Today marks 17 years of marriage with my wonderful wife Kim. I suppose she’s stood by me through more than most would have. I’ve always believed that the greatest thing that you can do for a loved one is support their dreams, and she’s always been willing to sacrifice for me to pursue mine. For that I am supremely grateful.
While most couples have a song they consider their own, we really have 2 songs that are memorable to us. We danced to the song “We’re All Alone” by Boz Scaggs at our wedding, but I later performed the Beatles’ “Til There Was You” (well, not actually composed by the Beatles, but the version I was familiar with growing up) to her at our wedding reception.
I’ll let Paul McCartney and the Fab Four do the honors today:
Well it’s Academy Award night and the celebs are parading down the red carpet. Here are the nominees for Best Song:
Music (Original Song)
“Coming Home” from Country Strong Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
“I See the Light” from Tangled Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater
“If I Rise” from “127 Hours” Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
“We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3″ Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
All songs have their merits. Randy Newman is one of my favorite all time songwriters, within and outside the movie world. But within the Toy Story series, he set the bar too high with “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and “When Somebody Loved Me.”Though neither won the Academy Award for Best Song, both will be remembered as iconic songs in film history.
Gwyneth Paltrow gives “Coming Home” Oscar buzz and perhaps makes it a sentimental favorite. “I See the Light” is beautifully performed and orchestrated, but perhaps a little reminiscent of past Disney film tunes.
“If I Rise” with Dido and composer A.R. Rahman is from the movie 127 Hours. The story is that of a mountain climber who takes desperate measures after being trapped under a boulder, and it’s a testament to the strength of the human spirit. The song is a hauntingly beautiful song that captures both the mood and spirit of the film, and gets my nod for Best Song.
I’ve always been a fan of the actor Jeff Bridges, and in particular the movie The Fabulous Baker Boys. Jeff portrayed half of the sibling piano lounge act who struggles with the reality that he’s selling out in Tiki Bars and hotel lounges every night when he yearns to play a more progressive form of jazz that’s more true to his talents and passion.
It’s the story that strikes the core of artistic work of any kind – Staying true to your self in your work.
I’ve also found fascination in listening to artists of all vocations speak about their craft and gaining insight into how they approach their work and the creative process. I’m a fan of the television show Inside the Actor’s Studio, because I love listening to artists discuss their approach to the creative process.
On the music front, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing some of the great musicians of my hometown like Ellis Marsalis, Jr., Pete Fountain, Henry Butler, and Irvin Mayfield (It’s great to be a New Orleanian!).
Since Bridges is a musician and an actor who has starred in critically acclaimed movies about musicians, he has a unique perspective on the common threads of both artistic outlets. Here’s a brief excerpt from one of his post-Oscar interviews on that subject:
“Movies are more than just entertainment, they are connecting us. And music is the same way. We have a movie about music here, but music and movies are a common link for all of us. I am hoping that this will kind of raise my profile, and I am all about getting us all together, getting the world healthy. Sometimes I’ll think of movies as a great example for the way the world can work. You have all these different opinions, and all these different ways we can work together. And we can make the most beautiful movie we can make, and we have the opportunity to make this the most beautiful world too. So I hope that furthers that idea.”
The greatest malady facing our culture today is the fact that we seem to value fame more than talent. It’s a phenomenon that has been exacerbated by the explosion of reality TV and the likes of Snookie, Kendra and Hank, American Idol cast-off William “She Bangs” Hung, and the laundry list of dysfunctional characters parading themselves across the screen on a nightly basis. It’s particularly sad when those flashes of stardom flame out, because there’s essentially no talent or substance to fall back on.
And that brings us to the story of Meatloaf. The animated rock/pop vocalist and performer burst onto the music scene in 1977 with the blockbuster album Bat Out of Hell, one of the best-selling albums of all time worldwide. The success of that album made the thought of any follow-up attempt daunting for the overnight music sensation. From the various accounts, it seems that he suffered from a temporary loss of his ability to sing brought on by psychological effects of that newfound stardom. The encore recording attempts were plagued by additional challenges including disagreements with his collaborative partner on B.O.O.H., drug use, and financial woes.
Then the music world changed. In the late 70′s and early 80′s, punk rock shook the music world. Video music brought on the likes of Duran Duran, The Cure, The Human League, Depeche Mode, and a plethora of fashion-focused, synthesizer-based pop stars. Only a few years after achieving blockbuster success, Meatloaf was perceived by record industry executives as being as outdated as the mood ring and the pet rock, (pardon the 70′s references).
But when in doubt, he fell back on his talent. Meatloaf was one of the most dynamic live performers of the 70′s rock era with a powerful voice. He took his larger than life act on the road to small bars and clubs. Meatloaf gave the same exhaustive live performances that he once gave in sold out arenas, and word began to spread. The audiences and venues began to grow, until the late 80′s and 90′s when the recording industry once again took notice. 16 years after the release of B.O.O.H., Meatloaf released Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell which included “I’d Do Anything for Love,” a #1 hit in dozens of countries worldwide.
Venerate people committed to excellence and hard work, and society wins. Applaud shallow fame, and we get what we deserve.
