Monday, August 27, 2007

Elton and the Internet

I've been an Elton John fan since the early 70s and learned to sing by imitating his voice while playing along to his songs. Now Sir Elton would like to do away with the Internet, temporarily at least. According to an article in The Sun, Elton would like to shut down the Internet for 5 years as an experiment to see what kind of art would be produced, intimating that the music nowadays is of poor quality as a result of everyone being online. He feels that music was of better quality in the early 70s than today and that musicians need to interact more instead of blogging.

I do feel that mainstream music in the 70s was better than today. It was a different world and there was no World Wide Web with the incredible media fragmentation and diversity we have today. Part of my admitted bias stems from the fact I am a progressive rock fan and that in the 70s, progressive rock was indeed part of the mainstream. It's sometimes amazing for me to remember but Yes and ELP played to huge audiences and had albums in the top 10. There was also your jazz rock and fusion folks like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever who redefined jazz in a rock context. At any rate, there was mainstream music (i.e. on the radio and put out by the major labels) that had a fair degree of musical sophistication.

Even Elton John himself had "proggy" tendencies, witness "Funeral for a Friend" and the "Carla/Etude/Fanfare" from The Fox. But even his "standard" pop music fare was beautifully conceived and executed, particularly with the perfectionistic approach of Gus Dudgeon.

I would have to disagree with Elton though that there's not as much good music today. There's just so much more out there via the Internet that it can be too overwhelming to discover it. I don't feel the major labels and conventional radio have much too offer anymore. But boy, in my networking on MySpace, I've found scores of excellent bands and musicians! Most don't have any major label support, let alone ANY label support. But you could check out some of my "friends" at the Aethellis MySpace page and find a great deal of quality music ranging from ambient electronica to classical to jazz to progressive.

Elton admits to being a "Luddite" but has his music available for download and had his 60th birthday concert streamed over the Internet. But as far as using computers to compose, he would rather stick to the piano. And that's fine. For me, writing at the piano enabled me to remember what I composed better than improvising into a sequencer program on the computer or recording to tape. I had to go back and play things over to really commit my new piece to memory. And sometimes that made me work on it more and develop it better.

That said, sequencers and software enable me to create pretty much any sound I want and do the "one man band" thing. It also allows me to try things out to see how they might sound and then cut and paste. This can be a good thing. But as Elton pointed out, collaboration with other people (not over the Internet but live) can be lead to interesting music; a way to bounce ideas off of each other. Both approaches are valid and indeed there are those who have little in the way of conventional musical ability who are able to create interesting music because of the technology.

So I must say Sir Elton, there is an abundance of creativty and great music out there on the Internet, you just have to look. Many excellent musicians and bands would have been unheard otherwise. So please, let's not shut it all down, but rather explore it! I'm so glad I discovered you all those years ago and there are others out there online who deserve to be discovered as well.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The story behind "Saint Augustus"

I've been asked at performances about the lyrics to the song "Saint Augustus." When I wrote the lyrics years ago in graduate school I had been fascinated with Ancient Greece and the end of the Roman empire (in the West, not what became the Byzantine Empire) and the beginning of the so-called "Dark Ages" in Europe.

Saint Augustus/Augustine was the Bishop of Hippo (in Western North Africa, one of the regional councils along with Carthage and Rome) in the 5th century who witnessed Rome's collapse and watched the governing bodies wax and wane with astonishing rapidity. A Neoplatonist, he was struck by the corruption and commented, "Without justice, what is sovereignty but organised brigandage?"

The lyrics are written from the viewpoint of those who followed the Bishop and were questioning their place in the calamitous events. The chorus, "Saint Augustus will you help us, will you grant us light?" refers to the Neoplatonic philosophy that evil is not a thing of its own, but rather the absence or lesser good. Thereby the light being "good" and the absence of it are what the followers are experiencing.

I thought "Saint Augustus" had a slightly better ring to it than "Saint Augustine" and a friend of mine at the university suggested that title to me.

So here are the lyrics with the aforementioned background as some explanation. Enjoy!

Honor is a virtue which cannot be replaced
By thought, word or deed
He listens and obeys the creed
Only to go to his own

Saint Augustus, will you help us
Will you grant us life?
Saint Augusts, will you burn us?
Or will you grant us light?

Few men at arms would guard him from those
Whose wounds sting and fester
Exacerbated by his cruelty
Some day they will be at war

Saint Augustus, will you help us
Will you grant us life?
Saint Augusts, will you burn us?
Or will you grant us light?

Children go and journey fast
Look to the first and be not last
You are the forgotten hope
To which we turn in time of need
Don't look back, you may turn to salt
As brightness then would claim your eyes
This old city would be ashes
Unlike a phoenix it will not again rise

Children go and journey fast
Remember our forgotten past
Grow up strong to teach your own
Not to allow corruption of a throne
Don't come back, we may not be here
Destroyed perhaps by our own fear
Go on children and live for glory
And when you can avenge us here