Meet Theodora

April 27, 2007

Before our “contemporary artist or band” show and tell, I had never even heard of London-based band the Tiger Lillies.  Then, thankfully, Sarah opened my eyes (and ears) to “The Weeping Chandelier” off of the trio’s 2003 album The Gorey End.  I immediately fell in love with their sound, which, in this song, combined the operatic, falsetto vocals and the anxious yet steady accordion stylings of Martyn Jacques, also the song’s composer.  The other members of the band are not without their own prominent contributions, though, with Adrian Stout on musical saw, bass, and horn, and Adrian Huge playing drums and percussion.  The Tiger Lillies mix their talents with those of Kronos String Quartet in this particular song, and the result is a modern yet distinctively mournful and timeless tango.

This song tells the tragic story of Theodora, who was locked in an attic and abandoned by her parents.  She soon made friends with a couple of bats living in the attic that helped her escape, and they soon started up their own circus show.  The Duke de Sangree discovers Theodora, whom he eventually marries, and this news reaches her parents, who decide to come back into her life.  The end, though, as the song explains “is not happy to tell.”

I looked the Tiger Lillies up after class that very same day and realized just how much I had been missing and how long I had been missing it—twenty-one albums and fourteen years to be exact.  With the exception of 2002, they have successfully released at least an album (but often two or three) a year since 1994.  I suppose their unconventional style is what has allowed them to stick around just under the radar of the popular music scene.  Some people can’t get enough of their bombarding, quirky-on-purpose format, while others get their fill of falsetto within the first few seconds of “Weeping Chandelier.”  (Think Wes Mantooth’s line “From deep down in my stomach, with every inch of me, I pure, straight hate you. But goddammit, do I respect you!”). 

As exemplified in “Weeping Chandelier,” the band, armed with their respective, seemingly disharmonic instruments blend the resultant introduction to a cacophony of sounds into something much easier for the listener to swallow.  Although the salvo of initially unintelligible lyrics and unexpected merging of genres and time periods may intimidate some, the patient will soon see that these are the necessary ingredients for the kickasserole that is the Tiger Lillies. 

M. Night Shyamalan

April 19, 2007


 

At only thirty-six, M. Night Shyamalan has already established himself on the motion picture scene as one of the most successful and highest paid—Disney paid him $5 million to put out Signs­—writers, directors, and producers in the industry.  I, along with most of Shyamalan’s followers, was first introduced to his work in 1999 with the release of Unbreakable.  Although he had previously put out two other major films, 1998’s Wide Awake, which didn’t do so hot at the box office, and 1992’s Praying with Anger, this comic-inspired flick starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson was his cinematic breakthrough. 

Shyamalan owes a fraction of his success to several of his influences, which include Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen Spielberg.  Taking hints from these veterans of the trade, he recreates some of their trademarks, making a cameo appearance in each of his films much like the former did.  Surprised?  Shyamalan appeared as the forest ranger at the desk in The Village and was Ray Reddy in Signs, just to give a little taste.  He even cast himself as one of the main characters, Vick Ran, in the aforementioned summer 2006 flick Lady in the Water.  Whether visible or not, his unique presence is evident in all his films. 

He has also created several trademarks of his own, frequently using the city of Philadelphia for the setting of several of his stories and always reverting back to James Newton Howard for the composition of the musical score of every single one of his works.  Shots of characters’ reflections in mirrors rather than straight-on shots are also a favorite of Shyamalan.  Pivotal plot points revolve around car crashes and are revealed in basements as seen in Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, and Signs. 

Another of his famous trademarks is that of casting several big-name actors in roles written specifically for them and recycling them in successive films.  Bruce Willis, first freaking out audiences everywhere in Unbreakable, reappears as Dr. Malcolm Crowe in The Sixth Sense.  Bryce Dallas Howard first played Ivy, the blind heroine in The Village and then a narf, or sea nymph, from another the Blue World in Lady.  Her Village costar Joaquin Phoenix played Merrill Hess, Reverend Graham Hess’s (Mel Gibson) brother, in Signs. 

Unlike many writers, producers, and directors out there now who strive to make their viewers react one way or the other and present their films, metaphorically, in black and white, there is only gray area with a Shyamalan film.  He has created his own signature style, one that I love, hate, and respect all at the same time.  From the mysterious first trailers to the creepy, immortalized dialogue (“I see dead people.”), there are few moviegoers at this point who don’t know to expect the unexpected when a Shyamalan film is released.  He leaves his viewers constantly chasing the main characters through a veil of mist trying to pick up clues along the way to gain insight into the complete story.  And trust me; you don’t have the ending figured out.  

Shyamalan has molded and perpetuated a reputation for his storylines often revolving around a normal person to whom supernatural events happen and always flirting with the fine line between just the right amount of fantasy and sheer ridiculousness.  Usually, his stories involve an innocent child and a person who possesses extraordinary wisdom.  Rather than bogging the viewer down with background information, Shyamalan prefers to use a great deal of symbolism in his films.  The Village exemplifies his technique of using color to indicate something, red being the “forbidden color” as well as the color of Ivy’s hair.  Water is nearly always an indication of a flaw or death as seen in David Dunn’s weakness in Unbreakable and the aliens’ avoidance of water in Signs.  His love for the supernatural and the fantastic continues in his Upcoming movie:  The Happening starring Mark Wahlberg.

His recurrent use of certain themes seems to emphasize his own personal infatuation with the circular.  Indeed, his films never possess the prototypical storybook ending that would seem to correspond with his fantastic tales but instead introduce a twist at the last possible opportunity.  It is these surprises for which M. Night Shyamalan receives the most criticism, some critics accusing him of writing stories with false depth and inconsistent endings.  However, I think his ingenious use of symbolism is part of his films’ allure and that many such reviews stem from a gross unappreciation for the “twist” ending.  Some may call his style a formula; I call it talent. 

My respect for Shyamalan’s work derives from not merely the amount of work he puts into his films as their writer, director, and producer but from the intentional nature of all of his films.  Even though all of his feature films have unrealistic premises, he creates his own credibility by appearing in them.  His success in Hollywood is a result of his unwillingness to allow his original ideas to succumb to what, perhaps, would be more acceptable to the greater audience.  As he says, “The idea is to always go for the thing that’s risky. I want to be courageous and original. And original means, you don’t know what ‘colour’ movie you just saw.”  He created the cloud of mysteriousness that surrounds his work, and it worked.

The other half of his success also stems from his three roles in the making of his films, arguably the most important roles in the filmmaking process, which allow his stories a smooth transition from paper to reel.  Thus, few artistic differences ensue.  There is no one around to talk him out of making a weird movie, and he doesn’t have to argue over where to cut scenes or worry about getting credit for his work.  As a writer as well as director and producer, Shyamalan is visionary and unbounded, and many, like me, must imagine his inspiration coming to him as it supposedly did in the recent American Express commercial in which he starred, with supernatural events, such as waitresses catching flies with their froglike tongues, just occurring right in front of him at a small eatery. 

Although relatively young, M. Night Shyamalan’s work has already spawned a few copycat acts, a flattering point of view for him, since his first works especially were influenced by big-time producers and directors.  For example, it is arguable that producer Robert Shaye’s, producer of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, newest film The Last Mimzy takes its inspiration directly from Shyamalan’s films.  It is notable that Mimzy revolved around sudden, amazing things happening to two ordinary children who must rely on ancient wisdom to help a visitor from another world return home.  Sound familiar?  This has almost the same premise as Lady in the Water. 

With clothing soaked quite through and glasses streaked with raindrops, hotel supervisor Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) carefully whispers across the darkness of his living room to the beautiful, stranded marine creature that has magically appeared in the public pool. 

“How many of you are there?” 

She is, just as her creator M. Night Shyamalan remains, the only creature of her kind—in this world anyway. 

 

 

Hippies. What are they good for? Peace, love, drugs, and making great movies, that’s what.

