Sunday, February 14, 2010

Apparently, we're still the world

When my 13-year-old daughter was younger, she was a compliant Daddy's girl, happy to listen to whatever music Daddy liked. I fed her a specially selected diet of wholesome '60s pop (Beatles and Beach Boys, Monkees and Mamas & Papas) and she consumed them happily. And then she became a tween and suddenly wanted to think for herself. Now I am fed a steady stream of '00s pop, and I'm finding it hard to think at all.

But I work to keep the lines of communication open. I don't want to be like my father was, summarily dismissing the music that was meaningful to me simply because it wasn't what he grew up with. What my father didn't realize was that I had big ears and a great musical curiosity, and I would eventually come around to appreciate the operas and symphonies he listened to. I told my daughter that she can listen to whatever she wants, but that I want her to be able to tell me what she likes about it, what moves her about it. I don't want her to just listen to or like something simply because it's on the radio; I want her to be able to make critical and individual choices about what her music is.

In that spirit, she'll often play me songs or show me videos of songs she likes and why she likes them. Sometimes I can get into it, often times I can't, but I try not to disrespect her choices. Ian Hunter was once asked about the state of rock music and he said, "Same as it's always been, 5% is great and 95% is crap." I think that applies across the generations and is at least as true now as it ever was.

Which brings me to the point of this post. The other day, my daughter sent me a link to the following YouTube video, showing the remake of "We Are the World" for Haiti:

We watched it together and share our impressions. Overall, my daughter liked the tune and found the whole thing inspirational. For her to find anything inspirational is worth noting, and I appreciated that this was an event on a scale for her that the original "We Are the World" for Africa was 25 years ago.

The remake opens with Justin Bieber, who seems about 25 years away from reaching puberty. Neither she nor I knew many of the other artists (I hope it's not racist to say that with the hoods, knit caps, and sunglasses, all rappers look alike to me, and most of the female singers of today are indistinguishable to me, visually, vocally, and musically). I knew Josh Groban and identified to my daughter Tony Bennett, who apparently wandered into the wrong place as he's old enough to be most everyone else's grandfather. The splicing in of the clip of Michael Jackson from the original, and then bringing in Janet in the same screen was creepy and gross (but not as creepy and gross as seeing Randy and LaToya Jackson being completely useless in the original).

And then what's this? Barbra Streisand, with a surprising lack of gravitas. A few more generic singers and then some guy with a bizarre voice. Pink, whom I respect, comes on and then, OMG, another clip of Michael? Then Celine Dion appears and makes me want to rip my ears clean out of my head. I see Gladys Knight, one of my all-time favorite singers, in the crowd and wonder shy she doesn't get a spotlight.

Then at 4:32, in another crowd shot, I'm stunned to see, on the far right, Brian Wilson, the genius himself, and two to the left of him is his ex-Beach Boys bandmate Al Jardine, IN MATCHING SHIRTS NO LESS. Two of the greatest living practitioners of harmony singing don't get a spotlight. At least they get a fair amount of screen time.

Jamie Foxx reprises Ray Charles' line from the original in his voice at 5:42, then the rap segment comes in with the subtlety of the Haitian earthquake itself. Eventually, it ends, and I tell my daughter that I want her to see the original to compare. Mind you, I haven't seen the original in many years myself, and I was never much of a fan of it to begin with. I support the idea behind it, of course, but it was never anything I would buy because it was in the wheelhouse of my musical taste. But check it out we did:

So I see it starts with Lionel Richie, now best known as the father of a train wreck. I'm amused to see Kenny Rodgers. I'm amazed that Tina Turner and Billy Joel sound good together. Michael and Diana Ross share a screen - and, for a time, a face. Then Dionne Warwick, another of my all-time favorite singers, comes on with her buttery-rich voice. And joining her in harmony is...Willie Nelson? Was Quincy Jones on pot, too?

Al Jarreau also comes on smooth and then is assaulted by Bruce Springsteen, who sounds like he needs a couple of jars of Metamucil. Kenny Loggins gives way to Journey's Steve Perry who gives way to Darryl Hall, and you wonder why there isn't a law against something like that. Then the big surprise. Michael gives way to fist-clenching Huey Lewis, the very epitome of bland, and in comes the highlight vocal of both versions: by Cyndi Lauper? Hell yeah, she kicks some serious ass with her part.

I'm very impressed with the crowd background vocals, much more so than with the autotuned vocals of the remake. At 3:45, Bob Dylan, one of my heroes, whom my daughter despises, does his part and my daughter is amazed that he's actually sort of singing. Always amusing to see that Dan Aykroyd showed up. Then Stevie Wonder and Springsteen pair off, and again, I wonder why Bruce is screaming in the face of this poor blind man. Easy, Bruce, you don't have to hit it at 11 all the time.

James Ingram seems to have a spotlight much larger than his fame or talent would warrant, then one is reminded that he was a Quincy Jones protegee. It ends with Lionel Richie's thumb's up and the realization that you never see Michael during the crowd scenes. I guess he vanted to be alone. Smokey Robinson is also in the crowd but for some reason didn't rate a spotlight.

The viewing ended with a hung jury. I preferred the original, my daughter preferred the remake. But in a way, we were both liking the same thing, and the larger point is that we both have seen our country mobilize in response to devastation in a far-away land. Furthermore, music was a key means of sending the message and marshaling support. Music's ability to communicate, motivate, and unify is one of the things that makes music so manifestly important to me, and for this one time, my daughter and I felt the same way about it. Which made me a very happy Daddy.

1 comment:

AC said...

And then there's Band Aid versus Band Aid 20. You be the judge.