I took my 11-year-old to see Walk the Line over the weekend because he's a huge Johnny Cash fan and also because my morbid curiosity had gotten the better of me. How on earth, I wondered, could all these professional film critics be giving this film the fabulous reviews it's been getting? We're talking about Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in the lead roles ... singing.
Fully prepared for a cringe-inducing couple of hours, we tucked into our seats at the Aloma Cinema Grill and soon enough, my expectations were completely destroyed. The underlying story Cash's freight train of a life: rolling fast with lots of baggage was perfectly and poignantly presented. And yes, Reese Witherspoon did an amazing job as June Carter. Even the singing bits. If music biopics can maintain the standard set by this film and Ray, I can't wait until they get around to doing Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye or Hank Williams or Jimi Hendrix or ….
ROCK BAND 101
The other night (Dec. 3, to be exact), after watching The Sugar Oaks lay out a set of their front-porch pop (or, as I like to call it, "non-rocking rock"), I got into a discussion with a local musician who was not a Sugar Oak, but had the good taste to be at one of their shows. This particular musician asked me some questions about how he should best go about getting attention for his band from press-types like myself. I slurred out some stuff about "keep it simple" that probably only confused him. You see, we were at Redlight Redlight, and I had discovered that I very much liked a brand-new beer they have on tap there. In other words, I wasn't much help.
Thus, it's time for another installment of Rock Band 101, and this week's topic will be: Making Your Demo. Bands put a lot of time, effort and money into making demos and usually, most of that time, effort and money is completely wasted. Why? Because too often bands try to guess what people want to hear instead of crafting a demo that accurately represents their creative vision. Don't try to fool the people you're trying to impress by putting forth the songs that you think are the most "marketable" or "accessible" if, at the end of the day, your band is neither. If you're freakish, wave that freak flag high! Alternately, if you're a mainstream act with lots of talent but little inspiration, don't try to act like you're peddling art; you're not special, but perhaps that doesn't matter.
Of course, there's still a little image manipulation that's necessary. Please understand that "demo" is not the same as "album," and even though you might want your album to open with a brooding, spacious "overture," that's the worst possible thing you can open your demo with. Demos need to be short and concentrated representations. And they need to get people's attention in about 30 seconds. If that first 30 seconds doesn't accurately represent what you're about, you've just prevented yourself from getting a fair hearing.
ON THE OTHER HAND
Here's a good example of exactly the opposite of everything I just wrote. I got a small package in the mail last week with 137 songs in it. On one disc. It was The Complete Mission Man Collection, an MP3 disc that compiled the entire body of work of a quirky, clean-cut boy from UCF who raps. Believe me, regardless of what I heard inside, a disc with 137 songs on it and a letter about how he learned to rap "in 1992 while walking on Alafaya Trail to play basketball at the University of Central Florida" is gonna get me to listen. And I did. And although it wasn't nearly as fucked-up as I had hoped, it was still quite interesting. And, more importantly, doing something different made me pay attention.
The Orlando Opera's production of Susannah was amazing; cheers to them for having the guts to put on a 20th-century opera about religious intolerance and rape (based on a Bible story, no less) … The folks at the Fort Pierce-based Pro Tech Communications were kind enough to send me a pair of their Noisebuster noise-cancelling headphones. The good news is they're inexpensive (about $50); the bad news is they made a weird clicking sound with my iPod and gave me a headache … Did anyone see that freaky action at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade? No, not the lamp that fell and hit the handicapped girl; I'm talking about the fact that Puffy Amiyumi had a float … Trivium won Yahoo's "Who's Next?" award for the month of December … The absolutely nutty Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia has just proposed a bill that would establish the "Tupac Amaru Shakur Records Collection" in the National Archives. According to a press release, it would be modeled after the famed "John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act … `and` would allow public access to privileged details of the late rap superstar's life and death." Got it. Hey, Rep. McKinney, are you sure there's nothing else you should be working on up in D.C.?
Tell me you haven't been pulling your hair out trying to figure out all the cryptic music references in Virgin Digital's new ad campaign. I know you have. You know what else I know? As much as I love Virgin (and their ad agency), I won't give 'em a dime of my money until I can use their songs on my iPod.firstname.lastname@example.org