Death of a Legend: A Tin Tear Drop

Let me start by saying that I really hate writing these pieces. I hate to post a blog that starts with the title “Death of a Legend,” because it means that my day is probably ruined with the sad news of the death of one of my heroes. Today, it means just that.

On December 17th, the man known as Captain Beefheart lost his long struggle with multiple sclerosis. Best known for his albums Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), Safe as Milk, and my personal favorite Trout Mask Replica, Beefheart gained notoriety for being verbally and physically abusive to his band mates. In 1982, he claimed to have become “too good at the horn,” abandoned music, became a recluse, and painted for the rest of his days. Those who knew him personally claim that he was a selfish, abusive, terrible man who took credit for the hard work that he bullied his band mates into doing.

So, why should we celebrate his life?

Only in the '60s.

Well, I’m not one to say that the ends justify the means, because that is simply not true. However, regardless of his methods, the Captain was able to harness lots of great and interesting music from those around him. He presented strange new ideas with every album. His music and artwork are something strange for everyone to enjoy, so I present you with little video. The image is just a still of Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, and the audio is the track “Ant Man Bee,” a great example of Captain Beefheart’s early works.

“I was able to turn myself inside out, and that’s all I wanted to do.”
– Captain Beefheart

Gently Pull the Strings

I wrote this review of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra for The Columns (Fairmont State’s student-run newspaper.) I figured I owed something to my vast legions of readers.

This is the ‘official director’s cut’ of the story that can be found in the November issue of The Columns.

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Fairmont State students and Fairmont citizens alike are privileged with a great opportunity every fall when the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra comes to campus. This time, the yearly event took place on Thursday, October 14 at 7:30 pm and was held in the usual spot, Colebank Gymnasium. Conductor Grant Cooper and his merry myriad of music makers were in great spirits as always and were appended by Ukrainian-born solo pianist Valentina Lisitsa. However, she only joined with the orchestra for one of the two pieces on the bill for the evening.

After President Krepel gave a warm welcome for the even and made a rousing speech about supporting the arts, Cooper took his place on the bandstand and brought the opening of the first piece, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 (which Ludwig himself nicknamed the “Pastoral Symphony”). I heard someone near me make the statement that this is the only Beethoven piece used in the Disney film “Fantasia”, which is true. With visions of cupids, fauns, and controversial naked centaurs in mind, the audience prepared themselves for what might be the most boring of Beethoven’s nine symphonies.

The symphony is programmatic, which means that it is based on an actual storyline. This one is about how Beethoven liked to walk through the forests outside of Vienna when we was a younger man, so we can expect quite a few of nature’s sounds disguised as musical ideas. The first movement, Awakening of cheerful feelings on arriving in the country, contains long sections of repeated eight-note motifs, most likely signifying varying types of bird flitting around the treetops of Vienna’s most beautiful forests. The second movement brings multitudes of lacy trills in the flutes, piccolos and violins, showing the delicate babbling of the movement’s namesake brook. The last three movements come in one large chunk, first with a dance of happy country which is then rained on by what may be the most terrify thunderstorm of the classical period. Finally, a song from the shepherds to show their ‘cheerful and thankful feelings following the storm.’

English composer Antony Hopkins has been quoted as having said that the coda of the fifth movement is “arguably the finest music of the whole symphony.” Honestly, compared to the rest of the symphony, the coda just a little reassurance that end is in sight. Of course, being that Beethoven is somewhat of a king of long codas, we were treated to one of his longest before the final cadence rang, and with those final chords, the (amazingly boring) first half of the concert was gone.

Now, while it is very hard for me to speech so disrespectfully of Beethoven’s tremendous symphony, it is much easier to sing the praises of the brave men and women who played it. All 77 musicians were in top form for the daunting task of the evening. Each one rose to the challenge of playing some of the most revered music that has ever been written, including what may be the shortest piccolo solo in all of Beethoven’s musical works. Conductor Grant Cooper showed Fairmont his signature brand of conducting, one that is fluid, animated, and expressive. With his expansive arm gestures and facial contortions, Cooper does more than play the part of the metronome. He throws out the idea of being a tin wind-up robot and becomes a larger-than-life spectacle that is a pleasure to watch. All in all, it was a performance that would make Alex DeLarge extremely proud.

After the brief intermission, the audience was introduced to the guest soloist for the evening. Valentina Lisitsa took her seat on the bench of the grand piano and prepared herself for half an hour of virtuosic playing. Sergei Prokofiev was a piano virtuoso himself, and his skill lives on in his Concerto for Piano No. 3 in C major, Op. 26. After a brief minute of flowing, legato introduction, the main theme and corresponding wall of sound blasts forth from the keys of the piano. Such power from a piano probably has not been heard since the last time Rachmaninoff played Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. Either way, Lisitsa precisely banged the hell out of every note that Sergei wrote with the resulting sound being so angular and sweet that the audience snapped out of their malaise of indifference that Beethoven so effectively spread through the crowd.

The first movement alone was enough to make the audience want to break protocol and clap between movements, but the crowd sat still, too busy wiping the tears from their eyes and the poop from their pants too even think about standing and applauding. The second movement was a much slower one, being made of one theme and many variations. This movement was rather cacophonous and showed a tremendous Russian influence, which is somewhat of a given considering that Prokofiev was born in what was then called the Russian Empire. Lisitsa continued slamming the piano keys at breakneck speed with the precision of a machine, but more much soul. The final movement was quite a thick, brooding return to the kinds of chromatic melodies and disjointed harmonies that the listener was blessed in the first movement. Lisitsa sat at the piano and smiled widely as the piece drew to a close, showing that she was as pleased with her performance as everyone else in the venue was.

After a few minutes of uproarious applause, Lisitsa returned to the bench, saying she would play a quick solo piece as an added bonus for the crowd. From memory (As was the rest of the show), she played one of Chopin’s beautiful etudes flawlessly, a feat that brought more applause. Being so thrilled with the audience’s reaction, she graced the crowd with one last solo. This time, it was Chopin’s so-called “Minute Waltz.” Lisitsa proceeded to show the audience how that piece got that name, but at the tempo that she played it, the waltz probably only lasted 50 seconds.

If WV was really like this, I’d have to kill a drag queen.

Before I start, let me say a few things. I know my responsibilities. It is my job to bring important music-related issues to you, the reader. You trust me to tell you about the roads I have traveled to hear great music and the tiny, drug-dealing cavemen that come with the territory.

Today, I won’t be doing that. I won’t provide you with a link to a video. I won’t be gentle.

I have come to you today to air my grievances about a music video parody that I have discovered.

Enjoy.

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I don’t claim to like Katy Perry. Frankly, I find her music annoying and her body attractive. Nothing more. Upon the release of one of her more recent ‘hits’, California Gurls [sic], I promptly made a Beach Boys reference and went on my way. Honestly, I’ve never listened to the whole song, and I’ve definitely never watched the music video.

However, I’ve seen something similar, but far worse. The almighty BuzzFeed brought a parody to my attention today. It was called ‘West Virginia Gurls’ [sic] and was sung by a fat, ugly drag queen with blue hair. So, I clicked it and loaded it. “What’s not to like?” I thought to myself.

Everything.

Everything is not to like about this song. (I realize that this grammar is terrible, but I am trying to make a point. It’s my blog. Get off my back.)

The song is just a string of vulgar jokes and tired stereotypes. Now, for those of you that know me personally, you may be asking why this is a problem for me. While I do enjoy a good incest joke or meth reference as much as the next 21-year-old, the lyrics were just overwhelmingly retarded. (TAKE THAT, SARAH PALIN!)

As if the whining lyrics weren’t bad enough, the video looks like what would happen if a 16-year-old self-hating gay redneck tired to make a John Waters movie. It is actually that bad. Half the men are dressed as ugly women, and the other half are dressed in nothing but poop-stained underwear and baseball caps. One person has a baby hanging from their stomach. One person uses a corn cob as a sexual device.

It’s all just unbearably bad. Not offensive, mind you. I was prepared for offensive. I was actually hoping for offensive. This is just…. bad. That’s really the only word to describe it.

I watched the whole video. For you, the reader. I did it so you didn’t have to. Notice that I didn’t post a video, but only because I don’t want you to watch it. I don’t want you to suffer. I want to save you the 4 minutes and 3 three seconds that I wasted on this hillbilly-ripping, drug-fueled musical abortion.

I urge you, the reader, to keep your prying minds and swift fingers from searching for it on YouTube. But if you decide to take a look, but blame me for the bandwidth and time that you decided to waste.

Death of a Legend: A Midnight Swan Song Never Sounded So Bittersweet

I knew the story as soon as I saw the headline. “Warner Theater to Close” is a rather simple and self-explanatory statement, but for an avid movie-goer such as myself, I knew what it really meant. It meant my afternoons of limited release films and late nights at the Rocky Horror Picture Show would end immediately. It meant that my high score on the Dig Dug machine would not be challenged again. But most of all, it meant that the movie theater that made so many memories for me would never make another memory for anyone.

The Warner Theater was definitely a hidden gem. The facade looked rough, but the lobby and cinemas were absolutely beautiful, having been restored in 2004 to make it look as awe-inspiring as it did when it first opened in 1931. The theater had a tendency to bring old movies back from the dead. I remember seeing “Pulp Fiction” with some friends last year, and I took my first serious girlfriend to the Warner to see “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” as a first date. That was in 2007. “Holy Grail” was released in 1975. Finding an original print takes lots of dedication.

While many patrons are sad to see it the Warner pass, we were blessed with one last special showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show last Saturday night. Having been my 31st time seeing it at that theater, I knew that the event would be a big deal. Management stated that they sold out one cinema and opened another, something they had never done in the 5 years of playing the movie. The next day, the theater projected a film for the last time. Today, a company from Ohio will open the doors long enough to take away my Dig Dug high score, and when they close the doors, I’ll never see the inside again.

The Domino Effect

Some days, I sit at the computer keyboard, mouse in hand, and waste the entire day playing FrontierVille. I’m not ashamed to admit that in the past couples week I have become rather addicted to the game. But on the days that I surf away from the time-consuming bother and waste my time elsewhere, I find some really amazing musicians and the works that they create.

A few days ago, I found a good one.

Brett Domino is not just a quiet, nerdy, musical adventurer from Leeds. He is not just an well-kept secret from the UK underground. He is not just an avid stylophone enthusiast.

Brett Domino is the man who made me enjoy the music of Lady Gaga. For those of you that know me personally, you know my dislike for all things Gaga. I hate her music. I hate her voice. I hate her “eccentric” style of dress. Frankly, I liked her better the first time when she was called David Bowie. But Brett has performed her song “Bad Romance” in such a way that appeals greatly to me:


with tiny electronic gizmos, claves, and a ukelele!

Being that Brett discusses (in full detail) the two electronic instruments played in the video, I’ll spare you the time and details. But, if you’d like to know a little more, you can click here or here. Also, Brett’s homepage (with is still under construction) and YouTube channel have been provided. Be sure to check out his Justin Timberlake medley as well.

Sweat-stained Santa Hat: The Road to the Flaming Lips

One final check of my pockets would show what was truly important for such an occasion. As I stood, one foot out the door, I patted my pockets to make sure I had the essentials. The phone was in its usual pocket, along with thin plastic wallet and ticket. My best Zippo, in case someone needed to borrow a light, and a Sharpie were residing in my left front pocket. My best only Santa Hat was nestled tightly on my overly large head. A quick stop by the Morgantown Sheetz finished off our list of necessary accouterments for the concert.

After all, we had to have our Faygo.

The Amphitheater was within a few miles of everything else in Pittsburgh. We could see the stage from the long, traffic-filled bridges over the rivers and hear the sound of excited tailgaters from the exhaust-filled parking garage. The walk to the venue was relatively short compared to the 80 miles we had driven that day, but it revealed something that I had always expected.

It truly takes a certain kind of person to want to the see the Flaming Lips in concert. We saw old, black, toothless men with tie-dye hats, shirtless men and women that were smoking cigarettes (I think) and playing hackysack, and even the palest woman I have ever seen wearing a large ceremonial Native American headdress. I remember remarking that the closer we got to the show, the more normal I looked. Honestly, a bright t-shirt and a sweat-stained Santa hat are somewhat commonplace on the road to the Flaming Lips.

Once I fought me way through the port-o-potty line and wrestled my ticket from my homemade wallet, we lined up outside the gate to enter the open-air amphitheater. I was asked if I could be patted down, and I replied “Well, you’re going to do with whether I say ‘yes’ or ‘no’…” The guy just looked blankly at me and started patting my pockets. Apparently, the lighter checked out perfectly, but the Sharpie was a threat to every person in the concert venue. The man at the gate threw my best Sharpie into the nearby trashcan as if I were planning on using it for some heinous acts that evening and he was the hero to keep the entire crowd safe. Just imagine the horror that would occur if I were to write a phone number on my hand or have Wayne sign an autograph after the show.

Appalling, I know.

Either way, I made my way through the gate, freshly Sharpie-less, past the burly men selling t-shirts and the cute girls selling too little beer for too much cash. Seven dollars for a pint of any beer just didn’t sit well with any of us. Approaching the crowd, we saw tiny fjords of open space that jutted out towards the stage and we settled nicely into one. The people in front of us (Tiny Seth Green and his skinny wife) were extremely nice and showed us some pictures from previous shows they had attended. The guys beside us offered us pot every 15 minutes or so. And then, there was the Tiny Hairy Man.

