A million reasons why Lady Gaga is my hero

So what did you think of Lady Gaga’s half-time show at Superbowl LI? Personally, I thought it was magnificent.

Predictably I got some smart-arse comments on the post, a couple of laughs, but that’s OK. After all, we all have different tastes, and one of the many things Gaga encourages us to celebrate is our diversity. So laugh it up. I couldn’t care less.

Here’s what I posted.

“Anyone that thinks Lady Gaga’s half-time show wasn’t political has either got their head stuck up their arse, or simply doesn’t understand her genius.”

I wasn’t looking for likes or laughs, to be honest. My sentiment was largely in response to a tweet a old colleague of mine had shared on Twitter — presumably in its support — which suggested Gaga had no message in 2017, and that Beyonce’s less subtle effort of 2016 was braver and more meaningful.

I took issue with this. To me, Gaga’s performance packed with political rhetoric, and was flawless in its execution. Here’s why.

The opening
Atop the NRG Stadium, and backed by 300 drones that lit up and hovered miraculously to create the United States’ flag, Gaga sang excerpts from two of America’s most patriotic songs, starting with God Bless America before rolling seamlessly into This Land Is Your Land. She then quoted from the The Pledge Of Allegiance before theatrically diving into the packed arena. What’s so cool about that? Well, it’s no secret that America is more divided than ever right now. What brings Americans together more than anything? Usually patriotic tunes and the star-spangled banner, and a reminder that despite what some people might say, there is a lot to celebrate about the country. It just needs to be focused on a little more.

The first songs
After belting out a small segment of Poker Face — pausing after the first-line reference to Texas as a nod of respect to the Houston location — Gaga moved into her anthem for those on the peripheral, Born This Way. If that wasn’t a middle finger to all the bigots, racists, homophobes and so on that have crawled out of their holes to celebrate the more extreme messages being bandied about by Donald Trump and others, I don’t know what is.

“No matter gay, straight, or bi / Lesbian, transgendered life / I’m on the right track baby/ I was born to survive,” she roared.

“No matter black, white or beige / Chola or orient made / I’m on the right track baby / I was born to be brave.”

Magnificent.

From middle to end
After Telephone, which didn’t feature an appearance from Beyonce as some had predicted, Gaga went into positivity mode with Just Dance. “We’re here to make you feel good,” she said after that one. “You wanna feel good with us?”

Looks like the pundits who said she’d been warned off politics were also brilliantly mis-informed.

Million Reasons was the penultimate number, a song all about searching out the best in everything and of course featuring the line “If you say something that you might even mean, it’s hard to even fathom which parts I should believe.” Fake news, anyone? Just superb.

Now I can’t be sure that Gaga’s chosen closer, Bad Romance, was in any way a reference to Trump and his wife Melania’s relationship — I like to think it maybe was — but by this point she was decked out in gridiron shoulder-pads, ready to do battle with any shit the world can throw at her, or any of her little monsters — the term she uses lovingly for her millions of fans.

I’m lucky enough to have seen Lady Gaga live, and I maintain it was one of the best shows I’ve ever witnessed. If you were to look at my musical tastes generally, she is not someone you’d expect me to pay money to see, but it’s her ability to bring social issues to the forefront without aggression or animosity that I admire most.

I remember that night in Sydney, before playing Gypsy, she delivered an impassioned speech to the many LGBTQ members of the audience, showering them with love and the belief that they matter. It was as touching a moment as I’ve ever seen at a musical performance, and trust me, grown adults were crying by the time she finished, and I wasn’t far off it myself. She then massively uplifted us all with the joy of the song Gypsy, which celebrates a world in union. That was the one big track I felt she could have also thrown in at the Superbowl.

But I’m being picky now. My love for Gaga has only grown more as a result of her half-time heroics, and I’m more than happy to put my paws up and scream it from the rooftop of any stadium you want to place me on. Gaga rules, end of story.

RIP Prince

For all the tributes and words said about Prince, I’ve found the best to be the anecdotes told by those that knew him or were lucky enough to have spent some time in his inner circle. For example, this story told by The Roots’ drummer Questlove, who explains how he was once fired by Prince and replaced by Nemo — yes, that Nemo of animated fame.

I have no such stories to tell of Prince, other than being utterly blown away by every piece of music he released. The guy was a genius, could play everything, sing, dance, write killer tunes and lyrics, and more. I don’t care if he died of flu or a drug overdose or whatever. It doesn’t matter. He’s gone, and he won’t be coming back.

But his art will live forever, and I’ll be dipping into it for my own pleasure whenever I have the chance for as long as I’m able to.

RIP Prince — you legend.

Alessia Cara speaks out with NME

Some time ago, you might remember we spotlighted Alessia Cara‘s first big hit, Here. Since then, she’s become something of a thing on the music scene, and we couldn’t be happier.

This week, she sat down at home in Toronto with NME to chat about her success so far, and all the challenges she faces and other females face in the music industry. Since we’re big fans of Alessia, we thought we’d share it here. Enjoy.

Eagles Of Death Metal talk about Paris

Of all the accounts from the terror attacks in Paris on Friday 13 November 2015, one of the most intense is likely to be this — the first hand account of Eagles Of Death Metal frontman Jesse Hughes, whose band was playing at the Bataclan music hall on that fateful night.

“While Jesse and the band thankfully survived, some of the people closest to them did not. They include the band’s merchandise manager, Nick Alexander, as well as three colleagues from their record label, Thomas Ayad, Marie Mosser, and Manu Perez,” the interview synopsis reads.

Joshua Homme, while not part of the band’s live line-up, is also there to support his mate and offer his thoughts on the tragedy.

Of the more than 120 people killed that night in the French capital, 89 were slaughtered inside the club, all there simply to enjoy some great music with great people and friends.

There is no sense to the crime, no way of truly comprehending what happened. For Hughes, it will no doubt haunt him for the rest of his days. And this is a guys that’s already been through a hell of a lot in his 43 years of life.

We’ll be looking out for the full interview, and will update this post when it lands.

To all the victims and their loved ones, not just in Paris but the many other places in this world where terror has struck without mercy, we here at Light+Shade offer our heartfelt condolences and support.

Colbert lives out all our Pearl Jam fantasies

Stephen Colbert said it himself. “What an honour! You don’t get to that everyday.”

‘That’ is getting to stand alongside the great Eddie Vedder on stage with his awesome band, Pearl Jam, and rock out like a mofo to their cover of choice, Rockin The Free World, originally done, of course, by Neil Young.

Just watching this will fill you with joy. I guarantee it. You can thank me later.

Pearl Jam were in New York as part of the excellent Global Citizen Festival, which aims to end global poverty by the year 2030 in conjunction with the United Nations. It’s a noble cause, and certainly a realistic if we all do our part.

You can find out more about that at our sister blog Foraggio Photographic here. Do it. Become a Global Citizen and make a mark. Rock the free world for yourself, and feel as good as Colbert did on stage here.

Amy, I miss you …

I went out to see Amy last night. It was amazing; one of the best music documentaries I’ve seen. But afterwards, I felt so sad for everything that happened to her. I knew a lot of it, but when one of humanity’s brightest souls is taken, hollow is all you can feel.

Amy Winehouse was just 27 when she died. She was, by her own admission, messed up. But watching Asif Kapadia wonderful documentary, I wondered how different her remarkable life could have been. She was fiercely talented, vocally we know.. But her song-writing ability was so spectacular. She was a jazz singer at heart, but that heart was lost, diseased and ultimately stopped as a result of some terrible choices on her part. While many might sit back and say “she could have stopped, she could have cleaned up”, believe me, it’s not that easy. When you’re in certain frames of mind, the most logical course of action is often the scariest. Amy clearly felt that, and whether she’d been famous or not, one imagines she would always have had a difficult existence. Fame and fortune, and all the shit that comes with it, just magnified everything and ultimately expedited her downfall.

What we learn from Amy is that the world is a cruel place. It can stand you atop its highest peaks to be admired and beholden, and in the blink of an eye, it violently tugs you down and bury you deep in the pit of its core, burning you to within an inch of your life. In Amy’s case, it ate away at her will to live. Eventually, she gave in, and therein lies the tragedy. She should never have been taken that close to the edge.

Anybody that has suffered depression will empathise with Amy upon watching this film. She was like many of us as a youngster – full of humour, excitement, passion and a lust for life. She was affected by the extra-marital affairs of her father, which led to a broken home, and she was lured by alcohol and substance abuse’s power to dull the negativity that swirled around her mind.

The film is superbly put together, taking us from a home video of a 14th birthday party that depicts Amy just like any other kid in London, mucking about with her mates and having fun, to the sickening sight of her tiny, covered, dead body being carried into an ambulance on July 23, 2011. Kapadia details her passion for music, and helps to explain the difference between an artist and a celebrity. Amy was an artist. But forces she could not control meant she lived the life of a celebrity, one she neither wanted nor enjoyed.

Kapadia speaks to all the key players in Amy’s life – husband Blake Fielder, father Mitch, manager Raye Cosbert, first manager and good friend Nick Shymansky, childhood friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def, and many others that tried to help Amy either for her own good or their own.

The most tragic part of this tale for me is the devil in the detail of the choices Amy made throughout her brief life. Her love for Fielder was bizarrely beautiful in its purity, but cruelly twisted by substance abuse to the point where it was completely self-destructive. They were almost too perfect for each other, both with problems they couldn’t solve alone, but so tight nobody could get between them. Her father seems almost too stupid to be real at times, denying she had problems with drugs, denying she had bulimia, despite all signs pointing to the contrary. He managed her money when it started to roll in, but never gave her a second thought as a child. Undoubtedly he played a key part in her state of mind, good or bad. If she were a roll of tape to be unravelled, he tore the first strips from her, assisted others to take more until she was too frail to survive. How guilty he must feel today I can only imagine. I feel sorry for him in a way, but he’s not somebody I would ever hope to meet. I might kill him for his ultimately fatal stupidity.

Sadder still is that Amy had some lovely people around her, all willing to help her get back to the girl she once was. Shymansky in particular is clearly an amazing individual. He launched Amy’s career, stuck by her through thick and thin, steered her in the right directions despite having limited experience in the music industry, but ultimately couldn’t control her when the record companies took hold. Likewise Ashby and Gilbert, both of whom Amy called regularly in the days before her death to apologise for straying so far off the road they once happily all shared.

There is no doubt in my mind Amy wanted to die. She may have said otherwise to therapists and doctors. But she was over it, sick of the inability to walk down the street without being blinded by paparazzi flashbulbs, sick of the musical inflexibility that her fame brought. That infamous incident in Serbia was the culmination of all that. She was forced to be there when she wanted to be doing something different, something creative that might have kept her sane.

Many laughed at Amy in the wake of this incident, among others. The comedians highlighted in the film are most certainly the villains of the piece. Graham Norton, Jay Leno and others can hang their heads in shame, Leno in particular, who boosted his own ratings by having Amy on his show at the peak of her powers, only to rip her to pieces years later for her reckless lifestyle, one which was completely out of her control, and one he could never hope to understand. What a complete arsehole.

I think those of us that understood Amy all wish we could have saved her. But that was a hopeless dream. Her life was a hopeless dream.

No matter your view of Amy Winehouse, I urge you to see this film. It might change your view of her, it might reinforce it. It might help you understand some demons of your own, or make you think about how you’ve dealt with the demons of others in your life. It can teach you a lot about life. It can help you understand a lot about depression, and what’s required to beat it down. Only the most cold-hearted among you will not feel sadness as the closing credits roll up to the wonderful music of Antonio Pinto.

I miss Amy. I miss her a lot. I empathise enormously with her. I know some of the dark places she visited. I’m just luckier than her for having amazing family and friends that can pull me through.

Amy had many luxuries, but the one she needed most was support. Without that, she was destined to fall from the great height she reached.

God bless you, Amy. Wherever you are … I hope you’re happier than you ever imagined you could be.

If you or someone your know shows signs of or suffers from depression, please seek help. Beyond Blue is an excellent organisation in Australia. In the UK, Mind is an excellent starting point. Other nations around the world also have great support networks. Chat to your local doctor or hospital for more details. Don’t ever be afraid to seek help. It will be the best thing you ever do.

Review: The Jezabels – The Brink

The Jezabels - The Brink

The Jezabels – The Brink cover art.

It seemed like forever until The Jezabels released their first album. Prisoner hit us in 2011, following up the epic Dark Storm EP, and it didn’t disappoint. Barely a trio of years later, and we’re lucky enough to have another long player from the Sydney quartet to feast our ears upon.

The Brink, which is slated for a 31 January release, is the latest album from the group and, once again, it hits the mark. It’s another collection of richly textured tunes, opened by a title track that has all the hallmarks of the band’s previous work, only better. It’s sharper, punchier, but also somewhat darker in content, borne out of the band’s exhausting touring schedule off the back of Prisoner. and what frontwoman Hayley Mary has described as a period of “self loathing” and “self deprecating”. Some insights into that process I wrote about in a post past, which you can visit here.

But don’t let that put you off. Mary is as polished as ever in her work, delivering emotion-charged performances in every track. Sam Lockwood’s choppy guitar, not dissimilar to The Edge at times and particularly on the melancholy Time To Dance, is the stitching of the tracks, while Heather Shannon’s keys are undoubtedly the foundation. Drummer Nik Kaloper, meanwhile, has if anything chosen some more conventional parts for the songs on this record as compared to the eclectic but brilliant beats of past records.

But there is no mistaking that The Brink as a Jezabels record. You might think the band is at risk of continually releasing “samey” material, but let’s not forget this is only its second long player, and there are some true moments of diversity within, not least in Look For Love, which is as pop-charged as I’ve heard The Jezabels. A more processed version of this song would not sound out of place on a David Guetta record. It’s got a thudding, hypnotic kick throughout, swims atop thick, syrupy waves of  synth pads, a chorus that will undoubtedly have crowds jumping in dreamland at live shows, and regretful lyrics that will force empathy from many. It’s great. A real high point, and it talks to the album title in that the song is about being on the brink of something, in this case, I think, a romance of sorts.

In an interview with The Music, Mary articulates that feeling of not quite getting somewhere as an over-arching theme for this record.

“For me, writing is the self-deprecating, self-loathing stage,” she said. “We all had our reasons for feeling low at various times, but I felt like I was on the brink of a lot of things on this album. Some of them good, some of them bad: youth and age, alternative and pop, giving up and pushing through. I guess hope is part of that. And also fear.”

You feel the band is on the brink of a different musical path. Beat To Beat treads a similarly poppy path to Look For Love, with stabbing synths driving things, while Angels Of Fire also marks new ground. The mid-point of the album feels more like The Jezabels of old, particularly The End, which was the first cut we heard from this catalogue. Got Velvet ends a somewhat nostalgic trio of tunes, but it’s replete with acerbic lyrics directed at someone who’s definitely got on Mary’s bad side.

I was reminded of Iceland post rockers For A Minor Reflection’s track Dansi Dans when penultimate track Psychotherapy began. That piano lick is lovely, and we hear strings here too as Mary again sings of tough times past.

All You Need rounds thing off nicely, and will I suspect become the full stop on the setlist as this album is toured, starting at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival days after its release. So how will the crowd react to the hint of a new direction? I think well.

“Pop is a weird word,” Mary has said in reaction to the few reviewers so far that have used that word to describe The Brink. “But as you get older and more experienced you do tend to have a greater appreciation of simplicity. We were growing into it with Prisoner, but now I think we have a better understanding of simple ideas communicated effectively, rather than piling all this stuff in because you think it’s beautiful.”

It’s true, and while they’re turning tentatively away from their sound of old, perhaps under the direction of producer Dan Grech-Marguerat, who has worked with Lana Del Rey, Radiohead, Keane and others, The Jezabels are certainly not losing their signature sound, which is something every band seeking longevity needs, and certainly something their fans, old and new, will appreciate when they listen to The Brink.

Carlos Santana reunites with homeless band-mate

Santana and Malone

Carlos Santana embraces Malone as they are reunited.

Here’s a bit of Christmas cheer for you all; the story of Carlos Santana reuniting with now homeless former band-mate Marcus “The Magnificent” Malone.

Malone was a conga player on Santana’s self-titled first album , but left the band after he was jailed in 1969, the same year that record was released. Santana played Woodstock not long after that, became a global superstar, while Malone went on an entirely different life path, and has ended up homeless in Oakland. Talk about fate.

But fate has a funny way of making things right, too. Just as Sixto Rodriguez became a global hit after being rediscovered for the documentary Searching For Sugar Man, Malone, it seems, will now have the chance to play again with Santana, more than 40 years after they last made music together.

KRON4 News, whose reporter Stanley Roberts fortuitously discovered Malone and subsequently organised the reunion with Santana, has reported that the rock and roll hall of famer is now keen to get his old pal back into the studio along with the other original members of his old Blues Band.

CNN, who picked up the yarn, also quoted Santana as saying: “I want to offer him a place to stay in an apartment, get him some clothes, and just get him out of the street.”

So there you have it. Christmas cheers for all.

Celebrating Music Therapy Week 2013

Music

This week is Music Therapy Week in the UK, organised by the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT). Now I know it seems we have a week set aside for just about everything these days, but this is something I truly believe in.

The effects of music on the human mind can be profound. Music can alter mood, nudge forgotten memories loose and, in some cases, even offer relief for the most debilitating neurological conditions, something I marvelled at and wrote about when looking at Alive Inside, a documentary about music therapy.

Music therapy can help people who are emotionally isolated to communicate and express themselves, “sometimes for the first time in their lives”, BAMT informs us. Can you imagine that?

Therapy using music can support recovery and management of medical conditions such Alzheimer’s disease, autism, brain injury, dementia, learning disabilities, depression, schizophrenia, trauma, and more.

Having suffered both depression, brain injury and trauma myself, I feel I’m qualified to talk about music’s power to heal. It’s given me so much over the years. I’ve also been reading Oliver Sacks’s fascinating book Musicophilia these past few months, and discovering even more incredible tales of how music affects people’s lives in the most positive ways.

Music, as simple as it may seem, really is a remarkable thing. “Music expresses that which cannot be said, and on which it is impossible to be silent,” Victor Hugo once said. And you feel sometimes that’s just the beginning. It’s overwhelmingly awesome.

The object of Music Therapy Week is to help raise awareness and funding for the continuation of the already brilliant work done by qualified music therapists predominantly in the UK. It’s also to celebrate music therapy as a legitimate healing tool.

So please spare a few minutes, play a tune that means something to you, and celebrate with me a truly wonderful medical practice that is helping vulnerable people better live their fragile lives.

And remember, no matter how bad things can sometimes get, music can always reach for you and pull you clear.