Miller talks Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball”

Way back, before even Abe Vigoda was born, there used to be people named minstrels. These people would travel around playing songs about historic events or distant places. There was also a group of people, back in the day, named troubadours. The troubadours would recite poetry or sing songs about stuff, much like the minstrel or maybe even a bard, which was a person who rich people would pay to write poems about stuff.

Then, shortly before and directly after the birth of Abe Vigoda, guys like Woody Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and Pete Seeger would travel around America and sing songs, often about leftist politics, but sometimes about historic events or distant places. These dudes were called folk singers. Now, we can’t really be certain about the minstrels, bards, and troubadours, but one can be certain that at some point around the beginning of Abe Vigoda’s life these folk singers began to feel a sense of responsibility to their fellow man.

I don’t know how they got it into their weirdo, booze addled, ramblin’ minds that some of those songs that they sang might alter the way the people listening might think about things, but for some reason they did. So, these traveling freak shows started writing and singing songs that they intended to make people think about things in ways that might help them, make them feel better, or make the world a better place. Mock them if you will, but I think even the most cynical creep among us will have to admit that “This Land is Your Land” or “We Shall Overcome” have had a pretty big impact in our American culture and still do.

So, what does a songwriter or singer who feels that sense of responsibility to his fellow man do as he starts getting older and figures out that popular song is primarily a young man’s game. Woody Guthrie didn’t have to worry about it because Huntington’s disease made his career choices for him while he was still a young man. Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Pete Seeger just kept on going as their popularity and productivity rose and fell through the decades.

A lot of singers and songwriters have felt that sense of responsibility to their fellow man since the days of a young Abe Vigoda. Some of them gained massive fame as pop singers before singing their social responsibility songs like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, or John Lennon. Some of them rose to fame with political messages like Public Enemy, Bob Dylan, and Rage Against the Machine, but pop culture has a lower tolerance for politics than it does for love songs and those artists either had to adapt by learning to write love songs or fall from the heights of fame that they once knew. Yet, many have been able to maintain respectable music careers.

The Boss, Bruce [mother@#$%ing] Springsteen’s career has been a mix of both of those two types. Springsteen became kinda famous for writing songs that sounded like 60’s Dylan (“Blinded by the Light”) and performing like Sam and Dave. However, The Boss got REALLY famous for writing and singing songs about New Jersey dreamers pulling out of towns full of losers to win and performing like Sam and Dave. Then he became REALLY REALLY famous for writing a political song about a Vietnam veteran and performing like Sam and Dave on performance enhancing substances.

At some point in Springsteen’s career he must have either felt a sense of responsibility to write songs that make the world a better place or become a master of imitating singer/songwriters who make the world a better place. I happen to be of the opinion that The Boss is a true believer. He believes in kindness. He believes in social responsibility. He believes in truth. He believes in justice. He believes in what he believes is the American way.

His popularity has risen and fallen in ways that Pete Seeger (one of his heroes) could only imagine, but throughout it all The Boss has continued to write songs with that sense of responsibility to his fellow man. Whether he is telling the story of immigrants dying in a meth lab explosion (“Sinaloa Cowboys”), families looking out for each other (“Highway Patrolman”), Tom Hanks dying of AIDS in a cruel judgmental environment (“The Streets of Philadelphia”), the death of the American dream (“My Hometown”), or its triumphant rebirth (“The Rising”), The Boss has been consistently delivering for nearly half of Abe Vigoda’s long ass life.

One can pretty much count on Springsteen responding to any major event in his American life and his new album “Wrecking Ball” does just that. This is Springsteen’s answer to the financial collapse and the ongoing economic trials and tribulations of his beloved birthplace. The first song, the one he performed at the Grammys with the E Street Band (missing the “Big Man” Clarence Clemons – underrated musical giant of his time), is called “We Take Care of Our Own” and it is probably the least amazing song on the new album.

“We Take Care of Our Own” is patriotic, but it sounds as if it could be mistaken for nationalism. However, The Boss’ love for America is more akin to Yeats’ love of Ireland or Walt Whitman’s love of America. It is a real and inclusive love that can be critical and sometimes hard to maintain, but it is about the land, people, and ideals of our “Great Experiment.” He is appealing to what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” I can’t speak for Mr. Springsteen, but I think he just wants you to volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to a food bank, give blood, and vote.

“Rocky Ground” is my favorite track on this new album (I’m kinda weird). It includes a rap (don’t worry he doesn’t rap, somebody else does). I also love “Land of Hope and Dreams,” “Shackled and Drawn,” and “Jack of All Trades,” but there is not a bad song on the record. This is the best music that the man has made since 2007’s “Magic” (which is definitely in my top 5 Boss albums).

The reason why Bruce Springsteen, and often times the awesome E Street Band, has continued to write and sing songs for so many years to varying degrees of success is because The Boss is INSPIRED and he wants to inspire you. It is obvious that the guy feels a sense of responsibility to his fellow human beings. He will continue to write great songs until Huntington’s disease takes him or he gets too old to hold a pen because he is a true believer in the things that he believes in and the world could always use people who believe in kindness, truth, and justice.

I have always felt sorry for people who don’t get The Boss. My generation missed out on “Born to Run,” and “Born in the U.S.A.” Casual listeners have never really given him a chance because he hasn’t fallen into any recent trends since the early 90’s. The hipsters abandoned him in the early 70’s, picked him back up in the early to mid 00’s, and dropped him again after Arcade Fire won the Grammy for best album. If you don’t get The Boss you are really only hurting yourself. The man just wants to inspire you. He just wants to make the world a better place.

When Miller isn’t teaching fish how to swim upstream, you may find him sitting cross legged in his grandmother’s rocking chair, smoking a 100 year old porcelain pipe, Sennheisers over his ears, merrily yet purposefully rocking away his blues. The results of which become words on this page.


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Music Review – Snoop Dog and Whiz Khalifa

words by Miller

 

Snoop Dogg is FORTY!

Yeah, that’s right, forty years old. That is probably older than most of your teachers were when you thought that they were old, out of touch nerds. That is older than your parents were when they told you that you shouldn’t smoke weed and listen to Snoop Dogg. You aren’t supposed to trust anyone over thirty. Statistically, Snoop Dogg is closer to a natural death from old age than he is from birth. Middle age was the case that they gave me.

So, what is middle aged Snoop Dogg up to these days? If you get a chance to listen to his collaboration with 24 year old Wiz Khalifa, the soundtrack to “Mac & Devin Go to High School,” you’ll discover that mature Mr. Dogg is smoking fields of marijuana and letting fools know what’s up.

This is the soundtrack to a movie ostensibly about education (I’ll be honest, I’m never gonna see this movie) but there is nothing really educational here, unless you are majoring in horticulture or botany. This album is all about the ganja. Snoop Dogg smokes weed. Wiz Khalifa smokes weed. Guests Juicy J., Bruno Mars, Curren$y, and Mike Posner smoke weed. It is just one long musical Jamaican shower.

“So what we get drunk? So what we smoke weed? We’re just having fun.” Yeah, that’s pretty much what this music is all about and maybe that is okay. Wiz Khalifa is lyrically adept, but with the gravitas of a character from “Toy Story 2.” Snoop comes from a time in hip-hop where every rapper had to either shoot people or pretend that they were capable of shooting people. Yet, the middle aged Snoop is kinda past all of that nonsense. Wiz doesn’t really exist in that world and thank God for that.

Modern rappers are transcending some of the machismo posturing that made some untalented people famous and made some unbelievably talented people dead in the nineties. The gangsta dynamic is alive and well, but it is not as essential to selling records in the suburbs as it was when Snoop Dogg was in his twenties. These days, if a rapper wants to record an entire movie soundtrack and only talk about getting stoned then he can do that.

I never really understood, or appreciated the combination of being stoned and shooting people. Getting high is an inherently peaceful endeavor. Being shot must be a pretty horrendous experience, but especially if you’re baked. I’m glad that the rappers are separating those two experiences from each other. Gunshot wounds are probably horrible buzz kills.

The modern crop of hip-hop superstars like Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and that Canadian dude – that may or may not have been confined to a wheelchair as a teen – are more about the riches and the bitches than the nines and the AKs, and that is probably for the best. Wiz Khalifa leans more towards that camp than Snoop’s former thuggier associates. However, it is pretty cool that old man Broadus can still keep up with youngsters. His swagger is fully intact on these party songs and their collaboration is mutually beneficial. Snoop provides a little credibility and Wiz inspires a youthful playfulness in Snoop’s flow.

This is good stuff. However, it is pretty forgettable. If somebody popped this disc in at a party I would really enjoy it, but it isn’t something that I would search out. I guess that if I still got high, it would be my favorite, but that isn’t something that I do anymore. Maybe when I’m Snoop Dogg’s age I’ll pick the habit back up.

 

When Miller isn’t sitting in America’s courtrooms fighting for the rights of our troubled youth, he’s crack’n wise on this blog with “useful” information about “necessary” distractions.

Best movies/tv/music of 2011

We don’t need no stink’n top 10 when we have a top 5 “Best of 2011” List. Top 5 Music, Movies and TV shows of the year, in Miller’s humble opinion.

Best of 2011 by Miller

MUSIC

 1. Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’

This album is a throwback to a time that never existed. The former Tony! Toni! Tone! singer has gone from new jack swinger to 60’s sounding soul man, and to quote his former band’s biggest smash, “It Feels Good.” Stone Rollin’ is one good song after another. Saadiq makes retro sounds, but he does it in a way that is all new. Art appreciation is subjective, but this album is objectively awesome.

2. Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest

I love country music. That is just who I am and it ain’t never gonna change. Gillian Welch is one of the greatest country music singers alive today and “The Harrow & The Harvest” gives her a chance to showcase her talents. These songs sound as if they could have been written at the turn of the last century, but they make sense in the present as well.

3. Destroyer – Kaputt

So, Destroyer’s frontman, Dan Bejar (also a member of The New Pornographers), must have been REALLY into Al Stewart. “Kaputt” is an album that saunters and slithers into your eardrums and gently massages your heart and mind. I’m trying to sound like a guy who would wear a white linen shirt unbuttoned to his navel with a gold chain. “Kaputt” could truly be appreciated by a guy like that, and pretty much everyone else worth a damn.

4. The Train Wrecks – Saddle Up

The Train Wrecks are a four piece outlaw country group from Savannah, Georgia. This is a super independent album and one that probably can’t be found on the torrent sites. Somebody should really post this mofo on the torrent sites because people need to hear “Saddle Up.” I often imagine what it must have been like for Waylon Jennings’ touring bass player in the late seventies, drowning in a sea of quaaludes, whiskey, and feather haired groupies. That dude would have been all about the Train Wrecks. I’m all about the Train Wrecks. You should be all about The Train Wrecks too.

5. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

This was probably the album that I listened to the most this year. Sam Beam is a weird dude. He is a songwriter’s songwriter, yet he packs his lyrical and melodic genius into super palatable, easy to digest pop/soft rock container. This album is reminiscent of Prince’s favorite Joni Mitchell album, “The Hissing of Summer Lawns.” It is a one time singer of soft acoustic ballads recruiting a full band to flesh out the sound while retaining the intimacy of insightful lyrics that take a few listens to tuly appreciate.

MOVIES

1. Bridesmaids

I’m sick and tired of the sausage party that is modern comedy. Sure, the ladies got it going on in TV Land (30 Rock, Parks and Recreation) but when it comes to the big screen, moviegoers have to settle for Katherine Heigl, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Hudson, and Jennifer Aniston trying to do it with Gerard Butler or Josh Duhamel in this months garbage romantic comedy nonsense. I’m the kind of guy that likes to mix business with pleasure when it comes to combining two of my favorite things in this world, women and laughter. Bridesmaids is the funniest movie of the year.

2. The Tree of Life

Terence Malick stepped up to the plate and he swung for the fences. This movie is either the most pretentious strike out ever, or the best movie ever made summing up all of existence within a couple of hours. Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and young Hunter McCracken should all three be nominated for Oscars this year for their performance in this strange movie. I couldn’t stop thinking about this movie after I left the theater and that is a rare occurrence these days.

3. Your Highness

I’m sure that if anybody reads this list (which they may or may not) they are going to see this entry and immediately disregard my opinion regarding anything and everything ever. However, I don’t give a @#$%. I love to laugh and “Your Highness” made me laugh. You know how, when you are at a wedding for someone you barely know and somebody makes the mistake of handing some drunken middle aged uncle the microphone during speech time, and you just sit back and watch the bizarre spectacle unfold. Some unfortunate studio executive got the bright idea of giving David Gordon Green, Ben Best, and Danny McBride a buttload of millions of dollars and let them run wild with it. The funniest thing about this movie is that it ever got made at all. Future cult classic.

4. Super 8

I was just about the age where one can first sit through an entire movie when “The Goonies” came out in 1985. I loved watching a movie about a group of kids running around and embarking on a wild adventure. They talked like kids talked and they walked like kids walked. Super 8 reminds me of that movie, and not just because it is set in the 80’s. J.J. Abrams’ homage to the 80’s is action packed, sweet, and funny. Kyle Chandler is great in a supporting role and all of the kids are spot on. Speilberg himself would have a hard time topping this one.

5. The Future

This is a film that some critics loved and some hated (Time Magazine called it and “Your Highness” two of the worst films of the year). I think that writer/director/star Miranda July should take that as a major compliment. Haters gonna hate. This is a heart breaking story of a quirky young couple living in America right here and now. They have jobs, but they don’t make any money. They have each other, but they aren’t sure if that is enough. They have plans to adopt a cat, but they feel like that might be too much of a commitment. In an ideal world Hamish Linklater would be a huge star and Miranda July would make one movie a year like Woody Allen. Time Magazine called her a “hipster” (basically the worst thing you could call someone these days), but really she is just a devastatingly talented iconoclast who made a really good film.

TV

1. Parks and Recreation

Watching “Parks and Recreation” makes me happy. As a great man once said (really it was Jerry Maguire, but I’m not very smart so all of my quotes come from popular films) “we live in a cynical world.” Negativity reigns supreme. Everybody is a critic and we all log on to facebook just to laugh at how fat the people we went to high school got. Leslie Knope, Ron Swanson, Tom Haverford, April Ludgate, Andy Dwyer, Ben Wyatt, Chris Traeger, Anne Perkins, Donna Meagle, and Garry “Jerry” Gergich are better than all that. They look out for each other and they make decisions that aren’t always based on selfishness and nihilism like characters in every other well made sitcom on TV right now. It must be hard to write anything that can be as smart as “Parks and Recreation” and still stay so upbeat. I hope that the writers can keep it up and I hope that the show can attract more viewers before NBC replaces it with something as bad as “Whitney.”

2. The Good Wife

Alicia Florrick’s life is complicated. Her world is inhabited by really smart people who are really good at their jobs and clients who really need their help. This show is about politics. Not the kind of politics that you see on the news, but everyday politics; family politics, workplace politics, and sexual politics. It would be very limiting to call “The Good Wife” a feminist show, but it wouldn’t be completely inaccurate. Prime time network dramas are rarely this well written and Juliana Margulies is the best actress on TV.

3. Game of Thrones

“They would never cancel ‘Game of Thrones.’ It’s a crossover hit. It’s not just for fantasy enthusiasts, they’re telling human stories in a fantasy world.”

Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) from “Parks and Recreation”

4. Friday Night Lights

FNL did something really amazing in its 5 season run. It was a drama that was just as engaging and well crafted as any other on television (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Dexter), but without all of the darkness and negativity. Real life can be inspiring and uplifting, but really good TV shows rarely are. FNL ended its run on a high note and I feel sorry for those who haven’t had the pleasure of enjoying it. Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose!

5. Revenge

This show is pretty much just a soap opera. I’m not going to get into how it is deep and meaningful, because it isn’t. The shelf life on the quality of enjoyment for this guilty pleasure is probably going to be pretty short, so watch it while you still can, before this thing jumps the shark higher than any other show has ever jumped before. Check out Emily Thorne and the gang before the plot gets too ludicrous to endure, and believe me, it’s coming.

Miller is suppose to be studying for the bar exam but instead wasted his precious time writing this summary of 2011. We hope you enjoyed it.