The Surprising Value of Vultures

The vulture shortage really did happen. It was a few years ago, but 100 percent true. As for the rest of the story…

Uncle Filbert and I were engaging in some leisurely small talk about the usual topics: what to eat for dinner, how the children were growing, the odd weather we’ve been having lately, and of course, the severe vulture shortage in India.

“It really has placed the country in quite a pickle,” Uncle Filbert observed.

I agreed. “Whatever will they do for Thanksgiving next year?”

“It’s a vulture shortage, not a turkey shortage,” Uncle Filbert explained.

“Well, at least they’ll have the pickle.”

Even vultures have value

Uncle Filbert ignored my wisecrack. “It is a serious, serious, serious affair. Carcasses are littering the streets.”

“Vulture carcasses?” I asked, trying to picture cyclists negotiating an obstacle course of knee-high black-feathered mounds.

“No, cow carcasses,” Uncle Filbert answered.

“Cow carcasses?” I was puzzled. “Cows don’t eat vultures. Er … do they?

“No.” Uncle Filbert assured me. “The majority of Indians are Hindus, and they neither eat nor kill cattle. I am sure it is against the law for cows to die. But cows aren’t too well versed on legal technicalities, and they go ahead and die just the same. Indians rely on vultures to clean up the mess, mess, mess.”

“Why don’t they just ship the dead cattle to America? People can’t get enough beef there.”

“You don’t understand,” Uncle Filbert cried, waving his hands. “Cows are sacred to Hindus. Imagine the sacrilege if McDonald’s got their hands on holy Hindu cattle.”

“Holy cow!” I exclaimed.

“Everything has a value. Everything is useful,” Uncle Filbert said.

“Even car alarms that won’t shut off?” I asked.

“I mean that without the vultures to eat the rotting cow carcasses, India’s environment is getting dirty, dirty, dirty. Hygiene has become as scarce as two-dollar movie passes and disease is banging down the door with a big, loud cow bell,” Uncle Filbert explained. “Imagine what would happen if America had a similar vulture shortage.”

America’s vulture culture

“We have vultures?” I asked?

“Of course we do. We give them gold plated briefcases and law degrees, then we set them free to keep the ambulance population under control.”

“Really? How do they do that?” I asked.

“They help accident victims sue each other,” Uncle Filbert explained. “Imagine for just a minute what would happen if America had a vulture shortage of its own.”

I thought about it for a moment. “Wouldn’t that be a good thing?”

“No, no, no.” My uncle cried. “It would be disaster. It would be horrible. The entire economy would collapse.”

“It would?”

“Yes, everything has a value – even lawyers. I know people like to crack cruel jokes about them, and you’ll probably throw a jab or two at their expense in your blog, but they really are useful.”

“They are?” I asked.

“Of course. We rely on the vultures to clean up the rotting ambulance carcasses. Without them, there would be decaying ambulance flesh all over our highways and icy front steps in winter. It would be an environmental disaster. Dirty, dirty, dirty.”

“What if we just stop blaming each other?” I wanted to know. “What if, when we slip on ice, we just close our eyes and imagine that it has something to do with the cold weather – you know, a natural occurrence, rather than a diabolical plot at City Hall to give everybody a sore tushy?”

“Saints alive! Don’t pronounce that word in your blog. Somebody will surely sue you,” Uncle Filbert panicked.

“What word?” I asked.

“Tushy. Yikes! I just said it, too.”

“But you also just said that everything has a value, that everything is useful,” I countered. “Even tushies. And even vultures. I suppose that means that even decaying cow carcasses must be useful for something.”

“Let’s just hope that the fast food chefs don’t find out.”

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Enjoy the Choir

For those of you who were not able to make it out to a Christmas choir, you are in for a treat. Now that Chantalyne is at an arts high school, she has the chance to sing for us in a fairly professional choir.

I did not record the whole two hours of all seven choirs for you, but here are the three songs that her choir sang.

I should also prepare you that these are not all Christmas songs. Wenceslas / Yankee Doodle, an amusing mash-up by Steve Kupferschmid, can only partly be considered “Christmas”. The Holly and the Ivy is certainly a Christmas carol. Sim Shalom is a Herbrew song. The other choirs also sang in French, English, Latin, Arabic and a couple other languages I can’t identify right now.

Enjoy the show.

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Frugal and fabulous DIY Christmas treats

Here are two yummy DIY Christmas treats that will wow your guests: Cupcake Rudolfs and Rice Kristmastreesicles. You can make them yourself at home with almost no effort and almost no cost.

So you want to really Wow your guests at Christmas this year, but a chocolate fountain and a dozen French maid server girls can’t be squeezed into your budget? No problem. Here are two tried and tested (by Mrs. Happy Guy and our girls) do-it-yourself Christmas treats.

What these two treats have in common:

  • They are each incredibly simple to make.
  • They look adorable…and pretty fancy.
  • They taste great.
  • Among several dozen items at the dance school bake sale, these were both among the first to sell out.

High-in-demand reindeer cupckaes!

Cupcake Rudolfs

Cupcakes!You start with a cupcake. You can bake these yourself, as Mrs. Happy Guy did in Christmas-themed cupcake paper (here are some cupcake recipes), or you can buy them from the store. Any flavour will do; pick a flavour that your guests will like, or make several flavours to lend an air of surprise.  Chocolate, vanilla, red velvet – any will do.

Frosting!Ice them in brown frosting. Reindeer are not dark-furred, so mixing chocolate and vanilla icing might be best, or you can do what Mrs. Happy Guy did and just add brown food coloring to white frosting.

Snout and Nose!For the snout, add miniature cookie. We used ginger snaps. I say “we” because I very helpfully taste-tested several of them (for quality control purposes).

For the nose, any red candy will do – Skittles, M&Ms, gum drops. Just use a touch of brown frosting for “glue”.

Candy eyes!For the eyes, we bought them read-made at the bulk food store. Tip: put the eyes close together, or they start to look uncannily like brown bears.

For the antlers, just add mini pretzels, tucking them gently into the frosting deep enough that they stay.

That’s it. Ta-da!

Rudolf the red-nosed cupcake!

Rice Kristmastree Squares.

You start with a large tray or two of regular Rice Krispy Squares about an inch deep. Here is the recipe.

Then you cut them into triangles, shaped like Christmas trees. If you want them to look like they came off an assembly line, measure them carefully to make sure they are all the same size and shape. If you want them to look home-made and like real trees – various sizes and shapes – go wild and cut with abandon.

Candy-coated!To turn them green, we coated one surface generously with melted green “chocolate” melting wafers. Melt them slowly, stirring occasionally over low heat. Feel free to use a knife to ensure that they form a smooth surface for the trees.

Now stash them in your covered porch to cool. If you aren’t blessed with an unheated covered porch, a fridge will do.

Once the green coating is hard, you can decorate. How you decorate is up to you. We used piping icing for the garlands. We used Skittles (my younger daughter’s favourite) for the ornaments. Use some green piping icing for the “glue”.

Fondant stars!And we used fondant for the stars. We added a yellowish coloring, but it turned out more orangish. But that’s OK, because stars are actually balls of flaming gas, and orange is good for that, right? Besides, it didn’t stop people from grabbing them up.

For an added dash of festivity, carefully stick a popsicle stick through the bottom, and Presto! – your Rice Kristmastree Squares become Rice Kristmastreesicles.

Rice Kristmastree Squares!

With that, you are all ready to receive your guests and make their eyes pop and their mouths salivate. And you didn’t even have to hire 12 drummers drumming.

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You are a lot more creative than you think

Wish you could be more creative? Well, you can. You can teach yourself how, and that is what this article is all about.

Creativity is about finding the expression that is original, aesthetic, and distinct which you can call your own. No matter how creative you are at this point, you can always become a lot more creative. Whether you get bored at your creative efforts or you’re excited about them, you can continue to improve in so many ways. Below are some helpful tips that can help you bring out the best – the most creative side – in you.

Don’t Believe the Myth That Creative People Are Geniuses

It is very easy to look at others and associate their creativity with their natural gifts. It’s true that some people are born with the propensity to be creative. But creativity can be learned, cultured, improved upon, and transformed into one’s distinct style. Penn State University professor of chemical engineering Darrell Velegol says:

“It’s a myth that only some people are born creative. In fact, all of us are born with creative ability. This ability can then be radically enhanced by learning a process for creativity, which we lay out in this course. Creativity can be learned – that’s the key.”

If others can be very creative, you can also be as creative as they are. You do not need to be a genius to be more creative. You only need to find your own unique language.

Be Courageous Enough to Try New Ideas

This has to do with your self-confidence. It’s easy to feel like you’re not going to do it well, just because you haven’t done it before. If you admire people who are creative in organizing events like parties and weddings, it can be a sign that you can do well at it also. Instead of thinking that you’ll not succeed, just take the plunge and give it a try.

READ ALSO: Give Yourself a Gold Star

Take the time to study what others are doing.  You can find ideas at places like http://www.getskills.com/ and http://www.lifehack.org/ and other websites dedicated to creativity. I even have a Pinterest Board dedicated to creativity: http://www.pinterest.com/amabaie/creativity/, which you can follow for ideas.

