Posts Tagged ‘A to Z Challenge’

A Star Is Born (2018)

April 22, 2019

I used to really love to sing when I was much younger. Although, “used to” is not exactly an accurate term to use here. I still love to sing but mostly on my own in my car or in the shower just because the music I am listening to moves me. Sometimes I will sing from memory when I am nervous or high strung. But I used to sing in front of people. For years I was in the chorus at school and I only slightly let the fact that I was placed in with the sopranos bother me. I was the only guy in the soprano section but I just soldiered on. Nobody teased me but ingrained gender bias is a difficult psychological obstacle for a young boy. Later, I joined the church choir and I was tentatively put in with the baritones. In order to secure that position, I started purposefully singing an octave lower so I was not moved to sing with the girls. Finally, the director had it and told me if I was not going to sing correctly, I should not sing. She told me this at a performance at a senior center. During the performance, I just stood there with my mouth closed. That was my last day in the church choir.

Still, even if I had soured on singing in a group, I still sometimes toyed with the idea of public singing. Now, I have not really ever told anybody this before but at some point, I had fantasies of being a singer for a rock band. I really love the energy and rhythm of rock and roll and I often cannot help but sing along to it. Now, I entertained these fantasies knowing full well that I do not have an amazing voice or the inclination to practice that skill. I also had (have) crippling stage fright that would have made being the frontman of a band either impossible or incredibly unenjoyable. Even so, I would listen to my albums and close my eyes and sing along. The only thing encouraging me is the observation that went around my childhood home since I can remember. I believe it was my mother who pointed out that there were a lot of rock and roll singers who did not have the best voices or trained musical talent. What made them great was that they poured their entire heart into singing and succeeded from pure charm and energy. It was encouraging at the time but I am happy where I ended up.

A quick note here: I have not seen the other versions of this movie yet so I have nothing to compare this movie to. Of course, the point of this movie is the music. From the jump, I loved the bluesy rock and country that Bradley Cooper plays. I am a sucker for riffing guitars and chugging bass and he does a good job of that performance I was talking about above. He might not be the most polished but he is putting his whole heart into the performance. In other scenes, he gives more of a refined performance so that you really believe that he is a professional musician. Lady Gaga is, of course, a great singer. She is a proven commodity in the recording industry and her growth from her beginnings really shows here. She sings big musical show numbers and intimate ballads with the same talent. She also sings some songs in her usual pop style. Her rendition of La Vie En Rose (a personal favorite song of mine) was especially mindblowing. There is definitely a gap in their talent levels but it was not nearly as wide as I thought it would be. In addition, all of the music is sung live which definitely gives it more of a dynamic and energetic feel. The music is co-written by Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson.

I was completely surprised at how good of an actress Lady Gaga was. I had seen a bit of her in American Horror Story: Hotel but she spent much of the time looking gorgeous and aloof. Granted, I did not see a whole lot but she did not get much of a chance to really act. She immediately impressed me in this. She definitely proved to me (and obviously audiences and professional critics) that she has what it takes to play in the big leagues of Hollywood. Bradley Cooper has grown as an actor and he continues to be able to transform himself in each role. In some of my favorite movies, he is a gay man, a space raccoon, and an FBI agent. In this movie, he plays a character that I am very familiar with. He is a troubled asshole who is super charismatic. Sam Elliott is, of course, a great actor as well. He is great at playing that gruff, grumpy guy you cannot help but like. There were also surprising performances from Greg Grunberg, Dave Chapelle, and Andrew Dice Clay of all people.

Overall, I thought this was a really good movie. These sorts of dramas are not really my cup of tea but everybody puts in endearing performances. While it is not a happy movie, it is a movie about seeking hope and redemption. When you are dealing with alcoholics and addicts, hope and redemption are rare. You do not always get a happy ending but they are definitely worth fighting for. This is not a happy movie but it is definitely a ride worth taking. There is also a fantastic soundtrack full of some great songs. The genres of country, rock, and pop are all well-represented. If nothing else, check out the soundtrack for a total of 19 songs.

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Repo the Genetic Opera (2008)

April 20, 2019

I originally watched the first few minutes of this movie about eight years ago. I have since mostly forgotten it and I had put off watching the rest of it despite hearing that it was really good. I do vividly remember the moments when I was watching it. I was sitting in a parking lot behind the theater I worked at after driving from Baltimore to Sussex, New Jersey. I was tired and I was wondering when I would run into my boss. After being back home during the holidays and the offseason, I was anxious about getting back to work after six weeks. The dark edge to the musical mixed with that anxiety about my future. I now know that I had my very first anxiety attack. I could not continue with the movie and I could hardly sit still. I felt like crap. This was actually my second missed opportunity to see the movie after not going to the theater to see it with my little brother. This will be my third attempt and I will not lie that I have been a little anxious about it but it in a good way. My medication keeps most of my anxiety attacks at bay now.

I really wanted to watch a horror-themed musical to go with my theme of “Music” this month. Horror is one of my favorite genres and I grew up being exposed to musicals. My philosophy is that Halloween is less of a one day holiday and is more something that exists year round. Any time I am feeling down, the supernatural is always there to cheer me up or scare me out of my bad mood. As an added bonus, most horror musicals are lighter than the darker, more serious horror movies. While I watch plenty of dark horror, I really love the funnier, goofier side of Halloween better. When I first heard the premise of this one, I knew I could not really take it seriously. This is just another reason why I love the Horror genre. It often has the most out there, crazy ideas. If you are going to get your mind blown, it will not be drama or comedy that does it. Even fantasy does not usually hold a candle to the weirdest ideas horror generates.

The first awesome part of the movie is the aesthetic. The movie starts with a comic book prologue which just dumps all of the exposition quickly so the viewer can just dive into the world. That comic book exposition comes back a few times in the movie to quickly update us on what happened in the past. The reality and look of the world hits you right away as a post-apocalyptic world should. I would describe the costuming and character design as part goth, part raver, and part Blade Runner. The makeup and hair are absolutely wild and interesting. Everything is dirty and scummy like a Halloween theme park. The CGI looks cheap but it actually works for this movie as a B movie giving tribute to B movies (sort of a B+ movie, maybe). From the jump, there is a lot of gore but it is good, old-fashioned horror movie gore. The lighting also all looks like it is out of a haunted house or, more appropriately, like a theater. It is harsh in a lot of places but looks interesting.

I really liked the music in this one. It really is an opera and pretty much all of the dialogue is sung. This can be a risky proposition if the casting has not been done correctly. The first good choice they made was casting Anthony Stewart Head because any Buffy fan knows that he can sing and sing well. His solo song was when I really first got into the movie for real. Paul Sorvino plays one of the evilest corporate CEOs in history and sings operatically in a beautiful way. His children are played by Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, and Kevin Ogilvie. They often sing horribly but I am sure they are meant to since they are all comic relief. A quick note here: Paris Hilton is not a bad singer when she is trying. Alexa PenaVega plays the movie’s protagonist, and she has a great young voice. The writer, Terrance Zdunich, plays a graverobber and it is easy to see why he was a fan favorite as he has such a beautiful voice. Sarah Brightman is probably the best singer (which probably makes sense as she is cast as a singer). Everything is backed by either electronica music or industrial guitars. The music is not very intrusive, making sure to give plenty of room to hear and understand the singing.

Overall, I loved this movie. It is really cheesy and goofy but I can see the appeal. A lot of the movie feels like the characters are in one big music video but that is an interesting aesthetic. Some of the music is not my jam but I feel like this was done on purpose for comic effect or to jar the listener. They proved that they can score the movie correctly and the good singers are really fun to listen to. The story is gruesome and dark but it has enough dark and dry comedy to keep it moving along without feeling too bad. It is definitely something worth seeing for horror and musical fans. At the same time, I can see why critics hated this movie. Also, do not be put off by the mention of Paris Hilton as she actually helped finance the movie because she believed in it and she is surprisingly talented.

(Written on 4/17/19)

Quality Control

April 19, 2019

Nearly ten years ago, I worked in live theater. I worked at a small regional theater in upstate New Jersey for five long years. When I left the theater, I had worked my way up from board technician to Assistant Technical Director to Technical Director. That title basically made me in charge of almost everything besides the acting. As a carpenter, I helped build the sets. As an electrician, I hung and focused the lights and did all of the wiring. As sound board operator, I played music and sound effects in time with the show. I was also a professional designer. I did the lighting design which meant that I picked colors and helped shape the look of the show. However, my all-time favorite job was as a sound designer. That meant that I spent long hours listening to music and sound effects, trying to figure out what would add to the soundscape of the show without taking away from it.


This is here because my teacher was a roadie for Steely Dan (among other bands)

To get to that position, I actually majored in theater. I majored in Stage Management at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. For those who can do the math, that means I spent nearly a decade living in New Jersey away from my beloved Maryland. When I got out of school, I decided I did not really want to be a stage manager. It had been all I wanted when I entered college but, as with most people, going off to university had changed me. It all came from taking Sound Design 101 early in my time there. I started to hang around the designers more and especially with the sound crew. I sat under the learning tree with the sound teacher, an old ex-roadie who was not technically a professor because he never got the appropriate degrees. When I got out, I wanted to create. I wanted to use my hands.

