|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
These last days of December are when some people are not only trying to find that perfect last minute gift but also trying to finish watching their favorite classic holiday movies and TV shows. Are you really allowed to watch It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street anytime besides December? In this age of DVD, Blu-ray, and movies-on-demand, there was always something special about only being able to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the many great Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass shows Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and Frosty the Snowman when they were shown on network TV in December. If you didn't see it then, sadly you had to wait until next year--and you made sure you did (remember there was also a time when you could eat only vegetables and fruits that were in-season (am I the only one or does 6 inches of snow on the ground and green beans and oranges in the fresh produce aisle doesn't seem to go together?); luckily for me, the one thing that is still seasonal is egg nog and another reason to look forward to this time of year!).
These past couple of weekends we have watched two films, along with some of the above, that have become favorite parts of our Christmastime movie traditions: Love Actually and Millions. Both are British films, from 2003 and 2004 respectively, and while neither are cinematic tour de forces, they are movies that are modest and lovely in their own rights, with charming performances and characters: from Love Actually, the scene with Emma Thompson, when she gets a present from her husband (Alan Rickman, he of another holiday classic, Die Hard) is both beautiful and heart wrenching--one feels the interior anguish of Emma's character as she grapples with multiple emotions, all done with no words, just her facial expressions and the words and music of Joni Mitchell's song "Both Sides Now" (and Wayne Shorter's plaintive and tasteful cooing on the soprano saxophone) the only sounds we hear in the scene; the Liam Neesom character, who at the start of the film is grieving the loss of his wife (watching it now, it is strangely prescient, with the tragic death of Natasha Richardson, Liam Nelson's real-life former wife, in March of this year); the sad call of duty in the life of the Laura Linney character; the joy of happiness that radiates from the character played by Martine McCutcheon, particularly at very the end, makes me smile every time; and the story of the romance of the Colin Firth character and the one played by the beautiful Portuguese singer Lúcia Moniz and from Millions: the little boy who sees and talks and interacts with saints, obscure and known, throughout the film; the scene when St. Joseph helps out during the Nativity play at school; the little boy giving money to Mormon missionaries and what they do with the money.
The full synopsis of both films can be found on-line including here and here but if you haven't seen either film, or even if you have, add them to your holiday lists of films to watch and they might become classics for you too.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:52 PM
One year ago, on November 4th, 2008, was the historical election that seemed to bring in that air from another planet. Even though there were no students that day, we still had to be at school for professional development. On my way to work you knew something was different about this election as people were lining up around schools and churches to vote. About 8:30 am that morning as I arrived to the work, there was a long line of people down the block, snaking around my own school and filing inside in order to vote. There were smiles and happiness of purpose on the faces; an anticipation of something happening (or about to happen) and that they were part of it. Of course this being Park Slope there weren't many brown and black faces, but there were some in that line. But what I loved seeing were parents who brought their kids to the voting booth. To give the young that experience which hopefully will carry over to their adulthood was very heartwarming. There was such a palatable excitement, I felt that people finally were fulfilling the "promise of America" that author Harvey Kaye wrote about in his exciting book on Thomas Paine (that book is one of the influences to my upcoming dance project). Not that America is perfect but it is the potential of America, as an idea, as an ideal, to be so much more than those countries of history with their kleptocratic, monarchical, dictatorial, plutocractic, and culocratic ways; that the people are the government and could be in charge of themselves seemed such a radical, revolutionary concept (reading about the history of the American Revolution, it is even more amazing that things could have turned out so differently for America). And despite the many assaults and challenges over our history that promise, sometimes bruised and shaky, is amazingly STILL there.
Of course the solutions to our country's many problems aren't easy. They never were and never will be. And with all of the noise of anger and frustration out there that things are moving too fast or too slow or too much or too little, the answers will be even harder to find and agree to. Whether you are black, white, Democrat or Republican, agree with the economic bailouts and the war or not, for big government or little, love FOX or love MSNBC, or somewhere in the middle, last year's election meant something greater than just the election of the first (half) black President (and with the racial history of this country that election DOES mean a lot). Rather it was because people actually seemed to CARE about the future of the country and more importantly, DID something about it.
