Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Let Go

The title of this blog post refers to a couple of different ideas. One, it's the title of the song I'm featuring here...a beautiful ballad written and performed by Tyrone Wells, which I think serves as a moving tribute to any deceased person's memory. Two, it specifically speaks to what the folks of Newtown, CT will have to do as they move forward in the grieving process. And lastly, perhaps most importantly, it's a call to action for those among us who are holding steadfast to our political/ideological/social beliefs in the wake of a monumental's time to let go and at least consider that some form of change may be needed.

Please read...and listen.

Let Go by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark

This is not a political diatribe. This is not a message from the left or the right. This is not a comment on ideals either Democrat or Republican. If you don't agree with what I say, that is fine...I could be wrong, and I freely admit that. This is simply the view from my small, insignificant hole in the world. We all see things through a tiny, narrow prism that defines our personal beliefs. None of those vantage points is exactly correct, nor exactly incorrect. We must corral all of those focused beliefs and re-evaluate how they add up. As an individual, each of us is practically powerless. As a society, we are not. We're smarter than this. We're stronger than this. And we are most definitely better than this. No ills of the world can ever be completely eradicated, but that doesn't mean that we should throw our hands up in the air and accept the status quo. That is a recipe for disaster. It should also be said that this editorial is not a specific response to the horrific violence that occurred in Connecticut last week. There are still various misconceptions about what happened, and many pieces of that puzzle still yet to be strung together. However, that incident should serve as a blaring wake-up call to all of us that change is needed. When 20 babies are snuffed out before their 7th and 8th birthdays, we must retroactively examine all the societal catastrophes that came before this.

So what should be done? I am not so self-involved as to believe that I alone have the definitive answers to that question. I do know that we can throw out the knee-jerk suggestions by both ideological sides:

"Ban all guns!"


"Arm everyone in America so they can defend themselves against those who would do them harm!"

These types of blanket solutions will accomplish nothing, and are completely unrealistic.

Some more reasonable suggestions are also floating out there:

Ban assault weapons

Enhance and enforce gun control policies

Pass more rigorous mental health legislation and provide more funding for related action

Enact more stringent guidelines for prohibiting violence in television, film, literature, and music

Furnish our schools with tighter security 

My personal opinions on each of these measures...

The main argument against banning assault weapons seems to be that it's been tried the mid-90's...and it failed to influence any decrease in violent crime, particularly deaths caused by those types of artillery. Apparently, our government is incapable of passing legislation without hundreds of associated loopholes. How about we examine WHY the ban failed, as opposed to just the fact that it did fail? How about our politicians start drafting legislation for the good of the people, as opposed to being for the purpose of furthering their own ideological and career-oriented agendas? If you're going to ban something, BAN it. Don't then say, "OK, except for this type of weapon, and that type, and that type...." There is no godly reason why an everyday civilian needs access to an assault rifle. If someone wants to keep a handgun locked safely away in their nightstand for personal protection, or a gun that's suitable for hunting game, then fine. There's not much we can do about that, and I think that's acceptable. Amassing a doomsday scenario-type high-powered arsenal is not.

With regards to other aspects of gun control...I'm sorry folks on the far right, but everyone in the country packing heat is not going to make us SAFER! I think some of these people are envisioning a scenario where someone like teacher, Victoria Soto, yanks her weapon from her desk, dives out into the school hallway like John McClane from Die Hard, and blows away Adam Lanza before he has a chance to take out any innocent bystanders. We simply cannot rely upon ordinary citizens to take the law into their own hands in these situations where a psychopath decides he's going to annihilate a public gathering of people. Even if that were a realistic expectation, in the meantime, the unintended consequences of us all having guns could end up being more dire than the isolated tragedies that mindset is ultimately designed to prevent. How many sons and daughters are going to accidentally find and fire their parents weapons? How many mentally unstable folks will continue to find access to high-capacity guns? How many of these well-intentioned citizens will fire and miss their desired target, injuring someone else instead? People point to the Constitution and the right to bear arms. Folks, I'm sorry, but this is a 230-year-old document. The founding fathers did not have our current society envisioned when they laid the foundation of this country. How could they have? Times have drastically changed, and we need to adapt accordingly.

Conversely, those on the far left are misguided if they think banning all guns is realistic. As we know from our past history, anytime we outlaw something completely - alcohol, abortion, etc. - the results are not what we had envisioned. There are always unintended consequences here as well. As many people have pointed out, those who want to do others harm will find a way to procure their weapons of choice, unless we focus on the specific aspects of our laws that allow this to happen.

