Originally posted by darkspirited1 at SIGNAL BOOST: SAY YES TO GAY YA
This comes from an article by rachelmanija

"Total Eclipse" and "Totale Finsternis"... a comparison
On the forum, I have recently been debating about the lyrics to "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Most of my readers will recognize this as a song by Bonnie Tyler; my theater friends will recall it was recycled by its composer, Jim Steinman, as the Act Two opening of Tanz der Vampire in 1997. Steinman himself basically acceded that he slotted the song into Tanz because the lyrics were "about love's place in dark" and that they read to him "like vampire lyrics," and that his overriding motivation for adding it to the show was "Who's ever going to know? It's Vienna!" (Source.)

Because it was added to the show so haphazardly, and remains similar in many places to the original lyric, I argue that it can't really be used to make points about the characterization of Sarah, the show's heroine. In my opinion, it's kind of a shoddy deal that the character development of the heroine of a major musical is based on the lyrics to a pop song from the Eighties, even a Grammy-winning one. To me, it feels kind of pointless to try to draw meaning in terms of character development from said lyrics when one realizes the same meaning would have been there no matter what character sang it in any show. Needless to say, people have disagreed with me on this point.


One thing that people disagree about in particular is just how similar the lyric is to the English original. First, let's look very briefly at the writing process for Tanz. In the early stages of development, Steinman submitted five songs of his that were already completed to be included in the show's score, and "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was one. (Source; see in particular the "750 AM 7/16/06" and "2:19PM, July 11" entries.) My guess is the lyrics didn't change much in the initial draft, as the Steve Barton/Elaine Caswell demo suggests, at points falling much closer to the pop lyric than any version in the show's history, be it English or German.

Next, let's look at how Michael Kunze, the show's co-librettist, translated the songs into German, or indeed translates any songs, as he is a frequent German adaptor of musicals who strives to remain as accurate to the original libretti as possible. He sends his lyricists a table on a page with three columns containing the original English lyrics, the German lyrics, and the German lyrics translated back into English to show you how closely he adhered to the original. Occasionally for poetic or language purposes the exact wording may be different, but roughly the same meaning is arrived at.


By somewhat replicating the above process, I aim to prove just how close to the Bonnie Tyler original the lyrics are in large part, and if I can prove that it is largely similar, then I argue it is not worth considering "Total Eclipse of the Heart" in the equation when doing character analysis on the role of Sarah. (Please note ahead of time that I will be analyzing the song as it appears in the 1997 Viennese version, which has more points for comparison as it is longer.)


Leaving aside the vampires' intro verse, which does not occur in any pop version of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (except for the instrumental occurrence in the Jim Steinman remix of Westlife's cover), we get to the meat of the song:

Sei bereit!
Sarah: Manchmal in der Nacht fühl ich mich einsam und traurig
Doch ich weiss nicht, was mir fehlt
Ancestors: Be prepared!
Sarah: Sometimes in the night I feel so lonely and sad
But I don't know what's wrong with me
Rory Dodd: Turn around!
Bonnie Tyler: Every now and then I get a little bit lonely
And you're never coming 'round

There are three parts to the direct analysis of this portion: the "Sei bereit," the "Manchmal," and the "Doch." First... "sei bereit." In direct translation, "sei bereit" means "be prepared," or "be on your guard." That's essentially what "turn around" is saying in the English version. Pay attention. "Turn around." So I'm chalking that up as one direct hit. (Having already disposed of this, the line re-occurs several times in any version of the song, so I'm going to ignore that line further down the page since I already discussed this point.)

Then the "Manchmal" section, which is pretty straightforward when you compare the "Direct-to-English" and "Pop Single" columns. "Sometimes in the night I feel so lonely and sad..." "Sometimes" is a direct equivalent to "Every now and then." Both do not suggest a constant feeling of loneliness, but rather occasional. (As above, having already disposed of this, the line re-occurs several times in any version of the song, so I'm going to ignore that line further down the page since I already discussed this point.)

Leaving aside the minimizing qualifier of "a little bit" in the pop single, which relates more to Steinman's lyrical style of cramming as many words into a verse as he can, we arrive at the same feeling. The chanteuse singing "Total Eclipse" is lonely, just as the Sarah of "Totale Finsternis" is lonely.