Just after the election last year my wife heard on our Brooklyn street a conversation of two young African-American men walking down the sidewalk. Both were talking about the election results and were obviously excited. She overheard one say to the other something like, "well now I need to pull my pants up." I think if last year's election can help one young man realize that falling pants is not cultural statement, then something magical happened last year and no matter your political persuasion or affiliation, we should all celebrate that.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:00 AM
The first sixteen days of December 2003 saw me in the Netherlands for the Steve Reich Festival hosted by the Royal Conservatory of Music in Den Haag. For two weeks almost everything Steve Reich wrote up to that time was performed by various ensembles from the Conservatory as well as professional groups such as Paul Hillier and Theater of Voices, the Schoenberg Ensemble, Maya Beiser, and Anne De Keersmaeker. Also on the Festival were works by other composers who were his contemporaries, his influences, or influenced and inspired by him. The Jazz Ensemble wanted to be part of the Festival as well so the director asked Jim McNeely if there were any composers he knew of that were working with Steve Reich-ian influences in a more jazzy context. Hmm, that seems to sound a lot like me! So the director contacted me in the Fall and after some back and forth, settled on performing two of my compositions: To Kyoto and Into all the Valleys Evening Journeys. In addition I was to give two symposiums on composition during the Festival. Into all the Valleys in July 2003 was one of the finalist for the BMI Jazz Composer's Workshop Manny Albam Commission Prize (I didn't win...). By the time December and my trip rolled around I had already orchestrated Valleys for Numinous, almost finished Stillness Flows Ever Changing, and in the middle of sketches on what would turn out to be the first movement of my, as of then nameless, "large work." So I was ready and excited to be taking a little break from writing and heading to the land of windmills, tall women, and Heineken.
The Festival was very exciting because not only did I hear, sometimes for my first time live, much of the Reich canon (and looked at the scores at the school library!), but I also heard other compositions live for the first time as well. Pieces by Arvo Pärt (Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten), Michael Torke (Music on the Floor), Louie Andressian (Hout), and Michael Gordon (Yo, Shakespeare) were some that I especially remembered. Also, at intermission of the concert with Paul Hillier and Theater of Voices (where they performed Reich's Proverb), I actually talked at length with Steve Reich for about 20 minutes. This wasn't the first time I had met him (the first time was for less than 5 minutes at a concert at Miller Theater at Columbia University about a year earlier) but it was my first real conversation with him. I even gave him a copy of my first CD, which had come out that September, and we spoke warmly about various record labels and the state of jazz at the time.
Now even though the Festival was thrilling and I was busy with the preparations for the two Jazz Ensemble concerts where my compositions would be performed, I was a bit overloaded after awhile. So one of the days where I didn't have any official duties, I took a train from The Hague north to Amsterdam. I didn't have a map or anything to guide me so I just walked around that first day. Of course not far from Central Station, if you walk in the right direction (which somehow, I seemed to be doing) you soon run into one of the infamous Red Light Districts. Now there was a smaller one in Den Haag not far from where I was staying and which was on the way in my walk to the Conservatory (also a fun, cheap local Turkish diner I ate at most evenings), so I already knew what to expect. Continuing my walk outside the District I soon came upon a giant map on the sidewalk. Looking up from the ground I saw many large photos on outdoor displays. Most of the photos were aerial shots of nature with captions detailing some societal or ecological danger in the area of the photograph. This was my first exposure to Earth From Above by the photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. I walked around and around the exhibition, often stopping by various photos only to circle back to them later and take another look. I was very moved and taken with the entire photo show. And because I really didn't have much money at the time, I didn't buy the Earth from Above book then, which I would have had I the euros, so I bought three postcards of some my favorites photos (about a year or so later, I finally bought the book).
There was one photo by Arthus-Bertrand that I was particularly struck by and it was one I came back to at least five times while walking around the exhibit. The photo, of a flock of scarlet ibis flying over the Amacuro delta in Venezuela, was taken from a perspective high above the flock. The very striking juxtaposition of the deep red birds against the rich black soil evoked in me a sense of ‘soaringness’ and beauty. It was this feeling that solidified for me what I wanted to achieve with the stalled next movement of my "large work." So even though many of the musical ideas were already on paper (yes, I still sketch ideas on paper), and the final composition was still a few months away, that photograph helped lead me to discover my own composition, "Of Climbing Heaven and Gazing on the Earth".
Check back soon for more insider tidbits about Vipassana!
Numinous performs Vipassana
Wednesday October 28, 2009 8 PM (one set only)
227 4th Avenue
Take the M, R Train to Union Street
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 9:00 AM
It has been 8 years since the events of September 11, 2001 and recently I've been thinking about John Adams's, and subsequently my own, musical response to that day. John Adams in an interview originally posted on the New York Philharmonic website, talks about his trepidations when asked to write a work, "On the Transmigration of Souls", to have been performed almost exactly one year after the attacks of 9/11:
"I didn’t require any time at all to decide whether or not to do it. I knew immediately that I very much wanted to do this piece–in fact I needed to do it. Even though I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of a shape the music would take, I knew that the labor and the immersion that would be required of me would help answer questions and uncertainties with my own feelings about the event. I was probably no different from most Americans in not knowing how to cope with the enormous complexities suddenly thrust upon us. Being given the opportunity to make a work of art that would speak directly to people’s emotions allowed me not only to come to grips personally with all that had happened, but also gave me a chance to give something to others."
I started the composer group Pulse in May 2004 with an initial meeting of six other like-minded composers. From this initial fellowship gathering, all through that summer and fall, we worked on organizing our premiere performance to be that December. For that first performance, I knew I wanted my piece to be based on 9/11, but was unsure of what direction to take. Like John Adams stated, it felt too big and too raw an event to process my feelings enough in order to create something decent let alone meaningful. After a few sketches and false starts, which looking back now, tried to do and say too much, I decided that the best way for me to approach the composition was to reflect on my own experiences that day. To create something with simple and direct expression that did not tackle 9/11 directly, but tangentially; something not exactly programmatic but still able to convey the story of an unexpected pulchritudinous moment that day.
I was in Brooklyn at the time of the attacks, substitute teaching a high school math class at the Brooklyn International School, in a building next to and overlooking the Manhattan Bridge. I first noticed something was wrong when I casually looked out the window to see the usual bustling rush-hour car traffic flowing over the bridge was non-existent. Someone eventually came to the classroom I was in and said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Many of the students became visibly upset. I looked out the window again and where just a few minutes before no one or thing was coming over the bridge, now the bridge was beginning to fill with people streaming from Manhattan eastward across the roadway. The first tower had fallen before I had a chance, during my prep period, to run out onto the bridge toward Manhattan (just before the police stopped anyone from traveling westward) to see what was happening for myself. I reached the center of the bridge and could see the top of the second tower in flames. Less than a minute later the second tower, hauntingly silent and seemly in slow motion, imploded upon itself with audible gasps and cries of horror from the crowd which turned to look.
After retuning to the school, you can imagine that it was difficult to focus for the remainder of the school day. With people passing in front of the school, it was a constant reminder of the enormity of that morning's events. The fear and confusion was particularly palatable in the students. As the news coverage slowly uncovered the terrorist plot, this being a high school of all recent immigrants (many of whom were Muslim and wore Islamic veils and scarfs), it was hard not to control my own fears of what would happened to the students when school let out and they would have to pass through the crowd on their way to the subway. Despite the police presence, would they be blamed and suffer verbal or physical abuse from the understandably bewildered and upset crowd coming over the bridge? At the end of the day, many of the teachers, myself included, decided to walk with some of the students to the subway to make sure they were ok leaving the school.
Later in the early evening with two other friends, I was on a townhouse roof in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn surveying the entire lower Manhattan cityscape. I watched as a distant flickering mass seemed to be coming closer toward us from the World Trade Center site. At first it looked like a swarm of white butterflies, glittering in the evening sun, but as it got closer we realized that it was paper rising with the heat from the site and floating toward us from lower Manhattan. An immensely beautiful and ethereal sight, none of us spoke as the swarm came directly over us with some of the many pages from law books and computer printouts fluttering above and some landing all around the roof. We watched as the swarm passed over us and quietly continued farther into Brooklyn. No more than five minutes, this small and ephemeral moment, still resonated with me all those years and when I was ready, found outlet in my composition. Inspired by a short poem by Li Po, I wrote the text for my piece:
High in September's winds
Drifting white butterflies
Passing silently by
With a shadow of autumn in their eyes
we may never know
© Joseph C. Phillips Jr.
"The Spell of a Vanishing Loveliness" premiered at the inaugural concert of Pulse on December 1, 2004 and you can hear it here. The performance featured Amy Cervini (vocals), Sebastian Noelle (guitar), Jody Redhage (violoncello), Diana Herold (vibraphone), with me conducting. It was one of those moving performances where everyone in the audience and the musicians (including myself) were wrapped inside an all-encompassing bubble of the moment. After the piece ended and we were changing over to the next composer, Jody remarked "Did you feel that?" and indeed, the air seemed charged with something tangible and indescribable during and just after the performance (I realized had goosebumps during the end of the piece as the vibraphone and guitar drifted into their final nothingness). There was something magical and real about the performance with the events of 9/11 only three years removed and still so close to people's emotions. It still remains one of my most special musical memories so far in New York.
(photo by Marcy Begian at Pulse concert December 1, 2004)
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:46 AM
40 years ago yesterday was the start of the Woodstock Festival and reading and thinking about it sparked other thoughts about another icon of the 60s, the Beatles and the hoopla surrounding the upcoming release of remastered Beatles albums in September. And I realized something, which I've felt for sometime now, but only manifested into concrete form during my contemplations:
I'm not a fan of the Beatles or of Woodstock.
Now before I hear classic cries of heresy that usually accompany displeasure of something canonical ("how can you not like the Beatles?", "are you crazy?", "you have no taste in music", etc.), my lack of enthusiasm for the Beatles and Woodstock is not for lack of understanding (I guess some WOULD say I lack understanding if I don't like them). I have seen the Woodstock DVD and listened to many Beatles songs over the years (both originals and arrangements--I have the Basie on Beetles vinyl somewhere and a Wes Montgomery rendition of "A Day in the Life"). I have read about both and yes, I get that the Beatles revolutionized recording techniques and influenced all popular songcraft (and celebrity) and yes I get Woodstock marked a sort of milestone of cultural and musical convergence of (some of) the 196o's themes: hippies, war, peace, love, rock and roll.
It's just that they don't move me. Well, at least not in the same way that they seem to move all the arbiters of cultural relevance. Don't get me wrong, I do respect the Beatles and even like some songs (especially from Sgt. Pepper's; also this past winter on the radio I listened intently to The Beatles White Album Listening Party and was fascinated by some of what I heard and certainly plan to add that album to my collection when the remaster comes out). And with Woodstock, while really enjoying Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, Joe Cocker among other performances on the concert film, when I start to hear people talk about their recollections of being at Woodstock as some incredible moment!, my eyes start to glaze over like when people say, "ah, back in the day, New York in the _____'s, that was the real New York" or "you should'a been at Ebbets Field". I feel like that women in the Wrigley's commercial who while looking for another piece of gum misses "the moment".
Sure, hearing about "back in the day" can be interesting and fascinating, but it can also sometimes strike me as a bit distant and off-putting. I did this, lived through this, heard this...and you didn't. In some ways it doesn't value the present, always looking back to a (real or imagined) "better time" which I guess we are all guilty of at times.
So still knowing all that I do about Woodstock and the Beatles, hearing and seeing what I've seen and heard, I always come back to, what's the big deal? It's like that line about Elvis in Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" (comes 2:38 in video), and I paraphrase (and cleaning it up) here: a hero to most, don't mean anything to me. Writer John Murph on The Root has an interesting article looking at Woodstock from a different perspective but for me as a rational, intellectual person (regardless of personal background), shouldn't the adoration of the Beatles and Woodstock be up there like other (supposed) high cultural totems: French cinema from the 60's, Ginsburg, Seinfeld, Ellison, Radiohead, Duke Ellington?
We've all met or dated people where you do like each other but you're missing that thing, that spark, that "YES YES YES YES YES YES" moment in your brain, of real emotional (or physical) connection with another. For me, I think the Beatles and Woodstock will always be that respected acquaintance I'll see at a distance or run across every so often, but whom, for me, there is no there there. Not that there's anything wrong with that...