I don’t know what the Tiny Hairy Man’s real name is. All I know about him is what he looks like and what he wants.

As I stood facing the stage to catch a glimpse of the band during their sound check, I felt a tiny tap on my shoulder. I turned to see a very tiny, pale man with a tangled mane of black, crispy hair encircling his head and face. Before I could ask what he wanted, he cupped his hand over my ear and whispered, very politely and eloquently: “Would you like to eat some really good LSD?”

I politely declined, stating that “I wanted to be of clear mind and body the first time I saw the Lips,” which is true, but I really just didn’t want any acid. He claimed that he saw my Santa hat and thought he would offer me a piece of blotter paper. I wished him well and turned to point him out to Jimmy and Sam. However, when I turned around to thumb the guy, he had vanished.

As quickly as the Tiny Hairy Man arrived, he had disembarked on another journey to offer someone else the LSD I had refused.

Soon after, the concert itself had started. The opening band, Fang Island, was one of the better ones that I have seen. But, they were overshadowed by the impending appearance of the Flaming Lips. The lights soon kicked on, the disco balls began spinning, and the large semi-circular screen commenced spitting out some of the strangest images I had seen. Perhaps the images themselves were harmless, but they had been edited with split-second jump cuts and intense panning, giving a feel of watching a schizophrenic’s mind played out on a TV screen.

Tremendous sounds of computers and digital static washed over the crowd as the images on the screen turned to a video of a brightly coloured petite lady dancing fully naked to her own rhythm. She then sat on the floor, spread her legs as if to place them into a gynecologist’s stirrups, and her vagina began glowing intensely and spewing ripples of energy and psychedelic colour. The band then entered the stage via a door in the gigantic rainbow vagina. Why?

Because they are the Flaming Lips. That’s why.

The next two hours flew by in a strange, vibrant, pulsating orgy of light and static-laced lyrics. Wayne ran around on our hands in his large Space Bubble and donned the Tremendous Hands with hundreds of green lasers recently installed in the palms. The men backstage powered cannon-full after cannon-full of bright orange confetti into the air. We sang at the top of our lungs all of our favourite songs. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Yeah Yeah Yeah Song. She Don’t Use Jelly.

Looking back, it is rather difficult to recall precise moments or events of the show. I can’t even recall some of the songs they played. But I do remember the important stuff. I remember the warm, engulfing feeling of love and harmony that flowed over the crowd as we danced and jumped and played with balloons. I recall the chill I felt as I looked into the night sky to see torrents of confetti spray past the moon and gently flutter down over the audience like a blizzard of Halloween-coloured snow.

I remember feeling like I was important and that you were important and that everything just made sense.

I remember thinking that, even though I couldn’t quite understand what was going on at the time, it was still one of the most important events of my life. I felt important and loved, and I just wanted to hold someone near and tell them they were just as important as anyone else in this expanding universe.

I remember feeling like me life had changed.

Ever since that show, I have felt like a bit of a different person, but the difference is rather hard to explain. I suppose that’s why I put off writing this piece for so long. I couldn’t quite understand what had changed, so I felt like I couldn’t tell you, the reader(s), what I needed to tell.

As for the music, well… it’s the Flaming Lips. Either you love what they do, or you just shrug and keep walking. I’ve been a fan of the Lips since right after the release of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and I’ve been waiting for 6 years to experience what I lived in that blocked-off parking lot that night.

I think Tiny Seth Green summed it up best when he told us his only Flaming Lips story. He said that last year, he and his wife had paid $60 apiece (almost twice the price of our tickets) to see the show in Philadelphia. The rains came, and after 5 songs, the concert was canceled. He had to wade through water almost up to his waist to exit the amphitheater.

Keeping all that in mind, he said that it was still worth the $60. Then he looked me in the eye and said something that the Flaming Lips would spend two hours proving.

He said, “It’s like Christmas and Halloween and your birthday, all wrapped into one. Except it’s a concert… and it’s f*cking amazing.”

I’ll leave with a few more photographs from the concert, courtesy of my good friend Samantha Jones (her Flickr is available here. Check it out for more pictures of the show and others that she has taken over the years). Enjoy what you see, and be sure to get tickets next time the Flaming Lips are in town.

Delays….

Just a ‘QuickPress’, as they say.

Well, ‘they’ being the people that run WordPress.

Regardless, I’ve been working on a larger piece to post here about the recent Flaming Lips concert that I attended. It’s going slowly, but I blame that on the fact that I’ve been busy banging out poem after poem when I sit down to write.

So, I promise, I’ll have a new post soon, and to pass the time…. I present this. I’ll explain in the next post. Promise.