Unchanged Melodies Insult My Intelligence

Dies Irae

(Photo credit: suyensedai)


This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge deals with how music has impacted or represents your life.  My regular readers already know to be afraid of this.  Very afraid.

Fortunately for you, those fears are well grounded.  Out of all the tunes ever written, you can probably guess what I’ll be writing about.  (Hint: it ain’t Wrecking Ball.)

Today’s post will discuss the Roman Catholic funerary hymn Dies Irae.  It just screams my personality, doesn’t it?

For those of you who don’t know the song, here’s a version that some monks performed:

Even though religion didn’t figure prominently in my home life, I attended Catholic schools growing up.  You might say that I absorbed more religion than vodka in school.  That’s vodka, not wine.  The Church endorses an occasional sip of wine from an early age.  So, I suppose I absorbed more alcohol than religion as a child and that’s why I became such an upstanding citizen.

Although the schools offered strong academics, the religious content droned on and on like the monks.  That’s not to say that the monks lack talent, but they, like theological instruction, don’t connect with listeners unless the listeners possess a preexisting desire to drink it in.  I didn’t have that.

Wine, on the other hand, connects whether you want it to or not.  That post will have to wait, though.

Back to the story: I graduated from high school and never attended church again except for weddings and funerals.  I no longer had to appear religion-friendly because I was no longer subject to religious expectations.  During these years, I picked up a CD with another version of Dies Irae… this time by a goth band called Mantus:

No, I never took on goth dress or anything like that.  In retrospect, though, I find it rather amusing that a goth band would choose to sing Catholic liturgical music, even if it was originally for funerals.  I suppose that means the band, much like myself, never became anti-religion in any real sense.  The updated hymn also makes for a more substantial listening experience than the mindless Satan worship that comes from so many cheap metal bands; I guess that’s why I’ve never gotten rid of my old goth-style music.  Goths appreciate the classics.

And then I reached graduate school, an experience that would suffice to send anyone into a greater depression than the average goth band depicts.  Fortunately, I stayed psychologically healthy and made it through to graduation.  And then I became unemployed.  Normally, unemployment is supposed to be depressing but I’ve somehow remained happy.  I guess it’s a lot easier to deal with new problems if you’re glad enough to be free of where you were.  Unfortunately, I can’t use that explanation in a job interview because it counts as badmouthing former employers.

I probably need not inform you that I discovered a more upbeat version of Dies Irae.    I may be in a morbid state of affairs but I’m still cheerful when my intelligence isn’t being insulted.  Anyway, here’s the song:

I presume you want me to finally explain the point of this whole post.  So, here we go: if your music doesn’t fit your life, change your playlist to something more suitable.  Change is liberating, and there’s something in the new tune that will hold an echo of the old… even if that echo is heresy to your earlier life.

Since I’m feeling generous, I’ll give you a second moral to the story: funerary music is much more enjoyable when it’s not being played at a funeral.

Italian Tripe Insults My Intelligence

English: A restaurant in Treviso, Italy.

Not the same ristorante, but you get the point…  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the tripe picture in my last post, you surely must have known that I’d return to the topic.

When I think of tripe, I think of a dinner I had on my tour of Italy.  The tour company arranged for the group to occupy a little ristorante that would have been really romantic if I had been there with a horny female friend.  The food was excellent and we were all having some great conversations with the people at our tables.

Enter the tour guide.  He asks us to quiet down and listen to the opera singers that will be performing for us.  I’m no opera aficionado, but the singers were reasonably good even if I and most of the the others would have preferred to chat.

And then it finally happened.

The opera singers pulled a CD of themselves from their pockets and started prancing from table to table asking if anyone would like to purchase a copy.  By the time they reached my table, they were looking incredibly annoyed when no one raised their hand.

Moral of the story:  If you’re trying to sell products by associating them with a memorable moment, don’t destroy the moment.  People aren’t always stupid.

Junior High Insulted My Intelligence

I remember when the official letter from my school arrived.  I was an 8th grader at a Catholic school and they had never sent anything like that.  When my mother saw the envelope, she imagined the worst.

Or so she thought.

As it turned out, the principal was informing us of an information session.  Some of my classmates had been carving pentagrams into their wrists and drawing pentagrams on school property with white-out.  In response, the school administration had invited a visiting priest to present his expert understanding of Satanism and its manifestations.

Inverted Pentagram

The Satanic inverted pentagram.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suspect my razor-wielding classmates already knew everything he taught… but then again one idiot thought this was a pentagram:


The Star of David.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And this brilliant student volunteered to draw the example on the chalkboard at the group session.  So as you can see, I did not attend Catholic school with the most Catholic (or intelligent) of classmates.

But I’m not here to talk about Satanism.  I’m here to talk about drugs.  Later that year, the school decided to sponsor some drug education activities.  Because our class had already proven its moral turpitude, the idea was reasonable enough.  You can’t underestimate how early some kids start with these bad habits.

And so the school’s guidance counselor led all of us to the parking lot and she started singing.  (Of course, we were expected to join in.)  Here’s the song:

If you’re drug-free and you know it clap your hands
If you’re drug-free and you know it clap your hands
If you’re drug-free and you know it, and you really want to show it
If you’re drug-free and you know it clap your hands

She may have also conveyed some real information because I vaguely remember holding a paper of some sort.  Nevertheless, the performance served as the main event.

This leads me to a useful rule of thumb:

If students are already dabbling in Satanism, children’s songs probably won’t keep them from drugs.  If anything, the musical ringleader will lose any credibility she may have had with the students.  Even with the clean and unmutilated ones like me.

I hope her exercise doesn’t reflect the techniques one learns while pursuing a degree in education, psychology, or counseling.

The American Music Industry Insults My Intelligence

Das letzte Einhorn, In Extremo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d like to introduce one of my favorite European bands: In Extremo.  They originate from Germany but they’ve toured in Mexico and probably some other places.  As far as I know, they have never made it to the United States.  Their exclusion from our market reveals much about consumer preferences in this country while enlightening us on what risks the music industry will take.  Let’s have a closer look.

1-  In Extremo has recorded songs in German, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Icelandic, and a host of dead languages… but not in English.  And unlike some other performers, they don’t offer translated versions of their hit songs.  Unless they decide to cover the Macarena or Du Hast, they have no chance here until they jump on the English bandwagon.

2- They released a CD called “Unbridled Sinners” (Suender ohne Zuegel) and that’s totally unacceptable to Americans’ religious sensibilities.  That must be why those devoutly Catholic Mexicans welcomed the band into their country.  Oh, wait, that album title came from the lyrics to a song and those lyrics were “I was searching for people like myself but all I found were unbridled sinners.”  So they’re implicitly criticizing less savory types who love metal (yes, this is a metal band) while still marketing the product to this demographic.

3- On the subject of darker types, metal in Germany is sometimes associated with certain extremist tendencies… which isn’t fair in most cases.  And then In Extremo has the medieval and occult-ish aesthetics that the Nazis also liked, plus the overly masculinized musicians.   That’s why In Extremo has to be kept out of the U.S.  That’s also why Rammstein could create a music video using clips from an old Nazi movie and still be imported into the U.S. market.

4- Americans don’t mind overly masculinized musicians, but the musicians have to play the part.  In Extremo’s lead singer goes by “The Last Unicorn” and that name isn’t particularly manly.  The original German name isn’t much better because “Einhorn” already exists in the American cultural vocabulary.  (In case you’re too young to remember, the first Jim Carrey “Ace Ventura” movie featured a crossdressing villain named Einhorn.)  Oh, and a few band members sometimes wear kilts… and that obviously makes them look like a bunch of neo-Nazis.  And then one guy plays the harp in a few songs.

5- The band’s traditional symbol is too violent for American tastes.  They use a gallows, kind of like the one you drew as a kid while playing Hangman.  I suppose crucifixes are also kind of violent, though.

6- In Extremo signed with one of the major American music labels and rebranded themselves by dropping all of their old costumes and symbols; the resulting CD also lacked flavor and didn’t earn great reviews.  A bonus CD included some of their older music performed in their new style and it disappointed.  And they adopted aviator jackets… which somehow reminded me of the giant bandages the lead singer needed after being injured by the pyrotechnics during their previous tour.  The nostalgic looking biplane on the CD cover didn’t help their image either.  Very medieval.  I suppose making it big can ruin a band.

