Tag Archives: The Boss

Personal Soundtrack

31 Jul

 

The Song

Sixteen by Rick Ross feat. Andre 3000

One of the reasons that Rick Ross has been able to build a devoted following among hip-hop fans is that he often pairs his bombastic, drug-game swagger with personal flair that can’t usually be described as weird, but is at least firmly in the ‘eccentric’ category.  The husky rapper can take on the persona of an imposing menace in many of his songs, to be sure, but there is definitely a creative and unique streak under all those diamond-studded chains that comes out in his music.  This sets Ross apart from many other rappers who are just concerned about communicating the violent drug lord lifestyle – his creative side leads him at times to be just as artistically ambitious as he is materially ambitious.  He’s not afraid to explore some musical themes just because they don’t fit the standard conventions of a hardcore hip-hop song.  A perfect example would be the track “Sixteen,” off his new album God Forgives I Don’t.

For “Sixteen,” Rick Ross indulges his creatively weird side by reaching out to a hip-hop artist who has made his legendary name from being truly unique and unlike any one else in the rap game – Andre 3000.  To Ross’ esteemed credit, he doesn’t just bring on Three Stacks for a small guest spot.  No, Rick pretty much turns the spotlight on the Southern Spaceman, blowing the song out to nearly eight minutes and keeping only a couple minutes of lyrics to himself.

In the chorus of “Sixteen,” Andre sings about sixteen bars being not enough to fully express oneself in a song.  And after Rick warms it up for him with a few bars, Three Stacks takes full advantage of the ample song space given him with a spoken-word interlude, a free-wheeling rhyming show-off session, and an improvisational little guitar solo.  The rhymes hop from crayon-scrawled LL Cool J tributes to religious questions to wine-tasting to Flipper, and it’s all done with the same dexterity and inventiveness that has long caused hip-hop fans everywhere to drop their voices an octave and layer on the reverent fondness when they say the words “Three Stacks.”  The song makes you hope yet again that another Outkast album is on its way, but at least for now, the proper amount of respect must be paid to Rick Ross for having the artistic desire to indulge Andre in a little outer-space hip-hop weirdness.

The Activity

You’re sitting in your usual spot in the back corner of the Boss’ room, your chair set back among the shadows so that you stay out of the way – but not out of the way enough that people forget you’re there.  The Boss’ large mahogany desk and high-crowned leather chair sit just to the right and front of you, so that you get a clear look at all the walks of life who come in, sit down, and have their time with the Big Guy.

If any of these aforementioned walks of life decide to indulge their death wishes and make a move at the Boss, it’s your job to put them down.  Not that the Boss seems like he needs your help.  You’ve never had to raise a hand against anyone to this point in the job, but you have a feeling that the Boss would get there first if such a situation did arise.

But anyways, you’re sitting.  It’s been a quiet night so far, and right now the Boss seems like he might be dozing slightly in his chair at this late-night hour.  You can’t tell if his eyes are open from behind the omnipresent shades.  As a muted sax solo sounds out from the jazz club that sits just behind the large oak office door, you allow yourself to relax a little bit.  It’s quiet.

Before the knock comes, you notice that the energy in the room changes just slightly.  There’s a hint of electricity that wasn’t there before – and then the light knocking comes.  It’s a faint knock, just three slight taps, followed by silence.  You glance at the Boss, who bellows out his customary Enter, and then the door swings slowly open.

The first thing to come out from behind the door is a faint cloud of smoke.  That moves and acts like some kind of smoke you’ve never seen before.  It’s not heavy, almost ethereal, and it fills the room before you even register where it’s coming from.  It’s like one second the room was clear, and the next you’re all enveloped in this weird kind of haze.  That smells faintly like incense and weed.

Following the smoke in and closing the door behind him is a man you’ve never seen before.  His hair is splayed out in a wavy Afro, under which sit a pair of cat-like eyes and a sly smile.  The man is clothed in a tight-fitting suit that looks like it’s made out of the softest material you’ve ever seen.  The first thing that comes to your mind is Plush Masterpiece.  Underneath all of this, the man is barefoot.  It takes you a second to even register this, and by that time he’s already padded his way to the Boss’ desk and perched himself on the corner.

Before you can move forward and get this newcomer off the precious desk, the Boss waves his hand once in your direction to keep you still.  You sit back, and instantly are overcome by the feeling that there is nothing to fear from this strange new figure.

The smoke continues to drift around the room as this man proceeds to pull out a large cigar from an inside pocket of his suit jacket.  The cigar is already clean-cut, and the man hands it wordlessly across the desk to the Boss.  The Boss takes it and leans forward slightly as the man produces a lighter from the same jacket pocket and deftly sparks the cigar.

As the Boss sits back in his chair taking his first puffs on this cigar, the man starts talking.  You forget the exact words he’s saying almost the instant they leave his mouth, but all you know is that the melodic, soothing voice is telling a story that is about nothing, and yet about everything at the same time.  It’s about life on this planet, and about life in the rest of the universe.  Both you and the Boss sit in rapt attention for an indistinguishable amount of time as this stranger makes his way through the story.

As the last word leaves the new man’s lips, the last bit of ash falls untouched from the Boss’ cigar and on to the floor.  The stranger stands up smoothly, nods once in your direction, and then turns and pads back out the room, closing the door quietly behind him.  The strains of a new saxophone solo reach back through the club walls as you both sit there in astonished silence.

Summer Livin’: America’s Birthday

29 Jun

 

Editor’s Note:  Summer Livin’ is a segment in which we ask our friend Steed to offer some words of wisdom on how to best enjoy certain staples of the summer months.  For further reason as to why this should be appointment Internet all summer long, check out the Introduction.  On to the easy livin’. 

“Can you feel it people?  That little breeze in the air that tickles your face like a kitten’s whiskers?  That tingly feeling that started in your toes a few days ago and has now worked its way up to just above your belly button?  A growling in your stomach that no food can calm?  Yep, me too.  And that can only mean one thing.  June is coming to a close, and America’s Big Day is almost here.

The Fourth Of July.

I love Christmas, I love Halloween, I love Valentine’s Day.  But the sum of my appreciation for those and every other holiday does not match my balls-out love for America’s Birthday.  For me, July 4th is a chance to celebrate the Freedom and American Way I love with family, friends, neighbors and lovers.  Publicly, and preferably as loudly as possible.

Fourth Of July 2012 is shaping up to be another epic Freedom Fest, and to offer some inspiration for the rest of you party people out there, I decided to disclose my current itinerary for the day.  Obviously things can change as the day goes along, and all of these plans could go out the window.  I’m a free form partier.  Like Parkour.  But this is a basic blueprint I’ll be jumping off from.

8:00AM – Getting up a few hours earlier than normal.  I’ll probably be wide awake by like 6 AM, but I’ll try to stay in bed until 8, so I can get as much rest as possible.  I’m gonna need it.  After getting up, I’ll fire up the grill and make some steak and eggs for breakfast.  Every meal today will be grilled.

9:30 AM – Post power breakfast and a vigorous shower/grooming session, I’ll put on my outfit for the day.  American Flag bandanna.  Custom-made tank top with bald eagle on the front and epic wolf on the back.  Custom-made jorts with USA stitched on both back pockets.  American Flag Converse Chuck Taylors.  Outfitted.

10:30 AM – After getting dressed and cracking the first brews (Bud Heavy) of the day with the roommates, I’ll head out for a quick visit over to my neighbor Timothy’s house.  Like I always do on the 4th,  I’ll remind Timothy that he was born in Canada and that his ability to celebrate today is a privilege, and not a right.  AKA if he abuses that privilege, like call the cops on my party, there’s gonna be some problems.

11 AM – 12 PM – In another 4th tradition, I’ll pull the trike out of the garage, set up an American flag to flap majestically from the back, and set off for a cruise around town.  I’m currently trying to fashion a holster for my iPod speakers on the trike, so if I can get that set up, The Boss will be obviously be soundtracking my cruise.  The purpose of the trip is 1) to get out and see how everyone else is celebrating, and 2) to scope out any party people who look like they would be good additions to my party.  Sometimes I’ll come across people I know, and sometimes it will just be total strangers wrapped in American flags who’ve got that ‘look’.  They’re getting a print-out that has  my face, party info, and directions to the house.

12 PM – 6 PM – Party Time at my house.  18 and over.  This is the place to be in town.  I rent out extra grills, so I’ve got four going at all times.  The pool has a ‘shirts optional’ policy.  I have a local cover band set up to play Born In The U.S.A. in its entirety, several times through.  There’s a standing order with Rusty Pete’s BrewPub down the street so that anytime we run low on kegs, they’ll send one right over, already tapped.  Red, white and blue body paint is kept readily available throughout the party.  People fall in love left and right, enchanted by the atmosphere.  Overall, it’s  the best way to spend your 4th Day.