So what's in between? We have made incredible advances in technology in almost every area of our lives. Why can't these advances be applied to weaponry? I work in the wireless industry, where everything is now focused on so-called  "smart" phones. The long-range vision in this field is that everything we touch in our daily lives is, sometime in the not too distant future, going to be wired into smart technology. Our shopping excursions, our household appliances, our cars, etc. will all be interconnected with our handheld devices and mobile apps. So, God damn it, why can't we make the guns smarter too? How about guns only being able to be activated via a registered fingerprint? How about the internal mechanisms being disabled when a perpetrator walks into a school, place of worship, airport, shopping mall, or anywhere else weapons don't belong? I mean, for the love of Christ, I need a f--king login name and password just to gain access to this BLOG...why on Earth don't you need one to operate a machine gun? If we can't prevent everyone from obtaining the weapons, maybe we can at least stop certain people from using them. I do think that there should be incredible lengths of red tape in place pertaining to the licensing and registration of guns. It should be difficult to legally obtain these items. Those of us who are stable and want to use them for innocuous purposes, will be somewhat inconvenienced, but in the end, they'll get what they want. Those who can't pass the rigorous background checks, age requirements (I think it should be 25+), mental health evaluations, etc., will be prevented from procuring weapons of any kind, and that's just the way it is (or should be). It may be a slippery slope in determining what the guidelines should be, but I'm sorry, this is an absolute necessity.

Regarding mental health, I personally can't envision what we can do in this arena, but again, I am no expert. However, I do think it's a debate that needs to be had so people more qualified than I CAN come up with some cogent solutions. How do we legislate better mental health? In many of these tragic incidents, there were not sufficient warning signs to suggest that the eventual perpetrators would become hysterically violent. But perhaps, in some instances, there will be ways to prevent the most hideous outcomes...for the good of the prospective victims, as well as the benefit of the disturbed individual.

Next, the debate on violent images and actions, as portrayed in pop culture, is one where my opinions probably diverge from those of many other people. This, again, is not to say that my way is the right way. I just don't see the correlation between listening to rap, or watching a Quentin Tarantino film, and someone walking into a school and shooting children. There's simply something else at work here. Why are 99.9% of us not so impressionable as to be driven to acts of unspeakable violence after having consumed these types of entertainment products? Is the "cause" in the cause and effect equation here the images of violence, or is it the lack of proper education, the broken homes, bad parenting, violence and abuse in the homes, inherent mental instability, and the like? Likewise, what would the actual benefits be from removing the aforementioned portrayals of violence? I am not convinced that there would be any measurable effect. That's not to say I am against having the discussion, but I think we need to keep our eyes open to the reality.

Lastly, school security. This is one area where I express my viewpoint with sincere regret. Unfortunately, I think it's come to the point where we need metal detectors, guards, etc. everywhere. This is not an ideal situation, but it's a necessity. The same way we hate being inconvenienced at the airport, in most instances (strip-searching Grandmas notwithstanding), this is done for our own safety. No, we don't want our kids to feel like they're going to school in a war zone, but if it keeps out the evildoers, so be it.

Just one more comment on something I briefly touched on I am generally not a political person, and I don't have many "pet" issues. But, if there is one thing I am incredulous about, it's the lack of attention we pay to the education crisis in this country. There is an associated lack of understanding (not just by politicians, but by the general public as well) of how education is the one segment of society that feeds into every single problem and nationwide concern. The economic struggles, political corruption, drugs and violence, mental health, even foreign policy issues...everything is affected by the quality of education. You cannot make an argument that it is not. So not only do we need to discuss issues like gun control (the symptom), we need to facilitate a revolution in the way we view our education structure (the disease). This needs to be done NOW. And I'm not talking about paying teachers more, or strengthening math and science curriculums (two misguided suggestions that are consistently floated around). Those are not solutions. I'm talking about a mass overhaul of the "one size fits all" and standardized testing approaches that we've been following for decades. Every child is different, and consequently has different educational needs.

In conclusion, I want to say that I am not a parent. I therefore don't have the same perspective that many of you have, following the devastation in Newtown. But I do have a baby nephew, and can't fathom him not being allowed to reach age 8. I can't fathom him not being able to go to high school and college, drive a car, get married, get a job, have kids of his own, etc. In providing service to one of my customers the other day, assisting her in adding a cell phone line to her account for her daughter, she lamented to me that she was 100% against giving her ten-year-old a cell phone. However, in her words, "...after this stupid shooting, I don't want to not have a way of staying connected with her throughout the day." As we spoke further about last week's events, I couldn't help but get a little emotional. Parents all over the world are now feeling that much more helpless in letting their young kids leave their side every day, and it shouldn't be this way. It can't be this way.

We need to be able to let go.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Top 15 Songs of 2012

I have to say that this has been the worst year ever in terms of my personal musical taste. Since I really started following pop/rock music in the mid-80's, 2012 would probably rank last in terms how many songs really struck my ear, and how many albums I would sit listening to beginning to end. With that having been said, it was relatively easy to come up with my Top 15 Songs of the Year...just sad that it was only 15. Here are the tracks that made this year in music somewhat listenable for me...

15. "45" by Gaslight Anthem - a good one to turn up loud while driving.

14. Domino by Jessie J - not a big fan of her other stuff...particularly the annoying "Party in the U.S.A.," which she penned for Miley Cyrus, but this was one of the catchier songs of the year

13. Silenced By the Night by Keane - these guys seem to have one or two great tracks on each album, and that's it. This is the one that stood out for me on their most recent effort.

12. This Moment Now by Tyrone Wells - discovered this amazing singer at the SXSW festival a few years back. He churned out two albums and an EP this year - and I must say, I don't think much of it stands up to his prior work, but this was one of the songs that captured my attention.

11. Days Go By by The Offspring - about 20 years in to their career, these guys are still churning out great rock songs. Not a bad feat.

10. I Miss the Misery by Halestorm - the one album of the year that blew me away, largely because Lzzy Hale is simply unrivaled as a singer in the world of hard rock right now...if there is still such a world. That's also why this is not their only appearance on my list.

9. Rise by Ed Kowalczyk - the former lead singer of the band LIVE continues to be one of the best songwriters out there. I was sad to see the band break up, and his solo stuff is not quite as good top to bottom as the group stuff was, but chances are, he'll end up on my year-end list every year he releases anything.

8. Burn it Down by Linkin Park - Linkin Park is what I would describe as a "Greatest Hits" act for me. I've pretty much liked every single they've ever released, but not much of the rest of their album material. And that's fine...a few great rock tunes on every album.

7. Love Bites (So Do I) by Halestorm - and here they are again. How appropriate that one of my favorite modern bands tips their caps to my favorite band of all-time, Def Leppard. This song has nothing to do with the Leps' only number one hit (that fact is unreal as it is), except that they are both awesome. By the way...I don't think I'd wanna mess with Lzzy.

6. Stars by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - I only discovered this song a couple of weeks the most unpredictable place: on "The Voice"! I don't normally watch these banal TV "talent" contests, but I happened to flip to this when nothing was on, and caught contestant Amanda Brown singing the hell out of this, which of course led me to look up the original. I dare say that Brown practically outdid Grace Potter, but the original definitely stuck with me. I can't really get into Potter's other stuff, so this will have to do. Also, it should be said that the next time I accidentally came across a performance on "The Voice," the results were entirely different - one of those dreaded group performances (which are always horrific) - this time a certified mauling of Journey's "Any Way You Want It." Yikes.

5. I Won't Give Up by Jason Mraz - this one surprised me. Mraz is always trying to do that rhythmic lyrical gymnastic thing like he did on his original hit, "Remedy" years ago. This one is just a simple love song. No frills...just a great melody. I'm sold.

4. Headlights by Morning Parade - I suspect this is the only song I'll ever like from these guys. A real standout track on an otherwise forgettable album.

3. Everybody Talks by Neon Trees - as soon as this came out, I declared it the catchiest song of the year, and I think that has held up through the end of 2012. As with many of the songs on this list, it was the only track on their album that did anything for me. I guess the pressure on artists to put out a "hook"-y single is alive and well...and apparently it works in a lot of cases. 


Wait, did I forget number TWO?

For the first time in the celebrated history of my blog, I could not make a decision between my top two songs. Yes, there is, in fact, a TIE!! I know, I know. You're all jumping out of your seats in disbelief. But it has happened. What can I say...the ladies ruled this year. And two ladies with incredible voices at that. Not shocking, but one of these artists put out my favorite album of 2011, and the other released my favorite album of 2012. So it's only fitting that they share the crown this year. So read on to find out who they are, and sample almost all of the songs from the list in the widget below if you'd like to decide for yourselves just how crappy my taste in music is :-) Thanks for reading...

1. (TIE) Here's to Us by Halestorm/Dark Side by Kelly Clarkson 

"Here's to Us" is one of those songs that you could imagine singing along to with a bunch of strangers in a bar (think: "Closing Time" by Semisonic)...if you were a character in a cheesy movie. Yes, these are not the deepest lyrics in the history of rock music, but sometimes an amazing vocalist, great melody, and cheerful sentiment is all you need. And Lzzy actually makes the word "Fuck" sound not dirty. One other incredible thing to note about this song - the cover of it done by the cast of the show "Glee" marked the only instance I have ever heard where the FOX TV characters didn't completely destroy the track they chose to remake. It was actually a serviceable (yet nowhere near the original) version

The title track to Kelly Clarkson's fifth studio album, "Stronger," was, remarkably, the biggest hit of her career. Almost as remarkably, the next single, "Dark Side," fell with a thud, as it missed even making the Billboard Top 40. Following suit with my track record of going against the grain of popular opinion - even when involving a multi-million album selling artist - I had pegged this as my favorite track on the album as soon as I listened to it the first time. This is saying something, considering how much I like the entire CD. That's OK...I continue to like Kelly's dark side, and every other side of her as well. 

    Top 15 of 2012 by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Nielsen's Big Catastrophe

I suppose NBC could now stand for a lot of things, but in the spirit of mean, upfront season (that's when the major networks roll out their lineups for the upcoming TV year), I figured Nielsen's Big Catastrophe was an appropriate title for this post. Nielsen, of course, being the corporate research firm that collects and tallies the information providing the backbone of the American television ratings system. We've all taken it for granted for decades that this information is accurate and, above all, meaningful. I think that the powers that be in the entertainment industry need to rethink that assumption, and moreover, how they make decisions based on the ratings.

I have spent several years as a media buyer, pouring over said Nielsen ratings in order to provide sound advertising recommendations for various companies, big and small. And I've spent even longer as an avid TV watcher, so I form the following theory based on solid scientific knowledge: the current system is worth about as much as a pile of horse crap.

I'm used to having TV shows I watch cancelled. I've perfected the art of choosing to watch those programs which become one-season, or worse, partial-season duds. So, it came as no surprise that this trend continued this year. Interesting to note: I'm probably the only person in America who watched three prime time shows on NBC this season. Let's face it - the Peacock network ain't what it used to be. "Awake" featured an interesting premise, but never caught on. "The Firm," despite being (or perhaps BECAUSE it was) my favorite new show on any network this season, scored some of the most abysmal ratings in the modern era. But the one that really stung me was the termination of "Harry's Law." The Kathy Bates-led legal drama featured some of the best writing and acting I've seen on prime time TV in a while. One could have made an argument that Bates was the best actor on any network show. But the real kicker: it was one of NBC's highest rated shows, pulling in about 9 million viewers a week. That's right...the lowest rated network by a country mile torpedoed one of its most watched programs. Why, you ask? Because the WRONG people were watching; people aged 50 and older. These poor, helpless creatures obviously spend no money on advertisers' products, rendering them worthless in the eyes of network executives. In all seriousness, the pervading theory for many years has been that older folks are set in their ways, and therefore, are less susceptible to changing their buying habits based on advertising messages. This theory, of course, is about as scientifically sound as my horse crap one mentioned above. Alas, the 18-49 demographic segment remains the one that dictates any and all critical network decisions.

The fact is, the TV viewing landscape has changed drastically just over the past few years. Very few of us even WATCH commercials any more, unless the surrounding program is called the Super Bowl. Yet no one in the vast pool of entertainment geniuses working in the television business has seemed to devise any innovative changes in the way products are advertised to their audiences. They're all sticking with the two-minute pods segmented into 15- and 30-second commercial spots. Do we still use horses and oxen to travel cross-country? No...because our evolving modern lifestyle dictated that we invent more appropriate methods of transportation. So why on Earth are they still adhering to this antiquated system in the world of TV advertising?

I can come up with several, at least somewhat feasible, ideas for revolutionizing the business just sitting here on my couch. Develop closer and more tailored relationships with your advertising partners. Realize that different age groups might gravitate toward different products, giving each segment value in certain circumstances. Use new technology to advance how you communicate your advertisers' messages to the audience - interactive overlays enabling viewers to opt in to certain offers, crawls on the bottom of the screen (hell, they already feature those annoying network promos down there like every other minute), use interactive Web sites/micro-sites to capture email addresses and other pertinent audience info...and on and on. Am I the only one with half a clue here?

It bears mentioning that NBC itself commissioned a research report to demonstrate that the prevailing "wisdom" regarding older audiences was not necessarily correct. And then they went and used the same baseless paradigm in making the decision regarding "Harry's Law." Given that TV episodes are taped well in advance, it was quite poetic that after having gotten the axe on Friday, "Harry's Law" aired what may have been its best episode yet on Sunday. a laugh-out-loud inspiring move, show-runner, David E. Kelley obviously had the actors re-shoot the opening scenes at the last minute, as Bates' wisecracking character, Harriet Korn, upon being awoken at 6am, lamented how getting old sucks, and how she longed for the days when she was 18-49.

If you ever find episodes of "Harry's Law" online or elsewhere, I suggest Sunday's brilliant The Whole Truth, amd last November's American Girl. And here's hoping that Kathy Bates lands another series soon. Maybe the "important" viewers will come along for the ride next time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Year in Music: 2011 - Top 10 Songs

My series of blog posts on the best music of 2011 concludes with my nominees for Record of the Year. These are essentially my top ten favorite tracks of the year...the ones I haven't been able to get out of my head; all but a couple of which have already made appearances in my other categories. I hope, if anyone's been reading this, that you picked up a new favorite song or two along the way. If not, then, you're missing out :-)

Record of the Year

Never Gonna Leave This Bed - Maroon 5
These guys came close to topping my year-end list a few years ago with "Won't Go Home Without You." It seems like they've improved with every album, in my opinion. Hands All Over may very well have been my album of the year, except for the fact it was released in 2010. This single just stuck in my head from the beginning, and still hasn't left. Pop perfection.

Walk - Foo Fighters
Fuckin' Perfect - Pink
Give Me Something - Scars on 45
Mr. Know It All - Kelly Clarkson

The One That Got Away - Katy Perry
Even when my tastes coincide somewhat with popular opinion, I still manage to go against the grain. As I had mentioned, my favorite songs and artists this year were atypically commercial, and Katy Perry is certainly the best example of that. Perry tied Michael Jackson's record for scoring five #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 from the same album. "The One That Got Away" was, in fact, the one that got away, only making it to #3, and preventing Perry from breaking the record. So, of course, logic would hold, that this was my favorite of all the singles. Hey, I tried.

Down By The Water - The Decemberists
A little more of a folky sound with The Decemberists album than what I normally listen to. I gave The King is Dead an honorable mention in Album of the Year, and this was the most catchy tune of the bunch.

Slave to the Grind - Halestorm

Sorry - The Smithereens
I won't call myself a huge fan of The Smithereens. There isn't really one album of theirs that I would listen to start to finish, but they always seem to come up with a few great tracks each time out. I heard this one played twice on a local radio station, and that was pretty much it. The Smithereens are long past their heyday, but this track is still worth a listen, or several.

Werewolves - The Damnwells

Jerammies 2011 - Record of the Year by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Year in Music: 2011 - Part V

Hope everyone had a great holiday season! Hopefully, 2012 will bring some great new music. For now, I leave you with the second to last category in my year-end Jerammy nominations - Song of the Year. As the real Grammy voters typically ignore the distinction between this and Record of the Year, I will point out that these nods are supposed to be for achievement in songwriting, and hence, go to the songwriters...not necessarily the same as the performers. To me, excellence in songwriting doesn't have to indicate some deep, world-changing lyrical passage, but there should be something unique and non-cliched about both the lyrics and the music. The melodies should also grab you - an engaging hook is definitely part of masterful songwriting. That having been said, the nominees are:

Song of the Year

Fuckin' Perfect - Pink, Max Martin, and Shellback (performed by Pink)
Nothing too complicated or poetic here. It's a simple song with an admirable message and a tight melody. Enough to be my top choice.

Werewolves - Alex Dezen (The Damnwells)
Another song that isn't exactly treading any new topical territory, but Dezen certainly has a way with words, which lifts this one to a higher level. The hook is great too, with the backing vocals to the chorus even featuring a sort of "howling" tone to them. It's the details that count when you're deciding on the best.

Someone Like You - Adele Adkins, Dan Wilson (Adele)
Nine years after the release of Semisonic's signature rock tune, "Closing Time," lead singer Dan Wilson scored a Song of the Year Grammy win for co-writing the Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice." Four and a half years after that, he notched his first #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 with this Adele track. I am personally not the biggest Adele fan in the world, and think she is overhyped. However, the raw emotion conveyed in this song warrants that props be given to both Adele and her writing partner, Wilson. Plus, I'm such a huge Dan Wilson fan, that I wanted to recognize him here. I wish he had more of his OWN music out there, and that he had more success with those songs. The fact that he's so ably adapted his writing across genres through the years shows that he is simply one of the most talented songwriters out there today.

Give Me Something - Danny Bemrose (Scars on 45)
Love Shines - Ron Sexsmith (Ron Sexsmith) 
The Cave - Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons)

Jerammies 2011 - Song of the Year by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark