Monthly Archives: August 2014
Jurisdiction disputes in the Sibling Rivalry Collection Race at times precluded me from liking bands more suited to my tastes than my brother’s — Madonna and Depeche Mode spring to mind. But for the most part, my brother was more than welcome to some of his claims.
He dug Prince. I did not.
I liked a few of his singles, but in terms of overall output, I didn’t see the appeal. I appreciate Prince now, but I still wouldn’t consider myself a fan.
Oddly enough, I did become a fan of Wendy and Lisa. I’m not sure what drew my attention to them, aside from being featured so prominently in videos. (Or maybe I subconsciously picked up on the gay undertone of the pair.) When Prince broke up the Revolution, my brother continued to follow him, leaving me to take up the cause for Wendy and Lisa.
Parade is my favorite of the Prince and the Revolution albums. Sure, “Kiss” and “Mountains” are solid singles, but that psychedelic first side went beyond rock, funk, pop, whatever the hell else. It was thoroughly composed, no less structurally taut than a piece by Mozart or Beethoven. And for the longest time, I thought Parade was all I really needed from Prince.
As I got deeper into expanding my vinyl collection, I thought about those albums my brother had that I too wanted — Graceland by Paul Simon, … Nothing Like the Sun by Sting, Like a Virgin by Madonna. When I exhausted the overlap, I turned my attention to other parts of his collection.
I doubt I would pick up Out of the Cellar by Ratt, or any of his Toto albums. But Prince and the Revolution? Those albums where Wendy and Lisa had the most influence? I was willing to check them out.
The Revolution is credited on only three albums, starting with Purple Rain. The streaming services helped me to determine it was the better starting point in my limited exploration of Prince.
The nine-track album yielded five singles, which were played to death on the radio. At the time, I would have loved nothing more than to never hear those songs again. But after 30 years, their familiarity is comforting.
That left four tracks to explore. The introduction to “Computer Blue” is a running joke among some friends of mine, and it should be one among yours as well. “Baby I’m a Star” is a nice glue between “I Would Die 4 U” and the title track. And of course, without “Darling Nikki”, there would be no Parents Music Resource Council and the marketing coup-de-grace of the “Explicit Lyrics” marker.
Aside: I remember buying an album with an “Explicit Lyrics” label at the Fort Shafter Exchange, and the clerk carded me because the store wouldn’t sell those albums to anyone under 18. The majority of my music shopping had migrated to Tower Records by then, and they sure as hell didn’t care.
While I wasn’t a stranger to Purple Rain at the time of its release, I don’t find it surprising my appreciation for the album comes as late in my life as it has.
I wasn’t schooled enough in race relations in the United States to grasp the divide between “black music” and “white music”. I just knew I dug bands from England, and Prince was not from England.
Now that I’ve learned the history of rock ‘n’ roll, I see how Prince transcends that divide. He’s a bad enough motherfucker that those labels don’t fucking apply.
Tags: my brother's albums, prince, sibling rivalry collection race
It’s been more than a year since I embarked on expanding my vinyl collection, and, naturally, the scope of the effort has changed a lot in that time.
At first, I concentrated on titles I would have bought before I moved away from vinyl. That meant examining the CD and digital collections and plugging holes in the corresponding spots in the vinyl collection.
By the end of 2013, I caught most of the low-hanging fruit, but a restlessness had set in — I wanted the care and attention required of vinyl to extend to recent releases, reissues and missed curiosities. So my wish list grew.
A year ago, I felt ambivalent about buying newer titles on vinyl. Back in June 2014, I downloaded the self-titled debut of Inventions, a side project of Eluvium and Explosions in the Sky. When I decided to get the album in a physical form, I chose vinyl over CD.
A year ago, I balked at the idea of paying more the $20 for a title I would have bought for less than $10 in my youth. On a visit to Austin in October 2013, I dropped $30 on an original pressing of No Depression by Uncle Tupelo. Pedro the Lion’s Control is priced at $15, and I consider that a bargain.
My vinyl collection has tripled in size as a result of these changing attitudes. Oddly enough, it’s increased my CD collection as well.
The price point for catalog CDs is dropping to the point where sometimes, it’s more economical to choose a CD over a download. For example, I had pretty much all the Eurythmics albums on vinyl but few in any digital form. Silver Platters priced those titles competitively enough that I opted to get CDs.
Immersing myself into so much catalog also made me curious about music I should have explored but never did. I hadn’t owned any albums by Neneh Cherry, Peter Gabriel, the Police, De La Soul or Public Enemy — till now.
The original targets of this vinyl renaissance have whittled down to some specialized titles that would require a goodly chunk of change to acquire. So now I’m diving the crates looking for anything that strikes my fancy.
Lately, it’s been modern classical music, especially titles on Nonesuch, CRI or New World. Duran Duran rarities are guaranteed to make me behave irrationally with my wallet. And there was no way I could pass up a beat-up copy of Vicious Rumours: The Album by Timex Social Club.
Next goal: A trip to San Francisco to dig through the stacks of Amoeba Records.
Tags: vinyl collecting
Back in junior year of high school, I got bit by the musical theater bug hard.
My music collection was practically an altar to the two titans of Broadway in the late ’80s — Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Both composers were the gateway drugs to a world of modern classical music. Without either one, I wouldn’t have developed a cozy relationship with dissonance.
Lloyd Webber has fallen pretty hard since then. His last hit show was Sunset Boulevard in 1993, and his work has made nary a ripple in pop culture consciousness since. Hell, I didn’t even know he made a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera.
A few weeks back during my usual crate digging, I ran across a vinyl copy of Variations, his pop/classical album of variations on Nicolo Paganini’s 24th Caprice. Lloyd Webber wrote the piece after losing a bet to his brother. It was later turned into the “Dance” half of the show Song and Dance.
At the height of my Lloyd Webber craze, I wanted to hear this album badly. The original album was released in 1978, and in 1988, it wasn’t available in any of the record shops I frequented in Honolulu.
I did find a cassette of an orchestral version performed by Julian Lloyd Webber with Lorin Maazel conducting the London Philharmonic. I had to use a lot of my imagination to hear a rock arrangement in an 80-piece orchestra.
By the time the work was reissued on CD in the US, my priorities had shifted. I started my own music studies in college, and I treated Lloyd Webber as a phase I needed to get through to find Igor Stravinsky, Philip Glass and John Zorn.
When I finished college, Lloyd Webber was completely out of my system, but my sister didn’t know that when she gifted me a compilation of his greatest hits. Till then, my entire experience with Lloyd Webber was through cast recordings. I listened to his shows in their entirety instead of cherry-picking the showstoppers.
That compilation revealed a weakness in Lloyd Webber’s canon. Well, any song excerpted from a show suffers from this problem but moreso with Lloyd Webber. Stripped from the dramatic context of the story, his songs can get pretty schlocky.
And it doesn’t help when interpreters milk the drama. Michael Crawford really drained that cash cow as much as he could.
So I forged ahead and pretty much forgot about Lloyd Webber. I made sure to get Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera on CD, but I wrote off the rest of his canon.
Of course, that meant I couldn’t pass up Variations when I saw it in the record bin more than two decades later.
Lloyd Webber may have been a phase, but he was an important one. At the time I encountered him, I was impressionable enough to be swayed by his use of dissonance. He won’t be mistaken for Elliott Carter in a million years, but Lloyd Webber knew how to balance the showstoppers with the grit.
The overture to Cats isn’t anything you can hum, but to a 16-year-old dipping a toe into the larger world of avant-garde music, it’s not a bad introduction to how all twelve notes in a chromatic scale can be spun into a melody.
Variations was a lesson in how to construct a large-scale work from everything and anything. Some moments were pastiche, others pure sentimental manipulation. But Lloyd Webber threw in some ugly distortion at points, and none of it felt purposeless.
Yes, it was a concept album, but it was more than that.
In its own way, Variations opened up the possibility that music didn’t have to be exclusively high-brow or low-brow. It could synthesize both. It could be ancient and modern, melodic and discordant. It was what a teenager needed to hear to ease him into some thornier discussions about art and life later in adulthood.
Tags: andrew lloyd webber
Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings is one of those classical music one-hit wonders people may recognize without knowing they recognize it.
It’s the piece American media whips out for occasions of national mourning. Oliver Stone used the piece prominently for the film Platoon. It was played at the funeral of Grace Kelley, and I’m sure if I perform my due diligence, a Google search would confirm my suspicion that the piece was performed around the time of 9/11. I won’t do that due diligence because if I were a music director at that time, I would have had an orchestra rehearsing it.
An entire book, The Saddest Music Ever Written by Thomas Larson, focuses entirely on the piece.
What people may not know is the Adagio is actually part of a larger work, the String Quartet, Op. 11. Barber would not write another piece labeled as a “string quartet”.
My introduction to the Adagio was on the Kronos Quartet album, Winter Was Hard. The piece concludes the album, offering a sonic cleanse after the intensity of the Schnittke Third Quartet which precedes it.
Needless to say, I fell in love with the piece, and in my teenaged precociousness, I sought out the original work from which the Adagio was extracted. The only available recording at the time — we’re talking 1988, here — was by the Concord String Quartet, which paired the String Quartet, Op. 11 with one of Barber’s vocal work, Dover Beach, alongside George Rochberg’s String Quartet No. 7.
So I special ordered the cassette, listened to it and … wondered how the two halves of the piece relate to each other.
The fast, first movement, which is also reprised as a coda to its more popular second movement, isn’t really memorable. Where the second movement has that floating, off-kilter elegiac melody, the first movement seems to be just an intellectual exercise.
The second movement feels like a dialogue between the individual parts, where the first movement seems like the players are parroting each other, if not downright all saying the same thing. (I’m not entirely wrong — the quartet opens with a melody played in unison.)
I couldn’t put it into words at the time, but Barber didn’t seem to know what he was doing with that first movement, all the more evidenced by its return at the end of the piece.
In a way, it’s understandable how the Adagio has eclipsed its parent work. The rest of the quartet feels like an after-thought.
And it’s probably this underdog status that makes me seek out whatever recordings I can of the entire work, of which there aren’t many.
Currently, Emerson Quartet’s excellent American Originals album is the most readily available to contain the entire quartet. In my crate digging, I’ve run across vinyl LPs of Beaux Arts Quartet (paired with David Diamond’s String Quartet No. 4), the Cleveland Quartet (like the Emerson, paired with some quartets by Charles Ives) and that original cassette, the Concord.
Wikipedia alerts me to some others. That reissue by the Endellion Quartet wasn’t around when I was trying to find the work on CD.
I did take the score for the entire Op. 11 and program it into my digital audio work station, which you can listen to at the Empty Ensemble web site.
What I discovered is the first movement is in a very traditional sonata form, complete with modulation in the exposition and a recapitulation. Now that I can pinpoint the parts of the quartet, I’ve developed a better understanding of it.
That doesn’t stop the work from being unwieldy, but I can empathize with what Barber was trying to achieve. Portions of the quartet can get pretty thorny, and while Barber works in a tonal framework, he’s not beholden to it.
It’s those moments of discord arising from its spirited pace that makes me like the first movement just a bit more, and it certainly makes the second stand out.
You probably won’t fall in love with the entirety of the Op. 11, but at the very least, it’s a fascinating study on how a piece of music can exert its identity at the cost of others.
Tags: in pursuit, samuel barber