My longtime friend Christian Beach is a talented musician based in New Jersey who fronted a few industrial and alternative rock bands from the early 1990s into the early 2000s. Around 2006, he made the transition to a traditional singer-songwriter influenced by Hank Williams Sr., Bob Dylan, The Band and contemporary artists like Jeff Tweedy (Wilco). Continue reading “Making a music video while quarantined”
So…since Facebook is a trash fire platform run by a trash fire of a human being, I deleted my old account back in June (and Twitter is hanging on by a thread). I do still have a profile there through a secondary account I set up years ago in an aborted attempt to use that one to manage my podcast pages. But it basically exists solely to interact with other pages that handle things like sign-ups and notifications only through Facebook. I don’t plan to return to posting there at all.
Therefore, I have returned to posting here and on my long-dormant Tumblr account for sharing links, musings and other things, like weather updates. So feel free to check that out every now and then to see what I’m up to.
This has been a weird year for me. I don’t usually do too many races during the spring and summer months. But for the past few years, I’ve taken part in Philly’s 10-mile Broad Street Run in May and a 5K held at my alma mater, Rider University, in June.
This year, however, I wasn’t able to run Broad Street because of an all-day, all-hands-on-deck work commitment — even though my job was eliminated through a reorganization about a month later (yeah…more on that later). And the Rider University 5K didn’t happen either.
Even worse, my favorite annual race, the Trenton Half-Marathon — a race I’d done every year since 2014 (after doing the event’s 10K component in 2013) — that was supposed to take place in late October or early November was canceled earlier this year.
Basically, I haven’t taken part in an organized race since last November’s Philadelphia Marathon. Now, I have been training (running, cycling and swimming) for a good chunk of the past nine months, but it just seems odd not having any events to prepare for during that time.
But now, the events I have been training for are suddenly just weeks away. First up, is the Hightstown (N.J.) Triathlon on September 9. I’ve done this sprint triathlon every year since 2014 (it was my first triathlon) because it takes place about 20 minutes away from where we live.
Next is the inaugural Crest Best 10-Miler in Wildwood Crest, N.J., on October 7. This new race is presented by the awesome Wildwood-based DelMo Sports (who oversee a bunch of events in South Jersey, including the Atlantic City Triathlon I did in 2014…and hope to do again next year) and I’m really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, that conflicts with yet another race I usually do, but won’t be able to do this year — WXPN’s Musicians on Call 5K.
Finally, I’m returning to the Philadelphia Marathon for a second year in a row. I finished in 4 hours, 51 minutes, 22 seconds IN 2017. I’m shooting for between 4:30:00 and 4:40:00 this time out.
Cough Wars: The Recycling Strikes Back
Of course, with all these races now within a few turns of the calendar, I seriously messed up by back a couple of weeks ago. Not during training, of course. But by being taken by surprise by a violent coughing attack as I was bending awkwardly to pick up a piece of wayward recycling while taking it out to the curb one morning.
Ugh! I have never been in so much pain in my life (and that includes slamming my shoulder into the back of a Chevy Suburban during a bike ride in 1986). What’s not helping is that I’ve been trying to train through it. In fact, a few hours after it happened, I went out for a triathlon brick training session that included an 11-mile bike ride and a planned 5K-distance run that I had to cut back to a mile because I just couldn’t handle the pain. Shortly after that, I drove out to a local swim school to do a little more than a half-mile in the pool.
The next day I tried to go out for a 5-mile run, but struggled just to get through four.
Even worse is that it has led to an apparently related leg issue that crops up when I’m sitting. It seems when I put pressure on my left lower back/butt, it leads to pain in my thigh.
I’m mostly OK when I’m standing, though. I even managed to get through my first 10-mile run since January a few days ago. The only thing that’s really bothering me on my runs right now is the lingering cough that sneaks up on me.
So, yeah, training has not been ideal for the past two weeks. Hoping things are better by this weekend.
Looking for Work
So, as I alluded to earlier, I’m no longer working at George Street Playhouse. I was let go in early June as part of a reorganization that eliminated my position. They are in the process of streamlining operations ahead of the move into the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center next summer. Honestly, I had been trying to find something closer to home anyway. Despite how it ended, I’ll have mostly great memories of my four seasons there.