7- I’ve told you that this metal band sometimes uses a harp.  So as you can probably guess, In Extremo’s choice of instruments lands them well outside of the U.S. mainstream.  Americans expect guitar riffs and more guitar riffs.  And three chords maximum.  I can’t list all of the instruments these guys play, but they do have one signature instrument that constantly appears in their music.  It will convince you that these guys are a bunch of neo-Nazis.

So, without further ado, I present a video clip from an In Extremo concert.  They will be performing a song from “Unbridled Sinners” called “Omnia Sol Temperat.”  It’s a cover of the Carl Orff composition that’s based on the thirteenth century poem from the Carmina Burana.

Classical music was meant to be played with an electric guitar and in the original Latin.

iTunes Insults My Intelligence

Interesting fact: the music you are permitted to purchase on iTunes is determined by the country you live in.  (Amazon also does this for its MP3 downloads and they they judge your location by your credit card billing address.)  While Amazon lets you see foreign music if you go to the British (or other foreign) site, you can’t even see the listings for music you’re not allowed to buy on iTunes.

According to iTunes, this has to do with the contracts they’re able to sign with the various record companies; I would imagine that it’s the record companies who demand these restrictions.  It’s nothing new.  If you’ve spent much time in a foreign country, you know that DVD’s are programmed to run only in a particular region’s DVD players.   Before that, the same was true of videocassette formatting.  I’m sure the record companies are just trying to protect everyone from musical tastes that would be dangerous to the larger community.

But some stuff gets through and, very often, we are left with crap.  Do you remember the band Rammstein?  Rammstein is and always has been perfectly safe.  After all, they’re the group that did a music video out of clips from a Leni Riefenstahl film.  We didn’t get that information in this country because that would have made the band unmarketable here.  The only “controversy” we were informed of was that the Columbine killers liked the band.

Since I’m no longer so young, I like to categorize Rammstein as “Dr. Seuss Death Metal.”  This is what their lyrics seem like to me:

Would you kill your lovely wife?

Would you do it with a knife?

Would blood splatter here and there?

Would blood splatter everywhere?

I do not like green eggs and blood.

I do not like them, Sam, you pud.

When I was in Europe about a dozen years ago, I came back with CD’s of a similar band called Oomph! (The exclamation point is part of their name.  It’s not an indication of excitement on my part.)  When my brother heard this stuff, he accurately stated that they make Rammstein sound like sick little men, or something like that.  For one, these guys can actually sing.  And second, the music often has more than one or two chords per song.  And third, their lyrics rise above a second grade reading level.  iTunes carries all of Rammstein’s stuff but is missing a great deal of Oomph!’s.  The innovative stuff is absent, like the prozac album.  (I call it the prozac album because the band recorded a bunch of more cheerful songs and a pair called Dopamine and Seratonin.)

And then there are the bands iTunes doesn’t carry.  There’s a Finnish group called Northern Kings and the only song iTunes carries from them is the one that isn’t in English.  (The ones in English are all covers of American hits, mostly from the 1980’s.  You’d think that kind of thing would sell if it were offered…)  I encourage you to look them up on Youtube.  If you’re into lighter music, go for “I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight.”  “Take on Me” is a better introduction if you’re into heavier stuff.  Except for R&B and Gospel singers, the U.S. music industry doesn’t give us much authentic musical talent like this.  One of the Northen Kings’ singers has even released a serious recording of “Nessun Dorma.”  Can anyone picture Lars Ulrich or Ozzy Osborne pulling off anything remotely similar to opera vocals, or even being able to handle a full song in Italian?

I suppose iTunes and the record companies must think that they can keep selling us garbage if they just spoon feed us recommendations, leaving us to never experience what else is out there.  Just buy the stuff they advertise and everybody’s happy!

And if you think that sounds nefarious, ask yourself this: can you think of another industry where businesses choose not to offer their products for sale to the broadest possible market when it would cost them nothing extra to do so?  It’s not like iTunes doesn’t have all this other music stored on its servers already.