Does Marvin Gaye know what’s going on?

I’ve enjoyed blogging about each of the forty-five songs I refer to in my five books, and today I am writing the last of these posts. For no particular reason, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” has that distinction. It occurs near the end of z2, when much of the group comes together for New Year’s Eve, and the words to the song provide impetus for solving part of the puzzle of the mysterious Maya artifact.

cmkqowgweaeubypIn fact, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is a song about hope. Written in 1966 by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, it became a hit in 1967 when it was recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. It basically says I’ll be there to help you , because no force is big enough to stop me. It’s the last part of the that message that gets my attention; the idea that nothing can be so big and so bad that it can’t be overcome by someone who wants to make things better. I’m not feeling terribly hopeful these days; I guess I really need to hear this sort of thing. I must not be the only one, as I and over a hundred thousand other people have enjoyed this simple and classy early video posted a few years ago.

Looking up more information on Marvin Gaye (who is usually associated with the song) I found a wonderful fan page for him and learned that in the tumultuous year of 1969 he became frustrated with the type of music he was writing, wanting to turn towards topics that were more socially relevant.

The timing makes sense. In 1968, twelve elections ago, two fairly unpopular presidential candidates ran against each other while their policies sharply contrasted with a controversial war and a good deal of racial and political unrest. I would guess that Marvin Gaye didn’t want to only sing happy, hopeful songs for lovers. He wanted to weigh in on the social issues of the day.

According to the fan page

… in 1971 What’s Going On was released; the first song Marvin Gaye produced himself. The album explored topics such as poverty, discrimination, politics, drug abuse and the environment. Barry Gordy was reluctant to release the album because he doubted its potential commercial success. Despite the reservations, What’s Going On was an instant hit and groundbreaking work in the soul music genre.

It’s easy to see why. In a unique sweet and sour style, the title song contrasts a cocktail party sound with harsh words about the times. The song opens with … (From Metrolyrics)

Mother, mother there’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother there’s far too many of you dying

Let’s face it, these are apt lyrics for today, and they got me thinking about how much 1969 and 2017 have in common. They had an unpopular war, we have unpopular wars complicated by global terrorism. Racial tensions then had grown out of the fight to eliminate legal segregation, today many of us of all colors are reeling from a plethora of incidents with the police that make us question how far we have really come towards racial equality. Two high profile assassinations, police brutality during the 1968 democratic convention and the sight of 250,000 war protesters marching in Washington left the people of 1969 angry and confused. Today, we face the inauguration of a president whose election was aided by a longstanding enemy nation and fueled by groups chanting about building walls and talk of registering members of a minority religion. Times change, but sometimes they seem to circle back around, and revisit the feel of a bygone era.

I sought out a video of “What’s Going On” and found this one which has been enjoyed by almost NINE MILLION people recently. I guess I’m not the only one who thinks that Marvin Gaye understood something about the problems of 2017.

Father, father we don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer for only love can conquer hate

Of course, he went on to write and perform many more songs before his tragic death at age forty-five, and he left a wide and varied legacy in R&B, soul, funk, jazz and pop genres. As I enjoyed researching and learning more about him, I realized that I like all of his music, although the hopeful song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and the wisely prescient “What’s Going on” are my two favorites.

You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

As the background characters say in the video, “right on.”

Positive Waves for a Happy 4th

Nothing exists, at least not as solid matter. Push a theoretical physicist to describe what is and you are going to hear a lot about waves and particles.  If you push her further, she’s going to concede that at some very basic level the particles are really waves too. Yep, it looks like it’s all waves, man. Nothing but waves.

The character Oddball, Donald Sutherland’s goofy hero in Kelly’s heroes, might have had it right with his preoccupation with negative waves. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out these short fun excerpts from the classic movie. Better yet, check them out if you do know what I am talking about.

Which brings me to music. Music is made of waves, big fat waves of oscillating matter, which, as we just discussed, is nothing more than teeny-tiny waves. So we have waves making waves, and its a very good thing, because music helps us deal with all that theoretical physics. It turns out that any wave can be described by three attributes: frequency, phase and amplitude.

So, what makes someone an excellent singer? Three of us got into this recently, and one came down firmly on the side of range. Can he hit the high notes? Another advocated for pitch. Does she hit that perfect A at exactly 220 hertz? I pushed for vastness, a voice that fills the void.

axlroseprivateRange person, who it turns out really cares about frequency, used the example of Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon as one of the all time greats. You can see for yourself which popular singers had the most range at a fascinating post called “The Vocal Ranges of the Worlds Greatest Singers.” Mariah Carey wins for high notes, while Prince takes the male honors. Low note ability goes to Axl Rose with Nina Simone winning for the females. Sheer range honors go to Axl with Mariah in close second. Kevin Cronin isn’t mentioned.

Pitch person holds that perfectly hitting the notes exactly right makes for the most pleasing vocals, but when pressed for who actually could do that, the most recent example he could think of was Bing Crosby. There is reason he had trouble finding more examples, as true perfect pitch is extremely rare. Other singers besides Bing who may have it (or have had it) include Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, Yanni and, once again Mariah Carey. At least that is the claim made on this Mental Floss post called 10 people with Perfect Pitch.  This is, by the way, an attribute that involves a combination of phase and exact frequency.

mariah-careyMy examples of great singers included the young Gracie Slick of Jefferson Airplane, and Adele. Both of these ladies make me feel less alone in the universe thanks to the sound waves  they create, even though I know that I am mostly just talking about their amplitude. I found this list of top 20 singers with the most powerful voices and Adele came in at 18 and Gracie didn’t even get mentioned.  Josh Groban and Whitney Houston made the top ten, as did, once again Mariah Carey. Guess I’m going to have to start listening to more Mariah Carey.

Great singing, of course involves being able to do all three well. A lucky crowd at the Lincoln Memorial was treated to this beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner a few days ago by Star Swain, an assistant principal from Florida. She has range, she has pitch, she has power, and all her waves are positive. Oddball would have loved it, as did those who had the good fortune to hear her. Enjoy, and happy Independence Day to all!

 

 

 

 

Stand By Me: loyalty versus all kinds of other things

Does anyone doubt that a real friend is someone who will stand by you, no matter what?

Does anyone doubt that there are times to walk away from a friend?

maybe 1We hold both statements as self-evident truths and seldom trouble our souls with the contradiction that is implied. Yet in personal and public life we see this interplay at work, and never more than in an a messy election year.

Publicly, word has it that the Bush family places a high value on loyalty, and an insult to one is an insult to all. Witness the family banning together to shun the current GOP nominee, and almost unthinkable act for a blood line that has produced two presidents for that party. I’m no  great fan of any of them, but I remain oddly moved by their loyalty to each other.

The coin falls on the other side with the Trump family’s former butler and current unpaid historian, who was quickly described by Trump’s campaign as some crazy old guy the family barely knew after the “crazy old guy” was discovered to be posting really crazy stuff on Facebook. Hard to find an admirable approach in that mess, but walking away from the friendship was probably better than standing by it.

And in our personal lives? Yes, there are friends we no longer click with or enjoy. There are people we thought of as friends who it turns out we didn’t really know. There are friends who would take too much of our time or money, or at least more than we care to give, which makes us wonder how the strong the friendship was to begin with. Would they even ask that much of us if they were really our friends? And then there are those who do bad things, sometimes even awful things, to us or others and no matter how sorry they are we can’t let it go.

Plenty of people in the news these days that leave me wondering what are their friends thinking right now?

True voice 3And yet — in spite of growing apart, and selfishness on either side, and ethics and screw-ups — there is something so simple and compelling about the idea of “I will always be there for you.” The very concept takes us back to our childhoods. Does it have a place in adult life?

To me it is the essential kernel of a romantic relationship. It is the baseline of parenthood, except in the most extreme of circumstances, and of other close family relationships as well. It is what separates true friendships from social relationships, and it makes it apparent how unusual true friends are. Having someone, anyone, who will stand by you is rare and precious.

Maybe that’s why we all enjoy the simple lyrics and hypnotic base of the 1961 Ben E. King hit “Stand by Me”. I referred to the song in z2, and just finished updating the music page on this blog to include the following. It’s still running through my head. Enjoy the video at the end.

ben-e-kingMy character Alex is a nice man, and he loves his wife, but he isn’t particularly romantic, at least not in the classical sense. When he thinks of their relationship, in many ways he is more impressed by their enduring friendship than he is by their romance. And when in Chapter 18 he needs to reach Lola with a song, and enlist her cooperation with a plan he has, he turns to this classic, as shown in the excerpt below.

Alex had learned to tolerate Lola’s telepathic abilities, but as the group gathered up their work to head back to the tiny hotel in Punta Gorda, he realized that he could do better. Why not actively use her talents at times to make both of their lives easier? According to what she had told him, all humans project emotions and to some extent also project the thoughts that drive those emotions. In other words, everybody talks. But hardly anyone listens. Some one percent of the population had vague, undeveloped receptive abilities, Lola had said, and some tiny fraction of that, through desire, practice and circumstance, crossed over into being fully adept receivers.

A little over a year ago, Lola had made just such a crossing. Which meant that now he could send information to her, but not get an answer. Think about it, Alex laughed to himself. In some ways isn’t that every husband’s dream? He can tell his wife things and not have to listen to a word back?

Alex supposed that was a less than admirable thought… but hey, a man thinks what he thinks, and fortunately Lola’s ethics were such that she generally stayed out of his head and let him think in peace. But knowing how much his people-avoiding wife was going to hate the idea of having three unexpected houseguests, and how much better she would deal with it if she had all the warning possible, Alex tried for the first time to actually get Lola’s attention. She said images worked well, so he imagined a picture of himself jumping up and down waving a large bright yellow flag. Look. Look over here. I need to tell you something. This is important. I’m going to totally mess up the rest of your holidays with the kids there and everything by bringing three strangers and two ancient artifacts home with me and I really need you to flow with this.

Then he remembered. Music was one of the easiest items to transmit and receive. What was a song that Lola liked? That he liked? His subconscious mind found it for him, and he hummed and whistled Ben E. King’s anthem of loyalty “Stand by Me” over and over as he helped to load up the car. Of course, he’d follow up with an honest-to-god phone call once he got to the better reception at the hotel, but with any luck by then Lola would already know and be in a frame of mind to help him.

I’ll bet you can’t sit still, or keep from smiling, as you watch this video that celebrates both Ben E. King’s original song and the movie of the same name.

 

Picking a President: “Holding Out for a Hero”

So I am adding to the music page on this blog, and come to “Holding out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler and suddenly current events sort of click for me. I confess that watching this presidential primary process has left me disturbed like never before. What does an 80’s song have to do this? Walk with me here, because I think I’m on to something.

superheroWhy is the protagonist in a novel, or movie, or TV series usually called the hero of the story? We love our heroes (male and female) because we not only love to cheer them on, we also live through them vicariously. In fact, we are so used to being entertained by heroes that I think we’ve evolved into a society where many of us don’t want our politicians to be leaders.  We certainly don’t want them to be politicians. We want them to be our heroes, and that’s a different thing.

Some politicians thought to have a good shot at the presidency are having a hard time fitting the hero image. Hilary Clinton, Mark Rubio and John Kasich are all struggling with it, and Jeb Bush failed at it along with eleven other GOP hopefuls.

On the other hand, Bernie Sanders has risen as a hero to the left. It’s fair to tell you that I like a lot of Bernie Sanders ideas and if he wins the primary I will vote for him, even though I do not think he would be particularly good at the business of governing these United States. My point here is that I don’t think his followers are focusing on his abilities as a statesman. He is a hero to them for speaking out against the injustice in our nation.

fractal 6On the other side of the aisle are an array of heroes to chose from. Does your hatred of the federal government run so strong that you cheer on a man willing to shut the entire government down if he doesn’t get his way? Have we got a candidate for you. Fancy a quiet neurosurgeon whose medical feats don’t qualify him for politics but sure are impressive? Step this way. Or is your idea of a hero someone who is wildly rich, terribly confident and never backs down? Ohhhh boy, you are going to love what we have for you.

