Tag Archives: Rock music

Growing Up Under the Mushroom Cloud, Waiting for the Hammer to Fall

It was about a year ago that I started this blog. Although I’m not a big marker of milestones, I’d say it’s definitely been an interesting time. The past year has seen me rise from the dungeons of utter obscurity to the lofty heights of absolute anonymity. Which is to say, not a lot has changed, but it’s been a fun ride.

The first thing I posted here was an examination of a song by my all-time favorites, Queen, rock royalty and my personal “Shakespeare of Music.” The song was “Machines” from the album The Works, which has always been one of my favorite Queen records. It’s music that takes me back to the summer days of my youth. So now, with summer again upon us, I want to look at another track from The Works, one of the greatest rockers in the Queen canon, “Hammer to Fall.”

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Would You Die for the Things You Believe In?

I lived most of my teen years during the 1980s, which is to say I pretty much grew up during the 80s. Musically speaking, I’ll always think of this as the video era: the MTV generation, the time when image—specifically, what a band or artist looked like and how they presented their music in videos—meant the difference between success and failure. Yes, it was a time of glorious excess.

Because of the reliance on videos, I’m sure some music became popular that never would have gained an audience without the visuals, and probably as a result of poor video choices, some artists failed whose music deserved a better fate. MTV promoted the airing of a new video by a big-name band for weeks ahead of its debut, much like movie releases. Some of the best videos were high-quality mini-movies, with intriguing storylines, special effects, and large casts.

And then that fad faded. MTV got into broadcasting all sorts of content besides music videos. No one really seems to spend much time on videos anymore.

So imagine my surprise when I came upon a music video made just a couple of years ago that took me back to the halcyon days of music videos. Continue reading

The Strange Dichotomy of “Life”

What do you do with those really great moments of life, those times when you’re most happy? Like when you’ve just sold your first short story, or a novel. Or it’s your wedding day, or the birth of a child. Maybe you’re celebrating a fiftieth anniversary. It’s your parent’s or grandparent’s eightieth birthday and they’re in great health. So you’re beaming. And do you, at that moment, spare a thought for the ending, the fact that no matter where we are in life, eventually it ends in death for all of us?

Of course not! Why would you? Revel in the now. (Unless you’re of a particularly morbid character.) . . . And yet, that death is still out there waiting for each of us, isn’t it?

Before I lose you, I’m not here to dwell on death, but rather to examine the uplifting message in the song “Life” by Devin Townsend. As the two or three people who read my posts regularly will recognize, I’ve been rather obsessed with the music of Devin Townsend recently. And I’m OK with that. “Life” is a happy song; you can have a listen while you continue reading below:

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“Pixillate”: Fractured Identity & the Power of Art

I spent a lot of time writing about literature in college and during my MFA program. As a writer, learning to evaluate and talk about writing is a pretty handy skill, some might say an instrumental skill. Even when I read for pleasure now, part of my mind is always evaluating, trying sentences in different constructions, trying to predict character actions or upcoming turns of plot, and so forth.

Because music is a vital part of my daily life, it’s probably no surprise that I frequently run the same mental games on the songs and albums I listen to—evaluating how or why a song achieves its effect, explicating how lyrics and music combine to form meaning. I’ll show you what I mean.

A while back, I wrote about a musical selection by the Devin Townsend Band called Synchestra and how it had influenced a short story I was writing (“Synchestra: Unleashing the Transdimensional Space Goat on America’s Wickedest Street”). I’d like to take a look now at one of the tracks from this album, a song called “Pixillate.” The song comes on the second half of the album; if we were to consider the album as a novel—a not inappropriate comparison, considering we’re talking about progressive rock here—this song would be well into the rising action, heading into the dark of the woods, approaching the black moment or crisis.  Continue reading

Synchestra: Unleashing the Transdimensional Space Goat on America’s Wickedest Street

I’ve written before about my reliance on music to form an appropriate mood while I’m writing, and how music can influence a story I’m working on. And I’ve written about my constant search for new and stimulating musical experiences. The point is: I really love music. A while back, someone posted the following pic on Facebook, and yeah, I totally get it:

That moment when the music is so good you turn into a transdimensional space goat

My latest transdimensional space goat moments have come from a musical selection called Synchestra by the Devin Townsend Band. Devin Townsend has been around for more than 20 years, recording under a number of different band names, although I only discovered him about six months ago. That introduction, by the way, came via another band that’s influenced some of my recent writing, Voyager. When Voyager tweeted about opening some shows last fall for the Devin Townsend Project down in Australia, I figured DTP was worth checking out, which led to finding all the other Townsend permutations.  Continue reading

Machines in Music and the Modern World

Queen live in Frankfurt, Germany (at the Festh...

Queen live in Frankfurt, Germany (at the Festhalle, Sept.26 1984) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone who knows me for even a short while will probably discover that music is a big part of my life. I listen to music all the time, and I listen to a fairly eclectic mix of styles and artists. But as far as I’m concerned, in the great history of rock and roll, Queen stands at the pinnacle. As I frequently say, Queen is my “Shakespeare of Music.” That is, if I could listen to no other band for all eternity, the full Queen catalog would provide ample sustenance.

One of my favorite Queen songs is “Machines” from The Works. In the diverse pantheon of great Queen songs, this probably isn’t one of the band’s best-known tracks. Even the CD isn’t one most American fans would turn to, although it was a pretty big deal in their native UK. Listening to The Works recently, I was reminded of not only how exceptional Queen was at their best, but also how prescient they could be, and nowhere on the record is that more obvious than in the song “Machines.”

(Now might be a good time to scroll below and click Play on the video link to listen to the song.)

The CD came out in 1984, which for those who recall, corresponds to the early days of personal computing. The term PC was around, if not yet synonymous for personal computer, so it’s pretty interesting that Queen, in “Machines,” used such terminology as disk drive, bytes and megachips, and random access memory—and they made such lingo fit nicely into a rock song. Perhaps more incredible, they used these terms in a way that still sounds appropriate today rather than dated.

As the song begins, the synthesized “machine” voice seems to chant for the machines. In the first verse, Freddy Mercury sings the lyric “When the machines take over / It ain’t no place for rock and roll.” It’s easy here to take the song as a comment on the growing use of technology and synthesizers in music destroying the purity and power of good old-fashioned rock and roll. Although that’s a valid interpretation, it’s also too simple.

The song actually comes with a subtitle or alternate title: “Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’).” The song presents a picture of a society struggling to find a space for humanity in a world increasingly controlled by computers. As I look around today and see everyone with their faces glued to their smartphone or tablet screens wherever they go, I’m ready to shout “Back to humans!” along with Freddy.

Cover of "Works"

Cover of The Works

This song was co-written by Brian May and Roger Taylor. Even 10 years ago—let alone the nearly 30 years ago when they wrote “Machines”—I don’t think we could have truly predicted the vast changes in lifestyle that mobile computing would bring. But then, as now, society was on the cusp of change and no one could quite tell where it was leading. Perhaps that’s why the final message of this song still resonates:

Living in a new world
Thinking in the past
Living in a new world
How you gonna last?

If you work with technology, you’re probably one of the ones on the forefront of change—you’re not stuck thinking in the past. But even if you don’t live and breathe in the machine’s world, technology is still changing the way you live and the way you interact with the world. That doesn’t mean you need a smartphone, or an iPad, or even a computer, to live in this “new world” and be successful—but you’d better at least be educated enough to be part of the conversation.

Both musically and lyrically, “Machines” still sounds fresh to my ears almost 30 years after my first listen. I suppose today it might need to talk about virtualization or big data to stay on the cutting edge, but I think the boys knew what they were doing. Oh, and did I mention the song also uses the (invented) word parahumanoidarianised? Check it out!

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins