Thursday, January 14, 2010
To blog spammers:
You all suck ass.
"Inside my brain a dull tom-tom begins/Absurdly hammering a prelude of its own"
Leaving The Blind: Third Stream of Past, Present, and Future
"It's obvious that I am a contemporary composer, I write in the twelve-tone technique, I write in an atonal language, I write generally challenging, complex music. So, I'm not some hidebound, conservative traditionalist or old-fashioned Philistine, ranting against modern music. I am someone who has both feet - and mind and heart - in this new music all the time. Nevertheless, I'm asking some very serious questions about that new music. I'm not proposing at all some black or white situation of being against modern music or for it. It is more that while I'm for it and composing within that realm, let's see what more I can do that the old composers had in their tool kit, so to speak, and which we subsequently lost or gave up."
Gunther Schuller, December 17, 1985 (Carnovale 48)
The hardest part, arguably, about studying jazz is the lack of knowing what jazz really is. This is the trouble we run into when we attempt to encapsulate something as free-form as art (or in this case, music) in something as restricting as a clear-cut definition. Ambiguity and uncertainty make us uncomfortable; they resign us to a state of being powerless. Often times, we overlook this natural tendency to compartmentalize. It is not an inherently unfavorable thing to do, but it clouds our perception of something like music. Gunther Schuller wrote in his Musings, “Its [music] quality cannot be determined solely by categorization” (Schuller 115). It is an obvious statement, yet I was surprised as to how struck I was by this notion. How much have we restricted our own artistic development because of a resistance to think outside of these categories? It is human nature to designate labels to that which we do not know, and when we encounter something that defies those genres, we can react in three ways: we can accept it, we can push it into a pre-existing genre, or we can deny its worth.
In the mid-1950s and 1960s, jazz artists faced this sort of trilemma. Out of the hard bop genre grew a desire to return to cultural roots with funk-soul, but musicians also began to explore extended form and longer compositions, very European compositional techniques. Out of this trend grew Third Stream, a term coined by Gunther Schuller in 1956 – in its simplest sense, it is the fusion of the first stream (classical music) and second stream (jazz) (Harvey). As with anything in jazz, it is almost impossible to pinpoint the exact origin Third Stream, but Duke Ellington was a start. Schuller recalled his musical education by saying,
I studied scores. I wasn't sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher telling me what I should learn about Wagner's Ring or Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. I was doing it myself, so I really looked at every fly speck in every score. With Duke Ellington's music—I mean, I have very good ears, I could certainly hear what was going on—there was something that made me want to see what that looked like. I figured that it would look very much like a Brahms chamber music score, you know, a small group. The only difference was that there were no strings. And in terms of the way it's notated, it's finding the same thing (Oteri).
Ellington was one of the first jazz artists to begin thinking “beyond category” (Harvey) and his 1943 “Black, Brown and Beige,” for instance – a 40-minute “tone parallel to Negro experience in America” (Harvey) – certainly foreshadowed the compositional techniques that would be used by jazz artists a decade later.
The challenge to merge cultural and classical music was not a novel one – composers like George Gershwin, Darius Milhaud and Igor Stravinsky were finding ways of doing this before jazz artists like Dave Brubeck were even born. And while people like George Russell were fusing jazz and classical, composers such as Astor Piazzolla were fusing Argentinian tango and classical; Pablo Cassadó had already composed Suite for Solo Cello, which joined traditional Spanish music and classical form, while most Third Stream artists were just learning how to play their instruments. What was different was that Third Stream was the idea of merging jazz and classical.
Third Stream was about merging jazz and classical music, which had not only musical impacts but major social consequences as well. Third Stream was not without opposition. Schuller himself, who played French horn in the New York Philharmonic and whose father was a classical musician, recalled classical listeners as thinking “Oh, jazz is low music, vulgar music, cheap music” (Oteri). Meanwhile, the “hip” culture of bebop was intent on preserving their music as an art form. For those intent on preserving the purity or so-called “sanity” of their respective genres (and these people constituted the majority), the melding of the two categories of jazz and classical music only tainted the pure forms. Third Stream is not the “Europeanization of jazz” (Schuller 121), nor, conversely, is it the defiling of classical music. To the opposition to this fusion, Schuller argues, “The minuet, at first a simple and often crude popular dance, became a sophisticated classical form in the hands of Haydn and Mozart” and “Bartók’s music – originally compounded of Debussyan and Straussian elements – rose to its greatest heights after he was able to fuse his early style with the idiomatic inflections of Eastern European folk music” (Schuller 118).
