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Tag Archives: music

Music Between the Generations

There have always been great chasms separating generations, but none so much as right now. We live in the era of technology, the Technocratic Age, and we youngsters are eager to adopt new technologies. The older generation, namely our grandparents, has more trouble with them. Perhaps they don’t want them, perhaps they don’t like them, perhaps they don’t understand the need for them. But the fact remains that while the younger generation embraces new technology, the older generation keeps its distance.

I don’t claim that technology is the sole perpetrator of creating the chasm, but merely of widening it. Music can be a great dividing force.

When was the last time you saw an elderly man rapping along with Pit Bull? When was the last time you saw a high school student belting out one of Andrea Bocelli’s operas? I’m not saying that this never happens, but in general, the elder generation sticks with classical, opera, etc., while the younger generation sticks with pop, hip-hop, rap, etc.

When my family goes to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or a birthday, my grandfather always breaks into song before we sit down to dinner. He is a very good singer, to tell the truth, but his style clashes with all of his grandchildren’s preferences. My younger siblings all groan as he begins to sing, and they all shout loudly in efforts to drown him out. All in good fun, of course.

It is true that music preferences vary greatly among all types of people, but the greatest difference lies between age groups, between the generations. There will always be something separating the generations. This time, it’s music.

I have to say, though, that classical music and younger people can mix well. Seriously. Check out Chris Mann from “The Voice” :

Rap and older people can mix too. Seriously. Case in point, Betty White”

Music can also be a uniting force between the generations too.  We just have to be willing to step out of our comfort zones and give it a try!

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Music’s Effect on the Brain

Has music ever cheered you up? Has it ever helped you remember something you forgot? It probably has, and if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it likely will. Music has the ability to affect your brain in many different ways, from enhancing your workout to boosting your immune system.

One useful side effect of listening to music lies in the recollection of memories. When you listen to a song you know well, you might be reminded of a certain time, place, or memory. That memory had been forgotten, but when you heard the song, it came rushing back as if it were yesterday. We all have unique ways of remembering things. Personally, when recalling a memory, I have a single image, a snapshot of the memory in one moment, and the accompanying worded explanation. But I have that single image. When I listen to Frou Frou’s “Let Go,” I remember a majestic mountain range, captured through the windshield of an old van, the snow-capped peaks complimenting the song’s lyrics of absolute beauty. The song retrieves a memory that I can only remember when I hear the song. As I write this, I am listening to the song. I have to, to remember. Many of my songs have the same effect. Perhaps my method of recalling memories is unique to me, but I doubt it. Listening to music you know stimulates a region of the brain known as the hippocampus, which handles long-term memory storage. So if you’re having trouble remembering something but can remember what song you were listening to at the time, then your best bet is to listen to that song.

If you’re starting to feel stressed or ill, music could be the cure. Music has been proven to boost the immune system. Slow, soothing music is known to decrease stress, as it decreases the level of the stress hormone cortisol. Fast, upbeat music is known to increase the level of antibodies in your system, effectively boosting your immune system. I know that listening to Afrocelt’s “Persistence of Memory” eases the tension of the day, relaxes me. And Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” always puts a smile on my face. Next time you’re not feeling your best, a nice upbeat song might be the perfect thing for you.

Music can help you decrease anxiety and keep yourself from choking up when placed under pressure. Humorous, light-hearted songs decrease anxiety and are perfect for before meetings and presentations. Some such songs are Weird Al Yankovic’s “Fat,” some of Jonathan Coulton’s or They Might Be Giants’ songs, or Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” These songs distract your brain and make you laugh enough to keep you from choking up or freezing.

When exercising, listening to music can increase exercising strength. It can help you run, swim, or bike faster for longer. Fast-paced music distracts your attention, while at the same time pushes your heart and muscles to work harder and at a faster pace. Music makes exercising much more enjoyable, and much easier.

The delivery system for this music must be quality if you want the best results. But you can’t tote around a boombox when you’re running or swimming. No, for that you need an MP3 player. And that means headphones. But not all headphones are adequate for such things. Many are ill-fitting, and fall out as soon as you start moving around. Velodyne’s vPulse in-ear headphones have ear adapters for all ear sizes, providing the user a perfect seal for balanced sound and ensuring they stay put. This makes them ideal for exercising, and for all occasions, really. If you want these effects of music, you need the right headphones.

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Must-Hear Song of the Day: Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind

It’s practically against the law to be in a bad mood during the summer. The sun aggressively blocks out negativity in favor of pool parties, BBQs, and boardwalk rides. Even if you’re dealing with some Issues, the mandatory joie de vivre that accompanies July and August will sweep them under the rug–at least until September rolls around.


