The Importance of Music in Film

alex atkins bookshelf music

Most moviegoers consider cinema a visual medium; however, it is undoubtedly also an aural experience. Talk to any director and they will tell you that music is just as important as the look of a movie. In film study, the term “film aesthetic” refers to a movie’s visual and aural features that are used to create its non-narrative aspects — specifically, a film’s tone, style, mood, or look.

In a film, music serves several important functions: it can influence a viewer’s interpretation of a scene, evoke a specific emotion, foreshadow certain events, identify a specific character, or link together certain scenes or themes of a film. In some cases, a movie’s soundtrack becomes as iconic as the film — think of the themes of the following movies: Star Wars, The Godfather, Titanic, Chariots of Fire, Saturday Night Fever, The Bodyguard, and The Lion King. You can hear them in your head, right?

If you search “Importance of Music in Film” you will find a few examples of a film sequence with and without music as well as a specific film sequence that is accompanied by different types of music. The juxtapositions are clear and striking — in this manner, you can appreciate the added layers of meaning that music brings to film and how those layers subtly change your perception. That nuanced meaning is exactly what writers of captions (also referred to as “closed captions”) attempt to convey for viewers who cannot hear the audio track of a film. (Incidentally, a subtitle is not the same thing as a caption. A subtitle is simply a translation of the spoken dialogue into another language, while a caption includes dialogue and non-speech elements, like music and sound effects). The next time you watch a movie or show on a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon Prime, turn on the captioning feature and see how descriptive and clever captions for music can get. Here is a sampling from several recent films, series, and documentaries that were featured on these streaming platforms:

ambient funk music

atmospheric music

brooding music

classical choral song

dark music

delicate, haunting music

disquieting music

dramatic music

dreamy, ethereal melody

droning music

eccentric music

eerie music

eerie, discordant music

elegant aria

emotional music

epic music

foreboding music

frightening music

frivolous music

funky music

gentle music

gentle comforting music

grand orchestral fanfare

harsh discordant music

inquisitive music

instrumental orchestration

intense music

intense musical buildup

intriguing music

jaunty music

jazzy music

lilting cryptic music

lofty classical piece

majestic music

majestic orchestration

melancholy music

mellow music

menacing theme

mid-tempo music

military music

mournful music

music decreases in tempo

music ends

music increases in tempo

Muzak-style music

mysterious music

ominous music

pensive music

propulsive music

quirky music

reflecting music

rousing music

sentimental music

sinister music

slow tempo music

soft dissonant soundtrack

soft dramatic music

soft melancholy music

soft music

soft music playing

soft pensive music

soft rousing music

soft tense music

solemn music

somber instrumental

somber music

somber orchestration

sonorous music

spirited folksy music

suspenseful music

sweeping dramatic music

sweeping orchestration

tender music

tense music

tense dramatic music

tense erratic music

triumphant theme

triumphant classical music

uneasy music

upbeat music intensifies

uplifting music

uplifting orchestration

urgent menacing music

unsettling music

wailing orchestral strings

whimsical music

wistful music

What music description captions caught your attention?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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The Song Every Parent Should Dedicate to Their Children

alex atkins bookshelf musicWe live in such troubling and tempest-tossed times. Young children, bewildered and scared, look up to their parents, searching for security and solace. As a parent, what can you possibly say? At times like this, there are four magic words that a parent can utter: “I’ll Keep You Safe.”

“I’ll Keep You Safe” is the title of a song written by Ryan O’Neal, founder of the band Sleeping at Last. The song appears on their debut album, Ghosts, released in 2003. The song really touches your heart: it’s beautiful melody and tender lyrics convey the profound feelings and intentions of every parent who wants to instinctively protect his or her child: “I’ll keep you safe… Don’t be afraid/ Our mistakes they were bound to be made/ But I promise you I’ll keep you safe.” The song resonates with parents deeply on its own, but certainly in the context of the coronavirus crisis, its reassuring message takes on deeper meaning. 

Take a moment today and gather your children around you and listen to this song as a family. Say to them: “If I were a songwriter/musician this is the song that I would write for you, to sustain you during dark, difficult times. When you hear it, think of me and know that you are never alone. My love will keep you safe.” The link for the song appears at the end of the lyrics.

“I’ll Keep You Safe” by Ryan O’Neal

I’ll keep you safe
Try hard to concentrate
Hold out your hand
Can you feel the weight of it
The whole world at your fingertips
Don’t be, don’t be afraid
Our mistakes they were bound to be made
But I promise you I’ll keep you safe

You’ll be an architect
So pull up your sleeves
And build a new silhouette
In the skylines up ahead
Don’t be, don’t be afraid
Our mistakes they were bound to be made
But I promise you I’ll keep you safe
I’ll keep you safe

And darkness will be rewritten
Into a work of fiction, you’ll see
As you pull on every ribbon
You’ll find every secret it keeps
The sound of the branches breaking under your feet
The smell of the falling and burning leaves
The bitterness of winter or the sweetness of spring
You are an artist
And your heart is your masterpiece
And I’ll keep it safe

Dismiss the invisible
By giving it shape
Like a clockmaker fixes time
By keeping the gears in line
Don’t be, don’t be afraid
God knows that mistakes will be made
But I promise you I’ll keep you safe

As you build up your collection
Of pearls that you pulled from the deep
A landscape more beautiful
Than anything that I’ve ever seen
The sound of the branches breaking under your feet
The smell of the falling and burning leaves
The bitterness of winter or the sweetness of spring
You are an artist
And your heart is your masterpiece
And I’ll keep it safe

Listen to it here.

Let me know what you think of the song.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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The Coronavirus Rhapsody as Music Therapy

alex atkins bookshelf musicThis is a challenging time for most Americans, especially if you have been watching many hours of news each day while sheltering in place. According to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45% of adults say that the pandemic has affected their mental health; 19% of respondents indicated that the pandemic has a “major impact.” Mixing social isolation with unemployment with the fear of getting ill and possibly dying makes a toxic mental health cocktail. Consequently, millions of people in America — and all around the globe — are experiencing the same conditions: anxiety, insomnia, and depression. Interviewed for The Washington Post, Joshua Morganstein, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on the Psychiatric Dimensions of Disaster notes the importance of staying connected: “It’s also important to remember that the vast majority of people, including all of us who are experiencing difficulties along the way, will ultimately do well. Finding and sharing creative solutions to the problems people are facing, taking care of ourselves and our families in the best way we are able, and staying connected to one another will remind us we are in this together and help us get through this difficult time.”

And many people are doing just that — with the luxury of time afforded by being self-quarantined, people are finding very creative ways to deal with current climate of stress and anxiety. And what is one of the most therapeutic tools? That’s right — music. Extensive research has been done with music as a therapeutic tool to increase relaxation, reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, promote optimism, induce meditative states, reduce loneliness, relieve boredom, and so forth. There is another powerful tool… ever heard the adage “laughter is the best medicine”? Many of the most successful comedians use their personal difficulties as fodder for their humor; and by baring them and making fun of them, they disarm feelings of despair and anxiety. It is a cathartic experience for the comedian and a therapeutic experience for the audience.

So what happens when you mix these two tools, music and comedy? You get the incredibly delightful and therapeutic tool of the music parody. To that end, singer Adrian Grimes and comedian Dana Jay Bein recorded the delightful Coronavirus Rhapsody, a parody of Queen’s hit song, Bohemian Rhapsody, from the album A Night at the Opera (1975). Here are the clever lyrics.

Coronavirus Rhapsody

Is this a fever?
Is this just allergies?
Caught in a lockdown
No escape from the family
Don’t touch your eyes
Just hand sanitize quickly
I’m just a poor boy
No job security
Because of easy spread
Even though
I washed my hands
Laying low
I look out the window
The curve doesn’t look flatter
To me… to me

Mama, I just killed a man
I didn’t stay inside in bed
I walked past him, now he’s dead
Mama, life was so much fun
But now I’ve got this unforgiving plague
Mama, oooooh
I didn’t mean to make them die
If I’m not back to work this time tomorrow
Carry on, carry on
As if people didn’t matter

Too late, my time has come
Send shivers down my spine
Social isolation time
Goodbye everybody
I hope its just the flu
I’ve got to leave you all behind and face the truth
Mama (Chorus: just look out your window)
I don’t wanna die
I sometimes wish I never went out at all

I see a little silhouette of a man
(What a douche, what a douche
Did he even wash his hands though
No toilet paper frightening
Very very frightening me
Gotta lay low, gotta lay low, gotta lay low, gotta lay low
wait… what did he say?)

I’m just a poor boy, facing mortality
(He’s just a poor boy facing mortality
Spare him his life from this monstrosity

(Touch your face, wash your hands;
Will you wash your hands?
Bismillah! No! We will not wash our hands
Wash your hands
Bismillah! We will not wash our hands
Wash your hands
Bismillah! We will not wash our hands
Will not wash our hands
Wash your hands
Never, never wash our hands
Never no — no! no! no! no! no! no! no!
Oh Mama mia, Mama mia,
Mama mia, wash your hands)
COVID-19 has a sickness put aside for me, for me, for me

So you think you can stop me and just shake my hand?
So you think we can hang out and not break our plans?
Oh baby! Can’t do this with me baby
Just gotta stay home
I hope I don’t run out of beer

(Oooooooh…. ooh yeah! ooh yeah!)
The curve could get much flatter
Anyone can see
The curve could get much flatter
You know it’s your responsibility
Just look out your window

Like COVID-19, the song has gone um… viral. As of this writing the music video has been viewed more than 4.1 million times. But not everyone is a fan of the parody. In an interview, Grimes elaborates, “I’ve had a few comments suggesting that this is ‘insensitive.’ I want to emphasize that I know where these people are coming from. My wife works in healthcare and I have two young kids. I know very well how this virus could impact my family. Every day that my wife goes to work, I hope it is another ‘bonus’ day we get together before the wave hits and I don’t have to quarantine her and stop our children from hugging her. However, I hope that even in those circumstances, should they occur, I will still be able to maintain a sense of humor, and a lot of comments from people already affected by coronavirus have told me how much they appreciate this. I thank you for your understanding in these unprecedented times.”

Listen to the song here:

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Read related posts: What is the Meaning of Bohemian Rhapsody?
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The Story Behind Dan Fogelberg’s Same Old Lang Syne

atkins-bookshelf-musicUnlike the traditional song “Auld Lang Syne” that everybody sings (often in a state of inebriation) and nobody really understands (inebriated or sober), “Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg (1951-2007) is a very relatable and understandable bittersweet song. It was released as a single in 1980 and included on his seventh album, The Innocent Age, in 1981. The song, a melancholy ballad, is about a chance encounter between two former lovers and how they are transported back to the innocence of youth; they reminisce, they discuss their current lives, they toast the present. After their nostalgic visit, they part; the songs ends as the narrator watches the first love of his life disappear into the snow, as it turns into rain — a reminder of his broken heart from years ago, and a mature, realistic acceptance of why each of them had to pursue their own dreams apart from one another.

The ballad, as most fans have always suspected, is autobiographical. Fogelberg explained, “In 1975… I was home in Peoria, Illinois visiting my family for Christmas. I went to a convenience store to pick up some whipping cream to make Irish coffees with, and quite unexpectedly ran into an old high school girlfriend. The rest of the song tells the story.”

The “old lover” in that song is Jill Greulich (née Anderson). Wanting to be respectful of Fogelberg’s private life, she did not come forward with her story until after the singer passed away (Fogelberg died from prostrate cancer in 2007). In an interview with the Peoria JournalStar, Greulich shared her on-again/off-again relationship with Fogelberg when they attended Woodruff High School from 1965 to 1969. After graduation, Greulich attended Western Illinois University to major in elementary education, while Fogelberg studied theater at the University of Illinois in Urbana. They dated intermittently during their college years; however they lost touch with one another when Fogelberg moved to Colorado to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter. After graduation, Greulich moved to Chicago to work as a teacher and married a physical education teacher. The marriage didn’t not work out, and they were divorced by 1980.