That teacher taught me a lot about music in ways that I never thought about it before. We sat and listened to records which is something I had rarely done before. With that crew, I did it almost every day. More than listening to music, we talked a lot about music and how we listen to it. This is when I truly learned how subjective music is. My teacher, my sensei, my mentor, he hated ABBA with a passion. I am not a huge fan but I like some of their upbeat tunes. He had a cleansing ceremony that had to be done to speakers that had played Abba. We listened to cheesy, goofy music and laughed our butts off. Our favorites were a recording of a kazoo orchestra and the legendary album Golden Throats. I actually later used Golden Throats as pre-show music to torture the audience. I got a compliment on it. I shuddered. Music truly is subjective.

But on to the story that I actually originally wanted to write about since everything above is a prelude to. When you do sound design, the most boring thing you have to do is quality control. It is tedious because it takes time and you really want to get the fun parts of adjusting levels and mixing sound and music. Now I understand that quality control is the most zen part of the job. To explain, quality control means listening to every sound effect and music track all the way through in order to make sure there is nothing in there that will be embarrassing later. My teacher called it “Checking for Sheep”. The story he told us to express the importance of this activity was interesting. He had once done a show with a long scene in the rain and so he had found the perfect ambient track of rain noises. Except he did not check the whole thing. So late in that scene, there was suddenly the plaintive cries of a herd of sheep standing in the rain. He was embarrassed.

So, remember to take your time. Remember to check your work because you do not want to blow it down the line. It may be tedious and it may be boring but it can save you. Also, in those zen moments of just sitting and taking things in, inspiration might strike. You may come up with brand new ideas to add to what you are doing. Patience is key.

(Written on 4/15/19)

Playlists

April 18, 2019

Over four months ago, my good friend Joe passed away in his sleep. As I had previously stated, one of the things that we shared was a love for music. Though we sometimes argued over what constituted “good” music, we agreed that music was good. One of the things he did was curate playlists on YouTube like people used to make mixtapes. This year I decided to start making my own playlists of my favorite music. I add to them from time to time but I also go on music binges trying to pump them up so I can put them on in the background sometimes. Below are three of them that I have worked on the most but I have so many more I want to create.


Rap


Pop Music


Hard Rock

So what do you think I am missing? What other playlists should I create?

(Written on 4/13/19)

An Ode Remembered

April 17, 2019

“Read that last bit back to me, Halas,” Darden said, sipping the last of his glass of blackwine.

Halas finished writing and then took a deep breath. “Of course, sir,” he said. “You said ‘ And so the song of the sea was now safely in the hands of the library in <>.”

“Great,” Darden said. “Another of my stories written down for posterity. You can go home now. Take the rest of the roast with you.”

“Yes, sir,” Halas said, setting his book aside on the desk and wiping the nib of his pen clean and setting it aside too. He stood up. “Have a good night.”

“You too, Halas,” Darden said. “And stop calling me ‘sir’.” He smiled as Halas shrugged and shuffled out of the room, headed to the kitchen to pick up the remains of the roast to take home with him. Darden slumped in his chair, relaxing as he stared into the fire in his fireplace.

Dictating stories of his adventures with Halas always stirred up all sorts of memories for Darden. Some of those memories were very good and some of them were very bad and everywhere in between. In his youth, he had been inspired to leave home instead of following in the family business. He had become a wandering bard, touring the country and performing for money and he had seen a lot. At some point, he had unlocked the magic that music contained thanks to the teachings of an elder bard far to the north. He had become an adventurer then, helping a group of like-minded individuals fight evil and rescue the common man. He had had a long and successful career and he had made his fortune. In fact, he had given away more than he had earned and he still found himself rich.

He remembered how delighted he had been when he discovered that his voice could hurt and heal, weaken and strengthen. He had traveled with a wizard gnome, a drow thief, a human sorceress, a half-orc bruiser, and a tiefling swordswoman. He had made friends with these people which had made up for his lonely childhood. All along the journey, he had found many of the pieces he had felt missing early on. He grew into a stronger person, a hero. He had found love and lost it. Now in his declining years, he was trying to get it all down on paper with Halas’ help. He did not want his stories to disappear from the world when he disappeared from the world. He hated these morose moments in front of the fire. Perhaps it was time to go to bed. There was a knock at the door.

“Halas?” Darden called out. “Why did you knock? You know you’re always welcome.”

A familiar elven face opened the door. “I am not Halas,” the man said. “So I thought I should knock.”

Darden’s heart nearly stopped. “Kalavas!?” He shouted. “Is it really you?”

“It is, old friend,” Kalavas said. “I hope it is not too late for a visit. I was passing through and I heard you had a house in this town.”

“Friend?” Darden asked. “Of course, you’re welcome but I would have thought you were done with me.”

“Done with you?” Kalavas asked, his laughter was genuine. “You were the one who led to my awakening.”

“I mean, you’re not wrong,” Darden said. “I did lead the way for the wizard that broke the spell on you but…”

“Yes?” Kalavas asked, his eyes curious and amused. “Are you torturing yourself?”

“I could have led somebody to you long before I did,” Darden said. “Somebody could have released the spell years earlier. I visited you and sang to you instead of helping you.”

“Is that all?” Kalavas asked. “I should have visited decades ago. You were a child, you can hardly be blamed for your romantic notions.”

“Romantic notions?” Darden asked. “What do you mean?”

“I still remember the songs you sang to me when I was petrified,” Kalavas said. “I remember many of the words you told me.”

“You could hear all of that?” Darden asked.

“Sort of,” Kalavas said. “It was much like I was in a dream.”

“So you knew I had a crush on you,” Darden said. It was not phrased as a question but he still eyed Kalavas closely.

“I did not want to mention it when I woke up,” Kalavas said. “I thought it might be too awkward and I have no preference for men.”

“I guess I should thank you,” Darden said. “You look exactly the same as back then.”

“We elves age slowly,” Kalavas said. “I wish you could live as long as I will.”

“Me too,” Darden said. “But it is nice to have a proper ending.”

“You had a good life,” Kalavas said. “I have heard some stories.”

Darden smiled. “I did have a good life. Soon you will be able to read all about it.”

Kalavas smiled. “I’m glad. You did a lot of good in the world. I hope your stories can inspire others to do just as good.”

“I hope they do better,” Darden said. “We should always be better than we were before.”

“That is a noble sentiment,” Kalavas said. “I suppose that is something the younger races are better at. Improving.”

“Why don’t you stay the night?” Darden asked. “Have a glass of wine with me.” He turned to grab the bottle but when he turned back, Kalavas was nowhere in sight.

Had he imagined the whole thing? Had he simply had too much blackwine and it turned his own memories against him? Perhaps. Or perhaps Kalavas did not want to linger. Darden had a feeling he would never get the answer to his questions. Still, the experience left him feeling lighter. It also might make for a good page or two for his books. He would think on it when he was clear-headed in the morning.

(Written on 4/13/19)

The Nightmare Before Christmas

April 16, 2019

(SPOILER ALERT for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Go watch it and come back or read on at your own risk)

I am a huge fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas. I have written about the movie several times before. Last year, during the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I started a tournament bracket for best Disney Animated film and I took Nightmare Before Christmas all the way to the finals and the movie won the whole thing. You can find those words in the First Round, Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals, and Finals. Basically, I talked about how I have dealt with both anxiety and depression in my life and how the movie mirrored a lot of moments in my life. I also talked about how Danny Elfman’s music was probably the best he will ever achieve in this movie. I also related how I had experienced my own job-based depression and I learned to better balance my life and work. I also finally found a job that I love doing which allows me to kick ass by day and be creative by night. I am almost always thinking about this movie in one way or another so I want to express some of that.

A thought I literally had last night as I was driving home from work was sparked by the lyrics of “Town Meeting Song”. The song suddenly resonated with me even more when I realized a few things. First, I feel like the song is mostly about cultural differences but I will set that aside for the moment. The song takes place about halfway through the movie and Jack has just arrived back from Christmas Town. He is bubbling over with excitement about this huge discovery that he has made. Then he tries to explain something that he does not fully understand himself. He talks too quickly and when his audience does not get it, he keeps plowing forward instead of going back to clarify. This is so relatable. The more excited I am, the more I tend to ramble and throw things out there. It is excitement through the lens of anxiety. When I have a moment to breathe and maybe write things out, I do so much better at explaining everything in a linear manner. Part of the real emotional conflict of the movie begins here.