The big news is that we’ll be going on a Disney Cruise while school is out in early November. I have never been on a cruise before and not sure what to expect. It will be the first time on a plane (our cruise originates from Port Canaveral) with our boys, as well. That’s kind of making us a bit nervous, especially since Benjamin doesn’t like to be contained for long periods of time. Hopefully, we can work it out so that he’s sleepy for both the departing and return flights. But the vacation is a gift and we are very grateful for it. Our boys will definitely enjoy it.
Although nothing much became of the musical aspirations I had as a teenager, this year does mark the 30th anniversary of what I consider the first real song I ever wrote, “Time Takes Over.” I recently documented the full story behind the song, and added vocals and some other light instrumentation to the original instrumental demo I recorded to cassette back in October 1988, which you can listen to here:
I’ve also dipped my foot back in the songwriter’s pool recently with some creations I consider “sketches” to use in possible future works. The most recent of these was something I did completely in GarageBand on my iPhone and is more or less a complete song, from a structure standpoint. I’ve been listening to The War on Drugs a bit recently and I’ve become rather obsessed with how their songs really don’t do much structurally, but tend to stick to a groove and just build/add or subtract elements to create atmospheric ebb and flow patterns. Here’s an untitled project I recently recorded using this approach. Again, this was more of an experiment in structure, so the patterns and melodies here are essentially placeholders…but I still kind of like it as a starting point.
I haven’t been to many concerts this year. Alison and I saw my favorite current band, Lo Moon, in March. I had seen them in November 2017 on my own and then saw them again at WXPN’s XPoNential Music Festival in late July, so I’ve already seen them three times. I really love their sound…lead singer/band leader Matt Lowell is very much influenced by the greatly under-appreciated Mark Hollis of Talk Talk. Matt is also a huge fan of The War on Drugs (with a couple of members of that band appearing on Lo Moon’s self-titled debut album) so that’s why I have become a little more interested in TWOD recently.
Also, keep your eyes and ears open for emerging soul/R&B singer-songwriter Devon Gilfillian. He played the Marina Stage on Day 3 of this year’s XPoNential Music Festival, just before Lo Moon were to hit the River Stage. I didn’t plan to watch his set, but I went over to take some photos (which came out terrible). And it wound up taking a lot of effort on my part to tear myself away to get over in time for a good spot for Lo Moon. Devon was far and away my vote for biggest surprise of the entire festival — and he’s also caught the attention of Rolling Stone. Great band, great performer, great set. The Philly-area native who now calls Nashville home has one EP out and is working on his first full-length album in Los Angeles. Here he is performing his latest song, “Troublemaker,” at the XPoNential Music Festival:
In June, I had the awesome and rare opportunity to catch music legend Midge Ure (Ultravox, Rich Kids, Visage, Slik, Thin Lizzy and — nearly — Sex Pistols) perform an intimate acoustic set in the tiny room at Randy Now’s Man Cave in Bordentown, N.J. You might not know the name, but Midge Ure has been Bob Geldof’s right-hand man with all matters associated with Band Aid and Live Aid over the decades. In fact, Midge wrote and produced “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (Geldof gave him a snippet of a discarded Boomtown Rats song at the beginning of the writing process, but has said in at least one interview years later that it’s really Midge’s song) — a song with which he’s had a love-hate relationship over the years, but he seems to have come around to embracing it more recently. Here’s the first part of an amazing documentary, narrated by Midge, about the making of that historic record.
I will be seeing Simple Minds at The Basie in Red Bank, N.J., in late September, which is going to be incredibly awesome.
Anyway, here are photos of me with Midge Ure and Lo Moon to close out this update.
“Time Takes Over” is the first complete song I ever wrote. I was 17 at the time and it was strangely inspired by a co-worker of mine at the time who was only a year older than me, but had the personality and outlook of Archie Bunker.
Anyway, we worked at what is now a long-gone Pizza Hut in Point Pleasant, N.J. It was summer 1988 — in between my junior and senior years of high school — and the older sister of one of my classmates got a summer job as a cook/server/hostess with us. I had known her brother for years and knew her a bit, and never would have imagined her wanting anything to do with my overtly racist, sexist co-worker. But they wound up hooking up that summer.
Of course, she went back to college in the fall and since our business dropped like a stone when the summer tourists left, that left a lot of downtime for my co-worker and I to talk. And, for the first time, he sounded human. He really did care for her.
Shortly after she returned to college, my co-worker went to visit her. He expressed to her how he wish they had more time together, and — this is what he told me — she said to him, “Well…time just takes over.” And, at that, she suggested to him they just stay friends.
So, that’s the story behind this song. And it’s weird that one of the most stoic people I have ever known opened up his heart to me and inspired what I think is a pretty emotional song.
Anyway, the following summer he hooked up with another summer Pizza Hut employee and wound up marrying her (even though my classmate’s sister also came back to work with us that summer…which was awkward). I’ve Googled the guy in the past — and just did before posting this — and it appears he’s living in central New Jersey and married to the woman he met at Pizza Hut in 1989. But I haven’t seen him since the early 90s…well, except for one time when I drove by him when he was a cop in a Jersey Shore town a few years later.
Regarding the song itself, most of the instrumentation you hear on this track is from a cassette of the original instrumental demo I recorded in October 1988 using sounds from my old Roland U-20 synthesizer. It wasn’t until a year or so later that I got around to recording the vocals, but by then the arrangement had changed a bit (so I spliced and rearranged this a bit to fit the finished version). I recently added the vocals, wind chimes/shaker track and augmented piano/bass parts to this version, so I would have a complete recording of the original version in time for the song’s 30th anniversary in October.
Now, obviously, this milestone means nothing to anyone but me. My music career went nowhere, and I’m not really a musician anymore except for when my friend Christian Beach* needs me to be one or when I’m inspired and motivated to compose/record something. But I’m still proud of this song. I’m not sure how many 17-year olds were writing songs like this in 1988, but it couldn’t have been many. I mean, at its base, it really is a bubble-gum song about young love that is ultimately unrequited. But it sounds and feels so much bigger than that.
*Speaking of Christian, during our time in a band together from 1989-91, we actually played “Time Takes Over” in one of our live shows. Here is video of that performance (from 1990?), which features my trying — and mostly failing — to sing with a terrible head cold.
And here is the most recent update of “Time Takes Over.” I recorded this version in 2016.
A compilation of some of my favorite songs celebrating Christmas and the holiday season, in general. The playlist starts with the latest “demo” version of a Christmas song I originally wrote in 2011, “It’s Christmas Time Again.” Enjoy…
- “It’s Christmas Time Again” – Brian Kelley
- “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – Darlene Love
- “Christmas Time is Here” – Vince Guaraldi Trio
- “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” – John Lennon
- “Thanks for Christmas” – Three Wise Men (aka XTC)
- “The Closing of the Year” – Wendy & Lisa
- “Fairytale of New York” – The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl
- “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” – Band Aid (1984)
- “3 Ships” – Jon Anderson
- “This is Christmas” – Curt Smith
- “Never Gonna Be Alone on Christmas” – Work Drugs
- “Holiday Face” – Dent May
- “Christmas Must Be Tonight” – Christian Beach (The Band cover)
- “Holiday” – Mike Doughty with Rosanne Cash
- “Little Drummer Boy” – Nicole Atkins
- “Skating” – Vince Guaraldi Trio
- “Matches for Sale/Say What?” – GrooveLily
The Internet has fallen in love with the Holderness family’s “Xmas Jammies”—set to Will Smith’s “Miami” (a lot more on that in a bit)—family Christmas video that has gone viral. I’ve seen media reports telling me that the video puts my family’s Christmas card to shame or makes ours look lame. People think it’s absolutely adorable.
Well, you know what? My family’s plain ol’ Christmas card features my family…and I can honestly say that none of us are as lame as that uninspired, unoriginal video. Here’s the other thing…my family’s Christmas card was made to simply wish our friends and families a Merry Christmas—that’s it. The “Xmas Jammies” video was designed to go viral as a promotional tool for the communications business run by the husband and wife, Penn and Kim Holderness, called Greenroom Communications. In fact, the video is posted to the company’s YouTube channel and you will clearly see these words under the video:
Want a video like this for your family or company? Holla at us: email@example.com
Which begs these questions:
Do I want my family to look completely obnoxious and better than everybody else in a video that goes viral around the world?
No thanks…I’ll pass.
Do I want a video that exploits my children and is more of a commercial for my business than an actual heartfelt family Christmas video?
Um…again, no. That seems slimy.
Finally, do I want a video that’s going to potentially get me sued by record labels, music publishers, Will Smith and The Whispers, whose 1980 hit “And the Beat Goes On” is the primary sample at the heart of “Miami”?
WHAT?! HELL, NO!
Let’s talk about this last part. Many people believe that if you simply put different lyrics to a popular song, it is considered a parody, which is traditionally considered fair use of copyrighted material. But guess what? That is not how the U.S. Supreme Court has described parody.
In a guest post for Forbes.com published in 2012, intellectual property lawyer Kenneth Liu of McLean, Va.-based Gammon & Grange discussed the legality of all the so-called parodies going around of Psy’s viral hit “Gangnam Style.” While many could be considered parody, many of the videos made in response to “Gangnam Style” were not, in fact, parodies and could have easily faced legal challenges if Psy and other rights-holders chose to go that route.
Liu cited one of the most famous cases involving a parody challenged by a copyright holder, Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. Back in the late 1980s, the rap group 2 Live Crew wanted to record a parody of the Roy Orbison classic, “Oh Pretty Woman.” 2 Live Crew had asked for permission to use elements of the original for the parody, but the rights-holder, Acuff-Rose Music, denied the request. However, feeling that it was protected from copyright infringement as a parody, 2 Live Crew recorded the song anyway and released it on their 1989 album, As Clean as They Wanna Be.
Acuff-Rose Music sued 2 Live Crew for copyright infringement and the legal battle went back and forth. After 2 Live Crew scored a victory in a district court decision, Acuff-Rose Music won a decision in the Court of Appeals. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993. In early 1994, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision and remanded the case. However, the Court determined that 2 Live Crew’s “Pretty Woman” was a parody of “Oh Pretty Woman” and constituted fair use of copyrighted material.
In addition to determining that the 2 Live Crew song was targeted at a completely different market and that it would not substantially undermine sales of Orbison’s original, the Supreme Court said that 2 Live Crew’s version met the definition of parody. According to Liu, the “key to the Court’s decision was that 2 Live Crew transformed Orbison’s song into something new that ridiculed the original.”
More importantly, the Court pointed out the difference between parody and satire, which is generally not accepted as fair use. As Liu wrote in his 2012 Forbes.com guest post:
A parody is a work that imitates the characteristic style of another artist or his work for comic effect or ridicule…Many artists believe they are making parodies when they borrow someone else’s work to make fun of something, but they are actually only making satirical use of the other work. And it is this act of “borrowing” another work that is infringing. The Supreme Court essentially stated that borrowing another work for the purpose of satire is lazy — it avoids “the drudgery in working up something fresh.”
So let’s examine “Xmas Jammies” and see if it meets the criteria for a parody based on the words above. Well, right off the bat, the lyrics are not parodying Will Smith’s “Miami.” The Holderness family—those self-professed media experts who want to make you your own copyright-infringing viral video—simply wrote new lyrics to a copyright-protected song. Really, it’s not even satire. They simply—and lazily—”borrowed” a copyright-protected song and made it their own. And the song they “borrowed” is built upon a sample of The Whispers’ 1980 hit “And the Beat Goes On.” Will Smith received permission to use that sample for “Miami,” but someone else wanting to use that sample would have to obtain their own permission to do so. In essence, the Holderness family really needed to get all the appropriate licenses to use two different songs for “Xmas Jammies.”
Unless the Holderness family obtained the rights from Will Smith, The Whispers and—I believe—the publishing rights holders of both “Miami” and “And the Beat Goes On”—which I seriously doubt (the lack of attribution on the video’s YouTube page is telling)—the video that everyone is raving about is actually an obnoxious, far-reaching violation of copyright law. The fact that “Xmas Jammies” was published on Greenroom Communications’ YouTube channel means that this was produced simply to attract visitors to a commercial entity. There is no way that using copyrighted material in a promotional tool for business will pass a “fair use” test.
Nobody seems to have noticed any of this…yet. But I’m pretty sure as the YouTube hits keep climbing and Greenroom Communications starts profiting from the exposure, you’re going to see the rights-holders of “Miami” and “And the Beat Goes On” start filing lawsuits.
Sorry to be a grinch and I don’t mean to rain on the Holderness family’s parade, but “Xmas Jammies” shouldn’t be celebrated. In fact, it represents all that is wrong in this current climate of “affluenza” and an overinflated sense of entitlement. You can’t just steal the copyright-protected, creative work of others for what is essentially a commercial for a business and innocently play it off as your family’s video Christmas card…and then gain fame (or infamy) and have your company profit from it. You should have to play by the rules like everybody else. Just because you are able to do something with modern technology doesn’t mean you legally can.
Also, if you want to see the video, you can find it on YouTube. I’m not contributing to the insanity by linking to it.
When I was a teenager in the late 1980s and still had dreams of becoming a professional songwriter/musician, I wrote and recorded a song I called “Time Takes Over” in October 1988. It was probably the first complete song (with words and music) I ever wrote.
The subject matter was based on sentiments expressed by a former co-worker of mine who was describing how he visited a girl at college after having a summer fling with her. He thought it was more than that, but she didn’t see it that way. Anyway, that was the basis of the lyrics, which—for the first time in my musical life—flowed out practically simultaneously with the music.
The original 1988 version below, written when I was 17, does not include the vocals, but you will hear them later on in this post in other forms. Please note that I transferred this from an old cassette tape so that accounts for the audio artifacts.
In 1989/1990, I was in an ill-fated techno-rap outfit called TMC+The New Generation and—after a few arrangement tweaks by my friend and then-bandmate Christian Beach—we performed “Time Takes Over” during a very poorly structured live show at the ol’ Green Parrot Rock Club in Neptune, N.J., which you can see below.
Finally, a few years ago, I recorded an updated version in GarageBand on my MacBook that includes vocals. In 2012, I re-recorded the vocals and made some additional tweaks. That is the version you can hear below. Enjoy.
Thanks to my wife for allowing me to get a night to myself, I was able to go down to Philly to see the legendary Midge Ure, backed by Los Angeles-based band Right the Stars (who also served as opening act), perform at World Cafe Live last night.
What an amazing show and it was really special seeing an artist with such a lengthy pop/rock music pedigree performing in such an intimate venue. For those who don’t know, Midge Ure is best known as the lead singer and driving force behind the best-known iteration of 80s synth-pop heroes Ultravox and as the man who was essentially ordered by Bob Geldof to write what became “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”—the charity track recorded by Band Aid and produced by Ure in 1984.
However, Ure also spent time in groups like Visage, The Rich Kids, Thin Lizzy and Slik. He even reportedly turned down an invitation to become lead singer of the Sex Pistols in 1975. In short, the guy has been around for a long time and has done an awful lot with his immense talent.
This was only my second time seeing Ure in concert. The other time was when he opened for Howard Jones at what was then called the Garden State Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J., on June 16, 1989. But, damn…Midge still brings it.
The video above is Midge Ure—with Right the Stars—performing Ultravox’s classic 80s hit, “Vienna,” at World Cafe Live last night. The clip comes from YouTube user vwall10411, who I’ve turned to a lot for videos from Philly-area concerts, and there are a few more videos after the jump.
From Setlist.fm, here is the set list from last night’s show…
I See Hope in the Morning Light (missing on Setlist.fm)
Love’s Great Adventure (Ultravox)
Call of the Wild
Fade To Grey (Visage)
Cold Cold Heart
Answers To Nothing
Just For You
No Regrets (Tom Rush cover that was a No. 9 UK hit for Midge Ure in 1982)
One Small Day (Ultravox)
Dancing With Tears In My Eyes (Ultravox)
If I Was
Do They Know It’s Christmas?* (Band Aid, written by Midge Ure & Bob Geldof; produced by Midge Ure)
* – solo acoustic performance