Greulich recalls the details of their chance meeting on December 24, 1975 at the convenience store (located a few blocks north of Woodruff High School), at the top of Abington Hill — the only store open on that cold Christmas Eve. (The store is located at 1302 East Frye Avenue in Peoria; it is now occupied by Short Stop Food Mart; since 2008, the street has an honorary designation: Fogelberg Parkway.) What happened was very similar to the story in the song: unable to find a bar, they drank a six-pack of beer in a car, reminisced, and reflected on their current lives, and parted. And yes, as you can imagine, family and friends worried about where these two were for more than two hours (“How long does it take to find some friggin eggnog or whipping cream during the holidays?”) But remember folks, this was 1975 BC — Before Cellphones).

Five years later, Greulich first heard the song on the radio while driving to work; she was struck by déjà vu — “Oh my gosh! That really happened.” The song is fairly accurate with two exceptions: her eyes are green (not blue), and her husband was a PE teacher (not an architect). The very personal line in the song (“She would have liked to say she loved the man, but she didn’t like to lie.”) foreshadowed Greulich’s divorce from the PE teacher, before the song came out. Greulich noted, “Somebody said he waited until I was divorced to release the song, but I don’t know if that’s true.” Later in 1980, Greulich married her second husband, Jim Greulich, and the couple moved to St. Louis, where she teaches second grade at a local elementary school. Even without the ritual playing of the song during the holidays, Greulich treasures her memories of Fogelberg: “I’ll always have a place in my heart for Dan… Dan would be a very special person to me, even without the song.”

PS: Ultimately, the eggnog and whipping cream made it to their respective destinations, where they were appreciated and consumed with merriment and good cheer.

Lyrics to “Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg:

Met my old lover in the grocery store
The snow was falling Christmas Eve
I stood behind her in the frozen foods
And I touched her on the sleeve

She didn’t recognize the face at first
But then her eyes flew open wide
She went to hug me and she spilled her purse
And we laughed until we cried

We took her groceries to the check out stand
The food was totaled up and bagged
We stood there lost in our embarrassment
As the conversation lagged

We went to have ourselves a drink or two
But couldn’t find an open bar
We bought a six-pack at the liquor store
And we drank it in her car

We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to now
We tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how

She said she’s married her an architect
Who kept her warm and safe and dry
She would have liked to say she loved the man
But she didn’t like to lie

I said the years had been a friend to her
And that her eyes were still as blue
But in those eyes I wasn’t sure if I saw
Doubt or gratitude

She said she saw me in the record stores
And that I must be doing well
I said the audience was heavenly
But the traveling was Hell

We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to now
We tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how

We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to time
Reliving, in our eloquence
Another “Auld Lang Syne”

The beer was empty and our tongues were tired
And running out of things to say
She gave a kiss to me as I got out
And I watched her drive away

Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And, as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading:

How Bands Got Their Names: 5

atkins-bookshelf-musicSome band names are very clever, and some are just plain odd. Regardless of how they sound, all were inspired by some random or carefully-considered connection. For this set of band names the inspiration came from a magazine article or ad, toy, nickname, or book title. Below are a few interesting band names and their origins:

Dishwalla: The name comes from a word they saw in a Wired magazine article. Dishwalla is an Indian term for a cable satellite pirate.

Goo Goo Dolls: Originally named the Sex Maggots. Because a newspaper would not print that name, the band had to change their name for a gig one night. While looking through an issue of True Detective magazine, they came across an ad for a toy called the “Goo Goo Doll” and they ran with it. Guitarist Johnny Rzeznik said in an interview: “We were young and we were a garage band not trying to get a deal. We had a gig that night and needed a name. It’s the best we came up with, and for some reason it stuck. If I had five more minutes, I definitely would have picked a better name.”

Hoobastank: The brother of the singer lives in Germany, close to a street Hooba Street. Hoobastank is simply a phonetic variation of that name, that has no particular meaning. In an interview, Chris Hesse elaborated, “When we were looking for band names it’s almost impossible to find a band name that hasn’t been taken. Anything remotely normal has been taken already. I don’t remember how it came up but someone said it and we were like yeah.”

Hootie and the Blowfish: The name comes from nicknames of the singer’s two friends, who used to sing together in choir: “Hootie” had a round, owlish face; “Blowfish” had large, puffy cheeks.

Imagine Dragons: The band is an anagram from different words that all members of the band agreed on. Exactly which words may never be known, since the band decided to keep them a secret.

Limp Bizkit: The name came from a roadie who once observed that his brain felt like a “limp biscuit.”

Maroon 5: The band started out playing pop songs under the name Kara’s Flowers, after a high school girl that all the band members had a crush on. How adorable. The band even recorded a few albums under that name. Naturally, when they switched labels and genres, management asked them to change their name. For whatever reason, the band has not been forthcoming about how they came up with the name. Perhaps they have been hanging out with members of Imagine Dragons. One likely explanation is that the band is named for an alma mater and its official color. Two band members, Levine and Carmichael, both briefly attended Five Towns College, a private college focused on the creative arts located in Long Island, New York. The “five” also ties in nicely to the number of members in the band. And guess what is the college’s official color? You guessed it — maroon. So until one of them writes a biography, or gets drunk and inadvertently address this, we’ll have to go with the “academic” theory.

Mott the Hoople: Named after the title of a book, Mott the Hoople by Willard Manus about a man who works in a circus freak show.

Porno for Pyros: The band was named after an ad for fireworks in a porn magazine.

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For further reading: Rock Names: From Abba to ZZ Top by Adam Dolgins, Citadel Press (1998)

Let It Be: A Musical Tribute to Mothers

alex atkins bookshelf musicAlmost everyone knows the words by heart: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” While some believe Mother Mary refers to the Virgin Mary, Paul McCartney has clarified several times in interviews, that the song was inspired by his mother, Mary McCartney, a midwife, who passed away when Paul was only 14. Paul described his mother’s tremendous work ethic: “She was very hardworking, my mum,” Sir Paul recalled in an interview a few years ago. “She wanted the best for us. We weren’t a well-off  family – we didn’t have a car, we just about had a television – so both my parents went out to work. At night when mum came home she would cook so we didn’t have a lot of time with each other but she was just a very comforting presence in my life.” He recalls how she would cycle to work at three in the morning when the streets of Liverpool were covered in snow.

Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer at 47. The day before she was scheduled for surgery, Mary had cleaned their modest home from top to bottom, and laid out the boys’ school clothes so that they would be ready for the next morning. She confided to her sister-in-law, “Now everything’s ready for them is case I don’t come back.” And sadly, she didn’t. During the operation, she suffered an embolism and died. It was a huge shock to Paul, his younger brother Mike, and his father, Jim, a cotton salesman and a self-taught pianist. Even harder than losing his mother, was witnessing his father’s profound grief: “That was the worst thing for me, hearing my dad cry. You grow up real quick, because you never expect to hear your parents crying. It shakes your faith in everything. But I was determined not to let it affect me. I carried on. I learnt to put a shell around me.”

Paul found comfort in two things: his music and his deep friendship with John Lennon, who had also lost his mother at a young age (John’s mother died when he was 17). This shared loss was a profound bond between them. Over the years, they would be sitting around and recall their mothers and feel the pain of that loss; Paul shared that “we’d have a cry together.”

Fast forward to 1968. The Beatles were an international success and sensation; but their different visions for their music and bitter arguments foreshadowed the inevitable break up of one of the most popular bands in history. It was during these turbulent times, that Mary reached out to her son in a dream; Paul explained: “One night, somewhere between deep sleep and insomnia, I had the most comforting dream about my mother. There was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes, and she said to me very gently, very reassuringly: ‘Let it be.’ It was lovely. I woke up with a great feeling. It was really like she had visited me at this very difficult point  and gave me this message: Be gentle, don’t fight things, just try to go with the flow and it will all work out…. So being a musician I went  to the piano and started writing a song: ‘When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.’ The song, released in 1970, quickly climbed the music charts, becoming one of the band’s greatest hits — and their last one, as a band.

In a recent interview, Paul reflected on the personal and universal meaning of the song: “So those words are really very special to me because not only did my mum come to me in a dream and reassure me with them at a very difficult time  but also, in putting them into a song and recording it with the Beatles, it became a comforting, healing statement for other people too.”

Today, Bookshelf honors all the mothers who have stood calmly and resolutely during their children’s times of trouble — when they lost their way — and whispered comforting, healing words of wisdom so they can sail on through life’s tempest-tossed seas.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading:

The Liberating Power of Music

alex atkins bookshelf musicHave you ever wondered what life would be like without music? Undoubtedly, it would be a drab and gray existence, where one monotonous day slowly fades into the next — a week turns into a month, months quickly turn into years. You blink, and a decade has slipped past. And that is exactly what the inmates at the Shawshank State Penitentiary experienced in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, a profound allegory or preserving one’s integrity and self-worth in the face of adversity and hopelessness. But all of that changed for the prisoners on one memorable, transcendent day. That day Andy Dufresne, an innocent man who was framed for murder, locked himself in the warden’s office and played a song on the record player. The song, “Canzonetta sull’aria” (Italian for “A little song on the breeze”) is from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s famous opera, The Marriage of Figaro (1786). As the song was played over the penitentiary’s public address system, all of the prisoners in the yard froze mid-step, staring up at the speakers, mesmerized by the beautiful sound. It’s a remarkably beautiful moment as we listen to the two women singing, their voices both elegiac yet soaring. Dufresne’s friend and mentor, Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, in a touching voiceover explains the profound impact that the music had on these weary, worn-down souls: 

“I have no idea to this day what them two Italian ladies were singin’ about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I like to think they were singin’ about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared. Higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away… and for the briefest of moments — every last man at Shawshank felt free.”

Ah, the liberating power of music that stirs men’s souls. Sadly, Dufresne pays a steep price for liberating the souls of his fellow prisoners — even if for just a fleeting moment — by serving two weeks in solitary confinement. But even in his cell, Dufresne felt the liberating effect of the operatic song. When asked if playing the record was worth it, Dufresne responds: “Easiest time I ever did… I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company. Hardly felt the time at all… The music was here [pointing at his head] and here [pointing at his heart]. That’s the one thing they can’t confiscate, not ever. That’s the beauty of it.”

Let us return for a moment to Red’s narration. He raises a good question: what were those two Italian ladies singing about? The song, a short duet (known as a “duettino”) occurs in act three of The Marriage of Figaro. The words to the song (known at the “libretto”) were written by Lorenzo Da Ponte, an Italian poet and opera librettist who collaborated with Mozart on two other operas (Don Giovanni, and Cosi fan tutti). In this duet, the Countess Almaviva dictates an invitation to Susanna, her maid. The invite, addressed to Almaviva’s womanizing husband, Count Almaviva, is for a romantic rendezvous in order to expose his infidelity. Almaviva speaks a line and Susanna repeats it while she writes it down. Here are the translated lyrics without the repetition:

On the breeze…
What a gentle little Zephyr
This evening will sign
Under the pines in the little grove
And the rest he’ll understand.

It is only when you understand the context and meaning of the operatic song that you can appreciate the irony of its selection, whether intended or not, by Dufresne: the opera singers are writing a letter to expose an infidelity, while it is the discovered infidelity that indirectly leads to Dufresne being framed for the murder of his wife and her lover and being convicted and sentenced to prison.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: The Shawshank Redemption: The Shooting Script by Frank Darabont, New Market Press (1996), Roger Ebert: The Great Movies by Roger Ebert, Broadway Books (2002). 

The Amazing Healing Power of Love and Compassion

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my extraordinary life, it’s the amazing healing power of love and compassion. For example, I played the concert for 9/11 in New York in Madison Square Garden, which was an extremely moving experience because of the audience. Nobody came there worrying about whether the person next to them voted for another party, was a different color, was a different religion, had a different sexuality. They came there en masse, as a group of people to share love. And I I think we need so much more of that in our sick world, at the moment. Sometimes its hard to believe that we’re in 2019 and what I read in the newspapers — and its not just here– it’s all over the world,  cause I go everywhere. So I truly believe that love is the cure for what ails us at the moment. And this next song is all about that… [Begins to sing “Believe” from the 1995 album, Made in England]: I believe in love, it’s all we got / Love has no boundaries, costs nothing to touch / War makes money, cancer sleeps / Curled up in my father and that means something to me / Churches and dictators, politics and papers / Everything crumbles sooner or later / But love, I believe in love…”

Elton John speaking to the crowd at the SAP Center in San Jose, California, on January 19, 2019 during his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour. Remarkably, at the age of 71, John is playing 300 concerts over three years across the globe in this final tour. In his 50 year career, he has played more than 4,000 concerts. As a philanthropist, he established the Elton John Aids Foundation in 1992. To date, the foundation has raised more than $400 million to support innovative HIV prevention, education programs, and care and support services to people living with HIV.

What Is the Meaning of Bohemian Rhapsody?

alex atkins bookshelf music“Bohemian Rhapsody,” from Queen’s album A Night at the Opera (1975), is considered one of the greatest rock songs of all time. Despite its tremendous commercial success and influence, it remains one of the most enigmatic, inscrutable songs in the history of rock. It is like the Finnegan’s Wake of rock music. “Bohemian Rhapsody” joins the ranks of other famous chart-topping hits that are sung but never fully understood like Don Mclean’s “American Pie” (1971), Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (1971), and just about any song by Yes. So what exactly is the meaning of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody?

The short answer is — we will never know for sure. Freddie Mercury began developing the music and the lyrics in the late 1960s and finished writing it in his home in London in 1975. Although he was very deliberate in its writing, he took all of his secrets to the grave. In an interview, Mercury explains that the song, although very methodically composed, was a bit of a Rorschach test: “Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research, although it was tongue-in-cheek and it was a mock opera. Why not?… It’s one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them.” 

In an interview promoting Queen Videos Greatest Hits DVD, guitarist Brian May stated: “What is Bohemian Rhapsody about? Well, I don’t think we’ll ever know. And if I knew I probably wouldn’t want to tell you anyway, because I certainly don’t tell people what my songs are about. I find that it destroys them in a way, because the great thing about a great song is that you relate it to your own personal experiences in your own life. I think that Freddie was certainly battling with problems in his personal life, which he might have decided to put [a lot of himself] into the song himself. He was certainly looking at re-creating himself. But I don’t think at that point in time it was the best thing to do so he actually decided to do it later. I think it’s best to leave it with a question mark in the air.”

To that we say: poppycock! A song, like a poem or a novel, should be carefully analyzed to find its true meaning. To paraphrase Socrates, the unexamined song is not worth listening to. Invariably, critical textual analysis always reveals important clues — whether left consciously or subconsciously — that lead to meaningful interpretations, revealing aspects of the writer’s character, beliefs, and/or life. To find our first clue, let us first turn to Lesley-Ann Jones, the author of Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography (1997). She interviewed him extensively for her authorized biography and got to peer behind the curtain — to fully comprehend the enigmatic musician and his life. She firmly believes that the song represents Mercury’s personal struggle with his sexuality and eventual decision to come out. In 1986, she asked him specifically about this, but he refused to give her a straight answer. However — and one cannot overemphasize the significance of this — Mercury did provide the key to unlock this decades-old musical mystery: he admitted to her that the song was “about relationships.” Bingo! Furthermore, Jones’ belief was also confirmed by Jim Hutton, Mercury’s lover. Soon after Mercury passed away, Hutton told Jones that “Bohemian Rhapsody” was about Mercury’s public admission that he was gay.

A close examination of the lyrics will reveal that the song is indeed about relationships — specifically the relationship of Mercury to himself, his spouse, family, and God providing the context for the struggles he faced in deciding to face the music, as it were, to come out. The second clue is that  Mercury “did a bit of research.” The song, like an T. S. Eliot poem, is filled with literary and musical allusions that support the intended meaning of the song.

Let’s begin with the title: Bohemian Rhapsody is a play on composer Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody.” A bohemian is a person who has unconventional social habits. A rhapsody is a free instrumental composition played in one extended movement, typically one that is exuberant or full of pathos. So from the very start we have some understanding of both the song and the narrator.

The first stanza introduces us to the narrator, who seems to be living a life that is surreal: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? / Caught in a landslide / No escape from reality.” He is not sure if it is real or a dream and it’s all happening so fast. With Queen’s meteoric success, Mercury was catapulted from a rather traditional, quiet life to a flamboyant rockstar’s life (filled with the obligatory sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll). Mercury is living in two worlds simultaneously: living as a straight man while concealing to his family that he is gay. Mercury felt he had to conceal his homosexuality since his parents practiced Zoroastrianism that specifically condemned it. The next lyric employs antithesis: “I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,” reflecting his ambivalence. Here poor is being used in the metaphorical (deserving of pity), not literal sense (not having money); in other words, he is saying “although I am deserving of pity, I really don’t need your sympathy.” He has accepted his truth, his fate, and does not need anyone’s sympathy. Expressed another way, he seems to mean “This is my life, this is who I am — don’t feel sorry for me.” The stanza ends with the line “Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me,” revealing that the narrator embraces nihilism, the belief that the world is meaningless, and he doesn’t care where destiny takes him. C’est la vie.

In the second stanza the narrator is telling his wife (here “Mama,” as in Mother Mary, represents Mercury’s romantic partner and long-term friend, Mary Austin) that he has killed a man: “Mama, just killed a man / Put a gun against his head / Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead.” But here, the killing is metaphorical, not literal. Mercury is saying that he killed his old self: Farrokh Bulsara (the straight, faithful husband) has been replaced by Freddie Mercury (the flamboyant, gay rockstar). The narrator regrets the pain that he has caused his partner so soon after their relationship had begun (Mercury and Mary had just been together seven years before his first homosexual encounter), fearing that he his thrown all of that part of his life away: “Mama, life had just begun / But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away / Mama, oh oh / Didn’t mean to make you cry.” At the end of the stanza the narrator says “If I’m not back again this time tomorrow / Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters.” The narrator is encouraging his mother (or partner) to embrace his nihilism in order to carry on without him if he continues his life as a gay man.

This is an ideal time to introduce the fascinating parallels between “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Albert Camus’s seminal novel, The Stranger, published in 1942. The novel’s protagonist, Meurseult, is a man (like Mercury) who feels like he doesn’t fit in; he is an outcast. Early in the novel, during an argument he kills an Arab man, is convicted and sentenced to death because he feels no remorse for his crime (the prosecutor accuses Meurseult of being a soulless monster). While awaiting execution, a chaplain meets with Meurseult to guide him to repentance and accepting God’s love and forgiveness. However, Meurseult disavows his crime, rejects God, and accepts the absurdity of the human condition. Ultimately, he finds comfort in his indifference toward the world and the meaninglessness of life. The novel ends with Meurseult happily awaiting to meet his inescapable fate at the guillotine: “And I too felt ready to live my life again. As if this great outburst of anger had purged all my ills, killed all my hopes, I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world. And finding it so much like myself, in fact so fraternal, I realized that I’d been happy, and that I was still happy. For the final consummation and for me to feel less lonely, my last wish was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.” It is very possible that Mercury read this book as a young lad or while he was developing the song.

Let’s return back to the lyrics. The third stanza reflects the narrator’s ambivalence: saying goodbye to his old self (heterosexual), his wife, his family and friends, and his fellow band members, in order to accept the inescapable truth: that he is a gay man: “Goodbye everybody I’ve got to go / Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.” The ambivalence he feels tortures him to the point that he regrets being born at all, invoking pathos and using the antithetical construction we say in the first stanza: “I don’t want to die / Sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.” This is a very powerful sentiment that echoes one of William Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet questions whether he should exist or not: “To be or not to be: that is the question: / Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, / And by opposing end them?”

We now reach the operetta in the fourth and fifth stanzas that function as a sort of Greek chorus, shedding light on the narrator’s psychic and emotional turmoil. Mercury once described this part of the song as “random rhyming nonsense” to his friend, Kenny Everett, a DJ who worked in London. At first glance, just like many nursery rhymes, the jabberwocky of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or any of James Joyce’s inscrutable stream-of-consciousness ramblings, the text may seem like nonsense, but there is definitely meaning behind the madness. Mercury, who mentioned he “did a bit of research,” on this song, clearly chose his words carefully. Let’s break down this section, focusing on key words and lyrics.

The operetta begins with the narrator seeing the shadow of his former self: “I see a little silhouetto of a man.” The next lines, “Scaramouch, Scaramouch will you do the Fandango / Thunderbolt and lightning very very frightening me / Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, figaro, magnifico” suggest that the chorus is challenging the man (calling him “scaramouch,” translated from Italian, means a “boastful and cowardly buffoon;” often featured in Italian comedies, known as commedia dell’arte that flourished from 16th to 18th century) to do something outrageous, thereby shocking the sensibility of his former self, his family and friends, and society at large. The chorus of “Galileo’s” are simply expressions of shock and outrage by others in his circle, as if saying “Oh my God!” Because, the narrator, like Camus’s Meurseult, is a nihilist and absurdist, he doesn’t believe in God. So naturally, he appeals to a man of science, Galileo, a revolutionary (pun intended) who was convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church in 1633 for teaching that the Earth is not the center of the universe but actually revolved around the sun. Figaro, of course, is the famous scheming Spanish barber who appears as in two eighteenth-century French plays (The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro as well as two operas (The Barber of Seville by Gioacchino Rossini and The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). In popular culture, Figaro represents an individual that is irrepressible, clever, and defiant of authority. Magnifico is another character from the aforementioned commedia dell’arte. The name is based on the Latin, magnificus, which means “doing great things.”Not surprisingly, these characters — Galileo, Figaro, Magnifico — that are outcasts on some level, resonate with Mercury — not to mention that they rhyme magnificently.

The next stanza takes us into the struggle inside the narrator’s mind. Here we see the dynamic interplay, a passionate debate, between the narrator and the Greek chorus, as it were, building to a crescendo. What is interesting here, is how the narrator progresses from soliciting pity (stanza five) to expressing outrage and defiance (stanza six). The initial line is the narrator trying to elicit sympathy: “I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me.” And the chorus (representing God) jumps in and validates this and wants to spare him from he difficult life he will face once he kills his former self: “He’s just a poor boy from a poor family / Spare him his life from this monstrosity.” The narrator appeals to an indifferent God: “Easy come easy go will you let me go.” But God, will have none of that (Bismillah is the Arabic word for god; literally translated it means “in the name of Allah”); the chorus (God) demands the narrator’s soul: “Bismillah [In the name of Allah], no we will not let you go.” This is quickly countered by an opposing chorus: “Let him go.” This goes back and forth several times. Finally, after a final passionate, and very Italian-sounding appeal, “Mama mia, mama mia let me go” the devil makes an appearance in this escalating confrontation: “Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me.” There are two points to make here. First, is that the narrator uses the word “Beelzebub,” the name that appears in the Old Testament (specifically, 2 Kings 1:2-3), for the devil, alluding to the age-old conflict of good (represented by God) and evil (represented by the devil) found in the Bible. Second, the reference to the devil is a very clever allusion to the legend of Faust, that inspired many operas, plays, films, and novels (the most famous is the play Faust: A Tragedy by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). In the classic German legend, Faust, despite his success and wealth, makes a pact with the devil (Mephistopheles) to exchange his soul for unlimited worldly pleasures and infinite knowledge. (This is where we get the phrase Faustian bargain or Mephistophelian bargain.) Obviously, if he is making a pact with the devil, Faust must abandon God. In popular culture, Faust (or Faustian, the adjectival form) refers to an ambitious person who surrenders moral integrity to achieve tremendous wealth, power, or success. But even more relevant to the song is the concept of a Faustian bargain in the context of psychotherapy. Here, a Faustian bargain is a defense mechanism (or several of them) that sacrifice elements of the self in favor of some form of psychical survival. So in this context, we can interpret this last line as the narrator saying: “I must face my demon and strike my Faustian bargain with him: I must sacrifice my old self in exchange for the survival of my new self (my real self as a gay man) who will be rich, famous, and revel in worldly pleasures.”