Even if Jack explained himself better, his endeavor would probably still be doomed. Jack loves Christmas because it is a shiny new toy but he does not really understand it himself. He proves that in “Jack’s Obsession” when he experiments and tries experiments to dissect Christmas. As I got older, I grew to appreciate this scene better. Jack is trying too hard. Christmas is not world peace or famine relief. It is a holiday intended to be a simple and good time. Sometimes you just learn to enjoy things by taking a deep breath and a break and coming back to things later. I have solved a lot of my problems by letting my mind wander and coming back to things. A problem that had bested me previously was now something I easily dominated. Jack also isolates himself from everybody else in the town. Sometimes another perspective can help you figure out a problem. Another set of eyes could have been just what Jack needed.

Continuing along that line of thinking, I was trying to think of what Jack could have done to actually succeed at his mission in this movie. He clearly got the citizens of Halloween Town excited about the possibilities of Christmas but he was having trouble getting everybody to see his vision. At first, I thought that Jack should have taken the townspeople in small reconnaissance groups to actually show them Christmas Town. That way they would have actually seen and understood what Jack was telling them about. Then I realized how stupid that idea was. It is just spreading the problem around. The secondary conflict of this movie is between Jack’s vision of Christmas and the rest of the world’s vision of Christmas. In order for Jack to succeed, those two visions should be one. If he had actually stopped to talk with Santa Claus then he could have set up a cultural exchange between the two towns. Of course, that would have stopped him from having a huge life event that allowed him personal growth and allowed him to overcome the main conflict of the story.

Of course, he does not stop and talk to Santa Claus because he does not believe he needs to. I feel that this is because he has a confidence problem stemming from depression. Jack has been the King of Halloween for a long, long time. We are never told but I always thought it was probably since the advent of the holiday (whatever that means). He has gotten really good at his job which means that everybody is always looking to him for guidance and saying what a good job he is doing. Part of his depression is that he is disinterested in his job because he is too good at it. He discovers Christmas and is happy at a possible new challenge. However, he is still stuck in that mindset where he is the king of all he sees. So he dives into Christmas with overconfidence. Shaking loose from depression is not that easy and he literally crashes and burns. It is only when he accepts who he is and learns to not be complacent that he truly starts to find happiness.

So those are a few thoughts I have had recently and I hope they let you love this movie a little bit more. Please tell me what you think about The Nightmare Before Christmas or tell me why I am wrong about it being the best Disney movie.

 

(Written on 4/11/19)

Musical Gimmicks

April 15, 2019

WILPW

Obviously, music has been tied to professional wrestling for a long time. It started in the 1950s but really hit its stride in the seventies and eighties with the marriage of rock and wrestling. This basically amounted to music playing as performers entered the ring and when they won a match. Also, music was obviously used in promos and advertisements. Later, I heard stories about music videos that were produced for Smoky Mountain Wrestling to introduce new members of the roster. Music is a powerful force that can provide a lot of information through tone and lyrics in a short amount of time and minimal effort. Also, a performer’s entrance music fires the crowd up and lets them know who is showing up so they can cheer or boo appropriately. However, what I want to talk about today are professional wrestlers who are actually musical.

Though, I actually want to start with those gimmicks that were music adjacent but actually rarely showed much musical skill. As usual on these overviews, I will probably expose some gaps in my knowledge but enjoy the ride and educate me in the comments if you must. First in this group is the Honky Tonk Man. Honky was a master at making people hate him but he was also a guitar-wielding, Elvis-inspired performer. He hit more people with his guitar more than he ever played it. Speaking of hitting people with a guitar, there was also Jeff Jarrett. He was supposed to be a country music musician who wanted to use pro-wrestling as a platform to become a star as improbable as that sounds. He never sang a word and he broke hundreds of guitars throughout his career. Funny enough, his entrance song was sung by another wrestler Jesse James but the WWF never went anywhere with that. I also think of people like Jillian Hall who did a tone-deaf pop singer gimmick, squealing into a microphone to the delight of nobody.

But no, I am here to talk about those with actual skill. The first that I want to talk about is John Cena. Those who only know him as a meme or as a Hollywood personality might not know his past in the early 2000s. Back then, he changed from being a fairly normal guy into a white rapper gimmick. I am sure there are many who would be surprised to know that he was a very competent rapper. It started with him recording his entrance theme “Basic Thuganomics” and doing 8 Mile-esque rap battles on Smackdown. He was dubbed the Doctor of Thuganomics and then he recorded his album which included a lot of great tracks including the aforementioned “Word Life” and “Bad, Bad Man”. His rap career started to fade away as his gimmick evolved but he did record his now iconic theme song of “My Time is Now” which a lot of people might recognize from the popular John Cena meme. Every so often, he breaks out the rap and stretches those muscles. Just recently at Wrestlemania 35, he got back in his Doctor of Thuganomics gear and laid a rap down on Elias.

