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Friday Influences - 09-17-10

Lee Knight

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So... post what has been influencing your songwriting this past week. Or anytime in the past. What has moved you? Your Mom? The Monkees? Sabbath? Raw food? It doesn't have to take the form of an embedded YouTube video. Knock out a sentence or two or twelve. Or, by all means, post those vids...




And I found out how we are the same too. We're all human, for starters. But there are cultural differences. My nickname growing up in L.A.? Look at my avatar again. My nickname was...




Not like Sly's reference. More like the Beave and his pal. Whitey. The white kid. That's me. I lived in a white neighborhood but traveled to an all Mexican barrio to attend Catholic school. For 8 years. "Hey Whitey, I'M GOING TO KICK YOUR ASS!!!" And they did. And then I did back. And what started as adversarial soon turned in to the little white guy being buds to guys very different from him in a lot of ways. And very much the same too...


This is the music that moved me. That reminded me of those tough but loving kids who took the little white dude in. The music their older brothers and sisters had blaring out of their low riders. Tattoos, chinos, hair nets, wife beaters, chrome script club emblems in the rear dash. Rabbit ear antennae. Killer sound systems for the day.


If you haven't heard these in a while, listen again. They totally rock. Are totally unique. They sound so cool and emanate attitude and compassion and... I don't know what. This music, very much so, is a part of me too.





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Humbly beginning as a single verse (with refrain), Simple Gifts was written by a Shaker elder (Joseph Brackett) as song/dance.




'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,


'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,


And when we find ourselves in the place just right,


'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.




When true simplicity is gained,


To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,


To turn, turn will be our delight,


Till by turning, turning we come round right.



The original melody was even more simplistic than modern versions, with less embellishment and melodic movement.




For nearly 100 years it remained in the relative obscurity of the Shaker community until Aaron Copland included his interpretation of it in his orchestral suite: Appalachian Spring.


Highly orchestrated and with several theme and variation treatments, it now became etched in the public consciousness as a permanent part of Americana.





Drum and Bugle Corps, anyone?

I don't know who wrote this particular arrangement. But several corps have used the song for their competition shows on the field or as a warmup piece. This performance by Santa Clara Vanguard appears to be a standstill exhibition by the hornline, perhaps before a competition. As enjoyable as this is, it doesn't translate well to video. The sonic texture of 75 or so horns is something that one can only fully experience in-person. It's an emotional moment, to say the least.




In my humble opinion, the definitive version of this piece is one performed by Yo Yo Ma on cello with Alison Krause on vocals.


Yo Yo Ma must have taken the line "When true simplicity is gained" to heart in this collaboration. We cast aside the lush orchestration in favour of a single voice and cello. And of course, we also have those simple, profound lyrics missing from the instrumental performances.


Beginning with the melody as a cello solo in B flat, he plays the ink mostly as written while taking appropriate liberties in phrasing and dynamics. This sets a backdrop for what is to follow.


When the vocals begin, there is a modulation up a fourth (or down a fifth, depending on your point of view) to E flat. However continuity is maintained my holding the last note of the cello section out. The B flat (root) now becomes a fifth, in harmony with the E flat (root) of the vocals.


From here though the end, Yo Yo Ma proceeds in a style that he has become known for. Finding power in the note not played, he omits many of the notes others would find natural to include. He shows no reservation in selecting unison in some cases rather than harmony, and on occasion will hold it out while the melody line diverges. The resultant stress is remarkable. Most of the cello work is in the male tenor range, but to begin the final refrain, he plays a few notes in the baritone range providing a strong contrast with the vocal and causing the rest of the passage to achieve a feeling of soaring for a moment before gently returning to earth.


The interplay of voice and cello is glorious, with neither of which is ever overstated. This is an exploration of nuance, as powerful as a whisper.




Even though it's outside the realm of where I aspire to write, I can't help but feel moved by a piece like this. Perhaps you'll feel the same. Or at least have enjoyed the ride.

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Baby! Baby! Baby! Baby! Baby!




A perfect line, those five words are the greatest in all the lyrics of rock n roll. Place them next to your favorite and the ones you model yours on and realize that you're doing it wrong. With great economy, they express the biological, cultural, Platonic, erotic, pornographic, transcendental, evolutionary, imaginative, interpretive, discursive, narrative, absurdist, surrealist, imagist, metaphysical and 'pataphysical aspects of man.



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I believe that directness is a lyrical virtue. State your point explicitly rather than spend time on things which are only indirectly related to your point. Cut to the chase, don't beat around the bush, etc.


While this practice is easy to express and easy to understand, implementing this practice is rather more difficult. In my younger, anarcho-syndicalist post-punk days, (and if you weren't there, Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up and Start Again is an insightful and - IIRC - accurate report of that period) I used to write very direct lyrics; hardcore flails with sloganesque choruses like: "Anarchy Rules", "Oppression" and "Eat {censored} and Die, . Sadly, these were not very good songs. Certainly the facts that we kept terrible time, suffered from acute stage fright and frequently included 15 minute shuffle-blues jams in our sets to overcome our lack of material didn't help, but directness is both blunt and powerful, and if directness is your only tool your audience is going to feel (not without reason) like they have been beaten about the torso with a sledgehammer rather than having been entertained or enlightened.


Anyway, this may be a little bit of "so last month" but my FIT entry for this week is "{censored} You" by Cee-Lo. The chorus is beautifully direct, but the effect of the chorus is leavened and enhanced in contrast to the much more traditionally and softly written verses.




Even with this contrast in the lyric I'm not sure I would have totally gotten it on the page. The fact that the song has a killer groove and that Cee-Lo delivers his lines with the perfect mix of catharsis and joie de vivre certainly helps push it over the top. There are so many ways the chorus could have gone wrong - I'm picturing a Saturday Night Live skit where William Shatner is supposed to be performing the song and he is sitting in front of his makeup mirror, running lines, trying to find the right phrasing for the chorus, until finally Cee-Lo enters and shows him the optimal phrasing, at which point they duet and then exit.

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...William Shatner is supposed to be performing the song and he is sitting in front of his makeup mirror, running lines, trying to find the right phrasing for the chorus, until finally Cee-Lo enters and shows him the optimal phrasing, at which point they duet and then exit.




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I'm still doing the arrangements for the horn section I play with in my new project. The band has started to carve its own identity. There is more of a New Orleans Jazz thing going on than I would have expected.


It's a ton of fun. I've been listening to alot of brass bands lately to keep up.

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Love that style of music (although I did not have to attend Catholic school or suffer repeated ass kickings to acquire that love). The Sly especially is one of my favorites.


PS - Happy Soon To Be Birthday. I love Jon Brion's work, and am looking forward to a complete report.



Simple Things is a great song. Love the Ma/Krause vid. My sister (a soprano) sang Simple Things at my wedding.



Not what I was expecting. Agree with the lyrical sentiment, but the Cult have never done it for me - the vid sounds like a second rate Zep cover band.

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Oh man... that Yo Yo Ma and Krauss thing is beautiful.

I only found that recently. I've been a fan of Copland for a long time. And the drum corp thing is something I wish all of you can experience in person sometime. The first time I stumbled upon the Yo Yo Ma and Krauss version, I wept. It literally brought me to tears. I've heard other works by Alison Krauss. Nice enough. But Yo Yo Ma seems to bring out the very essence of a song and the performers he works with. Every time I listen to that, I notice something more in his arrangement. This last time through I noticed how he spliced something together. After the main body of the piece (voice and cello, verse and refrain) he repeats the first half of the refrain on cello, but then uses the second half of the verse when Alison joins in again on vocals. Very clever way of keeping it from being 3 straight repetitions.

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I'm still in awe watching this. I don't have the words right now.





Shinobi - pretty good. Streets of Rage 2 - getting warmer. THIS is where Yozo Koshiro shined.





This ties with "Forbidden Colours" as, In my opinion, one of the best songs ever written.




This and Threnody completely change the way I perceive music.

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