Monday, November 07, 2005

Stevie Wonder review and thoughts re: blogging

"Where you been, Kat? Where you been, Kat?"

When I read those e-mails I start feeling like I'm the last gunslinger in the Wild West, just blowing into town only to have Johnny Crawford come running up to me tugging on my sleeve.

I was working on the Stevie Wonder album review that I finally finished on Thursday night of last week. Saturday night/Sunday morning, I was helping out The Third Estate Sunday Review.

So contrary to Josie's opinion, I haven't just been "blowing everything off." Though thanks for the kind thoughts, Josie.

The Stevie Wonder review was a pain in the ass. I really like Stevie Wonder's music. I usually enjoy his lyrics. On A Time to Love, the lyrics are embarrassingly bad. I don't usually make a point to write a review slagging someone and when the someone's someone whose music I love, I have to really think, "Do I want to write this review?"

I did want to because a) the music is good and b) the lyrics are so awful and it needed saying.

I wrote a draft two Sundays ago and polished it Monday. C.I. was sick and I didn't e-mail it in because I didn't want to be a drag when someone was sick.

Then Tuesday, Toni, Maggie and I bumped into an old club friend who'd just discovered the new version of EST (new? it's been around for at least a decade). She was embarrassing herself with all this nonsense spouting from her lips. And as a sidenote, she tells us she's now a holy roller as well. (Though the dress down to her ankles could have tipped us off to that change -- this is a woman who once felt a top that didn't at least hint at the promise of spillage wasn't worth wearing.)

So I called C.I. Tuesday to check up and C.I. was still sick but could tell I was ticked off and I ended up going into meeting the old club buddy. C.I. said, "She sounds like Stevie Wonder's lyrics." She did.

And I knew I had to include the meeting in the review.

I started rewriting it on Wednesday and by Thursday morning, after an all nighter, I had an epic. I ran it past C.I. for editing because it was so long. C.I. said, "Kat, it's fine at this length."
I wanted it tightened up and I was too close to edit.

So C.I. took a swipe at it and offered some suggestions. I said "More" and after three times, it was down to a workable length. I'm really proud of this review (thank you to C.I. for the editing help) and that might just be because I know how mammoth it was.

It would have put everyone to sleep. But I think the edited version works so much better. And the best suggestion C.I. made was to open with a paragraph I had buried after the half-way point of the first draft. Moving that paragraph up to the top really kicked off the review and clues people in on where I stand on the album.

I really felt, and still do, that it was an artist whose work I admired too much. And it became a pain in the ass to write anything about it. But I'm proud of what went up. (And I'll put the review into this post in case you missed it at The Common Ills.)

Most people who know my album reviews know that I love Green Day. A new Rolling Stone came in the mail with Billie Joe Armstrong on the cover and I was too busy thinking about and then writing the review to even open it up. Then I was busy this weekend so the point here is, no I haven't blogged here, but I haven't even opened the latest Rolling Stone.

By the way, I thanked C.I. but I also need to thank Rebecca and her ex-husband because I read the final version of it (after C.I. made suggestions on editing) to them and when I still wasn't sure what I thought of the review, they were very supportive.

I'll also add that I did a post at The Common Ills Saturday and had planned to cross post that here; however, a friend called and I ended yacking on the phone (she'd just seen the Stones in concert the night before). Next thing I knew, The Laura Flanders Show had already started and that's what the post was about so there wasn't much point in cross posting it at that point.

So that's what I've been up to. I know Elaine got ragged that "none of you are blogging!" and I don't think Elaine deserved that crap. She never blogs on Thursdays because she's running a group on that night. She missed another day due to The World Can't Wait rally. When there's a big protest mid-week, you either go and get counted or you stick to your schedule. I think it was more important for Elaine to be at a rally. I went to one myself.

But during the "no one's blogging" you did have C.I. doing entries several times a day (despite being sick), you had Mike and Rebecca blogging every day. You had Wally blogging every day except Friday when he had to help an elderly woman next to his grandfather's house pack up her things because she was going to stay with some family due to the fact that, like so many in South Florida, she still didn't have electricity. On top of that Seth blogged twice.

So I think the "no one's blogging!" was a bit overstated.