Who is Elias? Well, he is what happens if you take Jeff Jarrett’s gimmick and you actually give it to a talented musician. Elias started down in NXT as The Drifter Elias Samson. He was a drifting musician who played the guitar down to the ring and was booed for slowing down the action for an impromptu concert. Eventually, the songs he sang did their best to insult the crowd. He eventually moved up to the Raw roster where he continued to “drift” around, playing his guitar. Eventually, he proved himself to be a really talented pro-wrestler and a very talented musician. He sang a lot of impromptu songs to insult the audience and his opponents. Like Cena, he actually released an album Walk With Elias (which he claims is what WWE stands for). He continues to impress with his music but lately every time he tries to play he gets interrupted. He is getting more chances to show off his in-ring skill which is great.

Probably the most successful is Chris Jericho. He earned a reputation as an artist in the squared circle. He has constantly reinvented himself over and over to change with the times. However, all during his career, he was always a huge fan of heavy metal. He idolized all of the greats but his dream of professional wrestling came first. However, in a weird real-life twist on the Jeff Jarrett gimmick, his fame from being a WWE superstar started to get him attention from a lot of his idols in professional music. He started to make friends with a lot of these guys and they saw that he was as passionate about music as he was about pro-wrestling. He was not just some wannabe singer who might assemble a band as a vanity project. He wanted to be an actual heavy metal singer. He was able to put together a band named Fozzy which is still touring today. They have put out numerous albums and they play huge concerts and festivals all of the time. Now, he has been able to extend his pro-wrestling career by balancing it with his music career which will probably allow him to do both for as long as he wants.

There are plenty of people who sang their own entrance themes. Shawn Michaels re-recorded his theme song (“Sexy Boy”) with his vocals. R Truth raps his way down to the ring live, showing without a doubt that he has some skills. There was famously the West Texas Rednecks (a group in WCW) who sang a song called “Rap is Crap” which actually charted and was played on the radio. Tyler Breeze recorded a theme song which is an ode to his gimmick as a supermodel and an actual banging electronica song. Meanwhile, Mickie James has recorded two Country albums and is working on a third which is why she has been away from the ring for a while. I am sure this list will continue to expand as the years go by and the stars of pro-wrestling get better at diversifying their talents. We already have plenty of pro-wrestlers in Hollywood, why not some who get a Grammy eventually?

(Written on 4/10/19)

Legally Frisked

April 13, 2019

Before I get this post started, I need to say that I am a paralegal and by law, I cannot give legal advice. This post is merely to explain the law and does not constitute legal advice.  Check out the other posts in my Legally series in the archives.

Back in 2004, rapper Jay Z released probably one of his most famous tracks “99 Problems”. The song has been played endlessly for the last fifteen years and I have also heard it parodied and the hook used to create one-liner jokes. Obama even cracked a joke at Jay Z’s expense using the line “I have 99 Problems and now Jay Z is one”. The song is about all of the obstacles in Jay Z’s life (which he emphatically states that a woman is not one of them). He deals with fame, critics, racism, and people getting in his face among other things. He does not go on to name all 99 of his problems but he does tell the story of getting pulled over by a racist cop. This is actually based on an event that happened in 1994, way before he was famous for rapping, headphones, and being Beyonce’s husband. In all honesty, this is a quick little summary of a research paper written by Caleb Mason, a law professor at Southwestern University so I cannot take much of the credit.

Jay Z explains in the song how the incident went down. He was driving in his car with drugs in his trunk and, although it is not specifically claimed, probably a gun in the glove box. He hears a siren behind him and the telltale flashing lights of a police car are in his rearview mirror. Now, he knows he is in trouble because he has all of this illegal contraband and he is a black man in 1994. This is three years removed from the Rodney King beating and the LA Riots that followed. Not only is the LAPD proven to be racist, but they are also violent towards people of color. He gives himself two choices. He can stop and deal with it, knowing that if he does get arrested, he has some money to hire an attorney. The other choice would be to floor it and try and get away. Deciding that a police chase is too risky and too much of a hassle, he pulls over.

The cop sidles up to Jay Z’s car and asks him if he knows what he pulled him over for. Jay Z asks the cop if it is because he is young and black and dresses like a gangster. He asks the cop what the actual reason is. He assumes that he has been pulled over for Driving While Black and asks if he is under arrest. The cop says that he was driving 55 in a 54. Any experienced driver knows that a cop will not pull over somebody for driving one mile per hour over the speed limit. That is a joke. The cop asks Jay if he has a gun because he knows ‘a lot of you are”. Jay does not fall for the obvious ploy and points out that his license and registration are legit and asks if there is anything else. The cop asks to look around the car. Jay tells him that his glove box and trunk are locked and that he will need a warrant to search them. The cop, defeated, claims he is going to bring in a K-9 unit.

