Daddy Yankee :) but also :(

The summer isn’t technically over, but I think we all know the only possible choice for the song of summer is Despacito, by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. Despite all my attempts to resist this infectious jam, it shimmied its way into my heart and the top of the charts, its corresponding music video reaching 1 billion views faster than any other YouTube video ever.

This means that the United States has a Spanish language song at the top of of the charts for the first time since 1996, and more importantly, it means Daddy Yankee is relevant again.

As a young person in New Mexico, Daddy Yankee’s 2003 reggaeton hit “Gasolina” was absolutely inescapable. You couldn’t get through a school dance, child’s birthday party, or outdoor event without everyone breaking out into that catchy chorus. Even for the kids who didn’t speak Spanish, it was a pretty easy chorus to sing: All you had to do is belt out “Dame mas gasolina” at appropriate intervals, and you could fit in!

And what is this “gasolina” that you want more of? Surely the gas you use to fill up your sweet car, I thought, so you can drive as fast as Daddy Yankee spits his rhymes. It’s a staple of  children’s birthday parties. There’s no way “gasolina” has a nefarious meaning, or signifies anything inappropriate. RIGHT?!?

 

Wrong. What Daddy Yankee refers to as “gasolina” is what a doctor would refer to as semen, what a hip hop artist would refer to as skeet, and what yours truly would refer to as jizz. When you sing the chorus to “gasolina,” you’re really asking for someone to…well you get the point.

When my innocent childhood memories of frolicking to Daddy Yankee were marred by this more nefarious double entendre, I was shocked.

But not as shocked as I was when I learned that Daddy Yankee is apparently a huge fan of John McCain.

That’s right. In a 2008 appearance during Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign, Daddy Yankee went on record calling McCain “a fighter for the Hispanic community” and “a fighter for the immigration issue.’’

In fairness to Daddy Yankee, this was before McCain supported the draconian Arizona law, S.B. 1070, which allowed police to arrest anyone (read: any non-white person) who wasn’t carrying identification or immigration papers. But it was after McCain chose Palin as his running mate, so really, what were you thinking, Daddy Yankee?

When asked in 2008 what “Gasolina” was about, Daddy Yankee insisted the song was about energy independence. I don’t know if I’m more disillusioned to learn that a favorite song of my childhood is about sex, or if Daddy Yankee is a Republican.

Of course, none of that is going to stop me from listening to Gasolina. Even at a children’s birthday party.

 

sorry, not that way, John.

 

Bella Pori is a state government employee and co-founder of Call Them In, an email reminder service that makes it easy to call your Senators and support progressive legislation. She loves to talk about Bruce Springsteen, so talk to her on Twitter @BellaPori.

Playlist: Veggin’ Out

 

Howdy, seed-savers – resident part-time playlist maker, part-time farmhand Nicola Householder is serving up a nice flavorful mix of some vegan, gluten-free, totally freerange jams to carry you from harvest season all the way through canning. Turns out most of the greats did eat their greens.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/no_new_music/playlist/4hjkqaqFkKByoRQfFl2tSd

Nicola Householder is a San Francisco-based graphic designer and former college radio DJ for Pratt WPIR. She specializes in print, packaging, and pranks. Find her online at nicolahouseholder.com and @nicolasage.

Nuns Who Have Fun: Some thoughts on Hoobastank, Sister Janet Mead, Sufjan, and Christian Rock

We’ll get to Sister Janet, but first, a confession. When I was 16, I took it to the next level with my boyfriend: I brought him to youth group. It was a normal Sunday night for me, but under the microscope of a relationship the routine made me self-conscious – kickball, prayer, dinner, prayer, singing, prayer. The last non-prayer activity in particular had my Catholic-reared, agnostic beau squirming. Later I said to him, “I’m sorry you came on a singing night,” as if that were an exceptional circumstance, rather than the norm.

Before I’m burned at the stake for being a total loser, let me remind you of two things: one, I had a boyfriend, and two, it was a cool church; we sat on pillows instead of chairs and were told God loved everyone by big-hearted adults with strong capacities for humor. This hipness extended to the music, which mixed traditional worship with upbeat, folksy compositions, and edgier fare – not unlike the sludgy alternative rock you could find by tuning in to Q-106.3, pre the devastating Top-40 takeover.