Hair, released in 1969, is a movie adaptation of the 1967 musical of the same name written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni. Although some points in the storyline, such as the shifting of the main character’s background from a disillusioned hippie to a sheltered Oklahoma boy, were rearranged in order to for the story to better fit its new format, this film suddenly enabled average, middle-class Americans access to a completely different culture.

Once in D.C., Claude stumbles upon a small gathering of people, all of whom have long hair, dirty, mismatched clothes, and who were casually asking passersby for spare change. These were a sort of people he had never seen before–these were hippies. After witnessing their harmless shenanigans targeted at the beautiful Sheila (Beverly D’Angelo), who happens to be riding her horse in the same park, Claude befriends Berger (Treat Williams), the group’s leader, Hud (Dorsey Wright), Woof (Don Dacus), and Jeannie (Annie Golden), who is pregnant but doesn’t know or really even care who her baby’s father is. These new friends know nothing about Claude’s background but don’t care either. In a mere matter of days, Claude is swept up completely into hippie culture, his pale good looks and intense facial expressions sticking out like sore thumb next to the tattered, carefree appearance of Berger and his cohorts, but he enjoys their philosophies and their drugs all the same. He falls hard for Sheila but ends up in jail along with his new friends after they crash the debutante ball her parents threw for her. At this point he makes the decision of his life: to bail Berger out and trust him to take care of the rest of them—to trust a hippie. He pulls through, and once they get out, Berger, Hud, Jeannie, and Woof are convinced that Claude will keep up their way of life, but Claude has other plans that go against the very core of the hippie way of life. He carries out his original plan to enlist in the military. In the end, a heartbreaking and ironic turn of events leaves a young man’s name chiseled in white stone at the Arlington National Cemetery after he dies in combat in Vietnam.

Hair is the ultimate counterculture movie put to music. Its Jesus Christ Superstar-esque rock and roll ballads allow the characters to talk about a wide variety of issues, many of which were extremely taboo at the time of the film’s release. From an assortment of drugs and sexual themes in “Hashish” and “Sodomy,” respectively, to the film’s title song “Hair” about, well, hair, it is obvious that the use of song granted the story more leeway to discuss such things than if it had been a non-musical. It immediately became a hit among American teenagers as well as the bane of their parents’ existence.

Perhaps the most shocking feature in Hair is its representation of both sides of the main characters’ actions. For example, the prim and proper Sheila is shown getting high in her bedroom with her friends mere seconds before her doting parents call her to go down to the dinner thrown for her. Hud also exactly give off the prototypical hippie vibe. He speaks harshly to his ex-fiance who has found him after what we assume has been a long time, and he claims that she is incapable of understanding him ways. He is clearly torn between two worlds. The disillusionment that both he and Claude experience in their vastly respective lifestyles makes the story that much more genuine.

As for the technical aspects of the film, the uniqueness of the film continues in its references to Shakespeare in many of its songs, such as “What a Piece of Work is Man,” which borrows lines from Hamlet and “Flesh Failures,” which references Romeo and Juliet. There is also a very deliberate use of lighting and color, the hippies with their hopeful outlook on life, always bathed in sunshine and in vibrant clothing, while the soldiers and their bleak surroundings are dull and gray.

As a result of many scenes in modern movies that poke fun at Hair, a lot of people fail to realize the true significance of the film and reduce it to a bunch of hippies dancing around in a park. The release of Hair was a controversial milestone in the of the Vietnam War era, allowing it, as well as all the issues it presented, exposure it had previously been denied as an off-Broadway show.  It displayed via the reaching power of music the rawness of humanity in the forms of full nudity, drug usage, and the blurred lines that inevitably exist between love and war.   

Have you ever had such a bad experience in your life that you wish you could just erase its memory from your mind completely? That is exactly how Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) feels about her rocky relationship with Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), and thanks to a brand new, state-of-the-art procedure, she now lives in a world free from the heartbreaking memories of their time together. Eventually, Joel, who tries to contact her a few times after the breakup, discovers why she doesn’t recognize his face or know his name anymore and undergoes the same procedure in order to spite her. He didn’t count on missing her anyway, though, and after a “chance” meeting between the two on a “random” beach in the near future, it is clear to them both that they have met before.
Directed by Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind combines the raw with the fantastic, throwing a depressed, disheveled, and shy Joel and an extroverted, eccentric Clementine, real people minus any Hollywood glamour, into a whirlwind story revolving around the aforementioned mysterious corporation, the credibility of which all the characters in the movie seem to accept willingly. The resulting creation appeals to science fiction lovers and romance fanatics alike.
Eternal Sunshine redeemed Jim Carrey’s career, allowing him to display his true abilities in a serious role. Kate Winslet also steps outside of her acting comfort zone, bringing the seemingly abrasive yet insecure, hair-dye addicted Clementine to life. These unrefined pieces of acting along with unrelenting bitter undertones, heart-wrenching moments, and just the right amount of special effects and lighting tricks set the tone for the film. In one scene, for example, you can see and hear the memories of the couple’s house on the beach being ripped away from their minds as the structure literally falls down piece by piece around them. When Clementine does not recognize Joel when he comes to visit her at work, the lights begin to shut off around him.

This film provides an almost interactive experience for its viewers. The dialogue and the characters’ suffering seem so real that the ending is totally unpredictable. Although you may hope for that fairytale ending, the film’s generous dose of cynicism leaves you with a feeling of physical uneasiness about the outcome. I think Joni Mitchell would agree that the main point conveyed by this film is that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

At Last!

March 23, 2007

            Before Whitney, Mariah, and Beyonce, there was Etta.  Etta James, born Jamesetta Hawkins, was drawn to the spotlight at a very young age, taking her first voice lesson at the age of five and joining up with a couple of other girls to form a Supremes-like singing group known as The Peaches when she was just fourteen.  Although she eventually parted ways with the other members of the group, she went on to become the most successful of the trio, releasing her first solo album around 1960.  She was raised in the spotlight when child labor laws were virtually nonexistent, and as a result, she was exposed to and had a brief stint with drugs while on tour.  Her rise to fame came about during a time in which the sequined diva bellowing into a microphone was waning in popularity.  Although revolutionary, Etta James was one of the last of her kind and served as a precursor to the aforementioned contemporary acts.  

          Etta’s voice combines ballad-appropriate moan of soulful crooner Billie Holliday with the independent-woman war cry of Aretha Franklin.  She adds her own dose of raspiness for a truly original and powerful sound that at one time filled entire arenas and vibrated walls.  Her influence by the blues is especially apparent in songs such as “I Can’t Have You,” performed with lead singer of the Moonglows and then-boyfriend Harvey Fuqua, and “All I Could Do Was Cry,” both of which have melancholy tones and in both of which, like a typical blues songs, the chorus is repeated several times with dramatic instrumentals in between.  Basically, she sounds like a singer who was raised on gospel and then thrown into a smoky bar, and several of her songs, such as “Finders Keepers,” display her gospel roots.   

 Etta’s talent has only increased throughout her career, and the content of her albums now spans several more genres including R&B and Rock and Roll.  As a result, there is definitely a difference to be heard in songs from each end of the sound spectrum, such as the mournful “Stop the Wedding” as opposed to the extremely upbeat rockabilly sound of “In the Basement.”  (Both songs appear next to one another on her album Etta James: All Her Best.)  She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and then in 2001, she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Etta is most famous for her slow ballad “At Last,” which was released in 1961 on the album of the same name and which is now used on countless television shows and commercials.  Some may call this a “cheapening” of the song, but I have to admit that it was indeed a commercial that first introduced me to it and, transitively, to all her other works, so I am grateful for the song’s widespread usage.  Although Etta James is way past her prime in the popular music world, she was still touring in 2006, performing all her greatest hits. 