This segment of the song is in reference to notorious laws such as Stop and Frisk which were used along with racial profiling to harass black people for a long time. Thankfully, most of those laws have been abolished now. The main question here is “When can a traffic stop be used to search for drugs?” This is a Fourth Amendment question because that amendment guides law enforcement on search and seizure. The first important thing here is that Jay Z acted correctly in submitting to the police officer’s authority by pulling over. This preserved his 4th Amendment rights. He also correctly said that he didn’t know why the cop pulled him over, not giving the cop any more ammunition later in court. By law, the cop was within the rules to pull somebody over for going even one mile per hour above the speed limit even if that is suspect.

Jay Z’s first error is refusing to step out of the car when asked. That request is well within the rules laid out by the Fourth Amendment. Jay Z also basically gives the cop permission to search the vehicle, secure in the knowledge that the two bad spots are locked up. He did not have to give this consent. Usually, when cops ask for your consent for a search it is because they need it to continue. Also, no warrant is required to search a car during a traffic stop. Searches can happen if there is any probable cause and probable cause covers a lot of ground. Additionally, locking any part of your car will not prevent cops from legally searching it. They will just unlock it and continue. Finally, the cop calls in a dog whose search does not require probable cause and bypasses a lot of Fourth Amendment privacy concerns.

I hope that this educated you in a small part and that you learned a little from this trip into the law with me.

(Written on 4/7/19)

Jamming

April 11, 2019

Kath sat against the cool stone of the mini storage place on Elm Street. In the late afternoon, the sun had shifted so that she was now sitting in the shade. A kind stranger had gotten her a cool drink so she felt revitalized, ready to keep playing her guitar for the people. Her case was once again open in front of her, already jangling from the morning’s tips. She had pocketed some to encourage people to keep donating to her cause. The morning had been alright but she needed to keep going.

She was tooling her way through an acoustic version of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. It had attracted some attention but it was a bit too hot out for anyone to linger to listen. The best she got was a few dollar bills, some quarters, some thumbs up, and one very good set of metal horns. It was not bad for a workday in the summer. She wondered how long she would have to play before taking shelter from the heat once again. She hoped she could go the distance.

A piece of paper fell into her case as she was starting into a Cat Stevens medley she had put together. The piece of paper was not green. Kath stopped playing and, out of curiosity, she leaned over to pick it up. She unfolded the sheet and saw that it was sheet music. She was a little confused. She looked up and saw a tall, thin man with wiry hair and big glasses. Before Kath could even open her mouth, the man spoke.

“Can you sight read?” the man asked.

“I can,” Kath said patiently. “I’m actually classically trained.”

“Are you very proficient?” the man asked, narrowing his eyes as he scrutinized her.

“Again, I’m classically trained,” Kath said. “I’m pretty good if I say so myself.”

“This needs to be played with absolutely perfect precision,” the man said. “No mistakes. ‘Pretty good’ is not good enough.”

“Did you want me to play this?” Kath asked. “What is it?”

“Only if you are sufficiently proficient,” the man said. “You’re not a spy, are you?”

“Who are you?” Kath asked, laughing a little bit.

“I don’t see how that matters,” the man said. “Can you play it? Perfectly?”

“My name is Kath,” Kath said and stuck her hand out to shake hands. “Some people call me Kath Kat. And you are?”

“Can you play the song or not?” The man asked.

Kath paused for a moment and stared at the man. “And you are?”

There was another long pause.

“Fine,” the man said. “You may call me Edgar.”

“Nice to meet you, Edgar,” Kath said. “So you want me to play this song? Is it special?”

“More than you realize,” Edgar said, pushing his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose.

“Did you write it?” Kath asked.

Edgar’s eyes narrowed again. “You never answered whether or not you are a spy.”

“I’m a music major,” Kath said. “and I’m not a spy.”

“Fair enough,” Edgar said. “I suppose whatever you said I could not verify your claim. Things have progressed and I must test my hypothesis. Before you ask, it is too complicated to explain.”

“Fair enough,” Kath echoed. “So should I play the song now?”

“Begin the experiment,” Edgar said. “Whenever you are ready, of course.”

