Sunday, May 29, 2011

10 Great (and Bad) School Songs

10 School Inspired Songs from the Websnacker Archives

In a move obviously perpetrated by ignorant politicians, obsessive academics and greedy education companies, kids these days are having a really short vacation and are going back to school much, much earlier. In fact most of them are back at School already.

Whatever happened to free time for children, of not having to go back to brainwash camp and why did needlessly anxious parents and other such minions of school evil allow these sinister changes? It's not like this extra time in the school trenches is making the kids any smarter, so why not let the little brats have some more summer vacation?

Anyway, instead of harping on the nation wide super sale of Apple iPhone4 or Justin Beiber T-shirts (De rigueur for the fashion forward trend-following teen-sheep), lets dust off the old tape recorder and review some of the world's great and not so great songs (read bad songs) about school (from my archives) to the test. Don't worry if your favorite school-themed song isn't on here, it probably sucks anyway. Why? Because I'm the teacher now and I said so.

1. Beach Boys: Be True to Your School
Uggh. No disrespect to Brian Wilson and his Manson-friendly brothers, because they definitely churned out some important and lovely psychedelic harmonic pop, but this glee-club disaster of a song sucks. The devotion to your alma-mater lyrics sound like something the super dad on "7th Heaven" would write, and the "Rah, Rah, Rah, Sis-Boom-Bah" background vocals are about as square as music can get without somehow involving both Kenny G. and a church youth group. Youtube

2. Chuck Berry: School Days
An exemplar specimen, not just of the school songs genre, but of Rock n' Roll in its entirety. This song, with its wonderful guitar work echoing Berry's witty lyrics, paints a truly amazing, portrait of teenage life during the dawn of Rock n' Roll. A true joy, we only wish all of our current staple of songs on air were as clever, catchy and poignant as this 1957 classic. Youtube

3. Dead Prez: They Schools
Wow. Hip hop Duo M-1 and Stic man really break it down on this one, spewing not only fury and rage but also some serious knowledge and insight into just how screwed up America's school systems are, especially for Afro Americans. The only thing keeping this track from being a straight up winner is the somewhat weak R&B style hook which manages to detract from the overall power and impact of the verses. Youtube

4. MC5: High School
Those were the days when Wayne Kramer and his boys seemed to be coasting on proto-punk "Kick Out the Jams" White Panther reputation and hence, this lackluster celebration of youth gone wild. Certainly not their best work. There's potential here, but these guys need to buckle down and apply themselves if they really want to spark a revolution. Youtube

5. Nirvana: School
Sure it's not quite as catchy or dazzling as “Smells like Teen Spirit”, but this is good solid genre work. Cobain's pained wail and the repeated refrains of "No Recess" and "You're in High School Again" skillfully, if simply, articulate the utter torturous anguish that, for most of us, was (or is) High School. Youtube

6. Replacements: Fuck School
Very early Replacements at their shoddy, patchy, punk/drunk rock best. Its 90 secs of pure midwestern youth insurgence and it earns a considerable credibility bonus by virtue of the fact that bass-player Tommy Stinson was all of just 15 years old at the time and probably had to skip his 10th grade Social Studies to make the recording session. Youtube

7. Van Halen: Hot For Teacher
This song rocks. An under rated Van Halen gem. A perfect riff and some great rocket-ship soloing from Eddie combined with David Lee Roth's perfectly lascivious hard rock vocals form a classic tune. It's too bad David Lee Roth called it quits afterwards only to be replaced by what many fans call an insipid and second-rate imitator in Sammy Hagar (which I completely disagree though). Youtube

8. Pixies: Weird at My School
This Doolittle era rarity is an attention-grabbing Country and Western flavored tune about a kid that lives at his Catholic school and wants to have sex with the nuns. Not bad at all but from alternative chart regulars like the Pixies, we would expect a little better. Youtube

9. Ramones: Rock n' Roll High School
A lot more fun in theory than practice, this is probably one of the Ramones' lamer songs. It's just a little too '50s kitsch for tastes. Still it is the Ramones, a perpetual Teacher's favorite, so it squeezes in just above the mark of mediocrity. Youtube

