You’ve all seen this by now, right?Aside from production issues, and they are legion–the green-screen problems periodically turning the woman on the left’s top or bottom ghost-like, John McCain’s weird disembodied head bouncing in a crazy zig-zag, the cheap electronic music, the fact that none of the “McCain Girls” are singers and “Rainin’ Men” is not an easy song to sing, etc.–this is an interesting entry into the election-year music video scene.
I’m interested in the ways that the song has been mangled to create pure political material. Not at all unlike “Rock Around Barak,” where the original had implications that are simply not part of the remake, there seems to be nothing but a formal reason to sing a version of “It’s Rainin’ Men” here. That is, nothing about that song, except for the notion of men (and John McC as one) seems to suggest the political content of the new version. It’s why, for me, “Yes, We Can” remains the only genuinely compelling piece of political art from this campaign season–it is the only one in which form and content are basically integrated.
The Unit for Criticism at the University of Illinois has a new blog (Kritik–pronounced “Critique,” I’m told), and I think it’s a Very Interesting Thing. So far they have a number of papers that were originally presented at symposia sponsored by the Unit (including a quite nicely poetic one by Matt Hart and a few thought-provoking questions. We’ll see what it evolves into–hopefully it will not be exclusively literary theory oriented, and have material from people in a variety of disciplines interested in social theory contributing. The model is interesting: a large collection of scholars participate in the Unit, so there is the potential that lots of new and interesting things will show up on their blog.
At what point does parody jump the shark? So far it’s still funny and still fairly smart politics, I’d say. And somehow it strikes me that the sensibility of these parodies is much, much more appealing than the ads from last time around.
In light of the in-depth commentary that previously appeared on this blog concerning Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, I figured it was appropriate to mention that the album won a Grammy last night for Album of the Year. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I certainly did a double-take when I saw the results. (I didn’t watch the Grammys live.) I was certain at first that Hancock must have won Jazz Album of the Year, but I soon realized that I was wrong. Certainly, I was pleasantly surprised that a jazz album could win Album of the Year, but I’m not sure what it says – if anything – about the current state of the music industry. Perhaps it just says that the academy liked this album better than their other options, and because Hancock has several pop-oriented collaborators on the record, it was fair game for the Album of the Year category.
I’ve copied NPRs coverage of the win below. I think the write up is fine, but I want to point out one thing the writer says that caught my attention: “From a distance, River looks like another of those tribute projects that have become a depressing fixture of recent jazz.” What exactly do you think he’s talking about? Charlie Hunter’s Bob Marley tribute album? Dave Kikoski’s Beatle Jazz project? And, if that is what he’s talking about, can you make the statement on a national news program that it’s “depressing” without any further comment or clarification? It seems that the statement is problematic because 1) we really don’t know exactly what he’s talking about, and 2) he makes a sweeping generalization about an object that is unclear.
On ‘River,’ Hancock Skates Away with Grammy
All Things Considered, February 11, 2008 – Last night, the Album of the Year Grammy went to an underdog. Herbie Hancock‘s River: The Joni Letters is only the second time a jazz album has received the big award — the last one was Stan Getz’s Getz/Gilberto, 43 years ago. But for those who know the pianist, who has made thoughtful contributions to jazz in each decade since the 1960s, the unlikely honor isn’t really so unlikely.
For much of his storied career, Hancock has explored jazz, funk, hip-hop and all sorts of pop with renegade fearlessness. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when he decided to take on the Joni Mitchell songbook. With help from a mighty band and big-name stars including Norah Jones, Tina Turner, and Leonard Cohen, Hancock set out to reframe Mitchell’s confessional songs — cornerstones of singer-songwriter music — in a jazz context.
From a distance, River looks like another of those tribute projects that have become a depressing fixture of recent jazz. But Hancock is too smart to follow the tribute-record script. He doesn’t radically overhaul Mitchell’s songs — instead, he gently opens them up and lures the singers into fascinating free-associative conversations.
It’s like there are two stories being told in these songs. One in Mitchell’s words, alongside a secondary narrative being told between Hancock and his longtime collaborator, the amazing saxophonist Wayne Shorter.
This isn’t a great jazz album from start to finish, especially compared with the towering LPs Hancock made for Blue Note in the 1960s. That’s why it’s strange to see it win the Album of the Year prize. As Hancock noted, it is completely different from what’s happening in pop music these days.
But who knows why it won? Maybe the Recording Academy is finally suffering from diva fatigue. Or maybe this time the music won out. Because the interactions on River are more thoughtful and spontaneous than most of what crossed the stage on music’s biggest night.
I don’t know what to do with Pearl Jam’s new Barak recording, “Barak Around the Clock.” [Sorry, It's broken]
I suppose it’s meant to be funny; or maybe “edgy,” like, ironic, you know. Said with rising inflection. It’s pretty stupid, as political statements go and as music; cornball, whatever.
Mostly it makes me wonder if Pearl Jam is really still that juvenile. Makes me say “Eew, dudes, grow the hell up!” Am I really that old???
The Vulture has a funny post here, titled: “Pearl Jam Will Not Rest Until John McCain Elected President.” I wouldn’t go that far–I don’t think this has the potential to hurt Obama; but I would say “Pearl Jam Will Not Rest Until Every Shred of Their Credibility and Dignity Is Forever Gone.”
Well, apparently Pearl Jam is running away from “Barak Around the Clock.” For whatever reason (I’m inclined to think the extent of mockery on the internets, but who knows) they’ve pulled it from their website. If someone finds a working link I’ll re-link, but for the moment you’ll just have to imagine it. Or go see David Daniel and his band perform it on Youtube.