Category Archives: Music

“Parrot Heads:” The New Trop Rock Film

Former Eagle Timothy B. Schmit, coined the the term “Parrot Head,” a reference to fans of the rocker Jimmy Buffett. Parrotheads don tropical shirts, sunglasses, and grass skirts; jimmy-buffett-2015-ab2c8ca49025539csome bring inflatable sharks to concerts and even haul in sand to simulate a beach in parking lots. The new Netflix documentary, “Parrot Heads” transcends the foundational; it’s a look at “Parrot Head 2.0,” which has spawned an entire rock genre, “trop rock.” Trop rock bands and festivals are a vestige of Buffett culture, supporting an argument of this blog that this is truly pop culture religion.

If religion is reduced to belief, community, and ritual, the Parrot Heads qualify.  Songs elicit feelings about tropical paradise and the need for escape. florida-keys-trop-rock-playlistConsiderthe song, Fins; fans sway in unison and repeat various hand movements.

Parrotheads advocate a simple life that respects nature; many support environmentalist causes. It’s a search for a laidback lifestyle and the reclamation of spontaneity, which they find missing from a nine-to-five, overworked society. Many Parrotheads are critical of institutions; Buffett himself has a particular aversion to authority.These communities are neither superficial nor ephemeral. Parrotheads exist outside the concerts through parrothead clubs, informal gatherings and websites.

imagesThe documentary is riddled with compelling facts such as $42 MILLION raised FOR CHARITIES. Parrott heads  DONATED MORE THAN THREE MILLION HOURS OF VOLUNTEER TIME SINCE THEIR INCEPTION 25 YEARS AGO. What could be more religious than that?

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New Joe Cocker Documentary: “Who was that guy, anyway?”

Mormons, when hearing the name, “Joe Cocker,” are likely to draw a blank, unless you’re an LDS child of the sixties. What Zoobie can’t sing, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” or as Cocker wails, “…from me friends…” in that instantly recognized Cockney – that is Cockney so heavy it demands a translator.

Unlike the 1971 film, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” the new Netflix – produced, “Joe Cocker: Mad Dog with Soul”  joe2is no meager concert film.  Yet performance footage compels, and to our liking, songs play for more than thirty seconds. While paling in comparison to the more mature “Eagles History,” and Peter Bogdonovich’s “Tom Petty: Runnin’ Down a Dream,” there is much here in terms of the compelling question, “Who was Cocker?” Filmmaker John Edgington lays it out there for fans to pass judgement.

Universally, he’s considered the “nice guy.” Shockingly though, Cocker leaves a trail of friends in the dust once their value wanes.  Stunning is Woodstock organizer Michael Lang, who invests a career in Joe, only to feel the cold shoulder of abandonment – not even a returned phone call for decades.

Few watch the Woodstock performance without sensing genius. Rasping wails and spastic arm movements. Joe_Cocker_-_Festival_du_Bout_du_Monde_2013_-_003Starred boots pigeon-toed in. Yet how far should a “single-single” carry one? “With a Little Help” is like Pure Prairie League’s “Amy;” the band would do it ten times if they could. Making things worse, it was a Beatles cover. Cocker had other songs, but few are likely to endure. As for the “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” project of the seventies, success was more Leon Russell’s than Joe Cocker’s. See the new autobiography of the Ban’s Robbie Robertson of you doubt Russell’s superior songwriting.

Jennifer Warren aka the “Love Lift us Up Where we Belong” one-hit wonder may have turned Cocker into the Truman Capote of rock. That duet kept him in the Chicago and Rod Stewart cohort of “never-to-make-it-to-stage-two.” Like Oskar in Gras’s novel  “The Tin Drum,” the infant genius never progresses.

The documentary is not polemical; the gravelly-voiced Cocker is left to the viewer’s judgment.  One thing can’t be debated; Cocker left it all on stage. Every note got his best effort. But, is that enough

Ben Rector’s album, “Brand New” touches the heart

By Hailey Daniels

Exhausting radio love ballads: Who lives that kind of life? Not me; I need an anthem to belt out. So, raise your glass if your life is crazy… “crazy normal.” When did music cease being relatable? Remember the bus scene in Almost Famous as the passengers sang Elton John’s tender “Tiny Dancer?” or Kate McKinnon’s moving rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to open Saturday Night Live? Music has a ripple effect to contemplation and positive actions. Such is validated by 28 year-old singer-songwriter, Ben Rector, and his repertoire of “Happy Music.”

benrector-press-shot-2-eric-ryan-andersonRecent album, Brand New, reflects sincerity often missing today; inspiriting beats and relevant lyrics characterize this uncommon work. The song, “Brand New” fills the senses with a mood of possibilities. Rector, a self-proclaimed dreamer, lives that reality through music. According to a perceptive Itunes review, “His tender croon is infectiously uplifting when set atop a gentle piano and galloping drum beat on the title train.” On “30,000 Feet,” he relates a conversation on an airplane among two very different people; they agree that despite ups-and-downs, life is good.

President Boyd K. Packer said, “Through music, man’s ability to express himself extends beyond the limits of the spoken language in both subtlety and power. Music can be used to exalt and inspire or to carry messages of degradation and destruction. It is therefore important that as Latter-day Saints we at all times apply the principles of the gospel and seek the guidance of the Spirit in selecting the music with which we surround ourselves.” Listening to Ben Rector, I sense this spirit of love.

In “More Like Love,” he sings of trading material things for love and its great impact. Such is frequently lacking in everyday life. If everyone would love and exemplify charity as the Savior did, it would make an enormous change. I wasn’t prepared for the refreshing passion in Ben Rector’s beats and lyrics. As Bono notes: “Music changes people, and people change the world.”

In Doctrine and Covenants 25:12 we read, “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart;benrector1 yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” Whether they be hymns or pop-songs, they can touch the heart. If you are searching for music that invites the spirit of positivity and happiness, you will appreciate the lively tones of Ben Rector.

 

The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?”…Again!

by Daniel LeBaron

This reviewer was disappointed with a first listening of The Black Eyed Peas’ 2016 remake of “Where Is The Love?” known as “#WHERESTHELOVE ft. The World.” It was bland and lacked the energy of the original. If nothing else, it was “catchy” through techniques of technology. Later that day I couldn’t get the song out of my head, and since, it has grown on me.

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Although in theory it would be best to review this new release on its own merits there is no black-eyed-peas-where-is-the-loveescape from comparing it to its predecessor. Indeed, a knowledge of the original gives this new remake more significance. One can hear in this rendition a more somber tone. There is a weariness as if the artists are being tempted towards jadedness. Still they state bluntly the same questions as before reframed with greater recency. They want the world to wake up, look at themselves, and return to love.

The music integrates silence effectively. At times it is monotonous, at others funky. The diction of the lyrics is very clear. They have been updated along with images to reflect recent issues from police shootings to Syria. The message gets a bit more to a real, personal level than the original.

The new lyrics comment on the election “looking like a joke.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks recently echoed these sentiments at a BYU devotional when he called for more civility, mutual understanding, and a love for all. He said “The few months preceding an election have always been times of serious political divisions, but the divisions and meanness we are experiencing in this election, especially at the presidential level, seem to be unusually wide and ugly.”

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The song begins with a computer voice asking “Where is the Love?” This might represent the distance from our own humanity that has been the result of our digital age. Instead of using technology’s potential to spread understanding, mankind often uses it to argue and become more rigid in a preferred worldview.

Elder Oaks, continuing to speak about the ugliness of the current political climate said, “Partly this results from modern technology, which expands the audience for conflicts and the speed of dissemination. Today, dubious charges, misrepresentations, and ugly innuendos are instantly flashed around the world, and the effects instantly widen and intensify the gaps between different positions. TV, the internet, and the emboldened anonymity of the blogosphere have facilitated the current ugliness and have replaced whatever remained of the measured discourse of the past.” This sense that social and other new media has separated ourselves more from love truly informs the style of “#WHERESTHELOVE.”

Even if a listener prefers the classic they surely can appreciate the artistry behind this “update.”

Top Ten Broadway Show Tunes with Moral Messages

by Stephanie Soto

Musicals are an escape from the mundane; audiences are transported to the land of song and dance. Most consider musical songs fun, and necessary elements to move the plot along. But, how much do we think about their moral messages? This is no small matter. President Spencer W. Kimball praised My Fair Lady  as music to aspire to when he dedicated the Centennial Tower at the BYU Provo.   Here are ten songs that bring out the good in us.

  1. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”Wizard of Oz. Moral: Hope

Since the Academy-Award winning movie with Judy Garland, several versions haveWiz_of_oz_london appeared on Broadway.  It’s a song about dreams of the future. Like a rainbow, no one knows what’s ahead, but anticipation is the joy of life. Such joy is lost in everyday life.  Dorothy Gale longs for a life far from the farm where she can be what she wants to be.  It’s about  hope that one day our troubles will be far behind.

  1. Defying GravityWicked Moral: Integrity

Wicked is one of the greatest musicals of the modern era. This song’s about  Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) who’s no longer going to live the way she’s told.  She must choose society’s path or her own. She follows her conscience, defying order.  As Mormons, choosing the right isn’t always easy but having integrity and pushing on is God’s way.p1a40m0lvh188b17hutu6126hgfd1

  1. You and Me (But Mostly Me)-The Book of Mormon Moral: Humility vs. Pride

While some are offended by this musical, who can deny the moral in this song:  pride  affects anyone, even missionaries. We should do the work of God, not Man.

7.”Consider Yourself”-Oliver Moral: Acceptance

Oliver Twist is about a boy breaking out of poverty, and the courage he displays. Befriendingarticle-1369746-0B531BDE00000578-814_306x423 the artful Dodger, he’s embraced by the street urchin gang Fagan’s Boys. Pick-pocketing is a no-no,  but the larger message of family and  easing the pain of the lonely makes this tune an enduring testament to love.

6.”Anything you can do I can do better” Annie Get Your Gun Moral: Equality

Annie Get Your Gun, a musical about the old west sharp shooter , displays the struggle that Annie faces trying to be seen as an equal to her shooting partner Ray Butler. In this song she and him are of course complaining who is the best at anything. A classic tune that really shows any individual can be just as good then anyone else no matter who they are or maybe even just as bad in certain things.

  1. “One Day More” Les Miserable’s Moral: Unity

Les Miserables is a musical of tragedy and hope. This song has the entire cast singing just before intermission about their dreams, goals and how they will all come together in one more day to face their fates in a war-torn France during the revolution.

4. “My Shot” Hamilton Moral: Perseverance

Hamilton, an original American revolutionary, is also the hardest ticket to get on hamilton-01-800Broadway.  Because he is ”young ,scrappy and hungry,” the protagonist will rise against the powers that be and achieve freedom. This speaks for all that stand up for one’s values. who has ever had to stand up for him or herself. That just like Hamilton some things are worth fighting for and never give up.

3.”Children Will Listen” Into the Woods Moral: Being an Example

This musical is a creative synthesis of several fairy tales. The final song admonishes us to be an example, especially to our children by doing the right thing.   Children are the future and continue the story.

2.”Tomorrow” Annie Moral: Hope

Annie, is the classic musical that everyone loves. It’s the story of a young orphan, that musters up hope for a better life when the sun rises. Everyone needs hope.

1.”Close Every Door” Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat Moral: Faith

This has to be number one. It’s sung when Joseph is thrown into prison seeing no way out. He turns to God declaring that no matter what happens, God will never abandon us.

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What is your favorite song from a musical? Comment below.

 

 

 

Brief Thoughts on “Prince”

by Danny Stout

The performer “Prince,” known for seven years as the “Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” is enigmatic in the LDS community. Synthesizing multiple genres from pop to blues, he broke virtually every convention, and played 12 instruments. His snappy, “Little Red Corvette” was frequently played at BYU ballroom dance competitions. The song, “Purple Rain” and subsequent movie by the same title, has achieved cult status. At 19, his first review in the New York Times said he “was clearly a talented musician.” This was corroborated at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when Prince’s  lead guitar performance on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” was a virtuoso’s to tribute to George Harrison.

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No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1616482a) Purple Rain, Prince Film and Television

On the one hand, Mormons bristle at the eroticism in some songs and videos; sexuality was an artistic theme in some of his music. On the other, he was a practicing Seventh-Day Adventist that became a Jehovah’s Witness. He wasn’t afraid to disclose his Christianity, which he defined broadly. His was a “feel good” rhythm that had the power to move the passive listener to the dance floor. His dancing rivaled Michael Jackson’s, and was perhaps had more sophisticated choreography.  Some LDS fans describe the artist:

  • “Don’t really care for his music, but you can’t deny his huge cultural impact. Plus he lived a drug free life, which is cool for someone in his position. Deserved respect.”
  • “I am ashamed to say, but I didn’t know who he was til now…  to my defense I do live in seclusion.”
  • “I loved the movie Purple rain for its music but Prince should never had attempted acting. The man could play 27 instruments! That’s amazing! He died too early. Sad.”
  • “There will never be another like him, he was the Prince of Rock.”
  • “All I  know is when I was a teenager and would  sing along with the radio to his songs it would drive my mom nuts!  Especially “When Doves Cry”.  I remember being at a band competition in Nashville  and all the kids who had been involved with the competition dancing to “1999”. We weren’t competitors we were just hundreds of high schoolers dancing to an awesome song.”

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Based an outpouring of critical acclaim, and effusive praise around the globe, Prince is on the level of artists leaving  behind an enduring body of work. Following the time-lag hypothesis, LDS fans will likely discover him in the future; he won’t be the first genius to be shunned by religionists initially, only to be praised later. Gauguin, Dali, DuChamp, and even Frank Zappa were initially rebuked by clergies, but gained appreciation as time passed. Zappa’s orchestral “Peaches in Regalia” performed in cathedrals, testifies to this rear-view mirror phenomenon. Such is likely with Prince in the LDS community.  He’ll be heard at church dances.

Imagine Dragons in Concert

by Danny Stout

The movie-theater concert simulcast is an emerging art form, a creative synthesis of music, cinematography, and virtual simulation of live performance. Fathom.com’s production of Imagine Dragons’ “Smoke + Mirrorsshow in Regal Cinemas is intricately choreographed, with over 20 cameras and a mobile cam placing viewers on stage with band members Dan Reynolds, Wayne “Wing” Sermon, Ben McKee and Daniel Platzman. Sweat drips from Reynold’s forehead as you’re transported to the steamy Toronto venue with 15,000 fans.

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LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 30: (L-R) Musicians Ben McKee, Dan Reynolds, Daniel Wayne Sermon and Daniel Platzman of Imagine Dragons perform onstage during iHeartRadio presents “Imagine Dragons #DestinationUnknown, A Hyundai Tucson Experience,” at Clifton’s Cafeteria on September 30, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

American Music Awards, Grammy Awards, Billboard Music Awards, and World Music Awards were earned by the band from Las Vegas. LDS fans recall Dan Reynolds in particular, a returned missionary and former student at Brigham Young University. Reynolds is catalyst for a positive band culture. “I know you have pressures,” he tells the audience, “…but no matter what it is, work, financial, you can get lost in the music. It’s all about the music.”

Beyond the 20-song set list, which should satisfy the most ardent “Firebreathers,” something akin to a cathedral of rock is created. Performances of “Shots,” “Forever Young,” and “Smoke and Mirrors,” create the numinous. That is, the senses are engaged, the songs packed with meaning, and the crowd becomes community. Fans sing every word to every song. During “Shots,” Reynolds pauses intermittently, turning audience into chorus:

I’m sorry for everything
Oh, everything I’ve done
From the second that I was born it seems I had a loaded gun
And then I shot, shot, shot a hole through everything I loved
Oh, I shot, shot, shot a hole through every single thing that I loved

The band is noted for varied rhythms and tempo as in “I Bet My Life,” which moves back-and-forth between soft ballad and a more aggressive chorus. This blend of genres across and within songs is exemplified by “Radioactive” which builds to a crescendo, the audience shouting, “Welcome to the new age, to the new age. I’m radioactive, I’m radioactive.” The song evokes REM, but the Dragons’ instrumentation is carefully monitored. Nothing is louder than it should be. Percussion is always distinct and crisp, and guitar chords salient due to the superb sound system.

“Smoke and Mirrors” is perhaps the highlight, the crowd gently singing: “All that I’ve known…Buildings of stone…Fall to the ground without a sound,” and suddenly elevating their voices, but not losing the message: “But all that I hope is it just smoke and mirrors.” Imagine Dragons offer sensitive songs for those yearning for meaningful music. Yet it’s highly listenable for one just seeking well-crafted melody.

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Concert films are difficult to make, and the people at Fathom left nothing to chance with every scene meted to the flow of the show. The form has come a long way since the movies Woodstock and The Last Waltz. Computerized synchronization of cameras and sound transport the audience to the event in a state of hyper-reality.

Comparisons to religious experience may be problematic for some, but the film elicits deep listening, a state we’re hearing more about these days. Smoke and Morrors isn’t church, but it’s certainly blissful and some might say divine.

 

 

ENCORE REVIEW: “Who is Harry Nillson?”

by Dean Duncan

This film begins really well. Nilsson’s documentary biographers have arrayed their artifacts very effectively. The early photographs are utilized in a really revealing, really interesting way.

On the other hand, Nilsson’s actual life begins very badly indeed. Even if she don’t know the end of the story, the viewer gets a sinking sense of dire things to come. Par for this course? It seems that when it comes to behind-the-music, that’s what we always say. It’s true, I guess, but the response is still kind of insensitive, desensitized, even crass. These are dear, talented, troubled people here!

In addition to those fantastic photographs there’s some really great stock footage as well. Greater still is nillson headshotthe music itself.  The thesis of this film is correct, and very convincingly demonstrated: Nilsson really is exceptional. His voice might not be quite as angelic and perfect as they make it out to be—the witnesses oversell it because they love him, and the filmmakers oversell it for the film’s sake—but you can’t deny that the whole package is palpably special. And those first songs! (As in this two-fer +: http://bit.ly/18cfHw3) There are a couple of glancing excerpts where we see him at a party (there’s the distinguished film director Otto Preminger, looking ridiculous in a turtleneck and a great big necklace). He’s only singing, but these feints and gestures are so unique, magnetic, beautiful. He is an angel, actually.

Who Is Harry Nilsson …? turns conventional during the Richard Perry/Nilsson Schmilsson section, which is to say during the account of the artist’s popular peak. That’s okay, since it’s a good story, and there’s no reason to get in the way of its straightforward telling. But after that apex there’s a great deal of dispiriting decline, and we alternate between two kinds of boring, right up to the end.

John and Ringo didn’t help him very much, did they? Could it be that our beloved post-mop-tops were as bad for Nilsson as Keith Richards was for Gram Parsons? (See: http://imdb.to/1EAbiB4.) Are all those rock ‘n roll-hating Churchmen right, after all? Whatever the answer to that question, this biography is evidence not only of the dangers of that lifestyle, but of the catastrophe of success in general.

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The well-known story of the destruction of that angelic voice is still wrenching, terrible. The same goes, frankly, for the the accounts of Nilsson’s eventual and extended descent into Led Zep-type excess. Morbidity, or tragedy? It’s in the eye or heart of the beholder, I suppose. But after that promising prologue, and the story of that after-all very brief time at the very top, Who Is Harry Nilsson …? is mostly dedicated to watching someone go utterly to pot. During this long decline the filmmakers, like Nilsson’s loved ones, can’t seem to figure out what to do or say. They might well have pursued a few productive, even consoling avenues. Tell us about these six kids! Or maybe in the end our happiness should be as private as are our sins and sorrowing. Hope, aspiration, and the sparks flying upwards. Sometimes we just don’t know where to turn, do we?

 

Glenn Frey (1948-2016): Inspiration to Mormon Hippies Everywhere

by Danny Stout

frey 4Heartrending melodies that soothe the soul and replace angst with elation. This is the music of Glenn Lewis Frey. A poet of American folk-rock, his songs have a sing-along quality; his high energy rock tunes were also internationally recognized. He and Don Henley formed the Eagles, members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and creators of two of the 20 best-selling albums of all time. In addition, “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” published by Rolling Stone magazine rates “Hotel California” 37th. Frey was 67, succumbing to pneumonia, rheumatoid arthritis, and complications of ulcerative colitis. He is survived by his wife, Cindy, and three children: Taylor, Deacon and Otis.

Frey had thousands of Mormon fans beginning in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s continuing to his recent passing. I was in the sold-out Salt Palace in 1976 during the Hotel California tour; thousands of LDS youth filled the seats, singing Eagles hits. They listened to the albums Eagles and Desperado over and over again. Frey 1Frey’s ballads resonated with young Mormons seeking release from tensions of the radical Sixties.  War, civil rights, women’s rights, changing sexual norms: LDS youth heard mixed signals. A core group sought a role in the peace movement without the wrath of parents. The Eagles were rarely political, providing a neutral zone between dissent and concerned bishops.  Singer Jesse Colin Young, said it in the song, “Get Together:” “C’mon people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another, right now.” In the recent documentary, “Eagles History,” Frey said, “We provided a break from all the bad stuff going on.”

Frey and the Eagles served up a palatable type of rock and roll that Church leaders didn’t seem to mind, or at the very least looked the other way. When I caught my mother singing Frey’s “Lyin Eyes,” in the car, I realized the Eagles were under the Mormon radar. Ezra Taft Benson had condemned the rock festival “Woodstock,” and Boyd K. Packer exhorted youth to sort through their record collection and remove the likes of “Black Sabbath,” “Deep Purple,” and “Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.” An official letter prohibited Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Broadway soundtrack, “Jesus Christ Super Star” from Church meetings or functions. But, LDS teens saw redeeming value in The Eagles, and a bridge to honorable aspects of the youth movement outside the Church.

Many Eagles songs are “Secular Hymns,” a concept explored by Steve Thompsen and Quint Randle in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Media and Religion. A secular hymn, they claim, “has religious or spiritual overtones (or has the potential to evoke those feelings within the listener) without being overtly religious.” “Take It Easy,” “Already Gone,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and “Lyin’ Eyes,” are some of the finest folk rock songs ever written. At 15, I ripped the cellophane off the album, Eagles and played Peaceful Easy Feeling over and over:

‘Cause I got a peaceful easy feeling
And I know you won’t let me down
‘Cause I’m already standing on the ground

I made the connection, perhaps for the first time, that rock music was both deep feeling and attitude. The latter took more work than the former, and Frey’s American hyperrealism gave me a break from tension at home and my parents’ approaching divorce. It was therapeutic in a way that no medication nor therapy could remedy. Frey’s California drawl (he bore down on his r’s at the end of words) transported one to small desert towns, and the elation gleaned from simple moments:

Well, I’m standing on a corner
in Winslow, Arizona
and such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed
Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me

Through Glenn Frey, we discovered that communities transcend brick and mortar  churches. We have our ward communities, which are vital, but young people seek peers outside our realm that also embrace worthy values; we want to join their pursuits to improve the world.  My friend, Dave Ballard loved folk rock, but resented the anti-military sentiment by some bands. The Eagles enabled his participation in the youth culture, allowing him to bask in a great era for music without buying into radicalism.

The Sixties, which panicked our parents at the time, had many positive consequences, (i.e., civil rights, women’s rights, equal-pay-for-equal-work, postmodernism, etc.). Glenn Frey’s music allowed us to bridge two interpretive communities. According to mass communication theorist Thomas Lindlof, interpretive communities center on media not geography. Thanks to Glenn Frey, we sang holy hymns in our chapels, and secular hymns bridging Mormons to our friends in the larger community of popular culture.

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Carly Simon’s New Memoir

by Danny Stout

Living in Princeton, New Jersey, we got all the New York TV stations, and thus concerts live from Central Park. One summer night I was watching a broadcast with my friends. Art Garfunkel had just performed, so had George Harrison. My teenage buddies were getting restless. Then, a tall woman strolled out in a ravishing red velvet dress, taking her seat at the piano, her shoulder-length chestnut hair shimmering in the spotlight. “Who is that?” one of my friends inquired. She looked more like a Broadway star than the other hippyish performers. “I’m going to sing a song I heard on Jones Beach today, it’s kind of a weird song about marriage.” Seeming timid and almost embarrassed, she slumped a little, managing the biggest smile I’d ever beheld.  Yet the grin did not match the melancholy she filled the park with:

          My father sits at night with no lights on

          His cigarette glows in the dark

          I walk past the living room, no remarks

          I tiptoe past the master bedroom door

         My mother reads her magazines

          I hear her call “sweet dreams,” but I forget how to dream

The song, “That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be” was the saddest tune I’d heard to that point; it was a lament to a broken marriage and a couple’s painful routine. Not until I read Carly Simon’s new memoir, “Boys in the Trees,” did I realize it was autobiographical. Since that concert, I followed her career, relishing the ballads, “You Belong to Me,” “Anticipation,” “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” and, perhaps her most famous, “You’re so Vain.” (Ending decades of speculation, she recently disclosed that the first verse refers to actor Warren Beatty). Most intriguing were the up-tempo melodies you catch yourself singing, failing to grasp their sadness or at the very least incongruously moody lyrics. simon 2Years have passed, but in this book, she’s eager to self disclose. The backstory of her repertoire is teased out, enhancing the listening experience and enjoyment. She carries a backpack of sadness since the James Taylor days, but is a bright figure. How much is a facade. James Taylor hasn’t spoken to her since 1983. “That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be” is ever more relevant in her life than her parents, it seems. “Boys in the Trees” is an ocean of disclosure.  Taylor was not faithful in their marriage. Then, she returned the favor for spite. You’re invited backstage almost to the point of uneasiness. If I had written this volume, I would have frantically called my editor crying, “Is it too late to take some things out?” The book is an ocean of disclosure, and a well of comfort to those feeling alone in their worriment.

Transparency is a gift, and the author is commended for getting beyond the superficiality of several recent rock memoirs by Graham Nash, Eric Clapton, and I hate to say it since I’m such a fan, Neil Young, who admitted “Waging Heavy Peace” was financially motivated. Simon dissects the myths of her personal life as well as assumptions regarding wealth and fame, which is enigmatic. The book’s dedication reads: “Dedicated to the first Orpheus, Richard L. Simon, my father, my beloved hero, understood too late for our peace to come during our lifetime.” Personally, I know that one can love an absent parent deeply. The refrain, “we would if we could,” keeps love alive. Independence is both blessing and woe. This paradox is a dominant theme of the book with Simon thoughtful on the subject.

There’s an interplay between maturity and loneliness. Time with dad was fleeting, so she filled in the cracks with ambition, assured that he adored her in his mind, and through kind knowing smiles. Her mother carried on an affair with her children’s babysitter for nine years, and, needless to say, resentment was deep and communication superficial. Richard Simon was partner and owner of Simon & Schuster, one of the largest publishing houses in the world. simon 3Wealth was her world: Manhattan apartments and homes in Connecticut and Martha’s Vineyard. She had splendid opportunities, close friends, and interacted with impressive people. Simon attended Sarah Lawrence, and performed with sister Lucy from an early age. Lucy Simon, unknown to many, wrote the score to the Broadway musical, “The Secret Garden.” They were a folk duet in Grenwich Village as teens.

I simplify too much, but two lines of thought should interest LDS readers. First, Simon developed a life theme through music despite affluence and adversity. Life themes imply more than skills. She was after a life of import. Music provided feedback she didn’t get elsewhere. Perhaps we steer children away from special paths wanting them to conform. Not everyone is drawn to Boy Scouts, some want to master the violin instead. Music could move others and this fulfillment was highly sustaining.

The weakness of the book is that as much as she tries, fame remains important.  She relates countless affairs with celebrities (many are named in detailed stories), and although she’s clearly moved on with a strong bond with her children, the story of former husband and singer James Taylor crosses the disclosure limit in my view. It’s as if this will matter to her readers fifteen minutes after finishing the book. Time is better spent talking about her craft, which she does with less depth than the rock enthusiast would hope.

I most enjoyed the parts about her children, and the great role model and teacher she is. In a way, she finds the elusive family tie she missed early on. That is a story worth telling.