Pay attention to how they do what they do.  Compare different styles to see what they all have in common and what variations there are.  Don’t be shy to copy those things that are common to many, and to adapt aspects that vary from one person’s style to another’s.  And give some thought to what brand-new variations you might bring to the table.

Creativity - find new ways to look at old things
If you can find new ways to look at old things, you’ve discovered creativity.

You could very well unlock a geiser of creativity from inside, that you did not even know was lurking just below the surface.  You’ll never know until you try.

Get Close to People You Admire for Their Creativity

Creative people can help you get out the best in you. If you hang around people who seem bored, tired of life, and always complaining, you end up feeling like your energy level diminishes. But if you hang with people who are confident about their creativity, they communicate positive vibes that make you want to discover more of who you are and what you can do.

Yes, it’s true – you can tell a lot about somebody by the company he keeps, because that company shapes who you are.

Creative people can have a great influence on your creativity. Famous writers, singers, guitarists, painters, and others always experience the influence of a successful artist whose work they love.  Find yourself a muse or two, or at least some creative people to hang out with.

Work with What You Already Have

You do not need to invent something new or come up with a new style of doing things. Everyone is capable of doing something. You can be a single mom who can successfully juggle an online job, taking care of the kids and doing home chores, or you could be a writer with limited imagination and a huge wish list. The truth is that you have something to work on. You can discover new ways of honing your creative skills by rethinking your style or looking at those with similar skills.

Choose the Right Time to Test Your Creativity

The best time to test your creativity should be when your energy levels are high. You’ll find it very challenging thinking new ideas or trying new things when you’re bored or tired. Creativity takes mental energy. You should be able to identify the time of the day when your energy level is high. It is that time that you should try new things.

Capture your ideas. Make your own Idea Journal

Make your own repository for all of the things that interest and inspire you. It can also provides a safe environment to experiment and grow creatively. Ideas are fleeting. Be prepare when they arrive at your doorway. Unless you write them down, you will likely lose most of them.

Creativity has no limits. It can grow everyday with the right motivation and the desire to do things better. This means that you can discover own creativity each passing day as you immerse yourself in the reality of your life.

Feel like getting more creative? Eat, Pray, Love Author Elizabeth Gilbert speaks about her own fear of both failure and success, and how to overcome both to keep honing one’s creativity.






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Will One Direction defy the history of boy bands?

What is it with “boy bands” that make them so ephemeral? Will One Direction follow the same direction as so many boy bands?

You know the song “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth“? Well all my ten-year-old daughter wants for Christmas are tickets to a One Direction (1D) concert. “It doesn’t matter if the concert is in 40 years, ” she told me without a hint of irony.

Well, the odds are stacked against her that there will be a One Direction concert in 40 years. Or in twenty years. Or maybe even in ten years. Such is the nature of “boy bands” – here today gone tomorrow. No, wait. Hold on just a minute… ah…here yesterday, gone today. Yes, they seem to last just about that long.

So if you’re a fan, or your daughter or niece or granddaughter is a fan, you might want to heed Elvis Presley’s advice: It’s now or never.

Tickets for the One Direction 2014 tour
are on sale now:
http://www.ticketstub.com/events/one-direction/
 

One Direction - pre-teen fans love themIf you don’t have a pre-teen daughter or niece, you might be wondering what the fuss is all about. My ten-year-old has been their “biggest fan” for a couple years. She has the posters, the magazines (yes, something she actually enjoys reading!) and the t-shirts. My twelve-year-old saw the movie with a friend, and now she’s also their “biggest fan”.

The thing about pre-teen girls, is that very soon they become teenagers, then young ladies, then…well we all grow up. Some will still like the boy bands of their youth, but they mostly move on to other things, and the magazines get recycled and the posters are replaced by framed paintings.

A very short history of boy bands

And the band members grow up and disperse. Some members go on to launch solo careers. Or they keep on going with albums successful enough, but outshone by their glory days. Could the direction One Direction takes be foretold by the history of some other famous boy bands?

New Kids on the Block: They hit the scene in 1986, but flopped. In 1988, however, their second album was a chart-topper, one of two Number One selling albums. They actually stayed together for a long time after their fan base had thinned out to just the hard-core followers. They reunited in 2007 with enough of their old fans remembering them to go on a reasonably successful tour with The Backstreet Boys.

Backstreet Boys: This band hit the charts in 1996 and enjoyed five years of fame, selling more records than any other “boy band”, including two Number One selling albums. Let’s just keep those quotation marks on that monicker for now. The Backstreet Boys have never really disappeared; they just stopped being the object of pre-teen obsession.

‘N Sync: This band hit the charts in 1998 and also enjoyed five years of fame, sort of like a Backstreet Boys echo. They did lay claim to two Number One selling albums, but Justin Timberlake went on to do his own solo career, so that was pretty much that.

Jonas Brothers: It took three years for them to make it big, mostly on the strength of the movie Camp Rock in 2008. Here we are, five years later, and where are the Jonas Brothers?

Boyz II Men: A more traditional group, these boys were singing together several years before their 1990’s fame, and continue to sing long after their fame subsided. They were not formed by a record label, so they don’t fit the mold of what one typically thinks of as a “boy band”. They don’t lay claim to two Number One selling albums, but they did break many records for their singles, placing them in the record books beside Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

Is there hope for One Direction?

I left the term “boy band” in quotation marks because their is one boy band that never makes the list of boy bands: The Beatles. Yes, when they first hit the airwaves, they were four boys creating perhaps the most famous teenage girl frenzy in recorded history. Parents worried that Beatlemania was the end of the world. And The Beatles enjoyed almost a full decade of popularity until they broke up, along the way becoming the best selling band in history. All four members of the band enjoyed successful solo careers afterwards.

But if you had waited ten years to see a Beatles concert, you would have been out of luck. Even The Beatles had dispersed in less than ten years.

READ ALSO: The Eagles and Hotel California.

Whether they will be together ten years from now or not, One Direction looks destined to have at least a little more time in the spotlight. Just a couple days ago, their third album debuted on The Billboard 200 at Number One, giving them their third album at that position. That is the first time a boy band reaches that milestone…if you ignore The Beatles.

One Direction will grow up, and so will their fans. They might become more obscure or not, but either way, they already have success. None of the examples of boy bands that we reviewed here is a failure. Any budding artist would be thrilled to have one tenth of the success any of them has had.

If you want to read more about the top ten boys bands, here is Billboard’s official take, up to 1012.

READ ALSO: Ten songs that blast the music industry.

 

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Home Of The Year

It might never be seen in a magazine, but your home should be home of the year, every year, to you. Let’s see what kind of home we get when we mix in a dose of toddler and a dash of humor.

This was a few years ago, when we were gathered ’round the television, where Little Lady was watching an episode of Stuart Little. The kids on the show had entered their house for a Home Of The Year contest sponsored by some fancy magazine.

I turned to my wife with yet another one of my way-too-brilliant ideas. “Why don’t we enter the Home Of The Year contest?” I asked.

My wife looked around in horror. “What? With this place?”

There's No Place Like HomeLittle Lady, just over two years old at the time, was looking for the green crayon. “Sure,” I replied, obviously missing something. “Why not? It’s a great home.”

“This place is a certified mess,” my wife said in frustration, as she started slipping the videos back into their sleeves. “What magazine would call this home of the year? Dump Monthly? Trash Can News? Oh, I know – Bad Housekeeping?”

Read also: The ultimate home makeover.  Wow!

Little Lady emptied the crayon box on the floor. “Oh come on,” I answered. “This is a wonderful home full of love and joy. See all the drawings taped to the wall?”

“In the Home Of The Year, there are no crayon drawings taped to the wall,” my wife explained with just a hint of patience. “There might be an original Rembrandt or Van Gogh, or perhaps an exceptional imitation. It would be placed in an elegant frame.”

Little Lady found the green crayon. Now she needed a sheet of paper on which to draw.

What makes a house a home?

“I don’t know,” I hesitated. “Rembrandt and Van Gogh don’t sound very homey. I suspect you might find them in the Museum Of The Year contest.”

“Just look at this dust!” my wife cried. She blew on the top of the television set, which temporarily vanished into the haze. I think it’s time to buy a vacuum cleaner from [insert highest bidding vacuum cleaner brand name here]. (That’s called “product placement” in Hollywood. Except that Hollywood tends to place tire-squealing Porches and Mercedes, but that would probably make this “home of the year” even messier!)

Read also: How we fix things around our house with duct tape.

Little Lady emptied her bookshelf with one fell swoop, but still could not find paper on which to draw.

“OK, so it’s dusty,” I admitted. “If we dusted more frequently, we would spend less time together and it would be less of a home.”

“The Home Of The Year contest Committee really does not care whether we spend time together,” my wife said. She headed toward the kitchen in search of iced tea, nearly tripping over a bag of clothes along the way. “They just want to see a spotless house with all the classiest decorations.”

Child's messy handWho needs paper, anyway? Little Lady found a blank spot on the wall, and started applying her green crayon.

“Well, that might make a good House Of The Year, but a home is a place to live in. It needs to exude love and comfort, not cleanliness,” I said.

