Category ►►► Make Mine Music
October 13, 2013
I must share this YouTube with you all. The guy who plays this piece, Michele "Dr.Viossy" Vioni, is a member of (or is the entirety of, I'm not sure which) a tribute band to Dream Theater -- which I had never heard of before today, despite it being a successful and excellent band.
This piece is a tribute to a very different, somewhat older musician, however; have a listen...
All right, this is officially cool...!
June 15, 2007
The Mobile-Phone Opera Guy From Special Report
A clip from the British show Britain's Got Talent (as seen yesterday on Brit Hume).
The show is, as you have probably surmised, a nationwide talent search in the UK; not limited to singing (like Pop Idol, or its U.S. sister show, American Idol) or dancing (like So You Think You Can Dance), contestants can come out and juggle, or play an instrument, or, it appears, do any barmy thing they want... so long as they're willing to brave catcalls from the live studio audience and buzzers from the judges (like the gong in the old Gong Show).
This chap is a mobile-phone salesman who sings opera in his off hours, and here is his audition. I noticed a glitch when he sings the highest note; but it's very brief, and he recovers well. Considering that he has (supposedly) never been trained, a brilliant performance.
I hope that as he progresses through the show, no matter how far he gets, he at least gains enough attention that a serious opera singing maestro will take him under wing and give him the training he truly deserves.
Oh, here it is; the clip is completely work-safe, unless your boss doesn't like operatic singing:
May 17, 2007
Idolatry Thoughts II
Once again, the lizards deliberately and with malice aforethought pump buckets of water all over Dean Barnett's parade...
Today, following last night's American Idol results show, Dean wrote the following:
Dean wrote the following:
As you probably guessed, we’re mourning in Soxblog Manor over the departure of Melinda Doolittle last night. Mrs. Soxblog has even vowed to boycott the season finale.
I really think Mr. and Mrs. Soxblog have misunderstood the point of the show. Yes, Melinda was the best technical singer in the top ten of American Idol; but the purpose of the show is not to find the best singer; it is, per the title, to find an "idol." And idoldom takes much more than simple singing ability... it requires uniqueness, personality, confidence, and above all, the Potter-Stewart-like "star quality". (I don't mean Justice Stewart had it; I mean his famous quotation about knowing something when he sees it.)
Melinda entered the show as a backup singer, and I have thought all along that that is what she is. All right, maybe she's the Nicky Hopkins of backup singers; but she's never going to be the front man. She has no other quality than singing ability.
Either Blake Lewis or Jordin Sparks could be, though the lizards prefer Jordin: We were both quite moved by her rendition of the old "I (Who Have Nothing);" enough so that after the show, I went to YouTube and watched several other singers performing that song, including one of my all time favorites, Shirley Bassey.
This is an old song. The English version is credited to Jerry Leiber (lyrics) and Mike Stoller (music); but there was a previous Italian song -- I haven't heard it, but it's supposed to be suspiciously similar -- with lyrics by Giulio Rapetti and music by Labati Carlo Donida. Many singers have covered it, from Tom Jones to Ben E. King.
But honestly, the Jordin Sparks version was as good as, or even better than, the Shirley Bassey version -- even though Sparks is nowhere near as good a singer as Bassey. Sparks, who is only 17, pulled much more of the determination to fight out of the song and into her performance, while Bassey remained stuck in the hopelessness aspect. That is, Sparks made the song her own, taking a different tack than most other singers. (Blake did something similar with the Bon Jovi song "You Give Love a Bad Name," and I said at the time how much I liked it when singers do that.)
That is star quality. And to go all political (as Dean does, but in a different direction), that is why Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and yes, even John McCain are all front runners for the Republican nomination... while Duncan Hunter, Mike Huckabee, and Sam Brownback, who have much the same positions on issues, are also-rans.
Jordin Sparks has star quality. Blake Lewis at least distinguishes himself enough to be unique. But Melinda Dolittle was never anything but an extremely talented but utterly commonplace singer... and that is why she ultimately failed to make the finale.
In both of the nationwide talent-search shows on right now -- American Idol and Dancing With the Stars -- the finale will, in fact, comprise the best choices: Jordin and Blake for AI; and Apolo Anton Ohono, Joey Fatone, and Leila Ali for Dancing. Any of those five deserves to win for his respective show
I'm very happy with the call-in voters this season -- they got it absolutely right.
(I do absolutely agree with Dean about the idiocy of the "Idol gives back" show a couple of weeks ago: It was pandering of the worst sort... and it didn't even have good performances! The spectacle of doddering, ancient Annie Lennox screeching her way through "Bridge Over Troubled Water" -- a song immensely difficult even for brilliant singers in their prime -- was simply painful and made me want to melt all my Eurythmics albums on the car radiator.
(By contrast, the performance this week by Maroon 5 -- which I'd never heard of before -- was excellent... enough so that I want to buy some of their CDs.)
May 2, 2007
I'm deliberately stomping all over Dean Barnett here, because he never got around to posting one of his "Idol Thoughts" posts -- the lazy, slovenly lout. (Say what you will about Barnett, his personal hygiene doesn't quite live up to the Al Sharpton standard.)
I've been watching American Idol from the top-ten point this season (and last season, and the season before that). Yesterday's show was "Bon Jovi" night... and I must confess right off the mark that I know very little about the band. But I was surprised that I recognized all but a couple of the songs.
In fact, now I'm motivated to get a BJ CD or two... can anyone recommend a good one for someone who has heard the music but isn't really familiar with it? Thanks, I knew you could.
I absolutely thought the best performer was LaKisha, who performed -- warning, I don't know the official names, so I have to guess from the lyrics -- "This Ain't a Love Song." In the past, I've considered Melinda the best singer; and technically, she was last night, too. But I just liked LaKisha's gospel-like rendition of this song, which is one of the two I've never heard before.
