Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tragedy and the Inexplicably Offensive

I ran across something odd the other day when I was wikipediaing (if we can google, can we wikipedia? It's such an awkward verb, isn't it? something for the linguists in the audience to ponder).

Think back to the week following September 12, 2001. The country was in mourning, and transportation and economy had ground to a halt, thanks to a combination of fear and shock. Most of us were getting back in the swing of things, but the attacks had touched all aspects of life, even pop culture. Not only did we have to endure countless country tribute songs, and ditties about killing Osama, we had to deal with controversy and censorship. There was a techno-pop band named "I am the World Trade Center" who suddenly started getting bad reviews, and were forced to shorten the moniker to "I am the World". Hard rockers "Anthrax" refused to change their name, though apparently one member joked that he was stocking up on Cipro to "avoid an ironic death." And perhaps most strangely, a memo ciruculated the stations of radio giant Clear Channel with a list of songs that were "lyrically questionable," and were suggested not to be played.

A look at the list shows over 150 songs, many of which make sense, though I'm not a fan of censorship. I could see why people might find them offensive or unsettling. There are songs that reference plane crashes (such as AC/DC's "Shot Down in Flames", and Alanis Morissettte's "Ironic"), songs about suicide (Filter's "Hey Man, Nice Shot", Ozzy Osbourne's "Suicide Solution", System of a Down's "Chop Suey", Third Eye Blind's "Jumper"), songs with violent lyrics (AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Alien Ant Farm's "Smooth Criminal", though curiously, not the original by Michael Jackson, Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife", Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff", Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust", Saliva's "Click Click Boom") and songs about death, either directly or indirectly (Buddy Holly and the Crickets' "That'll be the Day", Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heavan's Door", and the Guns and Roses cover, Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky", Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young", Kansas's "Dust in the Wind", Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven", J Frank Wilson's "Last Kiss"). Then there are the ones that have little or no offensive content, but somehow reference flying or planes (Foo Fighters' "Learn to Fly", Lenny Kravits's "Fly Away", Sugar Ray's "Fly", Peter, Paul and Mary's "Leaving on a Jet Plane, Elton John's "Benny and the Jets", Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Aeroplane"), and songs that reference New York (AC/DC's "Safe in New York City", The Ad Libs "The Boy from New York City", Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York", which was apparently one New York station's most requested songs that week). Then, there are some songs that seem to be there for no reason other than that they have revolutionary lyrics (Beastie Boys' "Sabotage", Black Sabbath's "War Pigs", The Clash's "Rock the Casbah", Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe", John Lennon's "Imagine", Don McLean's "American Pie", Nena's "99 Luftballons", Peter Paul and Mary's "Blowin' in the Wind", U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday".

Then, we move into the realm of the ridiculous. First, there are the songs with the mistaken lyrics (Drowning Pool's "Bodies", which is about mosh pits, The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", which is about drugs, Boston's "Smokin'", which is also about drugs, The Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb on Me", which is about a girl, Jerry Lee Lewis's "Great Balls of Fire", which is about also about a girl). Then, there are songs which I can't figure out why they're there at all (Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World", because positive thinking is bad, I guess, The Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian", because Egypt is a Muslim country I guess, The Beatles' "Ticket to Ride", because the ticket might be for a plane, maybe, Neil Diamond's "America", because we wouldn't want to sing about how awesome America is, Ricky Nelson's "Travelin' Man", because I heard the hijackers were all man whores, Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss him Goodbye", because I'm thinking they watched that funeral scene from Remember the Titans a few too many times).

My personal favorite, though is "All songs by Rage Against the Machine". I mean, yeah, it's Rage, but that's just ridiculous. Thankfully, this didn't last long, and was not manditory. I just found it interesting.

I dedicate this post to Tom Morello's distortion pedal, and all of its warbly noises that were temporarily not banned.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

R.O.P.D.R.P.W. Episode XIV: En la Plaza de Toros

Gratuitous Gradients! Luminous Layers! Sworded Lawnmowers! That's right, R.O.P.D.R.P.W. has gotten a little upgrade (read: I'm playing with a fun new image editing program). While some things are new, others are not. We regret to inform you that complete ridiculousness and bad puns shall continue indefinitely!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"MORE!" They Cried!

Well, sort of, anyway. Since at least one of you demands more, I feel I must oblige. Now, obviously, I've been a little light on inspiration of late, and when I go back to one old standby (ranting about politics) I'm either misunderstood, or nobody cares, so I figure I'll go back to another old standby. You're not going to like it.

That's right. I'm going to review stuff.

I told you you weren't going to like it. Now, to be honest, I do have a fairly ambitious little writing project bouncing around in my head, though I'm not sure it's entirely appropriate for this space, seeing as it would be a tribute to a work that's never been published in any real capacity. But, that is another post for another time, and a project I'd really rather keep under my hat for the time being.

For the first review, I'll start small.

Keane, a "piano rock" group from Battle, East Sussex, England, The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, has taken up the recently popular trend of artists, publishers, etc. having their own YouTube channels. On their channel, they've got music videos, behind the scenes stuff, and other little oddities. One of the nice little gems you can find here is what they refer to as a "live mash." It's a bit of a tribute cover for two different songs: "Another One Bites the Dust," by fruity yet bad-ass defunct rock group Queen, and "Dance Wiv Me," by British rapper who I had to look up on Wikipedia Dizzee Rascal, featuring Scottish songwriter/producer who I also had to look up on Wikipedia Calvin Harris. The result is the bizarre yet beautiful "Another One Bites the Dizzee." Basically, it's the verses and baseline from "Another One Bites the Dust" with the chorus and melody from "Dance Wiv Me." I found that once I got past the original "What were they thinking?" reaction, I rather enjoyed it. Keane singer Tom Chaplin's voice is a great match for Freddie Mercury's, and when you put the addictive baseline of "..Dust" together with the too-catchy-for-its-own-good melody of "Dance...," well, I don't know... it just works! They mesh so well! If I weren't familiar with one of the songs already, I would have sworn this was the original, which is, I think, the best compliment any cover (mash-up or otherwise) can receive. Hats off to Keane then, I suppose!