Apparently, I was still clueless. “Homes of the year never exude love, and certainly not comfort,” she explained, ironically picking a copy of Good Housekeeping up from the floor. “They are showcases of a woman’s ability to keep a house in immaculate condition with absolute precision … despite the presence of a male creature around.”

Ouch. Little Lady gleefully switched to the red crayon. “Well I don’t know anything about keeping a house tidy, but if that’s what the magazines want, why don’t they call it The Janitorial Olympics?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s too hard for them to spell,” my wife replied, smiling. “But they don’t, so just get used to reality. We simply do not have even the slightest, tiniest, most minuscule hope of ever winning the Home Of The Year contest.”

By then, Little Lady had drawn three stick figures on the wall. “My home,” she shouted, running to give Mommy a big hug.

I didn’t need a magazine to tell me we already lived in the home of the year. And if the dust doesn’t kill us off first, we will live there every year.

Home Decor Books

Home Decorating Made Easy

Now, just for the sake of argument, suppose you wanted to decorate your home in some other motif than crayon scribbling. Get the Home Decorating Made Easy manual. It’s not as easy as scribbling with crayons, but even I will admit it looks much classier.

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A Parenting Pumpkin Cheesecake Recipe

Parenting young children is tough enough, without having to follow a recipe. This pumpkin cheesecake recipe* was written for parents like you.

Whoever writes all those fancy cookbooks has never been a parent. To begin with, the pages are never spill-proof, almost guaranteeing that somewhere in the middle of mixing ingredients, Little Helper will spill something and cover up the remaining two ingredients listed. This means that parents must learn to improvise.

Get also recipe secrets from famous restaurants.
Some would suggest that the very thrill of cooking is experimentation. So what’s the big difference between oregano and cayenne pepper, anyway?

Then there are all those “quick” recipes to “serve your family” gracing the pages of women’s magazines. NO recipe is quick with Little Helper’s assistance.

For the benefit of parents everywhere, I have taken my favorite pumpkin cheesecake recipe and translated it into parentease. The non-parent version is available in Cooking By The Book — a free bonus I offer with every purchase of The Get Happy Workbook.

Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake Recipe (Parenting Version)

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Mix one cup of ginger snap cookie crumbs and one tablespoon of olive oil. Add more cookie crumbs to make up for the ones that disappeared about the same time your Little Helper walked into the kitchen.

Press the crumby oil mixture … “Sorry, that doesn’t sound quite right – Little Helper distracted me.” Press the oily crumb mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch spring-form pan, and up around the edges about one inch. Put it in the refrigerator to cool – best to slip it in safely behind the broccoli and that thing that’s been turning bluish green for three weeks, to deter any impromptu inspirations from Little Helper.

Enjoy also this non-parenting pumpkin soup recipe.
Soften three bricks of cream cheese, ideally in the microwave. If you can’t separate the cheese from Little Helper’s hands, let her keep doing what she’s doing until the cheese is good and soft. Cream the cheese with one and a half cups of pureed pumpkin, three large eggs, two tablespoons of cream, and one cup of brown sugar. Keep mixing until creamy.

Add one teaspoon of vanilla extract. If you are “fortunate” enough to have help at this stage, you have three options:

  • Rename it “Harvest Pumpkin and Vanilla Cheesecake”.
  • Try scooping out the extra cup of vanilla that Little Helper poured in for you.
  • Start over.

You will also need to add a tablespoon of cinnamon. If Little Helper is in a generous mood, don’t worry. You still have three options:

  • Rename it “Harvest Pumpkin and Cinnamon Cheesecake”.
  • Try scooping out the extra pile of cinnamon that  Little Helper poured in for you.
  • Bang your head against the counter and start over.

There is also a tablespoon of ground ginger to add. Sorry about that. Don’t worry, you still have three options…again:

  • Rename it “Harvest Pumpkin and Ginger Cheesecake”.
  • Scoop out as best you can the extra heap of ginger Little Helper added for you.
  • Bang your head twice on the counter and start over.

I almost hate to mention this, but you’ll need to add a teaspoon of ground nutmeg. And a half teaspoon of salt. And a half teaspoon of allspice. Go ahead and bang your head some more if it makes you feel better. The counter can take it.

The Parenting Failsafe Recipe for Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake

Fortunately, there is a parenting failsafe. It is sort of like a “get out of jail free card”. Look in the bowl. Observe the quantity of creamy things. Observe the quantity of spicy things.

If the quantity of creamy things is even slightly greater than the quantity of spicy things, keep going and pretend you didn’t have any help. Maybe nobody will notice. If the quantity of spicy things is greater than the quantity of creamy things, open another can of pureed pumpkin. Hmm…and another. Keep adding cans of pureed pumpkin until creamy things are greater than spicy things — or until your grocer runs out of cans.

Is this a great pumpkin cheesecake recipe, or what?

Pour the pumpkin filling into the crust. Note, if you had to add too many cans of pureed pumpkin, this could get messy. I recommend hip-waders…especially for Little Helper.

Cook at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 50 minutes or until the top is slightly brown and almost as cracked as your head and the counter. Do NOT let Little Helper eat the cake while it is still in the oven. This is considered dangerous by nine out of ten electricians and seven major oven manufacturers.

Let it air cool in a safe place — like at a neighbor’s house — then refrigerate overnight

Just before serving, top with whipped cream and sprinkle with pecans. Oops. I just wrote that last line in non-parentease. It should read: “Now that the whipped cream is polished off, shake the remaining candy-sprinkles on the cake.” Unless Little Helper ate them, too.

Now you can sit down and enjoy your Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake (Parenting Version). Or your Harvest Pumpkin and Vanilla Cheesecake. Or whatever you want to call that mess. Oh yes, don’t forget to laminate this page to avoid more impromptu experimentation with cayenne pepper in the future.

* NOTE: This article is humorous, but the recipe is real (tried and true and from a few years back, when my kids were younger)…and real good!!!

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10 hit songs blasting the music industry

Some big names like Billy Joel, Pink and The Kinks have had hits with anti-music-industry songs, ironically helping to line the pockets of industry executives.  This is the story of ten hit songs that pop stars performed to bite the hand that feeds them.

There is something sweetly ironic about listening to a hit song produced by the music industry about how evil and corrupt and useless the music industry is. Or to tune in to your fave radio station, only to hear a song blasting radio stations.

And that is perhaps why we love such songs so much. Here are just a few of the music-industry and radio-station-bashing hits that you might enjoy.

Spirit of the Radio by Rush

Canadian rock band Rush sings about the “freedom of music”, but how “glittering prizes” make that freedom so restricted. Money. Fame. The usual. This is clearly a song that criticizes not just the record labels, but the artists themselves for paying too much attention to those prizes and for making the “endless compromises”.

Rush - Spirit of the RadioAll this machinery making modern music
Can still be open-hearted.
Not so coldly charted, it’s really just a question
Of your honesty, yeah, your honesty.

One likes to believe in the freedom of music,
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity.

They don’t say to what degree these prizes have co-opted them over the years, but it is fair to say that Rush has rarely contorted their music to fit any particular formula. However, it is also fair to say that much of the music they have written that is wildly outside radio format is on the early albums.

In their lyrics, however, Rush makes no compromise. That this song ever saw the light of day is proof of that. On the same album one also finds “Free Will”, a tribute to Ayn Rand and libertarianism and, seemingly, an anthem to explain why they made no compromise on “Spirit of the Radio”.

The Entertainer by Billy Joel

If you thought that “Piano Man” was Billy Joel‘s middle finger to the life of a struggling musician,
you must listen to the much less-renowned but equally compelling “The Entertainer”.

He begins by being suitably cynical about the fickleness of the public, of the fleeting nature of fame itself:

Piano Man by Billy JoelToday I am your champion
I may have won your hearts
But I know the game, you’ll forget my name
And I won’t be here in another year
If I don’t stay on the charts

Like Rush, Billy Joel’s harsh words are not just aimed at the record company executives, but equally at the performers themselves. Billy Joel offers a few choice words for how low entertainers like himself hustle for money:

I am the entertainer
I bring to you my songs
I’d like to spend a day or two
I can’t stay that long
No, I’ve got to meet expenses
I got to stay in line
Gotta get those fees to the agencies
And I’d love to stay but there’s bills to pay
So I just don’t have the time

But like so many artists, he harbors great frustration at all the other people who put their hands in his music, and has to make those “endless compromises” that Rush sings about. Billy Joel puts it this way:

I am the entertainer
I come to do my show
You’ve heard my latest record
It’s been on the radio
Ah, it took me years to write it
They were the best years of my life
It was a beautiful song
But it ran too long
If you’re gonna have a hit
You gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05

And if that is not a pretty direct reference to “Piano Man”, which most of us know for both its short version and its longer and more complete original version, we can all pack up and go home.

Grace Kelly by Mika

Like Billy Joel, Mika was not impressed with record company executives who wanted to mess with his music. It seems that Mika’s sound wasn’t conventional enough for them, but Mike thought that he could have whatever sound he wants:

In Mika’s own words, “Grace Kelly was written after these musicians were trying to mold me into what I should be. I was really angry and so I wrote the song and mailed them the lyrics. They didn’t call me back, but two years later it’s come full circle.”

Mika sings Grace KellyI could be brown
I could be blue
I could be violet sky
I could be hurtful
I could be purple
I could be anything you like
Gotta be green
Gotta be mean
Gotta be everything more
Why don’t you like me?
Why don’t you like me?
Walk out the door!

Cowboy Hats by Chris Cummings

Moving from Mica’s anger to Chris Cummings pragmatic cynicism, the country music industry takes one on the chin. Chris Cummings sings about how young performers are sucked into a suckers machine, essentially used for the benefit of the agents.

Chris Cummings sings Cowboy HatsIt’s all done from a to z
We’ll tell you what to say
Just repeat after me
They walk the walk
Sign autographs
Yeah, the money’s all yours
’til you pay it all back

…and…

There’s two born every minute
There’s a sucker and a star
We’re all very busy, son
But could you tell us which you are

This is perhaps the most damning attack on the record industry that we visit today, painting them as snake oil salesmen with the main, purposeful intent to dupe starry eyed dreamers.

We Built this City by Starship

Starship‘s anthem that featured in the movie Rock of Ages, starring Tom Cruise, gets back to the whole conflict between money and art, and of course the artists are singing about how the money players are getting in the way.

We Built This City, by StarshipSomeone always playing corporation games
Who cares they’re always changing corporation names
We just want to dance here someone stole the stage
They call us irresponsible write us off the page

…and…

Who counts the money underneath the bar
Who rides the wrecking ball in to our rock guitars
Don’t tell us you need us, ‘cos we’re the ship of fools
Looking for America, coming through your schools

Here is the song sung by Grace Slick and Starship:

And here is the song mix from the move Rock of Ages:

Rock and Roll is a Vicious Game by April Wine

This rock ballad takes up the theme from the early part of Billy Joel’s “The Entertainer”. April Wine reminds us that you are only as good as your last song, and people will happily forget you for someone who’s last song is on their minds.

April Wine Rock and Roll Is a Viscious GameHe opened up his heart to us, he gave us what he could
We symphathized and harmonized, he made us all feel good
But it’s funny how those things can change, and time can pass us by
Songs that moved us so easily, no longer make us cry

In fairness, this song still does make me cry. In this case, it isn’t really the music industry that is cruel; it’s you and me, who move on to newer music. But that is part of the game.

Don’t Let Me Get Me by Pink

Back on the track of Mika’s anger – oh, yes, he’s not the only one – let’s take a look at Pink‘s version. She got tired of being told by music industry executives to fit the mold, much as Mica was. The result was “Don’t let me get me”.

Don’t Let Me Get Me by PinkLA told me, “You’ll be a pop star,
All you have to change is everything you are.”
Tired of being compared to damn Britney Spears
She’s so pretty, that just ain’t me

In the official video, she speaks to herself in the mirror, but the whole issue was the result of what she was being told in corporate offices.

Not to agree for a moment that Pink is in anybody’s shadow in the looks department, she did choose a different look, one that is all her own, and most people will agree that she built an image which is pretty unique in today’s pop scene.

You might still be able to catch Pink
singing “Don’t let me get me” and other “less than perfect” songs in your town:
http://www.ticketstub.com/search.php?q=pink
 

Around the Dial by The Kinks

The Kinks zero in on Billy Joel and April Wine’s concern for the fleeting nature of stardom from the music listener’s point of view. Oh, but a twist! It’s not the missing pop star that they lament; it’s the missing DJ.

Around the Dial by The KinksWhere did you go Mr. D.J.?
Did they take you off the air?
Was it something that you said to the corporation guys upstairs?
It wasn’t the pressure,
You never sounded down.
It couldn’t be the ratings,
You had the best in town.
Somehow I’m gonna find ya, track you down.
Gonna keep on searchin’,
Around and around and ’round and ’round…

This song was not, in fact, about how individual DJs could go AWOL. It was about corporate consolidation of radio stations around the world, with automated playlists and fewer DJs (and less local variety in music selection). In fact, this might just be the most critical attack on the music industry on this list.

Radio Radio by Elvis Costello

OK, perhaps this one is almost as critical. Elvis Costello takes his shot at radio consolidation in “Radio Radio”, a short punchy tune of the new wave / punk rock era in the UK and across America. His lyrics are more aggressive, implying a dictatorial bent from the radio companies:

Elvis Costello Radio RadioRadio is a sound salvation
Radio is cleaning up the nation
They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don’t give you any choice ’cause they think that it’s treason
So you had better do as you are told
You better listen to the radio

When he appeared on Saturday Night Live, he was asked not to sing this song, but he was a rebel and gave a melodic middle finger to the TV execs.

