Into the Morning is on a Chart Somewhere

Ben Rector released his new album on Tuesday. It’s called Into the Morning. It topped out at number six on the iTunes Pop Album charts. I’ve never been there. That’s what I say in conversation when I can’t relate. I was talking to a student from Saudi Arabia at lunch today. When he said he was from Saudi Arabia, I said, “I’ve never been there,” and then we went back to eating.

Ben was in my fraternity; he used to play a show in Fayetteville biweekly. Now he lives in Nashville; he’s touring with two other musicians, who at similar stages in their careers: unsigned but rising. I read a book on novel publication recently, and it described three authors who banded together and created their own book tour, with posters and chapbooks and rehearsed jokes. It sounds glamorous. When I was younger (21), I wanted to be in a national musical. I would sleep on the bus and warm up during the day. I would be best friends with the other chorus members because, let’s be honest, I wouldn’t have a leading part. I’d be part of the chorus. When I’m asked to make a list of things I like about myself, I write that I can be honest even in day dreams.

Fayetteville was the second stop on their tour. Tulsa was the first. As these are both Ben’s areas, he got to headline. When they get to the coast, another guy will headline. We didn’t listen much to the other guys. No one was really interested. One looked like Seth Cohen, but he didn’t produce the same laughs.

Last year, when Ben released his last album, Songs that Duke Wrote, he played a album release party in the same venue, George’s Majestic Lounge. The company that packaged his CD’s forgot to ship them. I was sleeping on his couch the night before when he woke me up. It was around nine. “Do you want to go to Dallas?” he asked me. “Lock and load,” I said, then he asked me again, and I said, oh wait, I am not dreaming? We were just about to take down that evil sloth/jaguar with Wolverine and Shadowcat. Shadowcat said she loved me.

We had to drive through a terrible storm in Oklahoma. We actually stopped on the interstate and called someone to consult the Doppler Radar. Doppler said the storm was a portent of evil tidings. I voted to press through it. I wasn’t driving. I actually wasn’t involved at all. I was along for the ride.

We slept from two to seven, when Ben picked up the CD’s, and then turned around to go straight home. We ate Wendy’s twice, at the same location in McAlester, halfway between Fayetteville and Dallas. And that night, I still had to pay for the album.

Consequently, in the 1990’s, my mom used to play at George’s Majestic Lounge. Back then it was called George’s Majestic Beer Garden. She was the lead singer in a cover band called “Decoy;” she also played tambourine. The lead guitarist was Dr. Gregg, the dentist who my mom worked for as a secretary. The only song I remember them playing is “Brown Eyed Girl.” Dr. Gregg now teaches Biology at the University. He gave me a 67% on my first test.


Let’s Talk About Pink

Today I got my car back from the Fayetteville Auto Park. I took it there last Friday and told the customer service manager that there was a demon trapped in the engine of my civic. He laughed, and then asked me, really, what is the problem. And I said, that’s all I can tell you. When I drive, it sounds like one piece of metal being drug slowly across another. It’s the sound of a demon.

It was actually the sound of my brake pad indicators, which, coincidentally, sound exactly like a demon. Whose fault is that? Mr. Honda. Wherever he is. Probably now it’s the fault of his descendants, because he’s most likely dead. Or the humanoid robots they’ve built. Now there are truly demons trapped inside of those.
After I picked up my car, I was flipping through the Top 40 type radio stations, trying to hear the Black Eyed Pea’s “Meet Me Halfway” again – that song lights a fire in my soul – when I came across the new Pink song, titled, “Please Don’t Leave Me.” Here is the chorus:
Please don’t leave me
Please don’t leave me
I always say how I don’t need you
But it’s always gonna come back to this
Please don’t leave me
Now, for all the Pink connoisseurs who read my blog (and I’m sure both of you are), these lyrics will immediately recall Pink’s previous hit single, “So What”:
So what?
I’m still a rock star
I’ve got my rock moves
And I don’t need you
If I was going to draw a Venn Diagram (and I say going to, because I can’t figure out how), the space in the middle where the circles unite would have only the words “I don’t need you.” Other than that, the lyrics to both songs would not only be completely in their separate circles, they would be hugging the edges and throwing knives at one another.
Before we move quickly to judge Pink, we must remember that her choruses also cover material such as this:
This used to be a funhouse
Now it’s full of evil clowns
It’s time to start the countdown
I’m gonna burn it down
Holy Hell (yes, that’s where the car demon now lives). I don’t know what happened to Pink, or what road show kidnapped her and what things she was forced to witness, but someone get her a therapist who has absolutely no connection to the circus. Also, this countdown sits directly between ambiguity and terror, so that I don’t know if she’s just exacting vengeance against the clowns or if somehow she thinks I’m involved, too. I’m not, Pink, I swear – I had nothing to do with what happened to the funhouse.
All these songs and more belong to her latest album, Funhouse, which was actually nominated for a Grammy, believe it or not. Apparently the Academy of Recording Arts took her threats seriously, as well. It chronicles her breakup with her husband, motocross star Carey Hart. It was originally titled, Heartbreak is a Motherf**cker, so, you know how that goes.
I really like songs where women get over men, because I think we as an audience are not meant to take the words at face value. It’s almost like the artist is writing in a certain way and trusting the audience to read the subtext, namely, how they’re not over the breakup. I’m not saying that this only happens to women – I’m sure there are songs like this for men. However, women in fiction are usually the ones who get broken up with, and thus can write these songs.
I think about “Irreplaceable,” by Beyonce, where some fool who somehow was blessed with Beyonce cheated on her. Now, we know this is completely fiction, because no one would ever do that, but when Beyonce sings, it sounds more like anger than assertiveness. This is what makes the best fiction – when characters lie, the audience has to call them on it.
My favorite instance of this is Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face.” Now, she deserves a whole post to herself, but I will say that though this comes out in her song, in Kid Cudi’s “I Poke Her Face,” it is extremely apparent. In his chorus, they slow down her words, and so when she sings, “He can’t read my poker face,” it is extremely sad, like Sandy singing “Hopelessly Devoted to You” in Grease.
However, Sandy looks like none of the artists I mentioned above, except at the end of Grease when she turns into Sasha Fierce. Whose picture I inserted, because all of the above girls were not appropriate for Tron McKnight.