Melinda was good with "Have a Nice Day," the other one I've never heard; but honestly, I really, really liked Blake's bizarre performance of "You Give Love a Bad Name" much better (again, that may not be the title, but you must be able to figure out what song I mean). I've heard that song sooooo-oooooo-oooo many times on the radio that I was heartily sick of the thing; but Blake's version was very fresh and original.
In fact, even Jon Bon Jovi himself -- who tutored the Idolators, along with the keyboardist from the band, didn't catch the name -- was very skeptical about Blake's interpretation. He was politely trying to dance around saying "you're a weirdo, and you're wrecking our song!" But dang, did Blake nail it! I really enjoyed it; I liked it better than the original, but that could be due to familiarity breeding ennui.
Melinda was third best, to my ear; she sang the heck out of her song, and it was a tough song; but I didn't get into it as much as I did Blake's and especially LaKisha's.
Below that, it gets a little dicey: Chris did a fairly good job with "Wanted: Dead or Alive," workmanlike but unspectacular. Phil did about the same with "Blaze of Glory," which I've heard once or twice before. Non-memorable, at least his performance.
But the lowest spot -- I was very unpleasantly surprised -- was 17 year old Jordin Sparks, who struggled her way through "Living On a Prayer." While I've loved some of her singing in the past -- especially "You'll Never Walk Alone" last week, which left audiences screaming for less -- last night, I agreed with Simon (as I generally do, except when he's too generous): It was a miserable performance. She couldn't even remember the melody.
Because nobody was bounced last week (it was charity day, so they extended a week's worth of welfare to the contestants), two will be eliminated tomorrow. I'm almost dead certain that Jordin will be one of them; she was inexplicably the bottom vote-getter last week and would have been eliminated but for unearned grace. Her performance last night clinched it; consumatum est. Tomorrow, Jordin sleeps with the fishes.
But I don't know who goes with her. I think (I hope!) it will be either Phil or Chris; the other three were all first drawer. If I had to pick solely on the basis of the singing ability, I think Phil did a marginally better job than Chris, so the latter should go.
But it has nothing to do with singing, really; it actually is a popularity contest... and I don't know which of the two is beloveder.
So those are my predictions, and I'm standing by them. Dean Barnet can go jump in the River Jordin (yes, that's a pun, not a typo) for missing his beloved Idol Thoughts post; maybe when he sees this, he'll belatedly toss something up... but no matter what he says, you'll all know it was because he was prodded by a grotty lizard!
September 19, 2006
The Chicks Lay Another Egg
As an obsessed anti-fan of Dixie Chicks, I was planning on talking about their hate-mongering movie premier in Toronto anyway, even if it hadn't been so fatuous and whiny. Of course, I haven't seen it, and I have no plans to go see it; but there's plenty of buzz from people who have:
In one memorable scene, Maines watches news footage of the president being interviewed about the furor that followed the singer's on-stage comment that she was ''ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas,'' which resulted in the group being dropped from most radio stations, as well as protests and plummeting sales. ''The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind,'' Bush told Tom Brokaw at the time, adding, ''They shouldn't have their feelings hurt just because some people don't want to buy their records when they speak out. You know, freedom is a two-way street.''
After watching this footage, Maines repeats the president's comment about how the group shouldn't have their ''feelings hurt,'' incredulous, and then says, ''What a dumb f---.'' She then looks into the camera, as if addressing Bush, and reiterates, ''You're a dumb f---.'' [Thereby completely refuting the point about freedom being a two-way street, running rings around the president with her Vulcan-like logic. -- Dafydd]
Methinks their feelings are hurt by former fans (such as me) choosing not to buy their CDs or go to their concerts. I weep great crocodile tears. And today, I read an article about their press conference in Toronto; from the section subtitled -- I'm not kidding -- "the rough road to free speech":
Directed by two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County, U.S.A.”, “American Dream”) and Cecilia Peck, the documentary chronicles Maguire, her sister Emily Robison and Maines’ transition from country darlings to bold symbols for freedom of expression....
“They’re from Texas. They’re supposed to be these women that people have put a box around, and here are these incredible all-American girls coming out and making a statement and not backing down from it,” Kopple told The Associated Press in an interview.
They may not be "backing down," but they're sure whining an awful lot. What they call "freedom of speech" is what the rest of us call "freedom from the perfectly reasonable reaction to their offensive words." (I mean, it's not as though we called them "crusaders" then ran out and burned down that church up in Nova Scotia that worships a giant graven image of Natalie Maines.) The Chicks can criticize the rest of us all the live-long day, using every four-letter word they can call to mind (which appears to be only one, endlessly repeated); but boy, if we criticized them, we're suppressing their freedom of speech!
If you want to know what real suppression of freedom of speech looks like, you should ponder that letter sent by powerful Democratic senators to ABC, threatening the network's broadcast license if it didn't cancel the miniseries "the Path to 9/11." That is true censorship -- fortunately unsuccessful.
And for an example of media hypocrisy, read Syrus Nowrasteh, who wrote the screenplay, discussing how he was treated by the antique media for speaking the unspeakable: that Bill Clinton was at least as responsible for 9/11 as George W. Bush (reparagraphed for easier reading):
In July a reporter asked if I had ever been ethnically profiled. I happily replied, "No." I can no longer say that. The L.A. Times, for one, characterized me by race, religion, ethnicity, country-of-origin and political leanings -- wrongly on four of five counts. [All emphasis added.]
To them I was an Iranian-American politically conservative Muslim. It is perhaps irrelevant in our brave new world of journalism that I was born in Boulder, Colo. I am not a Muslim or practitioner of any religion, nor am I a political conservative. What am I? I am, most devoutly, an American. I asked the reporter if this kind of labeling was a new policy for the paper. He had no response.
The hysteria engendered by the series found more than one target. In addition to the death threats and hate mail directed at me, and my grotesque portrayal as a maddened right-winger, there developed an impassioned search for incriminating evidence on everyone else connected to the film. And in director David Cunningham, the searchers found paydirt! His father had founded a Christian youth outreach mission.