10. Sam Cooke: Wonderful World
On first listen, this song sounds almost as square as, if a lot more expressive as, "Be True To Your School," but a deeper listen reveals it’s many saving graces. Cooke's voice is so smooth it's spiritual, his lyrics are self-deprecatingly endearing, and most importantly… he's trying to get laid. You can't fault a guy for that. Sam may not claim to be an A Student, but he was one of the pioneers of Soul music and with this majestic performance he earns top marks. As a side note, at the height of his popularity, Cooke was shot dead when was 33 years old under rather mysterious circumstances. Bet they don't teach that at school. Youtube

Notable Mentions (with Youtube Links)
Alice Cooper - “School's Out
Boomtown Rats - “I Don't Like Mondays"
Bryan Adams - “Summer of 69
Crash test Dummies – “Mmm Mmm Mmm"
Jackson 5 - “ABC
Pet Shop Boys - “It's a Sin"
Pink Floyd - “Another Brick in the Wall

Monday, May 23, 2011

Billy Idol – Cyberpunk (1993)

Remembering the Original Cyberpunk

3 times Grammy nominated William Michael Albert Broad, better known as Billy Idol was the original MTV pioneer and quintessential punk rocker who mined platinum for years with numerous hit albums including the hugely popular Rebel Yell (1983) (featuring the international hit “Eyes Without a Face”) which catapulted him to superstar status, 1986’s Whiplash Smile and 1990’s Charmed Life. Although immensely popular and successful, his latter music sounded increasingly outmoded, relying far too often on his typical scorn and the Billy Idol trademark howl than on any new musical direction.

Then the accomplished punk rebel discovered the futuristic worlds of Neal Stephenson and William Gibson, one of the greatest Science fiction writers of our times who helped define the cyber world genre. Gibson’s vision of an ultramodern future where information is the most valuable commodity and where console cowboys physically jack into their computers to cruise through cyberspace captured Idol’s imagination. He bought a computer, learned how to use it DIY and starting hanging out in cyberspace.

Soon, Idol made what, in many minds was the predictable evolution from a regular punk to a cyber punk, with his 1998’s experimental concept album aptly called 'Cyberpunk', an electronic tour de force of intense techno beats and cyber-lyrics that has one foot in Rock and the other in the brave new cyberdelic world of the early 90s.

Inspired by his trek into the computerized world of electrons, cybertrons and fiber optic cables along with his overzealous fascination with sci-fi culture, Cyberpunk touched upon many of diverse themes the cyber subculture of those early days of the Internet (usenet) embraced.

Lyrically presenting a revolutionary world controlled by corporate overlords and populated by cybernetic cowboys, ardent religious fanatics and a zombie working class held in virtual slavery, Cyberpunk worked well as one of the first musical interpretations of cyberpunk culture and idealism, acting as a bookend and a shining example to new artists exploring unchartered musical frontiers. In fact, Cyberpunk was the first album by a mainstream artist to feature an email id !!!, a special edition multimedia floppy disk (as CR-ROMS were expensive then), a supplementary Shock to the System VHS cassette or actively embrace the Internet in its development and promotion.

While many fans and critics disagreed, the new-fangled change suited him well, breathing new life to his style (Billy Idol was James Cameron's first choice for the T2 Cyborg in Terminator 2) and a raw electronic energy to his music. And although a critical and commercial failure some calling it 'one of the worst albums of all time'; musically at least, Cyberpunk offered some of the best that Idol had produced since the days of "White Wedding" or "Dancing With Myself," recapturing the original strength, appetite and ferocity that originally fired Idol into stardom and led to his previous successes.

Lyrically entrancing and tunefully diverse with a strong electronic flavor, “Cyberpunk” is rhythmic, provocative and often times disturbingly dissonant, much like the discordant society being described, the world that we have now become.

