May 2011

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This is a surprisingly sad occasion. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that there were a couple of songs that I had been thinking about. One of those was a track off of Gil Scott-Heron’s 2010 album I’m New Here. I didn’t post it at the time because, in all honestly, I had misplaced the CD, and figured I’d post it when I came across it, which I recently did. I was happy, because it was something I had been wanting to share.

So imagine my surprise, when I went to post, and discovered that Gil Scott-Heron died yesterday.

I’m not quite sure what to say. For me Gil Scott-Heron is a figure who seems to stand outside of time and the flow of popular music. He isn’t somebody about whom I could ever say that I followed his career, or even that I had a sense of the arc of career or life. I heard “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” when I was young enough that it wasn’t surprising to hear something new that didn’t sound like anything else. At the time I didn’t like the other songs of his I heard, which lacked the hooks of, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” but eventually I listened to this compilation extensively and came to appreciate how consistantly strong his work was, through a variety of moods and styles. “Small Talk at 125 at Lennox” is still a track that I’ll use as a stereo test track; it’s a surprisingly beautiful sound recording. Even as I got to know some of his work it felt both powerful, beautiful, and somehow remote in the sense that it never seemed to be in dialogue with other recordings. His influence is obvious, well-known, and immense, and his influences are also apparent but the power of his performances feels neither in debt to anybody else, nor transferable.

This New Yorker profile from last summer describes many of the difficulties in life and the respect that people had for him, and is very sad to read following the news of his death.

The song that had recently caught my ear was the title track, “I’m New Here” because I watched the video and was struck by how strongly it rooted the song in an idea of New York City (and how charismatic Gil Scott-Heron’s performance is). It evokes the folklore of the city and suggests that, only in New York, could Gil Scott-Heron, legend, live, be troubled, inspired, lonely, and be just one person in the crowd. If Gil Scott-Heron is somebody who obviously carried his own history with him the video suggests that New York contains so much history, and so many people, that he could still be “new here, once again.”

At the time I saw the video I thought it was a beautiful tribute to the folklore and idea of the urban center, and life affirming. At the moment I see the sadness in it as well. But I think it is, ultimately positive. From the New Yorker article:

“I’m New Here” is a reverent and intimate record, almost more field work than entertainment—a collage partly sung and partly talked, and made largely from fragments of Scott-Heron’s poetry, handled here in a voguish manner. It presents a notional version of Scott-Heron, which is Scott-Heron as hip-hop practitioner.

Scott-Heron recorded the songs and his poems, and Russell added the hip-hop tracks that accompany them. “This is Richard’s CD,” Scott-Heron says. “My only knowledge when I got to the studio was how he seemed to have wanted this for a long time. You’re in a position to have somebody do something that they really want to do, and it was not something that would hurt me or damage me—why not? All the dreams you show up in are not your own.”

“I’m New Here” is twenty-eight minutes long and has fifteen tracks, four of which are songs, one of which Scott-Heron wrote. Russell left the microphone on between takes and during discussions, and so he collected asides and observations, which he presents as interludes.

Writing the previous post I was thinking that “nonsense” might be a better word than “silly” to describe “Bahamut” and that got me thinking about It’s Saturday, my favorite King Missile song.

I first heard the song on a mix from a friend and it immediately stood out as one of the more fun tracks on there. It’s clever, surprising, and just barely manages to not be too precious. Compared to other good King Missile tracks like, “(I’m a) Sensitive Artist“, “Take Stuff From Work“, or “Cheesecake Truck” all of which are funny and memorable, “It’s Saturday” has more than one idea that nicely catches one’s attention.

It’s a sign of how well constructed it is that it can move from the familiar joke, “I want to be different, like everybody else I want to be like” to the entertainingly over-educated elaboration, “I want to call into question the very idea that identity can be attached” to the final lines, “Whatever happened to protesting nothing in particular, / just protesting cause it’s Saturday and there’s nothing else to do?” and feel like a natural progression. The individual lines may be too-clever-by-half (which is no criticism, in this case) but the song as a whole feel reflective and sincere in some way.

In appreciation to the Modesto Kid, here’s a song that I think he’ll like . . .

I have recently had the experience with a couple of songs of watching a video for the song on youtube, and having it crystallize for me some quality about the song that I liked. In both cases I am not sure that I would have appreciated the youtube video as much without having first heard the song on CD, but this definitely goes in the file tracking my coming to appreciate youtube as a resource for music.

First off is Bahamut by Hazmat Modine and the video is of them performing live on Russian TV.

I’d been directed to Hazmat Modine by RS, and have found that it’s been a nice CD to listen to at work. It strikes a nice balance between being energetic without being too pushy or fatiguing. I think part of what makes it less fatiguing is the fact that it’s all acoustic, and that it has a more natural dynamic range (though it manages to not have a dynamic range so big that the loud parts are distractingly loud). It’s surprisingly nice to have the option of something that’s very easy to listen to that doesn’t have synthesized sounds or an everpresent electic guitar.

So I’ve listened to it several times without making any effort to follow the songs or the lyrics, but just enjoying the mood. The video makes it easier to both hear the meaning of the words and to appreciate the silliness of the song. The top comment on the video is somebody saying, “My son is three and ‘Bahamut’ is his favorite song in the whole world.” You can understand why a three year old would love the song. In the live version the chorus

And Bohemoth sings us his song
While Bahamut wanders along
But in the glory of this spring
You can hear Bahamut sing

Are you as big as me?
Way too big to see
Bahamut he goes so slow
Too big a place to go

Is delightfully fun. It isn’t just silly it’s exultantly silly. It’s exactly what three year olds should be falling in love with; something which isn’t dumbed down, but also doesn’t require any analysis or thought.

Thanks to The Modesto Kid for letting me know that somebody was posting about pet seat covers on the blog.

(Lesson #1, I should put my own blog in my RSS feed. I get e-mails when people comment but not, apparently, for new posts.)

It appears that somehow the WordPress setting was changed so that new users were defaulting to administrators. So the spam-bots created user accounts and then had full access to the site.

They didn’t change my password, thankfully, so I deleted the new accounts (along with the posts) and changed the setting so that new users won’t be admins.

If anybody knows if there is something more that I should do, let me know in comments, but it looks like it’s relatively easy to clean-up. I’m just not sure what the hack was to update the WordPress setting, so I don’t know where the security hole is.

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