The whiff of the younger Mr. Cunningham's possible connection to this enterprise was enough to set the hounds of suspicion baying. A religious mission!
A New York Times reporter wrote, without irony or explanation, that an issue that raised questions about the director was his involvement in his father's outreach work. In the era of McCarthyism, the merest hint of a connection to communism sufficed to inspire dark accusations, the certainty that the accused was part of a malign conspiracy. Today, apparently, you can get something of that effect by charging a connection with a Christian mission.
The Ditzy Chicks' belief in "free speech for me but not for thee" sounds strikingly similar to what too many Moslem extremists believe. In the last few days, we've been treated to their hysterical overreaction, all over the world, to the pope's innocuous statement. Was what Pope Benedict said so bad that it justifies calling for his assassination, burning down churches in Gaza, and shooting a nun in the back, for the crime of dedicating her life to saving Somali children... as part of a religious mission?
If I tried to count all the times that I've been called a "Zionist pig," just because I dare to support Israel's fight against terrorism, I would still be counting 100 years from now.
And all this time, Moslem extremists have not only verbally attacked those of other faiths as "infidels," they have killed Jews and Christians by the bushel. For that matter, they kill each other for not being the right kind of Moslem (their violent attacks against each other peak during the holy month of Ramadan.) And we have yet to see a single Jewish rabbi or Catholic nun blow up a Hummus stand in Jerusalem, except maybe to protest the Arabic rap music they play incessantly.
So the Moslems' feelings are hurt! Big deal. They're killing Americans nearly every day in the name of Allah; pardon me for thinking that's a little more aggressive than quoting some emperor from six hundred years ago who thought conversion by the sword was "evil and inhuman."
Unlike the "death threats" the Ditzy Chicks claim to have received (and let's see some of them!), the threat against modern civilization from the Moslem extremists is deadly real. We must take this threat seriously, but not by backing down. We must speak up aginst this bloodthirsty assault on freedom of speech. Threatening murder, mayhem, and assassination in response to words is completely different from simply refusing to buy a CD by some annoying chit with the brains of a Pekingese.
As for our suppression of the Chicks, we're just exercising our "freedom of wallet." Although their album hit the number 1 on Billboard (for a few weeks before dropping like an egg), ticket sales for the tour are less than half of the Chicks' last tour. Maines' decision to stick to arenas, instead of shifting to smaller venues (garages, bathrooms), cost them millions... but don't shed any tears: they're much happier with their new listeners, they say:
“We’ve basically been playing to about half the audience as on the last tour, but it’s a different audience. They just look good,” band member Martie Maguire told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the documentary “Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing” premiered.
In the grand scheme of things, the problems of the Dixie Chicks rate somewhere between warm beer and a cold sore, and I don't even know why I wrote this. Never mind; don't read it!
August 23, 2006
Toby Keith Sneaks a Peek
Country music star Toby Keith has been entertaining American troops all over the world, including in dangerous war zones such as Afganistan and Iraq. But recently, Toby took his love for the troops where no star has ever gone before: he actually premiered his new movie in the Middle East and South Asia for the US troops, before any civilian audience got to see it:
Country star TOBY KEITH gave US troops serving in the Middle East a sneak preview of his movie acting debut after airing BROKEN BRIDGES in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Qatar last weekend (11-13AUG06). The film, in which Keith plays a forgotten singer/songwriter, hit makeshift desert cinemas a month before the film premieres in the US. The movie also features JOHN TRAVOLTA's actress wife KELLY PRESTON as Keith's love interest. Keith has been a regular visitor to troops overseas - he spent the Memorial Day weekend (27-29MAY06) in Germany and the Persian Gulf on his fourth United Services Organisation (USO) tour.
Keith's USO tour covered four continents, with multiple performance in Iraq. He has performed over 70 concerts for the troops and their families all over the world during the last four years.
Meanwhile, Keith's "mortal enemies," the Ditzy Chicks -- whose concert ticket sales continue to limp -- gave up promoting their own tour; instead, they've begun to push their whiny new movie, Shut Up and Sing... which will also debut in foreign climes: Canada, of course. (Europe and Canada are Chicks-istan.)
A documentary about the firestorm that greeted the Dixie Chicks' anti-Bush comments will make its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. "Dixie Chicks -- Shut Up and Sing," from Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple ("Harlan County," "American Dream") and Cecilia Peck, will receive a high-profile gala screening.
It's a very one-sided battle: the Chicks constantly assail Toby Keith, but he never bothers to respond.
Laura Ingram, who coined the phrase "shut up & sing," said she would love to promote her book at the concert. But somehow, I don't see her getting a backstage pass.
June 29, 2006
You Are an Emissary to the Past...
Not too far back in the past; just back to the days of Mozart. In fact, that's who you're meeting... Wolfie himself.
The talk turns to music (oddly enough), and WAM turns out to be fascinated to hear what music sounds like in your era (that is, the latter half of the twentieth century; I don't mean the music of last Thursday). Fortunately, you anticipated this request, and you brought five CDs with you.
(All right, so you know where I'm going with this. Big deal; whaddya think, you need to be a mind reader?)
So the question -- pretend you haven't already guessed -- is this: which five CDs do you bring back in time to the eighteenth century to play for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to give him some understanding of the music of our time?
A few points to bear in mind:
- I'm not asking you to name your five favorite CDs. I'm asking what you would bring with you to play for a man who never even got to hear Beethoven, let alone Cherry Poppin' Daddies or Rascal Flats. The music you bring must be accessible to one of the greatest musical geniuses who ever lived -- but who died in 1791 at the age of 36 (well, almost).
- Second, you must of course explain why you brought each CD, how it would add to his understanding. Just as a suggestion, you might consider a progression... something by Beethoven, something by Joplin, something by the Beatles, etc. But you don't have to... freedom of speech, that's what I say!
- Third, as you probably inferred from the previous point, you are not restricted to music from 1950 on... you just need to end up there. Your CDs can all come from the last 56 years, or some can come from earlier. But the last one must be fairly typical of good contemporary music, where "contemporary" is loosely defined.
So grab your thinking cups and swig away!
June 19, 2006
The Chix Love "Country"... Just Not This One
On my last post Go North, Young Chix, a commenter left this peculiar message.
Basically, it's because many of you folks have misinformation (the Chicks LOVE our troops and our country), and are so mean about spreading your hate. [Emphasis added]
What is he talking about?
After describing how the Dixie Chicks are too sophisticated for us redneck women and how they "weathered" the unfair attacks from mean-spirited conservatives and even political oppression, the article reveals what the Chix have to say about all this:
The Chicks can't hide their disgust at the lack of support they received from other country performers. "A lot of artists cashed in on being against what we said or what we stood for because that was promoting their career, which was a horrible thing to do," says Robison.
"A lot of pandering started going on, and you'd see soldiers and the American flag in every video. It became a sickening display of ultra-patriotism."
How clueless they are.
They think the only reason other country singers did not support the chicks was that they wanted to cash in against the chicks.
Besides demonstrating a rather colossal ego on the Chix' part, I'm not sure Natalie Maines realizes what it implies about their rejection by country fans: if groups can "cash in" by attacking the Chix, that means there's a big market among country fans for doing just that. If the Chix were really as popular as the album sales indicate, then attacking them would have a negative effect on one's income, not a positive one.
- The Chix reject out of hand the possibility that other country artists were as genuinely angry at the Chix as the girls were angry at President Bush. Evidently, the possibility that their professional detractors were simply being honest and straightforward never crossed their minds. (If they have minds.)
- And of course, the DCs cannot imagine that other bands' display of "ultra-patriotism" might actually be sincere... especially after our nation was attacked. Patriotism is really just greed, stupidity, or ignorance, as far as the Chix are concerned.
Ah, but Elton John gives us some insight: the reason nobody wants to speak up for what's "going on" is because of Bush-induced censorship (hat tip commenter MTF):
Sir Elton John has attacked what he calls a McCarthy-like "era of censorship" in America. Entertainers who speak out against the Bush administration or its policy on Iraq, he claimed, risk scorn and damage to their livelihood.
Boy George, I think you've got it, Sir Elton: the American right of freedom of speech has always guaranteed a hit record and a successful concert tour. It's written right in the Constitution. (Again, we're back to liberals -- and some conservatives -- who have their own special dictionaries that don't seem to match the internationally accepted yardstick.)
As for Maines, that crazy, little thing called "patriotism" is simply a mystery to her:
"The entire country may disagree with me, but I don't understand the necessity for patriotism," Maines resumes, through gritted teeth. "Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and like your life, but as for loving the whole country… I don't see why people care about patriotism."
I think this answers the commenter's claim that "the Chicks LOVE our troops and our country"... and resolves the burning question of who is actually "spreading [their] hate."
June 15, 2006
Go North, Young Chix
I know, I know, I am obsessed with the stupid Dixie Chicks. I see them everywhere I go. Wait, they are everywhere I go, but not for long, I hope.
The other day, I talked about the Dixie Chicks' sagging ticket sales for their upcoming U.S.Tour, especially in the American heartland (the South and the Middle West). Well, they've wisely charted a new course: they're heading north, up through New England and the lefty Northeast all the way to the Great White North of eastern Canada.
They had to postpone (and probably cancel) twelve originally scheduled concerts:
- Milwaukee, WI;
- Kansas City, MO;
- St. Louis, MO;
- Indianapolis, IN;
- Fresno, CA (in the Republican-leaning San Joaquin Valley);
- Los Angeles, CA (that one is odd);
- Las Vegas, NV;
- Oklahoma City, OK;
- Memphis, TN;
- Houston, TX;
- Jacksonville, FL;
- and Greensboro, N.C.
Note that each of these concert venues (except for L.A. and Las Vegas) are locations known not only for being quite conservative but also for being "core country" music centers; they are all in the South, the Midwest, and the West -- the heartland of America. They didn't have to cancel any concert dates in New England! In fact, even Los Angeles and Las Vegas have a lot of "urban cowboys" who tend, by and large, to side with that fellah from Texas over the Chix from Texas.
I am surprised that Los Angeles is on the chopping block. I can understand Fresno; that central Californian farm city is very conservative, as is the entire central valley (except for Sacramento, the state capital, of course).
But Los Angeles? Only a couple of weeks ago, operations manager R.J. Curtis of LA's popular KZLA country station insisted that listeners consider the Dixie Chicks controversy a "non-issue." Much to my annoyance, and despite my protest letters, they play the Chix often enough:
"I can play this music," he said. "I just did a focus group [how Hollywood!], and for our listeners it's a non-issue. Now, down the road in San Diego, where there are military bases, the program director would tell you that the Chicks are unplayable."
Hm... maybe he should have conducted the "focus group" among KZLA's actual listeners, instead of the station management!
Meanwhile, the promoters have added eight northern cities to the tour -- five of them in Canada:
- Uncasville, CN;
- Jones Beach, NY;
- Atlantic City, NJ;
- Halifax, Nova Scotia;
- St. John, New Brunswick;
- Montréal, Quebec;
- London, Ontario;
- and Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The Ontario date replaces the "postponed" Milwaukee concert... an indication that they're writing off the Midwest in favor of Canada. Not a single one of these venues is in a more conservative area; and only one, Winnipeg, is even in the Canadian prairie country (the rest of the Canadian dates are in the eastern provinces). Nothing in Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, or even northern Manitoba -- Canada's "cowboy country." Not even a single concert date in British Columbia, though I wouldn't be surprised if they eventually added one (BC is more like Oregon and Washington than like Montana or Idaho).
The conclusion is inescapable: whatever the Dixie Chicks are now, they are no longer a "country western" group. Martie Maquire has abandoned country fans, saying "we don't want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do." Natalie Maines has called the country audience "rednecks" (she didn't mean it like Gretchen Wilson does), and she says she never really liked playing country music in the first place. Their promoters have abandoned cowboy country in favor of New York and New Brunswick.
The Chix have abandoned country altogether. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
Maybe they'll be successful as a pop-rock group, though their country sound -- and their name -- may be hard for the new audience to swallow over "the long road."
But in keeping with their new orientation, I think the Dixie Chicks should change their name: they should call themselves the Yankee Feminists. Truth in advertising, you know.
June 8, 2006
In my posts Not Ready to Make Amends and Maines Vs. Texas, I talked about the Dixie Chicks' new campaign strategy as left-wing victims. I predicted that their strategy would fail; country fans are never going to embrace the chicks again, and their careers will suffer from this.
At the time, their two singles, "Not Ready to Make Nice" and "Everybody Knows" were not doing well on the billboard chart, mired at 32 and 48 respectively. The initial ranking of the new album released a couple of weeks ago was 69th. It looked like my prediction was correct.
But then I started to see the Chicks' annoying faces all over television: evening talk shows, entertainment magazine shows, morning shows, and TV advertisements. Our commenter, Dan Kauffman, brought this to my attention:
As All About Country told you over the weekend, The Chicks would perform on "The Late Show with David Letterman" tonight. AND, they will be featured on "Good Morning America" every morning this week (starting this morning), and ending with their performance of three songs live in Bryant Park in New York City, on Friday morning.
To this, I responded:
With all that free publicity, if the album does not hit #1 on Billboard, that will be a surprise.
No surprises. The album did jump from 69th to number 1 in a second week.
Had I spoken too soon? Since their singles were doing so badly, I thought surely the album could not do well. I suppose I was wrong. The "I'm a victim!" tour worked after all.
Or did it?
After the initial shock was over, I thought of something. When an album sells well, it's generally because fans liked one or more singles extracted from the album. After all, that's the whole theory of releasing the singles first, right?
There is usually a correlation: hot singles, hot album; cold singles, dead fish. I checked, and sure enough, most artists whose albums are in the top 20 also had singles that were in the top 20 at their peaks. Everyone, that is, except the Chicks: the album was number 1, but the earlier singles just had laid there like lumps of chopped liver.
Whoever is buying all those Dixie Chicks albums is not a country-western fan; the fans would have grabbed the singles -- their first in years -- as soon as they were available. Could they be liberals who heard about the Chicks on TV talk shows, in the context of "Chicks vs. the right-wingers," as exemplified by the Chicks' bête noire, Toby Keith?
Then Dafydd called my attention to this fascinating article....
NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Initial ticket sales for the Dixie Chicks' upcoming tour are far below expectations and several dates will likely be canceled or postponed.
Ticket counts for the 20-plus arena shows that went on sale last weekend were averaging 5,000-6,000 per show in major markets and less in secondaries, according to sources contacted by Billboard. Venue capacities on the tour generally top 15,000.
Anyone can buy a $10.00 CD from Amazon. But to buy $60.00 to $400.00 concert tickets and invest time to go see them -- you gotta be a fan.
What does this all mean? It comes back to what I predicted before: the Dixie Chicks career as a country western group has ended. It's over. Stick a fork in it. Take a look:
Despite those [album sales] numbers, early ticket sales are clearly not meeting projections. The plug was pulled on public on-sales for shows in Indianapolis (August 23), Oklahoma City (September 26), Memphis (September 27) and Houston (September 30) because of tepid pre-sales in a national promotion with Target stores.
The Memphis show has been pulled off the route and the status of the shows in Indianapolis, Houston and Oklahoma City remains uncertain. Industry speculation has it that much or all of the tour may be postponed. At the very least, it is likely routing and capacity will be reconfigured.
Does anything strike you about those cities where their concert sales are so bad, the entire tour may be canceled or postponed? Think "geography." Those are all conservative, "red-state" cities in the South and Midwest; they're all in the country-western heartland.
Country fans are not embracing them and never will again. Their new-found liberal fans are not fans of country... they're fans of anyone who hates George Bush and has a public row with the country community. They likely bought this album out of political solidarity; but when the novelty wears off, so does the Chicks' popularity. It's just like what happened to k.d. lang: when she broke with country and trashed them, her first album, Ingenue, was a hit (rising to 18th on Billboard); but she's had no success of any note since then; her highest showing on Billboard for a solo album after Ingenue was 29th for Drag in 1997.
Ah, but the Chicks aren't dying everywhere. They're actually doing pretty well in a couple of cities:
But not all shows on this tour are below projections. "We're happy (with our on-sale) and comparatively seem to be ahead of most," says John Page, Global Spectrum COO/GM at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, where the trio is booked for July 25. A second date was added for the Air Canada Center in Toronto, where the first show sold out in eight minutes. "Canada loves the Chicks," says ACC booking director Patti-Ann Tarlton.
Since, they are doing so well in Canada and the UK, I suggest they move there. The Chicks will do well amongst their own: people whose profession is to hate America.
May 22, 2006
Maines Vs. Texas
Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines is digging the hole deeper and deeper. After three years of backlash and a stunted career, she is even more defiant. In 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, Maines hijacked a Dixie Chicks concert in Great Britain to announce -- to cheers from her audience -- that she was "ashamed" that President Bush came from Texas.
NEW YORK (AP) - The Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines apologized for disrespecting President Bush during a London concert in 2003. But now, she's taking it back. "I don't feel that way anymore," she told Time magazine for its issue hitting newsstands Monday. "I don't feel he is owed any respect whatsoever."
In fact, Maines never really did "apologize" in the first place. She said something along the lines that the office of the presidency should be respected, no matter who holds it. I don't consider that an apology; and she didn't even mean that much. Now, Maines is repudiating even that half-hearted non-apology (which fooled nobody, by the way.)
To tell the truth, I really don't care what three dumb Chicks think of the president or the war. But I am angry at the relentless attacks on country singers, their fans, country western music, and the American spirit itself. Listen to what Martie Maquire, another band member, thinks of country western fans:
"I'd rather have a small following of really cool people who get it, who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith," Maguire said. "We don't want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do."