Let’s Talk About the Black Eyed Peas

A few weeks ago, BYX threw it’s annual Roller Disco function. We drive to a neighboring town and roller skate in those tan Forrest Gump boots. It reminds me of CEO Day, at St. Joe’s Elementary. Once a month, if you brought a canned food, you could wear whatever clothes you wanted, instead of the requisite white shirt blue pants uniform. At the end of the school day, St. Joe’s would bus all the students to the Skate Place, where we would watch the public school kids get in fights. They tore the Skate Place down many years ago. Now it’s a grouping of apartments, named the Skate Place. This is the reason we have to have Roller Disco in a different city.

The point is, whilst skating without my date (it’s very difficult to skate with someone when you are as fast as I am), a gorgeous and dramatic song began to play that slowed down time. After three minutes of sweat and tears from dancing powerfully and falling twice, I asked the DJ what that song was. He said, “If you do that again, we’re going to kick you out.” I reiterated by question, and he said, “Meet Me Halfway, by the Black Eyed Peas.”
GASP. Not the Black Eyed Peas! I have a blood feud with this band. I need to look up the definition of blood feud, but I think that’s what I have. Their lyrics are offensively simple and the individual beats in the song look like money signs when you open it in GarageBand. Take their latest hit, “I Gotta Feeling,” which rhymes the traditional Jewish celebratory exclamation, “motzel tov,” with “just take it – off!” That’s not offensive. But I’m not Jewish.
I’d like to post some lyrics to this song, in order to prove my point. As you read this, please try to make it melodious. If you are familiar with the song, feel free simply to sing the words.
let’s do it
let’s do it
let’s do it
let’s do it
and do it
and do it
– oh no, I’m not finished yet, and neither is Fergie –
let’s do it
let’s do it
let’s do it
let’s do it
and do it
and do it
And here I could make a stale joke, pretending to be unfamiliar with her command and asking her to repeat it once more. The issue at hand, however, is what exactly “it” is. It’s never stated, and the context of the song is so vague that it could be any number of things. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that it refers to desecrating other ethnic groups’ cultural traditions.
However, “Meet Me Halfway” is different.
Okay, that’s a lie. “Meet Me Halfway” is the exact same formula. Beats that were bought off the end cap at a grocery store and phrases that are vague and familiar enough that one must find his or her owning meaning in them. But I am in love with this song.
Please, take five minutes and watch the music video. Or, take thirty seconds and hit the highlights, which are as follows: Fergie, who is actually wearing clothes despite what first glance told you, lost in the rainforest from Fern Gully. Taboo in a spacesuit floating way too close to the sun. dressed as a Bedouin with steam punk stunner shades, floating in circles on the surface of the moon. Elsewhere on the moon, in Jay Gatsby’s racing goggles, riding a robot elephant. I think he may be using this video as an audition tape for a stage production of Around the World in 80 Days.

Nothing changes in terms of formula. This song sounds like many other songs I’ve heard. The lyrics were probably written using those word magnets on my mom’s fridge. But sometimes a repetition of something as confusing and simletaneously seductive as “meet me halfway” makes me want to climb aboard my trusty robot elephant and ride off into the setting Saturn.

Generally, the Gospel Truth

My roommate Nathan is gifted; he can play the guitar from any position. Some times he will play it sitting down. Sometimes he will play it standing up. My favorite times are those when he plays will dancing, which I think would be very hard.

Several weeks ago Nathan formed a band named General Lee and the Gospel Truth in our living room. Basically what happens is on nights that I have to study, he will invite all his friends over to play music. Bingo plays the banjo, Laurie plays the fiddle, and Moffett plays a bass guitar he made out of a wash basin and a broom handle.
(Don’t you love those names? I feel like this could be a band of muppets, like Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.)
Nathan plays some of his own songs, and some covers. The band will practice on our porch or in our living room, and Blanton, my other roommate, and I will sit and listen, because we cannot play instruments. I’ve always been frustrated by that – not that I can’t play an instrument, but more that I can’t join a band. I don’t care much about playing instruments; I have other skills, many of which I can’t tell you about. Yet I often wish I could be in a band, because that seems to be an easy conversation starter.
Two Saturdays ago, watching General Lee grow their bluegrass, I really felt the need for a steady, grating percussion instrument like a washboard. I said this, and as it turned out, I was sitting directly beneath a washboard that had been hung on the wall (I think it may have come from a dumpster – Nathan brings home a lot of knick knacks). Since it was my idea, I was given the position of washboard player.
Playing the washboard is a lot like running your fingernails across a chalkboard – in fact, if the chalkboard was preforated, that would be exactly what playing the washboard is. The only trick is making a scratching sound rhythmic. This is a trick I possess.
The pinnacle of the night (and my life) came at midnight – having mastered the oft celebrated washboard, I suggested we go to Dickson Street and peddle our wares. Thus we did, and in two hours we stole ten dollars from people who thought we were homeless. After that, I (literally) hung up my washboard, and retired from professional music.