Saturday, September 14, 2013

What do you mean Millenials don't like Bruce Springsteen?

According to the Internet, which always tells the truth, my peers don't like Bruce Springsteen. Well, maybe not my peers, but "Millenials." Certainly I'm not one of them, because I was called "old" the other day.

Of the two times I saw Bruce this summer, I had to buy my friends' tickets because they didn't consider him worth paying for.

Listen, my too young friends. I know. I listen to some music that's a bit dated. I don't expect you all to be interested in the genius early country yodels of Jimmie Rodgers (although you really should be). And I know I can only get some of you interested in the music of Blind Willie Johnson if I quote line for line the West Wing scene about him, and pretend I'm coming up with it on the spot. Maybe old 1920's x-rated 78s aren't your thing. I get it.


He's still doing 4-hour live shows, crowd surfing, and more importantly, he's still writing kick-ass, angry, tear at your clothes rock and roll. Besides, it's not like you've never listened to music that was written before you were born. Did you ever lie in bed in high school listening to "Wouldn't It Be Nice" by the Beach Boys wishing you could be lying next to your boyfriend or girlfriend? Yes you did. Don't lie. Well, you should have been listening to "I'm on Fire," because bets are, that song speaks more to what you were feeling than the Beach Boys. 

I'm talking about sex… just in case you Millenials don't even bother to look up the lyrics. You're probably all too busy reading 50 other tabs and starting your own business… or blogging.

I don't need to defend Bruce. I'll let his music do that. 


Top seven Bruce songs young people need to hear. I say "young" even though someone called me old the other day… did I mention that yet? So let's just say, these are the songs for people who still feel young, confused and angry. 

1. I'm on Fire – Ok. This is pretty much the sexiest song I've ever heard. It throbs and sighs better than anything you've got. It's only four verses, and that's all it needs. Because when you're in the state that Bruce is in, you can't think hard enough to write more.

"At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
And a freight train running through the
Middle of my head
Only you can cool my desire
Im on fire"

2. Ghost of Tom Joad – Are pissed off that we elected a president who turned out to be politician? Are you angry that people are still sleeping on the streets? Can you believe that banks are still taking people's homes? So was Steinbeck when he wrote Grapes of Wrath. And more sickening is that that book written in 1939 could have been written last year. So Bruce is looking for Tom Joad from that book in all of sadness of modern day. Where is our working man's hero? 

"Got a one-way ticket to the promised land 
You got a hole in your belly and gun in your hand 
Sleepin' on a pillow of solid rock 
Bathin' in the city aqueduct"

As he says before introducing Tom Morello in the video above, "If Woody Guthrie were alive today he'd have a lot to say about high times on Wall Street and low times on Main Street."


3. Thunder Road (live) – This has been my favorite Bruce song ever since my old friend Bob Al-Greene put it on a mix for me back in the day. Maybe because it felt like we were living a Bruce song, driving along highways until the sun came up, listing to music. But this song, for me, is the anthem for something new. I've dated a few people in my day, and this is the song where you meet someone new and think, "Maybe this time it'll be like a dream. Maybe this time I'll be the person I want to be." And just like the Bruce song, the battle between fantasy and reality finishes with reality winning, and I am who I've always been and the person I'm looking at is just a person too. But we keep fighting, or in Bruce Springsteen terms, we keep driving.

Roy orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that's me and I want you only
Don't turn me home again
I just can't face myself alone again
Don't run back inside
Darling you know just what Im here for
So you're scared and you're thinking
That maybe we aint that young anymore

4. Death to Our Hometown – Getting to see Bruce Springsteen on his Wrecking Ball(no, not that Wrecking Ball...) tour this year was wonderful, especially seeing him sing this. People say protest rock is dead. Maybe as a genre it's gone, but if this song isn't a protest, I don't know what is.

So listen up, my Sonny boy 
Be ready for when they come 
For they’ll be returning sure as the rising sun 
Now get yourself a song to sing and sing it ’til you’re done 
Yeah, sing it hard and sing it well 
Send the robber baron’s straight to hell 
The greedy thieves that came around 
And ate the flesh of everything they’ve found 
Whose crimes have gone unpunished now 
Walk the streets as free men now

5. Dancing in the Dark – Sitting in Omaha (or New Jersey, for Bruce) feeling stuck. You don't want to be here anymore – here in town, here in your body, here with your friends, here with your job. Maybe love will solve it. Or lust, at least. 

I get up in the evening, and I ain't got nothing to say 
I come home in the moring, I go to bed feeling the same way 
I ain't nothing but tired, man I'm just tired and bored with myself 
Hey there baby, I could use just a little help

I check my look in the mirror wanna change my clothes my hair my face 
Man I ain't getting nowhere I'm just livin in a dump like this 
There's something happening somewhere baby I just know that there is


6.  The River – This one can only be listened to live, with the introduction. Tales of Bruce hiding from the cold in a phone booth, talking to his girlfriend for hours, looking for any reason not to go home to his parents' house.

But I remember us riding in my brothers car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I'd lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she'd take
Now those memories come back to haunt me, they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse that sends me
Down to the river though I know the river is dry


7.  Born in the USA – Ok people, clearly this is the most misunderstood Springsteen song of all time. I'd recommend clicking on the title and reading the lyrics. As Bruce puts it himself, it's a song about, "spiritual crisis, in which man is left lost...It's like he has nothing left to tie him into society anymore. He's isolated from the government. Isolated from his the point where nothing makes sense." I think we can all relate to that.

