The Church Christmas Pageant

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Tracing a Musical Linguistic Virus in the Internet Age

The other day, I was listening to the radio and I heard something that has set me off in the search of a Musical Linguistic Virus. The idea comes from Neal Stephenson's novel, Snow Crash. In Snow Crash there is a bio linguistic virus which ends up getting spread via virtual worlds. It seems to be a pretty virulent science fiction virus, but it seems like the idea isn't really all that far from reality.

Ideas, snippets of music, and memes have been spread from one person to another for ages. Perhaps a good example is an ear worm. Even without the Internet, ear worms can spread quickly. For people my age, I could simply mention, "Lovin' You" by Minnie Riperton, and many of my friends would not be able to get the tune out of the head.

Yet perhaps musical linguistic viruses in the Internet Age are more complicated. It wasn't a simple ear worm that I heard on the radio that I haven't been able to get out of my head. Instead, the host of the radio show was talking with guests from a band. They talked about key musical influences, bands from the eighties, and reusing samples. Perhaps they are taking musical DNA from the eighties and mutating it into new ear worms or musical linguistic viruses.

They mentioned Brian Eno, so I started to listen to some of his ambient music series on Spotify. This is a new avenue where musical linguistic viruses can spread. A thought came to me listening to a radio show. I pursued the thought on Spotify by listening to the music. Spotify posted to my Facebook Timeline that I had listened to Brian Eno and friends commented on it.

Steven L Johnson said, "That's what I listen to when I want to nap. :-)".

I responded, "Well, I've had a LONG week, and I'm actually going to crash soon." In fact, I did head off to bed soon after that, but my mind continued to turn about this. How does music affect what we think? How much does it reflect the current culture? Can we culture jam spreading different musical linguistic viruses via the Internet?

Perhaps an interesting project would be to create word clouds of the lyrics to the 25 songs of each year and tracking how it has changed.

So, what are you listening to? Why are you listening to it? How is it changing you? Perhaps most importantly, can we change what we listen to and how we talk about it to change our country and our world?

Music Monday, Barely....

I managed to make it home uneventfully, even though I was dead tired. It was one of those drives where it took all my energy to stay focused on driving, and if the trip had been longer than my daily commute, I would have considered pulling off at a rest area and taking a nap.

At home, I made a quick visit of various websites, and am now throwing together this blog post.

Fortunately, it is Monday, so I can pull together a few things for a quick Music Monday post.

Last night, Fiona interviewed Jen Alexander about Middnight on Main, a large New Years' Eve event that will take place in Middletown, CT. You can listen to the interview here

Also, yesterday I created a YouTube video, Rick Perry ROLLED. Yeah, it's what you think it is:

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Smoke on the Water

(While National Novel Writing Month has passed, I've written the following in the style I was exploring during the month. While it is based on my general recollections of junior high school, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the memories.)

It was about forty years ago that I went to my first junior high school dance. It was around the time that my parents were breaking up and my mother drove me in old green Chevy pick up truck to the regional high school. With anticipation and apprehension, I dressed up in some nice school clothes. I didn’t have any fancy clothes to speak of, it wasn’t a fancy sort of dance, and I probably would have felt even more awkward if I had to where something nice. My older brothers, already in high school, and having been to various school dances made snide comments, and my younger sister, still in elementary school and a Partridge Family fan wanted to find some way that she could go on such a grand adventure. My mother sensed my uneasiness at the event, and told her to stay home as she drove me to the dance.

Back then, I was a nerd, before it was cool to be a nerd. I enjoyed talking about academic subjects, especially math. I had gone from playing clarinet in the school band to alto clarinet, on a journey that would lead me to saxophone, bagpipes, and any other instrument I could get my hands on. Yet actually performing, or for that matter, sufficiently practicing the clarinet, was something that terrified me, almost as much as talking to a girl, or letter her know that I liked her.

The drive to the school was a little over seven miles. It was fifteen minutes of just me and my mother. She tried to get me to talk about who would be there. I mentioned some of the boys that I thought would probably be there, but didn’t mention any of the girls, especially not mentioning the girls I thought were cute or hoped to dance with.

Like so many school dances, this one took place in the gymnasium. The room wax dark and decorated with crepe paper. Up near the front of the gym, the band was set up at the east end. I walked around a little the large room for a little bit to try and find my friends. Like all the boys, they were on the north side of the gym. We stood around and looked timidly across the floor to the south side where the girls were gathered in similar clusters. Some of the more popular and self possessed kids took to the dance floor. They seemed to be having a good time, and I longed to join.

We did not listen to much music at our house. There was an old radio in the corner of the kitchen that we would listen to on snowy mornings to hear if there was a school cancellation. We eventually got a small record player and we listened to records we checked out of the town library. My sister purchased a single or two, and it seemed like there would be weeks on end that I heard “If you’re going to San Francisco…” playing over and over on the record player.

I remember listening to the Beatles when we checked out one of there albums and I would mangle Hey Jude, horribly. Some of my neighbors, older boys that were closer friends with my brothers and played in one of the many typical high school bands, would endlessly try to get me to sing Hey Jude a little better, but I just couldn’t tell what I was doing wrong. I also listened to a bit of Simon & Garfunkel. “I am a rock” seemed to capture my social abilities of the time.

At the dance, there would be various songs that the band would play that would encourage me to ask a girl to dance. When “She was just seventeen” came on, my heart would go boom as I crossed the room to ask one of the girls to dance. I would be terrified that they would say no, and perhaps even more terrified that they would say yes. Yet instead of dancing through the night, we would dance one dance, and then awkwardly exchange niceties before retreating back to our respective sides of the gym.

Another song that I really liked to dance at in those says was “Smoke on the Water”. I didn’t know what the words were. I just recognized the four measure riff and anticipated singing along to the chorus, “Smoke on the water, fire in the sky”. When the familiar opening chords were played, I would walk across the floor and try to get someone to dance with me. I was more comfortable with this song. I could simply enjoy dancing to it, without worrying about everyone looking at me or what my partner might be thinking.

When the dance was over, my mother would pick me up in the green pickup truck for the long fifteen minute drive home. She would ask if I had fun and whom I danced with. I would mumble about having had a good time and maybe name a girl or two that I danced with.

The days have passed and my two eldest daughters have been through their school dances. Perhaps I was projecting, but it seemed like Mairead’s experiences at school dances mirrored my own. Miranda seemed to have a much better time at the dances and would be much more talkative afterwards.

All of these memories come to mind, as I visited a blog I enjoy today. The Modern Historian has blog posts about things that have happened this day in history. Today is the fortieth anniversary of the Montreux Casino fire in 1971 that smoke on the water is all about.

Instead of looking for the old grey portable record player we had as a kid, I typed “Smoke on the Water” into Spotify and listened to the original, as well as a bunch of interesting covers of it, from a workout video to a bagpipe cover.

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Music Monday - Revival: A Folk Music Novel

Kim and I have very different reading styles. Her dresser is covered with stacks of novels waiting to be read, next to a flashlight so she can keep reading after I fall a sleep. She jumps into the novels and canb read them a novel at a time. Me? My computer screen has dozens of tabs open, as I hop from Facebook to Twitter and Google+. There are blogs and news stories I hop between. During those rare times that I actually try to read a novel, I typically read them about a page at a time. After a few sentences I have to pause and wonder. Social media is probably better suited to my adult ADD mind.

So, Kim has already finished reading Scott Alarik’s “Revival: A Folk Music Novel” which she picked up at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Me? I’ve been working on it for a while, and am only on page sixty. There is so much in there that I want to savor.

Yet, to me, it isn’t about the story or the characters. Nathan, Kit, Ferguson, Jackie, Murph, Ryder, Randy? Sure, they are not “based upon, or intended to resemble, any person living or dead”. Yet they do resemble so many of the people that I see every year at Falcon Ridge, the people that gather up at The Longue on Thursday night, or at the Main Stage on Friday afternoon during the Emerging Artist Showcase. They are the people that I talk with as I head from the dance stage to the workshop stage. They are my people.

No, there is something else, more important running just below the surface. It is the lectures of Ferguson and Nathan, and the underlying story.

Ferguson again closed his eyes and spoke in a measured cadence. “As near as I can tell, the difference between art and craft is that art is always trying to tell the truth. Any old chair is not art but a Shaker chair is. Why? Because a Shaker chair tells us something about the people who built it, who they were, what they believed, how they lived their lives.”

Ferguson opened his eyes, smiled at Ryder, and said, “That Texas guy made me wonder if there was anything he really wanted to say about himself. Anything true, anything real. Anything that made him so sad or happy or pissed-off that he wanted to shout it out loud to see if anybody else felt the same way.”

He gently poked Ryder’s chest with his finger. “Doesn’t anything piss you off like that, so much that you want to howl it for the whole world to hear?”

“Like what?” Ryder squeaked. He was in way over his head.

“Like what?” Ferguson bellowed, then reined himself in. Jackie cleared her through to keep from laughing. Nathan smiled at her.

Ferguson knows folk music, but it is more than just about folk music. It is about writing, about art, about living your life. It resonates with me.

There are times that I have been so mad as I write blog posts, my hands shake. I have to steady myself. There are times that I have been so sad, that I struggle to keep back my tears as I write. There is an old image I have about writing, something about opening up a vein and letting it flow on the paper. But I write on my computer, so it is more like hooking a USB port directly into my nervous system and feeling all of my energy drain out of me into my blog posts.

To me, that is what Alarik is writing about. Whether you want to be a good folk musician, a good blog, or just a good person, you really need to read, and ponder this novel.

Later on, there is a brief line, easily skipped over if you read the novel too quickly. “Folk music taught him that our most ordinary mornings can be the stuff of song.” The same applies to any good writing, and especially to blog posts.

Yeah, I try to pump out a blog post every day. Sometimes, it is just exercise, keeping my mind and my typing fingers nimble. Other times, I just can’t stop writing. Alarik’s novel drives me to keep on writing.

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