Friday, June 28, 2013

Video Spotlight: "Banned In The USA" (2 Live Crew)

Author's Note:  The below post reflects my opinions alone, and not necessarily the other contributors to this blog, or as a whole.  Thank you.

Last week, rapper Lil Wayne made headlines when he was shooting a video for his new song "God Bless America" and during the shoot the American flag fell to the floor and Lil Wayne stepped on it.  He later claimed it was just an accident, but after watching the video and hearing the context of the satirical nature of the lyrics, I don't believe him.  This once again started a debate in this country on free speech.  Which reminded me of the above video.

For those who need a quick history lesson, in the late 80's 2 Live Crew released an album called As Nasty As They Wanna Be, featuring their big hit "Me So Horny".  The album's content was deemed so offensive that it was deemed obscene and illegal to sell in certain counties in Florida(where the trial was held).  2 Live Crew were arrested when they attempted to perform the songs at a local strip club, and record store owners were arrested for selling the album.   Eventually the verdict was overturned, but 2 Live Crew responded to what they deemed as blatant slap in the face of the First Amendment with "Banned In The USA", featuring interpolation of Bruce Springsteen's iconic "Born In The USA", with The Boss's full consent.

Freedom of speech is one of those issues that everyone says they believe in, but few actually do.  It's something that I have especially noticed in the past few years that has really disgusted me.  Hypocrisy is on both sides of the aisle.  Conservatives always want the freedom of speech to criticize President Obama, but are quick to point the finger of blame when liberals bash wars, or when secularists criticize religion.  The left says they are all for freedom of artistic expression, but try being a comic and making a joke about rape, or using terms that certain groups find offensive.  Even now Paula Deen is taking a merciless beating in the media for comments she made 30 years ago.  How can we, as a country, say we believe in freedom of speech but turn against one another at the first chance when we hear something we don't agree with?

True freedom of speech, means defending people's right to say things, even when it offends you.  Especially when it offends you, as a matter of fact.  If you are offended by something, do not listen to it.  But just because you do not want to listen to it, does not mean that nobody is allowed to listen to it.  There is no constitutional amendment that says we are free from being offended.   Personally I think Lil Wayne is a jerk for that video.  But he has the right to do it, and I will exercise my freedom by not purchasing his albums (not like I was going to anyway, though).  I'm reminded of the late, great comic Bill Hicks' who did a bit on people burning the flag.  I'm paraphrasing here but the joke was basically that soldiers didn't die defending the flag.  The flag is a piece of cloth, they died defending what the flag represents.  Which is freedom of expression, such as burning the American flag.  While I personally would never burn a flag, and would attempt to stop anyone I see doing it, I don't think it should be a criminal offense.  And apparently the Supreme Court of the United States agrees with me on this one.  Also, the idea of an album being so obscene that it's illegal is ridiculous.

I've never seen Bruce try to silence his critics who have bashed him for his liberal views so I have to believe he agrees with me on this point of view.  He's never gone so far as burning a flag, and I can't imagine he ever would.  However he was certainly a vocal critic of Presidents Reagan and Bush (both), and has championed many liberal causes.  He has the right to do so, but has also welcomed those who criticize his points of view.  I find that admirable.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Video Spotlight: Robin Williams Stand Up

Ok, so maybe this isn't the best video to be spotlighting.  But here at LOS we take on the good, bad, and the ugly.  And man, is this ugly.  Let me just start off by saying I can't stand Robin Williams.  I think his stand up material is terrible and hack, see above video for evidence, and his only on screen performance that I thought was really good was in Good Will Hunting, and even there most of the credit goes to Matt Damon.  Again, these are just my opinion, as there is no denying that Williams is a major "A-Lister"

Now lets dissect the video.  One thing I can't stand in comedy is dual impressions.  And boy, do we have a doozy here.  Elmer Fudd singing Bruce Springsteen.  Har dee har har.  This stinks!  Why not just do some Elmer Fudd material, or Bruce material.  God knows they both have easily imitable voices.

The only really interesting thing about this video, besides the novelty value of it being so bad it's good, is the song choice.  Really, "Fire"?  Bruce never even put that out on a CD, until The Promise.  It was a major hit for The Pointer Sisters, but did most people know it was a Bruce song?  I legitimately do not know the answer.  I know Bruce fans knew it.  But that's hoping for a lot, that your audience at a comedy club are big Springsteen fans.

Anyway, it could be worse.  It could be Norm Macdonald singing the "Gilligan's Island" theme to the tune of "My Hometown".  I love Norm, but oof!  That stinks too.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bruce working on next album!


We will have a new video spotlight up later today, but for now we are happy to announce that Bruce has recently told Rolling Stone that he and the E Street Band, plus Tom Morello, have started working on some new material together. Very little details were given, and no release date was mentioned.  But still this is very good news for Bruce fans!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Book Review - Big Man by Clarence Clemons and Don Reo

Clarence Clemons' autobiography "Big Man" is easily one of the most creative, funny, depressing, and frustrating books I have ever read.  Let's just tackle these subjects one by one:

Creativity - I have read many biographies of musicians, and the format is very cookie cutter.  They begin by describing the artist's parents (or even grandparents), and flow from their.  An inordinate amount of time is spent in the early years, and the later years usually feel rushed through.  However, in Big Man, this is completely thrown out the window.  After roughly 2 pages on his childhood, he's rocking on E Street.  Clarence's story jumps all over time as well, going from pre-Born to Run touring, to his hospital bed in 2009, and then back to a relationship with a woman he met in the 80s.  The pacing keeps you on your toes as a reader, and the transitions are smooth enough to prevent this from feeling too jarring.

Clemons & Reo take another big risk by including several "legends" throughout the book.  While these legends are clearly meant to be taken with a grain of salt (and some ones with a blatant pound of salt), they are very humorous and skillfully told stories.  There are conversations that Clarence has with Bruce which, while they may not be historically accurate, give you a great insight into their friendship.  His tale of meeting Robert DeNiro may be worth the price of admission alone (which is currently $0.01 plus shipping on Amazon).  This is a risky story-telling method that I was unfamiliar with, and while it did have its pitfalls (which I'll discuss later), I appreciated the effort involved.

Comedy - Clarence has a fantastic sense of humor, and it shines through in this book.  The "legends" in the book were filled with unbelievable twists and turns (the Hunter Thompson story comes to mind) that actually made me laugh out loud (something I rarely do when reading).  There is a positive energy present throughout the book, and it is clear to the reader that, no matter what they think, Clarence and Don had a blast writing this memoir.

Ominous Foreboding - That being said, it is a bizarre book to read two years after Clarence's death.  Despite the playfulness of the book, there are many hints and allusions to Clarence's forthcoming death.  Perhaps it is because this book was being written on the heels of Danny Federici's death, but it does come across that both men feel they are writing an obituary.  Clarence is very open about the physical pain he was currently in at the time, and the immense strength it took to stand through the Super Bowl concert in 2009.  You get the feeling that, as the time they were writing this, they weren't sure if Clarence would live to see the book published.  A lot of times, when performer you enjoy dies, it is usually after their career has wound down, which makes the loss easier to take.  However, this book really made me miss Clarence's presence in the E Street Band even more than I thought it would.

Frustration - Despite all this, there were many times I just wanted throw this book across the room and scream, "THIS IS SUCH BULLSHIT!"  First and foremost, we have to start with Don Reo.  Don is a good friend of Clarence, and he makes this abundantly clear.  Whenever I see a co-author on an auto-biography, I assume that person is just putting all the ramblings of the subject into cohesive sentences.  However, Don Reo is all over this book.  There are chapters where Don takes over, with Clarence's connection being that he is in the room as Don is telling a story about his career.  When he talks about Clarence, it seems like the relationship is more of a crush than a friendship.  Don seems to write more later on in the book, and it made the final pages difficult to get through.

Furthermore, the novelty of the "legends" begins to wear off after a while.  They become increasingly absurd and pointless.  The frustrating thing about this is that as I neared the end of the book, I began to realize that I'll never scratch that deep into Clarence's personal life.  Very little is written about his wives or his children, so when I reached a 10-page story about a fake conversation with Norman Mailer, I let out a sigh and just plowed ahead.

Ultimately, this book is an enigma.  It a wonderful way to spend time with a dear departed member of E Street, and yet its happy-go-lucky writing style will ultimately leave unfulfilled.  Overall, I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars - it is probably better to read as a bathroom book, digesting one or two stories at a time, rather than as a complete autobiography.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Great Moments in Clemons Cinema History - Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

As our loyal readers know, I have everything Clarence on the mind right now.  I'm plowing through his autobiography Big Man, and he mentioned that black people rarely associate him with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, but rather with his appearance in "Diff'rent Strokes" and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.  It sounds strange, but I'm sure there are equivalent situations for us whiteys - such as white people only knowing Cee-Lo Green from "The Voice".  Anyway, I failed to find the "Diff'rent Strokes" clip online, but sit back and enjoy Clarence's time on the big screen.  Be excellent to each other!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Video Spotlight - "Hungry Heart" from 1980

We are in the prime of the summer concert season, and I hope everyone here has been taking in some fantastic live music.  I was at the Governor's Ball on Randall's Island in New York City last weekend, and it is fascinating to see how differently every set goes.  For instance, Icona Pop's audience was perhaps the strongest of the weekend, as their energy carried the set, making it impossible not to have fun.  Furthermore, on Friday, there was a torrential downpour, which hurt the size of the audience.  However, those bands that did perform (we saw the Local Natives) gave it their all to reward the die-hard fans who were braving the weather.  On the flip side, Animal Collective's set had some technical issues, and they ended up leaving mid-song with about 10 minutes to go.  It just goes to show how difficult it is to perform live - you need everything to go right with not just the performers, but the equipment, the weather, and the audience.

This all goes to make Springsteen's 40+ years of fantastic shows even more impressive.  This is all obvious, so why am I spotlighting "Hungry Heart"?  Well, there are a few Springsteen live songs that I prefer over the studio versions ("The Promised Land" and "Prove It All Night" both come to mind), but "Hungry Heart" takes the cake.  The studio version sounds too clean, especially given the lyrical content of the song.  Plus, with Bruce's voice sped up, it barely sounds like him.  The live version of "Hungry Heart" has it all, from the audience participation to Bruce's true voice giving the song the touch of sadness it needs.  Plus, this video has Bruce in a spiffy sport jacket!  What's not to love?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Video Spotlight: Florence and the Machine Covers "I'm Goin' Down"

Back in April, Blogness on the Edge of Town ran a great series of posts featuring their favorite covers of Springsteen songs. While they highlighted a lot of great songs, I really like this one cover of "I'm Goin' Down" by Florence and the Machine - and not just because "I'm Goin' Down" is one of my favorite songs.

I really like this version because it sounds to me like the kind of song you might hear in a quirky romantic comedy during a montage at the end of the second act right after the two lovers have had their first major fight. I like to listen to this version and stare wistfully into the distance, as if I'm contemplating some difficult life decision.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Video Spotlight: "The Ghost of Tom Joad" (Tom Morello, Anne Preven, Boston Pops)

Tom Morello is no stranger to E Street fans.  He even filled in for Stevie Van Zandt during Bruce’s most recent Australian tour.  Anne Preven on the other hand is not terribly well known.  I only know one song by her, “Torn”, and I only came to know that song because it was covered and became a massive hit for Natalie Imbruliga in the late 90’s.  However, while I was never a fan of Imbruliga’s cover, the first time I heard Anne Preven doing the original song,  acoustically on The Howard Stern Show, I became a HUGE fan of the song.  Seriously give it a listen and you will thank me.

It was actually while looking for that performance of “Torn” that I stumbled across this video on YouTube.  While not professionally filmed, the quality is still good and it’s just such an interesting combination.  A rock guitar icon, an angry feminist songwriter, and the Boston Pops covering a Springsteen song.  And it works!  Notice that they stayed close to the original Springsteen arrangement of the song and did not go with Morello’s cover version that he did with Rage Against The Machine.  Smart call there, as I hate the Rage version of this song.

They all sound great here.  Preven's voice is great, Morello's guitar playing is amazing as always, and the Boston Pops adds a certain haunting element to the song that really fits in and seems natural.  It's one of the best performances of this song that I've heard.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Video Spotlight - Clarence Clemons & Jackson Browne in "You're a Friend of Mine"

I'm currently reading Clarence Clemons' semi-autobiography from a few years ago (a review should be coming in the next few weeks), and I've had everything Clemons on the mind.  As I tried to find a clip of Clarence guest-starring on My Wife and Kids (which is frequently referred to in the book), I stumbled across this 1985 video which was previously unknown to me.  And, boy oh boy, is it a gem!  I'm not really sure how to put into words how much I love this video, so I'll list a few highlights:

  • It starts off innocently enough, with an infectious 80s beat and Clarence's saxophone solo.  But then, out of nowhere, Clarence starts singing!  It was shocking for this Springsteen die-hard to hear - Clarence's voice will still always be strange to me.
  • The decor is classic "this is the first time I'm making a music video" that has come back to haunt many musicians.  It looks like it was filmed in a hotel room in about 20 minutes.  The background is filled with odd objects seemingly placed there at random: a Victrola, a soccer ball, random picture frames, etc.
  • Daryl Hannah's there!  She seems to be torn between painting Clarence and Jackson, or filming them with a camera that looks like it weighs about 80 pounds.  Also, I'm not convinced she was actually in the room at the time they were shooting this.
  • As for the other participants: Jackson Browne looks very unhappy to be there, the drummer looks ecstatic, and the keyboardist looks jealous of Daryl Hannah's hair
However, Clemons owns this whole video, for many reasons.  First, he reacts to every word in the song as if it were a real conversation.  He hams it up, making large gestures like a Vaudevillian performer.  Furthermore, he is fully committed to the hetero-romance of the song, not being afraid to get as close to Jackson Browne as possible.  This is not a comfortable thing for most men to do (as you can see Jackson squirming to get some personal space); it takes years of being inches away from making out with Bruce to get this naturally close to another man and still be completely comfortable in your sexuality.  Finally, that saxophone, while enormous in any other man's hands, looks like a toy in Clarence's arms.  As he lays down the outro, he swings the sax with wild abandon, and you remember why the E Street Band will never be quite the same again.