Which is why for over 10 years of my life I thought Hoobastank’s “The Reason” was about God, or at the least, Jesus. Contextually, why wouldn’t it be – “the reason is [Y]ou”? Duh. God. I mean honestly, being about finding religion makes that song a lot less pathetic than being about a relationship.

Pro tip: If your song is generic enough to be either about God or someone you’re bonin’, you could be a genius, but most likely you’re a terrible songwriter (or worse, Father John Misty). Being bad at songwriting is not a condition unique to Hoobastank, and the same level of gracelessness afflicts mediocre songwriters on both sides of the aisle; in fact, in 2004 John Jeremiah Sullivan laid out a convincing argument in GQ that Christian rock has “excellence-proofed itself,” by “reward[ing] both obviousness and maximum palatability.”

In the same article, which you should really just read, Sullivan notes the reluctance of talented Christian-identified artists like Damien Jurado (“firstrate song[writers]”) to associate publicly with the faith lest he be linked by extension, to the genre; an updated article could as easily pivot to the bashful poetics of Sufjan Stevens, who regularly disorients his majority Pitchfork-reading (and -raising?) audience with work that reveals an intimate, if conflicted, familiarity with the Good Book.

Between obviousness and maximum palatability, Sufjan has neither; lines like “I’m drawn to the blood / the flight of a one-winged dove” deny the Christian rock camp the satisfaction of mainlining praise in favor of complexity and spacious, synth-tinged bridges.

The literal if boring evangelicals, though, and the shy and subtle poets of the faith may do well to heed the tale of Sister Janet Mead, an Australian nun who cut to the chase–and the top of the national charts—with her pop cover of “The Lord’s Prayer.”  

It begins with a riptide of distortion, preparing the listener for almost anything but what’s to come: A bright, sunny rendition of Christendom’s most common text which sounds as if the Mamas and Papas had decided to tackle Jesus, all eight arms wide open.

Sister Janet’s “The Lord’s Prayer,” certified gold, is an almost unbelievably straight-up version of the church staple. No words are altered; there is no tongue-in-cheek phrasing; no asides – just “Our father, who art in Heaven…” ad finitum. There are no oblique references to ex-lovers or niche local geography; nor does the song subscribe to the overreaching sycophancy of faith-based rock bands attempting to reinforce their soul-saving swagger; just the capable soprano of Sister Janet – and, in the video, the band of the lounging parochial schoolgirls who accompany her Sister Act (it’s definitely not Britney, bitch).  

Like a ’70s “Gangnam Style,” Sister Janet’s success in the American and global markets seems inexplicable and practically foreign – while both she and Psy have their charms, the confusion is less rooted in the music itself than in how something so different than its contemporaries (on the year-end Billboard 100 chart, Sister Janet was sandwiched solidly between Jim Croce and Lamont Dozier) succeeded so stratospherically while breeding no recognizable copycat hits.

Further beating the odds, Sister Janet took off while the nation’s religious faith was in freefall; the census allowed respondents to select “no religious affiliation” for the first time in 1971, registering about 7-8% of the population, a number which grew steadily in the decades to come.

Still, the people listened. Sister Janet Mead is hardly the most rockin’ Sister of all time—we’ll give that title to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, even though she wasn’t a nun, with the very metal Hildegard von Bingen as stiff competition—but Sister Janet’s indifference to her newfound success certainly stands out. She donated all proceeds from the record, claimed to despise the fame, and never had another hit (though she did quietly release another album in 1999, to little fanfare).

Do we have another Sister Janet-esque songstress to look forward to in this new millennia? The past six months have been rife with bizarro-world surprises, but by and large a Second Coming seems unlikely. That being said however, as a musical novelty and historical oddity, hallowed be her name.

Charlotte Murtishaw is an American.

Ska: Ain’t bad!

In the not-so-distant past, a group of people got together and decided on a few things that the internet would universally malign. Right under Nickelback was ska, a genre whose legacy is as much associated with its dubious fashion choices as the music itself. At least, I assume that’s how it played out. In reality, the progenitors of the so-called Third Wave ska are probably to blame, with their checkerboard suspenders and fedoras and repressed band geekdom that led trombonists the world over to declare, I’m a punk and a rude boy to boot.

Stereotypes aside, there are plenty of reasons that the ska punk of the late ’80s and ‘90s turned so many people off. It led to abominations like Christian ska, stoner ska, and this little number. But I’m here to tell you that ska—and you might want to sit down for this—ain’t bad. Am I a skapologist? Maybe. Mostly I’m tired of consorting with folks who think that Less Than Jake and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are the cornerstones of the genre. That’s a disservice to the swinging, summery sound of ‘60s Jamaican ska, a genre that blended calypso, R&B, and even Southern American blues. In addition to capturing artists such as Prince Buster, Andy and Joey, and The Skatalites at the peak of their powers, the original ska movement also featured artists like Lee “Scratch” Perry, The Wailers, and The Maytals, who would go on to become staples of slower styles like reggae, rocksteady, and dub in the following decades.

Another tenet of ska’s three-tiered history is referred to as Two Tone ska, the ska-punk style that emerged out of Britain in the late ‘70s. The second wave is named after the independent label Two Tone, founded by Jerry Dammers of the Specials, perhaps the most important band to come out of the country’s nascent scene. Though the Specials’ Elvis Costello-produced album remains the Ur text for Two Tone ska, the genre also produced groups like Madness, Bad Manners, and The English Beat. The groups offered a punchier, more pop-oriented approach to the music of their Jamaican forebears, and many of their hits were covers of Jamaican classics. Madness even went so far as to name their band after the eponymous Prince Buster song.

While ‘60s ska and the ‘70s revival are accessible for anyone fond of Jamaican music or the sunnier side of post-punk, Third Wave ska is a little more impenetrable, requiring a certain amount of nostalgia to fuel any sort of genuine affection. I—and, I’m sure, many others—cut my teeth for ska on a little video game called Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Did I know that Goldfinger or The Suicide Machines belonged to a genre called “ska punk?” Did I know that said genre had a predilection towards checkerboard garb and something called skanking? No, but it was energetic, joyful, and fun as hell to (pretend to) skateboard along to. I hope that we as a society are close to abandoning ska shame for fear of the internet’s scorn, that we can appreciate the weird time in the ‘90s that punk circles embraced their inner marching band weird. But maybe we can leave skanking behind.

Julia Selinger is a writer and rapscallion living in Brooklyn. She was first in her class at Princeton, has an I.Q. of one hundred and eighty-seven, and it’s been suggested that Stephen Hawking stole his Brief History of Time from her fourth grade paper. The young genius is on twitter @julialena_.

Waitin’ on a Sunny Day: ‘Dust Bowl Ballads’ and Springsteen’s ‘The Rising’

Huntington’s Disease may have stolen Woody Guthrie before we got his take on the Bush presidency (though not, thank goodness, on the Trumps), but on The Rising, a spiritual descendant of Guthrie’s opus Dust Bowl Ballads, Bruce Springsteen channels Guthrie as a means of excavating the tumult of his own generation’s tragedy: 9/11 and its aftermath.

Both thematic albums tell the stories of people affected by these catastrophes, and seek to make sense of the generation-defining impacts on the both the world and their own local communities.

Dust Bowl Ballads

Written in 1940, Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads could be considered the original concept album. Guthrie’s first real commercial release, written and recorded after he himself had fled the Dust Bowl, focuses on the pain of losing a home and a community, the challenges of moving across the country, and what people are pushed to do when they can no longer provide for themselves.

A little over 60 years later, Bruce Springsteen released The Rising, an intimate reaction to the terrorist attacks which devastated the New York metro area and reverberated through the country. Songs on The Rising discuss the sacrifice of firefighters on 9/11, the emotions of those who lost loved ones, and the hope that kept people going following the attacks.

