About Music (SXSW) and ‘Non-Music’ (Rihanna)

Norah JonesHello Music-Lovers,

The SXSW Music Festival closed out with a bang on Saturday, when festivities included a documentary, “Big Easy Express.”  One of the performers covered by the documentary nearly stole the show on the final day – The Austin High Band!  Their live performance at an outdoor venue was very well received and prompted Marcus Mumford, fresh from his gig at the White House lawn, to fete the high school children’s music as being “real music from real people.”  Well done to the high school musicians but where does that leave the other performances and performers – fake music from fake people?

Other performers like Norah Jones, who debuted her upcoming album, ‘Little Broken Hearts’ live.  The intimate and highly personal set was quite a change from her jazz and blues sounds and image.  Paradoxically, one thing that hasn’t changed is Norah’s, ah, ‘image’ – if you know what I mean!  I’m sure her live concerts are worth attending for more than one reason.

Those ‘other performers’ also included ‘gangsta rappers’ and hip hop types 50 Cent and Eminem.  The twosome apparently did a duet that sent their masochistic audience into raptures.  Aha!— I’ve figured it out: when Mumford came up with his “real music from real people” line, he was drawing a comparison with the likes of 50 Cent and Eminem . . .

We’ll close with a singer who makes more news (if you want to call it ‘news’) that’s not about singing than it is about singing.  Even an international news agency like Reuters is now acting like a tabloid rag where Rihanna’s antics are concerned.  It is solemnly reporting on fans’ and critics’ reactions to her going back to the abusive arms of her ex-boyfriend, Chris Brown.  On the one hand, it is said that the relationship is strictly business.  On the other, it said that is a little more than merely business.  Some are voting for Rihanna to give him another chance.  Many are voting for her to permanently boot him out of her life.  Is there a vote for “Who gives two hoots?” or “Let’s boot this nonsense off the news pages”?



Why Bruce Springsteen is The Boss

Bruce SpringsteenHello,

It’s all about The Boss today.

The legend that is Bruce Springsteen grew in Austin yesterday.  He made an impromptu look-in at Austin Music Awards, delivered his keynote at SXSW (well worth reading), and then did one of his marathon gigs at night.

What’s worth quoting here is that The Boss concluded his SXSW keynote by exhorting young musicians, “Bring the noise [and] treat it like it’s all we have. And then remember it’s only rock ‘n’ roll.”  But when it’s Springsteen who is the one playing it, it’s not ‘only’ rock ‘n’ roll.  Perhaps a few fans will agree.

I think music historians will count Bruce Springsteen as one of the most sincere and authentic rockers ever; he’s a throwback to a bygone age in terms of the way he makes his music, even in the way he sings, yet he’s so rooted in the present in terms of his message and his relevance.  He doesn’t need, doesn’t want, those image makers and PR people who package and script the artiste.

Springsteen has been a rocker with a social message, never more so than now.  Among the influences he has claimed are Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.  They are quite overt in “Wrecking Ball” which has got ‘Social Justice’ (besides fear, anger, hope, compassion) written all over it.  Not only that, the album is peppered with rhythms and sounds that are best described as ‘Folk Rock’.  You can play it while you and your buddies play cards and get a pizza, you can dance and groove to it with your girl, you can clap your hands to it, you can listen to it as a long lyric poem, you can drink Jack Daniels to it, and, if you’re into pot, I guess you can smoke pot to it.  (Remember to get or listen to the 13-track release; it closes with a delightful Irish jig about the melting pot that is the ‘American Land’.)

Though Springsteen’s The Boss, one must not forget to give his fantastic, all-pro sidemen their props.  I don’t know which edition of E Street this one is, but, boys and girls, “You’ve Got It” – it’s when we listen to you that we feel “We Are Alive.”

‘Wrecking Ball’s overall tone of social justice, the suggestion that the wealthy and the powerful use and then throw away their countrymen as if they’re disposable plastic razors, brings to mind the post-Great War song that had become so popular in the 1920s: ‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime’.  Now, ‘Wrecking Ball’ is catching and reflecting the mood of a nation – perhaps many nations?  Let’s see, it’s early days yet.

Yahoo News subtitled their story on Springsteen’s masterclass at SXSW, “They call him The Boss for a reason.”  Yahoo got that hopelessly wrong.  Bruce Springsteen is not ‘The Boss’ for a reason.  He is ‘The Boss’ for a thousand reasons.