We know what Maines thinks of Toby Keith; but now Reba's fans are also uncool? I take that personally.
The mainstream press has clearly taken the Dixie Chicks side of this "debate;" they even imply that other country stars made death threats against the chicks:
[Natalie Maines' anti-Bush] remarks led to death threats and a backlash from other country stars, including a high-profile spat with Toby Keith. It also stalled what until then had been the group's smashingly successful career.
Now, that also sentence could also be read to mean that Maines' remarks led to death threats -- and they also (separately) led to a "backlash" by other country singers. But it's carefully crafted so that it's equally proper to read it as saying that "other country stars" reacted with "death threats and a backlash." I think the ambiguity is deliberate: it's a "dual use" smear, like Hussein's WMD arsenal, to make it possible to deny bad intent when called to account.
So how about that "high-profile spat with Toby Keith?" This is true; there certainly was one. But what this story ignores is that the feud was started by Maines herself, who deliberately provoked it a year before her 2003 London smear -- possibly because the Chicks considered Toby Keith their biggest rival in country music at the time, and they may have wanted to piggyback on his success and celebrity to promote their own multiple nominations at the upcoming Country Music Awards. Specifically, both the Chicks and Keith were up for Entertainer of the Year in 2002, and only one could win. (Hint: it wasn't the Texas tornado.)
Toby Keith is actually from Oklahoma (though from Clinton and Moore, not from Muskogee); and interestingly, he is a Democrat -- in the Zell Miller mold -- and he opposed the Iraq war (from an isolationist standpoint). The Chicks never "got" Toby Keith, just like they never "got" country music itself: to this day, they seem to think Keith is a right-wing Republican war supporter.
Toby Keith originally did not say a single thing to Maines about her 2003 comment in London (let alone any death threats). But that wasn't when the "feud" began; in fact, it started well before 2003... but the attacks have mostly come from the Dixie Chicks, mainly from Natalie Maines herself.
Back in August of 2002, Natalie Maines made her first public, gratuitously nasty comment about Toby Keith's song "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue":
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (LA Daily News) - ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings is apparently not the only celebrity to take issue with Toby Keith's chart-topping country hit, "Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American)." Now, the Dixie Chick’s lead singer, Natalie Maines, freely shares her dislike of the song.
"Don't get me started," Maines told the Los Angeles Daily News. "I hate it. It's ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant. It targets an entire culture - and not just the bad people who did bad things. You've got to have some tact. Anybody can write, 'We'll put a boot in your ass.' But a lot of people agree with it. The kinds of songs I prefer on the subject are like Bruce Springsteen's new songs."
To which Toby Keith said, "you've got to be in my league as a songwriter before I'll even respond to you."
Since then, he's projected images of Maines and Saddam Hussein on big screens behind the stage when he's performing concerts.
But the most infantile attack after Maines' 2003 comment in London came not from Keith, but from the Dixie Chicks themselves:
On May 21, Maines performed on television at the AMC Awards wearing a F.U.T.K. tee shirt – which viewers declared a definite telling off of T.K. (Toby Keith). According to a Dixie Chicks rep, "It’s my understanding that according to chatter on their web site, Natalie’s T-shirt stands for FREEDOM, UNDERSTANDING, TRUTH, AND KNOWLEDGE."
Around this time, a friend's child, whom Keith was very close to, died of cancer. Suddenly the feud between Maines and him just seemed really trivial, and he started ignoring them. Maines may have thought this meant she won; but the reality is that the Dixie Chicks simply ceased to matter in the world of country music: they lost all their award nominations and their CD sales plummeted.
Toby Keith, meanwhile, went on to become one of the greatest forces in the genre in decades. He now owns his own label and has become an institution.
I think at first the Chicks picked on Keith because they percerved him as a rival. They might have thought that attacking him would create the buzz they needed to sweep the CMA awards and launch a huge career in country.
But they wildly misjudged their audience. Toby Keith was not just a musical rival; after 911, and especially after "Courtesy," Toby Keith had become something much larger... and the Chicks never "got it." Keith came to symbolize the angry, defiant American: defiance of Osama bin Laden, of terrorism, and of European-style appeasement. To many Americans, he came to symbolize the spirit of America itself. Keith, the Okie from Clinton, was more Texan than those three dopey Texans.
Natalie Maines clearly understood the defiance part; that's exactly what angered her about Keith's song. Rather than accepting 9/11 as a just rebuke, rather than being humbled and apologetic for all the horrible things we were doing that brought 9/11 on ourselves, Maines understood that Keith's song -- and it's overwhelming reception across the country and especially among the military -- signalled that Americans did not accept the diminished role in the world that Leftists ordered for us. Instead, we made it plain that we were going to fight back -- violently, just as we'd been attacked violently. Keith was a powerful symbol of that resolve.
The Dixie Chicks gambled -- and they lost. They gambled that country fans were just like most rock fans: uncomfortable with the idea that there was something special and essentially good about America, compared to other countries. Maines and the other Chicks thought country fans were basically like the French.
They did not realize what country western music meant to many Americans. Thinking they were attacking American arrogance, they were really attacking the core values of real America. In doing so, the Dixie Chicks have alienated themselves from real Americans.
May 15, 2006
Dixie Chicks - Not Ready to Make Amends
Three years ago, the Dixie Chicks were rising stars in country music. Their concerts were sold out; they were nominated in many categories in the Country Music Awards; and they were just about to hit the big time.
Then they made a disastrous mistake: on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom, lead singer Natalie Maines insulted President Bush during a concert in London, saying that she was "ashamed" that President Bush was from her home state of Texas.
I really don't care what she feels about the president ("thinks" is too strong a word); Toby Keith (a lifelong conservative, yellow-dog Democrat) was also opposed to the Iraq war, and I'm sure several other country stars; it was a controversial war, then and especially now. But Keith rightly recognized that he was not a political pundit, he was a singer and songwriter. Maines -- like many rockers and Hollywood celebrities -- mistook fame for intelligence.
From the business point of view, her "offhand" remark was an incredibly stupid thing to say. It's not just saying she is against the war; she said she was "ashamed" of a president who is, on the whole, very well regarded by the country-music fans as a man from the heartland, a man doing his best as he sees it to keep the country safe. Even when they disagree with his decisions, they don't feel "ashamed" that George W. Bush is the president.
And they especially hate it when celebrities go to foreign countries and run down America.
If I were their publicist, I would have been pulling my hair out. On the verge of your huge breakthrough, why go out of your way to insult your fan base? Why didn't they just "shut up and sing," as Laura Ingraham put it in her book of that title?
As surprising as it is, the Chicks honestly never had any idea who their fan base was... or rather, used to be. In a recent CBS 60 minutes segment, Martie Maguire, another member of the group, described their audience as she saw it:
"When I looked out in the audience, I didn't see rednecks," Maquire says with a chuckle. "I saw a more progressive crowd."
"Progressive," of course, means leftist. So Maguire, at least, and probably the other Chicks, thought that they were playing to a huge audience of left-leaning country-music fans. Now, there's perceptiveness for you!
There are some leftist country music performers, notably feminist PETA activist K.D. Lang (who quit country in a blaze of glory, with a couple of hit songs on her CD Ingenue, only to fizzle out as a "torch singer"); paranoid conspiracy theorist and outspoken Sandinista supporter Kris Kristofferson (though he's not particularly current and was never a star as a performer); and the perennial Willie Nelson, who is always current but is having a resurgence right now. Country has always been more tolerant than it was given credit for; but the fans draw the limit at America-bashing... which includes saying snide things about the president just as we're about to go to war.
The best leftist country stars, like Nelson, are more circumspect in their criticism: they don't deny being liberals or leftists, but they also don't shove it down our throats. In fact, I think Kristofferson's big mouth may well have played a roll in his inability ever to achieve the sort of success as a singer that he did as a songwriter for others, and Lang's campaign with PETA against eating meat certainly damaged what until then had been a fantastic country career; it was that reaction against her that caused her to quit country and try to become a pop star, to very little success.
I think Maines, Maguire, and Emily Robison fell into the same trap as Kristofferson and Lang: underestimating the tolerance of the country-music community. They assumed that conservatives couldn't possibly tolerate a person having contrary politics... and therefore the only explanation for the Chicks' success (or that of Kristofferson and Lang) was that country fans were not "rednecks" at all but really "progressives" who agreed with their nutty opinions.
I think the Chicks were genuinely shocked that when they smeared Bush from a London studio, the entire country-music fanbase didn't rise up and cheer them on. Just like all their lefty friends in the rock and roll world did.
Instead, while the fanbase was tolerant enough of someone's politics when he more or less kept it to himself, they were not "progressive" enough to appreciate Maines' smarmy comment in London on the eve of war. The Chicks were shut out from many country radio stations; they received not a single CMA award; and their record sales plummeted, even when a few liberals, who had never listened to a country song in their lives, rushed out to show solidarity and buy the Dixie Chicks' debut CD.
It also didn't help when the Chicks started whining publicly that people loudly objecting to Maines' political statement were violating her "free speech rights."
They have not released a new CD for three years now, though one is going to be released later this month. Maines claims -- not that I really believe it -- she's been receiving "death threats" from angry former fans.
(Have you ever noticed that every leftist who gets in trouble immediately plays the death-threat card? We're supposed to believe that whenever a liberal says something amazingly stupid, angering his former fans, that within days, some right-wing clearing house immediately issues a form-letter death threat.)
So are they now sorry for what Natalie Maines said? Did they learn from their mistakes? Judge for yourself:
Their new CD, called "Taking the Long Way" chronicles all the things that have happened to them, but if you were expecting something just soft and maternal, guess again. One song in particular, a single released six weeks ago, sums up their current state of mind. It’s called "Not Ready to Make Nice."
The song is powerful and unrepentant. The anger isn’t directed at the war or the president — or at their many fans who deserted them. It’s about the hatred, and narrow-minded intolerance they encountered for expressing an opinion.
In other words, it's all about them.
They still don't get it, and neither does CBS. They cannot think of any other reason than "hatred and narrow-minded intolerance" that people might object to them crossing over to England, just before their own country goes to war, and sucking up to the anti-American element there (and in the United States).
Maquire says she is not trying to say the country music audience is mostly rednecks. "But over the years, and especially, since country music's turned into this redneck theme, it's become kind of a negative," she says. "I think for a while, a lot of artists were doing a lot of great things. It was that were broadening the audience. So that country was cool. Because I always thought it was cool. So it makes me sad that it's kind of reverted back to a place that I'm not that proud of. And this is coming from a true country fan. I can't listen to the radio right now."
Trying to sort through this sentence -- I think she tortured the syntax until it screamed for mercy -- Maguire seems to be trying to say that country music used to be broad-based and progressive, but then after 9/11, it suddenly became shamefully pro-America. This is the weirdest reading of the field that I've ever read. The only thing I can think is that Maguire thinks country music used to be socialist because it embraced Woody Guthrie, and that it used to be lesbian (and vegetarian) because it embraced K.D. Lang.
But now, all of a sudden, and for no reason at all, it has become conservative and pro-America -- because it embraces Toby Keith and spurns the Dixie Chicks. (Of course, it's also anti-cancer, because it embraces Rascal Flatts, and it's all in favor of everybody dying -- you know, that whole Brad Paisley, "When I Get Where I'm Going" thing; and actually, it is redneck, because there's always Gretchen Wilson!)
This is an amazingly dumb way to think about a field that has always been more quintessentially American than any other native form of music, including Blues and rock; but if you read the interview, it's obvious that when God was handing out brains, the Chicks were back in the Grievance line getting seconds and thirds.
With this kind or rhetoric, no wonder their songs have not been selling well.
The song ["Not Ready to Make Nice"] fizzled on the charts — yet it's one of most downloaded country songs on the Internet.
"Well, how do you explain the fact that it's No. 37 on the charts and No. 1 in downloads? on iTunes," Kroft asked Maines.
Hm... possibly because most country fans probably don't listen on iPods -- not yet. When they do, we'll see that disparity disappear: such songs will be dogs both in the stores and also via download. Here is a sample of the lyrics:
With no regrets and I don't mind sayin'
It's a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they'd write me a letter
Sayin' that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over
"Self indulgence" is the phrase that pops immediately to mind. Like "Mother Sheehan," the Chicks see themselves as brave martyrs in the mold of Martin Luther King and John Lennon. (And notice how they very subtlely conflate Laura Ingraham with whomever sent the death threats... if anyone did. Laura's book must have violated their free-speech rights, just like the fan protests.)
Another possible explanation for iPod downloads but no CD-single sales: many might have wanted to see whether the Chicks were ready to make amends with country fans, but they didn't want to pay a bunch of money to find out.
Wise decision... because the Dixie Chicks are not ready for anything, making nice or otherwise. Not only don't they know their own audience, they don't know their country. In both senses of the word.
April 19, 2006
Ever since the 1980s, hip-hop and rap have dominated the charts. I never liked them much, but some of the early artists were fun, like Run-DMC and MC Hammer: although there was generally no main melody, at least the rhythm and the lyrics were interesting, full of syncopation and wordplay.
But when the trend veered towards faux gangsta-rap, it lost me completely. I could never get into that kind of hateful and raunchy mentality, even as if came to dominate the pop charts and music-video channels. So I haven't paid any attention to pop music for a long time.
In Early 2002, I had an opportunity to spend three weeks in the South. The undisclosed location was far away from everything, and there were only four music stations and on the radio: three were country, the fourth was boomer-rock. The TV music video station only showed country.
Until then, I had not been a country-music fan at all, and at first, I was really annoyed by the lack of choice. This was shortly after 9/11, and the whole nation was stilll mourning the tragic loss. Country music's warm, personal, "real-folks" sound and patriotic lyrics touched me deeply. It was about ordinary people, not the weirdoes who inhabit most contemporary rock'n'roll songs. By the time I left, three weeks later, I had become a big country music fan.
Apparently, I am not alone. Fox News Roger Friedman reports:
I heard a weird rumor a few weeks ago: Clear Channel was telling its stations that by the end of this year, hip-hop and rap would be "over." They were making significant changes at their radio stations that would emphasize pop music and songs again.
Look at this week's top 20: There are only three hip-hop CDs — LL Cool J, NeYo and T.I. Six of the top 20 albums are by country artists, including Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood. Kelly Clarkson, Shakira and Pink represent female pop.
James Blunt and Daniel Powter are on the male side. Four CDs are actually for children. That leaves Nickelback as the lone rock entry and a collection of pop singles, "Now That's What I Call Music, Vol. 21," rounds it out.
Is it a trend? Have the yodeling, sampling, scatting, indecipherable packaged hoods finally been sent packing after a generation of pulling the wool over the public's eyes? One can only hope this is the case. Maybe it's a sign that today's kids actually want more out of their music.
You could say that rock is also vanishing, but that probably isn't the case. Rascal Flatts' CD is as much rock as it is country, with a decidedly more mainstream sound than most of the music that comes out of Nashville.
But what's really interesting is the proliferation of pop — just as it was described for me — already swamping radio.
Six country CDs out of the top twenty makes country music the plurality: country rocks!
Despite Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, country music has always been associated with the conservative heartland of America. But as it becomes more mainstream, more liberals may start to like and even play it. That could mean good news for the always irritating Dixie Chicks, who have been shunned by country music fans (low sales and shut out of the awards) since 2003, when Natalie Mains used a foreign stage to denounce America.
But the rise of country might also spread conservative values to a wider (and younger) audience than ever before... and that would be good news for the rest of us!
October 31, 2005
I grew up listening almost exclusively to classical music ("classical" used in the general sense to include baroque, classical, romantic, etc.) When I went away to university, I started listening to rock... but in typical reptillian unfashionable fashion, I focused on rock from an earlier era than the 1980s; I listened to tons of acid rock: Iron Butterfly, Country Joe and the Fish, early Pink Floyd -- the Syd Barrett period -- along with lots of progressive rock, mostly King Crimson, Yes, ELP, Bowie, Gilmour-era Pink Floyd, and so forth... all stuff that was already a decade old or more when I first heard it.
Very recently, Sachi (another recent convert) has gotten me interested in country music -- mostly the newer stuff from Toby Keith, Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw, Gretchen Wilson, and suchlike, but also older country from Hank Williams (sr. and Bosephus), Junior Brown, and even the Sons of the Pioneers (Roy Rogers' first group, started at the beginning of the 1930s). A later incarnation of Sons of the Pioneers included the amazingly good lead singer Ken Curtis -- who you might know better as Festus Haggen, the scruffy deputy with the strange accent on the TV show Gunsmoke.
I had always liked blues; but a few years ago, I found and loved Jimmie Rodgers, probably the first country-bluesman and direct inspiration for Gene Autry, who also began his career singing country-inspired blues (including several covers of Rodgers, including "Frankie and Johnny," "In the Jailhouse Now," some of the "Blue Yodels," and so on).
To me, country represents the real lives of real people. I would turn to the progressive rock of the 70s for cosmic consciousness, and to classical music for transcendancy. But for the personal moment, songs like Keith's "Huckleberry" or Paisley's "Alcohol" just can't be bettered.
But more and more, contemporary country is losing some of the distinctive "twang" that has both defined and bedeviled it since the earliest days. Alt-country especially sounds like a country-cousin to rock anymore.
So I'm turning to any long-time country fans to help me out here: how would you define the essence of country and how it differs from rock? Is it the values? the attitude? a particular element of the songs themselves that I've missed?
Enquiring ears want to know!
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