Memorial Day (originally called “Decoration Day”) was founded after the Civil War. The amount of men both the South and the Union lost during the Civil War was so staggering that it is often still referred to as our bloodiest war. Needing a way to grieve for their fallen loved ones, women and children took to the cemeteries to decorate the graves of their killed husbands, fathers and brothers. Over time, as America involved itself in more wars and saw the loss of more men and, eventually women, Memorial Day soon came to be a day to memorialize all fallen comrades, not just those from the Civil War.
These days, despite the fact that we still have thousands of soldiers deployed overseas, the meaning of Memorial Day seems to have diminished. For many people, it marks the start of summer. It’s the day where it’s officially OK to unroll the cover off your hibernating pool. It’s an excuse to invite over a few friends and fire up the grill. We build bunkers out of charcoal, dodge the friendly fire of water guns and begin donning our summer uniforms of shorts and tank-tops. Rarely, however, do we stop to remember the soldiers who have fallen in order for us to enjoy the oncoming lazy days of summer.
As Americans, we are certainly a culture full of short attention spans and we, the media, do a piss poor job of helping you remember why Memorial Day is still relevant. We publish thousands of words each year memorializing overdosed musicians and crazy, drug addled actors. We’d rather publish images of wild-eyed and high comedians than show you the reality of the flag covered caskets that still come rolling in off of planes each week. That’s incredibly pathetic when you consider that roughly 6,400 soldiers have been killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. So, maybe it’s our fault.
This year deserves to be different, though. Recently, one of my best friends sent me a video of a bunch of bored soldiers in Iraq dancing to a Vanilla Ice song. We’d been discussing the reasoning behind the exorbitant amount of soldier suicides. I guess it had gotten the best of both our moods and he decided we needed to cheer up. Except he failed. As I watched the videos, I couldn’t help but wonder just how many of those boys were still alive.
They really were boys, too. None of them look any older than the staff at CityBeat. Most of them look a lot younger. Soldiers are hardly grown-ups — according to Congressional record, the average age of a combat soldier is 27 and 68 percent of the fallen soldiers are under the age of 30. For many of us, that means they’re kids who went to our school. They’re our prom dates, point guards, arch-enemies and best friends.
This Memorial Day, as you’re preparing for your summer-long battle with mosquitoes and weeds, enjoy this playlist of fun, bar-b-q worthy music (including two versions of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”). At some point, though, check out the videos that go along with them. Even if you have no personal acquaintance to memorialize, take time to remember that others around the patio table may have someone missing. Say “Thank you” to the dude with the U.S. Marines sticker on the back of his jeep (he’s surely lost a friend or two) or apologize to the mother with the gold star on her service banner. Drink a beer for the girl you knew back in high school who was in ROTC or take your kid to go pop an American flag on their great-great-grandpa’s grave.
With each passing year, the reasons behind any war almost always end up blurry. Don’t let the faces of our soldiers become that way, too.
A few years ago I was invited by CityBeat to share some journal entries I had been jotting down while touring over in Europe. These entries somewhat led to my current side hustle of faux-journalism with the paper. I’m on tour again and CityBeat offered me another crack at documenting our experiences up and down the interstates. This time I’m on tour with some Ohio-based friends and artists for the Ohio Takeover Tour (in Cincinnati tonight at The Drinkery, the new club in the old Jefferson Hall space on Main Street), so the shows (and adventures around the shows) have a bit more meaning.
You know what I like? Pop music. Some of you may be judging me right now and, for that, I’m judging you in return. There is absolutely no legitimate reason to dislike Pop.
Of course, I get it. Most Pop music isn’t the well-written, deeper-than-the-ocean type stuff, but rather easy to understand and anchored by a catchy hook. There’s nothing wrong with that, though. Music isn’t supposed to be unattainable — we’re usually drawn to music because we can relate to it. Pop just expresses our emotions and situations in more simple terms than other genres.