The idea of Third Stream is to stretch the boundaries of jazz without losing a sense of identity – many mistook, and still mistake, the fusion of western compositional techniques or performance styles as compromising the integrity of jazz. That is not the case. “What such cross-influences do is to expand the potential resources of the music” (Schuller 122). Third Stream artists, for example, played baroque music with jazz improvisational techniques, or fused modern classical music with modern jazz (Harvey). From the jazz perspective,
When Charlie Parker recorded with strings… or when Mingus consistently uses a cello, or when Lawrence Brown of the Ellington orchestra emulated the sonority and elegance of movement of the cello on his trombone, these musicians were in their different ways discovering and creatively using resources not normally found in the jazz tradition (Schuller 123).
In a 1985 interview with Norbert Carnovale on the occasion of the premere of Schuller's Concerto for Viola and Orchestra with the New Orleans Symphony, Schuller said, “I am for the opportunity, the capacity, to make a choice, out of many alternatives. … I feel for a long time there wasn't that feeling of opening, that encouragement to make choices out of a wide spectrum of conceptual, philosophical, and technical possibilities” (Carnovale 45).
Third Stream is truly about freedom – freedom from musical boundaries, freedom for musical exploration, and also freedom as a musician. “I felt we had reached a sort of crisis point, partly because we were never given any alternatives by these avant-garde propagandists” (Carnovale 45), Schuller said of the modern state of jazz. Freedom allows for the musical possibilities that Schuller spoke of to open. But the freedom is not chaotic or spontaneous –
The combining [of jazz and classical music] has sometimes been done linearly – that is to say, in successive sections of a piece; or vertically – when disparate elements may be fused simultaneously, perhaps in concurrent layers or strands. Finally, there can be Third Stream pieces that represent a combination of both approaches, but in all instances the concept suggests an in-depth fusion of musical elements or techniques rather than a superficial appliqué or mere grafting of one technique onto another (Schuller 130).
The decision-making process in Third Stream compositions is conscientious, thoughtful and done with a sense of purpose. One of the best examples of the thoughtfulness of Third Stream is Charles Mingus’ epic two-hour long composition, Epitaph, published and performed posthumously. While a clear definition is difficult to conjure, it is easy to see that Epitaph is definitely not easy listening. The fifth “section,” “Better Get It In Your Soul,” is really the epitome of Third Stream – organized chaos (Mingus). Consisting of a repetitive, underlying rhythm, it signaled a return to African tradition and includes furiously fast solos and a novel compositional device – background handclapping – at the end. Sharply contrasting that is the following section, “The Soul,” a subtler, moodier piece which emphasizes Mingus’ exploration of atonal harmonies. What Epitaph did was solve the problem that faced jazz artists in the mid-twentieth century. “It is the problem of how to create large extended forms in jazz, a problem that was solved in much earlier times not only by such great classical masters as Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, and above all, Beethoven – not to mention Wagner – but also by the anonymous creators of African ritual dances…of the millennia-old improvised classical music of India” (Schuller liners 7).
Another prime example of solving this problem that first presented itself in the 1950s is a composition by Gunther Schuller himself, his Concertino For Jazz Quartet And Orchestra. In particular, the third movement shows the merging of two genres through the use of jazz rhythmic qualities like syncopation and “the ability to swing: not simply to count beats and play at the proper time, but to do so with the freer feeling of jazz” (Ledbetter). The jazz “feel,” however, is represented through an orchestra. Starting off relatively slow, the piece eventually rapidly picks up speed, and this accelerando – a technique of Western music – continues until the end of the piece (Boston Modern Orchestra Project).