In a previous post, I wrote about the struggle and dilemma of the artist – the fact that as you hone your skills you might perhaps begin to appeal to an increasingly narrow audience – and the idea that “simplicity” often outpaces “complexity or sophistication,” at least from a commercial standpoint. I was reminded of that idea again this evening while watching television.
I am a huge Todd Rundgren fan. Todd has been at the forefront of most every music innovation of the last 4 decades. From music video (as a creative medium rather than a commercial), to “interactive” CDs, to subscription-based fan subsidized recording, he has broken ground time and time again. Oh, and his musical legacy is phenomenal – as a producer, musician, composer, etc., etc., etc. (BTW, it’s a crime he’s not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but that’s another story).
I love his use of background vocals, the chordal complexity, the wit, edge, and outrage in his lyrics, and mostly his overall musicianship. But which Rundgren song do I hear most often? A simple ditty known as “Bang the Drum All Day.” It is played in every sports arena and most recently as the background music for a series of Carnival Cruise Line commercials.
Here’s one of Todd’s most beautiful compositions, “Pretending to Care,” a song I first heard as a cover by Manhattan Transfer’s Janis Siegel on an album (Yes I have the vinyl version) called Short Stories with pianist Fred Hersch.
In the late 1950′s and early 60′s, the “Rat Pack” show at the Sands Hotel was the hottest ticket in Vegas. The group that eventually consisted of entertainers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop sang songs, told jokes, performed slapstick for laughs, and displayed various other forms of hijinks. But as those who were close to the action in those days tell it, the show was almost secondary. A seat at those shows was like an invitation to the greatest party on the planet.
The performers were having a blast, and you were now a part of their inner circle sharing in the fun.
Let’s take Louis Armstrong. Was there ever a moment that you watched him perform that you didn’t believe music was the purest form of joy on the planet? I think not.
That takes us to Cyndi Lauper. When she took the music world by storm in the 80′s, she came across as a quirky outsider with a flair for outrageous fashion. As her career progressed, however, she later became respected as a talented songwriter and musician, respected across musical genres. Her breakout hit? ”Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Fans were drawn to Cyndi by her love of music, and they have followed her on her 25+ year journey (30 million in global record sales at last count)
There’s a lesson for music educators and educators in general – Ultimately it’s your love of the subject matter that will inspire your students.
In 1985, David Lee Roth’s recording of “Just a Gigolo” hit the Billboard top 40. While many of my friends who grew up in the era of music video considered it a new song, there was nothing new about the song if you grew up in an Italian-American family in New Orleans.
Louis Prima was one of the most dynamic performers of his era, and his 1950′s Vegas show was a favorite stop of many of the celebrities of the day, many of whom rose to greater levels of fame and success. But they realized that Louis Prima was one of the most dynamic musicians in the business, and he had a rare gift. No performer exuded the joy of playing music like Louis and his band (The Witnesses led by sax player Sam Butera).
My fellow Sicilian-American, New Orleans native would have been 100 years old today. His son Louis Prima Jr. currently performs a tribute show to his dad. The music of Louis Prima has been rediscovered by new audiences through remakes by David Lee Roth, Brian Setzer, and other artists. His music has also been re-discovered and utilized by TV commercial and film producers.
Prima’s success was a great source of pride in my family growing up, and it was only later in life that I began to understand why. Here’s one my favorite (thought somewhat lesser known) Louis Prima songs, “Banana Split for My Baby.” Happy Birthday, Louis.
So what does a guy named Cortello do upon his first visit to the City of Brotherly Love back in 1995? Walk in the footsteps of one of Philly’s most famous natives, Rocky Balboa. You might not have the same affinity for the movie that I do, but there’s a history here. When the original Rocky movie was released, I was 12 years old. My cousin and I would visit the “2nd run” movie theater in our neighborhood and stay and watch the movie over and over.
I told my son the story and had the joy of bringing him to the movies to see Rocky Balboa (or Rocky VI if you’re counting) in 2006. Although you know it’s coming and even though you’ve seen it before, the workout scene when the Rocky theme song (a.k.a. “Gonna Fly Now) begins to play still brings chills down my spine.
Because some of the successive movies in the Rocky series were so “over the top” so to to speak, it’s easy to forget how special that movie was, especially for its time. The movie garnered 10 Academy award nominations and 3 wins, including Best Picture and Best Director. All of these accomplishments came on a shoestring budget estimated at just over $1 million, and it spawned an era of movies about underdogs overcoming great odds.
And yes, one of those nominations was for Best Music, Original Song by Bill Conti (music), and Carol Connors and Ayn Robbins (lyrics – though the instrumental version is more well known, there was a vocal version as well).
My point in the context of this blog is that the scene that I am referencing (or scenes if you’re referring to the series) and the music that accompanies those scenes are inseparable. You simply can’t imagine it without the music.
(Side note: At one time, a statue of Rocky was dedicated at that location atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. After some art aficionados (or snobs?) complained, the statue was moved and placed at the stadium known as the Spectrum, but eventually returned to a grassy area aside the museum. At the top of the steps you will now find a set of Converse sneaker footprints, where tourists like me convene to stand in Rocky’s shoes!
The only reference that I could find to Rocky at the Philly Museum of Art Website was in these driving directions:
From the Art Museum
- From the intersection of Art Museum Drive and Kelly Drive, turn right and pass in front of the Museum by the Rocky statue.)