Paradise By the Dashboard Light: Rest in Peace, Meat Loaf

On 20 January 2022 Heaven added a powerful new voice to the Heavenly Choir:  Marvin Lee Aday, better known by his beefy stage name, Meat Loaf.  Meat Loaf passed at the age of 74 surrounded by family.

Celebrity deaths don’t usually hit me all that hard, but Meat Loaf left his mark on me.  My older brother played “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” for me when I was in high school—and I initially didn’t like it!  But a friend reintroduced me to Meat in college, and by then I’d come to appreciate the cheeky melodrama of Jim Steinman’s songwriting combined with Meat’s gospel-drenched vocals.

As one of the early members among the ranks of Obese-Americans—now a protected class, I think—and a young man with ambitions to bring panache and humor back to rock ‘n’ roll (which in the early 2000s was moving from angsty grunge to angsty new rock), Meat Loaf left a big—no pun intended—imprint on my musical imagination.  His powerful, sweaty vocals and Broadway-meets-rock-meets-gospel style really spoke to me:  a perspiring, fumbling mass of dough and latent musical ability.  I don’t go in for all that “representation” stuff, but if a dude like Meat Loaf could make it, so could I.  Fat White Guy Solidarity!

The songwriting of his frequent collaborator (and legal rival), composer Jim Steinman, also captured my fervent imagination.  The ironic lyrics (“but there ain’t no Coupe Deville hidin’ at the bottom of a Cracker Jack Box”), the hilarious titles (“Life is a Lemon (and I Want My Money Back)” and—of course—“I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)“), the bombastic composing techniques.  Suddenly, Broadway, rock ‘n’ roll, and even Southern gospel fused into this incredible music that elevated doughy teenaged ennui and youthful passions to Wagnerian heights.

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Behind the Songs: By the Light of the Laptop Screen

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Rest in Peace to Marvin Lee Aday, better known as Meat Loaf, who passed away Friday at the age of 74.  I’ll be writing a full obituary about Loaf next week, but I wanted to take a moment to remember his legacy here.  Few musicians have had a greater impact on my vocal and composition than Meat Loaf and his frequent collaborator, songwriter Jim Steinman.  In a series about songwriting, it seemed fitting to acknowledge his influence.  Indeed, today’s song, “By the Light of the Laptop Screen,” owes much to the rock ‘n’ roll-meets-Broadway style of Loaf/Steinman.

Today marks the third installment of the six-part Behind the Songs miniseries for SubscribeStar Saturday.  In this series, I’m going to reveal the stories behind each of the six songs on my debut EP, Contest Winner EP.  I’ll go track-by-track, in order, detailing the inspirations behind these songs.

This week’s tune, “By the Light of the Laptop Screen,” is something of a companion to “Hipster Girl Next Door.”  The two songs are part of what I call my “two-part coffee shop trilogy” (I wrote another song, “Sweet Little Ukulele Player,” that was something of a third part, but I seldom play it, and I don’t think it rises to the level of the other two tunes).

Like “Hipster Girl Next Door” and “Greek Fair,” “By the Light of the Laptop Screen” has becoming something of a fan favorite.  A graduating senior used it (to my delight and, given the lyrics, my chagrin) to accompany his graduation slideshow—while receiving his high school diploma!

There’s also been rich speculation about who this song is about.  Today, I reveal all.

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TBT^2: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony

One of the many benefits of teaching music is (re)discovering beloved favorite works.  During last week’s round of distance learning, I had to pull out some of the classics.  If we’re going to sit on a Google Meet call, let’s listen to some music, not just talk about it.

I really love programmatic music—instrumental music that tells a story, often accompanied by program notes explaining (usually very briefly) what the listener is supposed to hear in the musical “story.”  Students often like to imagine their own stories when listening to instrumental music, which is great, but I find that programmatic works give students (and myself!) some guideposts to follow.

Fortunately, Ludwig von Beethoven provided some handy ones for us in his Sixth Symphony, quite possibly my favorite symphony, and certainly my favorite of Beethoven’s.  It’s the so-called “Pastoral” symphony, as it depicts a pleasant trip to the country (besides the roiling thunderstorm in the fourth movement).

It’s also unusual in two respects:  instead of the standard four movements of the classical symphony (a fast opening movement, a slow second movement, a dancelike third movement, and a fast fourth movement), Beethoven includes five; and the third, fourth, and fifth movements all flow seamlessly into one another, without the customary pause between each.

It is also long, especially by the standards of the classical symphony (the Romantics, however, would have easily matched Beethoven for runtime), clocking in at nearly forty-five minutes (the typical classical symphony averages around twenty-five-to-thirty minutes, but forty-five would have been the upper limit for the time).  But that length is in service to Beethoven’s vision, and he fully explores every theme in this symphony.