I’m afraid that as a nation were not looking for the most capable leader we can find. We’re each looking for our own particular kind of hero out there. We want someone we can rally behind and yell “hell yes”, the country be damned. It makes sense in a very visceral way, even though I don’t think this is what the founding fathers had in mind for democracy. However, as our society has become ever more entertainment-saturated, this might have been inevitable.

I think it would be a good idea to be more aware of what we are doing, and to ask whether heroes have historically made good leaders. What do you think?

While you ponder that question, enjoy this 1984 video of a young Bonnie Tyler and her 80’s hair as she sings “Holding out for a Hero.”

(Learn more at bonnietyler.com/. You can buy this song at Amazon.)

z2 is a story about becoming a hero when necessary. Enjoy this short excerpt about one of the moments when my protagonist has to act like a hero. And no, I do not think that being able to handle a situation like this qualifies one to be president.

“It’s probably just the cat,” he muttered, mostly asleep.

“It’s NOT the cat!” she said. “It’s coming from the front lawn.” Lola stepped into the hallway and could see a bright glow coming in through the front windows. “Oh my god, Alex.”

Alex could recognize genuine panic when he heard it and he went from barely awake to completely awake in about two seconds. This was his job. He protected this house. He strode into the front hall and saw through the glass panels on either side of his front door an angry and probably drunk mob of white hooded people on his front lawn, most waving burning torches and chanting something about his house, shelter and Satan.

“Call 911,” he barked to Lola, heading back to the bedroom to grab some pants. “Then see if you can make it out the back door and get to a neighbor. Bring back some help if you can. I’m going out there to see what they want.”

It was an indication of how serious the situation was that Lola didn’t even pause to discuss his plan with him.

He opened the door, and saw that a cross about the size of a grown man had been erected on his front lawn and was being doused in liquid from a metal can. As he opened his mouth to speak, the crowd noticed him, and the chanting was replaced by a plethora of epitaphs.

 

More songs about this than anything, except of course for love

If you search for song titles containing a particular noun, it should come as no surprise that the most popular word is “love”. But what is the second most popular? My empirical evidence suggests that it is “time.” That confounding concept that gives and takes away from us in equal measure is the source of no end of angst, and, therefore, of music. I knew that my book z2, which is about time in so many ways, needed a song called “Time.”

light clockBut which one? I’d already used a favorite of mine, Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” in x0. Pink Floyd has a great song called “Time” but it’s a little serious for Alex’s tastes. A rapper named Feat Wap has one too, but again it’s not really Alex’s style. Ditto for Sarah McLachlan’s lovely song “Time” and Mikky Ekko’s of the same name. All beautiful and wonderful and there are quite a few more, but Alex likes music that makes his feet tap. Then I remembered the song by Hootie and the Blowfish and it was perfect.

As the story fell into place, the memory of the Hootie and the Blowfish song turned out to be what set in motion Alex’s year long project to have his advanced physics class try to build a time machine.  See the short excerpt below.

Alex wondered how much of that was his own fault. Maybe he had been doing the same thing for too long. Was it getting stale? In truth, the student who showed up for a high school physics class was seldom enthused. But maybe he needed to be working harder these days to capitalize on what little enthusiasm existed.

On the other hand, in spite of some of the behavior problems in his regular physics classes, the students this past year had tended to be more engaged than usual. Even his most potentially unruly class, third period with the three T-heads, as they now called themselves, rose to the standard of intelligent discussion on occasion. Alex wondered how many of his eighty or so first-year physics students would go on to take the more advanced class next year.

This bunch would be a fine group for trying something a little new, something designed to grab the interest of an eighteen year old. What would he have cared about at eighteen? Besides sports and girls?

Alex started toying with ideas, and found himself humming a familiar tune. What was that song? He struggled for a few minutes trying to place the melody. That’s right, he thought. The song was called “Time”.

Because of family, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Charleston SC, and am in fact here as I write this.  So it made me smile to find this version of Hootie and the Blowfish performing their 1995 hit “Time” live in Charleston S.C. in 2006. Enjoy!

Learn more at hootie.com.

Seasons in the Sun

There is something special about this time of year, when daylight is at its shortest. Any time we get to spend in the sunlight becomes precious, or maybe we are just more inclined to realize how precious it is.

sunset (3)My post about it today is poignant. Over the past couple of days. I’ve learned that three people I knew have died. The first I knew as a high school boy who was my partner in chemistry lab. He passed away suddenly at his home a few days ago, according to the online obituary I learned about on Facebook. I remember him for singing the Doors classic “Light my Fire” every time we got the Bunsen Burners out. His memory always makes me smile.

The second, a co-worker of mine for decades, was one of those people with whom one has continual clashes in the office. He wasn’t a bad guy, we just never resonated well. He retired and I just learned via social media that he died peacefully at home in September. Now I wish I had said something kind to him before he left the company, to wish him well.

The third was Brian Rush, a more experienced online writing buddy who was in part responsible for my diving into the self-publishing world like I did. He was kind and helpful to me, and I enjoyed his books. The best I can do to thank him now is to provide a link to his work.

In spite of the odd news that came in threes, the last couple of days here have been unseasonably warm and sunny with a bright blue sky. I can’t say whether it was the news of the deaths or the season’s relative lack of sunshine that kept me sitting on my porch, feeling the warmth on my face while a host of Christmas-related chores went undone.

Because the winter solstice is part of the plot in z2, when I went searching for bubblegum music for my hero Alex to enjoy, “Seasons in the Sun,” made famous in 1974 by Canadian singer Terry Jacks, was an easy choice to include. I though of it as a schmaltzy fun song, and I suppose that it is. But today I played the video that I link to in z2, and let myself shed a tear or two in spite of Terry Jacks 70’s hair and background props.

We do all realize that our seasons in the sun are short and to be savored. We really do. We just forget it sometimes. So please, enjoy the video, and find yourself some sunlight to appreciate over the next few days.

 

 

Stop

Surpemes Like the other members of the Zeitman family, Alex finds that music helps him do the extraordinary things of which he is capable. To me, this is merely interjecting a bit of realism into the plot. Music helps me stay awake late at night when I am driving. Music helps me get out of bed and face a tough day, thanks to the fact that I have an alarm tied to an mp3 player with a special selection of wake-up songs. I play one kind of music when I am cooking a big meal or doing a chore that takes extra energy, and other types when I am stressed and need to relax. I think most people use music, the right kind of music for them, to bring out their strengths and to help them do what needs to be done. Because Alex can slow time down, it is natural that he gravitates to songs that tie into this talent. Enjoy this short excerpt from z2, and the video below.

Alex stood in the parking lot with his hands full of books and supplies to bring into his classroom. School was out for the day and it was better to carry all this stuff back in now rather than deal with it in the morning when he would inevitably be running late. The heat sizzled off of the asphalt and the glare of the late afternoon sun on the windshields was blinding. He gave the car door a hard push with his knee and then he remembered. His keys were on the car seat. The locks were on. Damn.

As Diana Ross and the Supremes started singing “Stop! In the Name of Love” in his head, Alex dropped the books and thrust his hands into the narrowing opening, trying to get the gradually slowing car door to hit his arms or at least his wrists. He did not want to break a finger. The door didn’t stop, but the speed of the door became slower and slower as he thrust forward until finally it barreled into his left lower arm and he felt the pain. Ouch, that was going to cause some bruising, he thought with a wince.

He stood for a few seconds in the blinding bright shimmer of sunlight on metal and glass, and let his heart slow down and the world around him speed back up. As he bent down to pick up the books he had dropped he thought, I have got to learn more about what the hell is going on with me.

Watch the Supremes perform their hit song live on Shindig in 1965.

You might also want to check out this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Tribute to the Supremes, and consider purchasing this song from Amazon.com.