Madonna Banned for Age and What This Means For Culture

Madonna Banned for Age

Although I love some of her early singles, I am not what one would consider a Madonna fan.  However, the above article is something I find troubling.  Apparently the BBC have declined to play her latest single due to that fact that her and her audience are too old. 

First of all this is completely senseless.  When I was thirteen I remember listening to the Doors, a band from my parents generation.  Even now many of my favorite artists are decades older than me.  This wasn’t just true of me, but all my friends.   I remember parties in highschool listening to classic rock and early 80’s post punk, despite the fact that even the early 80’s stuff came out when I was a couple years old.  (I was born in 1978.)

People like what they are exposed to.  If you are a kid and you hear something you like, you are going to listen to it if you have any sense of self.  If you don’t hear it, at any age, you aren’t going to like it.  Plain and simple. 

Age, like sex, race, and sexual orientation,  is just another way to divide people. 

Here is what I find particularly troubling about this:  When it comes to a pop artist, although it is still senseless and wrong, it does not necessarily affect the world in any major way.  However,  there are a lot of older artists that are effective at critiquing society, that speak truth to power.  Jackson Browne, Morrissey, Springsteen, Chuck D, and on and on have been effective chroniclers of what is going on in society.  They are all in their 50’s and 60’s at this point.  It is not hard to see someone in power using age to not play music, something that is not always thought of as political, in order to effectively silence political dissent.   “Oh we are not going to play anything off of Jackson Browne’s Standing in the Breach because we don’t play music by older artists.”  This is when Jackson Browne released one of the most intelligent albums of last year, which was also highly political on certain tracks.  The same goes for the rest of that list. 

Divide and conquer.   This is another fictitious way of dividing people, who may have similar beliefs, interests, and passions, in a way that is currently possible without looking like censorship.  Chuck D is much older than most pop stars, but he is the one bringing the thunder, preaching change, speaking truth to power.  A disenchanted kid, if they were to discover him, might be inclined to listen to him over the other music choices they are currently being presented with.  That isn’t to say that kids aren’t smart enough to find and seek things out on their own, but they have a better chance of finding someone like Chuck D the more exposure he gets.  Age is one of the last ways you can openly discredit someone without looking like a neanderthal.  

Morrissey, Jackson Browne, Buffy Sainte-Marie

I couldn’t help but post this picture of Morrissey and Jackson Browne together.  To top it all off they were both attending a show by Buffy Sainte-Marie.  Anyone that has read this blog for awhile knows that all three are favorites of mine.  All three are also writers who have a mastery of poetry and politics.  They have the ability to look out at the world and describe what is going on with unique insight.  They are original voices, first-rate melody writers, and absolutely fearless.

Look at the Facts by Buffy Sainte-Marie:

For America by Jackson Browne (Yes, the production is dated, but what a song!):

Last, but not least, Mountjoy by Morrissey (Mountjoy is a notorious prison in Dublin):

7 Great New Albums By Career Artists

I am sorry my posts have been few and far between since reaching Australia.   This really has more to do with the fact that I left my computer behind more than anything.  I couldn’t justify traveling to the other side of the globe with it when I am only in country for 10 days.  Writing on one’s phone isn’t quite as appealing. 

I spent the afternoon walking around Brisbane exploring the city and taking pictures.  One of the albums I listened to was Weezer’s newest.  It struck me that not only have a bunch of great artists that have been around 20 or more years released albums this year, but that many have released records showing that they are still at the top of their game.  It has been a really great year for music so far.  Here are some records that came out this year that any music fan should own.   Also, if you are a fan of any of the following artists, but lost track somewhere along the way, I believe all of these records belong in a best of for each artist (In no particular order):

1.  Morrissey:  World Peace is None of Your Business

2.  Jackson Browne:  Standing in the Breach

3.  Marianne Faithfull:  Give My Love to London

4.  Leonard Cohen:  Popular Problems

5.  Bryan Ferry:  Avonmore

6.  U2:  Songs of Innocence

7.  Weezer:  Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Morrissey and Leonard Cohen have really never been in artistic decline.  Marianne Faithfull has always put out good work, but as a complete album I think this is her best since Broken English.   Jackson Browne’s Time the Conqueror was phenomenal, but before that album, ever since the 90’s, his records were too slick overall.  This new album is as good as his 70’s work, but updated for modern concerns.  I think this is U2’s best complete work since their 90’s trilogy, which has always been a favorite period of mine.  Although I really love Bryan Ferry’s Olympia,  I think this new one is front to back stronger.  I also think this is his best work since definitely the 80’s and probably even since Roxy Music’s Avalon.   As for Weezer, I felt that Hurley got a bum wrap, even if the production was a bit too slick, but this is without a doubt their best since their classic Pinkerton.  I would even put it ahead of the Green Album.  

