The White Album

TheWhiteAlbumOn the 50th anniversary of The Beatles (a.k.a., The White Album, 1968), I’ve just listened to the whole album for the first time in years. My first thought is that it’s inconsistent and far too eclectic. It sometimes tries to one-up earlier Beatles’ songs but never really succeeds at that. For example, “Glass Onion” and “Honey Pie” both try way too hard. Similarly, the album is so long and sprawling that it even quotes itself several times, but never in a good, thematically-unifying way. The album also wants to help establish the potential of the individual Beatles’ solo careers, and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Don’t Pass Me By” do that pretty well for George Harrison and Ringo Starr. However, even with “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Blackbird,” “Julia,” and “Helter Skelter,” John Lennon and Paul McCartney both still arguably have better material elsewhere. Half of the double album could have been (and probably should have been) B-sides. However, they decided not to release any singles from the album (let alone B-sides), in favour of releasing a single of the same period’s “Hey Jude” and the faster, more pop-oriented version of “Revolution”–neither or which is on the more than 93-minute album. It’s hard to imagine that the 50th Anniversary, “Super Deluxe,” special edition of the album comprises up to seven discs of material. Very few people are going to need to hear a “bright new mix,” obscure demos, abandoned versions, and an eventual guitar solo hummed by Paul McCartney. Besides, Revolver (1966) and Abbey Road (1969) are much better albums.

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“Deep Digital” Writing & Reading

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/25/skim-reading-new-normal-maryanne-wolf?CMP=fb_gu

This article begs the question as to what “skim writing” might entail. Academic research and writing seem like an awful lot of trouble, given that it takes a long time to produce with almost no-one encountering it after all that. Also, Malcolm Gladwell and others are just going to reorganize selected parts of it, anyhow. Why not skip the middle man? Why shouldn’t we try to get to “deep digital” parallels to writing and reading?

Music Sales

The Eagles’ 1976 album Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 (with 38 million copies sold) has once again supplanted Michael Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller (with 33 million copies sold) as the top-selling album of all time, at least in the US. Who cares?

Amanda Petrusich, in her New Yorker article about the situation, accomplishes very little other than to reveal she finds that the Jackson album “provokes” (without once specifying how or why), whereas the Eagles’ greatest hits collection “placates” (though also somehow imbuing “dread” and/or a “swirling beige inertia”).

Given the existence of Hardcore Punk, Death Metal, New Age, Smooth Jazz, and various other musical genres not explored by Michael Jackson or by the Eagles, I find it extremely difficult to consider either of those artists to be particularly provocative or placating. Also, none of this takes into account the fact that both artists uniquely arrived at their mainstream pop successes by merging other styles. The Eagles combined singer-songwriter and country-rock approaches into a kind of rock super-group aesthetic (and certainly with rather less “major chord ubiquity” after 1975), whereas Jackson combined R&B, urban/dance pop, and rock elements into a compelling amalgam.

Do any of the details about music sales actually matter, though, when tens of millions of people now listen to most of the music they encounter–and frequently without buying anything–on such streaming services such as Spotify and YouTube? Probably not. Could music writers please get around to discussing music in more useful ways? Same answer, unfortunately.

Rush’s “Cygnus X-1”

Rob Bowman quoted me about Rush’s song “Cygnus X-1” in his liner notes for the 40th anniversary edition of the band’s 1977 album A Farewell to Kingshttp://cygnus-x1.net/…/rush/albums-afarewelltokings-40th.php. Thanks, Rob!

As Durrell Bowman (no relation) has noted, the piece “features a substantial amount of electronically generated sounds and sound effects, frequent metrical complexities (28% in asymmetrical meters alone), a large number of tonal areas (eight), a high degree of unison playing (35%), and one of the smallest sung proportions on Rush’s first five studio albums (16%).”

It’s nice to know that someone got as far as page 130 of my 318-page dissertation I say pretty much the same thing in Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion, but without such nerdy things as percentages and words like “asymmetrical.”

Book Chapter on Music in The Simpsons

I’m working on a chapter about music in The Simpsons for a book that the independent publisher McFarlane has requested. I presented six conference papers on the topic between 2006 and 2013 and also completed about half of a book on it, so it shouldn’t take take too long! The editor in 2010 co-authored a book for the same press, called: The Simpsons in the Classroom: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield. The new book is intended for undergraduate students and the general public, so it’s a good opportunity to get some more “public music history” out there.

Master of Library and Information Science

I’ve recently been accepted into Western University’s American-Library-Association-accredited Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program. I will be doing my required courses from May through August this summer, hopefully a co-op work term (paid internship) in a library from September to December, and my electives and major research project (probably on online music delivery) from January through August of 2017. I’m getting student loans lined up for the summer of 2016 and will hopefully also be able to get some in 2017.

Bowie vs. Bach

Robert Shaw: “It is the nature of music, unlike painting and most of literature, that its final creation is not its original creation. Music needs to be sounded, needs to be sung. It needs to be heard. In this sense the composer literally must leave his work to be finished by others.”

I recently heard someone report another person’s claim that David Bowie had been the greatest genius in the history of music, and someone else replied: “Really, what about Bach? Come on!” I can see the reason for that reaction. However, when I sit at the piano and play and sing through David Bowie’s song “Life on Mars?,” I know what it’s supposed to sound like, because he and his production team went to an awful lot of trouble to record it to sound a certain way. That included parodying the show-tune style of Paul Anka and Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and featuring keyboardist Rick Wakeman of the progressive rock band Yes on piano. Actually, the melodies, rhythms, chords, and words of the song remain excellent, even though I don’t have an electric guitar, Mellotron, bass, drums, backing vocal, and string section available to accompany me–not to mention Wakeman’s considerable keyboard skills. Choirs do something similar when they rehearse selected choral movements with piano for several months before they ever hear the (piano-less) orchestra and the (choir-less) solo vocal sections. The main difference between Bowie and Bach is that the former gave us “final/original”  recorded versions of his music, whereas the latter did not and could not.