Archive for the ‘My Random thoughts’ Category

Country Haiku – my first attempt

April 17, 2012

Inspired by Country California‘s “Country Haiku” concept: 

Dancin’ Away With My Heart

Was so much better

As “And Still”

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Life is a pretty fantastic journey

October 31, 2011

Between the many events going on in my life right now, I neglected an important milestone – the two-year anniversary of my blog! I can’t believe how much my writing has grown since I began this blog in October 2009.

As I sit here on Halloween night 2011, I think about the rewards I’ve reaped from a little writing experiment I began as an excuse to better my proofreading skills. I put myself out there but I want to thank the My Kind of Country team for liking my writing enough to allow me a chance to blog on their site as a main writer. I’ve learned so much already and can’t wait to see where that goes from here.

I also can’t believe I received a comment from one of country music’s greatest living songwritiers, Bobby Braddock. I’ve heard this before and know fully understand the magnitude of the Internet and how far my writing really goes. If I’ve learned any lesson it’s you never know whom you’re reaching with your writing.

Thank you to all my loyal subscribers and readers. It’ll be a sad day in heck before I give up my passion for writing. Now, please join with me as we try and take the blog to new and even bigger heights…if that’s even possible!

I can’t wait to continue growing, writing, and continuing down this journey to reaching my true potential through my writings here and on My Kind of Country. I have many loves in my life, but this ranks near the top.

I have many ideas for new posts and I’m excited to write them and have you read them. So lets continue down this journey together towards anniversary number three…

Country music’s cruel new dictator

February 18, 2011

I had an epiphany last week when I was filling out the latest “Highway Patrol” survey from Sirius/XM’s The Highway where you have to listen to a bunch of songs and offer comments on them. Much like the old Sesame Street song, “One of these things is not like the other,” one tune in particular stood out like a sore thumb (for the wrong reasons) against the rest: Miranda Lambert’s “Heart Like Mine.”

It wasn’t the lyrical content or Lambert’s vocal that caught me off guard but the production values of the track. Upon the release of her Revolution album in 2009, The 9513, did an eye-opening article on album entitled “Everything Louder Than Everything Else.” In the article author Chris Neal says, “This album is too damn loud. I knew immediately that what should have been one of the best albums of the year had been ruthlessly defaced, and that the Loudness War had well and truly come to Nashville at last.”

Neal goes on to say, “Here’s a difference between “volume” and “loudness.” The former you can control with the knob or button on your stereo/radio/computer/iPod/Victrola/whatever. The latter is decided upon before you ever buy the music. “Loudness” is the built-in volume of each element of each track, levels that are usually determined in the mixing or mastering stage of music production. The more “loudness” is applied to a track, the less it has in the way of dynamics—the quiet parts of a song become just as loud as the noisy parts. When “Maintain the Pain” slams into its chorus, for instance, the dramatic impact is lessened because the “quiet” intro isn’t really quiet at all.”

Hearing “Heart Like Mine” mixed in with other current singles and recent hits were to be bombarded by a wall of noise I wasn’t expecting. The intensity doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of the song, but it brings into question the need to add that extra element to the track and album.

Lambert doesn’t need extra volume to bring her music to life and thankfully, the whole album isn’t affected by noise. One listen to “The House That Built Me” and you’ll hear everything modern country should aspire to be.

The shock of “Heart Like Mine” got me thinking about the role production plays in modern country music. Why are some songs over produced while others are under produced and when do people strike the perfect balance and get it right?

A trend I’ve noticed is to make songs thicker and fuller sounding than they should be. Two good examples are Chris Young’s “Voices” and James Wesley’s “Real.” When I heard “Voices” for the first time after “Getting You Home” and “The Man I Want To Be,” I noticed it retained more of the Nashville machine then Young’s previous two singles. Where those were straight ahead country, “Voices” seemed to attack you, like the instruments were being potted in at full-throttle and thus making the song more produced than it should’ve been. Luckily, Young has a voice that can cut through tick production and he was able to rise above the obvious shortcomings. So much so, the song recently hit number one.

As for Wesley’s “Real,” the song is just too loud. I was listening to the song today and it has no innocence. The production is mashed together making the song seem inauthentic. Plus, Wesley has to struggle to be heard.

Another place I noticed production taking over was on Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now tour with David Nail. When I go to a concert, I want to be able to hear the artists and not have them drowned out blaring acoustics. Nail’s set was so piercing that I couldn’t understand a word he was singing nor could I distinguish between any of his songs. He made a very poor impression on me and I didn’t come away a fan. His set was a prime example of negative exposure.

During Lady A’s set, the back-to-back playing of “Stars Tonight” and “Love This Pain” was way too much noise to handle. I really enjoy both those songs on the album, but they were too amped up and bled into each other so much you couldn’t wait for Lady A to launch into one of their ballads.

Of course the exceeding loudness of concerts is nothing new, heck it’s been going on forever. But that doesn’t make it necessary. What’s new is the increasing thickness of country records and it needs to stop. The quietness of the music is something to treasure, not erase.

A debate I’ve seen recently is the production values of Shania Twain and Carrie Underwood. Reviewers have often stated that Underwood’s “Last Name,” “Cowboy Casanova,” and “Undo It” is direct descendants of Twain in her heyday. They go on to suggest Underwood could actually learn a thing or two from Twain – that less is more.

I have to agree. I was listening to both Underwood’s “Cowboy Casanova” and Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” back-t0-back recently and noticed something – while both have a distinct driving drum beat, Twain’s song isn’t nearly as thick as Underwood’s. In other words, Underwood’s music is a fuller and more bombastic version of what Twain was pioneering over a decade ago.

But why has country music evolved into this new rock sound? I wrote about this two months ago in my progress report post – the rise of stadium concerts has led to an expansion of what it means to be called country. And to expand is to lose all of the intimacy that makes country music distinctive.

Luckily, there are still plenty of examples of where production doesn’t get hinder a great song.  A case in point is Joey + Rory’s latest single, “That’s Important To Me.” When I first heard the song it was so restrained that it took me aback. Where was the bombardment of reverberation? But then I remembered something – all great country records sounded like this, simple-minded lyrics and melodies that didn’t fight to be heard. Listen to any of the Judds big hits and you’ll see this in action. Production wise, Joey + Rory’s song brings to mind the Judds’ classic “Grandpa (Tell Me Bout The Good Ole Days).”

While you’re at it, listen to Joey + Rory’s song. “That’s Important To Me” is more than just country music done well – it’s a prime example of simplicity conveying heart and soul. Everyone can learn something here.

Another instance where quietness enhances beauty is Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather.” In between the couplet “At a truck stop diner just outside of Lincoln/The night’s as black as the coffee he was drinking,” you can hear the faint moan of an organ echoing the whipping winds of icy winter days. Keith Stegall was smart to give the production room to breathe because without those two very distinct moments of instrumentation, the song wouldn’t have been so chill inducing.

Those songs have me longing for the day when many of today’s superstars used to sing a straightforward country music. On “Two People Fell In Love” and “Wrapped Around,” Brad Paisley was able to kick butt while retaining simplicity. There wasn’t any of that muscular heaviness that has spoiled his recent work. While a dose of bulk is fine every now and then, to include it on every song is overload.

Another artist in need of minimalism is Blake Shelton. His career has evolved because he plays closely by the rules of Nashville. As a result, the quality of his music has paid dearly. Putting aside the atrociousness of “Kiss My Country Ass,” Shelton has lost all of what he does best – singing real country music.

I’m really enjoying his latest single, “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking,” because it represents the kind of tune Shelton excels with.  I’m not much into party music he’s been putting out lately and never really have been.  I also find his new beer drinking frat boy image very off-putting.

Now I know what everyone’s thinking – how on earth do you have a discussion of modern country without bringing in Jason Aldean? Honestly, you can’t. But unlike Paisley and Shelton, his music didn’t evolve to its current sound – he came out of the gate with “Hicktown” and hasn’t looked back.

My problem with Aldean is that he isn’t honoring the genre. His duet with Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” is arguably the hottest single at country radio right now, but it’s pop/rock power ballad and should be labeled as such. Also, Kelly is a fantastic vocalist, and I don’t want to take anything away from her, but she wasn’t born to sing country music. It’s no wonder top 40 radio can’t get enough – that’s where “Stay” has always belonged from the beginning.

Aldean seems to have a hold on the genre unlike many of his contemporaries. Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not” follows his trademark sound very closely, and surprise, is gaining airplay. With My Kinda Party recently hitting #1, it looks like Aldean’s rock inspired sound is the new normal. That wouldn’t be a bad thing but his sound isn’t worth embracing – by anyone, let alone him.

On the contrary, there is one country rocker I actually like – Eric Church. With two albums under his belt, he’s proven that you can amp up your sound while also keeping it country at its core. The production on his songs isn’t overly heavy and his music is just cool. I love “Smoke A Little Smoke” because it calls attention to itself for all the right reasons – it may be loud, but it’s also unlike anything on country radio right now. It commands your attention for all the right reasons. “Smoke” (and Church) is country rock done very well.

As Church and others make clear, country songs don’t need to be descendents of pysdo-rock to gain attention. The loudness of “Heart Like Mine” made it stand out from the others in the survey – for all the wrong reasons. The song, which is doing very well, doesn’t need an extra oomph to be heard – the lyrical content stands on its own. What it and most modern country need is to be toned down so listeners can hear the songs as intended. Wouldn’t that be nice for a change?

 

The Rise of the Laptop Library: Should schools go without stacks of books?

November 12, 2010

The next step in our ever growing and changing world has begun: school libraries going all digital. The prime example was the subject of the cover story in G Nov. 6 from The Boston Globe. The library at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham Mass has eliminated most of the books in it’s library and gone digital. The move turned the building into the most used on campus, where before it was the least, and revolutionized the way students study and interact with each other.

According to the article, the goal in creating the digital library is “to liberate students from stacks full of outdated reference material and mold them into online artistes adept at pursuing research through mastery of databases.” I fully support that goal. I know I would use (and often did in college) an online library over a physical one. I love books but doing online research was always my preference because of ease and I could do it from anywhere on campus. Having the skills of mastering databases is important when entering into the working world where everything is computer based. Just hearing the words “stacks of outdated references” sounds so unappealing.

Credit needs to be given to James Tracey, the headmaster of the school, for orchestrating the switch. He is thinking of not only the technology of the future but of his student’s needs. Since eliminating the stacks of books, the library building has brought the students closer together and given them a place to hang out and study. I am all for schools eliminating what isn’t working in favor of uniting the student body. In the case of Cushing Academy, the benefits seem to have outweighed the risks. Social interaction is most important and it’s proven that students who study together often perform better on exams.

Of course, the elimination of physical books only ignites a larger debate. There are, and seemingly always will be, educators who swear by physical books for completing research. The prospect of online only research send some into a tizzy who fear students are incapable of citing effective sources. For instance, articles have been written solely on the subject of why Wikipedia cannot be cited in papers.

Students today are much smarter than anyone gives them credit for. Most not only know the difference between effective and ineffective sources; they know where to go and find only the good ones. Eliminating libraries full of old books is a step in the right direction because students today are more equipped to find sources online than in books. I find reference books daunting myself; a quick Google search is so much easier and takes less time. The internet (and those online databases offered by libraries) are always changing and are more up to date than a book will ever be. Our world is constantly changing and the internet is the best way to keep up with it.

I know how hard it is for our parents to hear this; anyone who grew up with the Dewy Decimal System freak out over online based research since it’s a vast world unfamiliar to them. They are not wrong. That was a proven method for generations and worked quite well. Like all technology, it’s become outdated. I feel bad for those who have a hard time catching up to modern technology. Adapting isn’t easy for anyone; humans are creatures of habit and we like to complete tasks the way we’ve always known. It’s comfortable to us. But if we don’t change and adapt we won’t grow as a society and remaining stagnant isn’t an option.

I applaud Cushing Academy for recognizing the need to eliminate books. In doing so they’ve recognized the needs of their students and put them before their ideals. It remains to be seen how this change will effect admission going forward but it’s hard to argue with what is clearly working. It would be interesting to see a study of how the elimination of books effected grades. With the library now used as a student center, I wonder if grades have seen marked improvement? The article doesn’t get into where the students would study before but says the new use of the library helps do away with the isolation felt in the residence halls. I always found studying with other people made it fun and boosted my grades on exams.

Another secondary debate has been sparked by this article. While the Cushing Academy library references are being substituted with online databases; the concept of books is never going away; the physical is being replaced by the electronic equivalent. There will always be those who prefer physical books; the article cites English majors as an example. I for one love books and always have. Since graduating college last May I’ve read two complete books, finished a third, and I’m nearly done with a fourth. That being said, I’ve switched to reading electronic books which I not only find easier and more convenient; it just makes sense.  Not having to carry around physical books has been liberating. To be able to read whatever I want and not have to worry if the book is too thick or too heavy in my bag or suitcase is the best feeling. I don’t miss physical books in the least. As I’ve written about before, I’ve been a proud Kindle owner for over two years and love it. Being able to look up words I’m not sure the meaning of right on my Kindle has made me a smarter and more informed reader. From personal experience, having a Kindle is just better.

For schools, be it Middle School, High School, or College to switch to an all electronic format for all textbooks is a good idea in theory but the technology is only in the infant stages.

The main problem, and I’ve thought about this often, is the state of the technology. The Kindle needs improvements before it can be used for educational purposes. For starters, Kindle offers the ability to change print size which throws off page numbers (or “locations” as they’re called). This makes it hard to find a particular passage to either cite in a paper or find easily during class discussions; your location may differ from the location of the person sitting next you for the same passage.

The other, and more important issue, is cost. Textbooks are expensive enough without adding the price of a digital device on top of it. Schools either have to come up with a rental program or give them to their students for it to work. People just aren’t going to pay for a device and textbooks; especially if they are in charge of paying their own textbooks. Of course, e-readers more than pay for themselves over time but right now it just isn’t going to happen. Also, there is the time it would take to train everyone on how to use the devices effectively and with time strained as it is, who is going to take the time to learn how to use the Kindle, iPad, or Nook in their classroom? It just isn’t going to happen right now. Plus, too many teachers are so used to the system of physical books and making the switch would be very difficult for them.

A third point is devices like Kindle don’t have a nice way to read anything beyond novel type books. Textbooks would be hard since flipping back in fourth between sections of the text is difficult. Also, Kindle doesn’t display pictures very well with the grayscale e-ink it uses. Both of these would need marked improvement before it could ever make it in a classroom setting.

Another point to consider is there is still a large percentage of society that haven’t bought into electronic books yet. An (I’ll be it absurd) excuse I’ve heard is people don’t want to read on a book reader because they hate reading on a computer screen. Just try a Kindle before saying stuff like that. It isn’t anywhere near comparable to a computer screen. I’ve heard this from mostly older people who didn’t grow up using computers like my generation but it doesn’t matter. Before making sweeping statements like that; try it out. You may even grow to like it.

This was the first example I’d heard of, where a school fully eradicated their physical library collection in favor of an electronic one. What Cushing Academy has done, like I said before, has revolutionized the school and changed business as usual for the better. They took the most unpopular part of their campus and made it the place students cannot wait to go.I know it’s scary to most but Cushing Academy is forwardly thinking into the future. They have recognized the needs of their students and created a system that works for their most important asset. Let them be hated for it if that’s what it takes. Cushing Academy is bold enough to be among the first in a trend that very soon will be done nationwide. Whether you agree or not, electronic books and online databases are the future and the sooner people get on board the sooner everyone can change for the better.

Taking Charge

April 9, 2010

IF YOU COULD TAKE CHARGE OF ONE THING IN YOUR LIFE WHAT WOULD IT BE?

What a great question. With graduation just a month away, the most obvious answer would be my future. This is the most exciting time in my life. I have everything ahead of me and the trick is to seize opportunities when they arise.

I was at a concert last evening and a student asked me about my plan for after graduation. When I told her I didn’t really have one she seemed relieved that “Jonathan Pappalardo” doesn’t have a plan in place yet for when he graduates. This separation between “Jonathan Pappalardo” and myself has happened more than I like to think about.

Students always tend to think of me as one way, this hard-working student who always does well on everything. I do get good grades but I don’t deserve this high pedestal. Sure, I got a 95 on Melissa Meade’s Mass Media mid-term last year but that was kind of a fluke. I’d really enjoy meeting this “Jonathan Pappalardo” that everyone believes I am. I’m no different from anyone else.

Anyway, the one thing I would take charge of is my future. I’ve seen a shift in my thinking over the last year moving away from mediocrity into the substantive. I love being exposed to new ideas, learning about people, and becoming smarter with regards to the world around me. Two months ago, I took to reading the New York Times on Sundays. I enjoy the Sunday Magazine the most and feel like my day isn’t complete until I’ve digested the content within it.

What Are You Hungry For?

Another wonderful question is, “What are you hungry for?” I am hungry for so many things. But mostly I am hungry for more. More realness in people and in the world and a deeper level of thinking about what is going on around me. I know for sure that as a nation we’ve overdosed ourselves on the celebrity culture and reality television and in turn dumbed ourselves to a low never before achieved.

I am very hungry to feed my brain with knowledge obtained from mature individuals who talk intelligently. I’ve had many aha moments while taking MB’s Writing About The Arts class this semester. He has forced me to challenge myself and grow as a thinker about arts and culture. Although I originally said this last summer, I have taken a vow never to waste my time anymore on crap movies. Life is too short to be pained by art.

I’m glad to be ending my college career in a month for one reason. I’ve had enough of learning through memorization. I am so sick of reading boring text books and cramming information into my brain so I can do well on an exam. I’ve done enough of that to know how unproductive it is. I want to learn for the sake of learning. I want to learn through exposure not through a text book. I want to hear different points of view and come in contact with people who live a different life than I.

I want to take classes and create life memories that change my view of the world.  I will forever being indebted to MB for opening the floodgates and providing examples of how it is possible to talk about culture in an intelligent way. I sort of had an idea that media criticism existed but he brought it to the forefront of my thinking. In four years of college, no other professor has successfully been able to accomplish that task.

COULD YOU USE A NEW POINT OF VIEW?

I’ve already answered this to a degree but a life goal of everyone on earth should be to seek out new points of view on a weekly basis. No one should live in a bubble. Imagine the kind of world we would have if everyone believed in their hearts that life didn’t exist beyond their bubble.

Reba McEnite posed the question, “Is There Life Out There/So Much I haven’t done/is their life beyond my family and my home?” Of course, there is life out there. Hell, there’s a whole world out there just waiting for you to take the leap and discover it.

I strongly believe that God creates moments in our lives that push us onto a new path whither we’re ready or not. A path that is as much exhilarating as scary. It’s in those moments that we get a second to reflect, not only on where we’ve come but where we’re going. Graduation is one of those such moments. It’s a force out of the comfortable and into the unknown.

I personally am looking forward to the end of eating in the dining hall. It has nothing to do with the quality of the food; that has gone up considerably with the new aim towards sustainability. But I find that eating in the dining hall is a road block from reality. The world isn’t about swiping a plastic card and having a dedicated staff cook for you three meals a day. While great, it’s dream land. Only when forced to find, cook, and clean up your own food do you get a true sense of what life is really about. Life is about making choices for yourself and living/dying by those said choices. NOT having someone cooking for you. I am thrilled Jaycee McCarthy has to cook all his own meals while abroad in Poland. He’s getting a true taste of the real world.

In short, yes I can always use new points of view. What is so wonderful about this melting pot of a country is that new views pop up all the time and teach us so many wonderful little tidbits about life. Even in Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Committed (which my mom is reading), she is using marriage as a metaphor for the way to live ones life.

What I want is a renewed passion in learning. A curiosity about the world. Not just for myself but for everyone around me. Take a needle and pop the bubble you’re encased in and see what else is out there. The world is bigger than 16 and Pregnant and Jersey Shore.  

I cannot wait to travel and see more of the world. That’s where my future is going to take me. As much as I love New Hampshire and Massachusetts, it’s time to see other places and gain new experiences. I’ve had enough of snow to last me a good long while. I can go without brushing off my car every damn morning just to drive to the gym.

I’m ready for more. Bigger. New experiences. Hell I’m 22, I have my whole life ahead of me.

Colby-Sawyer Climate Action Plan: Let’s be the change we seek

April 1, 2010

I’m very proud to say I go to a college that cares so much about sustainability. After hearing a talk this morning from sustainability coordinator (and fabulous person) Jennifer White, I got to thinking about climate change and what Colby-Sawyer is doing to reduce carbon emissions.

I’m sad to say that I had no idea Colby-Sawyer had even made the “GreenROUTES Climate Action Plan for Colby-Sawyer College” as it’s called. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve known about GreenROUTES all along — I was, I believe, a first year student when the original plan was orchestrated but I was unaware of it being updated. This saddens me simply because it means the word has not yet been spread across campus of the plan’s existance. 

I have to admit, I have not yet had a chance to dive in and read the plan but I hope to do that within the coming days. I’ve sort of become passionate about these such causes especially food issues and become healthier (as demonstrated through the editorial I sent to the Concord Monitor). 

The big thing right now is the need to become aware. In a way that’s all we can ask of people. Awareness is the key to thinking and thinking leads to planning which leads, hopefully, to action. 

I’m excited to see where the 350 planning will go — I’m in the PR group which I believe to be the core of my passion. I love exposing people to new ideas and getting the word out about ideas that matter to our future as a world.  

I know we have a real opportunity here to do some good. Let’s be the change we seek. I’m getting pumped now!

Jen White asked us to post the climate action plan to our blogs — I’ve done so here. Now I have to stop looking like a hypocrate and actually read the document…well I got the first step down. I know it exists. That’s more than I can say for most people on this campus!

350: The Most Important Number

March 31, 2010

In lieu of a final exam, Ann Page Stecker’s Visions of Nature class, of which I am a part, is bringing Colby-Sawyer and the town of New London together to raise awareness for the 350 movement during Earth Day celebrations on Scholar’s Day, April 21. This marks the second annual celebration of 350 0n campus during the spring semester.

350 translate as “350 parts per million (ppm) carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”. Any number beyond 350 and the planet is in grave danger. Earth, the planet we all claim to love so much, currently stands at 385 ppm. If we do not take action than life as we know it will cease to exist.

350 matters because it is a number that we can all grasp. Colby-Sawyer is joining in a world-wide movement where people are raising awareness for 350 and doing so in clever ways – everything from people gathering to form the number 350, to ringing church bells 350 times.  350 Bikers event rode into the center of Salt Lake City, an action that gathered the attention of the local press.

Writer Bill McKibbin has pioneered thinking on this subject through an article he wrote for Orion magazine. He believes the number is a revelation because it universally has the same meaning for everyone on the planet and blurs the lines between the English and metric systems. As he puts it, “it is, after all, global warming.” He suggests lining up 350 water melons at a farmer’s market.

 But what can you do? We can all log onto 350.org and find little ways to educate the public about 350. No matter what you do, you can make a difference. Do not let Colby-Sawyer’s “350 day” be the last we hear about the most important number of our lifetime. The Visions of Nature class is starting the conversation and it is critical you keep it going.

October 10, 2010 (10-10-10)  is 350.org’s “planetary day of action.” Iconic places around the world will be transformed to tattoo 350 into every brain in the world. The least you can do is keep the number in your head, and do whatever it takes to tell the greatest number of people about it. Update your Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter statuses with it. The more people who become educated the better.

 Do not wait around for someone else to effect change for you, effect change yourself. Every bit goes a long way in the fight to stop the global climate crisis. So log onto 350.org right now and get involved. Join the “350.org” Facebook fan site. We both know that you will be glad you did.