Tag Archives: music

High Fidelity

Apple announced recently that Apple Music will now have an option for even higher fidelity music files. This did little to stir my blood. I realized long ago that the limits of my own video and audio perception are much lower than those technology is producing. This makes things like ultra-high definition and “spacial” and “lossless” audio diminishing returns from my perspective.

In a way, this is strange. My dad has much higher fidelity audio and video perception than I do, for instance. I remember when laser discs first came out and he obtained The Hunt for Red October. He had surround sound setup in the house and he danced something of a jig of excitement when the opening music played. Even much earlier, I remember a Buick he had sometime around 1980 or so that had a stereo system in the car. Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” came on the radio during Casey Kasem’s Top 40 Countdown, and I can remember my day squealing with delight, “The bells! Listen to the bells!”

You would think such perception was inheritable, but if so, it was a recessive gene on both sides and I didn’t inherit it. I’ll admit that the first time I saw high-definition television, I noticed a difference in picture quality. It was a Mets baseball game (don’t ask) and I felt as if I could see the individual blades of grass on the infield. That impressed me. But when it came to movies and TV shows, I never notice the high-definition quality. It’s the story that interests me, and if the story grabs me, everything else including video and sound quality, goes by unnoticed.

It is even worse with music. Whether I listen to music on my AirPods or my Bose headset, the music sounds the same to me. Sure, I’ll notice a difference if I hear an old recording of a Bing Crosby song, say a 1931 rendition of “Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day.” There, I can make out the whisper of a needle or the static of the recording. Actually, I think the sounds adds charm to the piece. But give me different qualities of music files and I can’t really tell the difference. It is too subtle for my senses.

Fortunately, this isn’t a problem when it comes to books. Sure, there are font differences on pages, which can make the page of one book differ from another. Indeed, that paperback and hardback editions have a different page numbering scheme can be confusing is true, but one version of the book does not “read” differently from another version of the same book just because of that. The story isn’t any different.

I’m happy for everyone who will benefit from spacial and lossless music, but I doubt I will be among them. I’m also a little bemused by the term “lossless” music. I know that it is a corollary of lossless compression, or lossless image files, but when I think of lossless music, I think of music that can never be lost. And frankly, I can think of at least some music worth losing.

It Used to Be A Fun House

All the girls in the family have been watching a lot of Pink videos and singing Pink songs lately. This has been my introduction to Pink, whose songs I’d never heard before mainly because I listened to other stuff. I knew there was a performer called Pink, of course, but that was about the limit of my knowledge.

One of the songs they sing and listen to has been stuck in my head for a few weeks now. The name of the song is “Fun House” and it has one of the most disturbing and incongruous lyrics I’ve ever come across:

It used to be a fun house /
But now it’s full of evil clowns

“Why,” I have asked my kids repeatedly over the last few weeks, “does the house have to be full of evil clowns?” Everyone knows that clowns themselves are bad enough but evil clowns raise the specter of movies like Poltergeist and novels like It.

My girls think my reaction to the song is amusing. Several times a day I will walk up to them randomly and repeat the lyric as though I am pondering how such a think could be. “It used to be a fun house,” I’ll say solemnly, “but not it’s full of evil clowns.” At this point, my youngest (nearly 5 years old) will remind me that, “I’m gonna burn it down, down, down.”

I’ve given this a lot of thought–too much, perhaps. The line would make much more sense if it used to be a fun house, but now it is an evil house. For one thing, there is a nice parallelism to that. For another, it is a natural rhyme, rather than the slant rhyme created between house and clown. The girls just give me strange looks.

I’ve offered them alternatives to evil clowns, equally incongruous, but less freaky than evil clowns. For instance:

It used to be a fun house, but now it’s full of evening gowns.

which scans perfectly and is worthy of a Weird Al level parody. But if I sing that lyric, the girls become irritated and say, “Nooooo, Daaaaad, it’s evil clowns!

It used to be a farmhouse, but now it’s full of L. Frank Baum.

They just stared at me.

I think we’re stuck with evil clowns at this point, but I don’t have to like it. Still, I can’t seem to get the song out of my head. They made it worse for me yesterday by insisting I watch the video, complete with evil clowns with glowing eyes.