The sixth stanza presents the narrator’s shift from pity to outrage. The stanza functions as a diatribe or rant, marked by an angry defiance to those who judge him harshly. Having struck his Faustian (or Mephistophelian) bargain, he seems to be saying: “I had to do this — don’t hate me for it!” It is ironic that this narrator, who has rejected God, speaks of his punishment in almost biblical terms: “So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye / So you think you can love me and leave me to die.” Another way to state this is: “How dare you judge me and punish me for who I am and how I must live my life. You can’t just love me and then abandon me.” He makes a final appeal to compassion (and one can assume he is referring to his wife): “Oh baby can’t do this to me baby.” In other words, he asks: How can you do this to me, Mary?” But the narrator knows this is a bad place; he needs to get the hell out of there — to escape a place of harsh judgment and condemnation: “Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here.”

The seventh and final stanza (the “outro” in music jargon) begins with the chorus expressing their sympathy for the narrator’s plight: “Oh oh oh yeah, oh oh yeah” as if saying: “yes, of course — you are right, you don’t deserve this, you have no other option to run, to move forward with your life, given who you truly are.” The deliberation — the debate over how to be, how to live — has finally come to its natural conclusion, which the narrator believes should be obvious to everyone. The song comes full circle by returning to the themes introduced in the first stanza: “Nothing really matters / Anyone can see / Nothing really matters / Nothing really matters to me.” The narrator, like Camus’ Meurseult, ultimately finds comfort in the meaninglessness and “the benign indifference of the world” (to borrow Meurseult’s phrase). The stanza ends with quiet resignation: “Anyway the wind blows.” The narrator is resigned to go wherever destiny takes him. 

In short, “Bohemian Rhapsody” reflects Mercury’s personal journey — it is about the personal turmoil he experienced prior to finally coming out. Clearly, he wrote it for himself, as an artistic cathartic exercise. But it was also his gift to the world because the song speaks to so many — and this is why the song endures, resonating so profoundly with succeeding generation. In a larger sense, Bohemian Rhapsody is an inspiring nihilistic anthem about an individual who must accept his truth — to embrace who he is, and live according to who he truly is — regardless of what his family, loved ones, or society want him to be. Indeed, this is not an easy path and, inevitably, it comes at a cost — to the individual (the internal struggles, second-guessing, feelings of isolation, etc.) and to his many relationships (their feelings of pain, betrayal, disappointment, disapproval, etc.). But in an indifferent, meaningless world, Mercury believed, we need to simply discover who we are, accept who we are, and be who we are. So if we had to reduce Bohemian Rhapsody down to its simplest terms, it would be this: live and let live.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: What is the Meaning of Elton John’s Rocket Man?
Who is Major Tom in the Bowie Songs?
The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
Origin of the Beatles Name
How Rock Bands Got Their Names
The Most Misinterpreted Songs
Best Books for Music Lovers

For further reading: Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography by Lesley-Ann Jones
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Faust: A Tragedy by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

What is Most Covered Song of All Time?

alex atkins bookshelf musicSome songs are so admired by fellow musicians that they can help but honor it by recording it, adding their own spin to the famous song. Some of the covers are inspired, some are dubious, and some are outright disasters. Of course, purists always prefer the original song. Hey, why mess with a classic? So what is the most covered or recorded song of all time? Think Beatles. Have you guessed it? Here is the first verse: “Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.” That’s it — “Yesterday,” which was released in 1965 on the album Help!

In the song, the narrator/singer regrets something he said to his loved one that leads to their breakup. Musicians must really dig sad love songs, because “Yesterday” has been covered more than 2,200 times! The song’s melody popped into Paul McCartney head while he was sleeping. When he woke up, he rushed to the piano and played it to make sure he wouldn’t forget it. Later he and John Lennon developed the lyrics we all recognize today. So before the song had lyrics and a title it was simply referred to as “Scrambled Eggs.” In terms of royalties, the BBC reported that as of 2012, the Beatles’ “Yesterday” had earned more than $25 million! Who knew that a lover’s lament could be so lucrative?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Who is Major Tom in the Bowie Songs?
The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
Origin of the Beatles Name
How Rock Bands Got Their Names
The Most Misinterpreted Songs
Best Books for Music Lovers

The Best Books About The Beatles

For further reading: The Beatles Lyrics: The Stories Behind the Music, Including the Handwritten Drafts of More Than 100 Classic Beatles Songs by Hunter Davies (2015)
All The Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release by Philippe Margotin (2013)
A Hard Day’s Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song by Steve Turner (2005)
From Me To You: Songs the Beatles Covered and Songs They Gave Away by Brian Southall (2014)
100 Best Beatles Songs by Stephen Spines and Michael Lewis (2004)

Songs that Inspire: Don’t Let the Moment Pass

alex atkins bookshelf music“Youth has its glory,” wrote Lois Kaufman in The Ageless Soul, “but it is only as we begin to grow older that we can fully appreciate the fullness that life has to offer. We have gained  more freedom and flexibility, and the opportunity to venture into fields that perhaps never seemed to be available to us before. New perspectives bring new challenges and new successes well. We do not worry so much about failure, because we have learned to persevere. This is the ‘daylight saving time’ of life, the time to take advantage of every hour, and to give meaning to every minute.” It is this realization that was the inspiration for Eric Woolfson’s beautiful and poignant ballad, “Don’t Let the Moment Pass” from the stage musical Freudiana, based on the life of Sigmund Freud, that premiered in Vienna in 1990. Woolfson’s timeless metaphorical lyrics and lush orchestration paired with Marti Webb’s tender and, at the song’s crescendo, soaring vocals delivers a song that is sure to touch your soul. It is no wonder why the song is often played at weddings, celebrating the importance of love and living each moment to the fullest.

Progressive rock fans may recognize the name Woolfson. Woolfson (1945-2009) was one of the founders of the very innovative progressive rock band, the Alan Parsons Project (APP), that sold more than 50 million albums worldwide — without ever going on tour. The music from the musical was released on the album Freudiana. The original material for Freudiana was to be for APP’s 11th studio album, however due to creative differences with Alan Parsons, Woolfson, and Brian Bolly, a frequent collaborator of Andrew Lloyd Weber, adapted the songs for a musical. Alan Parsons wrote one song on Freudiana and produced the album. Several guest vocalists that collaborated on many prior APP albums also sang on the album. Another APP song with a similar theme (the wisdom of age), and equally as beautiful, is “Old and Wise” from the Eye in the Sky album (1982), featuring the powerful vocals of Colin Blunstone and soulful saxophone work by legendary Mel Collins.

Below are the lyrics of “Don’t Let the Moment Pass” from the album Freudiana.

Don’t Let the Moment Pass by Eric Woolfson

This golden day will be mine
For every moment in time
If time should lose her way

A symphony in the night
Of stars that dance in the light
And music far away

They say that love is but a dance
Don’t let the music fade away
Don’t let the moment pass

Without reason or rhyme
The sweet bouquet of the wine
Will vanish in the air

The innocence of the rose
She leaves where she goes
For all the world to share

Some days when clouds are drifting by
I open my eyes and watch them go
And wonder where they fly

Some nights Orion runs too fast
I look to the stars as if to say
Don’t let the moment pass

But soon a golden age is past
Just when it seemed that miracles
Where not too much to ask

And though the world may turn too fast
If it should seem like paradise
Don’t let the moment pass

Share your thoughts about the song in the comments section.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

For further reading: The Ageless Soul: Golden Pathways to Wisdom by Lois Kaufman

Read related posts: The Story Behind the Cat’s in the Cradle
The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
Songs that Inspire: I Look to You

The song can be heard here:

The School Shooting that Inspired Elton John’s Song, Ticking

alex atkins bookshelf musicThere was a time in the history of America when mass shootings, particularly senseless and shocking school shootings, were not so commonplace. The 1960s was a time of peace, harmony, hope, and free love, punctuated by protests that espoused the sanctity of human life and strongly denounced war and violence. Make Love — Not War. Perhaps that era is best epitomized by that famous uplifting Coke commercial of teenagers coming together to sing “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” Things were groovy, man. But one horrific event in 1966 — long before the heartbreaking tragedies at Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine, and Virginia Tech — shattered that innocence and inspired a famous music artist and his talented lyricist to write a song about it.

When Elton John sat down to perform this song at a concert in Exeter, England in July of 2003, he turned to the audience and introduced it this way: “We’re going to do a slightly more serious song now. This song was written for an album in the early 70s called Caribou [released in 1974]. It’s a song that deals with violence in America in about the year 1973. When Bernie [Taupin] wrote the song, we thought things would get better — not worse. Well, here we are 30 years on, down the line, and things have gotten worse. And so the song is more relevant [now] than when it was written and its called Ticking.”

It has been suggested that Bernie Taupin wrote Ticking as a response to the movie “Targets” [or “Before I Die” released in 1968], a thriller directed by Peter Bogdanovich. The film focuses on Bobby Thompson, a seemingly normal, quiet young man, who is a Vietnam vet and gun collector, and works as an insurance agent. One morning he just snaps and proceeds to kill his wife, his mother and a delivery boy. Then he climbs on top of an oil storage tank adjacent to a freeway and begins shooting at passing cars. The police begin closing in on Thompson and he makes an escape, finding his way to a drive-in theatre. The gunman shoots the projectionist and then begins shooting at the patrons. Thompson is finally captured by the police after being subdued by an aging actor, played by Boris Karloff. (Yes, of Frankenstein fame.)

Bogdanovich’s film is based on the shocking and horrific University of Texas tower shooting (also referred to as the University of Texas Clock Tower massacre) in Austin, Texas. On August 1, 1966, 11:25 am, Charles Whitman (1941-1966)  climbed to the observation deck (28th floor) of the Main Building tower and opened fire, targeting people on campus and a nearby city street where students hung out. The shooting spree, that lasted about 90 minutes, killed 18 people and injured 31 others. Whitman was shot and killed by police that afternoon. Up until then, this was considered the deadliest mass shooting in American history [today, it ranks as the eighth deadliest mass shooting].

Sadly, in the context of increased gun violence and far too many tragic mass shootings in America, the backstory and details seem all too familiar today: Whitman was a seemingly normal young man, 25 years old, a intelligent (IQ of 139), an Eagle Scout, who joined the Marines. He did very well in the military, earning a Good Conduct medal, a Sharpshooter’s Badge, and a Marine Corps Expedition medal. In 1961, he earned a scholarship to study architectural engineering at the University of Texas. There he met and married his wife, Kathleen Frances Leissner (1943-1966), an education major. Doing these years, Whitman struggled with a gambling addiction. His grades suffered, he lost his scholarship, and he was ordered to active duty at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. In 1963, he was court-martialed for gambling, usury, possession of a personal firearm on base, and threatening another officer. He was demoted and eventually honorably discharged at the end of 1964. Whitman returned to the University of Texas to complete his architectural engineering degree. He worked as a bill collector, bank teller, and traffic surveyor. But Whitman’ marriage began to crumble as he became violent and sought help for what he described in his daily journal “overwhelming violent impulses.” He was losing himself, overwhelmed by frequent “unusual and irrational thoughts.” Whitman even sought help, meeting with a psychiatrist at the university clinic to complain that he was haunted by a morbid fantasy of shooting people with a deer rifle from the top of a tower. Those red flags, unfortunately, were missed.

At some point on July 31, 1966, Whitman just snapped. At 6:45 pm, he began typing up a suicide note. He began: “I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts. These thoughts constantly recur, and it requires a tremendous mental effort to concentrate on useful and progressive tasks.” Soon after midnight he drove to his mother’s house and stabbed her in the heart. He returned to his house, to kill Kathleen, by stabbing her three times in the heart as she slept. In the morning he visited several stores to fulfill his lethal shopping list: at a hardware store, he purchased an M1 carbine (a lightweight semi-automatic rifle) and carbine magazines; at a gun shop, he purchased more carbine magazines and boxes of ammunition; and at Sears he bought a Sears Model 60 12-guage semi-automatic shotgun. Whitman returned home and placed these items along with 6 more guns, supplies (food, coffee, aspirin, water, knives, binoculars, radio, toilet paper, razor, and deodorant) into a footlocker and placed it on a hand truck. He drove to campus and reached the Main Building at the University of Texas at 11:25. Before reaching the observation deck, Whitman killed 2 employees and injured another one. The first shots rang out at 11:48 am. Initially, people mistook the sound of gun shots for construction noise, since there was construction site nearby. Four minutes later, a history professor realized that these were actually gun shots. Soon after police began to arrive. Eventually they made their way up to the top of the building, and one brave officer rushed at Whitman and shot him at point-blank range, killing him instantly. The time was 1:24 pm.

Let us now return to Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s song, Ticking. Although John and Taupin are best known for their top-40 hits, their genius is most often found in what DJ’s refer to as “deep cuts” — the songs that are neglected by radio stations, and appreciated by true aficionados. Ticking is no exception: it is an example of Taupin’s brilliant storytelling that is heightened by Elton John’s haunting melody and searing vocals. The title is a reference to the ticking of the clock of the proverbial “ticking time bomb.” The phrase, that appeared as early as 1893, means a person or situation that will likely become harmful or very dangerous in the future. The story begins with Taupin taunting us with a wonderful juxtaposition of the past and the present: we are presented with the image of a child who was a very good student and flash forward to the moment that his parents are notified of their child’s death. It immediately begs the question: what happened here?

Taupin then leads us through the life and qualities (namely, the ones law enforcement profilers recognize: narcissistic traits, paranoid ideation, and passionate hatred) of the troubled protagonist, taken right out of the news stories we have come to read in the wake of most of the most disturbing mass shootings. We learn that he is “a male caucasian” who seems to be a normal person, a quiet child, a good student, not competitive, obedient, grown up straight and true blue, repentant.” We get a sense that he has been brought up by a pious, and perhaps overbearing mother: “Grow up straight and true blue / Run along to bed… Don’t every ride on the Devil’s knee / Pay your penance well, my child, fear where Angels tread… Now you’ll never get to Heaven.” But the young man has felt alone, isolated and haunted with “strange notions in his head,” perhaps paranoia, that others “mean to do [him] harm” since childhood. At some point “his brain just snapped” and the troubled young man storms into a bar in Queens, the “Kicking Mule,” and kills fourteen innocent people. The police are called in, and soon after, the media descends on the scene and begins reporting: the scene is sealed, schools are closed and children are sent home. [Presumably, this is the time when politicians who value guns — and gun lobby money — more than human lives broadcast their two futile, trite messages: our prayers go out to the victims and thanks to the first-responders.] The police surround the bar, pleading for the gunman to surrender and come out with “hands held high.” As soon as he does, the police shoot him: “But they pumped you full of rifle shells as you stepped out the door / Oh you danced in death like a marionette on the vengeance of the law.” Although the song conveys that justice is quickly served; it leaves you with a haunting image — a mother’s admonition coupled with the ticking of the clock. The suggestion here is that there is alway another time bomb in the making: when will the next one explode? Hear it. Ticking. Ticking. Ticking…


Ticking (music by Elton John; lyrics by Bernie Taupin)

“An extremely quiet child” they called you in your school reports
“He’s always taken interest in the subjects that he’s taught”
So what was it that brought the squad car screaming up your drive
To notify your parents of the manner in which you diedAt St. Patricks every Sunday, Father Fletcher heard your sins
“Oh, he’s unconcerned with competition he never cares to win”
But blood stained a young hand that never held a gun
And his parents never thought of him as their troubled son”Now you’ll never get to Heaven” Mama said
Remember Mama said
Ticking, ticking
“Grow up straight and true blue
Run along to bed”
Hear it, hear it, ticking, tickingThey had you holed up in a downtown bar screaming for a priest
Some gook said “His brain’s just snapped” then someone called the police
You’d knifed a Negro waiter who had tried to calm you down
Oh you’d pulled a gun and told them all to lay still on the groundPromising to hurt no one, providing they were still
A young man tried to make a break, with tear-filled eyes you killed
That gun butt felt so smooth and warm cradled in your palm
Oh your childhood cried out in your head “they mean to do you harm”

“Don’t ever ride on the devil’s knee” Mama said
Remember mama said
Ticking, ticking
“Pay your penance well, my child
Fear where angels tread”
Hear it, hear it, ticking, ticking

Within an hour the news had reached the media machine
A male caucasian with a gun had gone berserk in Queens
The area had been sealed off, the kids sent home from school
Fourteen people lying dead in a bar they called the Kicking Mule

Oh they pleaded to your sanity for the sake of those inside
“Throw out your gun, walk out slow just keep your hands held high”
But they pumped you full of rifle shells as you stepped out the door
Oh you danced in death like a marionette on the vengeance of the law

“You’ve slept too long in silence” Mama said
Remember Mama said
Ticking, ticking
“Crazy boy, you’ll only wind up with strange notions in your head”
Hear it, hear it, ticking, ticking

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Who is Major Tom in the Bowie Songs?
The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
Origin of the Beatles Name
How Rock Bands Got Their Names
The Most Misinterpreted Songs
Best Books for Music Lovers
What is the Meaning of Elton John’s Rocket Man?

For further reading:

Is There a Heaven?

alex atkins bookshelf musicImagine you are a father and your six-year old daughter, who is exposed to man’s inhumanity to man on a daily basis (broadcast on television and the internet), comes to you horrified; with a quivering voice she asks, “How can evil like this exist? Is there something better than this…? Papa, is there a heaven?” Those are challenging questions for adults to ask, let alone a child of six years. Throughout mankind’s existence, some very wise individuals have wrestled with these difficult questions. But here you are. How should you answer?

She’s not looking for a philosophical, psychological, or religious treatise. She is looking for some sliver of hope in what appears to be a cruel, violent world. It’s moments like this that you turn to poetry. As U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins noted so eloquently, “In times of crisis, poems, not paintings or ballet, are what people habitually reach for… The formalized language of poetry can ritualize experience and provide emotional focus… Poetry also can assure us that we are not alone; others, some of them long dead, have felt what we are feeling.” To that, I would add: and have thought what we are thinking.

However if you are Chris Rea, a talented singer-songwriter and guitarist, you write your daughter a beautiful, eloquent song that attempts to arrive at an answer and comfort her. Rea’s touching song, “Tell Me There’s A Heaven,” appearing on the paradoxically titled album “The Road to Hell” (1989) was inspired by such an event in his life, when his daughter Josephine was trying to make sense of a news report from South Africa about a man who was burned alive. Rea’s poignant words (sung in his iconic deep, gravelly voice) and music provide a reassuring message that is both haunting and hopeful. And just like Saint Expert’s classic fable, The Little Prince, Rea’s memorable song is not just for children — it speaks to adults, particularly those who have grown cynical or disillusioned about humanity. This song is a beacon of hope in an otherwise dark landscape, scarred by what seems to be an unending cycle of violence, hatred, and intolerance. For those who have suffered and lost their lives needlessly through violence, we can only hope that “they [the departed] sit with God in paradise/with angels’ wings… [and] they’re all happy now.”

As a child I asked that question: “Is there a heaven?” As an adult, as a father, who has witnessed those who have slipped away far too early and unjustly, I have had to answer that question: I tell her that it’s true. Because, sometimes, it’s the only thing that makes sense. If we can imagine a paradise where others are happy now, it just might give us the strength to muddle through the mayhem and the madness of this world. And if we can imagine a paradise, it helps us look at the face of a teary-eyed six-year-old and say that there is a place called heaven; a joyful place — in the distant future — for me and you…

Here are the lyrics to “Tell Me There’s a Heaven” by Chris Rea:

The little girl she said to me
What are these things that I can see
Each night when I come home from school
And mama calls me in for tea

Oh every night a baby dies
And every night a mama cries
What makes those men do what they do
To make that person black and blue

Grandpa says their happy now
They sit with God in paradise
With angels’ wings and still somehow
It makes me feel like ice

Tell me there’s a heaven
Tell me that it’s true
Tell me there’s a reason
Why I’m seeing what I do

Tell me there’s a heaven
Where all those people go
Tell me they’re all happy now
Papa tell me that it’s so

So do I tell her that it’s true
That there’s a place for me and you
Where hungry children smile and say
We wouldn’t have no other way

That every painful crack of bones
Is a step along the way
Every wrong done is a game plan
To that great and joyful day

And I’m looking at the father and the son
And I’m looking at the mother and the daughter
And I’m watching them in tears of pain
And I’m watching them suffer

Don’t tell that little girl
Tell me
Tell me there’s a heaven
Tell me that it’s true
Tell me there’s a reason
Why I’m seeing what I do

Tell me there’s a heaven
Where all those people go
Tell me they’re all happy now
Papa tell me that it’s so

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
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For further reading: The Poem I Turn To: Actors & Directors Present Poetry That Inspires Them edited by Jason Shinder

How Much Does Mariah Carey Earn from “All I Want for Christmas is You”

alex atkins bookshelf musicFor music artists, Christmas songs are like a one-year membership to the Jelly of Month Club, that prompted Cousin Eddie Griswald in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to remark, “Clark, that’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.” Take for example Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” — one of the highest grossing Christmas songs of all time. Carey wrote the song with collaborator Walter Afanasieff in about 15 minutes and included it as one of ten tracks on her best-selling album “Merry Christmas” released in 1994. To date, that one four-minute song has earned Carey more than $60 million dollars in royalty — an average of about $2.6 million per year. Not bad for less than hour’s worth of work.

Carey’s Christmas album has consistently been in the Billboard top ten best-selling Christmas albums for more than two decades. Currently, “Merry Christmas” ranks number seven on Billboard’s list, having sold more than 5.5 million albums. Using Nielsen SoundScan data, “Merry Christmas” ranks number three, with sales of more than 5.3 million albums. Worldwide, the album has sold more than 15 million units. Not only has the song been purchased millions of times, it receives a ton of airplay each year on radio and streaming services. On Spotify alone, the song has been played more than 210 million times!

No doubt, “Merry Christmas” has made Mariah very merry every Christmas, as she counts her millions all the way to the bank.

Read related posts: Best Christmas Songs
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The Story Behind Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg
What is the Meaning of Auld Lang Syne?
The Origin of the Name Scrooge
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?
A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life

A Christmas Carol by the Numbers

For further reading:

What is the Meaning of Elton John’s Rocket Man?

alex atkins bookshelf musicRocket Man, released in 1972, is one of Elton John’s signature songs and certainly one of his most successful songs, which climbed the singles charts to number 6 in the U.S. and number 2 in the UK. The lyrics of Rocket Man were written by lyricist and poet Bernie Taupin, John’s talented collaborator since 1967. There were two key influences that helped to shape the song in Taupin’s imagination. First, the successful Apollo missions, particularly Apollo 11 that landed men on the moon in 1969, captured the imagination of the nation; every kid in America wanted to be an astronaut. In the span of a less than a decade, the concept of space travel made the giant leap from science fiction to reality. The second influence was the emergence of music from emerging artists that was redefining the sound of rock with innovative instrumentation and lyrics that explored man’s exploration of space, the final frontier. There were two songs, in particular, that made an impact on Taupin.

One year before man stepped foot on the moon, Americans had already been to the moon — via Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey — a film that continues to inspire filmmakers today. The screenplay was based on a short story, “The Sentinel,” written by Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke and Kubrick collaborated on the screenplay and the novel (based on the screenplay) that was released after the movie’s premiere. Its depiction of space travel and thought-provoking scientific and philosophical themes mesmerized audiences around the globe. Moreover, in one film, Kubrick redefined the cinematic experience, raising special effects and brilliant story-telling to new heights.

One of the impressionable people sitting in a darkened theatre watching Kubrick’s film was a young man named David Bowie. In an interview, Bowie explained, “[Space Oddity] was written because of going to see the film 2001, which I found amazing. I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.” The song, featured on the album David Bowie (1969), was about an astronaut, Major Tom, who travels into space, loses communication with ground control, and is stranded in space “floating ’round my tin can/far above the moon… And there is nothing I can do.” Presumably, he runs out of oxygen and perishes.

A year later, the psychedelic folk band, Pearls Before Swine, released the album The Use of Ashes in 1970. Working in the same milieu as Bowie, songwriter Tom Rapp found his inspiration in the short story “The Rocket Man” in the collection of short stories titled The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury published in 1951. The story is told from the perspective of a young boy who, naturally, wants to be an astronaut like his father. For the past ten years, the father has visited his wife and son for a short stay (three days) in between three-month long space trips. The father is sad that his relationship to his wife has deteriorated. As any father would, he warns his son about his profession — don’t become a rocket man; you’ll never be happy — if you’re home, you yearn for space; if you are in space, you will yearn for home; it is a vicious circle. Rapp’s song tells a similar story about regret and loss: a young boy talks about his father who is an astronaut and how he and his mother worry about his father’s safety (“My father was a rocket man / He often went to Jupiter or Mercury, to Venus or to Mars / My mother and I would watch the sky / And wonder if a falling star / Was a ship becoming ashes with a rocket man inside.” The father was torn between visiting distant planets and the stars and spending time with his family. At some point, the father perishes: “One day they told us the sun had flared and taken him inside.” The song ends with the pain that the mother and son feel when they look up at the sky and are reminded of their loss: “My mother and I / Never went out / Unless the sky was cloudy or the sun was blotted out / Or to escape the pain / We only went out when it rained.”

In several interviews, Taupin has revealed that the Pearls Before Swine version of Rocket Man was the inspiration for his version. All three space songs, Space Oddity, Pearls Before Swine’s Rocket Man, and Elton John’s Rocket Man share the same subject, an astronaut traveling in space, and share some of the same themes: isolation, dedication, self-reliance, ambivalence, regret, and mortality. And musically, Space Oddity and John’s Rocket Man both utilize the spacey sort of sounds of the slide guitar and synthesizer. Thematically, like Space Oddity, John’s Rocket Man is told from the perspective of the astronaut. Taupin’s astronaut is traveling to Mars as part of a scientific mission. The astronaut reflects on the lengthy journeys (“On such a timeless flight / And I think it’s gonna be a long long time / ‘Till touch down brings me round again”) and the impact it has on him: he misses his home and family (“I miss the earth so much I miss my wife / It’s lonely out in space.”) and the challenges he faces dealing with the monotony (“And all this science I don’t understand / It’s just my job five days a week”). The astronaut senses that the long journeys into space are changing him, impacting his psyche, his mental health: “I’m not the man they think I am at home / Oh no no no I’m a rocket man / Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone.” Moreover, the narrator expresses his ambivalence, revealing a sense of triumph as well as defeat, by declaring several times, “I’m the Rocket Man.” The song ends by emphasizing the eternity of the flight, perhaps wondering if he will ever return home: “And I think it’s gonna be a long long time…”

In an insightful essay on the meaning of Rocket Man, the editors of Shmoop, describe the Rocket Man as an iconic American archetype, specifically that of the “cowboy”: “Elton John’s Rocket Man is a conflicted cowboy kind of character, torn between his love of the frontierlike realm of space and his home down on the range. When he’s at home on Earth, he yearns to be ‘high as a kite,’ soaring from Mars to Venus to Mercury. But when he’s in space, he misses the Earth: the blue sky, the warm sun, the salt wind, his wife. Space is both ‘lonely’ and ‘timeless.’ And yet while he never seems at ease with his lot in life, he is totally accepting of it for all of its flaws; it is his very identity: ‘I’m a rocket man.'” From there, they compare the rocket man to the idealized masculine man, as represented in the Western canon of literature (“the masculine man is defined by ‘courage’ (according to Cicero), self-reliance, and adherence to the law.”) But more appropriately, they compare the conflicted cowboy to Ulysses from Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem of the same name (based, of course, on Homer’s epic The Odyssey) who is caught between the obligations of his duties as a Greek warrior and as a family man (husband and father). This is a brilliant insight: both Ulysses and the Rocket Man place duty before family, and are committed to completing their missions, willing to sacrifice time with their family (Ulysses asserts: “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”) — and ultimately willing to sacrifice their own lives. The editors conclude: “these sacrifices somehow enrich the idea of being a rocket man, sticking it out alone in the name of essential masculine ideals.”

While we are on the topic of Tennyson’s poem, it is important to understand that the poem was written in 1833 as an elegy for a close college friend, Arthur Henry Hallam who died that year. In an interview, Tennyson explained that the poem expressed his own “need of going forward and braving the struggle of life” after the loss of his dear friend. And similarly, Elton John’s Rocket Man is also an elegy; both the poem and the song evoke a profound sense of sadness, knowing that in Ulysses’s words “death closes all.”

On a another level, Elton John’s Rocket Man underscores the paradox of the American Dream. The American Dream was first defined by James Adams in his book, The Epic of America, published in 1931. Adams wrote: “[The American Dream] is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement….  It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” Rooted in the ideals of the Declaration of Independence (equality, democracy, liberty, democracy, and opportunity), the American Dream is the promise of social mobility for men and women and their children; that is to say, America provides parents the opportunities to support their families through work, so that they and their children will have a better life than their parents. The paradox represented in John’s Rocket Man — as well as Bradbury’s short story and Rapp’s Rocket Man — is this: in order to support his family, the narrator must perform a job that pulls him away from his family; sadly he cannot raise his kids if he is not home. It is an age-old struggle: the choice between career (or work) work and family. The paradox of the American Dream is one of the most compelling themes of Elton John’s Rocket Man and why the song is as relevant today as it was almost half a century ago.

Read related posts: Who is Major Tom in the Bowie Songs?
The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
Origin of the Beatles Name
How Rock Bands Got Their Names
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For further reading: Tennyson (Everyman Library Pocket Poet Series) by Lord Alfred Tennyson
Captain Fantastic: Elton John’s Stellar Trip Through the 70s by Tom Doyle
The American Dream: A Cultural History by Lawrence Samuel

Day Jobs of Famous Musicians 2

alex atkins bookshelf musicBefore they packed concert halls and stadiums around the globe, many musicians held rather typical, boring — and sometimes very unusual jobs — early in their careers to make ends meet. They went from humble jobs that paid a few dollars an hour to earning millions of dollars per year. Not a bad career path. The inspirational lesson here is: early jobs in life should not define you — nor limit you; dream big. Here is a list of famous musicians and the jobs they had before they became wealthy and famous.

James Brown: worked at a shoe shine stand
Jeff Buckley: hotel receptionist
Kurt Cobain: janitor
Phil Collins: movie extra
Chris Cornell (Soundgarden): Cleaning fish guts at Seattle fish markets
Jonathan Davis (Korn): embalmer at funeral home
Snoop Dogg: grocery bagger
Fergie (Black Eyed Peas): voiceover
Boy George: grocery bagger
Nick Hammer (Death Cab for Cutie): sanitation worker
Jon Bon Jovi: assembled Christmas decorations day
B.B. King: tractor
Nicki Minaj: waitress
Alanis Morissette: envelope stuffer
Morrissey: office clerk
Keith Richards: ballboy at a tennis club
Gene Simmons: assistant to a fashion magazine editor
Eddie Van Halen: painted addresses on sidewalk curbs
Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam): security guard at a hotel

Read related posts: Day Jobs of Famous Musicians
The Day Job of Famous Writers
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Random Fascinating Facts About Authors 2

Inventions Predicted by Famous Authors
Sleeping Habits of Famous Authors


For further reading:

What are the Most Common Words Used in Songs?

alex atkins bookshelf music“What would you think, if I sang out of tune?…” Remember the words of that classic Beatles tune? If you’re the type of music listener that pays attention to the lyrics of songs, ever wonder what are the most commonly used words in all popular songs? Music lover Sam Moreton decided to find out. He wrote an algorithm that analyzed one million pop songs. Presumably if you used all of these words in a song, you might have a top-40 hit. Here is the list of the most commonly used words in songs:


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For further reading:

How Rock Bands Got Their Names 4

atkins-bookshelf-musicSome band names are very clever, and some are just plain odd. Regardless of how they sound, all were inspired by some random or carefully-considered connection. For this set of band names the inspiration came from a magazine, toy, sexual terms, or a passing comment. Below are a few interesting band names and their origins (some might earn an MA rating):

Goo Goo Dolls: The band was named after a toy, a Goo Goo Doll, that was featured in an ad in the magazine True Detective.

Scissor Sisters: The pop group began as Dead Lesbian, then Fibrillating Scissor Sisters, before they settled on Scissor Sisters. The name is derived from the lesbian sex act in which a woman rubs her vulva against her partner’s vulva, their legs intersecting like two scissors (the formal name is tribadism, the slang term is tribbing).

Smashing Pumpkins: Vocalist and guitarist Billy Corgan explained that he was in someone’s kitchen and they were having a conversation about something, and he heard someone talk about smashing pumpkins, and he thought to himself “Oh, that’s a pretty good mythical band name, ha, ha.”

Steely Dan: Founding members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker named the band after a strap-on dildo, the Steely Dan III from Yokohama, mentioned in the novel The Naked Lunch (1959) by William S. Burroughs. Really. (Incidentally, the novel, a series of loosely connected vignettes, is told from the point of view of a William Lee, a junkie. The book’s title was suggested by Jack Kerouac. Naked lunch is the “frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.”)

Stone Temple Pilots: During their youth, the members of the band were huge fans of the STP motor oil stickers. They wanted a band name that contained those same initials and considered Shirley Temple’s Pussy and Stereo Temple Pirates, before settling on Stone Temple Pilots.

SuperTramp: The band was initially known as “Daddy” but it sounded to similar to another band, Daddy Longlegs. The band members chose Supertramp from the title of the book The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (1908) by Welsh poet W. H. Davies.

Talking Heads: The band started out as The Artistics since three band members (David Byrne, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth) were alumni of the Rhode Island School of Design. Founding member Tina Weymouth explains “A friend found the name in the TV Guide, which explained the term used by TV studios to describe a head-and-shoulder shot of a person talking as ‘all content, no action.’ It fit.”

Yes: Founding member and vocalist Jon Anderson initially suggested “Life” while bassist Chris Squire wanted “World.” Anderson explains “Yes got pulled out of the bag, I think. We wanted to display a strong conviction in what we were doing. We had to have a strong and straight title for the band.”




Read related posts: Origins of the Beatles Name
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How Rock Bands Got Their Names 1
How Rock Bands Got Their Names 2
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For further reading: Rock Names: From Abba to ZZ Top by Adam Dolgins, Citadel Press (1998)

What Are the Most Popular Music Genres?

atkins bookshelf musicIf you visit Wikipedia’s comprehensive list of music genres — containing more than 1,650 types! — you get a real understanding of the extremely wide range of musical tastes. Back in the day when brick-and-mortar record shops existed (remember the iconic Tower Records?), could you imagine navigating aisles dedicated to 1,650 music genres? It would be, of course, overwhelming. Fortunately, for music stores and online music services, most people’s preference for music gravitates toward about two dozen music genres. Curious to learn what type of music most people like to listen to,, an online music discovery website analyzed the listening preferences of their subscribers over one year. Here is their list of the top ten most popular music genres:

1. Rock
2. Pop
3. Jazz
4. Ambient
5. Hip-hop
6. Hard Rock
7. Chillout
8. Blues
9. Rap
10. Trance

Read related posts: How Many Music Genres Exist?
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For further reading:
Infographic Guide to Music by Graham Betts (2014)

Who Wrote the Song “The Christmas Guest”?

catkins-bookshelf-literature“The Christmas Guest” is a touching holiday song about Conrad, a humble shopkeeper whose acts of kindness highlight the importance of compassion and generosity. The song begins with Conrad relating to neighbors that Jesus came to him in a dream, saying that he would visit Conrad. It is implied that Conrad has recently faced some difficulty in his life — “his shop so meager and mean.” Throughout the day, three different people in need (a shabby beggar, an old woman, and a lost child) stumble upon his shop. Each time, Conrad invites them in and provides them with clothing, food, rest, and comfort. But as the day ends, and darkness comes over the village, Conrad laments why Christ has not visited as he promised; in prayer he asks: “What kept You from coming to call on me / For I wanted so much Your face to see.” Out of the silence comes a voice: “Lift up your head, for I kept My word / Three times My shadow crossed your floor / Three times I came to your lonely door / For I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet, / I was the woman you gave to eat, / And I was the child on the homeless street. / Three times I knocked and three times I came in, / And each time I found the warmth of a friend.” Jesus concludes: “Of all the gifts, love is the best, / And I was honored to be your Christmas Guest.”

The song has been covered by Johnny Cash (released in 1980), Reba McEntire (1987), and Grandpa Jones (2003), an old time country and gospel music singer. As you listen to its beautiful lyrics, you may wonder: who wrote “The Christmas Guest”? Excellent question. Let’s step back in time to arrive at the answer.

First, we need to go back 25 years to the year 1991. The song “The Christmas Guest” is a musical adaptation of the poem “The Story of the Christmas Guest” by American poet Helen Steiner Rice, who wrote religious and inspirational poetry, earning the unofficial title of “America’s beloved inspirational poet laureate.” The poem, inspired by the short story of a famous author, was included in Christmas Blessings, a collection of poems published in 1991.

Now we need to go back in time over a century to the late 1800s. Rice was inspired by Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s (1828-1910) masterful short story, “Where Love Is, God Is” (also translated as “Where Love Is, There God Is Also” or “Martin the Cobbler”) written in 1885. In Tolstoy’s story, the cobbler is named Martin (or Martuin) Avdeitch. The title of Tolstoy’s story is based on the Catholic hymn Ubi Caritas that contains the antiphonal response “Ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibis est,” which translated from Latin means “Where true charity is, there is God.” Tolstoy’s story was translated from Russian to English by American writer and translator Nathan Haskell Dole in 1887.

Tolstoy, in turn, was inspired by the French folk tale “Le Pere Martin” (“Father Martin” in English) written by Ruben Saillens (1855-1942), a musician and pastor, considered one of the most influential Evangelical Protestants in France. Saillens sought to evangelize through his hymns and fables. The story “Le Pere Martin” is included in a collection of fables and allegories, titled Rectis et Allegories, published in 1888; however, it must have been written earlier and spread via oral tradition (pastors often repeated each others sermons), which is how Tolstoy must have heard it years earlier. However, Tolstoy does not merely translate Saillens’ story from French to Russian, he changes the story in significant ways in order to make it more poetic and compelling. Brigitte Hanhart retold the story in a children’s book titled Shoemaker Martin published in 1997.

At this point in our story, we must now go back thousands of years because Saillens’ allegory of the shoemaker was inspired by one of civilization’s oldest books — the Bible, specifically the New Testament. Let us turn to Matthew’s gospel, written about 70 A.D., specifically to Chapter 25 (Matthew 25:31-46) where Jesus discusses who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven using the Parable of the Judgment (or the Parable of the Sheep and Goats): “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed theeOr when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

May the Story of the Christmas Guest inspire compassion and generosity during this holiday season and beyond. Merry Christmas — and may God bless us, every one!

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For further reading: Why are Red and Green Associated with Christmas?
Who Invented the First Christmas Card?
Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus
Twas the Night Before Christmas
A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life
Best Quotes from A Christmas Story
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
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National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Trivia
Mall Santas by the Numbers
The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Price Index: 2016

For further reading: O Christmas Three: Beloved Christmas Classics by O. Henry, Tolstoy, and Dickens (2010),_God_Is

The Story Behind Shannon by Henry Gross

atkins bookshelf musicThis post is dedicated to our beloved family dog who “slipped the surly bonds to earth to touch the face of God.” He was noble, sweet, and the most loving Golden Retriever we have ever had. He lives eternally in our memories and our hearts.

Although Henry Gross is a talented American musician, one of the original guitarist for Sha Na Na during the late 60s and toured extensively for three decades as a solo artist promoting 15 albums, he is best remembered for his one big hit, “Shannon” from the album Release (1976). Shannon is a tender ballad about the death of a dog that is heavily influenced by the legendary Beach Boys sound. Since its release, a story — in reality, a musical urban myth — quickly developed to explain the song’s inspiration. The story goes something like this: Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was suffering from depression, refusing to leave his bed. A family friend thought of providing Wilson with the best therapy — a canine companion. The friend gave Wilson an Irish Setter puppy. The puppy, which Wilson named Shannon, was just what the doctor had ordered; the puppy helped the singer come out of the depression, leave his self-imposed isolation, and venture outside. Wilson and Shannon loved to play on the shores of the Malibu beaches, dodging the waves, running around in the sand. Sadly, tragedy struck — one day while Shannon was swimming in the ocean, a strong tide carried her away; Wilson never saw her again. Understandably, he was heart broken, but worse — he sunk into a deep depression, returning to the safe harbor of his bed.

This is a very poignant story; however it is not the true story behind Shannon. On his website,  Gross (he calls himself the “one-hit wanderer”) dispels the urban myth; he explains, “When I was twenty-one years old, a wonderful girl came into my life by the name of Kathy Reinmann. As if having her in my life as a friend, a wife, and a friend again for the next twenty three years until she died of lung cancer in 1995 was not enough, she brought along with her a two-year-old Irish Setter named Shannon. She was an uncannily human dog whose ability to manipulate her human counterparts cannot be understated. I was touring around the country quite a lot in 1975 promoting an album called Henry Gross [the one with the yellow cover on A&M Records]. I had the pleasure of doing long strings of dates with The Beach Boys, a group whose music always inspired me, Carl Wilson, lead singer on ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Good Vibrations,’ was warm and welcoming from the very first show I played with them. Carl invited me to his house in Los Angeles to spend a day talking guitars, cars and rock & roll. While he was preparing lunch his two Alaskan husky dogs reached up on the counter and inhaled our food. Carl was no nice he couldn’t stop apologizing but I told him, while admiring the military perfection of the raid executed by his huskies, that I had an Irish Setter at home named Shannon and had seen this act many times before! He was quite moved as he told me that he had an Irish Setter named Shannon that had been killed only recently when hit by a car. We spent the rest of the day jamming and driving around Carl’s world, which as a friend — and to be honest, a Beach Boy’s fanatic — was quite a thrill.”

“When I returned to New York City, where I lived,” Gross continues, “I began work on my second A&M album, Plug Into Something. A few weeks later, just as we were about to master the finished album I was sitting on my bed with Shannon strumming my guitar trying to write a song when I was disturbed by the loud bass sounds from the Latin music blasting from the apartment above me. Rather than complain I made an amazing discovery. If I tried to play records of my own choice I could drown out the intrusive bass sounds but was unable to concentrate. But I found that when I played an environments record called ‘The Ultimate Seashore’ I could drown out the bass and have a pleasing and relaxing background sound that didn’t interfere with my writing. In a matter of minutes with the ocean sounds guiding me, and my 1964 Gibson Hummingbird acoustic in my hands, my thoughts drifted to Carl, The Beach Boys and with a glance at my girl Shannon, the indescribable sadness that losing such a beloved partner in life must be. The song seemed to write itself taking no more than ten minutes and with almost no cross outs on the paper. I made a tape of it on my giant Sony cassette recorder and sent it off to Carl. I was hoping to stop the presses and record it for Plug Into Something which Carl had already sung on, adding background vocals to the opening song, One More Tomorrow, but it was too late. I had to wait for the next album to record it. I always wished I could have had Carl sing backgrounds on ‘Shannon’ but conflicting schedules dictated it wasn’t meant to be. I believed after it was recorded for my Release album, that it was destined to be a hit and lobbied hard for it to be the first single. You see, the man upstairs who had played the loud Latin music, beginning the entire chain of events, came down when he heard me playing mixes over and over to decide which I liked. However, rather than hearing the expected complaints, he said he loved the sound of the record and wanted to know where he could buy a copy. I reasoned if a salsa music fan who spoke little English loved the record through the ceiling, Shannon, Kathy and I had a hit on our hands. Fortunately, history and lady luck proved me right. And that is the true story of the song ‘Shannon.'”

Shannon by Henry Gross

Another day’s at end
Mama says she’s tired again
No one can even begin to tell her
I hardly know what to say
But maybe it’s better that way
If Pop-pa were here I’m sure he’d tell her
Shannon, is gone I heard
She’s drifting out to sea
She always loved to swim away
Maybe she’ll find an island with a shaded tree
Just like the one in our backyard
Mama tries hard to pretend
That things will get better again
Somehow she’s keepin’ it all inside her
But finally the tears fill our eyes
And I know that somewhere tonight
She knows how much we really miss her
Shannon, is gone I heard
She’s drifting out to sea
She always loved to swim away
Maybe she’ll find an island
With a shaded tree
Just like the one in our back yard
Ah, just like the one in our back yard
Just like the one in our back yard

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The Worst Songs of All Time

atkins bookshelf musicLists of the best songs of all time abound on the Internet. But what about those terribly annoying songs — songs you love to hate — that are the equivalent to the sound of fingernails across a blackboard? Don’t they deserve a list of their own? Thankfully, the editors of the New York Post believe they do. Recently, they gave their readers an opportunity to rank the worst songs of all time. Reviewing the list is like a stroll down memory lane, each song representing a memorable period of your life. In hindsight, of course, when you replay the song in your head (and believe me — you’ll know the melodies well), you will feel a wave of embarrassment wash over you when you secretly confess that you actually enjoyed listening or dancing to some of these songs. A bad song, like a really bad pun, evokes immediate groans and derision; some are even bad enough to make you “puke all over yourself” — to borrow one of Holden Caulfield’s favorite phrases. Taken together, these cringeworthy songs form the quintessential “island of misfit songs.” According to readers, here are the 20 worst songs of all time. Read at your own peril, since some are likely to become really annoying earworms:

Starship: “We Built This City”

USA for Africa: “We Are the World”

Barenaked Ladies: “One Week”

Bobby McFerrin: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

Terry Jacks: “Seasons in the Sun”

Berlin: “Take My Breath Away”

Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots: “Disco Duck”

Steve Miller Band: “The Joker”

Baha Men: “Who Let the Dogs Out”

Piko-Taro: “PPAP”

The Hues Corporation: “Rock the Boat”

Eddie Murphy: “Party All the Time”

Nena: “99 Luftballons”

The Beatles: “Hey Jude”

Bryan Adams: “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”

Men Without Hats: “The Safety Dance”

Los del Río: “Macarena”

Billy Ray Cyrus: “Achy Breaky Heart”

Europe: “The Final Countdown”

Desiigner: “Panda”

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Top Ten Most Relaxing Songs

atkins bookshelf musicAccording to a 2015 study by Stanford and Harvard Business Schools, health problems related to job stress (eg, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and decreased mental health) takes the lives of more than 120,000 Americans each year — more than the number of lives lost due to diabetes, influenza, or Alzheimers. The cost to the healthcare system? A staggering $180 billion per year.

So what can be done to reduce job-related stress? Short of climbing back into the womb, and immersing oneself in the most perfect environment of relaxation (weightlessness of amniotic fluid, warmth, and mother’s heartbeat), neuroscientists are prescribing a daily dose of super relaxing music. Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson and his colleagues at Mindlab International, a communication and brand research firm, conducted research to find out which songs had the greatest relaxing effect on participants. Subjects were connected to several sensors — measuring heart rate, rate of breathing, and blood pressure — and asked to solve challenging stress-producing puzzles while listening to music. One particular song, “Weightless” by Marconi Union, reduced the anxiety of participants by as much as 65%. Not surprisingly, Marconi Union worked with sound therapists to create a perfect blend of harmonies, rhythms, and bass lines to relax listeners, slowing down their heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

So when you are feeling stressed at work, or at home, put on a pair of headphones and tune out, and tune in to the top ten most relaxing songs in the world:

1. Weightless by Marconi Union
2. Electra by Airstream
3. Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix) by DJ Shah
4. Watermark by Enya
5. Strawberry Swing by Coldplay
6. Please Don’t Go by Barcelona
7. Pure Shores by All Saints
8. Someone Like You by Adele
9. Canzonetta Sull’aria by Mozart
10. We Can Fly by Rue du Soleil (Café Del Mar)

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For further reading:

The Most Famous Song Lyrics

atkins bookshelf musicLike movies, songs provide a global shared experience, as people listen, dance, or sing to their favorite tunes. The greatest songs not only endure because of this shared experience, they also contribute to the English lexicon, providing words and phrases that evoke an era as well as succinctly express certain feelings, situations, or complex issues. Some song lyrics are so well known, that people use them who have never heard the original song. Consider these famous lyrics: “You can check out any time you like / But you can never leave” from Hotel California by The Eagles; “You can’t always get what you want / But if you try sometimes you might find /
You get what you need” from You Can’t Always Get What You Want by The Rolling Stones); or “Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got / ‘Til it’s gone / They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot” from Big Yellow Taxi by Jon Mitchell, to name just a few.  The editors of Sputnik Music got together and compiled a list of the “100 Greatest Song Lyrics.” Like any list it has some glaring omissions; nevertheless, below are the top 50 from that list (artist, album title, followed by lyric). What lyrics are they missing?

1. Neil Young, My My, Hey Hey: It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.

2. Bob Dylan, Blowin’ In The Wind: How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry? Yes, and / how many deaths will it take ‘til he knows that too many people have died?

3. The Beatles, All You Need Is Love: All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.

4. John Cougar Mellencamp, Minutes To Memories: An honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind.

5. Bo Diddley; Creedance Clearwater Revival; Eric Clapton, Before You Accuse Me: Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.

6. Bob Dylan, Its Alright, Ma: Bent out of shape from society’s pliers, cares not to come up any higher, but / rather get you down in the hole that he’s in.

7. Fleetwood Mac, Oh Well: Don’t ask me what I think of you, I might not give the answer that you want me to.

8. Semisonic, Album: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

9. Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes: Fear is the lock and laughter the key to your heart.

10. Frank Sinatra, My Way: For what is a man? What has he got? If not himself – Then he has naught. / To say the things he truly feels And not the words of one who kneels.

11. Bob Dylan, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall: Heard ten thousand whispering and nobody listening. Heard one person starve, / I heard many people laughing. Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter.

12. Rush, The Pass: All of us get lost in the darkness, dreamers learn to steer by the stars.

13. Simon and Garfunkel, The Boxer: All lies and jest, still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

14. The Beatles, The End: And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

15. Woodie Guthrie, This Land Is Your Land: This land was made for you and me.

16. 2 Pac, Me Against The World: Even the genius asks questions.

17. Kool Moe Dee, Knowledge Is King: Evil feeds off a source of apathy, weak in the mind, and of course you have to be. Less than a man, more like a thing, no knowledge you’re nothing, knowledge is king.

18. Led Zeppelin, The Battle Of Evermore: The pain of war cannot exceed the woe of aftermath.

19. Wilco, Ashes Of American Flags: All my lies are always wishes.

20. Rush, Freewill: If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

21. Ramones, Got a Lot to Say: I got a lot to say, I got a lot to say, I got a lot to say. I can’t remember now, I can’t remember now, I can’t remember now.

22. mewithoutyou, Oh, Porcupine: And all I ever want to say for the rest of my life, Is how the light is GOD! / And through I’ve been mistaken on this or that point,That light is God.

23. Boston, Peace of Mind: I understand about indecision, but I don’t care if I get behind. People living in competition, all I want is to have my peace of mind.

24. Bob Dylan; The Byrds, My Back Pages: I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

25. Simon and Garfunkel, El Condor Pasa: I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.

26. Anthrax, Schism: If we were blind and had no choice, would we hate each other by the tone of our voice?

27. Bob Seger, Feel Like a Number: Im not a number damnit. I’m a man.

28. Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here: We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl.

29. Crosby, Stills, and Nash; Jefferson Airplane, Wooden Ships: If you smile at me I will understand, cause that is something everybody everywhere does in the same language.

30. The Eagles, Desperado: Freedom, well, that’s just some people talking. Your prison is walking through this world all alone.

31. The Righteous Brothers, Rock and Roll Heaven: If you believe in forever, then life is just a one night stand. If there’s a rock and roll heaven, well, you know they got a hell of a band.

32. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fortunate Son: It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no Senator’s son, son. It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one.

33. Misery Signals, In Summary Of What I Am: And all the great things that I will never do.

34. Janis Joplin, Me And Bobby McGee: Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Nothing ain’t nothing, but it’s free.

35. U2, Zooropo: Get your head out of the mud, baby. Put flowers in the mud, baby.

36. Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’: You better start swimming or sink like a stone, cause the times they are a-changing.

37. Eric Clapton, Tears in Heaven: Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees.

38. The Moody Blues, The Best Way To Travel: Thinking is the best way to travel.

39. Marvin Gaye, What’s Goin’ On: War is not the answer, because only love can conquer hate.

40. La Dispute, New Storms for Older Lovers: I guess love?s a funny thing, the way it fades away without a warning and when it’s gone oh it’s gone. It aint ever coming back.

41. Pink Floyd, Time: Then one day you find, ten years have got behind you. / No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

42. Bob Dylan, I and I: The swift don’t win the race. It goes to the worthy, who can divide the word of truth.

43. Simon and Garfunkel, The Sound of Silence: The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls.

44. The Rolling Stones, Far Away Eyes: The preacher said, you know you always have the Lord by your side. And I was so pleased to be informed of this that I ran twenty red-lights in his name.

45. Elvis Presley, Can’t Help Falling in Love: Take my hand, take my whole life too, but I can’t help falling in love with you.

46. Radiohead, There, There: Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there.

47. Misery Signals, Ebb and Flow: In dreams, I’ll promise you’ll never be alone, how much I wish your voice could send me home.

48. The Who, Baba O’Riley (“Teenage Wasteland”): The exodus is here the happy ones are near, / let’s get together before we get much older.

49. The Yardbirds, Spoonful: It could be a spoonful of diamonds, could be a spoonful of gold. Just a little spoon of your precious love satisfies my soul.

50. Golden Earring, Twilight Zone: Where am I to go, now that I’ve gone too far?

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What is the 27 Club?

atkins bookshelf musicMost people are familiar with the old joke about the mortuary or graveyard: it’s so popular that people are dying to get in. Unfortunately, the 27 Club is no joke — people literally have to die to get in. Specifically, the 27 Club refers to the group of famous musicians that died at the young age of 27. When Kurt Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’Connor, learned of his death by suicide, she remarked: “Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to join that stupid club.”

Charles Cross, who wrote biographies of Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix, noted in an interview: “The number of musicians who died at 27 is truly remarkable by any standard. [Even though] humans die regularly at all ages, there is a statistical spike for musicians who die at 27.” As you can imagine, the cause of death at such an early age, is due mainly to drug overdose, alcohol abuse, suicide, or homicide. Here are famous musicians who died at 27.

Alexandre Levy: Composer, pianist and conductor
Louis Chauvin: Ragtime musician
Robert Johnson: Blues singer and musician
Nat Jaffe: Swing jazz pianist
Jesse Belvin: R&B singer, pianist, and songwriter
Rudy Lewis: Vocalist of the Drifters
Joe Henderson: R&B and gospel singer
Malcolm Hale: Original member and lead guitarist of Spanky and Our Gang
Dickie Pride: Rock n’ roll singer
Brian Jones: Rolling Stones founder, guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist
Alexandra: German schlager vocalist
Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson: Leader, singer, and primary composer of Canned Heat
Jimi Hendrix: Electric guitarist, singer, and songwriter for the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys
Janis Joplin: Lead vocalist and songwriter for Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Kozmic Blues Band, and Full Tilt Boogie Band
Arlester “Dyke” Christian: Frontman, vocalist, and bassist of Dyke and the Blazers
Jim Morrison: Singer, lyricist, and leader of the Doors
Linda Jones: Soul singer
Leslie Harvey: Guitarist for Stone the Crows
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan: Founding member, keyboardist, and singer of the Grateful Dead
Roger Lee Durham: Singer and percussionist of Bloodstone
Wallace “Wally” Yohn: Organ player of Chase
Dave Alexander: Bassist for the Stooges
Pete Ham: Keyboardist, guitarist, and leader of Badfinger
Gary Thain: Former bassist of Uriah Heep and the Keef Hartley Band
Cecilia: Singer
Helmut Köllen: Bassist for Triumvirat
Chris Bell: Guitarist and singer-songwriter Big Star and solo
Zenon De Fleur: Guitarist for the Count Bishops
Jacob Miller: Reggae artist and lead singer for Inner Circle
D. Boon: Guitarist and lead singer of the Minutemen
Alexander Bashlachev: Poet, rock musician, and songwriter
Jean-Michel Basquiat: Painter, graffiti artist, and founder of Gray
Pete de Freitas: Drummer for Echo & the Bunnymen
Chris Austin: Singer for Reba McEntire
Joey Cigainero: Keyboardist for Reba McEntire
Dimitar Voev: Founder of New Generation
Mia Zapata: Lead singer of the Gits
Kurt Cobain: Founding member, guitarist, lead singer, and songwriter for Nirvana
Kristen Pfaff: Bass guitarist for Hole and Janitor Joe
Richey Edwards: Lyricist and guitarist for Manic Street Preachers
Stretch: Rapper
Fat Pat: American rapper and member of Screwed Up Click
Freaky Tah: American rapper and member of Lost Boyz
Kami: Drummer for Malice Mizer
Rodrigo Bueno: Cuarteto singer
Sean Patrick McCabe: Lead singer of Ink & Dagger
Maria Serrano Serrano: Background singer for Passion Fruit
Jeremy Michael Ward: Sound manipulator for Mars Volta and De Facto
Bryan Ottoson: Guitarist for American Head Charge
Valentín Elizalde: Singer
Amy Winehouse: Singer-songwriter
Richard Turner: Trumpet player
Nicole Bogner: Singer for Visions of Atlantis
Soroush “Looloosh” Farazmand: Guitarist for the Yellow Dogs
Slađa Guduraš: Pop singer and actress
Tomas Lowe: Bassist for Viola Beach
Thomas Fekete: Guitarist for Surfer Blood
Anton Yelchin: Actor, guitarist for The Hammerheads

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