To think that Third Stream was a finite era of music is a complete misconception. The term “Third Stream” is an adjective, not a noun (Schuller 114), an expression that is just as relevant to music recorded last year to music recorded decades ago. The problem that jazz artists faced today – how to join two separate streams of music, socially and technically – is still one that current musicians face. It will always be a challenge for musicians. I picked up the record Punch last year – They look like a bluegrass band, I think as I glance at the cover, and I prime my ears for a quick, rollicking folk lick, or perhaps a slower, classic country-blues song. But what I hear at the beginning of The Blind Leaving The Blind, a four-movement suite by the Punch Brothers, is – of all things – a fugue. There is no harpsichord here, though – no cellos, no horns – the closest instrument to a classical one is the fiddle. And in the midst of this fugue-like, classically-composed first movement, the fiddle improvises, throwing in dirty shifts while the banjo, double bass, guitar, and mandolin play underneath. Suddenly, the tempo slows, and Chris Thile, the primary composer of the piece, begins singing that country-blues song I was expecting to hear. “Tell me why I haven't been healed/I haven't changed and nothings been revealed/And what's in the blood of the way and the light/That takes my sin Sunday morning and makes me drunk at night” (Punch Brothers). I like to imagine that my first reaction to this piece was not too far off from those of the audience at the 1954 Newport Jazz Festival, hearing jazz sounds coming out of a string quartet or classical structures in a Mingus piece. Traditionalists would say it is a miracle that The Blind Leaving The Blind works, just as how the union of seemingly-polar opposites Beaux Art String Quartet and MJQ managed to work in Gunther Schuller’s “Conversation.”
In a 2006 interview, Chris Thile told Guitar Player magazine of a current project of his, a “string quintet” (which would later become The Blind Leaving The Blind):
It’s mostly orchestrated, but there are sections set up for improvising, so the piece will evolve from performance to performance. Nowadays, there aren’t many lines in the sand between musical genres, but if there’s a line that’s drawn anywhere, it’s between classical and everything else. It’s starting to break down, but it’s still there, and that’s really upsetting to me as someone who loves classical as much as bluegrass. I’m ready to step all over the line, though, because I honestly believe that’s how the best music is made. Classical musicians could benefit from the freedom of everything else, and everything else could learn a bit about discipline from classical musicians. I hope my musical future—and the musical future—is the marriage of those ideals (DeMasi).
The extent to which Thile’s remark parallels that of Schuller’s comment in his 1985 interview is uncanny. And the extent to which the compositional techniques used in The Blind Leaving The Blind mirror Concertino For Jazz Quartet And Orchestra – from the rhythmic freedom to the tight sense of direction.
Just as Schuller defined Third Stream by what it was not, the Punch Brothers’ work is best defined by what it is not. It is not bluegrass played by classical instruments (the fiddle and double bass are amphoteric in this case and can be considered classical or bluegrass), nor is it classical music played by bluegrass instruments (although the latter definition is the lesser of two evils). It is not an insertion of classical music into a bluegrass song, though Thile quotes Brahms’ Fourth Symphony in the second movement, similar to Ornette Coleman’s quotation of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in “Congeniality” (Harvey). Despite the fugue at the beginning of the piece, it is not simply a bluegrass in fugal form. Most importantly, it does not do away from bluegrass or classical music. “It is,” as Schuller himself described Third Stream, “just another option amongst many for today’s creative musicians” (Schuller 120).
Perhaps the more important, and unfortunately more difficult, questions to address are: What is The Blind Leaving The Blind, then? And Why do we care? The piece is multi-sectional and is through-composed. Like Mingus’ “Epitaph” or “Fables of Faubus,” you have to listen to all four movements to really understand it. It is programmatic and has an extended form – The Blind Leaving The Blind is inspired by Thile’s divorce, which ended a relatively young marriage. But it is more so an illustration of young, naïve love gone awry, a theme made more explicit through lyrics like “Goodwill's coming by to collect a box I filled with things I hate about myself/Things I liked before I got here” (Punch Brothers). It is largely instrumental and improvisational, especially in transitions between vocal parts. It is not a patchy amalgamation the two juxtaposing puzzle pieces of bluegrass and classical music, but rather a blend of the bluegrass and classical traditions.
