Gary Numan - Forerunner of the Emo Genre

If you'll indulge me for a moment, I thought it would be fun to look at some music history and give you a laugh at a particular subgenre that used to be enormously popular, why it was important decades later, and where it's at now.

Smile

During the late 70s/early 80s, British New Wave and Synth Pop rose from the ashes of the quickly collapsing British Punk era. For what it's worth - I hated 1970s British Punk. I thought that the bulk of what that genre produced was absolute crap. However, several extremely popular bands emerged out of British Punk's decline; for example: U2, The Police, The Cure, Joy Division, and a host of other artists. Part of what made the British New Wave scene enormously successful was a heavy dependence on an explosion of new synthesizer technologies during the advent of the digital age. These new types of synthesizers were extremely popular on both sides of the Atlantic, but British Synth Pop bands used them differently than their American counterparts. For example, see bands like Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, Yazoo, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Erasure, etc.

FWIW - the following Synth Britannia documentary is an excellent expository about the British Synth Pop genre. It's long, but it's amusing, and it's pretty nostalgic for those who listened to British New Wave during its heyday.

However, there was one artist who had a slightly different take than his musical contemporaries, and that was a vocalist named Gary Numan. He had a string of hits, and I will freely admit that his style is probably not most people's cup of tea. That being said, for a good example of Numan when he first hit the music scene in the late 1970s, see the following performance of his "Are Friends Electric" on BBC's "Top of the Pops," which was the TV show that you were invited to play in England when you had "arrived" as a musician. (PS - A lot of British artists became superstars overnight after playing on "Top of the Pops.")

As I said, Numan probably isn't many people's style, but that video is really funny when you think about it from an 80s perspective; the weird costumes, the strange lyrics, Numan's odd voice, and a plethora of synthesizers. And this is where Numan seemed to create his own subgenre that was a departure from his fellow synth-based colleagues, which we liked to refer to as "Science Fiction Rock" at the time, because there was something otherworldly about his approach.

However, recently Numan revealed that he has Asperger syndrome, which makes his success even more amazing. Performances like "Top of the Pops" might have been somewhat easier for Numan, because they were in a tightly controlled environment. Yet Numan was required to tour to sell albums, which makes performances like the following example all the more spectacular when you consider how hard it was for someone with Asperger syndrome to be in front of thousands of people.

I still freely admit that this additional video is probably even less appealing to many people. Although it's interesting, because it shows something that happened at a lot of his shows: he would spontaneously start laughing, but not lose his place. I think I heard Numan laugh on every live recording of him from back in the early 80s. I had always assumed that he was simply enjoying himself as a performer, but now I wonder if it was more of a coping mechanism of Asperger's.

Jumping ahead a few years in the music world, you can see how Numan was the progenitor for the later Emo genres. For example, here is "Are Friends Electric" in 1989, which is ten years after his "Top of the Pops" performance.

And the same song in 2003, which 20+ years later than his TOTP performance.

Note that I am using live versions of the same song simply to illustrate Numan's evolution over the years, and how he was always "Emo" before the industry caught up with him.

A good friend of mine from my late 70s/early 80s high school days just sent me the following video of Numan performing "Are Friends Electric" from a few years ago.

All of that brings us today's world. Numan's music has continued to change over the years, and the following video shows Numan performing "Are Friends Electric" with the Skaparis Orchestra.

I find it admirable that Numan is still performing despite his having Asperger syndrome; although to be honest, his more recent live videos have seemed as though he's a little less socially awkward in front of a crowd. Regardless, it's clear that he's still willing to evolve musically. But if it hadn't been for artists like Numan (and a few artists like him - e.g. Morrissey), we probably wouldn't have had the Emo genre. (That could be good -or- bad, depending on whether you like Emo. Personally, I think it has it's place.)


UPDATE: I mentioned earlier that I wanted to use Numan's performances of "Are Friends Electric" over the past 40 years just to chart how Numan changed and evolved musically, but I think it's worth taking a complete departure and showing some of the cool things that Numan has done more recently; like last year for example. To see what I mean, take a look at the following videos.

 

Personally, I think Emo music with Middle Eastern themes and an orchestra/choir works for Numan. His music is probably not most people's style, of course, and it's not necessarily my style, either. That being said, I still think it's... interesting.


