Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How Long Must We Song This Song

                             Father Daly tries to help carry victim Jack Duddy's body to safety on January 30, 1972

All not blinded by your smoke,
Photographers who caught your stroke,
The priests that blessed our bodies, spoke
And wagged our blood in the world's face.
The truth will out, to your disgrace.

Excerpt from Butcher's Dozen: A Life Lesson for the Octave of Widgery   ~Thomas Kinsella

Many of you have heard U2's famous song, Sunday Bloody Sunday. Some of you maybe have seen one of my favorite versions in the Rattle and Hum movie. But what is this song about and why has it inspired so many songs about it?
Because this isn't a blog about history, I will refrain from an in depth Irish history lesson.  
Over the centuries, sectarianism fueled the fighting. Religion, land, Irish, English, Green, and Orange, you name it, they've fought over and because of it.
There were indeed two incidents referred to as Bloody Sunday in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The first was an incident that occurred in 1920  during the time of the Irish War of Independence in Dublin's Croke Park.  Thirty one were killed during an attack at a  Gaelic Football match.
The day that most of these songs and movies refer to is January 30, 1972. The event was a Civil Rights March in Derry pioneered by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. The civil rights movement in Northern Ireland in the late 60's and early 70's was inspired by the American civil rights movement. The movement was to counter any violence and to bring about change in the mistreatment and discrimination of Catholics. As time went on and the marches and their popularity grew, the British disdain for the marches did as well and the marches were banned outright.
Thinking they would be faced with blocked roads, marches proceeded but with increasingly violent and tragic outcomes. By 1972, the anger and frustration was capped by the introduction of internment without trial. Violence and death escalated throughout the North. All sides of the conflict suffered deaths as a result. The marchers saw this as an opportunity to peacefully protest internment. The march was allowed to occur in the Catholic area of Derry despite the ban. At the end of the day, thirteen would be dead and fourteen others shot by the Royal Parachute Regiment. None of the victims had weapons on them.
Below is the trailer for the film Bloody Sunday by Paul Greengrass.

 Immediately questions about what exactly happened about that day. I know people who were there, who stood initially confused and then horrified when they realized what was happening. They're vivid descriptions are akin to those I've spoken to who witnessed the National Guard shooting at Kent State.
The civil rights movement never recovered.
What happened was an outpouring of anger and the arts community was among those who protested via performance. Paul McCartney immediately recorded Give Ireland Back to the Irish; The Luck of the Irish by John Lennon portrayed the sad state of being Irish in Northern Ireland under British rule; and Minds Locked Shut by Christy Moore pays tribute to those lost. Many other songwriters, story tellers and movie makers have since written about the events of January 30, 1972.
Probably the most famous song about Bloody Sunday was not recorded until 1983: U2's version of Sunday Bloody Sunday It is, as Bono famously says, "not a rebel Ssng". Bono, who is a product of a Anglican mother and Catholic father, wrote the song which more reminiscent of the civil rights marchers point of view. He even professes his own inability to chose sides in the Troubles because of his parent's religion
Broken bottles under children's feet
Bodies strewn across the dead end street
But I won't heed the battle call
It puts my back up
Puts my back up against the wall

 While the album and live at Red Rocks version are memorable, it would be Bono's version of Sunday Bloody Sunday sung at Nichols Arena, Denver Colorado on November 8, 1987, that would capture his desperate plea for peace. On this day, eleven were killed in a bombing in Enniskillen. His passion , anger, and outright disgust of the event are evident.

 So this next song IS a rebel song. While many call for peace, Eire Og is a band that calls for remembrance and a call to arms. While Bono cries no more, they cry we're ready to continue the battle.

It is forty-two years later, and peace is still a fragile bubble that hangs in the air. The families of these fourteen still wait for answers from the government, whom they feel is solely responsible for the deaths that day. These songs pay tribute in their own way to those killed. So when you hear those first guitar chords from the Edge, take a moment to remember who this song is about:
Patrick ('Paddy') Doherty
Gerald Donaghey
John ('Jackie') Duddy
Hugh Gilmour 
Michael Kelly 
Michael McDaid 
Kevin McElhinney
Bernard ('Barney') McGuigan 
Gerald McKinney 
William ('Willie') McKinney 
William Nash
James ('Jim') Wray
John Young
John Johnston
Bloody Sunday Remembrance March Bay Ridge Brooklyn

