, I think, from an honest desire to share something with someone else that each of us has found dear—by making a connection with music and seeing someone else make a similar connection (even if the content is different) we triangulate and make connections with other people (and not just the music).

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Grammys: Why watch?

My brother wrote the other day about his “issues”  the Grammys and how he doesn’t like award shows yet still pays attention.  I agree with each one of his points. It is all about money and who sells records, but why wouldn’t it be if it was created by record executives?  I don’t say this as a point of contention with my brother, just that it has always seemed to me like it was all about money. Same with his next two points in that its meant to sell more records and it is a rich person party thrown by rich people.

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Learning More about New Music!

A few weeks ago I ruminated on the difficulty of learning about music (in a dependable way) in an age when we are overwhelmed by both the number of bands available and the media outlets discussing them. It isn’t so much that there are more acts out there (though, there may be) but that we hear about them all. One of our frequent commenters, londongigger, who has a very nice blog where he reviews live shows, noted that in London there are literally thousands of performances a week.

From experience, I know that the scene is similar in places like New York City and Austin, Texas. Learning about new music by seeing the bands becomes a full job, a needle-in-the-haystack obsession. Who has the time (or money and stamina) to keep up with this?

At the same time, another thing I failed to mention is that the digital age has sapped the power of critics and tastemakers. While this is good (freeing up both artists and audiences from certain hegemonies) it has the unintended effect of splintering music experience and reducing the framework provided by a common canon of music. I don’t know if I am lamenting or just observing.

Anyway, writing this blog has both forced me to engage with newer music more fully and to seek out new artists at a faster pace than previous years. Recently, I have been aided in this by a younger friend, The Only D. After I reacted (with some speed) to his last list of suggestions, he hit me up with another.

Here we go.

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Grammys and Grammy Watching

450px-GrammySo, the Grammys are coming up soon and they promise to offer the typical menu of pageantry, performers, promotion and implicit prior authorization of music purchases. (Like that? Cynicism and alliteration at once?)

I mentioned not liking awards shows earlier this week, but I didn’t really state my objections rather clearly. For sake of clarity, then, here are my issues (and, yes, my brother, I am saying ‘issues’ the way our father would).

  1. The Grammys are about making money: The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (which gives out the award) was created by Recording executives. The process of nomination and the doling out of awards is really just one orgy of promotion for the recordings peddled by the sponsoring companies.
  2. The awards in every category are really about selling the most or being the best-known: It is obvious that to win an award, people need to know about you, but it isn’t true that just because something is well-known it is necessarily good or that it is better than something that isn’t as well-known. Further, just because a larger number of people buy something doesn’t mean that it is aesthetically superior. If anything, ‘products’ in wide circulation are often rather non-descript and mediocre.
  3. Awards shows are solipsistic and self-congratulatory parties thrown by rich people for other rich people. I think that says enough.
  4. The Grammys are historically bad at gauging important contributions to music: Pearl Jam won a grammy in 1996 for “Hard Rock Performance”, four years after Jeremy. Grammy voters are older and part of the record industry or institutionalized enough that they are universally conservative. Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991; Nirvana) is often cited as one of the most important albums of the 1990s. The year it was eligible for a Grammy The album of the year was Unforgettable …With Love (Natalie Cole). The Alternative album of the year was Out of Time (R.E.M). The next year? Album of the Year was Eric Clapton’s Unplugged. Alternative Album? Tom Waits’ Bone Machine. (Nine Inch Nails and Red Hot Chili Peppers got some love in the Rock Category but SIR MIX -A-LOT won the best Rap Solo Performance Grammy!).

The Academy authorized THIS? Perhaps I should rethink my criticisms….

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On the Radio: The Musical Chimera

The goat head breathes fire!

In Ancient Greek myth the terrible Chimera—part lion, serpent and fire-breathing goat—represents the degeneration of the offspring of the earth and the type of marginal monster mankind needs heroes to kill. By destroying such beasts in stories, early man, in part, assuaged his own fears of the unknown and tamed the world around him.

(we even get a nice adjective from this that is not commonly used in English: chimerical, “fantastic or imaginary”; perhaps even “unnatural”).

Modern science, however, uses the term to describe a creature made from the parts of distinct species. For us, disturbingly or not, the threats to the order of things come not from the earth itself but from our own ‘unnatural’ meddling. (Although I am not so sure that scientists use this term pejoratively, as we might expect.)

Why am I thinking of the Chimera? Well, as I have mentioned, I have been listening to the radio a good deal thanks to the demands of parenthood. Now, recently, I wrested the control of the station from my wife and children (well, from my children who can’t articulate what station they want to listen to; my wife isn’t in the car when I do this…) and returned to my adolescent roots: the local independent alternative rock station.

Now, local alternative independent rock stations are really not all that different from one state to another (unless they are college stations, a topic for another post) : they all tend to play the same ‘classic’ alt-rock songs from the 90’s, they all play too many Foo Fighters tracks (a rant for a later date), and they all play the latest alt-rock hits. So, as a result, my brother and I can live 3000 miles apart and hear the same songs every day by listening to our ‘local’ and ‘independent’ rock stations.

Where is the Chimera, you ask? One song that I cannot escape is Fun’s “We Are Young”. I don’t want to tear the song down—it is actually quite catchy, appealing content-wise, and not hard to listen to. After hearing it, I find myself humming it as I walk from house to car or even in bed when the baby won’t sleep (and when I feel far from young).

The problem with the song is that I feel like it is not one song, but two. The first verse and the last bit sound like something from a David Gray or Mumford & Sons. The middle part sounds like a discarded AWOLnation track or a glam-rock anthem from the 1980’s. The two parts just don’t go together at all. They are so ill-fit  as to make the pairing unnatural, chimerical. (Now, this may be intentional (to create a jarring feeling, to wake the addressee into thinking about fleeting youth and to “gather rosebuds” while we may) but I suspect it is not).

Or so I thought. I decided to embark upon an experiment to test the case. It was simple and fast. I tricked my wife into listening to the radio station that was more than likely to play “We Are Young” every hour. When it came on, I let my wife listen for a few seconds and then turned the volume down. Then I asked her, do you know that “We are young song” (and I sang her the chorus). She did. I told her the song I just turned down was the first part of that song. She swore at me . I turned it up and waited for transition. Typically, laconically, my wife said: “that’s stupid”.

I am not sure I agree with that, but I do wonder about the effect on the audience of the contrast. Cynically, I suspect that the chorus was written first and the rest of the song just thrown around it. (Which is, incidentally, the way I feel about Maroon 5’s highly chimerical “This Love”). But even if that is the case, should we care if part of the song is so good?

In the case of Maroon 5, I think the contrast between the parts makes this creature completely monstrous and the song unlistenable. For Fun’s “We Are Young”, the more I hear it, the more the less beastly it seams

PS: Although I am not the biggest fun of the type of a cappella that plagues small college campuses, I actually like this version of the song a lot: