Day 345: Star Wars Piano

Star Wars Piano Medley

Star Wars Piano Medley

Although I’m now posting all of my Star Wars content to Lando’s ‘Stache, I couldn’t resist sharing the Ultimate Star Wars Medley here. It’s a brilliantly produced video featuring a supremely talented pianist covering five of the most popular Star Wars songs. The pianos themselves are also stars, as you’ll see in the video.

After watching this I was reminded of one thing: not everything in the prequels was awful, thanks to magic of John Williams’ music. Duel of the Fates is a classic Star Wars song and as arranged by Sonya Belousova, it fits perfectly into her medley below.

Day 344: Grammy Museum

The Rose That Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur

The Rose That Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur

We took our trip to the Grammy Museum tonight and it was amazing. My wife and I scored tickets from Yelp as a perk for being part of their street team this summer. (Thanks, Yelp!)

The hour-long drive into L.A. was totally worth it since we got to explore the museum for an hour before the show. The second I learned there was a Tupac Shakur exhibition on the fourth floor, I knew where we were going first.

The exhibition featured some of Shakur’s original writings, including the poem, “The Rose That Grew From Concrete,” which was the title of his posthumous book of poetry. 2Pac was always an enigmatic figure: he was a brash hip hop figure, but also an introspective and intelligent young man. The exhibition did a good job of showing this more thoughtful side of him without denying his controversial side.

Afterwards we walked around the third and fourth floors, exploring different styles of music and learning the history. I could’ve easily spent hours here, but time was limited.

At 7:30pm, we went back to the second floor to the little theater for an Ukulele Beatles show. We’d seen Jake Shimabukuro last year and were blown away, so we thought tonight would be a nice little concert. It started off that way with Ryan Imamura, as the young man played some medleys and then individual Beatles songs. He was great, but then Ryo Montgomery took the stage and proceeded to rock the house.

Yes, he killed it with his ukulele. We were absolutely impressed, as was the rest of the audience.

Montgomery reminded us a lot of Shimabukuro; not only his otherworldly talent, but his stage presence. He was a natural up there and just owned it. He brought back Imamura for a few songs and they were awesome together. We loved how they ended the set with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” using Shimabukuro’s famous arrangement.

It was a mind-blowing experience tonight, looking back at hip hop’s past before looking forward to the ukulele’s future.

Day 339: Meet the Beatles

The Beatles.

The Beatles.

My family and I recently took a road trip to Las Vegas, which meant I had to get into DJ mode for the ride. Back in the day that meant collecting cassettes (!) or CDs, but now it’s loading up the phone with playlists or stocking up the car’s built-in CD library with music. I opted for the latter, since it was the fastest method.

I had two Beatles greatest hits compilations (I still have the vinyl versions of the collections and I re-bought them on CD decades ago). Not surprisingly, they got the most play to and from Vegas

It’s fun listening to the songs, since so many of them have been ingrained into our collective consciousness. My parents grew up during the midst of Beatlemania and I remember my dad playing his Beatles 8-tracks on occasion, particularly this song.

Even though I was born after the Beatles had broken up, I still knew most of their catalog by heart. I never owned many of their albums (Revolver and the White Album are the only ones I have now; I really need to get Abbey Road some day), but their music always seemed to make itself into my life. I’ve always had a deep appreciation for them and this only grew after I took an online course on their music. I’d highly recommend checking out that class.

Day 338: Hollis-day Music

Peanuts Christmas

A Charlie Brown Christmas

I can only take so much of KOST 103.5’s 24-hour, 7-days-a-week Christmas music programming, which starts earlier every year. I’m far from a Bah-Humbug type, but let’s just say that I don’t look forward to when they start broadcasting holiday tunes two weeks before Thanksgiving.

Thankfully, there’s one song that I always gets me into the holiday spirit: Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis.” It’s even better when it’s been mashed up with A Charlie Brown Christmas, as seen below.

Day 175: Music on Netflix

 

Rodriguez at the Greek Theatre

Rodriguez at the Greek Theatre

Just as my taste in music has changed over the years, so has my method of discovering new music evolved. As a teenager, I discovered new music through word of mouth; most of my friends were musicians so one of us was always finding a new band and sharing it with the others. Some of us traded tapes via fanzines while some of us stayed up late to tape radio shows that played new and obscure songs.

Nowadays, I’m more likely to hear about a new song or band via social media than the radio. I tend to read books or watch movies during my spare time.

Thankfully, my love of movie-watching actually helps me find new music. Netflix has a great selection of music documentaries. I’ve enjoyed the films about well-known bands (Rush, Pearl Jam, etc.), but it’s the ones about lesser-known musicians and groups that fascinate me.

Two years ago, my wife and I watched Soul of America, a documentary about Charles Bradley, a soul singer eeking out a living as a James Brown impersonator before being discovered as he neared retirement age. It’s an inspiring film and after we saw it, we were fortunate that Bradley was in L.A. that weekend playing a free show at Amoeba Records (he played the FYF Fest the night before).

This past weekend, a fortuitous pair of tickets (thanks to my Yelp Elite badge) led us to the Greek Theatre to see another obscure musician play a big show. We rented Searching for Sugar Man, a film that details the unique career of singer/songwriter Rodriguez (née Sixto Rodriguez). In the early 70s Rodriguez released two albums that barely sold, despite being worked on by top producers who worked with top artists of the day. He was compared to Bob Dylan on more than one occasion, but he wasn’t able to build a fanbase.

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Rodriguez put down his guitar and entered a life doing construction work in his hometown and occasionally dabbled in local politics. Unbeknownst to him, his music had become the anthem of South African youth. He’s regarded on the same level as the Rolling Stones and his albums (bootleg and legitimate) sold more than they did in America. It’s only when two fans of his decide to track him down does he learn the truth. Rumors of his demise had been exaggerated: at one point, people thought he’d killed himself on stage.

It’s a fascinating film, since there are so many unanswered questions, especially by the record label that failed to pay him all of the royalties over the years (there is one revealing interview with an executive). To his credit, there’s no hint of bitterness or self-pity in Rodriguez. He’s led a good, if hard, life and he’s a Motor City son through-and-through.

Like Bradley, Rodriguez experienced his biggest musical moments when most musicians have long retired. I might not have heard either of them on the radio, but I was more than happy to have discovered them via streaming video.

Day 116: Fair Trade

The L.A. Galaxy's Landon Donovan

The L.A. Galaxy’s Landon Donovan

I haven’t been to a Los Angeles Galaxy game this season, but I heard something today that reminds me of being at the StubHub Center cheering on my favorite futbol team: the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” The last time I listened to this song was during the MLS Championship game in December, when the Galaxy won their fifth MLS Cup. Like other teams, the Galaxy play the song after scoring a goal and sometimes the team supporters will start up that infamous chorus chant during random moments.

I’ve heard Seven Nation Army numerous times during Premier League matches and, according to the song’s Wikipedia page, it was the unofficial anthem of Italy’s World Cup win in 2006. I think it’s great that an American song has become so ingrained into sports across the pond. It’s like we finally paid back the debt owed for countless plays of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” at all of our sporting events. Considering how much I enjoy each song and how they’re both perfect songs to sing along with a crowd, I’d say it’s been a fair trade.

Day 114: Personality

Living Colour

Living Colour

Driving home tonight, I listened to a song I haven’t heard in a while: Cult of Personality by Living Colour. It features one of the Greatest Rock Riffs of All Time and it always manages to pump me up.

The song reminds me of a lot of things, but mostly I think about how I once saw Living Colour, Guns N Roses, and the Rolling Stones at the L.A. Coliseum. The concert started in the late afternoon, with Living Colour playing to a half-empty stadium. I remember being mad that more people weren’t there to appreciate the band’s virtuosity, especially Vernon Reid blazing away on the guitar. Of the three bands that day, Living Colour was by far the most technically proficient.

But who rocked the hardest? The Rolling Stones, without a doubt. I was surprised that a bunch of geezers (I thought they were old then, not knowing that 20 more years of farewell tours still lay ahead) would totally own the Coliseum. I felt that Guns N Roses would steal the show that night, given that they were the hometown boys who made it big.

To put it mildly, Guns N Roses sucked. There wasn’t much energy in the band and I wasn’t the only one there that thought they were just going through the motions. Years later, their lackadaisical performance that evening was explained on an episode of Behind the Music: they were going through a period of heavy drinking and drug use and would soon break up.

It’s a shame that Guns N Roses didn’t complete the trifecta of a brilliant night of rock music. Between the Stones and Living Colour, though, there were moments that will last my lifetime, whether it was Eric Clapton joining the Stones for a song or Vernon Reid launching into one of the Greatest Rock Riffs of All Time.

Day 51: 20 Feet From Stardom

20 Feet From Stardom: Claudia Lennear

20 Feet From Stardom: Claudia Lennear

My wife and I finally saw 20 Feet From Stardom, the Oscar-winning documentary about the back-up singers for some of popular music’s most famous acts. It was a wonderful film filled with amazing music and it’s easy to see why it is so highly regarded; it’s a real crowdpleaser.

Tonight we went to a Q&A with one of the singers, Claudia Lennear, as part of the Black History Month Celebration in Rancho Cucamonga. She was interviewed by a local DJ and talked about her life in and out of the music business. I got a kick out of hearing her talk about how Keith Richards scared her and how David Bowie was at her daughter’s birthday party.

After the Q&A, we got to meet her and take photos with her. She was a delight to chat with, even for just a moment, and it made me feel good that she’s finally getting the recognition that she deserves.

Day 26: Back to School

rolling-stones-no-2-uk-cover

The Rolling Stones

 

In a future post I’ll write more about coursera.com, the online learning university that offers free classes from colleges worldwide, but for now let me say this: it’s one of my favorite things about the Internet. I’ve taken college-level courses in computer science, English, and music appreciation over the last two years and have been surprised at how sophisticated the classes are, as well as fascinated by the technology that makes MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) possible.

I’m currently enrolled in two courses. Through the University of Oregon, I’m taking Shaping the Way We Teach English 1: The Landscape of English Teaching. I’m halfway through the class and it’s been enlightening and beneficial; perfect for my line of work.

Through the University of Rochester, I’m taking The Music of the Rolling Stones, 1962-1974. I’ve taken other music appreciation classes with Professor John Covach and so far, this one is just as good as the others. The one thing this class has reminded me of is how young the Rolling Stones were at the beginning of their career. When I saw them back in 1990s, they were already considered old by rock standards, but it turned out that they had decades worth of farewell tours left in them.