Little Wing

For this week I wan to talk about one of favorite songs of all time, “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix.

Jimi Hendrix was arguably one of the greatest guitar players of all time, and one can only imagine what more he could have done if he had become a member of the infamous 27 Club. But, what he did leave us with was an incredible selection of great music, including “Little Wing.” In typical Hendrix style, you really can’t gather the meaning of the song just by reading the lyrics, you have to experience them.

The 1960s saw the rise of one of the most well-known counter cultures: hippies. The hippie movement was “founded” (perhaps not a great word as it lacked true organization) on the basis on non-conformity and raging against the social norms of the time. Their values were rooted in peace, love, and pleasure, which was especially pertinent during the Vietnam era. What set them apart from other anti-war movements, however, was that

Circa 1968

they were explicitly non-political. Their disdain for the “establishment” was so great that they refused to play the game, so to speak. To be involved would be to become corrupted by the vices of those in power. Instead, the hippie movement focused on dissent through personal expression. They dressed differently, wore their hair differently, spoke differently, and (more importantly for this post) listened to different music and used different drugs.

Perhaps the peak of the hippie counterculture came in the summer of 1967, which many of us now refer to as the “summer of love.” The summer of love saw the first large scale rock music festivals, including the Monterey Pop Festival, which took place from June 16-18 in 1967. The Monterey Pop Festival embodied the many themes of the hippies, and it was the most promoted and attended music festival of its time. In fact, it served as the blueprint to the very famous Woodstock music festival. The Monterey Pop Festival was a huge hit as it featured many major artists, and introduced the large crowds to some new ones. The festival marked the first time American crowds would hear The Who, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, and (of course) Jimi Hendrix. It was at this festival that Hendrix was inspired to write “Little Wing.”

“Little Wing” is essentially a musical representation of Hendrix’s experience at the Monterey Pop Festival. The reason it is so cryptic is rather simple: drugs. It is no secret that Hendrix and many others at these rock festivals freely used drugs, especially psychedelic drugs like LSD. And, like many other musicians, Hendrix often found inspiration for songs in the visions he had as a result of the drugs. So, we need to consider the fact that “Little Wing” was written by someone trying to put into words that which cannot be. He was trying the capture the intangible. So while no one can ever claim that they fully understand “Little Wing,” we can take a look at the feelings it conveys.


The themes expressed in “Little Wing” are the same ones expressed by the hippies and the Monterey Pop Festival: peace, love, and pleasure. But, rather than try (and fail) to explain it in more detail, let me share the words of Hendrix himself:

“I got the idea like, when we were in Monterey and I was just looking at everything around. So I figured that I take everything I see around and put it maybe in the form of a girl maybe, somethin’ like that, you know, and call it ‘Little Wing’, and then it will just fly away. Everybody’s really flyin’ and they’re really in a nice mood, like the police and everybody was really, really great out there. So I just took all these things an put them in one very, very small little matchbox, you know, into a girl and then do it. It was very simple, but I like it though.”

I firmly believe that “Little Wing” is one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. The emotion is raw and the guitar playing is some of the most passionate I have every heard. I find that every time I listen to it, it feels like it’s the first time and I am filled with awe and wonder. I also enjoy finding different versions of Hendrix performing it or even other artists covering it. In case you’re interested, I would suggest any live version of Hendrix performing it, or the covers done by either Stevie Ray Vaughan or Eric Clapton.

Posted in Spring Semester | Leave a comment

Saturday In the Park

This week I want to talk about the song, “Saturday In the Park” by the group Chicago.

This song doesn’t reference a specific event in history, but rather it speaks to a moment in time. This moment, specifically, is the early 1970s in the United States. This song was released in 1972, so it’s primary focus is on the early 1970s and the turmoil that defined the era.

As I’ve touched on in a few of my other posts, the main drive for the unrest felt in the 1970s was the Vietnam War. Although Richard Nixon had won the Presidency in 1968 on a platform of “peace with honor,” by the time 1972 rolled around the only thing he had done was escalate the conflict. Nixon’s era was filled with many protests and acts of civil unrest, mostly directed at Nixon himself. The protests encompassed issues ranging from the Vietnam War to the implementation and enforcement of civil rights laws. Additionally, in the early 1970s the American people were beginning to feel the first rumbles of what would eventually become a major economic crisis in the mid-1970s.

Finally, although the members of Chicago could not have known what was to come, 1972 also brought about the break in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex and initial cover up that would eventually spiral into the largest political scandal in American history. As the song rose in popularity, its meaning was flexible enough to encompass the feelings that accompanied the questions and probes into the truth that lie behind the scandal.

Chicago, as a group, have a notoriously mellow sound, and this song is no exception. Robert Lamm, who wrote “Saturday In the Park,” was inspired by the events

Chicago in concert circa 1977

he witnessed on the 4th of July in New York’s Central Park. What’s interesting is the events that he witnessed were not particularly unique or exciting, they were simply normal. Everybody was enjoying themselves and generally having a good time. Lamm sings that he’s “been waiting such a long time for Saturday,” with Saturday representing the metaphorical end to the turmoil the nation was facing.