Not only are these artists putting out vital work in relationship to their own careers, but I have trouble thinking of many new artists that have put out albums this year that are as front to back strong as these releases.  

I still need to get around to hearing Chuck D’s new album, as well as the Wu-Tang Clan’s.   I am also excited to hear the new AC/DC album that comes out next week. 

Standing in the Breach Review

Jackson-Browne-Standing-In-the-Breach

I already know that Jackson Browne’s Standing in the Breach is one of the best albums of the year and will be an album that I will listen to for many years to come.  It is intelligent and emotional in equal measure.  It feels both inspired and well crafted.  He has found the right balance between poetry and directness in his writing.  Along with Time the Conqueror, this continues his late career renaissance.  Sonically this probably recalls his 70’s peak more than anything else since.

I love almost all of Jackson Browne’s career expect for his 90’s work.  He still released some great songs in that period (I’m Alive, The Barricades of Heaven), but overall he seemed to lose his way to LA slickness.  Some would argue that he lost his way to that in the 80’s, but despite the hallmarks of 80’s production techniques, which I never really minded personally, I love albums such as Lawyers in Love and Lives in the Balance.  In the 90’s his songs felt too adult contemporary and stodgy.  It was too easy to write him off when he is really one of the greatest poets working in modern songwriting.  He began his climb back up the mountain with The Naked Ride Home, whose title track displays a wicked sense of humor that is too often overlooked in Browne’s work.  However, that album was still flawed.  On Time the Conqueror he got the writing and the sound right, and now he is at the top of his game again.

Jackson Browne’s voice is an instrument that works best when singing great melodies.  When married to the right melody it is a thing of transcendence.  This new album is full of great melodies.

Some of the nods in production and songwriting to his past are clearly on purpose.  The Long Way Around and Leaving Winslow pay musical respects to These Days and Take It Easy respectively.  The Birds of St. Marks is an old song he wrote concerning his time with Nico and Andy Warhol’s Factory that finally receives the production that he always felt it deserved.  However, this is no nostalgia ride.  He is using the past to contrast it with the present, which Browne finds troubling, though not without hope.

Browne is one of the best political songwriters there is, as he knows how to write about current events with one eye towards eternity.  He is not just rehashing the days headlines like many political songwriters do, but infusing them with poetry and deeper meaning.

I mentioned that The Long Way Around was a rewrite of These Days.  Where once Jackson Browne was the most introspective of songwriters, he now often looks outwards.  Using a chord progression and quoting the words “these days” could be a really bad decisions in lesser songwriters, but with Jackson Browne you feel that he is taking stock of his own life and the world around them and how it has changed.

I don’t know what to say about these days
I’m seeing people changing in the strangest ways
Even in the richer neighbourhoods
People don’t know when they got it good
They got the envy and they got it bad

Anyone that reads the papers will know that even rich people are uncertain about our current economic situation.  If you turn on Fox News for a moment you will also see the rich portrayed as victims, often by themselves. Browne is keyed into what is happening in the world.  But he is too smart to preach.  He simply states what is going on and lets the listener do the thinking.

On Walls and Doors, which he wrote with Cuban songwriter Carlos Verelas there is poetry alongside with Browne’s quest for social justice:

Ever since the world existed
One thing it is certain

Some build walls, others open doors

And later

Of what use is the moon
If you don’t have the night?
Of what use is a windmill
With no Quixote left to fight?

Browne is not also an excellent political writer, but a great study of the human heart and the complexity of the human condition.  This has been true ever since he first started out.  On The Birds of St. Marks, as I mentioned a song that was actually written in the 60’s, he sings:

But all my frozen words agree and say it’s time to
Call back all the birds I sent to
Fly behind her castle walls and I’m
Weary of the nights I’ve seen
Inside these empty halls

But if Browne was only a great lyricist it wouldn’t make his songs powerful.  When he and his band get the sound right, his songs are highly emotional.  This is, aside from Time the Conqueror, the most organic sounding album he has put out since the 70’s.  You can actually picture musicians playing alongside each other instead of them being sequestered clinically in different booths in an LA studio.  I have no idea which is actually the case, I’m sure the recording was made in somewhat modern fashion, but it at least feels natural. His band also plays with great subtlety, bringing out the nuance of each song.