Some of you are probably starting to get nitpicky about my use of “Pop” as a genre. To a certain extent, Pop isn’t a genre at all. Historically, Pop was just short for popular, meaning it runs the gamut on genres. Listen to the current NOW That's What I Call Music collection (we’re up to about 4067 volumes, I believe) and you’ll see what I mean. It’s not full of ground-breaking musical experimentation or earth-shatteringly powerful lyricism, but every one of those songs has a damn good hook.
Beyoncé wouldn’t classify herself as Pop. She’d call herself Hip Hop or R&B. “Run the World (Girls)” was certainly popular, though. Alex Clare’s “Too Close” is full of drums and synth awesomeness, lying somewhere between Rock and Electronic and yet it’s all over Top 40. Taylor Swift was, at one point, a Country artist. Now, with a little less accent and a lot less acoustic guitar, she’s lasting longer on Billboard’s Top 40 than the Country charts. The structures of their music may be very different, but they all end up on the same station.
Pop has very much become its own genre. It’s the genre for all the likable and relatable music from all the other genres. Think of it as the exact opposite of “The Island of Misfit Toys.” Pop is The Genre of the Overplayed.
They’re overplayed for a reason, though. Some of those songs are pretty close to genius. The best recent example is “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes (and Adam Levine). The idea is simple: Boy loves Girl … a lot. But throughout the entire song, they pull from the same stereo heart metaphor. Whether he’s referring to the trials and tribulations of a relationship via a comparison to an old-school boombox that requires tons of D batteries or the simple idea of a heart beating, like speakers, with every note, they carry the thought all the way through. In my book, that’s pretty impressive.
Speaking of Adam Levine, I like “Moves like Jagger,” too. You know what Michael Jackson, The King of Pop, sang about quite a bit? Dancing. You know what “Moves like Jagger” is about? Dancing … sort of. You know what it makes me want to do? Dance. Pop songs are nothing if not danceable. Even the slow ones! If they don’t make you wish for that cute guy across the room to come and sweep you off your feet and twirl you around the room, they’re doing something wrong.
Yes. Sometimes Pop can be annoying. A majority of Pop music is made by people with “outside voices.” They always sound like they’re yelling. Often they’re squeaky, too. One Direction is super excited about what makes me beautiful. For someone who adds an unsure “maybe” to the end of her pick-up line, Carly Rae Jepsen's voice is far from a timid whisper. But, I still really like that song.
The easiest explanation I can give is this: It’s catchy and easy and sometimes we’re all a little simpleminded.
Carly Rae and Taylor Swift may not write the kind of music that would inspire people to become “Band-Aids” or make William Miller, Greil Marcus or Lester Bangs commit their lives to writing about music. They do, however, write songs that are fun to listen to when you’re on the way to see a more substantive show. After a long hard day of deep-thinking and problem solving, what’s wrong with a little light-hearted entertainment?
So, for the sake of dancers, the simple-minded, the commuters and the road trippers: Long live Pop!
On this day in 2003, Iggy Pop reunited The Stooges to perform at the 2003 Coachella festival in California. Well, as much of a "reunion" as possible — original bassist David Alexander died in 1975. But you can't do much better than Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE) as a substitute. Pop re-teamed with guitarist Ron Asheton and drummer Scott Asheton for a few tracks on his Skull Ring album, which led to talk of playing some shows (joined by Steve Mackay, who played sax on Fun House).
Like the Pixies, the reunion seems never-ending. The original reunion shows usually stuck to material from the group's first two albums, but eventually they added material from Raw Power (which featured James Williamson on guitar and Ron Asheton on bass) and the band's mixed-reviewed new album, The Weirdness.
In January of 2009, Ron Asheton died of a heart attack. He was 60. The remaining Stooges issued a statement saying, in part, "We are shocked and shaken by the news of Ron's death. He was a great friend, brother, musician, trooper. Irreplaceable. He will be missed."
Then they replaced him. By May, the group had announced plans to keep going with former guitarist Williamson rejoining the band. Pop told NPR, "Although 'The Stooges' died with Ron Asheton, there is still 'Iggy and the Stooges'."
The group picked up reunion-touring that November, adding more Raw Power material to their set. In 2010, after a lot of clamoring from fans and even just those who understood the influence of Pop and Co., The Stooges were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
I saw the first Stooges reunion a couple of times and Pop and the band, while perhaps not as "dangerous" as they once were, still put on a great live show. It would be hard for Pop not to at this point, though it should be interesting to see how much longer the seemingly bulletproof 65-year-old can keep prancing around, shirtless (of course), on stage like a 25-year-old. Is 70 too old? 80? Will Pop keep throwing himself around the stage and working out until his veins protrude from his skin when he's 90? He certainly doesn't show any signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Here's a bit from the historic 1970 Iggy & the Stooges show here in Cincinnati at the ol' Crosley Field (yes, it was broadcast nationally on TV). Read all about the event here, from a 2010 CityBeat feature story on the 40th anniversary of the Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing an April 27 birthday include: legendary Rock drummer (John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Carly Simon, Elvis Costello) Jim Keltner (1942); Soul singer/songwriter ("I Can't Stand the Rain") Ann Peebles (1947); lead singer for the Soul group The Main Ingredient ("Everybody Plays the Fool"), Cuba Gooding, Sr. (1944); singer/songwriter/guitarist for Beatles-approved rockers Badfinger ("Come and Get It," "No Matter What"), Pete Ham (1947); vocalist with New Wave group The B-52's, Kate Pierson (1948); original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley (1951); Scottish Pop star Sheena Easton (1959); former Belle & Sebastian singer/cellist Isobel Campbell (1976); frontman for Fall Out Boy and solo artist Patrick Stump (1984); and America's countdown king, broadcaster Casey Kasem (1932).
And now, a long-distance dedication (to be read it in Kasem's voice):
When I was a youngster, I was addicted to your American Top 40 syndicated radio show. I'd listen every Saturday, just as I'd watch the morning cartoons (which you were also a part of, as the voice of Shaggy on Scooby Doo, as well as Robin on my must-see TV of the time, SuperFriends, among other shows.)
In a few years, my musical tastes would develop and I became less and less interested in most Top 40 music, so I didn't listen as much. But I'd still pop in every now and then, to check and see how my favorites, like Men at Work or The Police, were doing that week. And, if I was lucky, you'd throw in a fun fact or two about the artist behind the next song you were going to play (like, "… and that gas-station attendant was none other than Sheena Easton").
As I grew older, I also listened to commercial radio less and less, and I lost touch with my old friend, though I loved the clips of you losing it while recording your show. Earlier today, I noticed on Wikipedia that you officially retired from your radio shows in 2009 (and, apparently, you were still voicing Shaggy until that year as well). I felt bad that I thought you disappeared from the radio in 1986. So, Casey, could you please play Killing Joke's "Eighties" for my old pal, you, on his/your 80th birthday?
Oh, and YOU keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.
Mike B. from Ohio
Music Tonight: This is the start of one of the more jam-packed music weekends of the summer, with numerous festivals (Feywill, Swinefest, Ohmstead, Taste of Blue Ash, Whispering Beard) competing with some quality club shows, concerts at larger venues and more. First up, a look at the less local-music-centric lineup for Swinefest and the always interesting bookings for Taste of Blue Ash.
Every year come December, the CityBeat arts and music writers get all wistful as we begin to mentally compile our "Top 10" lists of the finest moments of the past 365 days.
To warm up around the office, we just start ranking everything — "Top 10 Office Smells" ("microwave" has been No. 1 for the past decade), "Top 10 CityBeat Writers' Overused Words" (I've ruled this list for years with such classics as "dynamic," "eclectic" and "good," though Jason Gargano won this year with "myriad") or "Top 10 Ways to Anger Our Remarkably Stoic and Peaceful Editor" (this year it's a battle between "Yell 'Phillies just got lucky!'" or "How's the Missouri football team doing this year?").