Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The State of Education In California

WARNING: Non musical assessment ahead. If you want my pithy takes on pop music tune in later this week.

I just got back from a lobbying trip to Sacramento (the state capitol for those outside the US), where I sat with various assemblymen and senators trying to convince them that cutting 60% of the state's commitment to education is a preposterous and potentially catostrophic decision. There is no doubt that California has gotten it's fair share of the pain from the Bush Depression (my own label, but darn catchy if I do say so myself), but when it was time to tighten the collective belt, education got hit the hardest. Even though Public Ed. is 40% of the budget, it took 60% of the hit. No ill will toward police, fire or mental health but expecting to get ourselves of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930's by not educating the next generation of leaders is the equivalent of sending my three year old into the ring with Mike Tyson after he has had a bit too much to drink. But hey, we are bright, well educated men and women (wonder where we got all the smarts from?) we will figure something out. That was the overriding message that came from Congress. Come up with a plan and get back to us.

First off, I actually had a senior state senator suggest that the recent deluge of pink slips were a political ploy put forth to make it seem worse than it was. Seriously, because messing with people's lives by potentially dooming them to unemployment is something I enjoy doing. Every teacher that loses a job means larger class sizes, less time to spend per student and less manpower to deal with the needs of students before and after school. Additionally, cuts to secondary counseling staffs mean fewer people to get students into college and through high school. Imagine where you would be if your counselor didn't pick the right classes or get you a sholarship packet or a college application in time? That is the prospectus for our current students. But hey, layoffs are just a political ploy after all, right?

So off we went to meet with others. One said we as educators should have seen this coming and had a plan to deal with the massive cuts. Isn't that the job of the leaders of the state? One suggested we should become more efficient at what we do. A fellow administrator shot back, "I already empty my own trash as well as run the Human Resouces department, what else can I do to be more efficient in your mind?"

Here in a nutshell is the problem. The Congress is so entrenched that each side can take a radical stance like "no tax increases" or "no more cuts" with little or no fallout. So nothing gets done. The two sides just stare at each other as student's lives fall apart (not overly dramatic if you have ever spent 5 minutes in a CA public school). Those that do cross party lines for idealogical reasons, like Anthony Adams, get instant recall notices and become a pariah to their own party (too bad because he's a really nice guy). Congress can't even agree on how to get relief money to those that need it. Education is promised a large chunk of the Obama Stimulus package. This money can be used to fill in some of the cuts and maybe even save some jobs. But will we get it in time? No one knows when it's coming or how it will be dispersed. Here's a novel thought, have the guy who used to be THE TERMINATOR to ask the guy in THE WHITE HOUSE when he can expect a check...

So what can you do? If you live in California you can start by voting on MAY 19TH for Props 1A-1E. These props will allow the government to take revenues and send them to education so that instead of 14 billion in cuts over the next 1 1/2 years it will only be 8 billion. That's a lot of jobs people!! Second, send an e-mail to your local congressman urging them to pass the stimulus package through to schools immediately. Holding the money doesn't help those it was intended to help. If the schools don't get the money by May 1 those pink slips become permanent. If you live in anotehr state or country, stay there. The beuacratic system is probably better and the schools aren't in danger of being bankrupt in the next 18 months. Other than that, a prayer for those of us with California education ties would be nice.

Fighting till the bitter end...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Irish Eyes are Smiling (Part Five)

It'll probably be gone by the morning but I thought I would put this up anyway.

HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY!! Here's a mini set list from my favorite Irish Band. They may be prententious at times but there is no doubt they make music that moves the soul...

Zoo Station
Native Son
Miracle Drug
Where The Streets...
Sunday Bloody...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Irish Eyes are Smiling (Part Four)

While in college around 1993 or so a a couple of friends and I hitched a plane to Ireland to see U2 play a couple of shows in support of "Zooropa". With St. Patrick's Day tomorrow I will most likely dedicate a post the them later but while in Ireland we tried to see another band we had come to enjoy called THE DEVLINS. Here is where music is funny. Come to find out that most Irish music lovers absolutely HATE THIS BAND!! Sure their music sounds like COLDPLAY before they cam along but it can't be that bad, can it?

