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Location: La Mirada, California, United States

All original content on RickSpeak is the intellectual property of Rickspeak.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Random Thoughts On The Grammys And Music

I love conversing about music as much as anything in life so I will add my 2 cents about last week’s Grammy Awards show.

Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys were a great pairing, almost a passing of the torch, one could surmise. I am a fan of Coldplay and they are a good band, but their latest offering, X & Y was partly very inspired and partly very insipid. They have reached a crossroads in their career.

John Legend is the real deal.

People are excited about Kelly Clarkson, and I am a rabid fan of American Idol since season 3, which means I missed Clarkson's rise to the top, but she is a manufactured pop star so I will be curious to see how long her career will last.

Paul McCartney's last three records are definitely worth checking out, despite what "mainstream" critics have written about "Driving Rain" and "Flaming Pie". Are they "Abbey Road"? Of course not, but they are relevant and reveal a portrait of an artist coming to terms with aging while fighting to remain viable in pop music culture, particularly with "Chaos and Creation..." And, in the end, all three records provide good pop songs that appeal to the ear, unless you are a jaded, aging music critic. Sir Paul McCartney still wants to fill the world with not so silly pop songs and what’s wrong with that?

Mariah Carey. Yes, there is quite a lot of "fluff" in her catalogue, but when she decides to perform, she is truly captivating, and I think her performance was the highlight of the evening.

Fantasia I think is better suited for Broadway rather than pop. Her performance of Gershwin’s "Summertime" on American Idol still gives me shivers. It was real and it was moving.

I Loved the whole Jay-Z, Linken Park and Paul McCartney thing. Just good rock'n'rap fun. Later Paul blows us away with a surprising and frenetic rendition of “Helter Skelter”!

I was not a big Bruce Springsteen fan for a long time, until I saw him perform at the L.A. Coliseum back in 1987 when I was still in college. He was one of two artists whose concerts I have attended that had total command of the audience, the other being Peter Gabriel.

Check out the following records by "The Boss": “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, which came out in 1978 when punk began to take hold. The record stands up to punk with its own dark and intense desperation with songs like "Adam Raised A Cain" and "Candy's Room" (another song that gives me shivers just thinking about it). This record is not for the faint of heart. It survived in its time because it had a punk rock attitude filtered through an angry palooka from New Jersey.

The other Springsteen record to investigate is Nebraska, in which he channels the spirits of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan and makes a folk record that stands with the best of what Guthrie and Dylan were able to achieve.

Kanye (“George Bush doesn't care about black people.”) West has a chip on his shoulder that, I believe, is manufactured by the rapper. However, if it can continue to motivate, more power to him. I doubt that it can.

Rap is not a live medium. Since the recording studio is the most important instrument in Rap music, it rarely translates well live. The Cars had the same problem. Impeccably produced Roy Thomas Baker records that, for whatever reasons, did not translate well live.

Christina Aguilera. Unlike Mariah and Whitney, she seems to challenge herself artistically more than the other two. Imagine an entire record of Mariah Carey's that had the artistic merit of "Hero"! I guess that is why Madonna was so interesting for nearly two decades. She wanted to be both an entertainer and an artist and she succeeded to a certain extent (“Oh, Father” could have easily been a John Lennon song). I think now she is struggling to be a viable force in the world of pop music and I don't think she is winning.

Finally, musicians get better as they get older. Some five years or so ago, I and a buddy of mine had the opportunity to see John Lee Hooker and Ike Turner perform at the Carpenter Music Hall at Long Beach State (proud alumni - class of 1988 - Go Dirtbags!).

Although Mr. Hooker had to sit during his performance and it was obvious he was not in good health (I think he passed within a year of this show), but when he started keeping time with his foot and began strumming his guitar, the magic that keeps all musicians eternally young swept over him and damned if he did not wow the audience. What a privilege it was to see him live.

Ike Turner amazed me with both his guitar playing and his blues voice. I had only really known him for his R&B music with Tina Turner, but his blues performance was a pleasant surprise. The man still has the "It" factor. He also gave a command performance that evening.

One final thought, the Grammy big all-star jam that featured Sly Stone was odd as he walked off stage in the middle of the performance. They should just leave the poor man alone as it is obvious, or should be, that he does not want to be a performer any longer.