On an entirely different subject, Friday was Magic Johnson's 50th birthday and as Roy S. Johnson writes on his Yahoo Sports Blog, "I never thought I'd see this celebration". Magic was one of my favorites players growing up. I remember seeing the Michigan State (Magic)-Indiana State (Larry Bird) dual, Magic's rookie season NBA Final's heroics ("back in the day"--see even I can't get away from it!--the broadcast from the West Coast came on at 10 or 11pm Eastern Standard Time-can't imagine THAT happening now), playoff battles with the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, and later the Chicago Bulls, and of course, his announcement of HIV and early retirement. As Roy Johnson points out, with all of his post-NBA business dealings, Magic is one of the few athletes to make more money in retirement than during his playing days.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 6:58 AM
Came across these two articles yesterday about Michael Jackson: while this Salon article is mostly about celebrity (Michael and Sarah Palin), the second a Village Voice article by Greg Tate about Michael's influence and legacy in the African-American community (thanks to Bold as Love for bringing the VV article to my attention).
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 7:21 AM
Has it really been THIRTY years since the Sony Walkman?!? I didn't own one until years later but remember coveting the Walkman of my early-adopter friends. Who didn't want to be the one everyone looked at when they walked down the street with those large headphones and the Walkman clipped to the belt? I wanted to be one of those people who could tune out and live in my own world of music as I walked down the street. And years later when the smaller Super Walkman came out ("we can build it better than before: better, stronger, faster") it seemed that things couldn't get any better. This kid doesn't seem to understand how rare and cool the Walkman was back in the day! And like those first weeks of the iPod and iPhone, whose fleeting white earbud sightings on the subway or in the local coffee shop were exotic and mysterious (I only HEARD about people with them, I never knew anyone myself that had one-much like UFO sighters and people who go on Jerry Springer) having a Walkman, especially in the early days, meant you were part of the illuminati: the cool and glamorous people. Everyone else either wanted one or still played 45's on GIGANTIC console stereos at home.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 4:33 PM
Lately I've been reading numerous articles, remembrances, and interviews of Spike Lee's movie Do the Right Thing, which opened 20 years ago this year. While I'll have more thoughts about that film in a later post, all of the hoopla surrounding the anniversary got me thinking about what other films came out 20 years ago. That lead me to this list and going over the films, I can't believe it has been twenty years since the darkly hilarious Heathers, Batman (the Michael "Beetlejuice" Keaton version), Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Abyss, Glory, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, When Harry Met Sally, and the terribly disappointing William Shatner directed Star Trek V. All of that nostalgia got me thinking about what was on T.V. when I was younger. As you know from a previous post, I was quite the T.V.-ista and I was amazed to realize that one show I could not wait to watch each week, was released 30 years ago this year.
Star Blazers, as it was known in US syndication, was a Japanese anime import in 1979. Originally it aired in Japan from 1974 to 1980 as Space Battleship Yamato (宇宙戦艦ヤマト Uchū Senkan Yamato). Of course, I didn't know any of this at the time. All I knew was many of the shows I loved to watch in the afternoons on our independent UHF stations (trying hard to tune them in on my old two-dial black and white T.V. set), from Marine Boy, Kimba the White Lion, to of course Speed Racer and Ultraman, were syndicated anime from Japan. And Star Blazers was one I couldn't wait to see. A mini-series with a rich dramatic arch as well as a theme of displaced humans, Star Blazers to me was vaguely reminiscent of the original Battlestar Galactica, which I also enjoyed in the evenings (on ABC--ABC had so many iconic shows, many which today we would call 'cheesy', but I loved then nonetheless). As a young kid, Star Blazers was one of the first shows that I thought about all the time. From the seemly invincible "wave motion gun" of the great ship Argo (the name being "westernized" from the Japanese original Yamato) to the many perils and adventures of the ship as it ventured out of the solar system and back, I always wondered and was excited by what the next episode would bring.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 10:11 PM