That’s why Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind is the perfect summer anthem. As I explained in an earlier post, this song is so catchy and upbeat that you’d never guess it’s about crippling drug addiction. An overwhelmingly cheerful chorus of “doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo” coats the tragic lyrics in an impenetrable layer of joyful mania, and it’s impossible to be anything but happy when you sing along. Whether or not your summertime smiles are masking a darker truth, this song is a choice accompaniment for all your picnics, beach days, and volleyball tournaments. (That’s what people do in the summer, right?)




Benevolent Siren

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What should be done about illegal music downloading?

Recently, David Lowery of The Trichordist penned a thoughtful, impassioned and well-reasoned response to NPR’s All Things Considered intern Emily White, who stated on her employer’s blog that she engaged in illegal downloading and filesharing. Lowery laid out the anti-torrenting argument as well as I’ve seen anyone do it, highlighting its negative impact on the future of the music industry and the devastating effects it has on the >99% of music artists that aren’t dominating the radio waves. That said, I’m not sure any quantity of cogent arguments will be enough to fix this problem. Here’s why:

Simply put, people are motivated by incentives and disincentives. The incentives to download illegally are obvious; it’s free, easy and fast. The disincentives, which include a (very remote) chance of legal ramifications, poor audio quality and a moral tangle, are not always strong enough to overcome the incentives. In order to affect behavior on a large scale, one must manipulate incentives and disincentives.

This brings me to the practical side of this debate: assuming the goal is the elimination of illegal downloading, which disincentives should be magnified, and which incentives tempered? Just as crucially, whose job is it to do this? Looking at the dis/incentives laid out above, those who are losing money due to illegal downloading (i.e. the entire music industry) have a few options. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, but without all the cool dragons and stuff:

Option A: Reduce the incentive to download illegally by making it harder. In other words, take away the widespread availability of illegal mp3s by targeting filesharing sites. This option has been explored by the government as well as the music industry; Metallica (followed by large record companies and other industry leaders) famously sued filesharing platform Napster in 2000, while the US Justice Department brought Megaupload to its knees in January of this year. Alas, this hasn’t stopped illegal downloading, and new sites will continue to crop up as long as filesharing continues to be profitable (i.e. forever).

Option B: Increase the legal risk of illegal downloading. This has been tried too; according to the New York Times, the industry sued thousands between 2003 and 2008, but ended up losing money due to litigation fees despite collecting handsome fines. Plus, making an example out of a few did nothing to stop the many; illegal downloads continued, and the industry gave up this approach in 2009.

Option C: Bring morality to the forefront. This is what David Lowery does masterfully in his article, and it’s what ads such as the one below attempt to do. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the message hasn’t really hit home on a wide enough scale to make a difference. I’m sure you can think of plenty of examples of money trumping morals, and the reality is it would take, at the very least, a much more well-funded campaign of these ads to make anyone feel genuine remorse for their torrenting transgressions.

Option D: Add a new disincentive. Surprise: the industry’s trying this one too. As of July 2011, internet service providers such as Time Warner, Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have joined the fight by threatening noncompliant customers with numerous warning notices and slower service (info via NYT). I personally know someone who’s been on the receiving end of one of these warnings, and so far it does appear to have made an impact on her. Still, it remains to be seen whether this will be effective enough to save the bottom line of the music industry. I’m personally not very optimistic. Unless these warnings are consistently backed by more concrete consequences, which they aren’t as far as I can tell, my guess is they won’t have enough clout to overcome the allure of unlimited free music.


The moral of the story is this: the industry has explored a wide variety of avenues in its attempts to eliminate illegal downloading, with largely discouraging results. Maybe the next step is to look for a new revenue model. This would be a dramatic and painful paradigm shift in the music industry, but those happen all the time in response to new technology and consumer activities. Instead of fighting the tide of illegal downloading, the music industry might do well to evolve new ways of monetizing its product. For instance, artists can preempt illegal downloads by offering name-your-own-price high-quality MP3s on their own sites, generating a high volume of site traffic (which can be monetized with ad revenues). Also, while Kickstarter success stories aren’t the norm, the site can still be a powerful way to get projects off the ground. Finally, while touring revenues for smaller artists aren’t very profitable in their current form (as David Lowery explains), live music in some form might prove to be a better source of income if the model is reexamined.

Ultimately, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m inclined to think the onus of change will ultimately fall on the shoulders of those who stand to lose the most money. And the sooner the music industry embraces the tides of change, the better its chances of remaining relevant–and therefore, profitable.


Benevolent Siren

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Raising Lil’ Bow Wow: hiding my taste in music from my child

The little guy's first ultrasound at 16 weeks.

As soon as I got pregnant, I had to rethink many things in my life, including one of my most prized possessions – the small case of CDs mixes I had made in high school during the glorious days when Napster was alive. With the help of free downloads, every Friday night my friends and I would cruise down the streets of downtown suburbia belting out the lyrics to a new music mix blasting from our car speakers. But here’s where it gets weird – on our way to Uptown Yogurt, we enjoyed exposing our quiet neighborhood to the nastiest songs we could find – classics like Freaks of the Industry by Digital Underground and Give me that Nut by Easy E. Looking back, I realize how inappropriate this was. But we were otherwise such good girls, which is probably why we found this activity so hilarious and thrilling.

Fast forward ten years and I still know every lyric to Snoop Dogg’s Aint No Fun and still find great enjoyment in singing along to them – windows rolled up of course so I don’t overwhelm unsuspecting shoppers in the Trader Joe’s parking lot with references to Snoop Dogg’s balls. Maybe it sounds odd or even perverted. But my love affair with these songs isn’t really about the dirty words, it’s about reliving a carefree time when outings meant frozen yogurt not the grocery store, extra sprinkles not responsibilities. Speaking of which….I was now becoming a mother, which I had heard was the biggest responsibility of all. What did this mean for myself, my husband, and most importantly, my mix CDs?

I turned to for some answers, which had been sending me vital information about my pregnancy like when my baby was developing fingernails or had reached the size of a kumquat. I found an article called Music and your unborn child, and while there wasn’t much talk about the musings of Snoop Dogg, one obstetrician said he “observed a 33-week-old fetus pattern his breathing to the beat of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.” Well, perhaps I needed to get my sh*t together then! With a protective hand over my pregnant belly, I changed my Pandora radio station from Two Pac to Beethoven and read on.

“You may have heard that exposure to music makes kids of all ages smarter in math, but Gordon Shaw [a neuroscientist at the University of California at Irvine], who pioneered this type of research, says these studies focused on older children, not fetuses. “ Janet DiPietro, a developmental psychologist who studies fetal development at Johns Hopkins University adds, “There are no studies on the effects of stimulation before birth on intelligence, creativity, or later development.” The article cautioned against wearing headphones around your pregnant belly (those new mamas sure get creative!) because amniotic fluid is a good sound conductor. Luckily, I hadn’t thought of putting my vPulse anywhere besides my ears.

So I kept the classical station going for a couple of hours – feeling smart – but when Sunday rolled around and it was grocery time, I knew this was going to be the real test. Sure enough, the instant I was back in my car and stopped at a red light, my fingers itched for my CD case – craving to feel those inappropriate lyrics and heavy beats flowing through my body.  I thought, When do I kill this habit in order to hide from my child truths about the world and about myself? I took a deep breath – pregnancy could be so exhausting sometimes. Feeling my tension rise, I gave up and slid in a tattered disk titled “Rap Mix!” I turned up the volume (not too loud) and let myself be me. If the little one was bobbing his head to the Notorious B.I.G, I decided, for now, let him jam. 

Here's my son at 20 weeks, rocking out.

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Must-Hear Song of the Day: Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye (ft. Kimbra)

“Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye (ft. Kimbra) is, in the words of American Idol judge Steven Tyler, “changing music.” This #1 hit stands in stark musical contrast to most other contemporary radio fare, featuring a xylophone solo and haunting vocals evocative of Peter Gabriel. This earworm has surfaced across many television platforms in multiple interpretations, from the Glee version dripping with brotherly angst to “The Voice” contestant Lindsey Pavao’s dubstep-influenced arrangement to the duet from “American Idol” semifinalists Elise Testone and Phillip Phillips. Which version catches your fancy?

Original (Warning: This video contains some nudity, but nothing graphic or explicit.)

Glee (Darren Criss and Matt Bomer)


The Voice (Lindsey Pavao)

American Idol (Elise Testone and Phillip Phillips)


Which version(s) do you think do this song justice?

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The Perfect Hopelessly Romantic Playlist

Note: You can find this and all my other playlists on Spotify by using the post titles as search terms.

Ah, love. The ultimate motivator for music, poetry, even a few fingerpaints somewhere, probably; every artistic medium is fueled by overwhelming devotion or shattered hearts. Here’s a collection of songs that will have the hopeless romantic in you sighing about that special someone–or the one that got away.

1. “Easy Silence” by The Dixie Chicks: “I just want to hold on to the easy silence you create for me / … / And the peaceful quiet you create for me / And the way you keep the world at bay for me.” A sweet ode to the comfortable quiet of a relationship, “Easy Silence” is about finding peace in another person. Or, if you’re single, just pretend this song is about noise-reducing headphones; they’re almost as good as sharing your life with someone, right?

2. “Make You Feel my Love” by Adele: Bob Dylan’s lyrics get a stunning makeover in Adele’s version of “Make You Feel My Love”: “When the rain is blowing in your face / And the whole world is on your case / I could offer you a warm embrace / To make you feel my love.”

3. “The Nearness of You” by Norah Jones: “It’s not the pale moon that excites me / That thrills and delights me / Oh no, it’s just the nearness of you.” This song captures the electricity of proximity–surely you’ve felt your pulse quicken in the presence of that one person (you know the one I’m talking about). As an aside, many, many artists have recorded versions of this song. I’m partial to Norah Jones’ slow and sweetly sultry rendition, but the Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong recording is thoroughly lovely as well.

4. “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain: A classic wedding song, this anthemic track is one long promise of undying devotion. “I’ll be your crying shoulder / I’ll be love’s suicide / I’ll be better when I’m older / I’ll be the greatest fan of your life.”

5. “No Man is an Island” by Jack’s Mannequin: This song was written as a wedding present, and you can definitely tell. Self-explanatory: “As long as your heart’s beating it should never beat alone / No man is an island when a woman is his home.”

6. “You Don’t Know Me” by Michael Buble: Fear and shyness gets in the way of love in this story: “You think you know me well / But you don’t know me / No, you don’t know the one who dreams of you at night / … / Afraid and shy, I let my chance go by / A chance that you might love me too.”

7. “Blue Eyes” by the Cary Brothers: This song is slow and sweet and carries a hint of sadness behind the yearning lyrics. “All the lights on and you are alive / But you can’t point the way to your heart / … / I just want to be the one / I just want to sing a song with you.”

8. “In Your Atmosphere (L.A. Song)” by John Mayer: Sometimes when love goes bad, certain places are rendered uninhabitable by a coating of painful memories. This phenomenon is the focus of John Mayer’s plaintive lyrics: “I don’t think I’m gonna go to LA anymore / I’m not sure that I really ever could / … / I’m gonna steer clear / I’d burn up in your atmosphere.”

9. “One and Only” by Adele: I’ll admit this song didn’t catch my notice the first few times I listened to Adele’s Grammy-winning album, 21. It’s a bit of a sleeper, but it gets under your skin–give it a couple listens and you’ll be hooked on her brazen pleas. “I dare you to let me be your / Your one and only / I promise I’m worth it / To hold in your arms / So come on and give me a chance.”

 10. “Basket Case” by Sara Bareilles: As the title suggests, this song is about the emotional destruction a bad breakup can wreak. Simple guitar and harmonica support Ms. Bareilles’ silky voice perfectly. Listen to this if you’re in a wallowing mood. “He’s not a magic man or a perfect fit / But had a steady hand and I got used to it / … / Now I’m just a basket case”

11. “Colors” by Amos Lee: Simple in sentiment, delicate in delivery. “When you’re gone / Colors seem to fade.”

12. “City Love” by John Mayer: This particular love story paints a picture of day-to-day romance grounded in geography, namely NYC. I love the way he zooms in on the details: “She keeps a toothbrush at my place / As if I had the extra space / She steals my clothes to wear to work / I know her hairs are on my shirt / I tell everyone I smile just because / I’ve got a city love / … / And I can’t remember life before her name.”

13. “This Year’s Love” by David Gray: Poor David Gray. He’s been burned before, and that makes it hard to fall into something new with the same innocence, no matter how right it feels. “When you hold me like you do / It feels so right / I start to forget how my heart gets torn / … / It takes something more this time / Than sweet, sweet lies / Before I open up my arms and fall / Losin’ all control.”


You can find this playlist on Spotify by searching for “The Perfect Hopelessly Romantic Playlist”.

Benevolent Siren

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Must-Hear Song of the Day: In Your Atmosphere (LA Song) by John Mayer

Poignant and raw and dripping with regret, this song breaks my heart into a million pieces every time I hear it.  So, on that note, enjoy! “I’d die if I saw you, I’d die if I didn’t see you…”

I promise I’ll pick a joyful song one of these days, but in the meantime I’ll be keeping Kleenex in the black.

Benevolent Siren

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Must-Hear Song of the Day: “The Cave (Bookshop sessions)” by Mumford & Sons

A Grammy 2012 nominee for Record of the Year, Mumford & Sons’ “The Cave” is a nuanced and engaging track that I can’t stop listening to. The banjo is fun and lends a kind of frenetic energy to the song, while Marcus Mumford’s satisfying growl puts delightful substance behind the lyrics. (I call it a growl mostly because his name sounds to me like a well-dressed British lion detective character from a kid’s book. Maybe I’ll write a kid’s book just so I can use that name.)


While you watch that, I’m going to go write chapter one of Marcus Mumford and the Case of the Jungle Bow-Tie Thief. …I’m still workshopping the title.


Benevolent Siren

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