Monthly Archives: January 2011

Why can’t I be you…

“Why can’t I be you…” moans a familiar voice through the speakers… I recognize the lyrics, the notes, the tones… It’s from an album I bought in the late 80’s or maybe the early 90s.

“Is it The Cure” I ask the store clerk, a 20-something who responds with a big grin “Yes, I love them!!”

The song reminds me of my own youth. I lived in a house with three roommates, and all of us had met because of music. We had bonded on the basis of knowing the lyrics of songs like “Lips like Sugar” (Echo and the Bunnymen), “Your own personal Jesus” (Depeche Mode), “I Know It’s over” (The Smiths), and “Boys don’t Cry” (The Cure). One of our roommates, Bill, was a singer/songwriter in a band. When he told us the title of his new song “Diet Christ”, he didn’t need to explain to any of us what it was about.

I recall my rebellion against the cliched emotions of pop songs and my attraction to the poetry in the lyrics of alternative bands. I think of my friends who shared the existential angst that penetrated our souls and the upbeat irony in the music that moved our bodies.

Today, in a store on Valencia Street in San Francisco, music connects me to my youth in Boston…

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Posted by on January 30, 2011 in lyrics, poetry, sound



Jonathan Mann has been writing a song-a-day since January 2009.

He made a music video in which he tells iPhone 4G owners to return the phone instead of complaining about the poor ATT reception.  The video was picked up by Apple and shown as part of opening remarks by Steve Jobs. When he told us the story, Jonathan was still in shock at this unexpected publicity.

I heard him speak at iMacWorld 2011 today.

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Posted by on January 29, 2011 in song


Good Radiation

Surprised at the sound coming from the radio, I do a double take. Yes, my radio is tuned to 88.5, to KQED, which is the NPR station in San Francisco. I hear the name Terry Gross and know for sure that I am at the right station.

I smile and listen to the song and am very pleased by what I hear.

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Posted by on January 28, 2011 in lyrics, poetry, rap, song


Bollywood “Outsourced”

“Outsourced”, a prime-time NBC show set in an office in India, opens today with a song and dance sequence similar to those in Bollywood films. Normally there is no singing or dancing in this show. It’s a half-hour sitcom with a story which relies on the culture clash as a white American manager runs an American company with Indian employees.

The show airs on Thursday nights but I TiVo it and usually watch over the weekend. As I eat my cereal and watch the bright and shiny rainbow colored high energy movements of the dancers, I let the music wake me up with it’s bubbly enthusiasm.

The music doesn’t last long however because the manager wakes up the employee who is daydreaming about being a Bollywood star, and the real story of “Outsourced” starts to take shape. I am not disappointed. The song and dance it nice and refreshing change but I’ve tuned in for comedy.

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Posted by on January 23, 2011 in dance, song, television


LL Cool James

Last week, when I was in Washington D.C., I hadn’t expected to find LL Cool at the National Portrait Gallery. His portrait commanded the center wall in the room just like Obama’s famous campaign poster adorned the center of the previous room. The size of both portraits were about the same.

My knowledge of rap music is limited to Digital Underground from the 80s and a book that I bought recently on how to write a rap song after someone in my poetry workshop  brought a delightful rap about his cat.

I was clueless to the prominent position that rap has taken in the American cultural landscape and was taken by surprise to see LL Cool James, aka, Ladies Love Cool James in a room next to Obama.

The bio next to the painting said that his real name is James Todd Smith. No, it doesn’t quite have the resonance as LL Cool. This guy understands the power of words.

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Posted by on January 22, 2011 in rap, song


Musical Inspiration

Here come treble.

These words are printed in white letters on a black t-shirt. I am in the gift shop in The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. There’s a green crystal guitar sculpture on a shelf next to the t-shirt. The flipper of a cooking handle is shaped like a violin. Piano keys inspired salt and pepper shakers, trays, and mugs abound.

I recall a paper weight I had bought for a friend many years ago. It’s a sculpture that looks like a crushed music sheet. She’s a musician so it seemed like an appropriate gift. I’ve also given her a rock band, i.e., frogs playing a variety of musical instruments.

At home I have a toy of a little Native American girl asleep on a large drum. I also have a very large real drum in the center of my living room which I use as a coffee table.

Music translates into visual inspiration. This time I don’t buy anything. It’s time to go beyond ‘collecting’ musical inspirations.

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Posted by on January 16, 2011 in art


Native Sounds

@the Native American museum in Washington D.C.

The sound of live music is unexpected. I’m at the Native American Museum in Washington D.C. My friend Eugene and I are drawn to the the rhythms beating on the hand held drum.

Only a few minutes ago, we were listening (and watching) similar music on a looping video in the museum. After a few minutes, Eugene had moved on to other displays but I was transfixed by the gorgeous sounds of the flutes and the drum rhythms, the mountainous backdrop of Peru,  the beautiful brown skinned men in multi-colored outfits and rainbow accessories.

Now, similar sounds are here, live, four floors below us, and I’m captivated.

Perhaps it’s a drum beat that reaches into ancient memories, essence of our human rhythm, on par with our instinctual lizard brain…a feeling resonating inside my neurons and my other cells and beyond the grasp of my words… isn’t that what all good music does?

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Posted by on January 15, 2011 in sound


Public Space

I don’t look at them until they turn on the music. It’s a phone on speakers so the sound has a sharp unpleasant edge to it. Otherwise, I might have enjoyed the beat. The words might even have been poetic from what I glean from the occasional set that I hear.

They look like teenagers. Two girls, two boys. We are all passengers on BART. I am two seats away from them, facing them diagonally.

Earlier I had overheard their conversation. They were saying the words of a song, a rap.  I heard a few words here and there and tried to hear more. But couldn’t tease out the poem. So, I was lost in my own thoughts when I was forced out of my quiet escape by the phone speaker.

I look at them to let them know that I am unpleased with this invasion of my personal space. My quiet request is ignored. The music continues. I decide to adjust to the situation and try to listen. The rudeness of the situation is more overpowering than any musical or poetic words and I can only relax once the song is over and the kid turns off the speaker.

This is akin to the occasional car that passes me on the roads in San Francisco with music blaring loud enough to make me wonder if the driver has hearing problems. I feel as if sound pollution is slowly encroaching my personal space and I’m powerless to do anything about it. I wish I could tell these people that listening to music should be my choice and not one made for me.

I feel the same about the pervasive music in coffee houses. I go there for quiet, to work, to read. I wish they wouldn’t feel the need to add their own entertainment. But, at least, in those cases the option of listening is mine.

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Posted by on January 14, 2011 in sound


Too much music?

I’m reading This is Your Brain on Music but the technical explanations of octaves and scales are eliciting a mental yawn. I don’t want to give up so I continue reading but I know that I’m not learning very much. I want to get to the good stuff, the physiological effects of music. That’s the reason I bought the book.

I’m at Borderlands. There’s no music. Just a soothing hum of conversations. Ironically, I’m noticing the absence of music and the calm that it produces.

Is music being used too much in our society?

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Posted by on January 9, 2011 in sound


What is music?

I do a few google searches with the keyword ‘music’. The results are mostly about musicians and their songs. I don’t find much on the instrumental aspects.

What is music? It seems that many people emphasize the songs or the musician rather than the sounds of the instruments. The only indicator of the type of instruments used is gleaned by the categories which are assigned to the song: jazz, rock, bhangra, country, Arabic, classical, rap, r&b, Indian, hip hop, reggae, electronic, a Capella, Chinese.

I look up the definition in Merriam-Webster and the primary definition “tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity” seems fairly broad and beyond just musicians and their songs. I like the concept of “tones and sounds” and that’s what I’ll explore in this blog.

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Posted by on January 8, 2011 in sound