Posts Tagged ‘Frank Turner’

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Daft Punk ruled the Grammy’s on Sunday night, winning five awards including Best Record for “Get Lucky” and Best Album for Random Access Memories. They also had a fun performance of “Get Lucky” with Pharrell, Nile Rodgers, and Stevie Wonder.

daft-punk2I like Daft Punk. I defended “Get Lucky” all year as the best mainstream song of 2013, even as the super catchy “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke flooded airwaves. I own their albums, and their song “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” was just outside my Top 25 on my list of Top Songs of All-Time. I dig their whole robot schtick, which somehow works for them and seems cool rather than forced.

Yet, Daft Punk’s success at the Grammy’s makes me once again question how we Americans view music.

To make that point, we need a brief recap of Daft Punk’s history:

  • Back in 1997, during my high school days, Daft Punk’s “Around the World” was everywhere. Very good (not great) song. Cool video.
  • Then Daft Punk vanished for a while.
  • During my college years in 2001, they reappeared with hits like “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Strong.”
  • Then *POOF* gone.
  • Their third album, 2005’s Human After All, is largely forgettable. It wasn’t until Kanye West’s Graduation album that Daft Punk seemed mainstream again because of Kanye’s song “Stronger” which sampled “Harder, Better, Faster Stronger.”
  • There was some Grammy success in 2009 for a live album, then in 2010 they did the soundtrack for the film Tron: Legacy.
  • In 2013, they released Random Access Memories with the hit “Get Lucky.”
  • So, from 1997-2013, Daft Punk had three albums (not counting Tron or the Live album) with maybe 3-4 very good songs and 1 great song in “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.”

In total, their career track record didn’t add up to what some artists do in ONE great album. Yet, during all that time, people treated Daft Punk as if they had some kind of indie-artist coolness to them, which is nonsense because they had international hit songs – there was no “insider” quality to them. Yet, that aura remained, and this was especially true with the way people lost their minds about Daft Punk doing the soundtrack for Tron, as if it was actually the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jesus who formed a super group for the soundtrack.

Then Random Access Memories comes out, which has two real standout songs – “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance” – both of which feature Pharrell on vocals. And, maybe it’s Pharrell who’s the artist on fire, between “Get Lucky,” “Blurred Lines,” and the deliriously fun “Happy,” Pharrell had as many hits in 2013 as Daft Punk did in the past 10 years. Pharrell’s songs aside, Daft Punk’s album feels like an inferior Jamiroquai album.

(This is when everyone under 30 Googles Jamiroquai and says, “Oh, the band that did that song in Napoleon Dynamite?)

Some of the same groovy, funk-disco deliciousness that makes “Get Lucky” so damn good is what has made Jamiroquai so successful worldwide, yet in America, they were mostly written off as one-hit wonders after their 1996 song “Virtual Insanity.” Maybe Jamiroquai’s lead singer Jay Kay picked the wrong type of headgear. Jamiroqaui remains active and very popular – just not mainstream in America.

jam

Another example is how America lost its mind over the folk-rock stylings of Mumford & Sons, yet barely noticed the harder-edged, lyrically superior folk-punk-rock of another artist from across the pond, Frank Turner, whose 2013 album Tape Deck Heart was the best new album I heard last year, yet only hit 52 on the Billboard Top 200. His single “Recovery” – my favorite song of 2013 – got solid airplay, but didn’t grab hold of the mainstream the same way Mumford hits like “Little Lion Man” did.

I like Daft Punk, Mumford & Sons, Jamiroquai, Frank Turner. I’m not questioning the artists. I’m questioning us, the American music audience. Daft Punk deserves the accolades for “Get Lucky,” but there is frustratingly little logic in our pop culture scene. 

Daft Punk seemed to have earned a decade-long pass from Americans, as if we were just waiting for them to finally release an amazing song like “Get Lucky” just so we could all say, “SEE! I told YOU Daft Punk kicks ass!” Other artists are given no such pass and are cast aside as one-hit wonders even if they continue to produce good music for YEARS after bursting onto the scene.

Many great songs flew under the radar in 2013 – Turner’s “Recovery” being one example – and yet we prop up and reward ultra-obnoxious songs like “Royals” by Lorde. (She should be working on her resume and CV right now. Her 15 minutes is almost up.) 

As someone who plays the piano, classical pianist Lang Lang blew my friggin’ mind with his musical introduction to Metallica at the Grammy’s. I am not bad at the piano, and yet I could NEVER play like that. The audience hardly made a peep. Then, a simple strum of the guitar intro for Metallica’s “One” and the audience went nuts.

Perhaps it’s just that the collective whims of the American music scene are tugged in so many directions by countless variables that the end result is what appears to be a confounding lack of logic. Or maybe it is just illogical.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

This week on The Flaneur’s Turtle, we are celebrating the summer music season and the diversity of musical tastes by sharing our Top 10 Favorite Songs of All-Time! Each author will have their own list and their own criteria for their Top 10.

For my list, I used gut reaction to pull 45 finalists out of my entire music collection. From there, I mulled over some hard choices to narrow the list to 35, then 25, then finally my Top 10. Like everyone, I have my “Flavor of the Week” songs I’m addicted to, such as “Beautiful” by Ben Rector, “Happy” by Pharrell Willliams, and “Little Games” by the Colourist. But songs with such an ephemeral standing in my active playlist did not make the cut. My Top 10 are songs that have stood the test of time and I continue to love them as much as I always have, or even more.

Paul’s Top 10 Songs (alphabetical order by artist)

“Like the Rain” by Clint Black (1996)
Arguably the most sentimental and “cheesy” song in my Top 10, but I care not! This is one of my favorite songs to sing along with, and it has solidly connected itself to many great memories in my life.

“I Go Back” by Kenny Chesney (2004)
I can’t NOT sing along with this song whenever it comes on. It is a tribute to music’s power to connect us to memories and moments in life.

“Showtime” by Electric Six (2007)
Electric Six is my favorite band, and “Showtime” is the short, ridiculous starter to many of their live shows. Non-fans who are unfamiliar with E6’s brand of quirkiness and humor may not get this song, but fans at the shows are ready at the first sound of the opening guitar riff – and at the sight of lead singer Dick Valentine gracing the stage in a purple cape with the word “SHOWTIME” written on it in sparkly letters. Ridiculous and amazing.

“Life, Love, and Happiness” by Brian Kennedy (1996)
I’ve been listening to this song for years, and I still get chills during the intro of the “Live in Belfast” version as the audience is clapping along and Kennedy and his band harmonize on, “Oh, don’t let go again. Because it’s your life, love, your happiness.” (Since you’ve likely never heard of Brian Kennedy, here is an American-popularity-level equivalency for this Irish artist: he is a a judge on Ireland’s version of the “The Voice.”)

“Mudhouse” by Bob Schneider (2006)
Bob Schneider is a legend on the Austin, Texas music scene whose catalog of music is more eclectic than any other artist I’ve encountered, with amazing songs ranging from hard rock to jazz to salsa. “Mudhouse” is a fun, acoustic Hip Hop/Rap song that is a hit at his live shows.

“You Raise Me Up” by Secret Garden w/ Brian Kennedy (2002)
Before “You Raise Me Up” became a global hit that was covered by literally hundreds of artists, including Josh Groban’s very blah version here in America, it began as a song from the Norwegian new age duo Secret Garden with lead vocals from Irish vocalist Brian Kennedy. I stumbled upon the song when it was released in 2002 and instantly loved it (and then, as a consequence, found my way to all of Brian Kennedy’s music). The song proliferated through countless covers and went from unknown to overexposed, but it is the original – and any version led by Kennedy – that is still the best.

“Mission Temple Fireworks Stand” by Paul Thorn (2002)
I don’t even know what to say about the silly, upbeat, amazing gospel-country-rock-ish tune. It is possible you’ve come across a slightly better known cover version by country band Sawyer Brown w/ Robert Randolph.

“Recovery” by Frank Turner (2013)
Frank Turner is an English folk-punk singer-songwriter (that combo will make more sense when you listen to the song) whose energy and resonant lyrics are captivating. He is better known in the UK than in America, but I won’t be surprised if that changes very quickly.

“Somebody Like You” by Keith Urban (2002)
I adamantly defend Country music, because most people who criticize the genre prove just how little they actually know about it within just a sentence or two, by saying something stupid like,  “All country music is just sappy songs about your truck breaking down and your dog running away.” Any real fan of music knows that sweeping generalizations and negative stereotypes about ANY genre just don’t hold up. And when defending Country, one of my prime contemporary counterarguments is Keith Urban. While he has the country twang in his voice (though he’s from Australia), and he has some classically country instruments in the band (banjo, anyone?), his lyrics are fit for any pop-rock song. Beyond that, check out Keith on the guitar during his mid-song solo. The man can absolutely, flat out shred. Country fans know this. Country haters, on the other hand, are missing out on one of the premier guitarists working today.