Friday, February 10, 2006

When Crass Is Not Called For


In Ms. Brooks op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, "When Crass is called for" (see above link), she reiterates President Bush's words that "even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone." I'm wondering when it became okay to have such debates during a memorial service.

She also asks "How can it be inappropriate to allude to the terrible costs of the war in Iraq, the misinformation that led to that war, the neglect of this nation's poor or this administration's illegal secret surveillance?"

My simple answer would be that denigrating the President of the United States who came to pay his final respects to a great American humanitarian, Coretta Scott King, during her memorial service is inappropriate.

And how did the choice between a civil tone or civil rights enter into this picture? Surely Ms. Brooks would agree that the late Coretta Scott King would have appreciated a civil tone at her own funeral.

A final question must be asked regarding liberal leaders in America today, a question that is quite familiar to them as they tend to flout it whenever invoking charges of "McCarthy-ism", seemingly at the drop of a coin. It is the question asked by the Secretary of the Army, Robert T. Stevens, in 1953, to Senator Joe McCarthy: "You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

They Just Don't Get It

The nominees for the Academy Awards were announced yesterday and Hollywood is unabashedly and enthusiastically coming out of a closet that the rest of the country had already surmised: "We are a counter-culture residing far left outside of mainstream America. Our nominations reveal how far we have progressed and lets us show the rest of America how uncouth you really are."

The nominees for Best Picture are: "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "Crash," "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Munich."

Let's see, two of the nominated movies are centered around homosexual characters, one is a rant against the so-called "McCarthyism" myth (See: http://www.townhall.com/opinion/columns/anncoulter/2003/06/26/160804.html), one is an apologist for Islamic terrorism, and another depicts, to the nth degree, race-baiting politicking.

While these are movies that tell their stories very well using characters that possess depth and real emotions (with the notable exception of "Crash"), are they really the best five movies made in 2005?

"Hollywood [has returned] to its role of cultural arbiter," said Vance Van Petten, executive director of the Producers Guild of America. "For every person in Missouri or Georgia who sees 'Brokeback' or 'Crash,' eyes will be opened." There you have it, Hollywood's purpose in film making is to be the cultural arbiter of America. If one wants to make a film to entertain audiences, that's fine, according to the cultural arbiters, just don't expect to be recognized by the Academy.

To make sure their assault on mainstream America was heard, Hollywood nominated "Crash", a convoluted, poorly acted (Everyone is so angry!), manipulative race baiting, overwrought movie. This nomination was a message to President Bush and the Red State electorate sent by Hollywood to put the redneck hicks in their place. A chance for the left-wing elitists to pointedly pronounce themselves as having the moral high ground.

Writer Jeffrey Caine sees the nominated films more as mirrors. "It reflects what has happened in the world since 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, the uneasiness America feels about its place in the world," said Caine, nominated for best-adapted screenplay for "The Constant Gardener," another highly political film. "People are drawn to movies that say something.” Yet, the five nominated movies had the lowest collective box office since the best picture nominees of 1986 at $186 million. (Los Angeles Times)

Thus, with that philosophy as their platform, Hollywood shunned more popular fare that reinforced mainstream American values such as "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" or "Cinderella Man," well-made movies that clearly pit good versus evil and ethics over corruption. Simple, virtuous themes that resonated with movie audiences. I would not have a problem with four of the five movies (Crash being the notable exception under any circumstance) that were nominated for Best Picture if I felt the Academy itself thought they were the best movies made in 2005. Alas, I fear they were nominated more for the statements they were making rather than the artistic merit of the films. Of the five, only Brokeback Mountain is a genuine artistic achievement, thus worthy of its nomination.

So I say: Great! Fantastic! And good for you, Hollywood! Yes, the self-indulgent nominated movies you have made may be good, thought provoking cinema and all are certainly high on the liberal elite checklist, but I, and many other potential mainstream American viewers, will most likely not tune into your little gala affair called The Oscars this year. However, I'm also quite sure you won't mind either, after all, it is about you - the Hollywood Liberal Elite - and you will all be patting each other on the back for jobs well done in elevating the awareness of your sophisticated values, oblivious to the crumbling walls of Elitism falling all around you.

"Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room, the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo."

(from the The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot)