Archive for June 2014
I’ve had an idea brewing for ages and ages now, and for reasons I’ll get into shortly, if I’ve ever going to unleash that idea on the public now.
Humans who have known me for any length of time know that I’m a music nerd. I tend to know it if it’s been released recently. I know it well if it was released ten years ago, even more if it was released twenty, and if it was released sometime between the late 70’s and the early 90’s it’s been seared onto my consciousness. And it’s not just top-40 that I know, either. I grew up on modern country, so much so that what I consider modern country most folks throw into the “classic” bin. Because of both my presence in church culture in my childhood and my collegiate (re-)discovery of Christianity, I’m far more familiar than most with Contemporary Christian music, of all kinds. Because I spent most of my undergraduate years playing around with college radio, I knew what alternative music was before alternative became mainstream. I have over 10,000 songs on my iTunes playlist, from million-sellers to hundred-sellers. Literally.
I feel like a lot of these tracks should be a lot better known than they are. And what’s more, my brain-dead habit – linking to tracks of songs on YouTube, because music video has always been YouTube’s killer app (even if that video just becomes the album cover just sitting there static) – isn’t possible with a lot of these songs, because they’re buried enough underneath the weight of all the other good (and not-so-good, and overhyped) music out there that nobody thinks that somebody might want to hear that song. Or simply because, for one reason or another, nobody has thought to migrate to that part of the country and listen to what that artist has to say.
Hence, Famous Songs You’ve Never Heard. Because I am not literary or original, I’ve stolen the title. (One of the chapters of Lewis Grizzard’s collections of columns Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You was called “Famous People You’ve Never Heard Of.” It was put together in the same vein – human interest columns about people who should have been important, for one reason or another.)
I’m going to put some effort in making this a series and drawing some songs from both my youth and my recent history out, and making this as much of a variety of music as I possibly can.
But I have an academic history. And so I’m going to draw from that first.
I’m pretty sure it was Fall 2008 when Katrina Barclay wound up in my physics classroom at Shorter. She was a transfer from Northeast Alabama Community College, a common pre-med chemistry major with an uncommon kindness and grace. Over two years, she came through both physics and physical chemistry, and she was a really solid student, and an even better classmate – somebody who you always wanted in your lab group, who would always show good cheer and better work. And at the same time, I always had a sense her passion was elsewhere.
I had heard that Katrina could strum a guitar pretty good, and did a pretty good job of leading worship when she was called upon (and she and I figured out very early on that we were equal parts music nerd and had a LOT of good notes to trade with one another). It didn’t really sink in, however, until sometime during her senior year when she sat down in my office and decided I was a person worth opening up to. She had an EP’s worth of songs together, she said. She was going to continue to be serious about performing – she wasn’t going to slack on study, by any stretch, but she was very serious about performing and making something work in music. There were certain things she knew. She had something to say, and she had the voice to say it.
And here is what I will tell you for certain:
If there is something to be said, Katrina has the voice to say it.
Three years or so on, here’s a transcript of Katrina and I chatting about making career moves (and me misspelling “no end” right off the bat):
I wish I was talking to you about careers in chemistry this creatively, because you are dang smart and I wish I had you employable in the major. Please know that I am annoyed to know end about this.
But if you have the pipes to make music work, you should take advantage.
(And holy cow I have played the crap out of “Time Machine”. That song. That VOICE. Dear heart.)
I literally just vocalized to mom what you typed about “Time Machine”. It seems you’re the only one who cares much about it.The song is literally the sound of my heart breaking.
Austen only made me sing it twice and he was like, “I’m not making you do it again.”
I kind of get it. It’s a bit more of my technical side, I suppose. I mean, you put all the emotion into the song into it, and I get that. But you also paced it BRILLIANTLY; the timing of every note you sing, and how long you hold them – you TIMED the song to best communicate your emotions. And then you TAGGED EVERY LAST NOTE at the emotional climax. Not oversung, not undersung. IMMACULATE.Recorded, I don’t think you’ve ever *sung* better than that one.
And with that much emotion, if it was me, I’d be oversinging the crap out of that.
All I can say to you is thank you and I needed to hear that about it.
I thought I’d said stuff like that before. But yes. “Time Machine” connected, and connected immediately, and connected like whoa.
I think the timing of your review is what made it so special. I almost threw in the “Time Machine” towel because it has been getting not even poor response but ZERO response. Maybe it has just been shocking people a bit. I mean, I was overwhelmed by it when I wrote it, in the studio, and listening to the finished product.
Well, like I said, having hung out with a vocal performance/musical theatre kid, I’ve been much more in tune with the technical performance stuff than the pure pop song impact. I don’t know how Time Machine relates to everybody else. I can’t QUITE say I can’t get enough of hearing it, because it it an incredibly emotional song. But I can say I play it a lot.
Look, there are a ton of stories that can be told about music from all sorts of different spaces that hasn’t had enough attention paid to it, the songs that the artist felt most deeply that never got an ounce of attention while the throwaway afterthought becomes The Great American Pop Song. So here’s one example. And, in particular, an example that is as breathtakingly sung as anything I’ve ever heard by somebody I actually know in real life.
Give it a couple of listens. You will not be sorry.
Now, if I was going to start this project anything remotely soon, I had to start it now, and I had to start it with Katrina. Here’s why.
Katrina is overdue to record a full album – her first since “In Your Shoes” in 2010. She has the songs ready, and she’s pursuing the funding to make the work happen. (I have heard a couple of these songs. I am being entirely selfish here. I desperately, desperately want to hear them recorded professionally.) There is an IndieGoGo fundraising page for this purpose. She’s not quite halfway to her (relatively modest, IMO) goal, and there’s a week left in the campaign.
I’ve tossed a few pennies into the project. I really wish you’d do the same. I believe in what Katrina’s doing, and I think given a listen, you’ll believe in what she’s doing as well.
I think there’s a ton of music that’s worth unearthing out there. Each of us have local independent artists in our universe who deserve far, far greater exposure, and deserve to get some of our disposable income as well. May we all do better in giving artists the capacity to do art, and to get paid for it.
And in the meantime, Katrina, please keep singing. That VOICE, dear heart. That. Voice.
At long last.
I’ve been offered a position teaching physics at Tennessee Technological University for 2014/2015. The primary responsibility is the trig-based physics sequence, also known as “that thing I’ve taught for the last 14 years of my life and I hope I’m pretty good at by now.”
I’m incredibly grateful for Steve Robinson and his department, which is pretty dang teaching-centered for a regional university. In terms of being my flavor of “engaged academic”, I might be going to the best place I could possibly land. It’s very evident that I have a lot to learn from these folks, and I’m going to be busting it next year to learn as best I can. In many ways, next year will be a hard reset on my career, and how things play out from there is still anybody’s guess.
I’ll save other observations and implications for later. But, for certain people who frequent this space, here’s the most important news:
AWWW YEAH IT’S THE PEARSON AND PIRKLE EXPERIENCE COOKEVILLE TENNESSEE HAS NO IDEA WHAT’S ABOUT TO HAPPEN TO IT LOOK OUT YOU GUYS AND I MEAN IT JUST LOOK OUT
(Everybody pray for Richard Pirkle and his family. They have to deal with me now.)