I found my old iPod shuffle which had some playlists that I hadn’t heard for quite some time. Each song brought back memories, some pleasant, some…well, not so much.
Often we stumble upon a band that grabs us from the first note, chord, or lyric, and think, “I wonder if anyone else knows about this band?”
Of course they do. But sometimes it feels like we are the only one who likes them, and we do one of two things: Tell people about them or keep it as our little secret—which it is not. Bands don’t exist without a following, large or small.
I heard Frightened Rabbit about a decade ago and no one I knew had ever heard of them. I listened to them a lot, but then they dropped off the radar as my life moved on until the discovery of that iPod I mentioned.
When I was preparing to write this post, I was going to post a video…then I discovered that the lead singer had taken his own life several years ago.
I hope that you enjoyed my conversation last week. It was fun to do, and I will definitely do more. I tried to keep it casual sounding yet informative as I aim to highlight some of the authors I am doing promotions with.
Now onto today’s topic:
When I first picked up a guitar, I wanted to be a rock and roll star. My friend had recently played a new album by this band called Van Halen. I was awestruck. I went out and bought the cassette (Remember those? Some of you won’t, some of you will have fond memories of making or receiving a mixed tape).
I liked every song on that tape except for Ice Cream Man. For some reason, I disliked it so much I put tape over the little gap on the top corner (some of you will know about this, others will be scratching their heads) and proceeded to erase it. Thankfully, it was the last song. I also scraped the title off the cassette.
Why did I go to great lengths to eliminate this one song from my life? It was a departure from what I thought Van Halen and hard rock were supposed to be, I suppose.
Hearing it later in my life, along with songs and covers like Pretty Woman, You Really Got Me, Dancing in the Street (which was much better than the terrible Jagger/Bowie version), and Big Bad Bill/Sweet William (clarinet in a rock band!?) showed just how talented and versatile the band members were—and no one screams quite like Roth, either. I’m not saying he was the best, just that you could always tell it was him. I also remember there was an uproar when 1984 came out and featured keyboards in Jump and many others (keyboards in a rock band!?)
What made me think about this? I found an old iPod (mine) that had all the pre-Hagar albums. (don’t get me started on that fiasco*). So, I listened to them all. They had many hits—and many misses—and you could hear the sound that influenced many of the 80s hard rock bands.
So, I apologize to Mr. Roth, Mr. Halen (both), and Mr. Anthony for my hasty judgement and destruction of your work. I am not a rock star…you all are.
Thank you for sharing your talent, Eddie. R.I.P
*FYI: Joking aside, Van Halen with Hagar was different, not better or worse. It changed the band, not like how AC/DC was able to change their lead singer and not miss a beat.
Welcome to my new conversation series! Season 1, Episode 1: The One with Abigail
[Chairs scuffing on floor…*cough*…]
Hi, Abigail. I’m glad you made it. I know that internet traffic can be congested at times. So, if you are comfortable, let’s get started. In 33 1/3 words (see what I did there?) or less, tell me a little about you.
I’m a musician and author from the East Coast, now living in Toronto! I also play the oboe, sing, and write lyrics. I’m very inspired by the places I grew up around back home.
(did I do that right?)
You’re a little over, but I’ll let it pass. What is your favorite note?
I’ve never given it much thought, honestly! I’d say D is very nice.
That’s a good choice. I like that one as well. Do you know how many people pick that note?
I have no idea!
Neither do I. Interesting to know, though. So, along that same line, do you have perfect pitch, and if so, what is the most common note out there?
I don’t have perfect pitch! The only note I know 100% whenever I hear it is “A”. That’s the beauty of being an oboist and tuning every orchestra/band you’re ever in. I spent many hours practicing playing “As” over the years!
I think there is an oboe joke about that.
Oh, probably. There’s an oboe joke for everything.
Not as many as for the viola, I’m sure. What composer has influenced you the most?
Probably Sondheim! I’m very inspired by musical theatre in general. I once thought I might try for a performance program in that area, but I found I much prefer being behind the scenes.
I recognize the name, and I’m sure I’ve heard his pieces, so I looked him up and said, “Oh yeah. That guy.”
What inspires you to compose a piece, and how do you proceed? I rarely hear a melody in my head, so when my emotions need an outlet other than poetry, I have to turn to playing guitar to come up with ideas.
It really depends. Sometimes, I have a melody spring out from my head that I have to write down, but sometimes it’s just a concept I want to explore more. Like, maybe I’m inspired by a photo or a poem and want to convey that musically. Or maybe I have words in my head I want to put to music.
Do you have a favorite instrument to score for, and on the flip side, what instrument do you find challenging?
I love writing for voice! An instrument I find challenging to write for is the harp, or really anything stringed. As a woodwind player, stringed instruments are foreign to me, so sometimes I need to ask around to see if what I want to write is possible or if a player would hate me for writing something a certain way.
Isn’t a harp just a sideways piano? It’s like the builder just gave up and said, “That’s enough.”
Haha, I wish it was that simple! All those pedals and tunings make things interesting.
When was the last time you have an earworm, and what song was it?
Yesterday, I had “Danger” by BTS stuck in my head basically all day.
I’ll give you one—Watermelon Sugar. You can thank me later.
Gosh, that’s also constantly in my head. It’s too catchy!
First concert? Last concert?
My first concert was probably Symphony New Brunswick. My parents started taking me to them when I was pretty small, so I’m guessing it was them! The last concert I saw was Kim Petras.
I’ll have to look her up. What song or genre are you embarrassed to like?
I don’t really get embarrassed by my music taste anymore. Life’s too short to get hung up on those sorts of things. If I had to answer the question, though, I’d say K-pop because it’s so big right now, and many who aren’t in the know are annoyed by it and the fans, but I really don’t care.
I agree. There’s usually merit in all styles of music…usually.
[Sound of flipping through cue cards]
I read here that you are a writer of poetry. What came first for you, music or writing?
I think writing. I was writing stuff way before I could spell or print properly, but music came shortly after. I began lessons when I was still in kindergarten.
Do you have a favorite book?
So hard to pick just one! I’d go with the Lord of the Rings trilogy because I’ve reread it the most out of everything.
I’ve read that a few times as well. I think the sign of a good book is when you want to read it again. I’ve read Klondike by Pierre Burton many times.
I can’t say I’ve read it or even heard of it! You learn something new every day!
It’s a historical account of the gold rush. Quite fascinating. Speaking of fascinating…are you allergic to anything or wish you were?
I have sooo many seasonal allergies.
Let’s change things up a bit. Are you ready for the lightning round?
Introvert or extrovert?A bit of both?
Talk or text?Text
Physical or Ebooks?Ebooks
Tea or Coffee?Coffee
Coke or Pepsi?Coke
Rick or Morty?Neither? I’ve never watched it, haha.
The beaten path or the road less traveled?Road less traveled.
Like or dislike:Ice cream— like
Moths— like (when they’re not stuck in my house)
Bonus question: What’s the square root of 13?
Why are you making me do math??
I didn’t say it was going to be easy. Time’s Up! I’m glad we had this chance to chat. Are there any links you would like to share?
Be sure to follow my newsletter for monthly updates! You also get a free e-copy of my poetry collection MIDNIGHT when you do!
My first conversation will be with poet/composer Abigail de Niverville. I immediately was drawn to the parallels in my skill set, which was what made me decide to do this feature. So stay tuned (Ha! There’s the music reference for today), I hope to have it ready for next Monday.
And, now for something not so different:
For today, I will continue on the Olympic theme because, hey, why not. One more year and I’ll be annoying you with Winter Olympics stuff.
As reader (Stevie) brought up a point about performance enhancing drugs. as with most (all?) sports, there regulations and rules preventing the use of these, which in most people’s minds make sense. There is a definite advantage (plus negative long-term disadvantages) to the use, but if some do and some don’t, it does create an imbalanced playing field.
Some athletes knowingly take them – hoping not to be caught, and some unknowingly do – from an honest mistake to subterfuge (I’ve been waiting a long time to throw in that word). The consequences can range from banning (some as harsh as lifetime), records and medals being taken away, to asterisks being places beside your achievement.
Kudos to the Olympic committee for allowing some Russian athletes to compete in the last few games amidst the allegations of doping by their government. On a side note: They should also be applauded for creating a refugee team for the displaced athletes with no place to call home.
Maybe the solution is to have a competition solely for athletes that take PEDs. Wouldn’t that be exciting? Imagine how much weight they could lift or how fast they would run/swim. Gymnastics would be interesting, though.
I heard a song the other day and it reminded me of a past event. The odd thing was that I had never heard it before, yet it made me reminisce. I guess that the words or the melody fit into my memories so that I could picture myself experiencing it in a different time.
It has happened when I write music as well. I was sitting playing my acoustic guitar when I came up with this short piece. There was something about it that evoked a sense of sadness or loss, to the point that I teared up as I played. I did finally finish it up—it was short, but I didn’t feel a need to make it longer.
Later, it reminded me of a poem I wrote for a friendship, that despite my many efforts, I have deemed lost. The fact that I couldn’t salvage the relationship makes me sad. We had fun together and I’m going to miss that. I would love for them to see it. I sometimes I imagine, like in a movie, that they stumble across it, and I know that they will know it is about them.
Did popular music run out of ideas after the first few decades? Last week I wrote about songs that sound the same. Today, we visit how we hear artists reaching back to sample from the musical buffet of the past. Sometimes it is because an artist is heavily influenced by a certain band, or like fashion, certain styles become trendy again.
Some may say the blues never went away, but some musicians made it more popular again from time to time. Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and more recently Gary Clark Jr. have all done their job at showcasing the first real North American style of music.
Folk and Celtic music had a resurgence in the late 80s early 90s, especially in Canada, with bands like Spirit of the West, Great Big Sea, and The Rankin Family, along with the explosion of folk festivals in North America. Now bands such as The Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons are carrying on the folk-rock tradition.
When Oasis came out, people drew parallels to The Beatles. I think one of the Gallaghers said that they were what The Beatles would sound like if they hadn’t broken up. I can say that I hear some of that influence.
Do you miss Led Zeppelin? Have a listen to Greta Van Fleet. If you are a purist, then you will definitely have disdain for what they are doing. What are they doing? I think they are doing a fine job of bringing back a unique sound that hasn’t been heard for a while. If music can be reincarnated—here is your proof.
Grunge. You mean Punk, right? C’mon. Weren’t Nirvana and Green Day just The Ramones? For the record, I like all three. Then bands like Linkin Park, Soundgarden, and Limp Biskit add Rap to their heavy grunge/metal sound, bringing in a new audience.
Disco always seems to pop up every so often. You can hear it in some of the beats being used in dance clubs and pop music.
What’s coming back next? If my love of science fiction gives me any clues, there will be one music station—sanctioned by “The One True People’s Conglomerate”—that is broadcast directly into our aural implant (genetically designed, of course—by robots or our alien overlords).
12 notes. How many combinations can you get? Quite a few. Most of the popular music we listen to is made up of 7, so that makes a few less combinations.
Just a quick theory lesson: Western music – not Country and Western – which originated in Europe, is based on the major scale, which we learn at a young age in music class – or from The Sound of Music. Do, Re, Mi, Fa, etc.
We label the notes from A to G. So if we play the notes in sequence A,B,C,D,E,F,G,A we get the major scale, right? Nope. That give us a minor scale. The major scale starts on C: C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C. Nothing is ever as simple as it could be. Don’t get me started on why instruments like the trumpet play the note C but it is written as a B flat in their music.
All you need to know is that if you want to write a happy sounding song, write it in a major key. Been done wrong? Heartbroken? Write a sad song in a minor key. Can you use both in the same song? Sure!
Anyway, with 7 notes, there are many combinations, but there are still instances where two songs can sound very similar. You probably have experienced that before, hearing a song and thinking that is a different one, or hearing a part and trying to figure out where you have heard it.
Sometimes it’s just a few notes – this is common because less notes=less combinations. Maybe it is a certain beat, or a chord progression. Is this done on purpose or is it accidental? I don’t think that musicians purposely try to copy another, this just invites the copyright lawsuit, and you don’t want that. It can be an homage to close influences – if you listen to a certain artist a lot, then it will influence your writing.
Get to the music, Leon.
OK. When I first heard “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” by Miley Cyrus, all I could hear is “Joleen” by Dolly Parton. It’s very close. Very.
Wait! How many Miley Cyrus albums do you own?
None. Tell me what you think.
Are there two songs that you think sound the same?
Sometimes a song will just grab you for several different reasons. Lyrics hit close to home, a melody moves you, or the rhythm makes you want to dance. I listen to a wide variety of music, as I wrote about in a previous Music Monday: Music Monday: So Many Genres.
Here are a couple of recent favorites that may or may not make your list:
Did auto-tune ruin music? Some say that it did. It may be overused by some artists, but there is something about it in this song that makes it effective. If I’m driving when it comes on, I do turn it up.
I was going to use the video, but it was very blinky and strobey, so I didn’t want to inflict that on anyone with sensitivities.
This next song made me cry the first time I heard it. The second time too. Maybe the third. Perhaps the fourth. I can’t listen to it without tearing up.
I can’t follow up a song like that, so I’ll call it a day.
I write better than I play. I play better than I record. I record better than I perform. Which is why it takes me a long time to get my music into audio form.
It was the mid [insert decade here]s. I was two years out of high school, still trying to figure out what I wanted to do. A couple years of college (not the college AKA university), left me wondering where my path lay (I was going to say destiny, but that seemed a bit grandiose).
Enter music. I liked playing guitar, and I was decent at it, so I decided to enroll in Music Performance course. This was my first exposure to classical guitar. Learning about something you enjoy makes everything easy. Not just playing guitar, but the other history and theory. It was fun. The parties were fun too.
I was immediately drawn to the Renaissance composer, John Dowland, along with his contemporaries, so it was natural to write in that style, just like later, my acoustic work was influenced by Don Ross, Adrien Legg, and Leo Kottke.
I wrote a few pieces for classical guitar, and later on for acoustic. Some I wrote down, others became faded memories with time, and a few finally got transcribed electronically, with a few of those being lost to the scourge of computer crashes. It’s funny how some pieces came back to me, while others were left alone too long and were now not like a puzzle with missing pieces, but the handful of the pieces themselves.
Here it is. Way too many years in the making. Riviera Galliard:
“She told me her name was Riviera. I was smitten and intrigued. I wonder what became of her.”
I finally changed the strings on my guitar. Wow. What a difference.
Will that give me motivation to play more? I still enjoy playing, but sometimes it feels too much like a chore.
It takes me a long time to learn a new piece of music (or re-learn something). If I step away for a while or start a new piece of music, the hard work dissipates and I feel I have to start over again. When I finally get to the point where it’s not going to improve anymore, it’s still not to my liking, not because it’s perfect, but because it’s not perfect. I know that my skill set is not set up for perfection.
Nothing is ever perfect though, is it? I wrote a quote that read:
“Perfection leaves you nowhere to go.”
Where do my imperfections lie? I can play a certain part correctly several times, but then make a mistake where I never before. I misplace a finger on a string. I forget a part or section that I thought was memorized. When I go to record one of my pieces, just the pressure of pressing the record button is enough to make it seem that I didn’t practice it at all, so it takes many takes to get a complete piece.
I have been trying to practice and record one of the first pieces that I wrote, “Riviera Galliarde”, and hopefully, by putting my goal in writing, I’ll be able to share it with you very soon.