             

Come Away with Me

March 15, 2007

 

How it all began. It was 2002, and I was fifteen when Norah Jones released her first album Come Away with Me.  I thought she and Dana Glover, singer of the then-popular song “Thinking Over” released around the same time, were the same person because of their similarly smooth vocal style.  Talented vocalists are a rarity on pop radio, and thus, this “person” stuck in my head.  However, after I discovered that Jones and Glover were in fact two different people, I began to notice certain inconsistencies I should have picked up on before. 

The Difference. Although both sound airy, breathy, or even hushed in their songs, Glover simply followed a pattern, regularly alternating from the quiet verses to the loud chorus.  Jones, on the other hand, does not allow her songs to sound monotonous.  On her first hit single, “Come Away with Me,” for example, her lyrics clearly have no preset pattern for emphasis or timing, and there are several places in which she starts a line late.  All this is done purposely, though, and her songs don’t sound irregular as a result.  Through this method, she is able to allow her voice to be complemented by equally well-produced instrumentals.

 

Her Sound. Norah Jones has an old soul, and her voice, a cross between the deep, almost-raspy sounds of Bonnie Raitt and the free-spirited, dreamlike crooning of Sarah McLachlan, and the resulting female Ray Charles-esque result, reflects that.  It is not like something you would ever expect on a pop album.  Although she is classified as pop, she tends to appeal to older generations, such as the Baby Boomers, as well as my own.  As a result, her songs are played on both contemporary pop stations and those that play songs of the eighties and nineties. 

Her Subjects. Because of her mature voice, she is able to transcend age barriers and sing about a variety of subjects.  For example, in “Painter Song,” she whimsically tells that if she “were a painter” she’d “climb inside the swirling skies to be with you.”  Contrarily, in “Turn Me On,” probably my favorite and perhaps the most amusing song on the album, she combines several different metaphors for being anxious for her special someone to come home already and well…turn her on. 

 Yo, what it is. With such awards under belt as “Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals” from the 2005 Grammys and various other folk and jazz awards, it is clear that not even the music “authorities” know how to classify Norah Jones’s sound.  Her lounge-singer roots particularly show on tracks, such as “Cold, Cold Heart,” and “Lonestar,” in which she sings about unrequitted love and lonliness in a rather upbeat and soulful way.  These are countered with slower tracks with a more melancholic feel, such as “The Long Day is Over” and “The Nearness of You.”                         

Also a marvelously talented pianist, Norah provides her sole or partial accompaniment and enhances her own credibility as an artist, band members adding only the necessary drums and guitar rhythms when they appropriately compliment her voice and correctly establish the mood of a song.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a personal interest in singing, so it doesn’t hurt that Norah Jones has the same vocal range as me, and I can easily sing along with all of her stuff.  Her talent and her continuous ability to adapt to several generations’ tastes will allow Norah Jones to stay around for a long time.

Honky Cat

March 8, 2007

 

 

In my Writing for New Technologies class, I had just completed my first project on “visual text,” in which we were encouraged by our professor to use music.  One of my classmates had used perhaps one of Elton’s John’s most famous tracks “Tiny Dancer.”  Ever since, I had had the song and others of Elton’s stuck in my head.  Then one night, broke and bored, as usual, I was browsing the aisles of Hastings, and I just couldn’t resist the graphite portrait of Elton on the front cover of Elton John’s Greatest Hits 1970-2002 looking back at me from behind those huge, yellow, rhinestone sunglasses.

 

I have lately been trying to move away from illegally procuring music from the Internet and/or friends, and this dual-disc album was definitely worth my twenty-five dollars, and as a result, has restored my faith in the price scale put on music. A songwriter, pianist, and singer, Elton John is definitely one of the most talented artists of all time.  It is deplorable that young people should deny themselves the awesome auditory experience he provides on all of his albums simply because he is no longer “young,” by artist standards today anyway.  The subjects of his songs have matured right along with him, and his ability to adapt his skills is what has allowed him to remain on the scene for so long.

 

I have also been trying not to perpetuate musical stereotypes, and this CD is a tangible reminder.  A lot of people around my age think automatically of “Circle of Life” from Disney’s The Lion King or “Tiny Dancer” when they think of Elton John.  These two songs are not representative of Elton John at all but are merely links in a very long chain of sounds that he has accomplished.  Because this CD spans over three decades, it is but a brief summary of these, but it gets the point across.  You can actually hear the evolution of his own personal sound in songs from the fast-paced, heavily synthesized “Crocodile Rock” released in 1973 to the softer, piano arrangement “Blessed” released in 1995.  Perhaps another reason for his success is that he puts so much expression into his songs, so that you cannot help feeling what he is “feeling.”  You get such a varied listening experience with this compilation that you won’t get tired of it for a long time, if ever. 

 

Author’s Note:  I chose to write about Elton John because I have grown up listening to him, and I wanted to enlighten my readers as to why I believe he is one of the most talented musicians ever.  They need to know that Elton John is much more than just a singer for movie soundtracks.

Nickel Creek

March 1, 2007

 

 

Background. This is Chris Thile, Sara Watkins, and Sean Watkins (from left to right), and together they are Nickel Creek.  I was first introduced to them in my American Folk Music and Acoustics class my junior year of high school.  I had joined the class thinking the instructors, Dr. Monson, a physics teacher, and Mr. Harris, a history/guitar teacher, would let me sing solos a lot and teach me how to play the guitar.  On the first day, though, I was rudely awakened to the fact that this semester was not going to go at all how I had envisioned.  After a brief class discussion, each of us was assigned an instrument, and then Mr. Harris started to play a CD.  I hadn’t joined this class to sit around listening to old bluegrass recordings all day, damnit, but I had decided that I was willing to make the sacrifice for three fifty-minute intervals a week.  My very thought was interrupted by Dr. Monson’s voice as we shuffled out the music room doors, “…and you will learn to play all of these songs.”  Damnit. 

 

Going to the library to listen to said CD became a requirement of the course since it was on reserve only, but our instructors made it very clear that there was nothing they could do to stop us from burning it (winkwink).  “Yeah, I’ll get right on that,” I thought.  This class was already starting out to be more effort than I thought it was worth.  I would find out later just what a wonderful musical world this class exposed me to later. 

My friend Amber absolutely adored Folk Music & Acoustics, and I began hearing her beautiful voice echoing the CD in all the stairwells and hallways at school.  I finally asked her why she liked the class so much, and she said that she just loved the CD.  Ugh. Why?!  She then explained Nickel Creek, her newest favorite band.  By the way her eyes lit up when she talked about or sang their songs, I know I was missing something good, so I sucked up my pride and went to the library the next day, inconspicuous blank CD-R in hand.  

 

Style.  After listening to them for a few years now, I feel that Nickel Creek is probably one of the most underappreciated bands out there.  This is for good reason, I suppose, for those in the music industry who create the dividing lines of different genres, since N.C. doesn’t totally fit all the criteria for one particular genre.  Combining a constant bluegrass undertone with a more alternative and contemporary vision, the members of Nickel Creek present a unique style and sound, often hurriedly categorized as “contemporary folk,” in all three of their officially-released ablums.  From rap-speed “The Fox” to the slow ballad-like pace of “The Lighthouse’s tale,” Nickel Creek’s sound is the kind you can always sing, or at least hum along with, no matter what mood you’re in.  N.C. definitely blurs some genre lines, and as their hit “This Side” goes, they “imagine the songs that have never been played.”  They have even demonstrated their unquestionable ability to put a new spin on older songs from artists, such as Bob Dylan and Radiohead.

 

Talent.  Nickel Creek’s sound is the direct result of putting three extraordinary instrumental, vocal, and songwriting talents in a blender…only less messy.  (Hmm…I see an allusion.  See “The Smoothie Song”).  Sara (violin), Sean (guitar), and Chris (mandolin) each take a turn playing melody while the other two command their instrumental rhythms to dance perfectly around the lead.  A fourth and temporary position in the band is that of string bass, which has been filled by recurring names such as Mark Schatz. 

The trio was formed in 1993 when two families, the Watkins’s and that Thiles, met randomly in California.  Perhaps due to their close ties to one antoher, Sara, Sean, and Chris seem to have no trouble reading each other’s voices, harmonizing accordingly.  They are also able to do all their own background music and vocals.  I haven’t had the opportunity to see them live, but their recorded music feels so “live” anyway and is so packed with mad crazy skill, I’m pretty sure my head would explode (a’splode) if I ever did.

 

I like my bands famous…but not too famous.  At the end of last year, Nickel Creek announced that after the conclusion of its 2006 tour, the band would not be recording/touring together for an indefinite period of time.  Their reason?  They wanted to get back to their real lives for a while and not be on the road all the time.  Was I sad?  Of course.  However, the decision made them that much easier to relate to.  It’s amazing that a famous band can just return to the nonfamous life for a while, and I have no doubt that they will soon return to the sound booth with even more amazing ideas.  Their first album was released in 1993, but their first big break didn’t come until 2000, when they were nominated for a Grammy for “Best Contemporary Folk Album” for their self-titled album released that same year.

 

Other.  Though they have very smooth voices, I find that listening to their songs is a very active experience.  They exhibit excellent variety in their vocals and intstrumentals, something I think we often miss in a lot of contemporary music.  I often find myself driving home from work and arriving at Farris only to find that I don’t remember listening to anything.  Nickel Creek is anything but white noise. 

Most recently, I bought their greatest hits album called Reasons Why:  The Very Best, and I could never zone out while listening to it.

 

At my Folk Music class’s final performance of the year, we still didn’t sound anything like Nickel Creek.  Our sound was a whole new one, but one composed keeping in mind what N.C. is all about: inventing new styles, crossing genres, and testing your own personal limits.

 

       

Live from Studio 1A

February 22, 2007

For fifty years now, early-rising pop-culture junkies such as myself have been welcoming the hosts of The Today Show, perched nobly in their New York City studio, into their living rooms to chat over coffee. The anchor crew had long been established when I began watching occasionally around ten years ago, but when Matt Lauer joined the crew permanently in 1997 as Bryant Gumbel’s replacement, NBC and I knew that the show had found its missing link.

Almost immediately thereafter I was hooked. I genuinely trusted Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Al Roker, and Ann Curry to deliver quality news stories with just the right touch of Hollywood finesse. To me and millions of viewers, a sort of liaison of two genres had occurred, and they had became more than just news anchors; they had become characters. I memorized how each one interacted with the other and could almost predict the intonation with which a celebrity interviewee would be asked a question. I just knew that after the cameras stopped rolling, they all laughed and then went out to brunch. In my mind, they even had a designated emergency signal á la Anchorman (“News Team, Assemble!”) in case of breaking news.

The success of “Today” has spawned several additional shows, such as an extension show called “Early Today,” and even its own biggest rivals, ABC’s “Good Morning, America” and CBS’s “The Early Show.” Perhaps a reason for this is that the show provides world news in addition to direct interviews, eliminating altogether the middle man necessarily used by local news stations. For perspective, comparing The Today Show to local news is a little like comparing Newsweek to Rural Arkansas. What “Today” viewers are getting is more than a world news show. Rather, they are getting a newsmagazine that steadily eases them into discussion of matters of political persuasion while still addressing topics in current pop culture. As a result, it is successfully able to attract hardcore CNN addicts and waterskiing-squirrel lovers alike.

Today, “Today” no longer has the same appeal to me and other viewers as it once did. That last two years have brought about dramatic change on the show with the departure of Katie and the temporary relocation of the show as NBC switched to High Definition broadcasting. Meredith Vieira of The View has taken Katie’s place as Matt’s cohort, and although she seems to have settled in fairly quickly, it is obvious that the two just haven’t figured out their on-set chemistry yet. I know that Couric’s petite pumps are big ones to fill, but, in the words of Henry Higgins, “I’ve grown accustomed to her face.”