“Set Me Free” by Velvet Revolver (2003)
The now defunct super group Velvet Revolver wasn’t around long, but they made some incredible music in their short time together, including 2003’s “Set Me Free.” Scott Weiland’s growling, robotic verses are layered atop Duff McKagan’s vicious bass, all paving the way to the soaring choruses. The song is then punctuated by one of legendary guitarist Slash’s finest, and most aggressive, solos.

Honorable Mentions – The Rest of the Top 25 (alphabetical order by artist) 

“Hard Workin’ Man” by Brooks & Dunn
“Mind’s Made Up” by The Frames
“Sad Sad City” by Ghostland Observatory
“Dust N’ Bones” by Guns n’ Roses
“Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson
“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson
“Canned Heat” by Jamiroquai
“Feels Just Like It Should” by Jamiroquai
“Little L” by Jamiroquai
“99 Problems” by Jay Z
“A Better Man” by Brian Kennedy
“40 Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet)” by Bob Schneider
“Tumblin’ Dice” by Bob Schneider
“The Well” by The Silent Comedy
“The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

On Monday, I made the short trip from Chicago to Milwaukee to see one of my favorite musicians, Frank Turner. As with many of my favorite singers/bands, he was playing a mid-sized venue (this one being the conveniently named Turner Hall) packed with several hundred devoted fans.

I arrived a few hours early so I could eat before the show. As I left the parking garage next to the venue,  I saw Frank walking back to his tour bus from the next block over and then hanging out with a handful of people, either crew or band mates.

I did a double take, but mostly this didn’t strike me as unusual. As a fan of several lesser known artists, I’ve had countless sightings like this one, because these artists don’t need to hide backstage from rabid, adoring legions. Rather, I’ve seen them by their tour busses, or watching the opening acts with the crowd, or having a drink at a nearby bar after the show.

And I have a policy to not approach them.

Frank Turner

My point-of-view at Frank Turner’s show.

I was heading in the direction Frank had just come back from, but I walked past with no fanfare and no acknowledgement. A few hours later, I would be right near the stage being a fan: singing, dancing, taking pictures. But for now, I treated him like any other stranger on the streets of Milwaukee.

I almost always make this decision about celebrity close encounters, but I’ve never thought out why I act this way.

Until now.

1. Remember – celebrities eat lunch, too: As a teacher, I can empathize with celebrities in one small way: some people in our audience (the students) forget that teachers still exist when not “on stage” in class. We aren’t chained to the lectern; we eat lunch, we have friends and family, we need sleep. Likewise, maybe Frank was relaxing pre-show or coming back from lunch on the same street I was heading toward. He didn’t need me bugging him. Our time for interaction is during the show.

2. Respect, but don’t idolize: A decade ago, I saw comedian Lewis Black at the small Zanies Comedy Club in Vernon Hills before he got famous and started headlining theaters. Afterward, he was at folding table in the back selling his CD. No one was approaching. As I exited past him, I paused to shake his hand and said, “Great show.” He smiled and said thanks. I didn’t orchestrate some attempt to go talk to him, and I wasn’t being a fanboy looking to repeat my favorite punchlines back to him. I didn’t want pictures or autographs. We were in proximity and I quickly acknowledged that I enjoy and respect his work. End of transaction.

3. Do I honestly have anything to say?: One of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, packs theaters for hilarious readings of his works. Before and after his shows, he signs books and meet fans. Oftentimes the line is hundreds deep. The one time I saw him at the Paramount Theater in Aurora, IL, he was sitting alone at a table by the front entrance when I arrived. I could have walked directly up to him, but I didn’t. This is a man whose work I adore, whose writing I try to emulate, whose literature I teach in my classes – yet still, I had no pressing questions or statements for him. So, what was I going to say? “Hey, I love your writing.” No kidding – I’m at the theater, aren’t I? Likewise with Frank or any other artist, do I honestly have anything of value to say to them that they don’t hear from hundreds of other fans at every stop on tour?

4. What if they suck?: Normally, I separate my feelings about an artist from my feelings about their work. But with my absolute favorites, I am nervous. What if they are mean or rude or dismissive? What if they say something stupid that I disagree with? What if they are generally unlikable? I fear that would ruin, or at least severely harm, my ability to enjoy their work in the future.

So, after a truly Wisconsin meal of a bratwurst, cheese curds, and some brews, I headed back to the venue and took my position at the foot of the stage. When I saw Frank this next time, it was a far more fitting situation for our interaction.