Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Love Supreme at 50: Elation Elegance Exaltation

Fifty years on and no one has topped the passion and influence of the 1964 recorded (1965 released) A Love Supreme. The album, divided into four parts: Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance, and Psalm. But what makes it so classic, so cutting edge, and like nothing we will ever hear again? First, let's look at the four part of A Love Supreme.

Acknowledgement: It begins with a resounding gong and cymbal as the percussion builds into the bass' prayer that begins the mantra before you hear it.  You feel it immediately in this opening part, you acknowledge the layers, the complexity, and begin to let go. Suddenly, the only spoken words of the entire album are chanted, the same repetitive notes you've been hearing in bass and saxophone: A Love Supreme.

Resolution: You're drawn into it's immediately subtlety but suddenly shocked by a crash of sounds. The piano and saxophone trade off parts in this one with the percussion feeling a bit chaotic. Until finally again it slows, the cymbals are silenced, and then...

Pursuance: Drums take center stage to kick off this part. You feel inspired to move forward. The pace is set early on and it's fast and furious. Four or so minutes in the saxophone comes into a screaming solo just as fast paced as the rest of the instruments. There is passion in this section. And then it slows, the bass is given a solo as if it is a musical sermon.

Psalm: There is serious drama at the very start of this. The saxophone sounds as if it's praying as the instruments wake up again.

But there is a part that most people do not know about. That is the poem written to accompany the final part, Psalm. The saxophone solo that I referred to as praying is actually "speaking" this poem. Next time you listen to the final part, Psalm, read this along with it and the magic that is A Love Supreme will be understood.
I will do all I can to be worthy of Thee O Lord. It all has to do with it. Thank you God. Peace. There is none other. God is, It is so beautiful. Thank you God. God is all. Help us to resolve our fears and weaknesses. Thank you God. In You all things are possible. We know. God made us so. Keep your eye on God. God is. He always was. He always will be. No matter what…it is God. He is gracious and merciful. It is most important that I know Thee. Words, sounds, speech, men, memory, thoughts, fears and emotions – time – all related…all made from one…all made in one. Blessed be His name. Thought waves – heat waves – all vibrations – all paths lead to God. Thank you God. His way…it is so lovely…it is gracious. It is merciful – thank you God. His way…it is so lovely…it is gracious. It is merciful – thank you God. One thought can produce millions of vibrations and they all go back to God…everything does. Thank you God. Have no fear…believe…thank you God.
The universe has many wonders. God is all. His way…it is so wonderful. Thoughts – deeds – vibrations, etc. They all go back to God and He cleanses all. He is gracious and merciful…thank you God. Glory to God…God is so alive. God is. God loves. May I be acceptable in Thy sight. We are all one in His grace. The fact that we do exist is acknowledgement of Thee of Lord. Thank you God. God will wash away all our tears…He always has…He always will. Seek Him everyday. In all ways seek God everyday. Let us sing all songs to God To whom all praise is due…praise God. No road is an easy one, but they all go back to God. With all we share God. It is all with God. It is all with Thee. Obey the Lord. Blessed is He. We are from one thing…the will of God…thank you God.
I have seen God – I have seen ungodly – none can be greater – none can compare to God. Thank you God. He will remake us…He always has and He always will. It is true – blessed be His name – thank you God. God breathes through us so completely…so gently we hardly feel it…yet, it is our everything. Thank you God. ELATION – ELEGANCE – EXALTATION – All from God. Thank you God. Amen.
John Coltrane – December, 1964

This is indeed a prayer of thanks and acknowledgement of what gift he has been given. How blessed he is.  The true love supreme being God.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Be the Song That You Hear in Your Head ... Appreciating U2's POP

Released in March of 1997, Pop is probably one of the most despised of U2's albums, but I love it. First and foremost, it was a huge risk on U2's part. They had just come off a huge tour and poor reception to Achtung Baby's follow up album, Zooropa. It was far different from anything people heard. But I always felt there was something there.