As similar as the messages are, the instrumentation and performance of these songs could not be more different. The Rising featured the nine-person E-Street Band, and nine other musicians or groups. Springsteen uses three different cello players, a whole band of horns, and a man on the hurdy-gurdy (real instrument) for a well-produced album with a sweeping and cinematic feel. In contrast, Guthrie is alone on Dust Bowl Ballads, just a man, his guitar, and his stories.

These differing means seem to parallel the different responses to these disasters. After 9/11, it seemed the entire world rallied around New York. The government stepped up to help in the recovery effort, and supported the city and the people affected. By contrast, during the Dust Bowl, migrants found no sympathy in their homes, and even less support when they traveled to other states in search of jobs. Springsteen’s huge backing band serves as a reflection of the world coming together, while Guthrie’s solitary album perfectly captures his lonely travels out of Oklahoma.

Despite the heavy material, neither album sounds tragic. Each has many upbeat, major key songs, with catchy melodies that hide their more dour themes. On Dust Bowl Ballads, Guthrie’s sparse accompaniment and simple tunes hide the serious issues at their heart. The lilting, waltz-like melody of “Dusty Old Dust (So Long It’s Been Good to Know Yuh)” makes the exodus of an entire town feel positive, in contrast to the trauma dust bowl refugees were facing. Guthrie even makes time for happy young lovers in the song who “hugged and kissed / in that dusty old dark” who “instead of marriage / they talked like this / honey, so long, it’s been good to know yuh.”

“Mary’s Place,” one of the later tracks on The Rising, paints the same idyllic picture in the midst of a tragedy. A family out on the front porch, loud music playing, it almost makes the listener (and the singer) forget about the people they have lost in the September 11th attacks. Just like “Dusty Old Dust,” “Mary’s Place” allows for optimism, with both singers writing for the survivors striving to weather the aftermath of tragedies.

Messages of hope and better days to come can be found on both albums. “Dust Cain’t Kill Me,” a litany from Guthrie of all the people he lost to the storm is framed as one man’s steely resolve to continue in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. At times sarcastic, at times bragging, the song is about a man, much like Guthrie, who has suffered many storms, and come through intact.

“Waiting on a Sunny Day,” a staple of Springsteen live shows, is far from the breezy sing-a-long it sounds like. With lyrics like “it’s raining / but there ain’t a cloud in the sky / must have been a tear from your eye” and contrasted with the easy to sing chorus, this song is reminiscent of “Do Re Mi” by Guthrie, a jaunty tune with just enough wordplay to sneak a message about bribery and discrimination against Okies migrating to California.

At surface level, closing track “The Rising” is about a firefighter climbing to certain death in the Twin Towers, but the intimate chorus, “come on up for the rising / come on up, lay your hands in mine” also portrays the resolve of a people and a city to move beyond an incomprehensible attack and rebuild.

This sentiment is repeated in the downtempo album closer “My City of Ruins.”  Originally written about Asbury Park, the song was repurposed and became the anchor track of The Rising. Despite the slow pace, the song ends with a repeated mandate to “rise up,” and encompasses the feelings and theme of the entire album: Hope, support and sympathy for your fellow people.

Concept albums of every genre have been done so often that they’re almost played out (pun very much intended). But today, it’s rare to see a concept album that reflects so many different facets of a tragedy that a large number of Americans have experienced. While the form and style have changed, the basic message of hope over fear, and the resolve to continue are common across decades, across genres, and across tragedies in Dust Bowl Ballads and The Rising.

Bella Pori is a state government employee and co-founder of Call Them In, an email reminder service that makes it easy to call your Senators and support progressive legislation. She loves to talk about Bruce Springsteen, so talk to her on Twitter @BellaPori.

I want Vandi: “Come Along Now” and the golden age of bubblegum pop

Where were you when you found the tune “that [you] were searching for”? The tune that made your heart “beat like a drum”; the tune whose flavor became, well, your irresistible sonic “chewing gum”?

I borrow wording here from the Greek Eurodance songstress Despina Vandi. Vandi’s on the money when she compares a pop song to a stick of gum, slight and sugary. When you find a new one, you can’t help but really work it over, chew the juice out of its springy mass. Unfortunately, most pop songs feel made to dispose, to be sucked dry and tossed.

Continue reading