We've talked about picking days to blog and I've resisted that because if I don't have anything to say, I don't have anything to say. But if that's the reaction when Cedric's not able to blog much and I'm not and Betty's having trouble writing a chapter she can live with posting, maybe we need to set up a schedule?

I don't like the idea. Seems to much like a deadline to me and I prefer it to be a bit more free form. But to be honest, I was pissed that Elaine got the amount of e-mails she got griping about the lack of posts. I'm still pissed about it.

I get stuff like that and blow it off. Elaine will try to see the person's point of view and then examine whether there's validity to it or not. So just thinking about the time she probably spent weighing everything pissed me off. She said when she started that she wouldn't be doing a daily blog and as it is, she blogs four to five times a week.

She didn't think she had the time and really wasn't keen on blogging but when her spell substituting for Rebecca, who was on vacation, was winding down everyone was e-mailing and saying, "Please keep blogging." So she went ahead and started up a site and then the reaction when she misses one day (Thursdays aren't missed, she announced on her site that she wouldn't be blogging on Thursdays through Decemember), she gets all this crap.

To quote myself, it is what it is.

Poor Wally's in South Florida with his grandfather and he misses one day because he's helping a neighbor pack up to leave and go somewhere she can have lights and a hot bath and suddenly it's "Wally's slacking off!"

Most of the e-mail Elaine got was from readers of her site and not Common Ills community members. But one guy who was a member did write to her to complain and was all on her case about letting the community down and I just thought, "Hey dude, start your own site and quit attacking Lanie."

Let me repeat, it is what it is.

If you think it needs to be more often, start your own site. If you're a member of the community, I'll link to you.

So let me steer you to a funny thing at The Third Estate Sunday Review because I feel like the lecture here should go out on a positive note. We wanted to deal with a vareity of "lefties" on the net who don't come off very "lefty." I was talking to Jess today about the new Jackson Browne album and he tells me someone wrote in asking why we attacked Barbra Streisand. We didn't.
Those comments are in there to demonstrate why some "lefty" voices don't seem very "lefty" at all.

Okay, here's my Stevie Wonder review:

Kat's Korner "A Time To Dance"
Diana Ross and I parted ways over Working Overtime. I could go with the new look (smudged make up, torn jeans) and could even take the jerky title track. What I couldn't take was an album that felt repeating a bromide over and over qualified for lyrics (and "meaning"). As high priestess of love, Diana didn't cut it. Apparently she's passed the robes to Stevie. They don't fit him any better than they did her.
I say that to say: Put on Stevie Wonder's A Time To Love to shake your ass.Make that your priority and you can't go wrong.
I rushed to Tower the day A Time to Love came out and snapped up my copy. I went home and listened and was despondent to the point of contemplating if I should draw up a will? Then I threw a party and one of the albums playing was A Time to Love.
You can dance to this album.
That's no easy trick. With all the "beats" and name producers, the Disney Kids' hollow product still can't keep you dancing for an entire CD. Stevie is still the "Master Blaster." That's worth noting.
"So Kat, how come you ain't real high on the album?"
Well, for one thing, I've never been fond of romantic duets between father and daughter. Frank and Nancy Sinatra's "Something Stupid" was dubbed "the incest song." Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole carried on the tradition thanks to the "miracle" of techonology. "Unforgettable" stormed the charts but it was creepy as hell and played less like a tribute and more like a struggling artist's attempt to get a hit. (No, I don't mean Nat King Cole.)
On A Time To Love, "How Will I Know" carries on the creepy tradition. It's not a remake of the Whitney Houston hit which might make sense -- the father (Stevie) advising his daughter (Aisha Morris) to "trust your heart." Instead, they trade lines like "How will I know he loves me" and "How will I know she cares" which will creep you out unless you're from an extreme let-it-all-hang-out family.
Before the next parent-child duo contemplates recording a love duet, a bit of advice: DON'T!That's not the only problem. "From The Bottom Of My Heart" attempts to build a song over a single musical hook. The problem with that is most of us already know "I Just Called To Say I Love You." If we want to hear that song, we'll listen to it.
At six minutes plus, "If Your Love Cannot Be Moved" tests your will if you're just listening. If you're dancing, you can get into the music and ignore the fact that Stevie's tossing off sentences the way INXS tosses flashcards in their video for "New Sensation" (which cribbed from Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" film footage). It adds up to nothing so move that rear and those feet but don't think.
You're better off not thinking throughout the album or you'll be depressed that, as Stevie Wonder runs through another decade as a recording artist, he has nothing to say lyrically.
Tuesday, I learned that a friend had joined the latest version of EST (you all probably know exactly what program I'm referring to). She was full of "You don't know what you don't know" and other drippy sayings that most of us burned out of our systems over bong hits in our teenage years.
I was with Maggie and Toni and we tried to show enthusiasm; however, as the woman continued saying the most trite things as though they possed levels and levels of meanings, Maggie began to giggle, then Toni, and finally I burst out laughing.
"You just don't get it!" the woman shouted storming off.
Yeah, we got it. Self-education for self-interest for the self-focused. Really juvenile. Most of us outgrow it. We look for connections via activism or religion or sex or some combination of the three. We don't sit in a room for hours with no bathroom breaks passing off trite as a journey.
Stevie may not have signed up for those courses but he could certainly teach them. "Love is all that matters" seems to be the theme of this album. It was a pretty good Diane Warren song. But for a man of Stevie Wonder's talents, and presumed wisdom, we expect a little more than greeting cards. There's no "Living for the City" here. There's no "Pastime Paradise" (though the music gets ripped off). The lyrics are the most basic, most banal you could imagine.
Look it, we do need more love today, no question. C.I. and I were at the same World Can't Wait rally and we were doing riffs on "World Can't Wait" ("She needs love"). But Stevie seems to use love in the most generic sense (and most obvious) while expecting the listeners to add their own meaning. Since the album comes with no Lyrics Helper, he's asking a lot.
By the last track on the album, the title song, you get the idea that maybe he should have taken a few more years on this album. The first song tries to say something, the last song is working towards something. It's about love for one another and our interconnectedness. But in the midst of these fifteen songs, Stevie wants to take a long, side trip into bland love celebrated by bland lyrics. (It's as though Stevie's been possed by Paul McCartney.)
"So Kat, you're saying stay away from this album?"
No. I'm saying get it for the music. This isn't sterile music. The lyrics are, but the music is full blooded, breathing. "Moon Blue" is probably the most effective marriage of lyrics and music but if you can ignore the other lyrics and focus on the music, you can really get into this album. Stevie's vocals are strong. He seems to have lost some of his soaring high notes (or is reluctant to use them) but there's a bottom to the voice that's firmer than anything you're probably used to from him.
Shake your ass and appreciate the fact that Stevie knows how to write music and knows how it should be performed.
Maybe after "As," "Supersition," "Pastime Paradise," "Isn't She Lovely," "Overjoyed," "Higher Ground," "That Girl" and assorted others, Stevie's said all he can lyrically?Bruce Springsteen, though I love him, is not a singer like Stevie Wonder. He can't hide a clunker (such as when he sings one of his favorite phrases -- "wee wee hours"). One of the great joys of The Cowboy Junkies Early 21st Century Blues is hearing things in the lyrics to "Brothers Under The Bridge" and "You're Missing" that you didn't hear before. Margo Timmins haunting vocals add something to those songs. And I have to wonder what A Time To Love would have been like if Stevie had recorded one of those songs or Dylan's "License to Kill"? Or, for that matter, if he reteamed with Syreeta and let her provide some lyrics?
It'll make you sad if you start thinking about it too much (provided you're a Stevie Wonder fan -- I am), about how we've got two wars waging and we've got an administration and a Congress that seems completely uninterested in renewing the Voting Rights Act, a social net that's been brutalized and letting so many slip through, a war built upon lies, and all the fifty-five year old Stevie Wonder wants to write about is "You lift me to the sky/ When I'm flat on the ground" ("Tell Your Heart I Love You") and "Every time I thought I found you/ I was oh so wrong" ("True Love"). If a sixteen-year-old Debbie Gibson turned out these lyrics, you'd be embarrassed for her. Maybe the lyrical well's run dry, maybe he's a master teacher in the latest version of EST, or maybe he's suffering from a midlife crisis?
Whatever it is, the lyrics aren't worth your time. But if you pump up the bass, ignore the words and shake that ass, you can find hours of enjoyment in this album.