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Riase Your Hands to Rock

With great enjoyment and satisfaction I announce that a band actually decided to not only have a final tour BUT also agree to not ever tour under that name again. This makes me one happy music fan. I am sad to see one of my favorite metal bands come to that decision, but I would rather see Vince, Tommy, Nikki and Mick walk away from their dream on their own terms.
Even more than Guns N Roses, I do believe my new found enjoyment of the Dr. Feelgood album frightened my parents. Although I think my father was happy that I seemingly had moved on from glam metal and boys in makeup, they weren't sure if Mötley Crüe was a move in the right direction.
And like the obsessive music fan that I am, I had to buy all of their albums: Girls, Girls, Girls, Shout at the Devil, Too Fast for Love, and Theatre of Pain. And the songs that I fell in love with. Home Sweet Home was on the short list for song I played the most next to Every Rose Has It's Thorn at that time. I can understand the fear my family had. Their almost teenage daughter was listening to songs about death, living fast, sex, the devil and god knows what else. But I honestly was just at an angry almost teenage point in my life so I needed angry, question all authority music.
They'd already made quite the name for themselves by the 90's. Most thought they wouldn't survive to see another day, let alone make another album. Dr. Feelgood was the resurgence. They were back and stronger following many years of torturing their bodies and souls. I mean, how many times did Nikki Sixx die? You just can't keep doing that.
Most artists settle to tour into oblivion. I do believe that since the band had many iterations without Vince and Tommy (both due to sad circumstances) they realized that they wanted to finish as the family they started in 1981. I honestly think a final concert at the Whiskey would be ideal for a closure.
Whatever they decide, after thirty three years and nine albums, it's time. It is time for these men to walk away from the office and shut the door for the last time. Respect the legacy you leave for your fans and be proud that your survived some really stupid things. But, you've now actually grown into men that realize how fortunate you are. Best wishes on your final tour and looking forward to a memorable last round with one of the world's most notorious rock and roll bands. Thank you Vince Neil, Tommy Lee, Nikki Sixx, and Mick Mars.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Give Life Back to Music

So what is so important about some French dudes in space helmets winning Grammy’s up the wazoo? The fact that the Grammy’s recognize something other than assembly line, overproduced, created to only make hits – music. Yes, Daft Punk have been a force since the 90’s in the house music scene. Their first albums were produced in a home recording studio. Yes, they have won Grammys before. But Random Access Memory, released in 2013, seemed to catch everyone’s attention. Maybe it was who they joined forces with: Paul Williams, Nile Rodgers, Pharell Williams, Julian Casablanca, and Todd Edwards. And yes, you have heard of them before the Grammy's - if you Google the song One More Time, you'll recognize them.

Their live shows are an emersion into the music – complete with lights, storytelling, and yes, costumes. These introverts have openly admitted they do not want to be celebrities. This fact can also be in in their videos, which are usually animated.
Take a listen to the first song on the most recent album: Give Life Back to Music. Very simple message about taking music back to what is used to be - fun. 
You have to give Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter lots of credit. They usually don’t grant interviews and show up dressed as intergalactic robots.
And you 'll quickly see that they aren't just influenced by DJ's but by artists such as The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and -- well just listen, there is a lot of 70's influence.  
So what is so important about Daft Punk winning an award like Record of the Year :
 The Grammy Award for Record of the Year is presented by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States to "honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to sales or chart position. ...
Just like this duo took a chance and collaborated with musicians on a very experimental album, the Grammys took a chance by saying they showed artistic achievement. They produced an album not to make hits or win awards, but to give to their fans to dance and partake in a musical journey far different than going to an overproduced pop show. And yes, LCD Soundsystem, we all want Daft Punk playing at my house, my house.






Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Hype of U2*

I don't remember exactly when it happened. I don't remember the moment where I transcended liking U2 to having to understand every word of every song they sang. Like many, The Joshua Tree was first U2 album that I owned. It was actually one of the first CDs that I owned (Kick was the other).
When I really started to listen to and read the lyrics, I understood that they were more than your average rock band. U2 was trying to tell you something. U2 became, and still is, the rock band with a conscience.
Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton, The Edge (Dave Evans), and Bono (Paul Hewson) joined forces in the late 70's, just some kids from the Mount Temple School that wanted to make music. 11 O'clock Tick Tock was the first the "world" heard of U2.

All of the elements of quintessential U2 are present: Clayton's very present bass lines, The Edge's signature guitar sound, Larry's fast snare, and Bono, the  preacher man. Their religious upbringing helped shape many of their songs, especially on Boy and October. The songs were mainly about teen angst and religion with Out of Control, I Will Follow and Gloria being the best known from those albums.
Politics really entered into U2's realm with the War album in 1983 with songs such as Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year's Day,  and Seconds (one of only a handful of songs The Edge would sing). 40, based on Psalm 40, still makes the concert rounds. Under a Blood Red Sky and Unforgettable Fire would propel U2 into their role as super group and world savers. The biggest song for them with Pride (In the Name of Love) would ready them for what would come next.
We must give credit to Sir Bob Geldof here. I truly think that he influenced Bono by way of showing him what was going on in the world. It was the 80's and there was a hunger crisis in Africa. Enter: Live Aid. U2's performance at Live Aid was one of their best and when Bono danced with that young lady from the crowd, we knew a true showman was born. But what Live Aid also did was it took Bono and his wife, Alison Stewart, to Africa. Their visit influenced one of rock's biggest selling albums, 1987's The Joshua Tree.

 Every single song on The Joshua Tree could have been a hit. The haunting sounds of Where the Streets Have no Name,Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, and the almost disturbing With or Without You were on rotation on every radio station ... and on MTV. Yes, the age of video most definitely helped U2 close the loop on being the number one band at the time. Not only did you get to hear them, you got to see Bono's brooding, The Edge's hats, and we were introduced to the genius of well thought and produced music videos.
Most don't realize this about The Joshua Tree: it's political. At least six of the songs on the album are about political corruption in the US, Columbia, disappearances, drug abuse issues, starvation, and hopelessness. Bono wanted to be the voice of the voiceless and give hope to the hopeless.
The tour that followed gave us Rattle and Hum, the album and movie. We were essentially on this journey with U2, yes, to quote Larry Mullen, Jr. It was a "musical journey." They had the world at their fingertips. The cover of Time, top selling albums and being called the best band in the world. But what made U2, U2, happened on December 30, 1989
Go away and dream it all up again...

What everyone wanted was The Joshua Tree again but that they were not going to get. What we got was Achtung Baby and a schizophrenic Bono wearing devil horns and pleather suits.

Achtung took many by surprise. It was different, but they liked it. I still cannot and refuse to compare Achtung and Joshua Tree. U2 reinvented themselves but the world was doing the same thing. Tiananmen Square was fresh on everyone's minds, the Berlin Wall fell and East and West were now one. U2 was actually in Berlin when the re-unification happened. This and the entire story of that period of the band's existence is told brilliantly by Bill Flanagan in U2 At the End of the World. Bono faces eviction without his pants, might be the best opening to any bio I have ever read. The world was changing and U2 was leading the charge. 
Next up - ZooTV and Zooropa. Again, U2 would conquer the world via live performance. The stage, complete with screens of all sizes, was a tribute to the out of control TV and satellite world that we live in. Each night, Bono (usually MacPhisto)  would call someone on his phone. The world was Bono's stage. And in the political atmosphere of the late 80's and early 90's Bono was a kid in a candy store.
Now, say what you will about the next album, I loved it (the tour was ok too if you can get over the Lemon Space Ship). Pop. It was disco-y and quirky but relevant. Songs like Please and Staring at the Sun question the violence in our world.
All That You Can't Leave Behind brought U2 away from the supersized techno glitz and re-invented themselves yet again with stripped down, but magnificent songs. Beautiful Day, Kite, Walk On, and Stuck in a Moment brought the fandom back to U2. But it would be the Super Bowl where U2 would bring the world to its knees in one of the most beautiful tributes to 9/11 I have ever seen. The names of those lost, floating up to heaven, never forgotten.  In case any of you are wondering what Bono says before the song starts, he is reciting a portion of Psalm 116:
What can I give back to God
For the blessings he's poured out on me
I'll lift hig the cup of salvation
A toast to God
I'll pray in the name of God
I'll complete what I promised God I'll do
And I'll do it together with his people

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, No Line on the Horizon brought U2 back on the road, and of course Under the Brooklyn Bridge. And now we wait. We wait for what they are going to being us without their lifelong producer, Paul McGuiness.
I am certain though, that every word of every song will be methodically planned. A bible verse, a political jab, or an historical moment will be woven perfectly into the melodies.
Bono, Modern Day Psalm Writer
It is no secret that Bono loves the role of front man, but Bono is also morally conscience and seems to always be looking for something to tell the world about. To me, he is our modern day King David. Bono writes our psalms for us. He also does not shy away from his belief of God. He penned a wonderful piece in the Guardian prior to the release of a new version of The Psalms in 1999. An excerpt:  
David was a star, the Elvis of the Bible, if we can believe the chiselling of Michelangelo. And unusually for such a "rock star," with his lust for power, lust for women, lust for life, he had the humility of one who knew his gift worked harder than he ever would. He even danced naked in front of his troops -- the biblical equivalent of the royal walkabout. David was definitely more performance artist than politician.

The deep religious roots that almost drove the band out of existence in the 1980's still thrives within him. He's a humanitarian, a philanthropist, and a family man. I look forward to what he has to say next.

*U2 fanatics might get the title reference.

Excellent U2 reads:
Walk On Spiritual Journey of U2 - Steve Stockman
U2 At the End of the World - Bill Flanagan
Into the Heart - Niall Stokes