6 PM – At 5, I shut the cover band down and take the small stage myself.  I plug in Hot Licks (what I call my electric guitar, she’s a beaut) and play the National Anthem, Jimi Hendrix-style, while my buddy Tobias sets off fireworks behind me.  There are usually a few people crying in joy during this emotional moment, and it serves as an ending to my day party, and a kick-off to the rest of the night.

6:30 PM – 10:30 PM – After I burn things down with the Anthem, I herd everyone out of the house and lead a procession down to the waterfront area in town.  On the beach, I’ve paid several young teens in cigarettes and cash to hold prime spots all day, so when we get there, we have a great view of the eventual massive fireworks show that the town puts on.  I have a gentleman’s agreement with the local beat cops, so we’ll keep the kegs flowing all the way out on the beach.  The  fireworks show kicks off around 9 PM, and this is usually the time when I make my move on whomever has stolen my heart at the time.  When the fireworks are bursting over your blanket in the sand?  That’s when magic happens.

10:30 PM – ? – When the last firework sparks have faded in the sky, it’s time to head over to Sandy Guppy’s, our favorite bar near the beach in town.  The owners know to have Flaming Flag shots lined up for me when I get in, and after those go down, things usually get a bit hazy.  The main goal at this point is just to stay out of jail.

Well that’s the rough outline for my Very Special Day coming up.  Do with it what you will.  Use it as inspiration for your own plans, or if you’re going to be in the area, just make sure to be out and about when I’m cruising on the trike.  If you’re the party people I think you are, I’ll recognize a like-minded soul and will toss you a flyer.  Until then, be safe and get ready. ”

 

Darkness On The Edge Of Town

6 Mar

The rock stars of yesterday are too often the uninspired institutions of today, which was I how used to view Bruce Springsteen.  Up until a few months ago, Springsteen existed in my mind solely to soundtrack 4th of July parties and Boomer retirement gigs in Jersey.  I didn’t have a negative opinion of him or his music, but could have cared less about it.  ‘Born in the USA’ was mainly a trigger to fond memories of sun-drenched BBQs and fireworks; the rest of his music faded into a haze of saxophones and gravelly-voiced innuendos.  That all changed when I came across an LP of his record “Darkness On The Edge Of Town.”

“Darkness On The Edge Of Town” represents one of the qualities of great music that is easy to forget.  If an artist can capture the essential nature of a basic truth – be it something like love, death, war, etc. – then that music will have an immediacy and import to it that can last long after its creation.  Sometimes the meaning of that music will be pretty universal, in that everyone who hears it can feel the same emotional connection to the songs as everyone else.  But more often, the true feeling behind the music can evade a listener until they’re at a specific age in life, or they’re going through a defining experience – like finding true love, losing that love, or growing up.

So it was that I came to “Darkness,” standing squarely in the middle of my twenties and wondering what the hell this adult life is going to be all about.  And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a pissed-off, restless, and ravaged voice comes pealing out from the 70’s and puts a sound to some of the thoughts and emotions pinging around my head.

The raw emotion in “Darkness” comes in large part from Springsteen’s voice.  The vocals assume different tones throughout the album, but never lose a sense of urgency and yearning.  It’s never in doubt that Bruce urgently cares for everything he’s signing about.  At times, it seems that getting certain lyrics out was deadly important to him.  His narrative perspective straddles the line between a young, earnest idealism, and a scarred, hard-earned wisdom; this speaks directly to the twenties’ conflict between the blunt truths of the adult world and the idealistic sensitivity you still carry from youth.

The life of a young adult in today’s world is marked by excitement and confusion, with starts and stops of momentum.  It is strange and frustrating to feel stuck in place yet always on the verge of being overwhelmed by everything going on.  There are some recurring emotions and ideas that mark this life experience, and “Darkness” is bursting at the seams with them.  Over the course of ten tracks, Springsteen sings of long hot nights, the crushing nature of working life, the fear of never achieving your dreams, and the struggle with just settling or fighting to get above it all.

I wanna find one place, I wanna spit in the face of these / Badlands

It’s appropriate that “Darkness” begins with a song called “Badlands,” as the album is marked by constant descriptions of the narrator’s badlands – not necessarily a specific place, but more like a state of mind.  These badlands are a desolate place in one’s young life where the oppressive forces of the adult world are met by a desperate hope to rise above it all.  And Springsteen as the narrator is desperate to do just that.