I have not added the entire album of 20 tracks here but only the notable hits and some of my personal favorites including "Shock to the System", "Heroin", "Adam in Chains", "Power Junkie", "Love Labours On" and "Mother Dawn", a fast paced duet with Durga McBroom (of Blue Pearl)

12 tracks in playlist, average track length: 5:11
Playlist length: 1 hour 2 minutes 12 seconds

1. Billy Idol - Wasteland (No Religion 11) (3:54)
2. Billy Idol - Shock To The System (3:37)
3. Billy Idol - Tomorrow People (5:05)
4. Billy Idol - Adam In Chains (6:20)
5. Billy Idol - Neuromancer (4:36)
6. Billy Idol - Power Junkie (4:46)
7. Billy Idol - Love Labours On (3:53)
8. Billy Idol - Heroin (Velvet Underground Cover) (6:56)
9. Billy Idol - Shangrila (7:24)
10. Billy Idol - Concrete Kingdom (4:51)
11. Billy Idol - Venus (5:47)
12. Billy Idol - Mother Dawn (featuring Durga McBroom) (5:03)

Free Mp3s - 95.61 MB Single Zipped Folder - Megaupload Download link


You can buy original CDS/DVDs & Mp3s of Billy Idol at his official site, his myspace page and also at other sites like emusic, amazon, itunes, other online stores or your nearest music and movie retailer.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Bell Jar - Victoria Lucas (Sylvia Plath)

An Intimate Peep into a Deeply Troubled but Intelligent Mind

The Bell Jar, popular American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel which she wrote under the pen name “Victoria Lucas” is an astonishingly dramatic account of her life through the mendacity of the fashion industry, the hollowness of living in a little insipid town, the bewilderment and paranoia of a young girl attempting suicide and finally a perennial struggle to fight her depression and reform her madness. Plath decided that her "warped view of the world around... seems the one right way of looking at things."

Surprisingly, Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) had the fortunate ability to do almost anything she wanted with her life. She achieved excellence in her schoolwork, earned many awards and numerous scholarships for her writing and was publishing poems at the young age of just eight.

During her sophomore year at Smith College, Plath won a short story contest for Mademoiselle Magazine. And in August of 1951, she spent a month in New York guest editing the famous magazine. There she was enveloped in a fashionably ideal lifestyle and was consumed with the fashion industry and its trendy folks. Upon return to a small lifeless suburb of Boston, she became more and more withdrawn and her views became more and more warped. Even though she got married to fellow poet Ted Hughes, her personal life continued to disintegrate and Plath began to become trapped, in what many say was her own personal bell jar.

Maybe, Plath just didn’t know quite what to do with herself. She saw her life as a tree full of ripe fruit, each fruit representing an intense and rewarding future. In her own words, she saw herself "sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs to choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet." This dismay and consternation eventually caused her complete descent into insanity, a few suicide attempts, shock therapy and even stays at mental hospitals. When this reached a peak, Plath committed suicide which her friend and critic Al Alvarez claimed was an unanswered cry for help.

A sad feeling thats evident in her novel. Plath writes in almost child-like language, with colorful imagery and deeply thought-provoking symbolism. The Bell Jar is vivid poetry more than prose - from the colors in her neighbor’s hand-woven rug that are trampled to gray by her husband and children to the spiteful fury of bedridden hospital patients whose flower arrangements Plath combines to fit her own tastes, it’s an intimate peep into a deeply troubled but intelligent mind. Midway through, Plath's childish, obsessed thoughts, strange words and bizarre actions are easily understood and the disturbed mind of one of "society’s outcasts" becomes all too familiar...perhaps, one realizes why psychologists did coin the word “ Sylvia Plath” effect.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Letter to Myself

Writing Your Own Diary
One of the greatest things I've done for myself in the past few months was to start keeping my very own private journal, because for the first time since I was a child I'm writing something strictly for me, and I'm doing it because I want to do it and not because someone asked me to do it. I started a fresh MSWORD file on New Year's Day simply titled ‘New.doc’ and a running count on it shows I've put an impressive 352000 words in 130 Days. Such log keeping would tell you that it ain't worth reading; to anyone but myself that's undoubtedly true. But to me, it's been time and effort well-spent.

Therefore, I feel it is indeed worthwhile to do something that you've always wanted to do for the sheer hell of it, strictly for your own kicks, knowing no one but yourself will ever see it. Only you know what such a something should be; only you will ever see the end product, but there's something to be said for getting at least a taste of the fun of writing back on one's palate.

A close pal of mine tells me one of the little subliminal motivational techniques at her marketing firm is a bespoke nameplate for everyone's cubicle with some crappy quote or other about the benefits of competition. She has taped over her quote and replaced it with one from Lao Tzu, the mystical Chinese philosopher: "The sage dreams of great things, and in seeking nothing, accomplishes them." And she is leading her area in sales made; I've joked they may bring her back to teach a revolutionary Taoist approach to sales! Maybe this is a time to focus more on the dreaming and less on the actual accomplishing. And I hope I do keep writing!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Thin Red Line (1998)

An Outstanding War Movie Like No Other

Terrence Malick's 20-year break from filmmaking was vindicated by the adaptation of the James Jones novel in 1998’s Academy nominated war film - The Thin Red Line. Featuring a gifted assembly of fine fresh faces (then) and a handful of starring cameos, this critically acclaimed, cinematic version of the Guadalcanal invasion during World War II embodies the belief of remarkable human experience, among a vacillating military cadre. Malick's painstaking production allows Jones' complex vision of concurrent personal sagas to come to life while a brutal war rages somewhere in the gorgeous Pacific background.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead) A fight of morals emerges between cynic-in-training, Sgt. Welch (Sean Penn), and the routinely AWOL Private Witt (Jim Caviezel), which draws a thin red line of wartime accountability down the middle of Charlie Company. Private Witt and Captain ‘Bugger’ Staros (Elias Koteas) imagine a world of order and alternatives that do not exist in battle. However, commanding officers, Lt. Col. Gordon Tall (Nick Nolte), Sgt. Keck (Woody Harrelson) and Sgt. Welch have adopted a different code for survival on the pacific island. Tall is able to quantify the loss of life as it relates to the value of his mission, while Staros refuses to condemn his men to a bleak fate. A past between Welch and Witt is hinted at, but never fully revealed, while Chaplin's character must fight his own insecurities after receiving a ‘Dear John’ letter from his wife.

The personal joys and sorrows of each character are defined as a set of independent variables associated only by their shared time and place. Early casualties in Keck and others diminish an eager gung-ho attitude that Tall had hoped to cultivate in his troops. Staros is, eventually, relieved of duty by Tall, yet recommended for numerous decorations. Malick paints a picture of understanding that filters down past the surface of war and soaks to the root of what drives man to conflict. An abstruse finale suggests a personal victory for Private Witt, whose death at the hands of a Japanese platoon appears to gesture their proximity to his own company. As fresh American troops replace the survivors of the initial offense, Watt's actions equate to the valor he could never achieve through desertion.

Stunning action photography captures the grim consequences of warfare up close, while fiery explosions barely three feet from the camera fling hapless victims into full-screen airborne contortions. However, the superbly executed war scenes are used sparingly, complimenting the spotlight Malick has placed on the larger thematic goal. Characters are filmed in close up or framed to ensure visual attention during the limited number of dialogue sequences, a style that (combined with the award winning background score by Hans Zimmer & John Powell) beautifully emphasizes the utter loneliness of their existence.

Malick also incorporates an undercurrent of natural imagery to contrast the presence of these military ‘outsiders’. Snakes strike at soldiers as they plod across the battlefield, native islanders continue to sing and a newly hatched bird struggles to take its first steps, only to be welcomed by the crackle of gunfire on the adjacent hillside. Unlike other war movies, Malick employs a surplus of emphatic allegories to focus on the futility of war, and he succeeds. A great film.

Watch out for John Cusack, Nick Stahl, Jared Leto, Adrien Brody, George Clooney, Ben Chaplin, John Travolta and many others in this star studded ensemble and check out the earlier 1964 version as well.

DVDRIP Single File - Free Streaming/Download link - Stagevu or VEEHD link.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Poem - Dark Skies

On Violence, from the Websnacker Archives

As I stare out the window, hoping a new day to dawn,
I wonder how destructive, we’ve really become.

The daily violence has colored the grime,
the view of the sky seems darker this time.
Day in and day out, I see the same scene,
it only gets worse, when our world could be pristine.

The buzz of the gun, the red of the sky,
the taste of the dirty air, the burn in my eye,
the pain in my chest, and my throat feeling rough,
when will we say, enough is enough?

Do we accept violence as a matter of change,
and days like today are things that seem no more strange
What is the price we’re willing to pay,
and will we just stop, to stop having days like today?

I wonder if ever the world will stay clear,
if there will be peace and happiness near?
I worry that we may have stretched our world too thin,
This is a battle that no one can ever win.

We need as a people, to be more aware
to really pitch in peace and to do our fair share.
The life we kill is our society as a whole,
the world is damaged; it’s now bloody out of control.

I ponder these things as I sit here and stare,
stuck on the highway, and going nowhere...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

10 Fabulous Songs For Mother's Day

Old but Gold Songs that Celebrate Our Mothers

Mother's Day is here and the list below is something I ghost wrote many years ago for a popular music website of those days but still very relevant.

So, Mother's Day is nothing more than an industry-fabricated commercial holiday meant to throw retailers a bone between Christmas, New Year and Back-to-School who cares? but its difficult to ignore our own great mothers on this most special of days.

That may still bother some, but our eternal love for our own sainted mothers overcomes any objections we might have (objections we would have if, that is, we didn't love our dedicated moms as overwhelmingly much as we do.)

Accordingly, I present a list of the top 10 Mother songs (or should I call my personal favorites) that celebrate our Mothers. Less loving and loyal children might be tempted to make light of this most sacred of days by including such obscene tunes as "Turn This Mutha Out", "She's a Bad Mama Jamma", "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother," or even just plain mean-spirited songs like "Mother's Little Helper" or Pink Floyd's "Mother" (with its lyrics including such trash as "Mother's gonna make all your nightmares come true/Mother's gonna put all her fears into you," obviously the product of an disrespectful, unthankful child,) but not me.

This list is composed strictly of (old but gold) songs specifically about loving and appreciating your mother. Heck, they deserve it.

Beatles - "Julia"
One of John Lennon's most earnest and tender songs of love was written not for Yoko (or any other lover) but for his dear mother

Cub - "Mom and Dad"
These energetic female indie-punks' message to their parents is simple: "You did a good job."

Desmond Dekker - "Honor Your Mother and Your Father"
This legendary Jamaican singer's first hit proves that even the rudest of boys still knows to love, honor and obey his mother.

Goodie Mob - "Guess Who"
They especially love their mama's down in the Dirty South, so it's only fitting that this Soul Food classic finds the Goodie Mob in top form.

Johnny Cash - "Send a Picture of Mother"
Facing a lifetime in prison without likelihood of a parole, the unfortunate soul narrating this tear-jerking tune asks but one thing of his soon-to-be-free cellmate: "Send a picture of mother if you can."

Merle Haggard - "Mama Tried"
An elegy to a mother's devotion against all odds, this country classic exonerates mom from any responsibility for her wayward son's misdeeds, leaving only he - who turned 21 in prison doing life without parole - to blame.

Intruders - "I'll Always Love My Momma"
The title of this Philly Soul classic from the pioneers of Philadelphia Soul - dedicated to the boys' "favorite girl" - says it all.

Osborne Brothers - "A Vision of Mother"
Bobby and Sonny Osborne use their close harmonies and obvious blood-ties to deliver a moving tribute to their dear departed mother.

Temptations - "Oh Mother of Mine"
Papa may have been a rolling stone, but mama was a rock. This humble, sincere song finds the Temptations' Paul Williams predictably wounded by love and begging his mother to forgive him for not following her sage advice in the first place.

Tupac - "Dear Mama"
This sensitive thug-love classic contains such heartfelt sentiments as "even though I sell rocks, it feels good putting money in your mailbox."

Happy Mothers Day :)
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