So here we are in Dublin standing in line at some random club to see what someone had told us was the it band of the moment when we start to chat up a couple of young ladies. Everything is going well until I mention, through some prodding from one of my friends, about how much I enjoy The Devlins. I might as well killed the girl's puppy while she watched. Any cool points I had being a blond from Southern California who could pass himself off as a radio personality went away in a second. I had a better chance of becoming President then I did of continuing this conversation. So I have mixed feelings about these guys. I still like them but they did ruin my one chance to get better acquainted with an Irish lass...oh well.

p.s. This is not the record I wanted to post but I couldn't find their first record in the garage and it's late. SORRY!!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Is it Pandering or Artistic Expression?

Taking a break from my exploration of Irish rock for a bit. Mostly because I felt this song and the subsequent album needed my attention, and not for a good reason. I have enjoyed CHRIS CORNELL's work for a long time. I bought into his vocal wail early on in the SOUNDGARDEN days and was truly disappointed when they broke up. I enjoyed his interplay with EDDIE VEDDER on the TEMPLE OF THE DOG album. I indulged his early solo work as an artist searching for his place in a the post band world (a hard transition for most front men to make...and most do not). When he joined AUDIOSLAVE I thought that maybe he had found a happy medium between the metal side of Soundgarden and solo work, but alas it did not last.

And now we have his collaboration with TIMBALAND on "Scream". Here's where I have my issues. Let's ignore for a minute that the record is very, very bad. The question is simple; is this a creative release for a wandering artist or an attempt to pander to a pop artist to sell records by selling out your "sound" for a contemporary flavor of the week. I have, in the past, enjoyed Timbaland's work and when I heard the lead single and title track I was intrigued (and it is a decent song), but listening to the whole record it is apparent that this is subpar work on both artists' accounts. The beats are lazy, the synths are tepid and Cornell spends most of the record restraining his vocals. What exactly is the point of this whole exercise? Was Cornell so unhappy with his prior work that he feels no allegiance to it? The record only serves to frustrate fans who, I do not believe, are going to accept this as a genuine artifact of his talent.

So ignore this album and go get "Badmotorfinger" instead.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Irish Eyes are Smiling (Part Three)

There are a hundred ways I could have gone with this episode of this series focusing on Irish music. I had intended to talk about DAMIEN RICE (who was once in a band with the members of Bell x1 called JUNIPER) but as I researched around for interesting tidbits I came across a site that featured the heartbreaking work of MARK DIGNAM. First off a huge shout out to the blog 2U I BESTOW, which is about the best source of Irish singer songwriters I have ever seen. I pale in comparison to his knowledge, so I implore you, stop by his site and check it out.

Now, on to Mark Dignam. In many ways, Dignam is representative of the wave of Irish folk singers that includes Rice, GLEN HANSARD and PADDY CASEY who keep it simple using only their voice and an acoustic guitar. The power comes in the poetry. Young men with pain, joy, love and loss to express through their music. These are songs that will break your heart and can lift you up to places that make you sing loud in your car as you trudge off to work. You can hear the exhaustion in his voice as he sings in "Glide", "I realise how small my perspective has been....". His music doesn't vary much but it has such passion that you overlook the sometimes repetitious nature. It gets better with every listen...

(mp3) Mark Dignam -- Glide (courtesy of 2U I Bestow)

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Irish Eyes are Smiling (Part Two)

A lot of Irish music is a study in contradictions. Many times the music is uplifting and joyful. Other times it can be somber and reflective in a way that most American artists can't grasp. Given the political issues that have plagued the Irish over time (both in their native land those that traveled to America in the 1800's). So it only makes sense that often the music that comes from Ireland can be something on a dichotomy. Today's example highlight the more soulful side of things.

BELL x1 have had almost no impact on the US market. No one I have ever talked to has ever heard of them or any of their music. This is a crying shame because they make music that can break your heart. It has much in common with U2 but with a less uplifting take on life as we know it. Their latest album, "Blue Lights on The Runway", takes a mixture of Postal Service's bleeps and adds to their standard mix of straightforward rock. There are also hints of the instrumentation and vocal cadences found in the last FRIGHTENED RABBIT CD, which I adored.