One thing immediately noticeable in “Badlands” is the fervent energy coiled behind Springsteen’s voice – a vibration that grabs you and goes for the heart of what young adulthood is all about.  That energy carries throughout the album and seethes just below the surface for the most part.  When it comes out, it does so in unchecked bursts of yearning guitar, sax, and harmonica solos often sounding out back-to-back-to-back.  These solos appear throughout “Darkness,” representing the urgent, forceful spikes of emotion that can’t be fully conveyed through simple lyrics.  They are a sonic reflection of the frustrated energy that can shoot through you during another long day at a passionless job, or when the trust-fund kid peels out next to you in a brand new and unearned sports car.  They’re  vibrant bursts of anger, longing, and frustration that are unnervingly familiar.

Just kids wasted on / Something in the night

One core theme that appears throughout the tracks on “Darkness” is that of The Night.  Most of the action in the songs find the narrator at night, either with friends, lovers, or alone.  The constant use of the nighttime setting provides another strong connection to life in your twenties.  At times, it can seem as though most of your life experience at this age occurs in the dark – the time at work during the day just becomes a vague blur, a precursor to when you can finally escape the grind and go out at night with your friends.  Or pursue romances that constantly toe the line between love and lust.  Springsteen seems to know that real living often comes after sundown, and he provides some lasting and immediately relatable images in this vein.

One such image comes from “Something In The Night.”  The track begins with a slow and almost-primal moan from Springsteen that echoes with the yearning of something you’re not even sure exists.  “Something” continues as Bruce describes driving alone in a car at night, always looking for something that escapes definition.  As you enter adulthood, your lack of clear ties – no family, no established career, always renting – can feel very much like driving aimlessly through the night, alone with your thoughts and a particularly resonant song on the radio.  Bruce captures this perfectly with “Darkness.”

The dogs on Main Street howl ‘cause they understand / If I could take one moment into my hands

One of the most important and meaningful aspect of “Darkness”  is its central theme of striving to rise up above the oppressive and depressing realities around you.  Springsteen uses images of desert badlands and grim working-class factory towns to represent the cold realities of adult life.  In his songs, these realities come into sharp conflict with the passionate idealism of a young adult, who constantly has “hot blood” burning in their veins.

This “hot blood” is one of the many sharply evocative images in Springsteen’s lyrics, and when he uses it to describe one’s angered frustration at the environment they’re in, it’s hard to think of a better term for the young adult’s experience.  The sacrifice of your time and energy to the constant grind of faceless adult working life is a quietly disturbing concept to an idealistic and hopeful younger self; your blood can boil with anger at your own acquiescence to this reality of growing up.  It’s often a necessary fact of life, however.  Dealing with this fact while also yearning to rise above it and find another way to succeed is a central conflict as you continue to grow up.

Listening to Bruce grapple with these concepts in “Darkness” is a moving experience, and provides a welcome nod to the fact that these internal conflicts have been shared by many.  The deep feelings of anger, melancholy, and defiance come through clearly in Springsteen’s lyrics, voice, and instruments.  Hearing the full album in one sitting can be a cathartic experience.

I’ll pay the cost / For wanting things that can only be found / In the darkness on the edge of town

When a piece of music connects with you as strongly as “Darkness” does, it becomes more than just a simple piece of entertainment.  The songs can actually influence how you feel –  they can change the way you approach the rest of your day, your week, your year, maybe your life.

“Darkness” is initially affecting in that it offers an emotional release; hearing Springsteen channel these forceful and immediate feelings into music allows you to feel as if you yourself are the one yelling your heart out over booming drum rolls.  By the time the title track comes around to end the album, Springsteen has moved from providing a release to delivering a sense of hope and inspiration for the future.  He sings of wanting what’s in the darkness at the edge of town, and for me, that darkness represents future possibilities outside of the structured, mind-numbing sameness of the safe status quo.  Yes, it’s a risk to leave the safety of town and head into the dark unknown.  But the restless frustration that comes from resigning your spirit is a heavy price to pay for security.

“Darkness” is ten tracks from an angry, passionate man who understands how high the stakes can seem at a pivotal era in your young life.  While he’s evoking the desolate emotional badlands where many have found themselves as they transition into the adult world, he’s also pointing to the dangerously uncertain darkness as a remaining source of hope and unbroken dreams.  The album is a thrilling, mournful, and essential contribution to the world of music that is just as important today as it was thirty-four years ago.