Archive for November 2004

November 30th, 2004

The Clapper

So how was your Thanksg…? How was y…? Hhh…? Ha…?

Oh forget it. I was going to ask how your Thanksgiving was, but the part of my brain that allows me to small talk/bullshit/play “catch-up” with people has still not recovered. It went out at some point during the firestorm-of-28-relatives-I-haven’t-seen-in-a-long-time and it still hasn’t come back on line.

My condition is worrying me a little. What if I never regain the ability to be pleasantly sociable?…

Boss who’s thinking of giving me a promotion: “So did you get out to the golf course this weekend?”

Me: (Indifferent silence because I have no interest in golf.)

Boss: “Have your desk cleaned out by the end of the day.”

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted an update, I know. I’ve been traveling like crazy lately and this is the first time in the past two weeks that I’ve had the time.

Now that I’m back, let’s talk about Broken Social Scene.

I listened to a lot of music during my travels, mostly on my newest iPod (Apple has replaced my iPod three times now, and this new one still doesn’t work properly — more on this soon) and one of my favorite albums at the moment is Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People. It’s phenomenal. I just have one question: what’s with the clapping? No, no, I’m not referring to the fit of applause you’ve burst into while reading my blog. I’m talking about track three, “Stars and Sons.” Great song. I even like the instrumental interlude, even though I can’t make it through that part without being overtaken by laughter. Probably because I expect some sort of guitar or keyboard solo, and instead, I get a person or persons clapping eighth notes into a mic.

Now we’re all used to hearing clapping on quarter notes as additional percussion. But this clapping is different. It’s rapid-fire and very predominate in the mix. Couple that with the fact that it doesn’t come in until the interlude, and, well, it’s a solo. A clapping solo.

CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP… Whose idea was this? Why are these claps given such prominence in the mix? Did they have to hire a special studio “musician” to come in and do them?

Or better yet, maybe there’s a member of the band who just claps. No back-up vocals. No tambourine, even. Just claps. In different patterns. And only during specific parts of songs. God, I hope this guy’s out there.

I’ve decided he’s fat, with long hair, thinning on top (maybe a pony-tail, I’ll have to think about it) and he wears a sparkly, spandex jumpsuit with a cape. Wouldn’t that be great? Especially if the rest of the band just looked like normal indy-rockers that had rolled out of their van. He’d only come on stage for the songs he clapped in. On stage, leaving stage for a few, back up for another one…

This image popped into my head one day (too much allergy medicine, probably) and now I can’t get it out. I think about it every time I hear this song.

Lately I’ve been conducting in-depth interviews to get other people’s perspectives on the clapping solo (“Dude, just claps!?! I mean how did that get on the recording? Don’t you think it’s even a little funny?”). It’s been brought to my attention that most people don’t find this particularly humorous. Doesn’t matter though. I’m taking a stand here.

Even in the midst of today’s music, which all seems to be produced with a let’s-just-keep-adding-all-kinds-of-various-sounds-to-this-recording ideology, this clapping solo is absurd.

Mark my words, if Christopher Walken is still hosting SNL in 20 years (and if there’s any justice in the world, he will be) there will be a skit about this song.

“I NEED MORE CLAPS, BABY!”

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November 15th, 2004

Life on the Road!

Some relatives were in town this past week. Not your typical relatives, but my Uncle Andrew and family. About four years ago he began learning guitar and his wife Janet started on upright bass. They did this so they could play old folk songs with their four young kids (Andy Jr., Jessica, Kat, and Christian), all of whom were learning to play fiddle. A few months later Andrew left his job as the music director at a church in Florida. They sold their house and everything they owned that wouldn’t fit into their Chevy Tahoe and camper trailer and took their act on the road. I believe they’ve crossed the country three times now, playing renaissance fairs, craft festivals, pubs, concert halls, street corners, etc. They make enough money to get to the next destination, and move on, dropping in on friends and family along the way.

The last time the Partr-itchger Family visited us, they were just starting out. Their sound was a little rough around the edges. They were playing second hand-instruments and living in the tiny, pop-out trailer they pulled behind them.

A few things had changed this time around…

They rolled up in a brand new gigantic RV, parking it right in front of the house (yes, National Lampoon-style). “Don’t make a fuss over us,” they said. “We’re going to sleep and practice and have school out here.”

“So as not to intrude,” I thought. “They’re so considerate.” But the more I looked at this behemoth, the more convinced I became that it had more square-footage than our house. “Wow, you can almost fit eight whole people in your dining room,” they’d say as we all finished dinner in the house. “How cosy… Well, it was fun eating in here, but I think we’re gonna head back out to the RV. Maybe have a little soak in our hot tub before bed.”

Then there’s the kids, who are now way above-average in terms of musical ability. They each play three or four instruments (all of them brand new and shiny, since they now have corporate sponsorship for their musical equipment) and sing in four-part harmony. More amazing still is how seasoned and professional they are as performers. I watched one of their rehearsals the other day: Dad counts off and…boom! They launch into a number with elaborate, choreographed dance moves, big smiles on their faces the whole time. Chim-chim-a-ree! “Look at them! They’re having the times of their lives!” you think. But it’s all just part of the show. The song ends and, instantly, their expressions melt into looks of indifference and boredom. It’s nothing they haven’t done 400 times before. They stretch their necks and put their hands on their hips. One of them tunes up a bit, waiting for Dad to count off another one. Christian (the youngest one, who plays drums now) casually lights a cigarette.

They work hard, but my little cousins certainly aren’t suffering. Mom and Dad would call this whole thing quits the minute someone had had enough. The kids love it. A singing-dancing-traveling family? Are you kidding? When they play out there’s always a crowd. People clapping and giving them money and telling them how talented they are. I kind of feel sorry for kids whose parents aren’t dragging them around the country, making them dress up and play songs for people.

Also, the kids are also really, really, really good kids. They were pretty good when this got started. (This is the only way a family of six could have survived those first few months, riding in the car together and eating together and playing games together and going to school together and practicing and practicing and practicing, in a little trailer, day-in-and-day-out…together.) But over the years they’ve been forged into a highly-functional sibling-team. They help each other with homework. They pick up after one another. They share everything. They’re eager to help, polite, and even capable of sitting still. Not typical behavior for 15, 14, 12 and 11-year-olds. Sure, they occasionally have fights, but you can’t hold that against them — it’s scientifically impossible to keep siblings from fighting, let alone band-mates.

It’s a breakthrough in alternative-parenting, I tell you. The vaudevillian method.

“Wait, what about school?” you’re probably asking. Well, don’t you worry, they’ve got it covered. The kids are home-schooled (well, Winnebago-schooled). It’s all very hands-on and “knowledge is fun” in nature, which means they love learning. (“Fractions!?! Yesss!”) On top of that, there’s the stuff they’ve just picked up while constantly moving around the country. (State capitols? Not only can they can name them all, they can tell you the best place to eat lunch in each one of them.) I bet they’re all at least five grades ahead of where they should be. Of course, they don’t have grade levels in their home-school. Why would you put those kind of constraints on learning? I think the little one was reading War and Peace during their visit, anyway. That seemed a little advanced.

Isn’t it so cute? Especially when you think of how they would be torn apart like sickly gazelle in a public school.

If you want to learn more about this craziness, you can do so at shaelaurel.com. A word of caution, though: a dangerously cheerful song will start playing when you go here.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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November 9th, 2004

I’m Not Really Sure Where This Came From…

I think we could all agree that DVDs have replaced video cassettes as the popular way to watch movies at home, right?

Based on this relatively new development, I’m going to make a prediction: when I’m the age my parents are now, there will be a faction of hipster indy-movie snobs that will collect video tapes.

Can’t you just see them, haunting little indy-video shops in whatever the futuristic indy-equivalents of dark-rimmed glasses and black hoodies are? “VHS is just warmer,” they’ll say. “You get truer image quality.” They’ll look down their noses at the customers that glance at stupid blockbusters like Top Gun and When Harry Met Sally and constantly hold conversations about the genius of David Lynch.

I wonder what they’ll rename the tape player when this happens. “VCR” isn’t going to cut it anymore. Why not? Well, I’m just following the pattern that the record-collecting craze has set. I mean, even I can remember when the thing that played records was called a “record player.” I used a “record player” to listen to UB40 over and over and over again when I was eight. Somewhere along the line it got changed to “turntable.”

So what do you think they’ll call VCRs?

“Whoa, you have Donnie Darko on VHS! Let’s watch it. Put it in the ‘movie slot’.”

And I wonder if I’ll think they’re crazy, as my parents think the vinyl-nazis are now. “Why would you do that? Records were awful. They take up so much room. They’re always getting scratched. CDs are obviously sound better.”

Just some speculation on what’s to come.

Boggles the mind, no?

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