Good Grief…


This article started out as a reply to a comment in the comment section, and I guess some times I get a bit long winded, well the reply got to long for the comment section, so I hope Don will forgive me for making an article out of it.

Don Kampe (aka Marsh Fox) says:
May 10, 2013 at 04:04 (Edit)

We all have sins to atone for, the red in my ledger runs deep as well, but as you pointed out it doesn’t mean we should have to sit idly by. I am home by the way, Okinawa a distant memory, and ready to start the next phase. Will be out your way in about a month, so once in Portland I will ensure you know. Something I think you would appreciate is this, as I get older and years go by I begin to hear more clearly the messages of one of my favorite bands in a different light. I don’t agree with all their politics for sure, but the Eagles most certainly have some relevant songs through the ages, and Don Henley in particular, Dirty Laundry for sure, but their latest album Long Road out Of Eden has so many relevant songs well, I thought you and I would share the irony of that thought. You are a good friend, and I am glad that we are so.

Time for an amusing confession (no I was never in the Eagles). There is a magical wizard of Oz curtain in the music industry. The general public is watching the show on the main screen while the wizard is furiously working behind the red velvet curtain.

What is behind that curtain you ask? Well, the most successful bands of the 60’s 70’s 80’s and 90’s had very very smart people working for them. The artists generally weren’t slouches either, they generally speaking, became narcissistic childish pampered drug addicts after they became famous, not before.

The music industry has a huge facade that they present the public with, it’s a marketing gimmick as it were. Just like the movie industry, it’s all about public perception. The less than educated, undisciplined rebellious image is a carefully cultured image. It’s an image designed to sell a product, it isn’t reality (well, baring a few examples like the Ramones).

You put six highly disciplined intelligent people together, throw in a couple of Madison Avenue marketing experts and what you get is going to have certain timeless echos to it. The Rolling Stones are perhaps the very best example, an image of always being on the cusp of falling into the abyss, a train wreck that somehow miraculously never actually wrecked.

Another aspect of that facade that the vast majority of the general public never figure out, no successful band is ever comprised only of the performers on stage. If you have a four piece band like say Van Halen or Led Zeppelin, in reality, they are not four piece bands they are corporations. There are always a couple of other very important people in the band that the general public doesn’t know about.

For instance, their sound engineer is always a unnamed member of the band, as are their producer and their manager. These people have a direct say in what the band records, and how it gets recorded. They have a very real and important say in what makes the band successful. When the band writes a song, they have input into the lyrics.

Funny thing abut music, music theory tells us what chord progressions and melodies work together, which ones are strongest and so forth. But it cannot tell us which song the public will like. The public is incredibly fickle about that. I can’t tel you how any bands/artists that I know about who wrote and recorded songs that they never expected the public to like, and then had those songs become number 1 hit’s.

When Jimmy Page and Robert Plant wrote Stairway to Heaven they thought that it was a throw-away song for the B side of a 45 rpm that they were releasing to advertise their 4th album. The song took them somewhere around 20 minuets to write and record. Oops, who saw that coming, turned out to be the most requested song in broadcast radio history.

The same is true basically of Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry, he never expected or planned on it being a hit, it was written in both haste and anger, he was going through a messy divorce and the media was dragging all of the private and well, honestly, sordid details, out in public. Don fully expected that the song would get zero air play and disappear into obscurity before the public even knew that it existed.

Funny thing about song lyrics, all of a bands fans know the lyrics, but few of the fans ever know the lyrics. It’s an amazing contradiction, yet there it is. What that means is that the fans hear, and even often read the lyrics, but never think about what the lyrics are actually saying, rather they hear the pentameter that the lyrics are written in, and the melody and harmonies associated with it , and then they take individual phrases from the song that resonate with them, and that is the extent of their awareness of the lyrics. Without the pentameter, melody and associated harmonies the lyrics would never garner any attention of their own.

Here is an example taken from my own work. While I freely admit to not being even remotely in the same league as any of the artists or bands discussed above, the basic principal is still applicable.

The lyrics are:

Picking up the pieces to my broken life
I can’t stand the pain any more
It’s time for me to be moving on
Pick myself up off this threshing floor

The whip has been across my back for far to long
And I’ve seen the misery and the pain
No more blood running down my back
It’s time to end all this pain

Run for your life
your a candle in the wind
Run for your life
Don’t ever give in

Run for your life
Your a candle in the wind
Run for your life…..

In the night I see a city lite by flames
I know this place aint got no love
I can’t see the stars in this hell at night
I can’t see no stars up above

It’s time to break free from this whipping floor
And see just how far we can go
Got to get as far away as we can get
Before the whole damn place just has to blow

Run for your life
your a candle in the wind
Run for your life
Don’t ever give in

Run for your life
Your a candle in the wind
Run for your life…..

And the lyrics with the music added…

The concept of putting words to music is an ancient one, once upon a time, it served as the mainstream media of it’s day. It’s beginnings are rooted in the oral traditions of just about every human culture and civilization. Standing around the fire at night after a successful hunt the hunters told the story of their hunt. One day someone began beating on an old log in rhythm with the story being told, slowly over the centuries backing instruments were added to increase the excitement of the story. Eventually a “pentameter” evolved in the cadence of the story teller, and then that cadence and pentameter evolved into singing the story being told.

Unknown tens of thousands of years later, the fundamental root and foundation laid still remains, songs are still basically story’s being told, the rhythms and backing instruments, the melodies and harmonies have become amazingly complex, but what is being done remains the same, a story is being told. Nobody knows why certain stories/songs become more popular than others, it has something to do with the right combination of words, melody’s harmonies and rhythms all striking the perfect resonances in their audience. It’s a primal instinct thing that somehow alludes quantification. When it works, man it really works, when it doesn’t, well nobody pays attention.

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