Browne has often, unfairly, gotten lumped in with the mellow 70’s bands and solo acts like The Eagles and James Taylor.  His songwriting is much more fearless and intelligent than any of those other acts.  Don’t let the fact that it is often quite beautiful fool you.  He is putting his neck on the chopping block much more than almost any dangerous sounding indie band.  With Browne you get the best of all worlds, you get someone that will challenge the way you think while making music that is actually a joy to listen to. I’m glad that he is out there and that he has provided us with this new collection of songs.

If I Could Be Anywhere Lyrics

Sliding through the shimmering surface between two worlds

Standing at the centre of time as it uncurls
Cutting through a veil of illusion
Moving beyond past conclusions
Wondering if all my doubt and confusion will clear

If I could be anywhere,
If I could be anywhere
If I could be anywhere right now, I would want to be here

Searching for the future among the things we’re throwing away
Trying to see the world through the junk we produce every day
They say nothing lasts forever,
But all the plastic ever made is still here
No amount of closing our eyes will make it disappear

If I could be anywhere,
If I could be anywhere
If I could be anywhere in history, I would want to be here

The Romans, the Spanish, the British, the Dutch
American exceptionalism, so out of touch
The folly of empire, repeating its course
Imposing its will and ruling by force
On and on through time

But the world can’t take it, very much longer
We’re not gonna make it, unless we’re smarter and stronger
The world is gonna shake itself free of our greed somehow

If I could be anywhere,
If I could be anywhere in time
If I could be anywhere and change things, it would have to be now.

They say nothing lasts forever,
but all the plastic ever made is still here
No amount of closing our eyes will make it disappear

And the world can’t take it, very much longer
It’s not gonna make it, ‘less we’re smarter and stronger
The world is gonna shake itself free of our greed somehow

And the world can’t take it, that you can see
If the oceans don’t make it, neither will we
The world is gonna shake itself all the way free somehow

If I could be anywhere, If I could be anywhere in time
If I could be anywhere and change the outcome, it would have to be now.

If I Could Be Anywhere by Jackson Browne from his Standing in the Breach album.

I wanted to add two things.  First, again, Jackson Browne who is often written off by many younger artists, is actually saying something that takes courage in the place of so much of the ironic detachment that is out there.  Also, he has written a song that deals in part to the environment calamities that we are facing, but in a very thoughtful and sly way.  Writing a song about the environment is really, really tricky.  But taking on the idea of the environment in the margins of the songs, there are very few direct lines that actually mention it, it is actually more powerful.  It’s so easy to sing about environmental themes in a way which is cliched.  Save the planet, etc.  I remember hearing the Melissa Etheridge song at the end of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and being embarrassed for her.  My Dad was an environmental lawyer for most of his career, and now is a professor of environmental ethics.  He has long asked me to try and write a topical song that deals with environmental themes.  I have never been able to find a way into the subject that really felt authentic.  I feel like Browne has done so here.  The couplet, “They say nothing lasts forever, but all the plastic ever made is still here”, is witty.  It plays with your expectations, it goes one way and then turns it around.  He makes you think about something without telling you what you should be thinking with those lines.  

Hold On, Hold Out

In honor of Jackson Browne’s new album coming out, Standing in the Breach, I wanted to post one of my favorite songs of his which is off his most underrated album Hold Out.  The song is called Hold On, Hold Out.  This isn’t one of his deepest albums lyrically, but it is one of his most musical and melodic.  It is also a high point of studio recording.  It’s one of those albums that just sounds great.  I’m not saying that this album in particular was an influence, but when Daft Punk created Random Access Memories, this is the era of recording that influenced that record.  Everything is warm and inviting sounding, before the technology made mainstream recordings start to sound clinical.

I have been so exhausted lately that I am bordering on insane.  I put this song on today while I went to meet a friend and it instantly lifted my spirits.  Every time I hear this song I want to be on Pacific Highway 1 with a giant spliff in my possession.  Some of you might find the end spoken word part cheesy, but I don’t give a fuck, I love every minute of this song.