Got in a little hometown jam 
So they put a rifle in my hand 
Sent me off to a foreign land 
To go and kill the yellow man


So there's the top seven. Let me know if you need another 50. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Moment to moment reaction's of Miley Cyrus's new Wrecking Ball video

My homepage is the Guardian's music page, and when I turned on my computer this morning, there was Miley Cyrus's teary-eyed face looking back at me. I don't know her music, and I didn't get around to seeing her twerking video because our bandwidth costs a lot of money in Johannesburg and I couldn't justify that expense. But as I was reading an article about this video, I saw it got like 14 million hits in a day. By the time I started writing this it had already received 45 million hits.

So, to justify spending my time watching this video, here are my thoughts in blog form, shot for shot. Why would you care about my opinion of a video by a gal whose music I've never heard, whose old TV shows and movies I've never seen, who knows less about modern pop music than all of my peers? Because this is an unbiased opinion. I am a Miley Cyrus tabula rasa.

Without further ado, Miley Cyrus's new Wrecking Ball video...

0:00 Does she have my hair cut? Oh God, please don't let me relate to her. Well, she's not EXACTLY like me. Maybe I've already spent too much time in South Africa, but one of her eyes is bigger than the other. I think she might be transforming into a prawn.

0:24 Whoa. Powerful shot. Dead on, well lit, crying into the camera. Please, please don't let me like this song. Miley, I don't want to humanize you!

0:42 Is this all the critics were complaining about? She's not the first singer to go for the sexy-butchy look. she's not the first teen idol to prance around in her underwear. It's not like she's remaking "Showgirls" or something.

0:43 Nope, spoke too soon. That's a topless Miley. And tattoos... and are those Flo-Jo fingernails?

0:50 Still, the song isn't that bad, and my tender innocent eyes aren't offended as they should be, according to what everyone is saying online.

1:04 Uhhhhhh ok. Less hip lesbian, more pin-up girl. Thank God you're legal. As my roomie Patrick Keaveny would say, or the dudes from Workaholics, "Sweetie, have you eaten today?"

1:05 Damn, this song is catchy. Fight it... FIGHT IT...

1:14 Ohhhh

1:23 Uhhhhhh? Ok ok, Miley. We've all done things with household objects we shouldn't. I burned a lot of my hair when roasting marshmallows over a candle when I was like 10. But you're 20, and you're on camera.

1:28 Ohhhhh no...

1:49 Well, I officially apologize to all of the SJs who have been reading this. I say in my defence, this is the most viewed video on YouTube today, so I'm not the only one writing about this. I was not expecting the naked mid-90s sad lesbian construction worker motif to go so wrong.

2:18 It seems like you're just reusing footage now... Already saw the Flo-Jo nails.

2:59. Definitely reusing footage. I've already seen her get intimate with a sledge hammer. Not to say that it wasn't delightful the first time, but please leave us wanting more...

3:09 Seriously, did you not shoot enough b-roll to cover a 3-minute music video? We've seen her swinging naked from a wrecking ball a few times now. We get it, it's a metaphor. Deep.

Well, I hate to say it, this over-nudified, under-written song is pretty catchy. The trick, Miley, is to now get people to enjoy your music with your clothes on.

In the end, it's not great, but it's not worth tearing apart a 20-year old for either. I will say this, there is only one Wrecking Ball. And it's owned by The Boss.

Ok. My first Cyrus experience. That's three minutes I can't get back.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Life in Johannesburg... so far

It's difficult to express my first thoughts on Johannesburg. I have been here for two months now and can't quite wrap my head around it all. That's why I haven't been posting. One one hand, I am happy to get to a completely different place where I can keep learning. On the other hand, there is a constant feeling of being uncomfortable, nervous, naive. Either way, I'm not in Kansas anymore. 

I live at the office, which has it's perks and drawbacks. I live in a part of town that gives me street cred with most people, which helps me maintain this gritty, well-travelled NGO image. But that comes with living on a street with no lights, behind an 8-foot heigh brick wall, metal, jagged fencing above that, and an electric fence above that. Behind that wall I live behind two more metal gates and about five bolt locks. This doesn't make any of us feel more safe; it's just a constant reminder that we aren't. 

No walking at night. Car doors always locked. Space between cars at red lights (or "robots," as they are called here) for quick getaways. Never look a car jacker or home invader in the eye. Never cary expensive things on you. Always have enough for someone to be satisfied if you get mugged.

We are so concerned daily with security, it comes as a surprise to sit in the sun and drink a beer on some patio lounge, or to walk out of a jazz club and get a cab home with no hassle, or drive to and from Soweto at night and live to tell the tale. We are all so certain that something terrible is going to happen that every day something doesn't happen is a big win.

There is always something to experience in Johannesburg as long as we're willing to leave our apocalypse-secure compound and go find it. Jazz. Poetry. Theater. Dance. There are parts of town that look straight out of Madison, Wisconsin with urban art installations and brew pubs and street stalls and bike rentals and thrift stores upon thrift stores. There's cool urban renewal. There is music. Great music. Then there are the parts of town that look like World War Z.

I am having fun here, I am. It just takes a little getting used to – going from behind one gate to behind another, holding your breath on the way home. But hey, from what I can gather, Johannesburg –along with all of South Africa– is in the midst of making history. The decades after Apartheid will go down in the history books as the growing pains of an ever-changing nation. And that comes with a price. 

If nothing else, I plan on using this street cred at all the bars back in Omaha. Look out Brother's Lounge, because you've got a young white girl who will be ordering beers in Xhosa only to regail attractive strangers with her tales of the "hard life in South Africa" she once lived. I'll just leave out the parts about cocktails with umbrellas in them, and business lunches by the lake. Like I said, street cred.