hamilton

Hamilton Proves How Influential Culture Can Be

hamilton playbillIt comes as a surprise to no one that the broadway musical Hamilton is up for the Best New Musical Tony. In fact, I just typed that sentence without even checking the Tony nominations which were announced earlier this week. I just assumed it was true because the internet didn’t explode with outrage. It turns out Hamilton racked up a whomping 16 nominations, the most in broadway history. In fact, Hamilton has at least one nominee in every category the show is eligible for, and multiple nominees in the two best actor categories.

But award wins and nominations are only the beginning of Hamilton’s impressive feats. Many sources, including The New York Times, The LA Times and The Washington Post have given the musical at least partial credit for keeping Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. 

Many feminist groups have been asking for women on U.S. currency for some time. While they weren’t specifically asking to replace Hamilton, the U.S. treasury initially picked him because the $10 bill is the next one due for a redesign. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the star and creator of Hamilton even met with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew personally regarding the matter.

Now the treasury has changed its mind. Hamilton will remain on the front of the $10 bill while the back will feature several women of the suffragette movement. Harriet Tubman will take Andrew Jackson’s place on the front of the 20, bumping Jackson to the back of the bill.

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Movie Review: Straight Outta Compton

compton-posterThough I normally would reserve my film reviews for SmashCut Culture, I recently got asked to do an in-depth review of Straight Outta Compton for Liberty Unbound and took the opportunity to dig a little deeper into the surprisingly libertarian messages in the movie.

Get the gist here:

There are very few movies I would describe as explicitly “libertarian,” but as unlikely as it may seem, F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton is high on that list.

The film interweaves the stories of legendary hip hop artists Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and chronicles their rise out of violence and poverty to fame and fortune as the groundbreaking gangsta rap group, NWA (“Niggaz Wit Attitude”). This is not, as you might imagine, a film for children or even most teens. It depicts a life experience steeped in drugs, gang violence, and police brutality in one of the poorest, most dangerous parts of Los Angeles in the 1980s. Against this backdrop, three teenagers looking for a way out created one of the biggest entertainment acts of the last three decades, and irrevocably changed the face of the record industry.

At its heart, Straight Outta Compton is a great entrepreneur story, but more in the tradition of The Godfather than Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Nearly all of the business dealings that occur throughout the film are built on threats and violence, and certainly not what libertarians would endorse. But contrary to what a lot of people might assume given NWA’s music, there is no glorification of gangs or gang culture in the film. In fact, a major theme is the drive to escape violence, even though it swirls around every character in the movie.

But the theme of commerce over violence was not the only libertarian quality to the film. It also depicts a fascinating period of American culture when actual government censorship (and threats of censorship) were on the rise. While the movie touches on the way censorship affected the growing gangsta rap scene around the country, I think few people today are fully aware of how extensive the governmental push against free speech really was back then.

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PMJ

Hey There Delilah by Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox ft. Joey Cook – Your Rockin’ Feel Good Music Video of the Week

Chances are you probably have seen one or more of the recent Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox music videos over the past few months.  Bradlee and his rotating group of singers and musicians record jazzy, bluegrass, swing or standards style covers of pop songs and release these simplistically perfect music videos to accompany them.  Bradley & Co. have been doing  this for some years now, but there has been renewed interest because of the brilliant cover version of the mega-hit All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor.  A version that was so popular that PMJ covered their own cover a few months later.

But this week PMJ released this excellent cover with recent American Idol finalist Joey Cook singing Plain White Ts Hey There Delilah. 


 

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See What Happens When 1000 Italian Musicians Play a Foo Fighters Song

This is one of the coolest videos of the year. 1000 musicians got together to perform the Foo Fighters’ Learn to Fly. The event was the brainchild of one man, Fabio Zaffagnini, who so wanted the band to come back to his part of Italy to hold a the first concert in Cesena Italy since 1997, that he spent over a year planning this.

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In Memoriam: James Horner

Last Monday, prolific film composer, James Horner, died when the single-engine plane he was piloting crashed in the Los Padres National Forest, a few hours North of Los Angeles. He is survived by his wife and two daughters. As SmashCut’s resident composer, I figured it would only be fitting to write about some of my favorite James Horner scores.

Pablo Picasso once said:

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

I think James Horner’s career is a testament to this idea.

There are few composers alive today who could match Horner’s breadth of knowledge or technical mastery. James Horner was among the youngest in a vanguard of composers working in the 1980s-2000s whose classical influences brought immense sophistication of technique and emotional clarity to the art, and his influence on Hollywood was impossible to mistake.

This may seem a bit weird, but I think it is for that reason that I want to start my brief list with his work on “The Land Before Time” (1988). His first cue for that film is nothing short of a symphonic overture.

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The Southern Hazzard of the Rebel Yell

In the wake of the horrific and senseless murders in Charleston, SC last week, national debate has sprung up once again about a flag.  The Civil War era Confederate Flag.  Not unlike the German Third Reich’s Nazi flag, for many, seeing the South’s Rebel Stars & Bars conjures up equally horrific memories of the vile treatment of scores of innocent human lives.  I get it.  Perhaps there are those that would seek to re-redefine the symbol of the swastika with the pre-Nazi factoid, that due to its original use as an ancient decorative symbol in eastern cultures, we shouldn’t allow the Nazis to commandeer such a worldly historical symbol.  Those that may make that argument will lose.  We will never be able to bring back those ancient glory days of when seeing a swastika was pleasing to the eye.  Unless you are a nazi sympathizer, Hitler & Co. have ruined the swastika or any incarnation or variation of it forever.  You can’t “un-see” the horrors its appearance summons, so to speak.

To many, the Battle Flag holds the same sad memories of murder, enslavement, and loss of human dignity.  However, because some Southerners (white or black) are simply proud of being from Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina or any other of the former confederate states, they like the image and feel proud to display it as prideful modern day Southerners.  This does not immediately qualify them as a racist.  Sadly, some opportunists use the flag as a political weapon to paint broad strokes on those who fly it to cause divisiveness for their own benefit.  If you make such judgements you are part of the problem, not the solution and not a very intelligent person. Outside of the personal use, if you ask me, the flag does not deserve to fly above any State building of these United States of America for the same reason we would never fly the Union Flag (or Union Jack) above a government building.  All y’all lost the war. ‘Merica!

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Dick Van Dyke and The Dustbowl Revival

I still watch The Dick Van Dyke Show nightly on Netflix. The wife and I have followed The Dustbowl Revival around Los Angeles for years now.  When these two worlds collide, the outcome is all fun.  Watching 89 year old  Van Dyke dancing like he did 50 years ago, to the pure, Americana sounds of a band made up of 30 somethings and under is pure gold.  And who said there is no culture in Los Angeles?

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The Isolation of Van Halen and Freddie Mercury

This may be one of the coolest live radio segments I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.  Audio engineer Christian Hand joined Mark Thompson on his morning radio show on LA’s 100.3 The Sound to dissect the Van Halen classic from their 1984 album “Hot For Teacher.”  Hand brought in isolated tracks of the guitar, drums and vocal to share and reveal the pure raw talent and skill these musicians possess.  After hearing this and other iconic rock songs for over the past 30-50 years, we sometimes take for granted the pure artistry, skill and genius it took for these individuals to collaborate and then present to the world something that millions upon millions have since enjoyed for decades.

While this segment would have stood on it’s own with just the Van Halen portion, Hand also brought in another isolated track which is the reason why I wanted to share it.  This track literally, and I do mean literally, had my skin covered in goosebumps and tears welling up in my eyes while I listened for the first time.  It is Freddie Mercury and David Bowie’s isolated vocal track from the song  “Under Pressure” by Queen and Bowie.  While Bowie is undeniably talented with his vocals, Mercury had arguably the greatest voice in not just rock n’ roll history, but in all of popular music.  And when you listen to it here, the debate may be over.  I may be hyping it up too much, but if I ever had to bet money, I’d lay it all on Mercury every time.  Mercury’s voice, coupled with the emotional connection he brings to the lyric, is what I imagine angels to sound like when they laugh or cry.

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Lessons from Motown: How music smashes cultural barriers and unites us all

After 7 years in college and grad school studying the subject and almost 20 years learning to be a performer and composer, I am still completely fascinated by music and its impact on society.

It’s a necessarily abstract art form, yet it can evoke vividly specific emotions and memories. It can be entirely wordless, yet effortlessly tell elaborate stories and carry incredible drama. It’s inherently ephemeral, yet a single concert can haunt a person for a lifetime.

I’m not usually one to quote poets, but in the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Music is the universal language of mankind.”

Well said.

I think it’s because of this universality that music fosters a level of inclusiveness far ahead of every other aspect of human culture. Unlike the visual, film & television, and other types of performing arts, creating great music all but requires a blindness to everything that isn’t about the sound.

To make this point a little more meaningful, I want to play a little game. I’m going to ask you to listen to some great music. Then I’m going to ask you what may seem like a few really dumb questions. Okay?

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AI featured

THIS is American Idol… Is it the Finale Yet?

Firstly, let me apologize for taking a break last week. But honestly, the show was too boring to spend much energy on.  As it is, this show is becoming a little too stretched out for 2 hours of programming.  We could easily fit everything into an hour, and it would be so much more enjoyable.  I’m basically falling asleep by the end of the 2 hours… at this point, I’m reconsidering my commitment to watching this season in real time.  What I would give to fast forward through commercials and all the unnecessary mishegoss.

Quentin went home, which was expected, and Rayvon won the fan save, yet again…

Harry Idol XIVSo here we are this week, with our Top 5 being dwindled to the Top 4 (without the fan save this week).  Before we get into the contestants, let’s discuss our favorite judges.  First, let’s talk about J Lo’s outfit.  It’s a little rough with the glittery leopard print – but if anyone can do it, she can.  That is all.

The themes for this week are 1) songs from the Judges’ home state (even though this show is not about the judges) and 2) the contestant’s “soul” songs – or, as Harry likes to put it – their “gravy” song.

So, we have New York for J Lo, New Orleans for Harry, and, naturally, Nashville for Keith… really?  Don’t you think we should be bringing in some classic Australian anthems here?

Lastly, Harry performed this evening (yummm… so dreamy.)

Now for the AI go getters…

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THIS is American Idol…Down to 6

“The American Classics”

We’re back for another riveting American Idol this week – not only do we have the (now standard) “Idol fan save,” but each contestant sings 2 songs!  Yikes!

AI14_Tyanna-Jones_MB0010-whiteTyanna

She started off the show with “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.” I thought this was a killer song choice for her, and a great one to open the show, even though Keith questioned if America wanted to hear this song.  She sang it with such ease and grace.  As much as she wants to be a singing star, if she can act, I totally see her on Broadway.  She has the type of voice that makes one walk out of a theater singing show tunes for the next week.

For the second round she busted out some CCR with “Proud Mary,” and she definitely nailed it.  Her voice with her sparkly outfit was definitely a wow factor for everyone.

AI14_Clark-Beckham_MB0004Clark began his first of two performances with a little Stevie Wonder – jammin his guitar and killer vocals with the band to “Superstition, and lookin damn good while at it.  Overall a great start, as he received zero negative critiques from the judges (although Keith Urban did suggest how he could become a tad sexier, a la a pretty australian country singer we all know too well, by letting the guitar hang a little bit lower on his body) and he practically got a standing ovation from all the girls (and some guys) in the room.

He came back with a little Frank Sinatra’s “Moon River,” ditching his guitar for a spot at the piano.  But, I feel I almost don’t need to spend too much time here, because there is no doubt he is running away with this competition.

And then Keith comes back with a call back to round one… and it was pretty funny. With his only suggestion being to have the piano dropped a little lower and closer to the ground.

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AI featured

THIS is American Idol…and then there were 7

Here we are! Our Top 8 performing this week, with one going home, revealing the top 7.  After Daniel Seavey’s departure last week (thank the Lord), things were lookin up on our favorite singing competition show!  However, with the “Idol Fan Save” back again this week, I’m not convinced that unless a contestant has a vocal mishap or wardrobe malfunction that America can be trusted with these important decisions… though I hope so.

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The Idol Fan Save (more like the East Coast Fan Save) puts me in a difficult position being in Los Angeles, and watching this “live”, because there is really no live involved, and this live fan vote already happened 3 hours ago!  So, I feel completely helpless sitting on my couch behind the screen of my laptop.  America: Please represent!

With two co-mentors this week (one country and one hip hop), the contestants were broken up into teams to work on their individual performances.  But in addition to the contestant performances, we have a lot of pros guest starring here as well… I’m predicting that as the contestant pool dwindles, the show will become more about over produced guest performances. So let’s get to it:

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THIS is American Idol… Down to 8.

I missed last week! I mean, I didn’t miss the show, I just missed my post.  So sorry to ALL my fans and followers…

boy george 2 So before I get into the nitty gritty of this week (or the overall of this and last week), I have to take a  moment for my one true love, and the highlight that was last week’s episode – Boy George.  For anyone who doesn’t know, he was the guest mentor on last weeks episode, stepping in oh-so appropriately for 80’s night.  While I’m fully prepared to skip the contestant review of last week and jump straight to this week, I cannot let Mr. George go unrecognized.

My love for Boy George can best be summed up this way: you know you’ve met your future boy-george-back-whenhusband/soul mate when you learn that you have both dressed up as Boy George for halloween.  (To this day, it was one of my best costumes).  Boy George is the one who triggered my love for beautiful androgyny, with his sparkling eyes, delicate features, and perfectly primped and made-up face.  There was a time that Culture Club was my day in and day out soundtrack, and hearing any culture club song now is a totally fun trip down memory lane.  Needless to say, Boy George as the guest mentor on Idol was the greatest perk of the week!  And even with his short hair and frumpier body, he is still as striking and attractive as ever.

The scariest part was that some of these kids (Maddy Walker, mainly) had never even heard of him! Eeeeek!

On to this week… the week of Kelly Clarkson.

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Mozart as a Freelance Artist

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The most outstanding feature about Mozart’s biography, the one people are most familiar about, is his prodigious musical talent. Everyone is familiar with the story of the precocious Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), who led by his father’s hand, traveled to opulent courts across  Europe as an itinerant child prodigy. As he grew older, he became a professional composer who produced an output of hundreds of compositions in a diversity of genres and styles with many of those works ranking as some of the most inspired music ever composed.

The late German author, Wolfgang Hildesheimer, brought to light in his thick tome about Mozart’s life and work another facet of the native from Salzburg that is perhaps less familiar in the Mozartian mythology. According to Hildesheimer, Mozart was not only an innovator and a master of every musical form, he was also an innovator in the music business; our hero might have been the first freelance composer. Although F. M. Scherer disputes this notion in his essay The Emergence of Musical Copyright in Europe and claims freelance composers had existed a century before Mozart’s period, it is quite clear Mozart possessed an innate rebellious nature that rendered him as an inadequate candidate to vegetate in tedious comfort as a court composer. Not that he felt a conscious need to manifest a rebellious attitude against the current social order; such a sentiment would have been alien to Mozart’s nature. However he probably searched for a context that allowed him to exploit his powerful compositional skills to the best of his ability.

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AI featured

THIS is American Idol: Top 10… or, not so fast.

You know those moments when you think all is right with the world?
But then America just lets you down?

Well, this past week’s episode of American Idol was proving to be one of those very moments.  Until (thank the Lord above) those three AI angels swooped in to give us all a little peace.

This week, in “Movie Week,” each contestant sang a song from, well, a movie.  I had way too much fun predicting who was going to sing what, but for the most part, each one was pretty unpredictable.  Overall, there were three (maybe four) stellar performances – and they each came from the more obscure or unpredictable choices.  This is where I’ll begin.

Joey cook 3.19    JOEY hit another one out of the park!  She showed us her beautifully melancholy and emotional side with a gorgeous rendition of “Mad World” from Donnie Darko.  First, she turned some heads with her officially American Idol stylized new look – a short straight bob (still dyed blue), a frilly red plaid dress with knee high stockings, and a subtle homage to her signature red lipstick.  Still very “Joey” but a fresh and mature look nonetheless.  She abandoned her usual squeezebox or ukelele for a softer seated and hand held mic approach.  Just her, her voice, and the band.  It was the first breathtaking performance of the night – and all the judges agree.  She is so far the most untouchable (girl) of the competition.  And for some reason, I’m surprised by her every week – her choices are bold but she never fails to impress.  And last night she proved she’s more than just a quirky personality with a killer voice.  She’s no dummy – she definitely gets it.

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AI featured

THIS is American Idol… Top 12/11

AI XIVThis week there were two elimination nights in a row! Not sure how I feel about this – barely got to recover from the first one and we went barreling into the second a mere 24 hours later.  Just like that, we went from Top 14 to Top 11! Snap.

Now, considering there seem to be a number of changes to the show’s format, perhaps we’re heading into a double whammy every week – but for my own sanity, I hope not!  Firstly, this would make for quite a short season.  But more importantly, it doesn’t even give America the chance to grieve for each individual who parts ways with the iconic AI stage.  This is an important time in traditional American Idol that allows each viewer to realize the importance of their role in the contestants’ lives, as their favorite is so suddenly tossed aside and never heard from again. It is that very experience that makes each AI devotee commit to their right to vote – for fear of feeling responsible in another senseless American Idol cast off.  But I digress… too heavy?

Anyway, as a follow up to my predictions last week, let’s start there:

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THIS is American Idol… The Girls

AI XIVBe sure to read up on my introduction to this season here along with my summary of the Top 8 guys.

And now for the girls…

I have my favorites, and they probably won’t change.  Overall, I think the guys this season the guys are stronger than the girls – and depending on how things continue to go, a guy will probably win.  That said, the girls that are good are out of this world – “goosies” and all.

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THIS is American Idol… The Guys

AI XIVIn my home, I do not have cable – nor do I have DVR, or any other live TV recording technology.  For some, this may seem like an impossible way of life, however, for me it has been liberating.  As someone who could easily be kept hostage by a plethora of recorded TV shows from any number of 500 possible channels, I have found peace in not thinking about what’s on TV, or how I will make time for so many wasted hours.  However, I have decided to try a social experiment called “Watch American Idol Live Every Week for the Entire Season,” or, in other words, watching TV the old fashioned way.  I am doing this mainly because I had a crazy desire to reconnect with America’s favorite pastime (American Idol), and this is the only surefire way to see this adventure through.

Because I have now made it my job to be home every Wednesday and Thursday night at 8pm, I may as well make that job something greater than watching a show and pigging out.  Which is why I would like to bring to you my weekly account of AI, with my critiques, praises, and predictions.  I have now been watching since day one of auditions, and feel I have a strong enough foundation to make educated and well rounded opinions of each contestant and their roll in this season’s cast.  Overall, I must say, this is one of the best seasons I have seen in a long time – most well produced, great judging panel, strong contestants, and Harry Connick Jr. (yum).

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THE REAR VIEW: Atonement

In the latest reel of The Rear View, Matt sits down with film composer Scott McRae to discuss the Oscar winning score by Dario Marianelli of 2007’s Atonement. The film is broken into three distinct acts and the score for each is masterfully woven throughout.  Scott is a Los Angeles based composer and can be found at mcraemusic.com.

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Three Questions for Stephen Limbaugh

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Limbaugh traveling in comfort

Pianist Stephen Limbaugh is set to release his first full-length studio album, Pants.  It’s already bouncing up and down in the Top 50 Classical Hot New Releases on Amazon and it’s not due for release until Jan. 20th.

About two years ago, Stephen Limbaugh’s indie rock band Kingsley, decided to put the band on hiatus so that the members could devote some time exploring other projects.  Kingsley guitarist and front man Brandon Sweeney, and drummer Nadir Maraschin are now playing in The Eeries, a previously unsigned rock band that became an overnight success, and thus signed, when Los Angeles based radio station KROQ played their first single on the air last summer.  

Stephen Limbaugh has gone back to his roots of classical music. An accomplished pianist who just recently performed at the HBO Golden Globes after-party last Sunday, Stephen has played all over the world and, when yours truly first met him, had just arrived back in the United States from Russia where he had performed in a symphony he had also written.  So in anticipation of his debut release, the one with the stars & stripes pants on the cover, I asked Stephen to answer 3 questions about his new album and it’s relation to liberty.  Never one to shy away from answering a question, I present to you Stephen Limbaugh’s answers… unfiltered. You’re welcome.

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THE REAR VIEW: The Empire Strikes Back

empire_strikes_back_ver6This week on The Rear View podcast I had the pleasure of sitting down with film composer Ryan Rapsys to talk about one of his favorite movie scores – John Williams’ The Empire Strikes Back. It was this score that Williams first introduced the “Imperial March” to his canon of iconic and unmistakable film themes. The film itself is often held up as the superior of all the Star Wars film, and it can be argued that film score may be what helped elevate its standing.

Ryan and I discuss the importance of collaboration with the director early in the filmmaking process and why a strong melody is vital in tapping into the emotions of an audience. The power of sense memory is unmatched when it comes to music and film. Filmmakers wishing to make an impact on the culture should always be looking to connect with their audiences and a simple and memorable melody can by just the ticket. You can also checkout Ryan Rapsys’ work on Soundcloud. 

 

A Cappella Dynasty Shows A Fun New Side

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The SoCal VoCals of the University of Southern California are the only college a cappella group to win three International Championships of Collegiate A Cappella. The group of singers has become known for strong musicality, unabashed showmanship, and spectacular soloists. But yesterday, the VoCals showed off a quirky new side when they released their latest music video. The video is a cover of “The Wire” originially performed by Haim. The VoCals show off all of their strengths, while demonstrating a fun, youthful side. Check out this video and give some love to a great a cappella group!