Today marked the death of two major cultural figures from my youth: Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. I think back and compare myself now to when I was younger; today I rarely watch T.V. (don't even own one although I sometimes watch Heroes and The Office on-line) but I LOVED T.V. when I was young. In fact I can still remember the days of the week and times (and channel/network) when most of my favorites came on, such as Happy Days (Tuesday at 8pm ABC) or Fantasy Island (Saturday at 10pm, just after Love Boat, ABC). Well before cable T.V. or VCR's (which we never had either growing up, even when they both became more ubiquitous in the general population), if I wanted to see it I had to sit down at the time given and watch (yes, I realize I'm talking about the Stone Age where we had to actually get up and change the channel with our own hands...). While I did watch and enjoy so called 'good' shows (All in the Family, Maude, Cheers, Family Ties, Mary Taylor Moore Show, Moonlighting, Bob Newhart Show (that opening theme was killin'),Carol Burnett Show, Taxi, and of course Roots was a must-see event) I was a fairly indiscriminate watcher, and I just watched whatever I liked including so called low brow shows (What's Happening, Dynasty, Battle of the Network Stars, Mork and Mindy, V, Welcome Back Kotter, Different Strokes, The Smurfs, SuperFriends, The Facts of Life, Three's Company, Space 1999, and MANY others I could easily fill a post with). I loved the Six Million Dollar Man also and later, The Bionic Woman (the original, please). Sometimes sneaking a peak at my mom's Enquirer newspaper I knew all about Mr. Six-Million Dollar Man, Lee Majors and his wife Farrah Fawcett-Majors, they definitely had that "it", glamor stardom like Angelina and Brad have today. I also remembered Farrah from her role as Holly in one of the few movies I actually went to the theatre to see at that time: Logan's Run. So while I wasn't much into Charlie's Angels when it aired, I of course watched it. I loved how the opening of many shows from the era told you/showed you the show's premise upfront (check out the pilot opening for Charlie's Angels--at over two minutes, it isn't the same musically or visually as the later and more classic opening nor is it slick by today's minimalist standards, but it is charming nonetheless). I was always intrigued by who Charlie really was; it seemed like such a mystery to me even later when I started watching Dynasty and it took awhile to make the connection between Charlie and Blake Carrington (or if I had known about Hitchcock back then, I might have made the connection between Charlie and Sam Marlowe from The Trouble with Harry). Now I was a bit too young (and not interested anyway yet) to have any kind of crush on the Angels, but you couldn't help noticing how beautiful they were. Back then, as now, my favorite of the originals was always Jaclyn Smith who not only was gorgeous (even now), but seemed the most approachable even to a young pre-adolescent boy like me; but Farrah came in a close second. And when Farrah left the show, I don't remember watching much after that. Leaving the show at the height of her popularity and hype (much as Suzanne Somers did on Three's Company years later), Farrah went on pursing other celebrity activities and she really didn't register again much on my radar until her stunning performance in the movie The Burning Bed in 1983 and lately and sadly with her losing battle with cancer.
After hearing about Farrah Fawcett this morning, I came home this afternoon to the news of Michael Jackson being found unconscious at his home and taken to the hospital where he later died. His iconic music and persona has been in the background of my entire life: his early songs with the Jackson 5; his solo album Ben; the movie musical The Wiz (another movie I actually saw growing up--still remember playing an arrangement years later of "Easy on Down the Road" in high school jazz band, 1st Alto!); his great triumvirate Up Against the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), Bad (1987) and subsequent videos; the Motown 25th anniversary special of 1983 (this I remember watching live and while Michael's "Billie Jean" was truly breathtaking, Marvin Gaye's performance was a highlight for me as well); the Pepsi Super Bowl commercial hair fire; Bubbles; Michael and Michael (video for "Jam" from 1992's Dangerous featuring the other MJ, Michael Jordan); friendship with Emmanuel "Webster" Lewis and Macaulay "Home Alone" Culkin; oxygen chamber; child-molestation charges; Neverland ranch. It is hard to believe that he died so young, suddenly, and tragically. The album Thriller was such a pervasive presence and influence in the early 80's from dance, clothing, music video production, it touched so many things from that time. It is hard to imagine now, over 25 years later, that it was such a unique and stunning musical statement. It seemed as if almost EVERYONE of the time (black, white, young, old, rich, poor, European, Asian, jazzers, punks, guitarheads, technobeaters, animals-well, probably Bubbles at least) knew Thriller, heard it, saw the videos, and for the most part liked it (or at least grudgingly respected it). With the increased segmentation of society and culture today, it is hard to have that kind of universal appeal. I have fond memories of talking with friends about the album, about the way Michael dressed, and practicing my own moonwalk (and can still do it, thank you very much!). And it seems so strange now but I can't believe that there was a time (not really that long ago) when MTV did not show videos from Michael or any African-American musicians for that matter. Along with Quincy Jones, whose influence on Michael's best musical work can not be overstated, Michael, like I said in an earlier post about Prince, was able to combine elements of pop, rock, R&B, jazz in such a way which touched people from all backgrounds and races. Of course later Michael became the musical Jackie Robinson, opening up not only MTV but the broader mainstream cultural world a bit for accepting music from the African-American world, including Prince and later Run DMC, of course 'Yo MTV Raps, and much of the hip-hop of today.
As I sit here and write this post, I'm thinking of many of my favorites: the funky pop and grooves of "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough", "Rock with You", "Jam", "The Way You Make Me Feel", "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", "Remember the Time", "Billie Jean"; the more jazzy "I Can't Help It"; the more rock oriented "Beat It", "Dirty Diana"; the soulful ballads "Human Nature", "The Lady in my Life"; and the cinematic "Thriller". Earlier a car passed my building and from their radio came the Doppler'ed sounds of "Thriller" floating into my apartment on the evening breeze. Here's hoping that Michael Jackson's pop music genius will always be on someone's iPod or radio or whatever new device Steve Jobs and Apple will come up with next.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 7:25 PM
Today I received a needed and refreshing reminder of excellence and what to strive for in my own work ("you need a certain dose of inspiration, a ray from on high, that is not in ourselves, in order to do beautiful things..."-Vincent van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother Theo). I heard the new NPR series this afternoon, You Must Hear This, where musicians recommend music that inspires them. This is a companion to the NPR series, You Must Read This where writers recommend books that have inspired them (that series lead me to reading Cosmicomics which I reviewed yesterday).
Featured today on You Must Hear This was one of my favorite albums of all-time, Prince's Purple Rain. Here is what I said as a comment on the NPR website about the story:
Prince has always been an influence and inspiration to me and my music. At his best, he filters all of the obvious references that Adam Levine mentions into a unique voice that is all and more of the assembled elements; something that becomes just Prince and great music rather than rock or funk or whatever label people try to put on it. I do remember when both the movie and record of Purple Rain came out and then as now I think any artist would love to create work that wonderful, true, and original.
Now it is true that sometimes it seems as if Prince needs an editor; some albums as a whole can be quite uneven and uninspired (Parade: Under the Cherry Moon), but there are always individual gems to be found on any of his albums, even Parade (Kiss, Venus de Milo). But on albums such as Purple Rain and Sign 'o the Times, for example, he is truly breathtaking in his musical acumen. His natural synthesizing of various influences and spitting them out in a truly amalgamated and dynamic way has always been one of my goals as a composer; and hearing Purple Rain again, was that "ray from on high" that helped remind me of it.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 6:16 PM
Growing up very athletic I spent a lot of my youth in sports, both organized ones like baseball, basketball, football and unorganized ones like running, ping-pong, and tennis. I always loved playing tennis since you really had to rely on yourself, no teammates between you and victory (or no one to blame except yourself in defeat). I grew up playing it from an early age and remember pretending to be Arthur Ashe or Bjorn Borg or John McEnroe (not usually Jimmy Connors, although I used to have an old Wilson aluminum racket like he had) and watching matches on T.V. I also loved watching women's tennis as well and the epic battles between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were always a favorite. But one of my favorite players (male or female) was always Steffi Graf. Not only was she a great player and athlete but she always was so focused, cool and not showy, just what I'd imagine I'd be like if I was a professional tennis player (although in reality I was probably more of a McEnroe/Connors ultra-competitive 'hothead'). So I loved reading this recent Daily Mail article about her turning 40! It reminded me all over again why I like her. Reading about how in retirement she is still focused just not about tennis and how she knows the important things in life (hint: it isn't the 22 Grand Slam titles) was very inspiring (also loved the anecdote about her being such a good athlete that she ran practice 800 metre laps with the West Germany team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics).
The article also reminded me of a couple of tennis blog entries I read and had saved from the New York Times in 2006 about Roger Federer and Amélie Mauresmo (read from the Coda section about Mauresmo). Both help to illustrate that beauty and the strive to perfection can come from many different sources and places and that the arts aren't the exclusive domain of aesthetics.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 10:20 PM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.