Friday, January 23, 2009

Hope and Change: I. G. Y.

Donald Fagen: I. G. Y.


For his first solo album The Nightfly, Donald Fagen created a fantasy version of the 1950s. Here, a late night DJ can turn all of Baton Rouge on to all sorts of music, a bomb shelter becomes an ideal site for a teenager’s party, and romance is in the air. And, in the song I. G. Y., science makes all manner of miraculous things possible. I. G. Y. stands for International Geophysical Year.

The actual International Geophysical Year was a dream come true for the international scientific community at the time. It lasted from July of 1957 to December of 1958; astute readers will note that this was actually a year-and-a-half. The period was chosen to coincide with a peak in sunspot activity. The IGY was an international effort to study various geophysical phenomena, and byproducts of this period included the launch of the first scientific satellites and the construction of the first research station in Antarctica. IGY featured the cooperation of scientists from 67 countries. At the height of the Cold War, these countries included both the United States and the Solviet Union. If you would like to know more, there is an excellent article on the subject here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hope and Change: Chimes of Freedom

Bob Dylan: Chimes of Freedom


Termed by some to be a "near-perfect protest song", Chimes of Freedom is Dylan at his most inspirational, lyrically-brilliant, epic, surreal, imagery-laden and evocative - it reads equally impactful as a poem...

From Wikipedia:

"Chimes of Freedom" is a song by Bob Dylan. It has been covered many times by various artists including Joan Baez, The Byrds, Roger McGuinn, Martyn Joseph, The Axis of Justice, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, X, Bruce Springsteen, James Luchak and Stephen Stills.

Dylan reportedly based the song on "Chimes Of Trinity", a song passed along by Dave Van Ronk from his grandmother. An unusual cover version was created by Senegalese musician Youssou N'Dour...

The song was played by Dylan for Bill Clinton at his first inauguration.

The Bon Jovi song Bells of Freedom on Have a Nice Day is a variation of Chimes of Freedom, as is Billy Bragg's song Ideology on Talking with the Taxman about Poetry.

Neil Young's song Flags of Freedom on his Living With War album mentions Dylan by name and recalls the tune and the verse structure of Chimes of Freedom (Young is listed as the song's only writer, however).

Jefferson Starship covers Bob Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom" in their 2008 release Jefferson's Tree of Liberty with vocals by Paul Kantner, David Freiberg and Cathy Richardson.

As an added post-Inauguration Day (woo hoo!) bonus, here's a lovely and earnest cover by jangle-poets husband-and-wife folk duo, Pete and Maura...

The Kennedys: Chimes of Freedom

[purchase] - Half a Million Miles CD

Hope and Change: Beautiful Change

The Innocence Mission: Beautiful Change


The Innocence Mission are one of the most hopeful bands I could think of. Their music, tinged by their faith but not overwhelmed by it (because that is a major turn-off to me), is simple, beautiful, hopeful, yet melancholy. It captures the vulnerability and innocence of childhood wonder, as well as a sense of adulthood humbleness in the face of life's splendor.

This song in particular is not necessarily about some grand sense of change, but a change nonetheless. I imagine that the song is more about a personal growth, as well as the beautiful changes that appear as life unfolds, like watching children grow and learn. Whatever the change, the sense of serenity and joy in this song is overwhelming, as it is in most of their music and even in their persona as a band.

The band is mostly the songwriting and singing of Karen Peris, with contributions from her husband Don Peris. The concerts of theirs I have been to have been some of the best of my life. And the love between Karen and Don is eminent on stage and within their music. Most of all, the band means something special to me because they're from my hometown of Lancaster, PA, and they often talk about Pennsylvania in their songs and it makes the music all the more real for me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hope and Change: Hold On

Tom Waits: Hold On


I thought that was a good thing to say in a song. Hold on. We're all holding onto something. None of us want to come out of the ground. Weeds are holding on. Everything's holding on. I thought that was a real positive thing to say. It was an optimistic song. Take my hand, stand right here, hold on. We wrote that together, Kathleen and I, and that felt good. Two people who are in love writing a song like that about being in love. That was good."

I flipped the channel away from the endless inauguration news yesterday to find myself hit in the heart by the unspeakably aching hopefulness of Hold On -- a song which I have heard covered so well, and so many times, I plumb forgot the sheer raw power of the original broken-voiced ballad.

We're fans of Tom Waits here, but there's always room for more, and this Grammy nominated cut, which forms the core and cornerstone of 1999 release Mule Variations, is a stellar addition to the mix. It's a good reminder, I think, that not all the things we hope for have come to fruition. Thanks, universe, for reminding me that there is always farther to go, always more to hold on to, always more to hope for.

Oh, and the covers? Here's two of my favorites:

Hold On: Redbird


Hold On: The Cottars


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hope and Change: Yes We Can Can

The Pointer Sisters: Yes We Can Can


I actually thought about posting's Yes We Can... but figured that might be too obvious - realized the Pointer Sisters tune would be a nice compromise, especially since we've been talking about guilty pleasures!

This is one of those songs I confess I never really *heard* until a few years ago, but I always loved the tempo and the feel-good factor - in the immortal words of American Bandstand, "it has a good beat and you can dance to it"...

What a joyful discovery to find such meaningful lyrics expressing such far-reaching visions - yes we can (can), yes we did (did), yes we will (will)...

Hope and Change: People Get Ready

Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions: People Get Ready


First of all, let me say that I feel absolutely no guilt about this selection.

People Get Ready was the first song I thought of for this weeks theme. I didn’t post it until now, because I wanted to save it for Inauguration Day. As I watched our new president address the assembled masses on the Mall, I knew that I made the right decision.

Curtis Mayfield was inspired to write People Get Ready in response to Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech in 1963. The song debuted two years later. Taken literally, the lyrics are religious, telling of the dream of a heavenly reward. But it is easy to interpret the song as an expression of the dreams of the Civil Rights movement here on earth. And indeed, People Get Ready became an anthem of the Civil Rights movement. Bob Marley also adopted the song for the struggles in Jamaica. The song has come to represent the dreams of oppressed people everywhere. The success of Barack Obama is, to many, the embodiment of those dreams.

Bonus Track:

Eva Cassidy: People Get Ready


Eva Cassidy’s version of People Get Ready was all but unknown until after her death from melanoma in 1996. So, when I hear her version, I am brought back to the notion of heavenly reward.

Special Announcement: keep your eyes on my blog, Oliver di Place. I should have my first album review up later this week or early next week.

Hope and Change: Beautiful World

DEVO: Beautiful World


Guilty pleasure? I'll give you guilty pleasure! When this week's theme was announced this song, with it's optomistic recognition of the beauty that surrounds us (for you, but not for me), was one of the first that came to my mind; however, I immediately shunned the thought thinking DEVO didn't fit the Gestalt of the blog.

But, DEVO is not all potato outfits, pyramid hats, and sleeveless turtlenecks. They were really quite an innovative band for their time, cutting a trail of electronic synth that would be followed by many others in the following years.

Also, like Danny Elfman, who was mentioned in a previous post, Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO has developed into a respectable composer, writing music for all of the Wes Anderson films, Pee Wee's Playhouse, The New Super Mario World, Crash Bandicoot, HBO's Big Love, and many other films, television shows, and video games.

Maybe I shouldn't feel so guilty about liking DEVO afterall.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hope and Change: I Shall Believe

Sheryl Crow: I Shall Believe


Since it seems to be guilty pleasure day here at Star Maker Machine, I'm offering up Grammy goddess (and toilet paper nazi) Sheryl Crow's bittersweet ballad of hope tinged with self-doubt and what appears to be a bit of guilt on the side.

I know, I know; you stopped listening to Sheryl when she started her own line of denim apparel and started winning awards for covering James Taylor. But musically speaking, I Shall Believe is what I always imagined opium to be like: dreamy, vaguely hopeful, hazily historied and languid as all get-out -- the perfect closer to Crow's 1993 pop-confessional folk rock debut Tuesday Night Music Club, which still holds up after all these years.

Hope and Change: Things Can Only Get Better

Howard Jones: Things Can Only Get Better


I admit, I was inspired by Darius' post. I love 80s pop music, not because it's so wonderful, but because it reminds me of my youth when I listened to the radio a lot more, and also because the music of that era was just a lot more fun and different than things are these days, and perhaps were in any other decade.

I had looked through my music yesterday to find ideas for this week's theme and came across this classic Howard Jones song. I smirked, listened to it and sang along and thought "it would be kinda perfect, but I dunno", but then when I saw Darius' post I felt it was kismet that 80s pop got it's day in the sun here at Star Maker.

The song's infectious chorus states simply:

And do you feel scared? I do.
But I won't stop and falter.
And if we threw it all away
Things could only get better.

And what better way to say "change can be scary, but things have gotten so bad, what do we have to lose? We could throw everything we have out, and we'd still be better off than we are now". It appeared as the opening track of his 1985 album "Dream Into Action", a title that also seems quite fitting for our circumstances.

Hope and Change: Sowing the Seeds of Love

Tears for Fears: Sowing the Seeds of Love


In the 1980s, there was a mini-revival of the psychedelic music of the 60s. XTC briefly became the Dukes Of the Stratosphere. Robyn Hitchcock’s work with Egyptians would fit in this category. And Tears for Fears released their album The Seeds of Love. No doubt, there were other examples as well.

Tears for Fears embraced not only the unusual sounds of psychedelia, but also the optimism of its lyrics. And nowhere is this clearer than in the present selection. Sowing the Seeds of Love describes the feeling of infinite possibilities that comes with the first rush of love. The old order must give to the world that contains this new reality. With some tweaking of the lyrics, that sentiment could just as easily describe this historical moment.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hope & Change: Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)

Patty Griffin: Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)

Solomon Burke: Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)

This week's topic is a tough one for me.

Ask me to come up with songs that find fault with the outgoing administration and their policies and decisions, and I would have no problem. There have been many songs written over the last eight years that find fault with the past. I could come up with ten or fifteen right off the top of my head.

For some reason, however, songs of hope and (positive) change seemed harder to find...

...Until I thought of the events that are actually taking place this week. On Monday, we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. On Tuesday, America inaugurates its first African-American President.

I chose a song that honors a man who personified hope... a man who dreamt of change. Forty-six years ago, Dr. King asked us all to share his dream and climb with him up to the mountain. On Tuesday, Barack Obama will stand at the summit. That should give us all reason to hope.

Hope and Change: Eye On The Finish Line

Pedro The Lion: Eye on the Finish Line


Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, our loved ones misunderstand us and our best efforts not only fail to benefit them in the ways that we intend, but they actually cause harm. In these times, some people take a longer view and are able to find solace in the hope of an eternal existence where we can "leave this wicked world behind".

In the last few years I've learned to love the artistry of David Bazan, formerly of Pedro The Lion. His hope is a hope in God that we will only find when we keep our eye on the finish line.

Hope and Change: Garden of Eden

Donna The Buffalo: Garden of Eden


The old testament concept of the Garden of Eden is a subtheme in and of itself; as western culture's prototypical Utopia, it is called to throughout the musical and literate world as a concrete symbol of hope and change. Where so many others frame it as a paradise lost and/or unobtainable, however, it is a much rarer song which manages to truly approach Eden as an attainable without losing sight of the realities of history and society.

Which makes it a perfect metaphor for the southern zydeco funkfusion jamband collaborative Donna The Buffalo, whose songs generally revolve around their own particular brand of spiritual and political consciousness. Lyrics, please:

If we could each reach out and grasp a piece of the torn
Hopes and aspirations of the whole that makes us one
With a concept of together born
Of four smiles and three tears

Further dampened with the sweat from the work that it will take
Poured into the arts and letters voice it for the better
We're searching for what you may have found
Raise it up and come on down

With a free willed brain and a heart attuned to the love
I am heading back to the end of the beginning
Shadows linger coughing. Clanging
Obstinate shades, clinging to so much dust
Venture out to obscure the direction
Voices soaked with longing for Armageddon
Asked the children where [are] you leading
Back to the garden of Eden

Evil beat, masses drum, marching tones, everyone
Consciousness from gray to stark, audience to a talking shark
I laid awake, babies slept
Babble laughed, Jesus wept

The truth emerged but was quickly lost in trumpet blasts of chaos
Which left only an inner voice that knows the truth is not a choice
What really was obscured somehow
Raise it up and come on down

There's something quietly stunning about the way Donna The Buffalo uses the harsh realities of Eden's loss to honor and frame the inner world of hope for a new Eden, bringing realism and hope and faith in the universe to bear upon the world. Their call to arms makes a great live show, if you ever get the chance, but their particular vision also comes across powerfully on paper and in plastic, in bits and bytes, in ears and imagination. Join The Herd, and celebrate life's potential.

Hope and Change: New Day Rising

Hüsker Dü - New Day Rising [purchase CD] [purchase LP]

Don't mistake Bob Mould's yowls of rage as an act of pessimism. No, he's merely trying to primal scream the last eight years out of his system. New day rising, indeed.

Hope and Change: Better Things

The Kinks: Better Things


I was 12 when I bought my first Kinks album (yes, album) - I remember hearing All Day and All of the Night on the radio two years before and *needing* to own the recording (an obsessive character trait that has stayed with me to this day) on which it was finally being released. Imagine also discovering Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Tired of Waiting and Well Respected Man - heaven...

I don't think I knew much of their later stuff (aside from Lola, Sunny Afternoon and Don't Forget to Dance) - there was so much music bombarding me from so many different directions, and I let go of Ray and company to latch onto others.

Dar Williams: Better Things


So... when Dar Williams released her End of the Summer CD, I had to be reminded that track 11 was a cover... and went scrambling for the original which, it turned out, I owned on CD (the 1986 version) - I think Dar presents a stunning interpretation of this song about looking ahead, acceptance and optimism. In her words:

My sister Meredith played this song for me when I was in high school. She said, "I love this song. It's so nice," which, growing up in a high pressure suburban town, was really significant. It was like Ray Davies was wishing us well, with no strings attached. This was pretty alien to us. I thought I should spread the word!

I'm very much looking forward to the next four years - "here's to what the future brings" indeed...