I want to make it clear to everyone that I have nothing against evil clowns. Some of my best friends are evil clowns. My problem is entirely with incongruous lyrics. Why “evil clowns”? Why no, “wedding gowns” or “awkward nouns”? The mystery of it has me spiraling in an infinite loop that my daughters find particularly delightful.

Post-Pandemic Party Playlist

I’m not what you’d call a particularly social butterfly. I have no trouble in a crowd and often have fun. But I also have days when I don’t feel social. Lately, I’ve been daydreaming of a post-Pandemic party. We have this huge deck which we haven’t really taken advantage of, as far as parties go, thanks to everyone being isolated for the last year.

A few days ago, I began to put together what I call a “Post-Pandemic Party Playlist.” Just a bunch of fun songs that I imagine playing in the background while we have a bunch of friends over, the grill fired up, a cooler full of drinks on the deck, and food scattered about the house. I imagine some people downstairs playing pool or ping pong in the family room. The kids might be in the game room playing Xbox with their friends. The grownups are all out on the deck, or hovering around the food in the kitchen.

Normally, I find these kinds of parties to be fun, but I’m an early bird, and am ready to wind things down by 7 or 8 pm. But in my imagination recently, I picture these parties going on well into the night. I picture a lot of joking and laughing. I imagine a kind of release and relief. No one is talking about the Pandemic. For a few hours, we all pretend it never happened and just enjoy the fact that we can be out with friends, having a good time again.

Kelly and I are both scheduled to get our second dose of the COVID vaccine later this week. Maybe such a party isn’t too far-fetched sometime in the not-too-distant future. We have a Karaoke machine. I think we’ll have to include that in the party as well.

Oh, and if anyone is wondering what’s on my playlist. Here it is. I listened to it a couple of times today while spending most of the day writing code (yes, working on a Saturday). It made the time go by quickly.

  1. Thunderstruck by AC/DC
  2. Strip Adam Ant
  3. Love in an Elevator by Aerosmith
  4. Lonely People by America
  5. Blame It on the Bossa Nova by Annette Funicello
  6. Love Shack by the B-52’s
  7. I Want to Conquer the World by Bad Religion
  8. Fun, Fun, Fun by The Beach Boys
  9. Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles
  10. Shelter from the Storm by Bob Dylan
  11. Wild in the Streets by Bon Jovi
  12. Let the Day Begin by The Call
  13. Tubthumping by Chumbawamba
  14. Viva la Vida by Coldplay
  15. Tessie by Dropkick Murphys
  16. Pump It Up by Elvis Costello
  17. Vacation by The Go-Go’s
  18. There’s a Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon for New York by Louis Armstrong
  19. Be Good Johnny by Men at Work
  20. Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond
  21. Feelin’ Love by Paula Cole
  22. Goodbye-Goodbye by Oingo Boingo
  23. In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel
  24. Supernatural Superserious by R.E.M.
  25. I Love L.A. by Randy Newman
  26. Freewill by Rush
  27. On the Loose by Saga
  28. Come on Eileen (cover) by Save Ferris
  29. Spam by Save Ferris
  30. Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty
  31. Jump by Van Halen

I imagine this list will continue to grow until this imagined party actually takes place. Listening to it gives me hope that this party will eventually happen.

R.E.M. and College Years

Someone mentioned that we recently passed the 30 year anniversary of the release of R.E.M.’s Out of Time album. That was a watershed album for me. Indeed, R.E.M. turned out to be the soundtrack of my college years, and the years immediately after.

I knew of R.E.M. before college. In high school, during the Los Angeles Unified School District teacher’s strike of 1989, R.E.M.’s “Stand” was a kind of anthem of the silliness of that two week period when we didn’t have to go to school. But it was in college that I really come to know and appreciate R.E.M.

Prior to college my tastes in music were fairly vanilla. It was my friend Dan, who I met my very first day at U.C. Riverside, who beat a good sense of musical taste into me over a period of four years. Dan introduced me to Elvis Costello and Bad Religion and Black Flag and the Dead Kennedy’s and the Velvet Underground. For that alone I’ll forgive him his The Cure and Morrisey. But Dan also showed me that R.E.M. had albums, and quite a few of them even before Green. And they were great albums.