Here is a particularly excellent performance—the one I showed, in part, to my classes last week—by the Berlin Philharmonic, under the direction of Bernard Haitnik:

With that, here is 4 February 2021’s “TBT: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony“:

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Behind the Songs: “Greek Fair”

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

This weekend I’m continuing the six-part Behind the Songs miniseries for SubscribeStar Saturday.  In this series, I’m going to reveal the stories behind each of the six songs on my debut EP, Contest Winner EP.  I’ll go track-by-track, in order, detailing the inspirations behind these songs.

Last week’s installment detailed the smash hit, lead-off single “Hipster Girl Next Door.”  It’s my most-requested song, and a pretty catchy tune.

But this week’s tune is, perhaps, my personal favorite from the record, and almost certainly the best song I have ever written.

It’s time to go back to “Greek Fair.”

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TBT: The Joy of Romantic Music II: Bedřich Smetana’s “The Moldau”

In “The Worst of 2021” post, there was a much-neglected gem amid all the filler:  this January 2021 post about Czech composer Bedřich Smetana‘s The Moldau.  My good friend and former colleague H. L. Liptak—herself a noted writer and a recent subscriber, *hint, hint*—praised it in her a comment on “The Worst.”

That got me thinking about this post, and that it deserved a comeback.  Thus, here is January 2022’s “The Joy of Romantic Music II: Bedřich Smetana’s ‘The Moldau’“:

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Behind the Songs: “Hipster Girl Next Door”

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

Today I’m beginning a six-part miniseries for SubscribeStar Saturday called Behind the Songs.  In this series, I’m going to reveal the stories behind each of the six songs on my debut EP, Contest Winner EP.  I’ll go track-by-track, in order, detailing the inspirations behind these songs.

Naturally, that means the best—or, at least, the fan favorite—will be first:  the lead-off single “Hipster Girl Next Door.”  To this day I close 99% of my live shows with this song, which is probably my most-requested tune.

So, what inspired this catchy little sendup of the early 2010s hipster subculture and 1950s rock ‘n’ roll?  And why do fans love it so much?

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The End of Bancamp Friday

Well, all good things must come to an end:  much to my readers’ relief, I’m sure, Bandcamp Friday has come to an end.

Since March 2020, Bandcamp has dedicated the first Friday of most months to Bandcamp Friday, a day when the service waived its share of proceeds paid for musicians’ music.  That meant that musicians got almost the full value of the sale, minus whatever PayPal takes out.  In other words, a musician who sold his entire discography for $19.98 (like yours portly) would receive almost all of that amount, as Bandcamp waived its customary 15%.  That’s $3 more going to the musician; over, say, ten transactions, that adds up to real money.

For now, though, it looks like it’s over.  Bandcamp introduced Bandcamp Friday as a way to help musicians during The Age of The Virus, when most venues were shuttered and musicians couldn’t play gigs.  No gigs, no merch and CD sales.  No sales, no money.  My performance royalties—never a huge source of income, but a nice extra couple of hundred bucks, dried up almost completely in 2021 (royalties are paid on such a long delay, it wasn’t until 2021 that I experienced the effects of having not played my original music live in 2020).

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Christmas Concert 2021 Review

After two weeks, I’ve finally written a post-concert review for my school’s 2021 Christmas Concert.  I didn’t intend for it to premiere on Christmas Day, but there you go!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

Two weeks ago, on 10 December 2021, my music students at the high school had their big Christmas concert. This was the first live Christmas concert since 2019, and only the second live concert since The Age of The Virus shut everything down.

This concert was important for another reason: it was a bit of a redemption from the infamous “Corporate Christmas” concert of December 2019. That concert was marred with technical problems, over-programming (the Drama teacher at the time insisted on adding Christmas skits to what is an already-bloated event), and scheduling issues.

So, the hidden agenda for the 2021 Christmas concert was to wash clean the bad taste of the 2019 concert. Fortunately, I’d say we succeeded.

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Flashback Friday^2: Christmas and its Symbols

Okay, okay—it’s not Christmas.  But, hey, close enough, right?

There will be an actual Christmas post tomorrow morning, though it’s going to be very short.  But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to turn “Flashback Friday” into “Flashback Friday^2,” angering mathematicians and calendar enthusiasts everywhere.

The original post in this “series,” “Christmas and its Symbols,” contains some excellent Christmas wisdom.  So often we hear Christmas denounced as a secretly “pagan” holiday because we hang wreaths, put up trees, and dangle mistletoe.  But as one meme I’ve seen recently put it (to paraphrase), “Yes, I love to display the trophies of my vanquished foes.”

Christianity sure did kick—and continues to kick—some butt.  We could probably do with some more warrior-monks running around with maces and clubs.

For this weekend and beyond, though, Jesus—as He always does—will do.

With that, here is “Flashback Friday: Christmas and its Symbols“:

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