I wanna bite the hand that feeds me.
I wanna bite that hand so badly.
I want to make them wish they’d never seen me.

What a great song!

You might still be able to catch Elvis Costello
biting the hand that feeds him in your home town (He’s touring right now!):
http://www.ticketstub.com/search.php?q=Elvis+Costello
 

American Pie by Don Maclean

Let’s end with a song that focuses on the evils and perils of the music industry in a most confusing way. Other than taking a veiled swipe at the Rolling stones and mourning the death of Buddy Holly, it is hard to say just what Don Maclean is displeased about, and he has always refused to say. Whatever it is, it seems to have affected him greatly and given the world another great, epic song.

Don Mclean sings American PieNow for ten years we’ve been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone
But that’s not how it used to be
When the jester sang for the king and queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me

Oh, and while the king was looking down
The jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned

…and…

Now the halftime air was sweet perfume
While the sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance

‘Cause the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?

One thing that shines through this list is that so many of these songs can be called epic, much more than just a couple standard verse and chorus repetitions. These are not formulaic love songs or heartbreak songs.

There are many more examples of songs that attack the music industry from Tom Petty and Graham Parker and the Clash and others. But these are ones that actually hit the charts. I hope you enjoy them.

Read also: Hotel California – the Eagles defined musical innovation

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What are you made of?

Have you ever wondered what you are made of?  I was recently watching the movie Elysium, and cringing at the non-stop beating that Max (Matt Damon) takes.  I mean, he takes one brutal punishment after another…and all I could think of is that I would never last.

Or would I?

Heineken®, who is a sponsor of this blog post, means to find out.  No, they won’t be breaking any of my body parts or drowning me in radiation. But they are out of their daily lives and dropped into the great unknown.  As part of its latest global campaign ‘Voyage’, they are asking us to imagine this situation:

You are a highly social character, out-going and confident. You get chosen to go on a legendary adventure – something you have never done before – a new experience that will test your resourcefulness. But then you find yourself in the freezing wilderness of Alaska – alone on a glacier, with nothing but a giant life-ring, a tuxedo and a plane ticket to get you home – and the airport is hundreds of miles away.

To say that I would be lost – utterly and totally lost – would be an understatement.  I love hiking in the mountains, and I was excited last year to battle the tail end of a hurricane as I climbed down from one of New York State’s High Peaks.  But that was short work.  All I lost in the effort was my Blackberry (drowned in the downpour).  The biggest risk was getting blown off the summit, but easily enough solved by crouching low as we scrambled for the path down.

This ‘Voyage’ of Heineken®’s takes different men from across the world and drops them in remote areas far from home.  There is nothing to go to just a few hours down a mountain trail. And with nothing but the most basic of supplies and directions, they will be sorely tested.

The end result, which we can view from the comfort of our warm and cozy living rooms, is ‘Dropped’ – a series of episodic adventures following these brave or foolish explorers through their legendary travel experience.  To be frank, it is at the dropping part that I would be a gonner (you did watch the video above, right?)

‘Voyage’ is the fifth installment of premium beer brand Heineken®’s ‘Legends’ platform. Their integrated campaign can be found on a variety of platforms across broadcast, digital and mobile.  It will be pure entertainment, providing us with a truly immersive experience right at the Heineken® Dropped YouTube channel. You and I will be able to follow each ‘Dropped’ voyage, access documentary-style reports of their progress and thank our lucky starts that we are only watching it.  But if you feel ambitious – and this is really cool – you can contribute your own video entries to the ‘casting couch’ –  with the ultimate chance of partaking in your own legendary travel adventure.  If you do, I want to be the first to hear from you!

Dropped!Each ‘Dropped’ travel adventure is custom tailored based on the character of its main protagonist – forcing them to discover their own unique limits and conquer their own personal fears. Across four continents they’ll face a multitude of challenges – tough terrain, curious locals and unusual modes of transport. All these elements make for great entertainment, something that was perfected already in the early days of the James Bond movies.  (Sorry, no word on the street about any Bond girls – but I will update you if that changes.)

As the ‘Dropped’ episodes unfold, so the social experiment will come to life, with viewers of each voyage able to follow how each traveler fares through a series of diary entries and journey updates.

And their final destination is…?  Home sweet home.  Where they will surely put up their feet to watch it all play out on YouTube.  And where they will plan their next adventure…or lock themselves in the basement, safe from having to face such odds again.

Will they make it? We won’t have to wait long to find out.

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