But why do we care? How is Third Stream relevant to jazz, to bluegrass, to music in general? The significance of Third Stream composition and playing comes from the idea that it is built upon the foundation of musical freedom. The idea of musical freedom opened up the idea of “sonoric individualism” (Schuller 32) – that a musician is not and should not be restricted by the instrument they play or the role they have in a band. It is what allowed saxophonists like Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman to all have entirely distinct sounds despite playing on the same instrument. Likewise, trumpet players Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis have wholly unique sounds as well. The significance and success, to some degree, of these musicians themselves emphasize the importance of musical freedom, which is the foundation of Third Stream and “Third Stream-like” thinking. It is also an idea that allowed musicians like Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane to develop their “free jazz” compositions. The ability to think beyond category does not ensure popularity or immediate success necessarily. The Blind Leaving The Blind certainly had some opposition, and as the Times Online said, “It takes only a cursory listen…to guess why a section of fans may have been startled. Few musicians – well, none – have intertwined bluegrass instrumentation and spontaneity in the strictures of modern classical” (Paphides). But it does impact the influence you have on posterity. The jazz artists we remember are the ones who were able to think beyond their category, people like Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus.
I started taking piano lessons when I was four, and not because I was a particularly self-driven or gifted preschooler, nor were my parents as motivating as perhaps those of, say, Coleman Hawkins or Gunther Schuller. No, I saw my friends learning how to play “Twinkle Twinkle,” and I wanted in. When I was 11, I chose the cello because it was the biggest instrument I could effectively carry. I had a very traditional music education, and there is nothing wrong with that. I can decently carry a tune and speak somewhat competently of Brahms, Beethoven and Bartok thanks to it. But it has led me to believe, up until now, that somehow my teachers will always have an answer for me, and there will be a “right” way to approach music. In retrospect, this is actually a relatively dangerous state of mind to be in as a musician, and the point is, until recently, my relationship with music has been relatively average. I had, as Schuller once reflected about avant-garde jazz artists, “just went ahead in sort of a blind, headlong way, dictated from ‘above’” (Carnovale 46). It was a pretty sobering experience to realize that I had been playing music for about 14 years without any sense of musical independence. The thing that I see in people like Gunther Schuller and Charles Mingus and Chris Thile is a very heightened sense of awareness when they approach music. Perhaps if all musicians were able to do this, we would all be able to leave the “blindness” of categorization.
Carnovale, Norbert. Gunther Schuller: A Bio-Bibliography. New York: Greenwood P,
Charles Mingus. Epitaph. Columbia, 1990.
"Chris Thile." Interview by Vincent DeMasi. Guitar Player. 22 Jan. 2007. 17 Nov. 2009
"Concertino For Jazz Quartet And Orchestra." Rec. 10 Oct. 1999. Gunther Schuller: Journey Into Jazz. By Boston Modern Orchestra Project. BMOP Sound, 2008.
Harvey, Mark. "Duke Ellington: Beyond Category." 21M.226. 4-156 MIT, Cambridge.
29 Oct. 2009.
Harvey, Mark. "Hard-Bop/Funk Soul Reaction & Charles Mingus." 21M.226. 4-156
MIT, Cambridge. 10 Nov. 2009.
Harvey, Mark. "Third Stream Music and MJQ." 21M.226. 4-156 MIT, Cambridge. 12
Harvey, Mark. "Third Stream Music and MJQ." 21M.226. 4-156 MIT, Cambridge. 12
Havighurst, Craig. "Bluegrass Suite Packs a Progressive 'Punch'" National Public Radio
29 Feb. 2008. Public Broadcasting Service. 17 Nov. 2009
Ledbetter, Steven. Gunther Schuller: Journey Into Jazz Liner Notes. Boston: BMOP
Oteri, Frank J. "Gunther Schuller: Multiple Streams." New Music Box 1 July 2009.
American Music Center. 30 Nov. 2009
Paphides, Pete. "Chris Thile and his mandolin." The Times Online 25 Jan. 2008. The
Times. 17 Nov. 2009
Punch Brothers. Punch. Rec. 26 Feb. 2008. Nonesuch Records, 2008.
Schuller, Gunther. Epitaph Liner Notes. New York: CBS Records, 1989.
Schuller, Gunther. Musings: The Musical Worlds of Gunther Schuller. New York: Oxford UP, 1986.
I know I need to update.
...A couple more days? Until then,
Short answer #2 - In either a video or a written post with photos, introduce us to a part of your life, house, town, etc. that you find wildly interesting.
This is my brother. His name is Ryan. He is 7.
He is wildly interesting. For example, he loves Eric Clapton, but also once said he wanted to be the Jonas Brothers. Not just a Jonas Brother, no - the collective identity of the Jonas Brothers. He is a human paradox. The other night, he said something about his "jammies" (his PJs), but I misheard him and thought he said "panties." We then proceeded to come up with a plethora of combinations of adjective + "panties" which entertained us for the next half hour. Some of the ones we came up with were: "cheetah panties," "jean panties," "rubber panties," and my personal favorite - "croc panties." Where does he come up with this stuff? I have no idea. But I am currently cracking up to myself in a public library.
My brother watches sports like a 30-year-old man. He never watches one game, he instead keeps track of ESPN, Fox Sports, ABC and NBC (if applicable) as well as the scoreboards on the bottom of the ESPN screen. So when I ask, "How was the Phillies game?" He will respond "It was 6-8. And the Cardinals won, but the Red Sox lost to the Yankees, something about Michael Vick back with the Eagles, and did you hear about that Korean golfer who beat Tiger Woods?" And yet, the kid claims that he does not know how to tell time. (I know that this is a lie because he always knows when to turn on the TV to catch a game.)
I like to ask my brother what he wants to be when he grows up.
At age 4, his response was "A whale."
At age 6, his response was "An Animal Planet TV show host."
Now, he says, "A scientist during the week and an artist on weekends. And a tennis player on Sundays." Child, you are 7. What is wrong with you?? I once accidentally knocked his chin and he cried, "Oww...my mandible!"
Aside from our uncontrollable laughter and voices (I seriously sound like a 7-year-old on the phone), Ryan and I are very different, which fascinates my mother. But he is a pretty cool cat and when he asks, "Can I be your roommate?" I wish I can say, "Yes."
"Short answer #1 - In a paragraph or two, describe why you want to be an admissions blogger and what unique things you feel you'll contribute to the program.
I'll be honest here and admit that I didn't even think about going to MIT until the summer before my senior year. This is mostly because a. I didn't think I'd fit in and b. Me getting into MIT? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
During my college search, it got to the point where everything started blurring together and all the info sessions became indistinguishable. I heard from some people that when you get to the school, you just know that it's the one. Well, that is a load of malarkey because I did not feel that at all. Not even when I visited MIT. I didn't want to make a decision that would affect the next 4 years of my life from a "feeling" I got from a single tour or info session. (This is where talking to students helps.) When I first started reading the blogs that summer, there were 2 things that really changed my mind about MIT: the transparency of the school and the diversity of the student body. I loved that the blogs showed everything about the school, the good and the bad. Seriously, everyone knows that college isn't loafing under a picturesque tree in autumn wearing a ridiculously stylish outfit and matching scarf. I also realized that you don't have to be an evil genius to go to MIT. Now, as far as unique contributions go, here's the deal: someone once told me, "You are too normal to go to MIT." And well, yes. There are a lot of pretty non-unique things about me. I play a stringed instrument. I am a terrible driver. In fact, the only thing I hate more than driving is parking. And being tickled. (These things are funnier if you are aware of my racial heritage and my gender.) But that lady obviously did not know me very well, and I think I can be pretty unique and could offer a pretty happenin' viewpoint to the blogs.
1. I used to want to be Jeff Corwin. I wanted to be an entomologist-herpetologist-TV-show-host until fifth grade.
2. I did not know what Starcraft was until I overheard 2 of my friends (both non-Koreans) talking about it during my sophomore year. Never have I seen anyone look so appalled in my life.
3. I love where I'm from (a mid-sized town in the middle of Missouri). I like corn mazes and bluegrass music.
4. I am a self-proclaimed technopeasant, but am willing to learn. Once during a Science Olympiad event about circuits, I asked my partner why the circuit board looked so odd. We hadn't turned it over yet.
5. I do not want to study electrical engineering. Ever.
6. I like to draw. Have you noticed? I would probably put a drawing in every entry, kind of like how Yan puts pictures of ridiculously delicious-looking food in all of her entries. Or how Snively puts links in his titles. Am I starting to sound pathetic?
7. Like I said before, I didn't think of applying to MIT because I didn't think I could ever belong there. So, minimizing the cheesiness as much as possible, had it not been for the blogs, I potentially would have missed out on an awesome four years of my life (maybe more?). I can only hope that as an admissions blogger I could do the same, showing other former-Jeff-Corwin-wannabes (or other potential applicants) that it's just silly to base your opinions off of stereotypes.
We need to talk about "Kevin."
(No, not the book.)
One of our last assignments in AP Lit was to list a handful of quotes that were meaningful to us and explain why. This was one of my entries... (all of my quotes were taken from Pixar movies)
“You know, once you muscle your way past the gag reflex, all kinds of possibilities open up.”
- Emile, Ratatouille (Brad Bird, screenwriter)
First semester of my senior year, I took a chemistry class at the University of Missouri. Part of this class was learning how to learn in a 500+ person lecture class. The other part of this class was my lab partner, quite possibly the most unbearable person I've had to deal with in a long time. I'll reference him as "Kevin."
Every Monday afternoon, I had to spend 3 painful hours with a pompous, stereotypically-frat-guy-ish jackass named Kevin. A lot of times, I would think to myself, "Okay, he's a good person deep down. He's doesn't actually mean the stuff he says. He's a decent person, he's just immature." I put up with him for a couple weeks. Hell, I even drove him back to his dorm after class. He told me of the girls he'd hooked up with, and when he said "I'm hardcore Catholic. I almost went into the priesthood, but I realized I liked sex too much," I restrained myself from barfing all over his face. I answered the last-night calls for help with the chemistry online quiz that was due in 10 minutes. I did the labs and told him to just copy what I'd written in my notebook.
It got to the point where I couldn’t suppress my disgust anymore -
I stereotyped him as a lazy, chauvinistic, imbecilic frat guy. When I had to hear stories of his weekend sexcapades, I threw up in my mouth a little and cast him as a hypocritical cradle-Catholic. So after the first couple weeks of class, what did I do? I surprised myself and gave him a chance. I don't really know why. I think I was just sick of arguing. It was bizarre, I started to see someone who felt private remorse for his shortcomings, a person who sought forgiveness, but didn't really know how to go about getting it. In brief car rides, I learned that Kevin maybe wasn’t as hypocritical as I thought he was, but rather still a very young man who struggled to internally resolve his conflicts while his external environment of friends expected a guy very different from who he thought he should be. Does this mean we became BFFs? HELL NO. I bolted out of that lab room on the last day with sheer giddiness. But in retrospect, I think I more hated admitting that my original judgment of Kevin was unfair and continued to wallow in self-pity because I was so against admitting my fallacy. And it wasn’t until very recently that I started thinking that maybe – maybe – having Kevin as a lab partner wasn’t such a terrible thing. I hate it when people pre-judge me, but I realized about halfway through that I was doing that to Kevin. I also vowed to myself that I'd never compromise who I am to fit in as much as he did. I just had to muscle my way past my innate desire to barf every time I saw him in order to see this.
The other day, I spent some quality time with the family playing some tag football (and by tag I really mean have intentions to lightly tap but actually pummel to the ground). We decided to make it parents vs. offspring (that would be me and my 7-year-old brother, Ryan), which resulted in many Dirty Bird touchdown dances from Ryan. And my mom fell. A lot. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of parental ass-whooping done by us progeny.
It was a pretty hilarious time.
On Sunday, Dad, Ryan and I moseyed on over to St. Louis to watch the third game of the Cardinals vs. the Padres. I'm not a huge baseball fan, but seeing a game in person is a lot different than seeing it on TV (the roar that surfaced when Pujols went up to bat when the bases were loaded was kind of ridiculous). The crowd, the atmosphere, the overpriced-and-ridiculously-bad-for-you-but-so-confusingly-delicious nachos, the heat, the random drunk guy sitting a few seats down from you who shouts "BOO says the crowd!" every 10 minutes... yes, this is what you miss out on at home.
Story: When I was away in the bathroom, my dad had someone take a picture of him and my brother when the drunk guy wrapped his arm around my dad, giving him a side-man-hug and getting in the picture. Um...
It started raining during the bottom of the 6th, so they paused the game for about 20 minutes. Aforementioned drunk guy got upset and started shouting "PLAY BALL! BOO says the crowd!" repeatedly. Well, the game finally did start up again, only to be stopped by some more rain in the top of the 8th. Drunk guy started singing the Eurhythmics' "Here Comes The Rain Again." About 30 seconds later, the rain stopped. About 2 minutes later, it started again, in the form of a freaking deluge. It was 5, the game had started at 1, so we were all "aw hellz no" and left. The score was 4-5 in favor of the Padres. The Cardinals scored 3 runs in the 9th inning and won. And we missed it.
Oh, weather. You suck balls.
Planned to stay at the lab until the late afternoon, but those plans got nixed when I couldn't stand listening to another minute of Rush Limbaugh. Instead, I headed over to the public library where I read some Billy Collins and am now blogging. Our lab rents the neighboring space to an environmental studies/testing lab. Super nice folks, but one of the guys is basically deaf and feels the need to blare KFRU (local talk radio) when he's there. I can stand the Dave Ramsey Show and I've learned to block out Rush Limbaugh for the past 2 years, but it's gotten completely unbearable because of this whole health care fiasco. Some poor liberal called in, thinking he was doing some good by standing up to Rush. Too bad everything that came out of his mouth made him sound like a complete imbecile (something along the lines of "You don't like Obama because he's a n*****!"). I'm about to take a hammer to that radio the next time I hear the words "euthanasia," "libs" (his cute nickname for basically anyone who doesn't agree with him...makes me throw up in my mouth a little every time I hear him say it) or "pharms." The thing I hate the most is I love my job and I'm generally a ridiculously chipper person, but lately I've left the lab in such a foul mood because of one fucking, petty radio show. I think our lab is going to finally confront the other guys tomorrow about it.
That was a downer, so here's something to mainly cheer me up: charts and bluegrass, two of my favorite things.
(An homage to the classic Toothpaste For Dinner flowchart)
I think I know one person who loves bluegrass as much as I do, but he's in his 30's. Where are all the teenaged-twentysomething bluegrass lovers? It's freaking MISSOURI. Anyway, this is my attempt to illuminate the awesometasticness of this under-appreciated genre of music to ya'll (just kidding, I do not and will never talk like that).
Big Medicine: Fever In The South
Okay, okay. I can't say I'm a hardcore bluegrass listener. I think to be able to say you're hardcore about any kind of musical genre, you've got to be able to adopt part of that genre's "lifestyle" (I use this word with some reservation because of it's implications, but that is a separate topic which would require another blog post). Suffice it to say, Big Medicine is about as "hick" as I can go. There are also lots of "jam bands" like The String Cheese Incident and Leftover Salmon who I occasionally listen to. Word association? Rollicking.
Noam Pikelny: In The Maze
I first started listening to Noam Pikelny after listening to Punch Brothers (he's their banjo-player). I later found out that he was Bela Fleck's (Bela Fleck is arguably the world's current greatest banjo player) protege, which would explain why he's so good. The highlight of this album is the last track, "Overland." It's nice background music; I listen to this album a lot in the lab.
Chris Thile: How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
Chris Thile is probably my current favorite musician and has been for the past year. A child prodigy from California (I know, wtf), he started out on the guitar but later switched to the mandolin. He released his first album when he was 13 and most of the songs on it are original compositions. He later played in Nickel Creek and is now the "frontman" of Punch Brothers. How To Grow is definitely my favorite album on the list. Notable tracks include the cover of The Strokes' "Heart In A Cage," the cover (seriously, watch the beginning. He's makes jabs at Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers) of The White Stripes' "Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground," and "Brakeman's Blues." Thile is quoted as saying, "Everything was tracked live, and I’ve decided never to record wearing headphones again unless I absolutely have to. Wearing headphones is bullshit, because you’re in your own little world playing to a mix that no one will ever hear but you. What’s the point?" I'd say this is sort of where things start bleeding into the regions of folk and pop, or "newgrass," as it's affectionately called. Oh, and in case you were wondering about the title, it's the title of one of the tracks (another cover, this time of a Tom Brosseau song). "I got my ass kicked by the last relationship I was in. This girl just left. It created a pretty serious complex for me. I’ve always been able to talk to girls, but I’m scared of them. I just could relate to it. Like, man if I could just grow one, that would take care of a lot of problems."
Chris Thile: Not All Who Wander Are Lost
One of his earlier albums, this one features bluegrass legends like Edgar Meyer (double-bass), Jerry Douglass (dobro, he plays in Alison Krauss' band) and Bela Fleck (banjo). Not much to say about this album except that it's quite beautiful, especially with tracks like "Song For A Young Queen" and "Big Sam Thompson."
Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall, Bela Fleck: Uncommon Ritual
I can't believe the recording studio didn't explode from the epic awesomeness of this super-group. "Big Country" is my favorite of the bunch, but Meyer's verion of "Zigeunerweisen" is just absurd. Listen to the original (written for violin) and then listen to his version. Good gravy.
Punch Brothers: Punch
My favorite album of 2008. The opening track, "Punch Bowl," seems like a typical bluegrass tune, but then it has bits of dissonance which foreshadow the following tracks. It's a good time, and smartly written. The next four tracks are all part of The Blind Leaving The Blind, a quintet of sorts inspired (is that the right word?) by Thile's recent divorce (this darker tone can be heard in the newest Nickel Creek album as well, and seems to be dominating his current work). I love the first and third movements in particular. Most of the members of Punch Brothers played on Thile's How To Grow album (this includes Noam Pikelny and my current favorite fiddler, Gabe Witcher). There were some Nickel Creek fans who didn't respond well to this because they were still miffed over the break-up (Nickel Creek, Thile's first band, recently broke up). Some truly hardcore bluegrass fans didn't like the album, either, because this really isn't traditional bluegrass at all. The aforementioned 30-year-old said it took a while for him to start liking the album. I think people who aren't bluegrass listeners but are classically trained musicians would really appreciate this album.
Nickel Creek: Why Should The Fire Die?
The latest (and last) album of Nickel Creek, which was comprised of Chris Thile and the Watkins siblings, Sara and Sean. (As a side note, Sean Watkins has a new project out with Jon Foreman of Switchfoot called Fiction Family. Their rather poppy self-titled debut album is worth checking out.) This is the best Nickel Creek album, hands down. Like Punch, it kind of lingers on the darker side of relationships, but is more interesting and layered than their earlier stuff. It also highlights just how much more talented Thile is than the other two band members (sorry, I had to say it), because the best tracks were written and sung by him. Such tracks include, "When In Rome," "Jealous Of The Moon," and "Doubting Thomas."
Chris Thile: Deceiver
This was probably the biggest "WTF?!"-inducer that took place in the bluegrass world in recent history. People went from being upset at Thile (after all, many believed he was the cause of the Nickel Creek break-up) to being straight up pissed at him after he released this record. But I think it's a dandy record and those kiddos can just stick it in their respective juice-boxes and SUCK IT. This is considered the pop album that Thile had to get out of his system. There's electric guitar in it. There's drumming. There's jazz. It honestly threw me off a bit the first time I heard it, but it eventually grew on me. Notable tracks: "The Wrong Idea" (think Akon's "Sorry, Blame It On Me" but with a mandolin), "On Ice" (this caused a bit of a stir since the innocent little mandolin-playing Chris that so many love says "shit" in it) and "Jessamyn's Reel."
Rocky Votolato: Makers
This is music which should be approachable to the masses. I think someone made a comparison to Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon? This is not what you would call bluegrass. It's basically good country music - better writing, better vocals, depressing lyrics (not always, though). He has a warm, rough voice. Best tracks - "White Daisy Passing" and "The Uppers Aren't Necessary." Avoid "The Night's Disguise" - there are some funky intonation issues.
Notable acoustic albums that didn't make this spectrum are:
Fionn Regan: The End Of History (He's Irish. Notable tracks: "Hey Rabbit," "The Cowshed" and "Abacus")
Kate Rusby: The Girl Who Couldn't Fly (She's British. Notable tracks: "The Lark" and "Fare Thee Well")
Jose Gonzalez: In Our Nature (He's Argentinian, but was born in Sweden and formerly played in a punk band. He also almost got a Ph.D. in biochemistry, but didn't finish since his music career took off. Notable tracks: "Down The Line," "Abram" and "The Nest")
In other news, have any of you seen the trailer for Gamer? I feel like Gerard Butler's trying to compensate for something. Oh, something like every single terrible movie he's been in since 300.