“You can fire a rocket at a rocket, it’s the future.”

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I’ve had a lot of things on my mind. I haven’t been a very good Webmistress here, and I’m sorry about that. It hasn’t had anything to do with lack of ideas; I’m constantly in the car, listening to a song, thinking, “gosh, that’d be a great song to analyse for Music in Notes…”

At TGTF, it’s a completely different story. We’ve been busy with SXSW 2016 post-event reviews and features but we’re about to put the final post (the 127th!) to bed.

Some stuff went down in Austin on Thursday and Saturday that shook my faith in humankind (broadly) and the music festival format (specifically). As those of you who have followed me on TGTF, PopWreckoning, and DIY over the last 7 years I’ve been a music journalist, I have been to a lot of events all over the world, including 5 SXSWs now. I consider it a great opportunity to be given the chance to go to Austin to cover SXSW.

I suspect what happened (both incidents) happened because of my size (I’m barely 5’3″), my race, and my gender, all of which likely contributed to the idea I was an easy target. I don’t want to make this a feminist issue, because I’m not a fan of that term. I’m probably going to be strung up for this, but I’m into equality and all people treated fairly. There needs to be more peace and love in this world, people listening to one another and having open minds instead of shoving their values down someone else’s throat.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case if you’re keeping up with any of the U.S. presidential election coverage. Living in DC with wall-to-wall coverage of the march to November, it’s felt like a pressure cooker, and SXSW offered a nice respite from all of that. Some people say to me, “it must be really amazing to live in Washington, where all the movers and shakers are!” Yes, if you’re inclined in a certain way, it is. As I get older, I’ve noticed how less and less I engage in what’s considered “proper” DC conversation (read: I haven’t dated in forever). I mean, come on, this was on display on the windows when I went out to eat not too long ago…

Last week, I was given a unique challenge that will see my artistic talents going in a different direction. I’m both excited and terrified by this new project / thing, what will come out of it, and what other doors it will open for me. Some friends have more faith in my capabilities than I do in myself, and the support they’ve put behind me in this new endeavour is and will be invaluable. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

I love the fact that no matter how I look to people on the outside – the automatic stereotypes people have had about me as I walk into a room or walk down the street, or when they meet me in a club – they won’t matter. These people and their incorrect, dangerous stereotypes won’t dictate where this is going to go.

Being treated as an equal. Respected as someone who has something new and different to the table. These are the things that are priceless.

This isn’t the end of Music in Notes, but I foresee this taking a lot of my time in at least the next 3 to 6 months.

Until next time, stay sweet. x

Song Analysis #53: Bon Jovi – Livin’ on a Prayer

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Title: ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’
Where to find it: ‘Slippery When Wet’ (1986, Mercury)
Performed by: Bon Jovi
Words by: Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, and Desmond Child

First, the words:
Spoken intro
Once upon a time, not so long ago…

Verse 1
Tommy used to work on the docks
Union’s been on strike
He’s down on his luck
It’s tough, so tough

Gina works the diner all day
Working for her man
She brings home her pay
For love, for love

Pre-chorus
She says, “We’ve gotta hold on to what we’ve got.
It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not.
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot.
For love,
We’ll give it a shot.”

Chorus
Whoa, we’re halfway there
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it, I swear
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer

Verse 2
Tommy’s got his six-string in hock
Now he’s holding in
What he used to make it talk
So tough, it’s tough

Gina dreams of running away
When she cries in the night
Tommy whispers,
“Baby, it’s okay, someday…

Pre-chorus
…We’ve gotta hold on to what we’ve got.
It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not.
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot.
For love,
we’ll give it a shot.”

Chorus
Whoa, we’re halfway there
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it, I swear
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer
Livin’ on a prayer…

Guitar solo, then bridge
We’ve gotta hold on, ready or not
You live for the fight when it’s all that you’ve got

Chorus 2x
Whoa, we’re halfway there
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it, I swear
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer

Whoa, we’re halfway there
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it, I swear
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer

Now, the analysis:

Bon Jovi are a band that divide opinion among the denizens of Duranie nation. Some Duranies absolutely hate them. Can’t stand them. There are those like me who don’t mind them but probably wouldn’t walk across the street to shake Jon Bon Jovi’s hand. (I will admit, however, that I have ‘Slippery When Wet’ on cassette. Ha!) They were of course an important part of the ‘80s, though back then, I used to think they were one of the weirdest-looking bands at the time. Seriously. That big hair and tights? What were they thinking?

Over the last week, Bon Jovi has been played *a lot* on local radio stations while I’ve been in the car, and even though they’ve got several megahits from that decade, I don’t think it was a coincidence. I began thinking about how ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ has become a karaoke night mainstay. Why is that? It isn’t hard to understand. Like many anthems of the blue collar working class, it drives home the point that if you keep on at keeping on, you will survive whatever situation you’re currently suffering through. You can overcome hardship. You can overcome adversity.

This is an important message for everyone to hear right now, and this is where I segue into discussing what has been keeping me away from Music in Notes. This past Saturday, I don’t what I was thinking, but I decided to watch the latest GOP Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, the next battleground on the way to securing political party nominations in the United States. Here in America, we seem to be in a terrible state of flux and have been for a long time. The possibility of Donald Trump becoming our president in less than a year’s time has grown, and it truly makes my stomach turn. The GOP debate further reiterated in my mind that the GOP has truly lost the plot. They’re fighting with each other while a good chunk of our country are either homeless, can’t afford to feed their kids and put a roof over their heads, or pay their bills. Out of touch, out of mind, I guess.

It feels, too, like my own life has been in similar flux, as if I’m on the edge of a precipice of major changes. As humans, I think it’s only human nature that when things around us are changing, either for the better or worse, when we feel like we are soaring or crumbling, it’s like when you’ve got a magnifying glass over an ant on a sunny day. It’s like everything feels so much better in the euphoria. Or that much worse within depressed wallowing. Bon Jovi chose the former feeling for this song, and millions of music lovers should be thankful.

Unless you are a multi-millionaire and you think you won’t be affected by who is voted in as president, you should be concerned about the future of this country. Tommy and Gina were suffering during the economic downturn in the ‘80s, and now Tommy and Gina’s children are battling to survive today. The details may be different but the struggles are the same. In verse 1 of this song, we learn Tommy has lost his job, but the couple’s heads are barely over water with Gina’s paltry paycheck from her work at the diner.

In verse 2, we also learn that Tommy’s pawned his guitar (“Tommy’s got his six-string in hock”) and his usual mode of relieving stress is gone (“now he’s holding in / what he used to make it talk”). Gina’s also stressed and wants to run away, as if running away was a real solution. The pre-chorus of this song is a one of two linchpins, because it’s a reminder of how important love and staying together is for the purposes of survival. As the saying goes, “united we stand, divided we fall.”

The other linchpin is, of course, the chorus. If it hasn’t been done already, someone should be paid to study what exactly the effect is of a positive, ascending chord sequence is to endorphins in the body. Why does everyone like singing along to the chorus of ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’? Sure, part of it has to do with its survivor mentality, but I think subliminally, the chord changes elevate our mood from wherever we currently are. Even better in this song, notice how in the second to the last chorus, the starting key goes up even further. As Bono once sang, “elevation!”

The song is also notable for Richie Sambora’s use of a talk box. People seem to forget this. You know, what Kanye’s doing isn’t really *that* pioneering…

Lastly, the song, in its official music video.

Song Analyses #52: Erland and the Carnival – Daughter / East India Youth – Song for a Granular Piano

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Title: ‘Daughter’
Where to find it: ‘Closing Time’ (2014, Full Time Hobby)
Performed by: Erland and the Carnival
Words by: Erland Cooper

Title: ‘Song for a Granular Piano’
Where to find it: ‘Total Strife Forever’ (2014, Stolen Recordings)
Performed by: East India Youth
Words by: William Doyle

First, the words of ‘Daughter’:*

You could be so much better than me
You will be so much better than me
You could be so much better than me
You will be so much better than me

Even if I kill my soul
Save me from the hell I know
Just before I say goodbye
Loving you won’t die

When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone

You could be so much better than me
You will be so much better than me

Even if I kill my soul
Save me from the hell I know
Just before I say goodbye
Loving you won’t die

When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone
When I’m gone

Now, the analysis:

I’m positive that for someone my age, I’ve thought about death and the process of dying more than I probably should have. When you’ve personally been faced with oblivion multiple times, at the hand of God through no fault of your own, I think it comes with the territory. In my defense, I don’t think it’s weird or even particularly morbid to consider one’s own end. As a biologist, I look at death as a natural process. At the same time though, I am not discounting and am wishing not to discount the emotional weight of the process either on the person who is nearing the end or those who survive that person.

I’ve been thinking about two songs that both broach the sensitive subject, and they seem to have a peculiar association that I hope one day to find out more about. ‘Song for a Granular Piano’ is the last song with actual words on East India Youth’s 2014 Mercury Prize-nominated debut album on Stolen Recordings, ‘Total Strife Forever.’ In addition to arpeggios on piano, on the recorded version there are heavenly, major key, gospel-style backing vocals before Will Doyle’s actual lyrics kick in, filtered through effects that give the delivery an unearthly quality: “Settle down just before the end / sunlight comes floating through the smoky lens / comfort me slowly into the earth / sing the dawn now, sing the dawn now.

The effects on the vocals cause the feeling of the song to be unsettling until the mood changes about a minute later, when you get to the buildup, and it feels like sunshine is streaming in at 2 minutes 40 seconds. I like to think that the uplifting feeling you get from that buildup is supposed to mimic the light one is supposed to see when God is welcoming you towards Heaven. (I fully admit that when my father died, I suddenly felt this terrible, insatiable need to hold on to and to believe that Heaven exists, or else I might crumble under the weight of losing him.)

spotify:track:0ud9RRs1b9bv7iFnLbKUP9

I remember distinctly when I first heard Erland and the Carnival’s ‘Daughter’: it was on a train back home from Philadelphia after a work conference last summer, and I was listening to the entirety of the band’s third album ‘Closing Time’ from start to finish in my preparation to review it for TGTF. During this trip, I remember looking out the window of our car and seeing a blue whale that had been painted to the side of a building in Wilmington, Delaware. (The weird things you remember, huh?) I had been oddly emotional hearing ‘That’s The Way It Should Have Begun (But It’s Hopeless)’ for the first time, and it would be weeks before I fully recognised why, suffering the bitter pain of disappointment of something that could have been but never really had been there in the first place.

On the other hand, ‘Daughter’ was like an immediate sucker punch to the stomach. The press release described how it was conceived (no pun intended) but read here what Simon Tong and Erland Cooper had to say about it from their track-by-track previewing of ‘Closing Time’ for Clash:

10. ‘Daughter’
Simon: Erland wrote and recorded this after the birth of his daughter and half a bottle of whiskey. We purposely made the production and arrangement on this album much more restrained and simple and this song is probably the simplest and most moving.

Erland: I’d recorded this on my phone and then reversed the vocal which then accidently, and to me perfectly, turned into a backing vocal that sounds like it sings ‘…I wont [sic] ever give up’ in parts. Was trying to write and record the simplest song that can say a number of deeper things while saying something completely obvious. It’s more about hopeful reassurance than departure. To be honest, that pretty much sums up the entire record to me.

I agree with Tong: the song is indeed poignant in its simplicity, for what it says – and very briefly so – and what it doesn’t. The birth of a child, a new life borne out of love, out of your and your partner’s own flesh and blood, is a life-changing experience. From what I’ve gathered from all my friends who have children, life changes and priorities change in a blink of a eye with the arrival of a child. Even in a drunken, whiskey-fuelled haze, Cooper’s thoughts about his own mortality stirred up no doubt by the birth of his daughter translated to the eking out of some pretty amazing and thought-provoking lyrics while he contemplated his own departure from this earth and what it would mean to his daughter, now in the moment far too young to have such thoughts. The fact that he was able to commit these words via an elementary recording on his phone, and the recording eventually became the basis for ‘Daughter,’ seems pretty fateful to me.

As Tong says, the song is very simple. Against a backdrop of what I called in my review “a repetitive but music box-like soothing piano melody,” he wishes, then changes his mind and decides that he knows his child will be a better, greater person than he ever was. He also has come to the conclusion that “even if I kill my soul” – when his soul is gone from this mortal plane – he will make the effort before he takes his last breath (“just before I say goodbye“) to confirm that even if he’s physically no longer here with her, “loving you won’t die.

He’s saying as a father to his child, “I may no longer be with you to hold you again, but as sure as the heavens will allow me, I will never stop loving you.” What an mind-blowingly beautiful statement.

I recently started listening to the incredible ‘Closing Time’ album again on my nightly runs, and it only struck me recently how similar the treatments were on the “unearthly scale” (I know, such a scientific term…) in both songs. When I was in Ireland in May, I purchased East India Youth’s newest album ‘Culture of Volume’ at an HMV in Dublin and when I was perusing the liner notes, I noticed the line “Additional mixing to strings by Erland,” which I guessed to be Erland Cooper himself. I wonder now if the sound of ‘Daughter’ had been inspired somehow by ‘Song for a Granular Piano’, which had surely preceded it in development. I also saw on SoundCloud some time ago that Doyle remixed the ‘Closing Time’ track ‘Wrong’ for Erland and the Carnival, another connection. The plot thickens…

However these acts and songs are connected, both ‘Daughter’ and ‘Song for a Granular Piano’ serve as testament that that some of us believe death is not meant to be the end. Or at the very least, those of us who are ‘left behind’ after our loved ones have gone should take comfort that even without their physical presence, we will forever remain loved.

*I forget where I read or heard it from now, but Doyle stated in an interview that there were some bits of ‘Total Strife Forever’ where lyrics were unintelligible, which makes me think that some of the ‘lyrics’ of ‘Song for a Granular Piano’ were made to be unintelligible on purpose, quite possibly to add to the effect of impending death. I’d rather not take away from the effect by guessing what I’m hearing and possibly transcribe the words incorrectly.