(mp3) Bell X1 -- Heartlands (bonus points for this brilliant take on the U2 song from "Rattle and Hum")

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Irish Eyes are Smiling (Part One)

In honor of the month of March (which houses St. Patrick's Day as well as the release of the latest U2 CD) I plan to embark on a short series on some of my favorite Irish bands/artists. I know it might be a might disingenuous for someone of no Irish decent from Southern California to celebrate the music of the Emerald Isle but I realized just how many Irish musicians I admired and the ideas seemed to start flying.

First up is THE POGUES. Irish style music of all kinds (both traditional and of the rock variety) tends to be associated with copious consumption of alcohol. No more so is this in effect then when speaking of Shane MacGowan, lead singer of this Irish pub rock outfit. Their music is a combination of tin whistles, mandolins and punk rock ethos that made them, in some peoples minds, the most dangerous band around. Their live shows were legendary more for the potential for disaster as the music they played. But through all the rabble rousing and debauchery came pure passion and brilliant music. The highlight of their work, in my opinion, is "Thousands are Sailing" from the record "If I Should Fall From Grace With God". The story of Irish immigration to the US, the song aches with a longing for the homeland and a sense of wonder at the new adventure that lies ahead. There is hope in the lyrics and the music swells to a fever pitch over a rolling bass line. It is a quintessential Irish song about the Irish experience.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Nervous Anticipation

I don't get anxious about new music very much anymore. Perhaps it's the countless records and songs that I have purchased over the years in all shapes and sizes. I have waited in line for only a couple of records in my life. Now, concert tickets is another story entirely. With concerts, my friend Scott and I had what we thought was a full proof plan. If we didn't get a spot in line close enough to the front we would race back to my house and speed dial TICKETMASTER till we got in. Once, to get tickets to a show we actually drove to his employer's office and used their multiple phones to get through. We even resorted to bribing the ticket dispenser with a promise of a ticket of his own once to get a peak at the line-up numbers in advance to gauge our chances.

But records are not that immediate. Sure I want to hear what the band has been working on for, in some cases, up to three years. But I can usually wait a day or two after it's released. In high school, I did sneak out of class to go to the record store to get a new copy of DEPECHE MODE'S "Violater" because I very much wanted to be the first to have it. I will never forget the sense of victory I had walking into the yearbook with the CD, like a Roman Emperor showing off the spoils of war. So I cannot for the life of me explain why I have such nervous anticipation when it comes to the new U2 record, "No Line on the Horizon".

I have been a U2 fan for quite a spell. I have traveled to Ireland just to follow the band. I have seen them live at least 12 times. I have purchased almost every album, single, soundtrack, and demo that they have. I have purchased the PASSENGERS record and own a copy of AUTOMATIC BABY on cassette. For the last album, I went on my conference period to pick up two copies of the CD (one for my friend Holly who has an similar addiction to the Irish Lads). What I'm saying is I am a fan.

But shouldn't I be beyond the nervous anticipation. I have heard half of the record leaked through various blogs for two weeks now. I actually know the words to the tongue twisting tale of "Breathe". And yet, here I am giggling like a teenager at a Jonas Brothers concert listening to it for the first time (thanks to a little know quirk in iTunes that makes a record available on EST time for the whole US).

Now, many early critics have been split on the album, but the fan in me cannot be objective. U2 is probably the only band that I cannot be passive about. Over time I have lost some of the fanboy when it comes to REM and Depeche Mode (BTW, is the new DM single the worst thing they have ever recorded...). Will this record stand the test of time like the rest? All I can say is that in many ways it is vintage U2 and yet different, which is probably a good thing. Songs I did not like the first time through have grown on me. There will be time for an in depth analysis...for one night and one day I am a fan. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

p.s. in the interest of not losing this post to the censors I cannot post anything relating the new record. But maybe you will find what you are looking for...

(mp3) Voxtrot -- Your Biggest Fan (courtesy of MFR)