Out of Time came out on March 12, 1991, and I’m pretty sure the first time I heard it was when Dan played it for me during that spring of our freshman year. If I listen to that album today, I am back in the old Aberbeen-Inverness dorm. I can smell the carpets, and hear the music playing while I studied for a general chemistry test.

A year and a half later, just after the beginning of my junior year, R.E.M. came out with Automatic for the People (“Automatic for the people automatic for the people automatic,” I can hear Dan chanting) which is my favorite of all of R.E.M.’s albums. I had spend the summer working in the dorm cafeteria and wondering if it was possible to turn my mediocre grades (up to that point) into good grades. Automatic for the People was the anthem of that turnaround. I was listening to that album while studying for a political science test on European politics with my friend Shannon. That was the first test I can ever recall not sweating at all. I was prepared. I got a perfect score on it. While I sat in the lecture hall taking the test, I could hear “Try Not to Breathe”, and “Nightswimming,” and “Everybody Hurts” playing in my head.

Three months after I graduated (and started a job with a company that I remain with coming up on 27 years later), R.E.M. came out with their Monster album. We got tickets to see them in concert for that album. It was only the third concert I’d ever been to and it was fantastic. Four years later, in the midst of the crazy dot com boom, I got to see R.E.M. again, this time at the Greek Theater in L.A. as part of their Up tour. We had seats much closer to the stage and once again, it was a great show.

R.E.M. has such an eclectic variety of music. I love songs like “Perfect Circle” (Murmur) and “Camera” (Reckoning). My kids know and love songs like “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (Document) and “Superman” (Life’s Rich Pageant). I laugh and sing along with Michael Stipe’s drunken version of “King of the Road” (Dead Letter Office). And I try (usually unsuccessfully) to hit the high notes in “Tongue” (Monster).

As you might imagine, I listened to some R.E.M. while writing this post. I think I’ll listen to some more when I catch up on a week’s worth of work email this morning. And maybe I’ll throw in some Elvis Costello for yucks.

The Curse of Instantaneous Gratification

In yesterday’s Washington Post, I read the obituary of Junior Mance, a jazz pianist who died on January 17 at the age of 92. I’d never heard of Mance, but his obituary was interesting (as obituaries often are) and it occurred to me that I could sample some of his music. I searched for Junior Mance on Apple Music, found a collection of his work, and spent the morning listening to, and really enjoying his music.

This isn’t the first time an obituary has turned me on to something interesting. I’ve discovered and read books because of obituaries and gone down many a Google rabbit hole because of obituaries.

Something occurred to me later in the day when I was thinking about Mance’s music and how much I enjoyed it. Suppose it was 1977 instead of 2021 when I read this obituary and suppose Mance lived out his 92 years and was a jazz musician for seven decades, as I learned he was. Reading the obit, and the descriptions of Mance’s music made me wonder at what his music might be like, then seek it out to hear for myself. It was a cold, gloomy, and damp all day long, and with ice clinging to the cars throughout the day. Would I, on a similar day in 1977, trudge out in the cold, icy rain, to a nearby record store in the hopes of finding one of his records so that I could bring it home and listen to it?

Media of all kinds is so ubiquitously today, available at a click, that I sometimes forget things weren’t always this way. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is convenient and enlightening to read about a musician and be able to hear what you were reading about seconds later. I take it for granted that when I come across an interesting book in the New York Times Review of Books that I can have said book in my hands in mere seconds. To this end, my patience for delay, is extremely limited. In 1977 I don’t think this would be the case. I would likely have scratched down Junior Mance’s name in a notebook, on a list somewhere, so that I could investigate further at some later date. I would have thought nothing of the delay because it wasn’t really a delay the way I think of it today. A passage I read in another article yesterday, “Making the Nation” by Glenn Adamson in Smithsonian summarizes this well:

Yes, we seem to live our lives on permanent fast forward these days, with boundless opportunities for immediate gratification and distraction. Information and resources are more accessible than ever before.