Overall, the intent of the song is to help reconcile the the divisions present in society and preach hope and harmony. It’s a playful call signaling what Chicago believed to be the end of a few darker years in history. Unfortunately, we now know that 1972 only represented the beginning of the problems America would face.

Posted in Spring Semester | 1 Comment


This week we’re going to take a look at “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

Also, sorry for the French lyrics in the video, this was the only lyric video I could find.

“Ohio” is a protest song that speaks directly to Nixon’s decisions regarding the Vietnam War, and the fatal shooting of four students at Kent State University in Ohio.

When Richard Nixon ran for office, he ran on a platform of bringing an end to the Vietnam War (using the famously nonspecific slogan of “peace with honor”). But although he vowed to scale back the United States’ military involvement, in the spring of 1970 (2 years into his presidency), he had acted on no such promises. In fact, on April 30 Nixon did the exact opposite of what he promised when he announced that he had directed American military forces to invade the neighboring country of Cambodia.

Expectedly, this did not sit well with the many Americans who opposed the war even before Nixon escalated our involvement. Yet, unfortunately, some of the protests that followed took a stereotypically tragic turn. One such protest occurred on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio.

Not to delve too deep into the subject, but large protests in America, especially (though also around the world), seem to take a rather predictable course. Some event occurs and a large group decides it to be worthy of protest (as is their right). However, some protestors take it too far and end up destroying someone else’s property (who probably had nothing to do with the thing they were protesting). Then there is a call for law and order, to which there is a rather large law enforcement response. Things escalate, people get hurt.

On May 1, 1970, people protesting Nixon’s war escalation in Kent, Ohio trashed some storefronts, and police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. The next day, the governor of Ohio mobilized the National Guard to help restore order. That night, protestors set fire to an ROTC building and cheered as it burned, and the National Guardsmen used to tear gas to break up the crowd, and some protestors were arrested. Then, a large, and ultimately fatal, protest was organized for May 4.

A few thousand students gathered on Kent State’s campus and began protesting. The National Guardsmen ordered them to disperse and began using tear gas. The students fled and the Guard pursued. Then the students began pelting the Guardsmen with rocks. This

caused them to seemingly retreat up a nearby hill, but once they were at the top they turned around and fired on the crowd. About ten seconds later, four students were dead and nine were injured. This came to be known as the Kent State Massacre.

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young were a folk rock type group that, pre-Kent State, wrote songs about much less serious issues. In fact, their other popular songs featured good-natured lyrics and were sung using mainly acoustic guitars and folksy harmonies. However, “Ohio” is a marked change from all of that. While retaining the CSNY sound, the song’s distorted guitar and andy lyrics convey the anger that the band felt upon hearing about the shootings.


Also, its important to keep in mind that while today they would be considered mild at bets, lyrics such as “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming… Soldiers are gunning us down” were considered explicit for the time. But the lyrics simply reflected the reality. If they were inappropriate, so were the actions of the Nixon administration and the National Guard. If they were angrier than the lyrics of an average CSNY song, it was because the anger was warranted and perhaps even necessary. This is a classic and great example of people expressing themselves through their art, and its also a pretty good song.

The unfortunate events at Kent State, and this song, helped to bring the issue of the Vietnam War home to Americans. Rather than some distant and intangible series of events, suddenly the war in Vietnam became a massively prevalent event that was unable to be ignored. While many had been outraged at the massive casualties of the war, many more became outraged at the death of the students who were nowhere near Vietnam. The photo below (which won a Pulitzer Prize) perfectly sums this up. It is one of those select few photographs taken at the exact right moment in history such that it captures what can sometimes not be put into words.



Posted in Spring Semester | Leave a comment

American Pie (Nothing to do with the movie… or does it?)

This week I want to take a look at one of the most iconic songs in rock history, Don McLean’s “American Pie”:

While maintaining its status as one of the most popular songs in rock music, “American Pie” is rather cryptic in its meaning. But, as I hope to show you in this post, the song is actually a massive nostalgia-filled farewell to the 1960s. And, therefore, this song contains an abundance of one-line references to historical events from that era.

“American Pie” was released in 1971 at a time where the separation between the 1960s and 1970s was becoming ever so clear. For America, the 60s had been a rather tumultuous decade filled with violence and disunity. Yet, looking back on the decade in 1971, McLean and many American’s did not see this. Instead, they saw a decade filled with American advancements and even maturity. While there were certain undeniable tragedies in the 60s, they helped shape the generation that had brought America into its own as a world power. After World War II America was thrust into the role of a superpower and throughout the 1950s it had struggled to define itself.
The 1960s, however, was the decade that saw Americas reach for new goals in innovation and finally catch up (if not pass) the Soviet Union in terms of its standing on the world stage. Something especially relevant to McLean in the 1960s (and late 1950s technically) was the explosion of Rock N’ Roll and the music industry in general. The early pioneers of rock that helped define it gave way to the first megastars like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and so many more.

What’s more than this, was the lure of the 1960s and the nostalgia felt was intensified by the fact that the 1970s were shaping up to be even more turbulent. The Vietnam War showed no sign of winding down, and political protests regarding America’s involvement were ramping up. And, by the time “American Pie” became popular in 1972, it was becoming clear that America was on the verge of two major catastrophes. First off, there was a looming economic crisis the likes of which had not been seen since the Great Depression. Secondly, questions were beginning to be asked about a break in at the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Building Complex.

So, in short, Don McLean and every other American had a right to feel nostalgic about the 1960s.

Now I’ll turn to talking more about “American Pie.” But before I do, I want to let you know that the song is about 8½-minutes long so I’m not going to talk about every single line (neither you or I would enjoy that). Instead, I’m going to pick out a two important references to try and capture the theme of the song.

The song makes continuous reference to “the day the music died.” This is specifically referring to February 3, 1959 when three rock pioneers and legends (Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper) were killed in a plane crash. Their deaths meant an end to the first era of Rock N’ Roll because they were the only major artists left as Elvis had been drafted and Chuck Berry was serving a prison sentence. This marks the start of the timeframe the song speaks to and it works itself all the way up to the present (1971).

The second aspect of the song I want to talk about is the chorus. “American Pie” is used in reference to the American dream because it elicits a certain feeling of home-grown Americanism. The whole of the chorus plays off of this, or, rather, the notion that they were somehow moving away from this picturesque vision of America. McLean’s “drove [his] chevy” (a popular American car) “to the levee but the levee was dry” (referring to the looming economic slowdown they were experiencing in the 70s). The latter part of the chorus reinforces this theme.

Everything around and in between these parts of the songs is a reference to some event of the time period. Nearly every line is about something different, but they all play on the nostalgic element of the 1960s. The problem is that McLean intentionally constructed complex lyrics, so they’re not always easy to understand. In “American Pie” McLean has packaged a fond goodbye to his childhood. Interestingly enough, this is where I find a parallel to the movie, “American Pie.” If you’ve every seen “American Pie” and you can get past the raunchiness, you will notice that the movie is essentially an Ode to High School. At its core, the film is about a group of friends about to move on the next stage in their lives, and the director takes a nostalgic look back at this period in the life of the American teenager. Beyond this I’d venture to say there are no more similarities.

Posted in Spring Semester | Leave a comment

Born in the USA

This week we are going to look at one of the most well known, and misunderstood, rock anthems of all time: Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.”

The main purpose of this song was to relay the story of the mistreatment of Vietnam War veterans. And, while most people are aware of this to a degree, I’m going to talk a little more about it now.

Vietnam was a fundamentally unique war, different from any other fought in American
history. I’m not trying to get to in depth, but the main points essentially boil down do this: it was a messy and brutal war that caused America to question its own morals and beliefs like nothing before and perhaps nothing since. Countless Americans protested our involvement in Vietnam, something that had never happened before, and public opinion towards the war became overwhelmingly negative.

Unfortunately, the distaste and even hatred that many Americans felt for the war spread and affected their view of the soldiers who fought in it. They became scapegoats for everything American’s hated about Vietnam. The horrors of the war led may people to try and forget it as soon as possible so whereas previous wars had ended in many weeks worth of parades and celebrations for the returning soldiers, Vietnam veterans received no such welcome. They were quite implicitly asked to fade into the background and not talk about their involvement in the war.

There were many problems that Vietnam veterans faced after returning home, stemming from the public’s and the government’s urges to have everybody forget about the war. Veterans of Vietnam were in a tragically unique situation in which they returned from a war setting where they were under extreme levels of stress to a home environment where everyone acted as if the war didn’t exist. This dramatic shift did not lend itself well to the adjustment process necessary in order to reenter society. What’s worse was that when the many servicemen and women attempted to reenter society, they found that there were not many jobs available for them. America was on the verge of the great economic crisis of he 1970s, and the jobs that did exist required skills and schooling. In short, the veterans returned to a country that wanted them to lead normal lives, yet did not have the resources to make it possible.

This is the context for which Bruce Springsteen wrote “Born in the USA” in 1984. What’s especially interesting (at least to me) is that this is one of the most misunderstood songs of all time. Recently, this fact has been brought to light so, in fairness, it may not be as misunderstood as it once was.

I want to say that I do enjoy Bruce Springsteen’s music, however I will concede that he does shout a lot and he kind of slurs his words, so it can be hard to understand what he is saying. Perhaps this is why “Born in the USA” was misunderstood for so long. Everyone hears a lot of shouting and somewhat unintelligible vowels until suddenly the chorus comes and everyone can scream it out loud all patriotic like. As noted a lot in the news relatively recently, this song is go to favorite for political campaign rallies as a patriotic anthem; however, a brief look into the lyrics shows that this is so far from the truth. Springsteen sings about the experience of Vietnam veterans from a first person perspective, showing the overall neglect and mistreatment perpetrated by the public and the government, alike. While most people see the chorus as affirming America’s greatness in the face of hardships, it is actually meant to be an ironic contrast to that very point. He intended to show that people’s need to feel good about the country they live in has blinded them to what the reality is. This desire has allowed them to be manipulated into allowing the continued existence of injustice in their society.


Posted in Spring Semester | 2 Comments

99 Luftballons

Today I’m going to talk about 99 Luftballons by Nena (FYI Nena is the name of the band and the lead singer), which was released in 1983. If you can get past the fact that this video may be the most stereotypically ’80s thing you have ever witnessed, you may realize it’s not being sung in English. In fact, the entire song is sung in German, as Nena, the singer, is German. Here’s a rough translation of the song:

If you have some time for me
Then I will sing a song for you
About ninety-nine balloons
On their way to the horizon
If you maybe think just of me
Then I will sing a song for you
About ninety-nine balloons
And that such a thing comes from such a thing
Ninety-nine balloons
On their way to the horizon
One could take them for UFOs from space
Therefore a general sent
A flying squadron after them
To give the alarm if it was so
There were present on the horizon
Only ninety-nine balloons
Ninety-nine jet fighters
Each was a great warrior
They regarded themselves as Captain Kirk
There was a great display of fireworks
The neighbors didn’t understand
And soon felt offended
And in the process they shot at the horizon
At ninety-nine balloons
Ninety-nine ministers of war
Matches and petrol cans (gasoline cans)
They regarded themselves as clever people
Already on the scent of fat quarry
They shouted “War” and wanted power
Man, who would have thought
That someday it would come as far as this
Because of ninety-nine balloons
Ninety-nine years of war
Left no place for victors
There are no longer any ministers of war
And also no jet fighters
Today i’m making my rounds
I see the world lying in ruins
I have found a balloon
I think of you and let it fly

There are a few variances depending on which translation you look at, but this one is fairly good. Although it may not be completely obvious, this song is about the Cold War. I’m going to step aside from the song itself now to give some background, but then we’ll get back to it later.

As most people know, at the end of World War II, the Allied Powers divided up Germany into zones of influence. From about 1955-1990, the division looked like the map you see above, with West Germany under the influence of the United States, Britain, and France, and East Germany under the influence of the Soviet Union. Additionally, the capital of Germany, Berlin, was divided along similar lines, even though it was located far within East Germany. This led to some major problems, but they aren’t really important to this song.

As most people can imagine, living in West Berlin, which was very much like the rest of the western world, was very

A portion of the Berlin Wall, known as “death strip” that has been preserved.

favorable compared to the very strict and Soviet controlled world of East Berlin. For this reason (and other reasons), the Soviet Union constructed the famous Berlin Wall to keep complete control over East Berlin. It is this division that became the inspiration for “99 Luftballons.”

The guitarist for Nena, Carlo Karges, was the one who actually wrote the lyrics for the song. On June 8, 1982 Karges attended The Rolling Stones’ concert in West Berlin. At some point during the concert, he noticed that balloons were being released (luftballons=balloons in case that wasn’t clear). Karges also noted that some of the balloons were drifting over towards East Berlin, and he began to wonder how East German or Soviet forces might react if they saw them. The song is his apocalyptic vision of what might happen if they misidentified the balloons as some sort of attack.

So, now we come back to the song. If you haven’t already I’d suggest giving the lyrics one more read through now that you have this new perspective. You can really see where the narrative is and where the story goes, even through the rough translation. And, whether intentional or not, this song very intimately touches on the subjects of M.A.D. (mutually assured destruction), brinkmanship, and many
other Cold War fears. In the song, the red balloons are interpreted as some kind of attack (UFO might not be the best translation) and as a result a command for action is issued. The perceived attack leads to a real response, which quickly escalates into all out war (which we can rather safely assume is a nuclear one). Although set to a very synth-heavy and catch tune, Nena was singing of a very scary yet real possibility during this time period.

In case you were interested, Nena rereleased the song in 1984 in English. The only issue is it’s not an exact translation of the song, as the cadence and structure of the song wouldn’t work simply by switching the words to their English equivalents. So, the song that was released is thematically the same in that it tells a similar story, and conveys a similar message. I’ll leave it here if it interest you. Also, they had to switch the name to “99 Red Balloons” to make it fit right, even though in the original German they are not necessarily red balloons (luftballons literally means “air balloons”).

Also this song has been covered many times since it’s rerelease. One of my personal favorites was done by the punk rock group, Goldfinger. If the original song is a stereotypically ’80s song, then this cover is a stereotypical pop punk song. But I don’t care I think it’s good.

Posted in Spring Semester | 2 Comments

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Last semester my passion blog basically attempted to introduce a new genre of music each week in the hopes of helping readers discover something new that they liked. I condensed and simplified a lot of the genres to prevent myself from becoming technical in the differences and repetitive in the music, so it’s not really feasible for my to continue the blog in this way for another ten weeks. However, I do believe that I have found a new way to continue with my passion for music. I am combing my passion for music with my passion for history to pick out a few interesting times where they intersect. Whereas a my previous blogs introduced a genre and gave some background information, this new direction will allow me to go in depth and talk about more of the meaning behind specific songs. So, without further ado, let’s begin.


The event I’ll talk about first is The Troubles, or more specifically Bloody Sunday, and the song I’ve chosen to go along with it is U2’s massive hit “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” If you aren’t already familiar with song, or you I would suggest listening to the video I’ve posted above or, at the very least, looking at the lyrics here. First, off we’ll talk about the history bit. There is actually quite a bit of backstory here necessary to understanding Bloody Sunday and why this song was written and I’ll do my best to summarize it all.

The Troubles is the common name given to the conflict in Northern Ireland in the

King Henry VIII (Yes, the one who was married six times)

late 1900s. But before we even get there, we have to go farther back. Under the rule of King Henry VIII, England abandoned the Catholic Church and became a protestant country. Additionally, King Henry VIII declared British rule over the Kingdom of Ireland, a move which the Irish did not appreciate very much. An important thing to keep in mind is that nearly everyone in Ireland was still devoutly Catholic, and they did not like the idea of living under the rule of a protestant king. So for the next 60 years or so there were many Irish rebellions but Britain was eventually able to secure complete rule over the whole of Ireland. Once in power, the protestant British did not treat the catholic Irish very well (a move which eventually caused many to flee for the United States). Many British loyalists moved to Ireland where they became the ruling class laws and passed laws that were extremely unfavorable to Catholics. This religious intolerance fueled an even greater sense for Irish nationalism, which eventually led to more rebellions (and even some wars) until the eventual winning of Irish independence in 1921. On December 6, 1922 the Irish Free State was established, and on December 7, 1922, six counties in the north seceded from the Irish Free State in favor rejoining Great Britain. And thus, the Kingdom of Northern Ireland was formed.
So how is this all important? Well all of those events set the stage for The Troubles. The reason Northern Ireland resubmitted itself to British rule is because many of the ethnically English, Welsh, or Scottish unionists (loyal to Britain) who lived in Ireland resided in, or moved to, those six northern counties. One one side, you had the Irish Free State (predecessor of the Republic of Ireland shown to the right), which still consisted of many Irish nationalists who sought the unification of all Irish people into a single and independent Ireland. One the other side, you had Northern Ireland which consisted of a British (and protestant) majority and a Irish (catholic) minority. And yes, the British majority still passed laws that were openly unjust towards catholics. All of this, the clash between the nationalists and the unionists eventually boiled over into the period known as The Troubles.

The Troubles lasted for about thirty years, from the late 1960s to 1998, and is defined by the fact that it was a gigantic mess of fighting factions. There were the catholics in Northern Ireland seeking civil rights, the British unionists unwilling to give them those rights, the Irish nationalists seeking a unified Ireland, and many different paramilitary groups that fought in a long and destructive guerrilla style war. Throughout the entire conflict there were about 3600 deaths and 50,000 injuries. 13 of those deaths, and 17 of casualties occurred on January 30, 1972 when British soldiers stationed in Northern Ireland to maintain order fired into a crowd of

A Priest waves a blood-stained handkerchief while trying to escort the wounded demonstrator to

unarmed civil rights demonstrators. This incident, which came to be known as Bloody Sunday, brought world-wide attention to the conflict; however, it also resulted in a violent retaliation by an Irish nationalist paramilitary group and an overall escalation of violence that would prolong The Troubles for another quarter century.



U2 is an Irish rock group that formed in the late 1970s in Dublin, Ireland. Bono, the groups lead singer and songwriter, is especially known for his songs relating to sociopolitical events. This is seen in the song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” which, since its release in 1983, has become one of the most iconic songs of all time. The song takes a stance an makes an direct argument about The Troubles which I think captures many people’s feelings very well.

Although the song is specifically about Bloody Sunday, Sunday Bloody Sunday can be thought of as analogous to the entirety of The Troubles. Throughout the whole of the song, the drummer, Larry Mullen Jr. (especially on his snare drum) plays a sort of

The cover for War, the U2 album on which “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was released.

military-sounding pattern, which is obviously meant to put us in the mindset of the militarized actions in Northern Ireland. In the beginning, Bono paints a picture of Bloody Sunday, with such lines as “I can’t believe the news today/Oh, I can’t close my eyes/And make it go away” and “Broken bottles under children’s feet/Bodies strewn across the dead end street.” It’s easy here to imagine the terror and carnage that was witnessed in seeing a unit of the British Army open fire on unarmed civilians. As Bono says, it’s literally unbelievable.

But Bono also makes his stance known, and it’s one of non-violence on either side. He appeals to both sides by asking “How long must we sing this song,” as in, how many more people must die before this conflict is put to an end? It appears that Bono himself even felt pressure, as a young Irish man, to join in the retaliatory fight against the British, to which he responds, “I won’t heed the battle call.” He says this, even though it might “[Put his] back up against the wall” or put him in a difficult situation as he is torn between his Irish identity, and his human identity. Bono earnestly argues that there’s no sense in continued violence, for on the current course there can be no true winner: “There’s many lost/But tell me who has won.” This is the part that I think truly cements Bono’s stance because he’s moving past his background and his biases to admit that both sides are at fault, and that it will take a true effort to end the conflict and start the rebuilding. Violence is cyclical and the more that it is perpetrated, the easier it is to push the blame onto the other side and remain on the current course.

I really enjoy this song because Bono sings it in such a way that it allow me to truly feel his emotions. You can tell that he cares deeply on this issue and that it is taking a toll on him as a person. He is echoing the crisis of Ireland as it tries to sort out its own problems as an relatively new independent nation seeking out its identity. It would be another 15 years after this song came out until a peace treaty was finally signed.


P.S.- If you’ve read up to this point thanks for sticking with me. I know I’ve just put out a lot of information and I’m still ironing out some of the kinks in trying to figure out exactly how I want my new Passion Blog to work. Any helpful comments would be extremely welcome and thanks for reading!





Posted in Spring Semester | 1 Comment

Dude, You’re Hardcore

So this week I’ve decided to talk about the genre of heavy metal. Heavy metal can trace its roots to some of the original hard rock artists of the 1960s, such as Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix, just to name a few. However, in the 1970s with bands such as Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden metal began to branch off and eventually formed its own genre with its own following and superstars. Since then, its also branched into a whole host of varying sub-genres, which can range from a relatively “tame” hard rock sound to what most people may think of- loud chaotic music with unintelligible screaming. What’s interesting (at least to me) is that while heavy metal as a whole is present now more than ever and has a supremely large following, it has pretty much remained confined to a certain counter-culture and hasn’t really branched into mainstream popularity. I would imagine that most people have a somewhat skewed view of metal based on what metal’s most popular products have been: maybe they are familiar with Black Sabbath (Ozzy Osbourne), maybe (hopefully) they’ve heard of Metallica, and perhaps they have seen videos or heard stories of instances of moshing at metal concerts or the hardcore two step and the metal music that generally goes along with that (if you are interested look these up on Youtube, you will find many results). Maybe they see certain celebrities with t-shirts of bands like Slayer, Metallica, or Judas Priest- but let me just say that these celebrities sometimes know nothing bands they seem to be supporting, but this is another issue. Or maybe, perhaps, they believe metal sounds something like this:

And they wouldn’t be wrong. This is, indeed, a metal song. However, I am not personally a big fan of this end of the metal spectrum. I can appreciate, to a degree, the level of skill required to create something like this, but I quite frankly don’t enjoy listening to it. But hey, if you just got really into that song, good for you and I hope you enjoy your new experiences as an extreme metal listener. But for the rest of us, I am going to talk about metal that isn’t quite so hardcore.

Classic Metal:

This song is entitled ‘The Trooper’ and is performed by the band Iron Maiden. Iron was one of the first bands in metal that really helped define the genre. Here you can say of the characteristics of metal music: heavily distorted guitars that center around riffs and extended, complex solos, dense yet driving drum beats, aggressive vocals, and overall loudness. Also, shredding! Shredding is a technique for playing guitar which involves a combination of extremely fast picking and finger movements that can make for great guitar solo material. This song lies on the end of the metal spectrum closest to classic rock. You can definitely see where rock has its influences on the genre, but also where metal has taken it a step further. Also, something that you can’t necessarily see here (because it’s an audio file) are certain “metal-isms” that seem to be genre specific. The first would be their hair. Classic metal bands are notorious for their long and wild hair, which is why they were often dubbed “hair bands.” oderyAlso, the drummer began using a more crowded and complex drum set, metal music is almost synonymous with these elaborate set ups. Finally, metal guitarists often had the most oddly-shaped guitars, and complimented them with vigorous movements that convey the intense nature of the music.



Metal’s Heyday:

This classic metal song is ‘The Day That Never Comes’ by perhaps the most well known band in all of metal: Metallica. I call this period, of the 1980s, the Heyday of metal music because this period saw the emergence of the biggest artists in metal and the highest popularity in metal music (by the way this is by no means an expert opinion, just my thoughts). I like this song because it’s not all the in-your-face, loud and fast kind of metal that is usually seen. Instead this song is more sentimental and contains a lot of style changes which make it different and interesting. It is also a good point in the progression of metal music because it is markedly different from classic metal such as ‘The Trooper,’ yet it still remains true to form and you can see how its influences must have come from classic metal.

Modern Metal;

Modern metal is the umbrella in which rests the most distinct sub-genres in metal. However, as a tool for simplification, I am only going to talk about two directions that modern metal has gone in. First off, we have ‘Second and Sebring’ by the group Of Mice and Men. This is probably the most “extreme” metal song that I actively like. Yes, it does have some screaming in it but I think it fits the song, in which the lead singer is venting over the premature loss of his mother. Here you can definitely see some of the ways modern metal differs from previous forms of metal. The drums are more present bass/snare heavy, the guitars are lowered in pitch and more distorted to the point where many of the notes seem to blend together. Also we are now introduced the technique of djenting, which is arrhythmic or seemingly random patterns of accenting certain beats. I know that I did not do a good job of explaining that just there, so to help show some of the differences in modern and classic metal, I would suggest checking out this guy’s Youtube playlist where he demonstrates some of the things I have failed to explain.

This last song is ‘NJ Legion Iced Tea’ by the modern metal group A Day to Remember. A Day to Remember is actually fairly popular group which plays into a different are of metal than Of Mice and Men. They have some distinct pop influences that make them a more easy listen than some other groups. I think it’s much easier to like ADTR because of this, so I figured I’d include them here.


As always, I hope you found something in this post that you might come back and listen to at some point. Or, at the very least, found traces of something that you might want to investigate further. Metal music is super cool and is contains some super talented musicians. Even if you don’t like this music, I hope you can recognize the level of skill required to make it. I can say from personal experience that I enjoy walking and listening to this music (it makes me feel hardcore) or even listening to it in the car. I have one friend who is very much into the more extreme types of metal, and sometimes he’ll tell me he’s in the mood to “throw down,” which means we’re going to cruise in my car while blasting some extreme metal. I can tell you that I am not a fan of most of his music, but I’d be lying if I said these weren’t some invigorating experiences.

Until next time,



PRO TIP: If you thought you liked a song or you want to hear something similar, a good way to explore similar music is to start a Pandora station with it or simply go off suggested videos on youtube.

Posted in Fall Semester | Leave a comment

An Unexpected Find

About a year ago I was flipping through radio channels in my car (sorry, no aux cord) when I stumbled upon “Praise 104.1, Philly’s inspiration station,” and whereupon I immediately changed stations. The fact that I now knew which radio station played Christian Gospel music registered itself as completely useless in my mind; but then something odd happened. At first I would switch to this station as a joke when my friends were in the car with me, putting it on only for a short time and ironically. As I was doing this, however, I found that, gradually, I began listening to the station more on my own and more frequently. Then, one day (somewhere between 3:00 and 7:00pm on weekdays) I came across the Willie Moore Jr. Show, featuring Willie Moore Jr. Aside from the fact that, in my opinion, Willie Moore Jr. is a hilarious character to listen to, he played this song:

I instantly fell in love with it, and thus fell in love with the genre of “urban contemporary gospel.”

So there are definitely one glaring weird thing about my love of this genre. I am Jewish, and this is intense gospel music, so, in terms of content, I don’t support much of the content of many of these songs. However, for me, I am able to appreciate and like the music while separating its meaning. Now, I understand that much of what makes a song is its meaning and its message, so it may seem like I am ignoring what makes these songs so special, and this may very well be true. But, the simple fact remains that I have a very face value appreciation for this music, and I simply enjoy it as good music.

Urban Contemporary Gospel:

The reason for the specific naming of this music is meant to differentiate it from what is normally associated with gospel music. The idea here is that it is contemporary- new, youth-inspired, energetic, etc.- and urban as in not country music. I can tell you that these aspects of it are what makes this music so great to me. (The song above also illustrates everything I am about to mention.) Urban contemporary gospel has its roots in gospel (duh), funk, rap, and hip hop, which is what gives it a modern sound. Also, it generally contains a choir (or larger group of background singers) that always add so much to the vocals. And the music in which the vocals are framed (influenced by funk and hip hop, primarily) is some of the most interesting and unique music you will ever hear. Let’s take a look:

This song is “He Turned It” by Tye Tribbett, and the first song I put up was “If He Did it Before,” also by Tye Tribbett. Also, this song was in my first introductory post for my passion blog. If this song doesn’t make you want to get up and dance, I’m not sure what will. It is extremely high energy and just fun to listen to. Part of this also has to do with the fact that it was recorded live in front of an audience. And it certainly helps that the audience is very engaged in the music that is played. In this song you can also hear a couple different sections of very complex drum beats, and this results from an interesting trend where drummers in these gospel songs tend to take a lot of liberties (and solos).

This song is entitled “You” and it is by Jermaine Dolly. This song is especially interesting because it is different than the Tye Tribbett songs I have showed you (and really any other song by him). It has a much greater funk/soul influence, which is seen in it being relatively laid back when compared to some other music. I just find this song incredible smooth and it has an amazing groove to it.



As always, I hope you found something in this post that you might come back and listen to at some point. Or, at the very least, found traces of something that you might want to investigate further. If you decide this isn’t for you because you found that you also didn’t agree with the meaning of the songs, but you were unable to separate this from the music of the song itself, I can totally understand and respect that. But if that previous statement doesn’t apply to you, I would strongly suggest looking into this music. This happy accident I stumbled upon a year ago has widened my eyes and enhanced me in my role as a music lover.

Until next time,



PRO TIP: If you thought you liked a song or you want to hear something similar, a good way to explore similar music is to start a Pandora station with it or simply go off suggested videos on youtube.

Posted in Fall Semester | Leave a comment

Give Classical a Chance

This week I’m going to talk about a genre of music that is probably among the least popular out there and that is “classical” music. I write “classical” in this way because it is a misnomer of sorts. Classical implies that it is old, which is not technically inaccurate because its beginnings can be found in the 1500s, but this is not necessarily true. Most of the music I’ll be sharing today was composed in the last 100 years, so I’ll refer to it either as orchestral or wind band music. Orchestral meaning played by a full orchestra and wind band meaning just wind instruments and percussion.


Gustavo Dudamel, Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic

I’ll start off by saying I realize that most people won’t find much interest in this music, even I don’t like a lot of what I hear, but I’d be doing the purpose of this blog a disservice if I didn’t talk about it. There’s a large stigma surrounding this music that I’d ask you to look past so you can truly give this music a listen. Every year when I was in high school we were able to go on a band trip which always involved going to see an orchestra concert, and I’ll be the first to admit that I fell asleep during every single one of those performances. So the pieces I’ll share today will not be boring, help-me-I’m-falling-asleep music but rather some of the most exciting, moving, or aurally interesting pieces of music I have every found. What I personally love about orchestral or wind band music is that the music is not so formalized in structure like songs with words are. Think about it like this: if you took your favorite song (assuming it has words and is relatively modern) and converted it to instrumental music, what would it sound like? Chances are it would be extremely repetitive and musically uninteresting; that is, the words give the song its meaning. With and one piece of this instrumental music, the composers are forced to create extreme amounts of variance so as to keep it interesting (although there are certainly recurring themes). This can take the form of new melodies, countermelodies, or interesting chord structure (when the chord changes to one you were not expecting), all of which you will hear if you listen to the pieces below.

Orchestral Music:

So I’ll say here that I don’t have a lot of orchestra music to share, and this is mainly because I am a much bigger fan of wind band music, but I’ll do my best. And, when I say orchestra music I do not mean, necessarily, music by such people as Mozart or Beethoven, but rather music that includes string instruments, wind instruments, and percussion.

You can start the video at 4:30

This piece is Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ and it is probably one of the most emotional pieces of music ever written. It’s not exactly the type of song I would listen to on a regular basis, but it is definitely worth mentioning. Look here to see some of the times it was played, which might help you understand its significance. Throughout the entire song, Barber employs a lot of dissonance, or “crunchy” notes that overlap and generally give us an uneasy feeling. Then at about five minutes and thirty seconds in it suddenly changes and is much less dissonant. At this instance a great relief should be felt, as if a large weight has been lifted. I wouldn’t venture to say its euphoric, but perhaps more cathartic. The music alone might not give you any feeling (although it definitely can), so I’m going to include this clip from the movie Platoon to try and give it some context (start the video at 4:30 again).

Another instance of orchestral music that I love is movie soundtracks. This, of course, is the main theme from The Dark Knight, but Hans Zimmer has composed for many other famous movies including (but not limited to) Inception, The Lion King, The Da Vinci Code, and Interstellar. Movie scores can make or break a movie. If you don’t believe me, search YouTube for clips of movies without the music. Its like watching a sitcom without a laugh track: odd and not as effective. Personally, I think Hans Zimmer’s music makes for great studying because it is often subtle and causes you to focus more. Another great film scorer would, of course, be John Williams who is famous for movies such as Star Wars, Jurassic Park, E.T., and countless others.

Wind Band:

I am more partial to wind band music. Perhaps this is because I was in band and I enjoyed playing the music, but I really do believe that music for wind band is just more exciting. Look at what I mean here in John Mackey’s ‘Asphalt Cocktail.’

If this song doesn’t keep you interested, I’m not sure what will. This is on the very extreme end of complexity, and you can definitely hear more of that dissonance in the entire song. You can also hear some of the other things I mentioned earlier like new and different melodies, as the song continually moves into new sections with different things going on. This song is very aggressive and raw, as markedly different in style from the previous pieces I’ve shared, but this also adds to the draw of instrumental music for me. There is so much variance in what you can listen to, from this angry and aggressive piece, songs playing homage to medieval themes, to beautiful and moving ballads, and more. Check out this recording of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ which is by far the most moving rendition of it I’ve ever heard.

Here you can also hear some of the interesting chord structure I had mentioned earlier.

As one final selection check out this other John Mackey piece entitled ‘Kingfishers Catch Fire.’

As you can probably tell by now, John Mackey likes to write complex music. I would say, however, that ‘Kingfishers Catch Fire’ and ‘Asphalt Cocktail’ are near polar opposites, with this song is much more uplifting and generally happy. I always listen to this song to put me in a good mood, and it hasn’t failed me yet. If you did choose to stop listening to the song partway through (and I can’t blame you it’s a long song at the end of a long post), do yourself a favor and listen to the ending (starting at about 4:40). Mackey builds chords up to introduce tension through dissonance, before finally releasing it in a truly euphoric way.


As always, I hope you found something in this post that you might come back and listen to at some point. Or, at the very least, found traces of something that you might want to investigate further. To give you an idea of what this music does to me, this was, by far, the longest I’ve taken to write a passion blog post. I find that once I put a good “classical” song on, I inevitably stop working and end up just listening. I didn’t seriously start listening to this music until very recently (and most people would still call it casual listening), and that was after having been exposed to a lot of this music for nearly 6 years so I understand how hard it is to get into. But I would have to say, it has opened my eyes and allowed me to experience so much and I am so glad I found it.

Until next time,



PRO TIP: If you thought you liked a song or you want to hear something similar, a good way to explore similar music is to start a Pandora station with it or simply go off suggested videos on youtube.

Posted in Fall Semester | 1 Comment