Recently, I've been listening to this album again, wondering what synapses in my brain are telling me to listen to this album. The lyrics are heavy; a lot of contemplation, but at the same time, serious fun with a more mature tone. Hanging with Frank Sinatra pre-recording this album definitely translated into some of these vibes. But it was tonight as I as listening to it on the R train home that it hit me ... but I won't share that with you until the very end of this post.

Let's review - one of U2's least liked albums, Pop.

Okay, so this song confused the hell out of people. Maybe it was Bono's mid-mid life crisis after he had the existential Machphisto
mid-life crisis, Discothèque was an interesting choice to open the album too because there is nothing else on the album like it. And then there is the video --  

Do You Feel Loved
Bono really experimented with Lyrics on this album - it isn't clear exactly what this song is about, some say ecstasy, others Bono's fame and fan worship of him, and then other always point to religion. Whatever it is, Adam Clayton is getting some bass love on this album.

Bono always seems to pen one song about his mother who was lost to him at a very young age. This song might be the most revealing about Bono -  as it captures so many questions of his existence, sans mother, including filling the void of her loss, his religion, and becoming a father.It also includes many artistic references that many will miss including two quotes from both Salman Rushdie and William Butler Yeats.

If God Will Send His Angels
A beautiful song that never got the recognition it deserved. It is full of so many vivid images of the world we live in, the despair, hope, and questions of the world and the spirituality that many question everyday. Again, Bono goes after faith and the selling of religion, the commercialization of it, and the loss of its true meaning.
Does love...light up your Christmas Tree
The next minute your blowing a fuse
And the cartoon network turns into the news

Staring at the Sun
Bono again goes with the internal review of self with this song. It's catchy, acoustic, and again bass heavy. Let's look at the title alone - what happens when you stare at the sun? Everyone does it right, because you're not supposed to. I'm not the only one whose happy to go blind, Bono sings. We do what we aren't supposed to and then tell others not to do it. Will we ever live in peace? 'Cause those that can't do often have to, Those that can't do often have to preach. It's as much a song about practicing what you preach as it is about looking past the burning blindness of the sun and seeing the real truth. See, I told you this album was deep.

Last Night on Earth
While the video seems very apocalyptic, it's semi-obvious that it is probably about Paul Yates, ex-wife of Bob Geldof, lover of Michael Hutchence, and tabloid fodder. This is what gave it away for me:

She's not waiting on a savior to come
She's at a bus stop with the News of the World
And the
Sun here it comes
She's not waiting for anyone

The tabloids, News of the World, the Sun and a sad prediction:
The future is so predictable
The past is too uncomfortable

This is a very rock and roll song and a special one for such a family man. Bon wrote this about loving rock but missing his family while on the road. And again, praise the bass lords on this album, this songs

This is a silly little ditty, no message but relaxing on the beach.

The Playboy Mansion
There are blurred lines here between the heaven of Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion and the religious heaven. It's a little Vegas at time's and you can feel Bono channeling the Riviera Hotel's  vibes in this song. And again, our sneaky song writers show that years of study at Mount Temple. Then will there be no time for sorrow, then will there be no time for pain is a reference to Revelations 21:4 - curious blurred reference indeed.

If You Wear the Velvet Dress
This is a haunting song about the moments of temptation and the morning after when life seems more clear than the moon that casts shadows and false images:
Sunlight fills my room
It's sharp and it's clear
But nothing at all like the moon

A very timely and foreshadowing song, Please was written about the Northern Ireland Peace Process. It's about the love of country that gets people killed. Love is hard, love is though but love is not what you're thinking of. While written and recorded in 1997, in 2001, the following lines would echo in our ears, an eerie premonition from Bono:
Streets capsizing
Spilling over
Down the drain
Shards of glass splinters like rain
But you could only feel
Your own pain

Wake Up Dead Man
My favorite song on the album. It's a prayer made in time of question and desperation and an order to wake up, wake up and take care of me and my needs.
Jesus, Jesus help me
I'm alone in this world
And a fucked up world it is too
Tell me, tell me the story
The one about eternity
And the way it's all gonna be
Wake up, wake up dead man
Wake up, wake up dead man
Jesus, I'm waiting here boss
I know you're looking out for us
But maybe your hands aren't free
Your father, made the world in seven
He's in charge of heaven
Will you put in a word in for me?

So what was that final epiphany? What made me smile a little and then feel slightly inadequate. I am now that same age that Bono was when this album was released. I can relate to this time in life where you look back, analyze the now, and then wonder what the hell life is going to be like? I might not have the question of what it's like to leave my family and go out on the road, I have questioned God, religion, life, realized that while there is bad there is also the good. I feel that when you reach this almost 40 age, it's a time of reflection and recollection of those lost and moments that could have been different. You also take stock in the fact that you've worked hard enough and earned those times of joy, whether it's at the Playboy Mansion or at Miami.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Be Here Now

Throwing Copper  by Live was such a pivotal album in my life. It represents the time I was growing up, beginning to understand the world, and really listening to the soul inside of music. While bands such as Dave Matthews were a part of that era, I've consistently gone to see him play. Live is a time capsule - a band I saw in my youth with the world ahead of me. Until Friday, February 13th, 2015, I had not heard one of their songs performed on stage since 1997.

1994 listening to Live versus seeing Ed Kowalczyk, the former lead singer of Live in 2015 can be described as a complete 180. While sipping red wine by candlelight, I shared a table with others who were also high school grads in the 90's. We were taken back to 1994 for the show opener - and quickly admitted that 1994 was filled with the very low of life, and at the same time, the very groundbreaking.  The video began with the Times Square countdown at New Years, and then showed grainy footage of OJ Simpson, Kurt Cobain, Nancy Kerrigan, the Northridge earthquake, Rwanda. To better our downtrodden souls at that point, we were shown video of new South African president Nelson Mandela and the signing of the Kremlin accords between Clinton and Yeltsin before going back to the ball dropping in Times Square ...1994.

Ed looks incredible - that must be said first. Our generation has aged very well. It was just Ed on guitar with a dual mic set and one other guitarist, Zak Loy. Just as we had twenty years prior, we heard those opening guitar notes and echoes of The Dam at Otter Creek...the haunting repeat of be here now and it was on. Throwing Copper in full was ours - acoustic.

The Dam at Otter Creek
Selling the Drama
I Alone
Lightning Crashes
All Over You
Shit Towne
Pillar of Davidson
White, Discussion

Every note and every word came back easily. The Dam at Otter Creek is a song about living in the now - irony that we were there to relive our youth. Each song brought a reaction - a reminder of where we were back then.

1994 was still a time of innocence. When we heard the first sad chords from Lighting Crash, it took me back to when that innocence was lost. This was the song that was used in constant rotation following the Oklahoma City Bombing. This song definitely brought tears to many people's eyes. It was still as hauntingly beautiful as when I used to listen to it in my bedroom.

And on the album went - every song just as we remembered it. Hearing TBD live is always a treat. It' s a very emotional song about death and really more about living to that point.

Once the final notes of Horse were played - we were promised more. And wow, Ed delivered.

Lakini's Juice  
All That I Wanted
The Beauty of Gray  
The highlight for me was from the 1991 freshman album, Mental Jewelry. I had gone into the night wanting to hear either The Distance or The Beauty of Gray. Wish granted when I heard those first few notes of Beauty.
                                                                                                 My clip from 2/13.
 The video is from MTV Unplugged in 1995.
It was great to relive such an important part of my life. A time where the world had not yet completely changed. Looking back twenty years, I can't be more happy of where I'm at now and to know how far I have trekked since those days. And to follow Live's advice, I am in full appreciation to Be Here Now. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Shelter Me

Tipper led the war against the record industry
She said she saw the devil on her MTV
To look into the cabinet it takes more than a key
Just like Jimmy's skeleton's and his ministry
~Cinderella Shelter Me
Most people born after 1980 don't remember when these stickers or explicit warning stickers did not exist on the cover. To many who were of the teenage years in the 1990's, these stickers merely became a beacon - it was a trophy win to score a PMRC labeled CD.

Looking back, the stickers and the bands they targeted taught me a huge lesson in speaking up about censorship. In the 1980's a gaggle of Washington Wives set out to label music they deemed inappropriate based on their interpretation, specifically if it included sex, drugs, violence, the occult, curse words, mention of scantily clad women, or anything else they could think of that they felt was not suitable for young listeners. Oh the irony, right? 

While places like Walmart would not sell albums with the stickers, some artists would make a censored and non-censored version. But why they hell do that why you can fight it! Those same artists targeted, and some very surprising proponents of anti-censorship came out in support of allowing (shock) good parenting to teach children what they should and should not listen to.

There happens to be one area where I am in complete agreement with the PMRC, as well as the National PTA and probably most of the parents on this committee. That is, it is my job as a parent to monitor what my children see, hear, and read during their preteen years. The full responsibility for this falls on the shoulders of my wife and I, because there is no one else capable of making these judgments for us.

Parents can thank the PMRC for reminding them that there is no substitute for parental guidance. But that is where the PMRC's job ends.

The beauty of literature, poetry, and music is that they leave room for the audience to put its own imagination, experiences, and dreams into the words. The examples I cited earlier showed clear evidence of Twisted Sister's music being completely misinterpreted and unfairly judged by supposedly well-informed adults.
~Dee Snider

Besides Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, Frank Zappa, John Denver presented a very moving testimony on not censoring our art. Yes, John Denver was banned at one time on a few radio stations because they perceived his song Rocky Mountain High as a song about drugs.

Censorship ... hmmm, how could that have any negative impact on society?

The above picture is a memorial to burned booked in Bebelplatz, a public square in Berlin. On May 10, 1933 thousands of books deemed inappropriate by the Nazi party were burned at this location. In the 1800's, the infamous Comstock law forbade objectionable material to be sold, mailed, or distributed. By the beginning of the 1900's over 15 tons of books had been burned.

But why censor words - whether in book form or in music? While some words do offend, other words are so powerful because they grant empowerment. Words teach truths and grant knowledge. They also allows us to express ourselves or identify that someone else has the same feelings. Words scare people. You can annihilate another culture or their religion by just burning their books (well, you could before the Internet and Globalization). When you start to censor, where does it end?

Back to Tipper and the PMRC. All the parental advisory sticker did was boost sales and create many arguments between parents and children. FYI, flea markets were an excellent place to get stickered albums:) That is how I got my explicit copy of Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Looking back, should I be thinking, wow, I shouldn't have been exposed to those words, the suggestion of such impure behavior? Absolutely Not! In the end it all comes down to what is in your mind and how you are raised. I listened to it all - Motley Crue, Prince, Madonna, Sheena Easton, and you know what I also read Why the Caged Bird Sings, Of Mice and Men, I read Anne Rice and John Updike...last time I checked I hadn't sold my soul, prostituted myself, hurt anyone, or cast a spell on anyone. It's all about circumstance.

I use music as therapy. When I'm angry, I throw on some Anthrax and Pantera. Need some motivation, I can see myself listening to Warrior my Matisyahu. Censorship is based on self belief and interpretation. Tipper Gore and her merry wives felt Cyndi Lauper talking about masturbation was the most horrific thing a kid going through puberty should be listening to. I guess she never went to any after hours Cabinet sessions. Hindsight, it was Tipper and those running our country who needed think about their own behaviors before throwing rocks at us.

And now censorship has entered our world again. The attacks on the Paris office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo have started a conversation about free speech and propagating the idea that knowingly inciting anger should be tolerated. Is there a line? Is it censorship or respect? It's 2015 and people should not be getting killed over magazine covers, I agree. Something like this makes the PMRC and stickering seems so very trivial now.

In the aftermath of the Parental Advisory group, many artists took their liberties of pushing the limits and outright calling out Tipper and the Group.

Mother/Tell your children not to walk my way/Tell your children not to hear my words/What they mean, what they say, mother


While now, no one is going to the record store to get the long box version of a CD, you still see the bold E on iTunes telling you *I'm special, buy me and don't tell your parents that there is explicit content in the song. I believe we have come a long way in the aspect of music censorship, but the question will always be there. In the end, we should all be very thankful that we CAN have this conversation and that censorship is a limited under our Bill of Rights and the First Amendment.