Then there’s the curse of instantaneous gratification: how it can interrupt the flow of a narrative. If I am watching a movie and am curious about an actor, I will pull out my phone and look them up. I will either pause the movie or stop paying attention while doing my search. Either way, I break the spell of the narrative. This happens when reading a book, or article. Often something I read leads to me look up more while I’m still reading about it. I pause reading to do this and break the flow of that narrative. This happens during conversation, when debating a point. Someone (sometimes me) inevitably pulls out a phone to Google the point in question. The flow of the conversation is thus disturbed.

The result is that I virtually never make it through a movie, TV show, chapter, or article without some kind of interruption. My need-to-know, and to know now (because I can) overrides my desire for that uninterrupted flow of the narrative. I wish it wasn’t this way, and part of me wishes that I could unlearn this behavior and go back to a less interrupt-driven lifestyle.

There is a tenuous balance that slightly favors my ability to get information quickly, and the Junior Mance obituary illustrates why. If I did not have instant access to Mance’s music, I probably wouldn’t have pursued it, and I would have missed out on something special. Interruptions, and the breaks in the narrative flow they cause is the curse of instantaneous gratification. 

A Warm January Day

The weather cooperated with us this year. More often than not, when we leave for Florida in December, the weather here is cold and nasty. By the time we cross the St. Mary’s River from George in to Florida, the skies are clear, and the temperatures are warm. I open the windows to soak it in. The reserve is usually true on the way home. We leave Florida’s sunny, warm January weather and arrive home in sleet and cold.

This time was different. We did, indeed, leave Florida with blue skies and warm weather. But we arrived home with almost equally warm weather. It was 72 degrees here in Arlington, Virginia yesterday!

Our house backs up to the local park, and when I took a walk through the park yesterday afternoon, it was flooded with people; more people than I think I have ever seen at one time. Each of them had dragged out their New Year’s Resolutions and were making their way around the park, walking, jogging, biking, skating. Dogs owners obediently followed their charges. My ducks were out in enjoying the warm air. Squirrels were everywhere. I saw one petrified squirrel trapped in the middle of a playground full of children. It ran one way, and halted, its path blocked by a toddler. It ran another way and found another toddler blocking its way. It hid under a slide, until identifying a clear path and making its way to a tree.

According to this morning’s paper, yesterday’s warm weather did not set a record for this day in January. The record was 75 F and we only reached San Diego weather of 72 F. Still, for us thick-blooded Mid-Atlantians, it felt like an early summer day.

It was so warm that Nature was fooled, and I saw buds in the trees.

Buds in the trees in January.

It rained overnight. I woke up around 2 am and it sounded like an ocean crashing down on our roof. But when the sun came up, the sky was clear and blue and the temperatures were still in the mid-60s. It made for a pleasant morning walk.

We spent 3 weeks in Florida between December and January. We swam in pools, in the Gulf and in the Atlantic. It sort of spoils you for the cold weather when you spend that much time in winter in warm weather. So it was nice to come back to weather that helps to ease the transition.

It will cool off over the next few days, but it will by no means be cold. 56 F tomorrow, 53 on Tuesday, 60 on Wednesday, 54 on Thursday. Next weekend it looks like it will return to normal around here.

When I lived in New England as a kid, I remember an occasional warm period during winter and it was always a treat. I’m grateful that the Internet didn’t exist back then, and that HBO (in its very early days) played Star Wars over and over again. I’d seen it 20 times. It meant that when the weather was unseasonably warm, we were outdoor, playing in the woods, or in the frames of the unfinished houses being built in our neighborhood. Only reluctantly would we return indoors, drowning our sorrows in MTV videos of Duran Duran’s “Rio”, Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey,” and the Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

I shudder to think that was nearly 40 years ago.

Stalking the Music

Now and then, I see one of those memes asking parents to name something from their youth that their kids wouldn’t recognize or understand. There are plenty of obvious answers to this, but one occurred to me recently as I listened to my kids ask Alexa to play various songs for them (many of them from the Descendants franchise).

The ability to ask for and instantly hear any of several million songs is something that I couldn’t do at my kids’ age. Indeed, to listen to music, I listened (mostly) to the radio. If there was a song that I really liked, waiting and waiting, hoping with each fade out that the next song (after the inevitable commercial break) would be the one that I was waiting for was my only real tool. I can remember daydreaming about the ability to listen to any song I wanted to, any time. The closest I came, as a kid, was by stalking the music like some game hunter sitting patiently in a blind, finger poised over the trigger of the “record” button on the radio/tape player I had, waiting for the desired song to play.

Even that was imperfect. Often, I was surprised and caught off-guard, and I’d cut off the first few bars of the song. Or, the D.J. would jabber into the first part of the song and so the recording would be corrupted by his banter. Even when I did manage to catch the song perfectly, it was often buried in the middle of a tape, and I’d have to hunt around for minutes trying to find it. So much better was record album in which I could simply drop a needle in the appropriate groove.

Now, none of that matters. It is not even quaint; it is an extinct activity. If I want to hear a song, I have only to ask for it to be played. I get a perfect digital version, far better quality that what the radio played, or what I managed to capture on tape. To my kids, the thought of stalking the music is inconceivable.

And yet, there is something of a letdown to the ability to hear a song whenever you want. Perhaps it is the spontaneity of the radio, or eager anticipation, but asking Alexa (or Siri) to play a song for me diminishes the experience in some small, intangible way. The exceptions prove the rule. Occasionally, there is a song that is not available from Apple Music, and when that happens, it seems, my need to hear the songs grows desperate. It is a rare throwback to the days I spent stalking the music with a radio and tape player.

My first music video

The Little Man has been very much into watching Elmo videos on YouTube, as well as videos of things like Wheels on the Bus and after about 100 times, they can drive you absolutely nuts. So the other evening while Kelly was out at her girls night, I did a quick search for what I seem to recall was my first  ever music video. I had no idea who sang the song, but I seem to remember it was part of Sesame Street when I was growing up. About all I could say was that the name of the song that accompanied the video was probably “I’m a Train”. Well, I searched YouTube and found the song and video on the second hit. It is by Albert Hammond and it is just about exactly as I remember it. And you know what: the Little Man liked it too. Here it is:

The Little Man’s first rock song

I have recently discovered a great way to entertain the little Z-man. In the early evening, when he’s getting ready to start climbing the walls, we go out to the new Kia. I put the Z-man in the drivers seat, I climb into the passenger seat. We put on the radio and we just hang out. He pretends to drive (he can barely reach the steering wheel). He stands on the seat and turns on various lights. He has also discovered the radio volume. We have Sirius satellite radio in the car and I generally have it tuned to the 80s on 8 station. Z-man has discovered he can crank up the volume by turning the dial on the radio, or but pushing the switch on the steering wheel. As soon as the volume goes up, he starts his bouncing dance.

So we were out there yesterday evening, and The Police’s farce on simple songs, “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” came on the radio. I turned to the Z-man and said, “Buddy, I’m going to teach you the words to your first rock song.”

He gave me a confused look, but when the chorus came, I sung the lines, enunciating carefully, “De Do Do Do, De Da Da da, is all I want to say to you.”

It took two tries and for the rest of the song, the little fellow would shout out “Do-Do-Do, Da-Da-Daddy!” each time the chorus came on. It was great, hysterical, we were both laughing, and were having a blast.

Once each hour, 80s on 8 plays a “lost-80s hit”. The very next song was that hour’s lost hit and it turned out to be Quiet Riot’s “Bang Your Head”.

quiet riot.jpeg

I didn’t teach him the lyrics on that one. They’re a little too complex for him still. Instead, I taught him what the chorus meant. We cranked up the volume and on the first chorus, when they sing “Bang Your Head!”, I started a metal head-bang. “Like this, Buddy,” I said.

And would you believe the Z-man imitated me perfectly, banging his head up and down right in time with me.

What a fun time we had! For the rest of the evening, when he saw me, he’d say, “Daddy: Do Do Do!” You gotta love it.

She’s Like the Wind

I’m listening to my "autobiography" playlist this morning, and Patrick Swayze’s song, "She’s Like the Wind" came on.  It was a little more poignant, knowing he’s dead now.  Now, some people may wonder why this song would be on the play list in the first place.  First, let me state here (as I have stated elsewhere) that the songs on the list are not necessarily songs I like or would choose–but they are songs that for some reason, cling to my memory and remind me of a certain time or place or event.

In the case of this song, it is definitely an event.  You ever know you were right about something only to have people insist that you were wrong?  Well!

I won’t use names, in order to protect the guilty, but they know who they are.  Back in my senior year in high school, I’d heard the song "She’s Like the Wind" and I also heard that it was performed by Patrick Swayze, which surprised me.  I didn’t think much of the song, other than the fact that Swayze sang it.  I mentioned this fact to some friends, and those friends proceeded to deny the fact.  No way, they said.  Patrick Swayze does not sing the song.  You’repulling my leg, etc., etc.  Nothing I could do would convince them of this plain truth.  (This was 1989, remember, before iPhones, Google, and the Internets.)

Well, one day, driving into work, the song came on the radio.  I insisted we listen to it and once again insisted it was Patrick Swayze.  Can’t be, they said.  I was foaming at the mouth, my face was blue, I was becoming apoplectic.

And just then, the song ended, and I will never forget the delight with which I listened to the DJ say, "That was ‘She’s Like the Wind’ by Patrick Swayze."

For some reason, neither of these two rascals said another word for the entire drive into work.

Life on Mars

I’ve been enjoying Life on Mars on ABC.  I may have mentioned somewhere that I was puzzled by a few things–like why Sam doesn’t "prove" he’s from the future by making a specific prediction.  But it seems that, for now, the writers are avoiding the issue.  Nevertheless, I enjoy the show.  One thing I really like about the show is the music.  Unlike most shows these days, Life on Mars is not making use of the latest hits by Dido or The Fray (or any other CW-like music).  Instead, because the events take place in 1973, they are using some good classic rock from that time period.  In other words, the music has been great!

I’ve been working on putting together a playlist of the songs that they’ve used so far.  Here’s my list:

  • Everything I Own (Bread)
  • Reeling in the Years (Steely Dan)
  • Life on Mars (David Bowie)
  • Spaceman (Harry Nilsson)
  • Sweet Lucy (The Propositions)
  • We’re an American Band (Grand Funk Railroad)
  • Going to Make a Time Machine (The Majestic Arrows)
  • Tuesday’s Dead (Cat Stevens)
  • Wild in the Streets (Garland Jefferys)
  • I’m Gonna Keep on Loving You (Kool Blues)
  • He Keeps You (Boscoe)
  • Anywhere In Glory (The Mighty Indiana Travelers)
  • Everybody is a Star (Sly & the Family Stone)
  • Black and White (Three Dog Night)
  • Mother and Child Reunion (Paul Simon)
  • Rock and Roll (The Velvet Underground)
  • Bang a Gong (T. Rex)
  • Lucky Lady (Jones Brothers)
  • 20th Century Man (The Kinks)
  • Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress (The Hollies)
  • Long Promised Road (Beach Boys)
  • Sweet Cherry Wine (Tommy James and the Shondells)
  • I’m Chief Kamanawanalea (The Turtles)
  • Just a Little Lovin’ (Dusty Springfield) 
  • Reflections of My Life (Marmalade)
  • All the Way to Memphis (Mott the Hoopie)
  • Get Down (Gilbert O’Sullivan)
  • I am a Rock (Simon and Garfunkel)
  • Ground Zero (Chris Cornell)
  • Signs (Five Man Electric Band)
  • Baba O’Reily (The Who)
  • Little Willy (The Sweet)
  • Out of Time (The Rolling Stones)

There you have it.  Now isn’t that a cool play list?

Death Magnetic

I just finished listening to Metallica’s new album, Death Magnetic (thanks to strausmouse  to pointing it out to me), and I have to say that I was rather pleased with it.  It’s no Master of Puppets, but it’s the best thing to come from Metallica since the Black Album (way back in 1991).  It definitely has the old Metallica sound to it, and some of their old energy as well.  I think I need to listen to it a few more times to form a more solid opinion, but I was nervous going in, and I feel good about the album having listened to it once.