UPDATE: The Synth Britannia documentary was the first video that I shared in this blog post, and I should mention that the program has a section that highlights Numan's importance to the British Synth Pop scene; here is the relevant excerpt from that documentary.

Happy Treason Day 2020!

In honor of today's date - July 4th, 2020 - I posted the following meme to social media.

Happy-Treason-Day-Ungrateful-Colonials

Most people appreciated the humor as it was intended. However, to understand the funniest part about that meme, you have to study American History. And by doing so, you learn that the early American colonists REALLY WERE a bunch of ungrateful colonials.

The "Taxation Without Representation" that the American Colonists were so quick to condemn was really England asking the colonists to pick up the financial burden for their recent freedom from French rule. The King of England had recently pushed the French out of the American colonies, but the average British citizen was sick of having to foot the bill for bailing out those pesky American colonials. So the King of England shifted the financial burden of freeing the American colonies back onto the American colonists, who resented the thought of having to pay for their own freedom, so they kicked the British out of America. The King of France, still licking his wounds from France's loss to England, gave the American colonists the money to do so. However, the average French citizen resented having to foot the bill for bailing out those pesky American colonials, so they overthrew their monarchy and killed the king.

And all of this was because the American colonists were a bunch of selfish jerks.

With that in mind, I say once again: "Happy Treason Day - You Ungrateful Colonials!"

Open-mouthed smile

Just Shut Up and Wear the Darn Mask

I've been trying to refute a great deal of bogus information that I've been seeing in social media about wearing masks in public, and I'd like to consolidate some of my responses from a few different posts into a single, standalone narrative.

I see a lot of people complaining about having to wear a mask, which is actually a pretty easy thing for people to do. But the point of wearing a mask these days has less to do with preventing people from catching the disease if they don't wear a mask; it's more about preventing people who are asymptomatic from spreading diseases to others. Quite often people with COVID-19 do not show any symptoms until long after they have acquired the disease, but they are still highly contagious. With that in mind, wearing a mask demonstrates your concern for other people's health, rather than a concern for your personal health. (And conversely, failing to wear a mask demonstrates your lack of concern for other people's health, rather than a lack of concern for your personal health.)

Think of it this way: when surgeons put on masks before entering an operating room, it's not because they're afraid of catching something from the patient - it's because they're afraid of of passing something to the patient. It's the same thing when you wear a mask; you may not be protecting yourself, but you're protecting everyone around you. Since most people do not show symptoms for over a week, you could infect an untold number of people before you even realize that you're the problem. So, out of courtesy for your fellow humans, you should wear a mask when you're around other people.

If you don't want to take my word for it, here's the CDC's latest verbiage from their website at https://bit.ly/3fAp0Jo:

"CDC continues to study the spread and effects of the novel coronavirus across the United States. We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms ('asymptomatic') and that even those who eventually develop symptoms ('pre-symptomatic') can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity - for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing - even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission."

And one more thing: people tend to post images they find that reinforce their personal opinions without checking for accuracy. But don't be so quick to believe an image that fits a narrative that you want to hear; you should treat everything with skepticism and always check for accuracy before posting. For example, one of the following images was posted to social media, and all it took was five minutes in Photoshop to completely alter the meaning and create the counterfeit image.

FAUX-MASK-WARNING

It's not perfect, of course, but the results would convince most people. If I bothered to spend another ten minutes editing, I could have made the alterations fool-proof. So don't believe something you see just because you want it to be true, because it's far too easy to create a false 'reality' these days.

The Racist Roots of Popular Product Names

There has been a great deal of public outcry in the wake of several companies' decisions to drop objectionable marketing identities from their advertising, most notably the characters of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Mrs. Butterworth, etc. (Note: I consistently use all three of those products; I hope that these companies' decisions do not alter anything but the product names.)

In any event, someone I know posted the following image to social media. As you might expect, several people responded to this image by claiming that the companies' decisions to rename their products and drop the marketing identities are an overreaction. And in the case of Aunt Jemima, their assertion was that it would erase the image of a successful African American woman.

Aunt-Jemima-Deception

There was a great deal of banter about erasing history in the name of social justice on the thread, which one person paraphrased as, "people are gonna see what they wanna see." What is ironic, however, is that most of the people failed to read the rest of the Wikipedia article about Nancy Green at https://bit.ly/2AGB6C6. Here's an excerpt to illustrate some of what they missed:

"Biography: Nancy Green was born into slavery on November 17, 1834, near Mount Sterling in Montgomery County, Kentucky.[4] She was hired in 1890 by the R.T. Davis Milling Company in St. Joseph, Missouri, to represent 'Aunt Jemima', an advertising character named after a song from a minstrel show.[3] Davis Milling had recently acquired the formula to a ready-mixed, self-rising pancake flour from St. Joseph Gazette editor Chris L. Rutt and Charles Underwood and were looking to employ an African-American woman as a Mammy archetype to promote their new product.[6]"

Now look up the "Mammy Archetype" at https://bit.ly/2zHHI2n:

"A mammy, also spelled mammie, is a U.S. stereotype, especially in the South, for a black woman who worked in a white family and nursed the family's children. The mammy figure is rooted in the history of slavery in the United States. Enslaved black females were tasked with domestic and childcare work in white American enslaver households. "

So here's the real story: while the actress herself, Nancy Green, may have found a modicum of success, she did so by portraying a racist caricature of herself. However, the text that is appended above the Wikipedia excerpt isn't true; Green was only hired as a spokesperson, and she was not a millionaire. The actual pancake product was created by Chris L. Rutt and Charles G. Underwood, not Green. When Rutt and Underwood couldn't make their product a success, they sold their recipe to the Davis Milling Company, who renamed their company after a racist stereotype from vaudeville shows of their day (see https://bit.ly/2YdmRO7).

Aunt-Jemima-Origins

So in deference to the original image that was posted, the Aunt Jemima character has extremely racist roots in history. With that in mind, it's not a question of people only seeing what they wish to see, it's a question of people choosing what they wish to ignore.

Coloring Historical Photographs - June 11th Edition

Following up on the B-17 image that I posted yesterday, here's a quick animation that illustrates how I added successive layers of color to create the finished image.

FYI - a few layers were combined to make the animation a little shorter, and the images in the video are not necessarily in the order that I colored them. I created a series of images based on the layers that I had created, but I did so after I had finished the image.

Freedom, Fanaticism, and Flags

Today I'd like to tackle what seems to be an uncomfortable topic these days: freedom of speech. The impetus for my discussion is that one of my family members recently posted a link to the following petition:

Remove the Confederate Flag From All Government Places

For me, the Confederate flag represents a failed attempt by a group of rebellious traitors to secede from the Union in order to keep their slaves, and I largely feel that way about statues of Confederate Generals like Robert E Lee. The Confederate Generals were traitors, and they do not deserve our adoration. There's a reason why we don't keep statues of Benedict Arnold around; despite his heroism and triumphs as a General for the Continental Army, Arnold sold out his country and fled to England, and his name has become synonymous with traitorship.

I say all of this in order to reinforce the point that if the Confederate flag went away tomorrow, I wouldn't miss it any more than I miss the Swastika. But here's some food for thought: the predominant argument that I see against the Confederate flag is that racist idiots use that flag as a symbol; but think about it - these same idiots also use the United States flag, and they also use the Christian cross. What should we ban, then? Should we also ban the flag of the United States? Should we also ban crosses? Where should we draw the line on what we allow in our society? When will enough be enough?

For some people, the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate, whereas for other people it represents their cultural origin. I personally think those people are misguided, but still - we do not complain about people who fly a Mexican flag to show pride in their heritage. Or a German flag. Or a Canadian flag. At my house we fly an Irish flag on St Patrick's Day in honor of my Irish roots. Let's make this more personal - should we deny someone the right to display an Iranian or Chinese flag just because our nation is upset with their nation of origin? Or should we respect their freedom of speech and allow them to display their pride in their heritage?

At the end of the day, the racist idiots of our society can use any emblem they choose as they spew their toxic filth, but that doesn't make the emblem itself a bad thing. If we're not banning Christian crosses, which have been used by the KKK and other stupid domestic terror organizations for over a century, then I think we can let the misguided people who think that the Confederate flag is a representation of their cultural heritage have their freedom of speech. That is what living in a free society is all about.

Once you start banning every symbol of cultural heritage that offends you, then you might as well start banning books next. And when banning books isn't effective enough, you might want to start burning books. And when burning books isn't effective enough, you might want to start locking up the people who write or say things that offend you. And when locking up the people who offend you isn't effective enough, then you're one short step away from becoming the very evil that you despise. Returning to my earlier thought, I have no love for the Confederate flag; to me, it is a symbol of cowardice, greed, immorality, and rebellion. But to ban the Confederate flag would deny others their Constitutional right to freedom of speech, and therein lies one of the fundamental dilemmas of living in a free society. Sometimes the problem with an idealistic goal like banning a flag is that it fails to take the full picture of its ramifications into account.

Let me close with an apropos thought from Adlai Stevenson: "My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular. Where it's safe to say what’s on your mind, especially when everyone disagrees. Where it's safe to believe what you believe, especially when everyone else’s beliefs stand elsewhere. Where it’s safe to swim against the current and be perfectly safe from the other fish."

With that in mind, my personal objections to the Confederate flag are secondary to others' right to freedom of speech, and that's exactly how it should be. Freedom of speech does not guarantee freedom from offense; to have freedom, you must accept its consequences.


UPDATE: I occasionally watch John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, and a few years ago he posted the following video, wherein he presented some of the same feelings that I have about Confederate symbols; namely that most of them belong in a museum. We should not attempt to erase all symbols of darkness from our sordid history, but we should place some of those symbols in the proper context, and I think that a museum is the best way to do that.

Coloring Historical Photographs - June 10th Edition

I found another interesting photo in an aviation forum that looked like a good candidate for colorizing, in this case it was the crew of the "Hell's Angel's" B-17 adding the numbers for their latest bombing mission. (Which looks to be just shy of 40 missions.)

B17-Hells-Angels-Before-and-After

You can read more about this B-17 at: https://bit.ly/3hvp4Mg.

By the way, for those who've never seen it before, Jimmy Stewart helped create an Air Force Training/Recruitment film in 1942, wherein he describes the duties and responsibilities of a B-17 crew. (Although if you know your B-17 history, you can tell that the video is of a very early version of the aircraft, and not the version that saw most of the combat during the war. Can anyone else point out the most-important differences?)

PS - Despite having created this film, during the war Jimmy Stewart flew B-24s.

Winking smile

The Awesome Spectacle of Cygnus X-1

Back in my high school days when I was playing in rock bands, we would try to play Rush's Cygnus X-1, because it was nearly impossible to pull off. And it is probably for that reason that Rush didn't play it that often, either.

However, Rush pulled out all the stops on their final R40 tour, and they added this epic piece to their set list. But when the DVD was released sometime later, you couldn't appreciate the full spectacle of just how awesome the lights and lasers were during this instrumental.

The other day I happened to discover someone's cell phone recording from the back of the theater during the R40 show, and I combined it with the DVD's stage footage to create the following picture-in-picture video. (The picture-in-picture overlay kicks in around the 20-second mark.)

For all of the Rush fans out there - enjoy. For all of the non-Rush fans, it's okay - Geddy doesn't sing on this one.

Winking smile

Coloring Historical Photographs - June 3rd Edition

I found another interesting photo in an aviation forum that looked like a good candidate for colorizing, and here's the "Before and After" views. I can't imagine how cold it was in these WWII airplanes, but the scarf, gloves, leather boots and fleece lining that the pilot is wearing would seem to suggest that it was pretty cold. It's because of sacrifices from guys like this that we still have England.

Sailor-Malan-Before-and-After

After a bit of research, it appears that was a photo of Adolph Gysbert Malan, and you can read more about him here: Sailor Malan: a Battle of Britain Pilot.

Those Who Do Not Learn from History...

There is an old adage which states, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it," and I think that history is replete with examples that have proven that statement again and again. It is from that same perspective that I would like to share the following thoughts from one of President John F. Kennedy speeches, which are just as true for today's world as they were true in his circumstance almost 50 years ago.

JFK"The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives.

We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives.

It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the facts that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all. Those who do nothing are inviting shame, as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right, as well as reality."

11 June 1963

You can read and listen to the full text of this speech on the JFK Library website by using the following link:

Radio and Television Report to the American People on Civil Rights, June 11, 1963