Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Sounds of Manipulation (Let the Bodies Hit the Floor)

Rayguns being used to control the masses, hidden radio frequency towers and a couple who constantly hears a strange noise that cannot be placed. Are these plot points in a new sci-fi novel? What is all this noise stuff about? These are not the sounds of music but the sounds of manipulation.

My last post was about the positive effects of musicians who strive for excellence and put on a good show. This post is about the exact opposite: how sounds can also be used to influence people in an entirely different manner. Now don't think that I'm about to get all Tipper on you and say that Ozzy or Jello Biafra must be censored. C'mon now, you know me better than that. Let me go through a seemingly unrelated series of discoveries so that maybe you can bounce up to my idea bubble.

1. Years ago, our friend Charles mentioned to Vincent and me that sounds were being used to manipulate people. Charles is an amazing musician, DJ, artist, and is light years ahead of many of us in the thinking department, so I trusted what he said, although I wasn't sure what he meant. I figured, okay, I can see that some music causes people to act one way, other music has a different effect, and people have probably studied that and made certain choices based on that. After all, we have certain kinds of music being played when we go shopping in certain places, when I was kickboxing the trainers played a certain kind of music to get us pumped (and it worked). This, and his own general brilliance, influenced Vincent to write a poem about how different sounds have different effects on us. But this idea was pretty much left at that. Until...

2. ...we moved to San Antonio. As I've mentioned before, San Antonio is a military town and, in my opinion, decisions are made in order to keep people in a military frame of mind. The main thing that I've noticed is that if you look at our free radio stations, we only have one jazz station and it was only started about two or three years ago, if I heard the DJ correctly. There are a ton of hard rock, classic rock, and metal stations. Now, I like this music and I don't think that in and of itself, it causes people to be violent, okay? That is not what I am writing here. However, because this music is played repeatedly and the actual selection of songs is limited, it does tend to limit ideas. When Vincent and I initially had people over to our place or drove new friends around, they had no idea what we were playing on our stereo or car MP3. They literally had less access to ideas. Furthermore, the kinds of repeated songs are of the "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" nature. I used to really like that song, until I heard it for the 500th time in less than a few months. I mean, it's old and they still play it out here. But finally, what we must consider is that there is no alternative, literally. It's either pop hits, country/Tejano, or the rock I write of. There is an "alternative program" on one of the low end stations, and I never know exactly when it is going to be there or how long it is going to last, although the schedule posted claims to have a lot more than the bluegrass music I usually hear. Now, the importance of this hit home while watching "Stop-Loss" last night. One of the prominently featured songs was, you guessed it, "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor." Who would've thought that music that was supposed to be counterculture would actually become useful to the military? I've heard that they even use Rage Against the Machine music when torturing, er, um, questioning detainees of the military (note the posts at the link).

3. The Blue Boogie, our loft, needed to detain some of its own prisoners when we first moved in. We had a bug problem. Nothing serious or gross, just annoying. We had a ton of little fruit flies that would get drunk on our dollar. Not kidding. We'd leave a wine glass to go get something across the room and little flies would be swimming around in the glass seconds later. I thought it was funny but this was not where I was going to live. A loft is cool, but I got standards. Bombing the place didn't work and we didn't like the idea of harsh chemicals possibly affecting us or our kitties, so we bought these little Black and Decker items that scare away bugs and rodents by emitting sounds at a frequency that disorients the little buggers. It worked! Occasionally, we get a resurgence but once they hang about and hear the noise, they all die and/or leave. I casually asked Vincent one day if these little wall units could have an affect on us, or if there were different items somewhere that had a freaky frequency just for humans. We knew the answer to that one.

4. Activate, a good little email newsletter, sent me a link to this article. Basically, a company has made a device that can beam microwave sounds into our heads. The article speculates how it will be used. Military functions are primary, but they are not opting out of possible uses for advertisers. Some experts complain about fried brains, but hey, we're already doing that.

5. Vincent and I have always been against the idea of government-tracking devices (cell phones) but due to the horrendous looks we get when we travel and have to borrow a line, I ended up buying one that I just use when on trips. However, even if you don't own one, you may be exposed to towers that connect these devices and what effect these towers have on your brain remains to be seen. Charles sent me this link on the hidden towers (The news report begins at 1:15; I also recommend looking at the video on GMOs hidden ingredient and TV, the drug of the nation). Now, when you look at the video on these towers, it is important to note that these radio frequency beams are often hidden in church towers. Yes, it brings in revenue for the church, but the place is what struck me when I read...

6. ...this article today. It goes to show you that even Yahoo! can have a decent article every now and then if you know what to look for. Leona and her husband cannot concentrate and even have trouble sleeping because of a weird noise. The noise started after their local church had some work done. No one seems to want to give them an answer as to where the noise is coming from.

So all this info., 1-6, spells something pretty obvious to me. Sound, that we may or may not be aware of, will soon be used or is already being used to influence us. Perhaps one day this will be more obvious to all or perhaps it will become wallpaper, background fuzz that isn't even heard anymore. Kind like how cell phones were once obvious, something to giggle at or be annoyed by but are now a part of the elaborately designed wallpaper, background, not even offensive at the dinner table. What will these frequencies be used for? What are they already being used for? How have they already influenced our actions? How do we counteract it if we don't even know exactly what to counteract? Do they just make us sleepy? Or do they keep us working? Or do they keep us apathetic or self-centered? Do they keep us from fighting or do they cause fights?

Any ideas? Or is that what these frequencies have already limited?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

For the Love of Concerts: Peter Murphy, 80s Nostalgia and Shining

I have a friend, through my husband, named Thaxton, who loves to go to concerts. He has to go to several concerts a month in order to feel sane and, given that he is an adult like Vincent and me, it can sometimes seem like a bit of a task. Thaxton does, after all, have a super amazing wife and three gorgeous kids. However, the family knows how important this is to him and agrees that it makes a happier hubby and daddy. I certainly understand Thaxton's need. In high school, concerts were a regular staple for me, although they were a constant struggle because I could never find the variety of friends to represent my musical tastes. I had a crew that I would go with to the hardcore punk concerts, I had a couple of friends I could take to lighter fare like U2 or the Cure, I could never find anyone to go to classic rock concerts and usually resorted to bribery for that, and if there was jazz in the park I usually went with my mom or a DJ friend. (I won't even get into the slew of people I had to rotate regarding house music clubs and stuff like that.)

All of that sort of died as I got older. It became just too difficult to find people who shared my diverse interests. Thaxton will go to a concert alone and while I've gone dancing alone, I haven't ventured into the concert arena without someone to share the joy with. I like dancing alone - there's more space. But I can't imagine loving a concert moment with no one but myself, although the idea is growing on me. Ultimately, through the college years, I went to less and less concerts. There'd be a Lollapalooza here, a Warped Tour there, maybe a jazz-dancy thing I could take a date to, but the punk and goth stuff was OVER.

Luckily, moving to New York City changed that. That is where I met my husband and I quickly learned that Vincent loved concerts, just like me, and he was quite impressed with my ticket stub collection, even though I assured him that it was only a fraction of what I had experienced, given that most of the concerts I went to I paid at the door, hence, no stub. Most impressive was my $3 Jane's Addiction bargain show at Chicago's Cabaret Metro, although it really was worth $3 or less because the band was loaded and sounded terrible, which made me wonder in 1987 what all the hype was about this new band. Vincent and I quickly began to share our love of concerts together. We saw amazing shows, including Living Color, Erykah Badu, Radiohead, G.Love and Special Sauce, Brooklyn Funk Essentials, Roni Size (feat. Zack de la Rocha!), Lovage, Mike Patton and Rahzel, a jazz tribute to Nina Simone (which included Tracy Chapman, Odetta, James "Blood" Ulmer, the late Oscar Brown, and Vernon Reid), Ministry (2X!) and Zero 7, just to name a few.

Our move to San Antonio seemed to promise more of this in a different setting. As soon as we got here, we got excited about the live music capital of the world, Austin. We had a rollicking night full of heavy rock (as noted in a previous blog about Southern Freaks) our first summer here. At the beginning of my first semester in school, the Austin City Limits Festival was on our agenda and we got to see the Raconteurs, Massive Attack, TV on the Radio, Aimee Mann and so many others. But then the real work started. We planned on going to South by Southwest several times, but it didn't happen. Often, we were just too tired to drive and get worked up for a concert. Truthfully, the Peter Murphy concert that just happened this past weekend in Austin, was not something I planned on simply for myself. We have a couple of friends who are around my age and like that sort of thing, so I thought, hey, this might be a good time to finally get together with Faye and Ted, I'm sure they like Peter Murphy. Well, Faye is five months pregnant (congratulations!) and needs her rest, okay? Something compelled me to buy the tickets anyway, although I didn't think much of it. Eh, some 80s nostalgia, right? Whatever.

Boy, was I wrong. I did my usual ritual, got dressed up, deep blue shadow, blood red lips, black dress, very goth, indeed. I looked good and I knew it. Gotta revel in those moments at my age. Vincent was exhausted from work all day and I felt like I was imposing this on him, but the tickets were bought. We took off to Austin and once we got to Emo's, we noticed the place was already packed. It was a sort of 80s nostalgia night with current "80s sounding" bands inside (Cute is What We Aim For, Danger Radio & others) and Peter Murphy w/Ali Eskandarian outside. All the kids, and I do mean kids, inside were dressed in day-glo and pomp a la "Pretty in Pink" and "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." Outside, black, black, black. It was just like the damn split rooms in McGreevy's. I guess they needed to be nostalgic about music segregation, too. I guess that has never really left us. Still, in order to see what's current and to indulge in the air conditioning, we watched some of the inside bands, which sounded a lot like an updated Simple Minds. The audience sang along with corny, ironic lyrics layered on top of sweet melodies. I even bought a dress with the phrase "Cute is What We Aim For," but not because I liked the band; I thought the statement worked for me.

Later on outside, when Ali E. opened up, Vincent and I couldn't help being drawn in by the scrawny, Afroed, Middle Eastern gyrator. His words were abstract and his body was violating the mic stand. I thought that Peter Murphy, or his management, was pretty cool for having this guy open. My energy started to pick up. Instead of having the glued-to-every-Texan's-hand-usual-beer, we had Absolut Mandarin on the rocks and people-watched. There was the trash rock lady: a lumpy woman with disparate tattoos, hair pulled up in a scrapply way, messy eyeliner and leathery skin. I loved her. There was the can-kick-my-ass rock chick: a very, very big woman with stringy black hair, dark make-up and a mouth that doesn't move past a straight line unless a beer is in it. I loved her and even got goose bumps when she walked past me. There was the don't-really-want-to-know guy: A man in his 50s-60s wearing devices in his ears that Vincent said our friend Andrew uses to hold up tarps when we go camping. They were big and heavy! Reached his shoulders and he'd swing them around purposefully when he'd turn to this or that friend. He looked like he'd try just about anything, and I don't really want to know what that might mean. I loved him, but not that much. Then there was the 80s GQ guy: He still has the short on the sides and back, wavy and combed up and back hairdo. He probably really likes Depeche Mode, too. He probably thinks he's really hot and probably feels sad if his look isn't just right. I loved him, too, but not enough to give him my number. Not that kind of love, yo. And there was the out-there-artsy-druggy-interpretive-dance-weirdo: He had sort of blond, sort of black, sort of long in places, sort of short in places hair. He had on lace and leather and denim and probably some mesh, too. He had both pants and a skirt on. He was dancing with arms-a-flailing all night. He was a sweaty, eyelinered mess. I LOVED him. I so would've given him my number, if only so Vincent and I could pretend like we'd actually go to his house to see what is inside. Again, not that kind of love, yo. The love I'm talking about is love of people not giving a f***. I love it. I love them for it. I could also mention all the women, including myself, who have the standard diagonal forward bob, but that makes us seem like we're uncreative when what it really means is that we have few options now that we're in the workforce.

But onto Peter Murphy himself. My friend Jennifer, after the concert, asked if he was great or just old and sad. Old and sad are not words that describe one of the greatest songwriters I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. I saw Peter Murphy for the first time when I was 15 years old. I was with my friend Elaine and we were at the Cabaret Metro. It was during his "Should the World Fail to Fall Apart" tour. I remember him under that blue, smoke-filled light, singing "Confessions" and thinking he was amazing. But in my limited concert-going experience then, I thought all "famous" people were amazing in concert. He was so honored at that concert, that whenever he spoke, the audience hushed. And this was an audience of high school and college kids. This weekend, at Emo's, he was clearly given similar respect, although there was a section of people out from under the outdoor roof who talked throughout the entire concert. I was pretty surprised at that. The people under the roof, however, were pretty reverent and the acoustics were that he couldn't hear the noise just a few feet away. Peter Murphy is better today than he's ever been. He is such a skilled songwriter and his voice is really beyond belief. I don't know what he's done to protect it, but it is richer and more complex. During the concert, I found myself in a place that was not exactly 80s nostalgia anymore. This was a totally new and current experience. Peter Murphy was shining in an entirely new way for me. He played acoustic sets, dark tunes, upbeat melodies, a really varied and thoughtful program. I kept thinking of how professional this man is.

I recognized several tunes, such as "Cuts You Up," "She's in Parties," and Nine Inch Nail's "Hurt," but most of the songs were new. None of the records I have were for sale, just his newer stuff, including "Alive Just for Love" (2001), "Dust" (2002), and "Unshattered" (2006). All the stuff he sang from these records was beautiful and this made me wonder about the separate groups inside and outside within Emo's. Why did the kids inside cling to a sound that actual "80s bands" had moved on from? I suppose the sound is new to them, but why try to make a replica instead of just be influenced by it? And why didn't the crowds mix more? I was curious about the younger version but I didn't see a lot of the people in black go inside. Similarly, the kids inside absolutely did not go to the outside stage and see someone who was actually creating the music that influenced the bands they came to see. Why not? Weren't they curious? Did they not get the connection that the venue owners were clearly making? I felt like Peter Murphy deserved a bit more, really. There he was, sweating onstage, just past 50, making sure his voice was hitting each note perfectly. And making sure not one bit of his performance was stale or nostalgic at all. He deserves to be honored like David Bowie, no? Ah, yes, the ever-present comparison.

In an interview here, he mentions that his work is a bit more like Judy Garland instead of David Bowie. He states that Bowie is more calculated (that's a polite way of putting it) and that he just can't help what he does onstage, that something just comes out of him. He shines. And that is so inspirational. Grad school really beats something out of me, at times. People can be so condescending. Texas isn't a bowl of bon bons, either. It offends people just to be who you are. And no one wants to give props to a hardcore chica with a brain, considering all the sexism and racism down here. But Peter Murphy shines, despite people ripping off his stuff, despite not being as famous as others, despite the heat and less than ideal circumstances. And it isn't calculated and it isn't stale. He was doing his unique performances (androgyny, cages, goth, etc.) before Bowie (although Bowie is older), before Ministry, before Nine Inch Nails, and even though he doesn't go there anymore, what has remained constant is the originality of his songs, including lyrics, melodies and arrangements. He totally remains true to the voice he has, and this is what inspires me. I often doubt myself, feel like it's not worth it to keep writing because so many people don't get me, are downright rude to me. But I found myself smiling, smiling wide at this concert. I didn't expect it. Vincent said he hadn't seen me so happy in a long time and the truth was I hadn't been.

So maybe Thaxton is onto something. Sometimes you just have to keep doing what you love - even if people try to beat it out of you - because it keeps you sane. I've kept writing, despite considerable pressure from people who'd rather keep me quiet. On a previous post, about the Caribs and Misery, I wrote a bit about this, about a paper that brought me lots of drama. A prof made life hell for me and devalued my work. One of my sources, a person who I researched but never met, found me and left a comment on the blog. His name is Ben Palacio, and he said that this paper that basically cost me credit for a class because of its politics "deserves five stars." I don't have a big audience, but maybe I need to value the quality of the audience I do have. And maybe I just need to keep on shining because it keeps me sane. I thank Peter Murphy, Ben Palacio and, most of all, my husband Vincent, for helping me see that.

Austin City Limits, here I come!