Kath grinned and shook her head before taking a deep breath. She scanned the notes on the page and looked for any surprises or tricky bits. It was all surprises and tricky bits. This was unlike any music she had ever played before. For a moment, she wondered if she was proficient enough. She shook it off and arranged her fingers and began to play. She gave her all into and out of her guitar came strangely beautiful discordant music. Each note reverberated through her being and the air around them. She could almost feel the pressure waves from each and every note.

She wondered how other people on the street might be reacting to the weird music. She looked up and saw Edgar hurriedly writing on a pad of paper he had fished out from a pocket. He looked excited. She looked to her right and saw a tall shadowy being walking on two legs, Edgar stepped out of its way, snapping pictures of it with his phone. She saw a bird with two sets of wings swoop by, plucking a cockroach off the side of the building across the street. The building seemed to be covered with cockroaches. To her left was another group of those shadowy figures. The landscape around her seemed to flicker and change like static on a television set. She reached the bottom of the page and stopped playing and it all stopped. It was just a normal city street again.

“What the hell was that?” Kath asked. She stood up and looked around wildly.

“The other dimension,” Edgar said. “The experiment worked!”

“Um,” Kath said. “What does that mean?”

“Please come back to my lab,” Edgar said. “We have to keep going.”

“Sure,” Kath said. “I guess I can’t just walk away from that. I’m inviting a friend, though. No offense.”

“None taken,” Edgar said. “They’re not a spy, are they?”

Kath shook her head with a laugh. “No.”

Halestorm

April 9, 2019

I love the band Halestorm and this is just going to be me raving about them for a little bit. They are a hard rock outfit that got their name from their frontwoman Lzzy Hale. What drew me to the band is how pure and awesome Lzzy’s voice is and how much it gets me energized especially backed by a rock band. Her brother Arejay is on drums, Joe Hottinger is on guitar and Josh Smith is on bass guitar. They have four albums out but they also have a few cover albums that they put out so if you want a hard rock version of Bad Romance or Get Lucky, you’re in luck.


What Were You Expecting?

Expectations can be a vicious part of our everyday lives. Disappointment and vindication both come from expecting something and either getting it or not getting it. We can definitely build fantasies in our heads that can create a lot out of a little. In this song, “It was just one kiss”. One kiss can send a person’s mind reeling and get them making all sorts of plans. This is important now that we are finally learning to respect women (thanks #MeToo) as we need to examine our expectations and keep them reasonable. It is alright to wish and hope but you need to be realistic and communicate with the object of your affections.


Miss the Misery

I actually think about this song when I think of ending any relationship and it also makes me think of MBMBaM a lot. When we break up with somebody or we end any relationship with somebody we are close to, it hurts. However, every single time I find that I still miss it even if it was painful. It is important in those moments that we keep in mind that we do not miss that person. We miss the way that person made us feel. Positive or negative, they elicited passion inside of us. As the McElroys say, we have a hole in our lives shaped like that person who is now gone. It is something important to remember so that we do not quickly go back to somebody who is not healthy for us. Not to mention this is a real banger of a song.


Rock Show

This one is just a pure ode to rock in general and specifically to women in rock and women who are fans of rock. It is an anthem to the girl in the middle of the crowd who is getting high on the adrenaline of a good rock show. It also throws some love to the girl who dreams of becoming a rocker like Lzzy Hale. The dream is possible and worth having.


Mz. Hyde

This is actually the first song that I heard that led me to seek out the album “The Strange Case…” which is my favorite album so far and is probably the album that led to more mainstream play for the band. This song is about the duality of people. We change ourselves to suit different situations and we actually do it pretty easily. For example, I am totally different at work than I am with my friends. I am different again with my family. Even among different family members, I can shift the parts of my personality that I show. We do this to please people and to protect ourselves. Also, this is hands down my favorite of their songs.


I Am The Fire

I like a lot of songs like this. The song asks “Am I strong enough?” and then answers that with a resounding “hell yeah!”. These songs always get me pumped because they have so much energy. Lzzy’s wailing cries sound like a battle cry and it is hard not to respond to that. It reminds me of stuff like Dorothy’s “Missile”. In fact, Halestorm has a lot of these types of songs. “Freak Like Me”, “Daughters of Darkness”, “Bad Girl’s World”, and “Here’s To Us” just to name a few. Telling your audience that they can be just as badass as the band and that we are all in this together is a great message.


Vicious

Another song about being a badass. Halestorm is so good at that. “What doesn’t kill me, makes me vicious.” It is a great reminder not to mess with people because they might mess with you back. Be kind. If we are all kind then we can all party together.


Shatter Me

Yeah, this is just a bonus song because it only features Lzzy. It’s so good, though.

 

(Written on 4/5/19)


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