Now we arrive at the "Doch..." section, the only major difference so far in the analysis. Where Sarah doesn't know what's wrong with her, Bonnie knows exactly what's wrong with her; namely, the unnamed "you" that occurs later in the song does not see her enough for her liking. This is a minor difference, and in Steinman's English version heard in demo form above, he renders this section as "...lonely, but I don't know what I miss," indicating that the singer in question doesn't know what's wrong with her, what she's missing. This is a distinct change (and made by Steinman, so I can't just blame it on Dr. Kunze making the material conform), and I bow to that point.

Character Development: 1
Pop Single: 2

Sarah: ...hab ich phantastische Träume.
Aber wenn ich aufwach, quält mich die Angst
...lieg ich im Dunkeln und warte
Doch worauf ich warte ist mir nicht klar
...spür ich die unwiderstehliche Versuchung
Einer dunklen Gefahr

Sarah: ...I have fantastic dreams.
But when I wake up, fear torments me.
...I lie in the dark and wait.
But what I'm waiting for isn't clear to me.
...I feel the irresistible temptation
Of a dark danger.

Bonnie Tyler: ...I get a little bit tired
Of listening to the sound of my tears
...I get a little bit nervous
That the best of all the years have gone by
...I get a little bit terrified
And then I see the look in your eyes

"A" (fantastic dreams) is clearly different. Aside from the aforementioned "Sometimes..." / "Every now and then" equivalency, there is little the same about this section. Sarah is clearly having some odd dreams and then waking up afraid, while Bonnie Tyler is just tired of being depressed. In a more jocular mood, I would argue one has to be tired to fall asleep and have "phantastiche Träume," but that's another story entirely. As before, we must consider Steinman's English lyric in the Tanz demo as well, and at this point in the demo, his singer "...get[s] a little bit desperate, and wonder[s] what it is [she] desire[s]." In a roundabout fashion, again, one could argue that when Sarah has these fantastic dreams, but wakes up afraid, she might wonder why she desires this so much, and just how desperate she is to desire such things, but this lyric has no direct equivalent to the German. Dr. Kunze may well have been trying to verbalize this in a manner understood by the German language, but that's a matter of interpretation as opposed to actual fact. This is a distinct change, and I can't determine whose work it is firmly rooted in, but nevertheless I bow to that point.

Character Development: 2
Pop Single: 2

"B" (lie in the dark) is clearly different. One could make an argument that one could discern the irresistible temptation of a dark danger by the look in someone's eye, but that's a finer point of debate and a matter of interpretation. However, as before, we must consider Steinman's English lyric in the Tanz demo as well, and at this point in the demo, the Bonnie Tyler version of the lyrics is heard with no change whatsoever. As Steinman wrote this to be the same, and it's different in the German, I chalk that up to a distinct change for character development by Dr. Kunze. I don't exactly know how to score this one, but since the German version is considered standard by fans of the show, I will reluctantly surrender a point.

Character Development: 3
Pop Single: 2

Ahnen: Sei bereit Sternkind
Sarah: Ich hör eine Stimme die mich ruft
Ahnen: Sei bereit Sternkind
Sarah: Ich spür eine Sehnsucht die mich sucht…
Ancestors: Be prepared, Star Child...
Sarah: I hear a voice calling me.
Ancestors: Be prepared, Star Child...
Sarah: I feel a longing searching for me...

Rory Dodd: Turn around, bright eyes!
Bonnie Tyler: Every now and then I fall apart
Rory Dodd: Turn around, bright eyes!
Bonnie Tyler: Every now and then I fall apart...

(Note: Here I skipped ahead in the lyrics because I was initially planning to go with the "cut" version. The point is still made regardless, as the lyrics similarly refer to Sarah hearing a voice rather than falling apart, even in the Steinman demo, which only switches to "...fall apart" the second time round.)

First off, "Be prepared" vs. "Turn around" has been covered before. We now come to the issue of "Star child" vs. "Bright eyes." Some people have tried to pawn this off as "star-struck-child," but I think (and this is just my opinion) this is covering up for embarrassment at the fact that Steinman's use of dated slang carried over so thoroughly into this lyric. "Star child..." "Bright eyes..." Do I need to draw a diagram here? Dr. Kunze is clearly struggling with adapting this particular turn of phrase into German. That's a point for the pop single.

On the other hand, the German fans clearly get a point here, too; though it can be argued that Sarah is in fact falling apart, and that at this point in Steinman's demo (allowing for subsequent cuts to the score) he certainly seems to have her falling apart (no change from the Bonnie Tyler lyrics), Dr. Kunze verbalizes this differently, and we're not discussing finer points of interpretation (at least I think we're not...), we're discussing exactly how close the lyrics are.

Character Interpretation: 4
Pop Single: 3

Sarah: ...fühl ich die Macht eines Zaubers
Der mich unsichtbar berührt
...bin ich so hilflos und wünsch mir
Es käm einer, der mich führt und beschützt
...kann ich es nicht mehr erwarten
Ich will endlich eine Frau sein und frei
...möcht ich Verbot'nes erleben
Und die Folgen sind mir ganz einerlei
Sarah: ...I feel the power of a magic
Which is invisible to me.
...I am so helpless and I wish
Someone would come to lead and protect me.
...I can't wait any longer,
I want to finally be a woman and free.
...I want to experience the forbidden
And consequences do not matter to me.

Bonnie Tyler: ...I get a little bit restless
And I dream of something wild
...I get a little bit helpless
And I'm lying like a child in your arms
...I get a little bit angry
And I know I've got to get out and cry
...I get a little bit terrified
But then I see the look in your eyes

If this were a debate about interpretation, one could easily say that everything is exactly the same. Feeling the power of a magic one can't see might happen when one is a little bit restless and dreaming of something wild... then there's the imagery of one being helpless and needing protection, longing to be held in someone's arms like a child... even the "...a little bit angry" verse could fit the inability to wait any longer, and freedom allows one the opportunity to get out and just cry, shout it to the world... and one may be a little afraid of experiencing the forbidden, but the consequences don't matter once she looks into his eyes. Unfortunately for me, this is not a debate about interpretation, though as you can see, I would certainly have a field day if it were.

In Steinman's demo, the first two lines are the same as the Tyler verse, but the line about "...a little bit curious what it's like to be a woman and free" is in, and the last line is "...a little bit terrified, but then I see you coming for me," which changes that particular point completely from what is present in the German (and incidentally adds a little more to the predatory metaphor discussed in the thread this is derived from, but I digress). I highly suspect Steinman just slung this line in to get a rhyme, which is not unusual in his work. It has nothing to do with wanting to experience anything (indeed, she's terrified) and there definitely will be consequences; whether or not she cares about them is immaterial, because it clearly sounds like he's about to deliver them.

In the finer points of how the lyric matches up, I'm gonna take the "helpless" part and give that a point, and a point toward "I know I've got to get out" vs. "I can't wait any longer," while conceding that the wanting to be a free young woman is a change made by Steinman and not Dr. Kunze, and ergo distinctly made for character development.

Character Interpretation: 7
Pop Single: 5

Krolock: Sich verliern heisst sich befrein
Du wirst dich in mir erkennen
Was du erträumst wird Wahrheit sein
Nichts und niemand kann uns trennen
Tauch mit mir in die Dunkelheit ein!
Zwischen Abgrund und Schein
Verbrennen wir die Zweifel und vergessen die Zeit
Ich hüll dich ein in meinen Schatten und trag dich weit

Du bist das Wunder das mit der Wirklichkeit versöhnt

Sarah: Mein Herz ist Dynamit das einen Funken ersehnt

Both: Ich bin zum Leben erwacht!
Die Ewigkeit beginnt heut Nacht!
Die Ewigkeit beginnt heut Nacht!
Krolock: To lose oneself is to free oneself,
You will recognize yourself in me.
What you dream of will become reality
Nothing and nobody can separate us.
Dive with me in the darkness!
Between the abyss and the light,
We'll burn doubts and forget time,
I'll wrap you in my shadow and carry you far.

You are the miracle that is reconciled with reality

Sarah: My heart is dynamite and it's giving off sparks

Both: I/you have awoken to life!
Forever's gonna start tonight!
Forever's gonna start tonight!

Bonnie Tyler: And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever
And if you'll only hold me tight
We'll be holding on forever
And we'll only be making it right
'Cause we'll never be wrong together
We can take it to the end of the line
Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time

I don't know what to do, and I'm always in the dark
We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks

I really need you tonight
Forever's gonna start tonight!
Forever's gonna start tonight

Okay, we can clearly see the points of correlation and diversion, so I'm going to run through them in list format:

1. Krolock's verse is almost entirely different except for the "shadow" motif.
2. Whether it's Sarah's heart or the two of them, they are most definitely like a powder keg giving off sparks.
3. Forever is definitely starting tonight.
4. It goes without saying if you listen to the Steinman demo alongside this entry that he leaves the Bonnie Tyler lyrics as is completely, and Dr. Kunze has clearly made some changes.

In a debate about what the lyrics accomplish, one could argue Krolock would still be saying the same thing, just in a lighter tone; he needs her, she needs him, could it be any more obvious? (Excuse me... sorry, had to go get Avril Lavigne out of my head. Where were we? Ah, yes...) But we're talking about exact similarity, so I can't delve into interpretation. (Or the argument of what's lighter/more recognizable for American audiences vs. what's darker for European, which is really a pointless exercise in generalization no matter how one slices it.)

As there are three points of similarity with the pop single, three points will go to that team. If you want to argue, you'll note I granted the German version three points as well based on what was different, and no, the "heart' doesn't count because the imagery of "giving off sparks" is the same and the main thrust of the lyric, so...

Character Development: 10
Pop Single: 8

Sarah: Ich hab mich gesehnt danach mein Herz zu verlieren
Jetzt verlier ich fast den Verstand
Totale Finsternis—ein Meer von Gefühl und kein Land

Einmal, dachte ich, bricht Liebe den Bann
Jetzt zerbricht sie gleich meine Welt
Totale Finsternis—ich falle und nichts was mich hält…

Sarah: I set out to lose my heart
Now I'm almost losing my mind.
Total eclipse, a sea of emotion and not land.

Once I believed in the bright spell of love
Now it's shattering my world.
Total eclipse, I'm falling, and nothing can hold me.

Bonnie Tyler: Once upon a time, I was falling in love
Now I'm only falling apart
There's nothing I can do, a total eclipse of the heart

Once upon a time, there was light in my life
Now there's only love in the dark
There's nothing I can say, a total eclipse of the heart

Your first question is, am I going to score for both of them using the imagery of a total eclipse? You bet your ass I am. I scored every single point of similarity above, and I'm not going differently here. Secondly, do you even care at this point that Steinman left the lyrics exactly the same in the demo? Probably not, but I'm telling you anyway. Let's look at the finer points of similarity, however, as there is one that cannot escape the reader's notice.

"Falling apart" vs. "shattering"... same imagery there. If one "believe[s] in the bright spell of love," it can be argued they're falling in love themselves. They're falling and nothing can hold them? Seems to me like they're saying there's nothing they can do. You know exactly what I'm arguing here, but I'll say it anyway: Dr. Kunze clearly was conveying the same exact message as one verse of the pop single outright, and even adding a bit from the verse he pretty much didn't use, with the contrast of light and dark, a bright spell and the shattering of one's world. Aside from matters of interpretation about the other verse (and on a side note, I rather like Dr. Kunze's idea of likening Sarah's emotions to what a total eclipse of the moon does to tides, leaving her adrift at sea with no land in sight), this is pretty clear.

So for the total eclipse, the wholesale borrow of a verse, and the use of a motif from an unused verse, three points, and one for the different verse.

Character Development: 11
Pop Single: 11

Sarah: ...denk ich ich sollte lieber fliehn vor Dir solang ich es noch kann
Doch rufst Du dann nach mir bin ich bereit, dir blind zu folgen, selbst zur Hölle würd ich fahren mit Dir
...gäb ich mein Leben her für einen Augenblick in dem ich Dir ganz gehör
...möcht ich so sein, wie Du mich haben willst und wenn ich mich selber zerstör
Sarah: ...I think I should flee from you while I still can.
But when you call to me I am ready to follow you blindly, I would go to Hell itself with you.
...I would give my life for a moment when I completely belonged to you.
...I want to be how you want me to be even if it means destroying myself.

Bonnie Tyler: ...I know you'll never be the boy you always wanted to be
...I know you'll always be the only boy who wanted me the way that I am
...I know there's no one in the universe as magical and wondrous as you
...I know there's nothing any better, there's nothing that I just wouldn't do

As there are repeats after this point of the same stuff, and a verse by Krolock that does not appear in any pop single version, we have reached the end of our comparison, so this is it: the moment of truth. In the Steinman demo, he changes the first two lines of the Bonnie Tyler verse above to lines that roughly approximate the meaning of the German lyric and leaves the last two lines unchanged. This is a distinct change (and made by Steinman, so I can't just blame it on Dr. Kunze making the material conform), and I bow to that point.

If this were a debate about interpretation, again, I could make an argument about the last two lines, especially the very last one (which carries over to the point of Sarah's line that there's absolutely nothing she wouldn't do for this vampire), but I can't. The German version is the standard we're holding ourselves to, and the German version is different.

I will give the "Pop Single" side one point for "...nothing that I just wouldn't do," but the rest goes to the German version.

Character Development: 14
Pop Single: 12


Well, you might have assumed by my points system that whichever one had the most would win, but to quote the immortal Gershwin lyric, "that ain't necessarily so." While there are enough points of divergence to suggest not leaving the lyric out of the equation completely, there are also nearly enough points of comparison to the pop single to suggest that it shouldn't be held so highly when analyzing the character either. At the end of the day, it's hard to escape the fact that, for better or worse, this is that song, so to speak, which is a problem anyone encounters when slotting a preassembled song into a theater score. Because of the sheer amount of similarities, one runs the risk of transposing the pop song lyrics onto the character as what they're really feeling, when it may be something else again, suggested either by the script, the actor's portrayal, elements of staging, etc.

It seems wishy-washy to take the weak "third way out," but there's really no other way to go here. My suggestion? Those who don't think the song counts are justified; those who think the song counts are equally justified. Everybody has a right to their opinion, and it's their prerogative to agree or disagree with each other's opinion. But when you agree or disagree, remember to do it respectfully.

On the new Michael Jackson material

A Commentary

Alright, yeah, seriously, fucking listen for a second, rabid Jackson fans. For those who don't already know the story, they released the first posthumous Michael Jackson single, "Breaking News," to the Internet this week. The entertainment world is in an uproar because the Jackson family on one side is insisting that the track is not authentic, while Sony and a team of voice experts are insisting that it is. Many fans are prematurely taking sides, I suppose because they didn't expect the drama to lessen any now that Michael is dead.


- It doesn't really match his style lyrically. Yes, Michael has referred to drama in his life in past songs, but always obliquely, and never specifically mentioning himself in the third person. He wrote a song that everyone widely agrees is about the Santa Barbara District Attorney who went after his ass twice, and he didn't actually refer to the guy by name, going the route of a similar-sounding name instead. He never took a "poor me" tack, and the lyrics to this song are pretty blatantly that tack, very accusatory and dare I say self-pitying.

- It sounds like a Jackson clone song rather than the real thing. It has all the elements you'd expect of one of Michael's more angst-ridden tracks, but it seems more like something attempting desperately to sound like him rather than actually one of his own, sort of like when Diane Warren once tried to write a Jim Steinman song for Meat Loaf.

- It honestly reminds me strongly of a typical "posthumous" single in the industry. It sort of smacks to me of those 2Pac raps that were constantly being released in a steady stream that began featuring more and more performers we hadn't even heard of in Pac's day, clearly being mainly a new track with some left-over Pac lines. It sounds like that kind of thing, constructed out of fragments and turned into something only slightly more substantial.

- He's almost too angry. It's pretty clear why this song was chosen as the first release, but it's almost too accusatory. The lyrics and subject matter practically scream "LOOK WHAT YOU DID TO ME, DAMMIT!" Now, I dunno, I've heard about people who sometimes have presentiments of their own death, and if you believe some accounts, Michael went through a similar process, but this seems almost too good a fit. Too perfect. What the fans would expect.

- This is exactly the kind of shit Sony would pull, in all honesty. They are lying money-grubbing assholes looking for the next big check (for examples, witness the Steve Popovich case or just for starters). I'm starting to hear rumors that they padded out the film This is It with rehearsals of similar sequences to how they were planned to be in the "final concert" from previous tours, and considering the weight fluctuation of Michael from clip to clip in that film, sometimes very dramatically so, this author is inclined to believe it. If Sony was responsible for that, they wouldn't hesitate to pull in a sound-alike to finish a demo or an album.

Now, the reason the tracks are in doubt is the following: Apparently, Michael recorded these demos in New Jersey in 2007 at the home studio of close friend Frank Cascio, who (along with his kids) has been close to the Jackson family for years. Michael and his children were apparently staying with them at the time these demos were recorded. The kids are saying upon hearing the finished single that they overheard the music as it was being made and it doesn't sound like what they heard being tracked; Michael's daughter Paris is reportedly particularly adamant that it's not her daddy on this song. Michael's mother and sister have since come forward claiming they don't believe it's Michael on the track either.

I'm not one to doubt Michael's family. They have no reason to come forward and put the kibosh on this single or this album, because it means big money for them. Clearly if they are raising an objection, there must be something up. But I think it doesn't have anything to do with the music at all. More on that in a moment. First, let's discuss the reasons why the kids might be wrong.


- It was three years ago. Sheer passage of time plays tricks on the mind. The kids were all very young at that time, and no one knows how closely focused on the music their attention was. They only overheard it, and it's not like they've said how much detail they can recall. They could very easily be misremembering. Let's not forget that a lot has happened since that time that they've had to deal with that takes a lot more coping and space in the brain, including stuff as big as, oh I dunno, their dad's sudden death? I'm guessing there's room for doubt as to their ability to remember.

- They might not have been hearing the single as it is now. What the children heard in 2007 was probably unedited vocal tracks before additional instruments and sound effects were added to update them for their current release. Digital recordings can be easily altered and maybe the producers decided to radically rearrange the original vocal tracks to appeal to a wider audience. Unless someone has actually worked with music editing software and equipment, they really wouldn't understand the process. Michael's stuff from about the mid-Nineties on has actually been very heavily processed, and that's coming from the opinion of someone who is not so well trained, but recognizes digital bull when he hears it. It's obvious to anyone with ears really; just listen to all the programmed percussion and multi-tracked layers of vocals. It's a dead giveaway.

- To my ears (and I admit they aren't the most qualified) it sounds like Michael Jackson. Plain and simple. For all of the above objections in the other list, it does sound at the very least like an unfocused early draft of something that would be a great Michael Jackson track later. Let's not forget, if we buy the story behind where these tapes came from, he sort of cut the demos and then presumably forgot about them for a long time considering we're only hearing about them now (maybe he didn't forget about them, maybe there was an album in the pipeline; we'll never know because he's not here to ask). We don't know if these were his final plans, or a quick remix the label popped together. It could have been that it would have sounded very different had Michael lived. In fact, this ties in a little bit to the "posthumous single" objection above; it could seem fragmented because it might well have been fragments stitched together. He apparently left behind over a hundred unpublished songs, but no one's saying they were all finished.

- Why would the estate do it? I really don't believe the administrators of Michael Jackson's estate would risk damaging his legacy by intentionally releasing fake, unauthenticated recordings. Don't forget that this stuff came straight from the people who Michael's family trusts to handle his legacy. If there's any room for doubt now, it should have been there before, and those people should not be in control. Period.

- Why would the Cascios do it? Barring any news of a huge pay-off or something, the Cascios are Michael's long-time friends. All they would get for giving the estate these recordings, likely, is a lump sum. Pending knowledge of a bigger deal that I don't have, I don't think they would be entitled to bigger royalties or percentage points from the album. There would be absolutely nothing for them to gain from giving the estate fake songs.

- The voice experts say it's him. I know that Sony has a reputation for dishonesty. You can trust them about as far as you can throw them. But they were very quick to jump on this and bring in voice experts to authenticate the recordings. That means one of two things: either they already foresaw people claiming it was a hoax (presuming they are in the wrong), or more innocently, they are concerned about their market share and how it will be lessened by the press about how their experts fell for a Michael Jackson sound-alike presented to gullible greedy record execs by "family friends" exploiting the need for new material (presuming they are in the right). Whether one likes big business or not, these music professionals seem to be very astute about how the music business operates. They know the kind of bad press that would result, and they are hoping to avoid it. Unless someone provides proof that the voice print results were falsified or tampered with, one would have to face that this is in fact Michael Jackson's voice.

Now, as I said earlier, if the family are raising an objection, there must be something up. But I think it doesn't have anything to do with the music at all. What do I think was responsible for this? Well, let's start with the timing of the release of the "reasonable doubt" info to the press. Just before this leaked, Joe Jackson was denied any access to Michael's estate and any financial gain from this specific album, or any other posthumous project, by the court. I find it to be more than a coincidence that it wasn't even a day later when Roger Friedman wrote a column about this supposed impostor on the very same album, citing a "family source." Let's spell "family source" J-O-E, shall we?

Now, why the rest of the family would get involved in what appears to be a blackmail attempt to get Joe the money from Sony isn't very clear, especially considering Katherine's recent divorce from Joe after over 60 years of marriage. But it's worth noting that Joe tried the same thing before with a release of supposed information about the use of body doubles in the film This is It. (One wonders tangentially if this might be part of the reason why Sony cut Joe out in the first place, i.e., to avoid further shenanigans of this kind.) In this author's eyes at least, it's a better theory than Sony actually sinking to the level of hiring a Michael Jackson sound-alike, while not ruling out the notion that such action on Sony's part is totally plausible considering past actions.

In the end, anything's possible after all. In my opinion, the fans are the best ones to judge. They've bought his albums, singles, compilations, DVDs, concert tickets, for years on end. They know this guy, his voice, his compositional/performing style. And some of them are jumping to conclusions just because the family is saying something's not kosher, out of, and this is my admittedly uneducated opinion, a deep-seated sympathy for the kids and the family following his death. I'm not saying not to feel sorry for them, just to keep an open mind and wait till the full album comes out. If the family makes any more noise about certain faked tracks, then we'll know which ones are real, and in this age of iTunes and individual downloading, we can separate the wheat from the chaff. All I ask is that we as a group of fans and potential consumers refrain from throwing the whole album under the bus without waiting to see what results.

Rock and pop manufacturing

That's right, I called it "manufacturing." These days, it's like assembling furniture when it comes to assembling a fresh musical entertainer for the masses. And I'm not talking about theater (though that is sometimes true as well), but music and entertainment in general. I was not around in those days, but I miss the rawness of young acts like the Kinks, the Animals, the Beatles, Kansas, America, ELO, Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard, the Rolling Stones, or the Who. (NOTE: Though most of the list are British acts, I don't mean just them exclusively.) Live, many of these groups sounded like dog shit half the time--but they knew it. They put their heart and soul into their performances. And they created nearly every bit of music themselves. Don't you miss hearing about that? Songwriting partnerships like Lennon/McCartney or Jagger/Richards, or even just strong songwriters with big ass brains like Pete Townshend, where they actually did it themselves with no industry "helpers"?

These days, it's a wonder if the stars can actually sing. I mean, I'm sure they have some looks and talent (usually in dance) or they wouldn't be discovered, so to speak, but lately, it seems everything is manufactured. And in several easy steps:

1. Looks
2. Dance
3. Songs
4. Trickery
5. Success

1. Looks
2. Dance
One and two come pretty easily. If someone looks pretty and they can dance well, meaning they can follow even the most complex of instructions by choreographers, they're already a step ahead of the game even if they can't sing. They have two of the basic components most pop entertainers have in this day and age, and that puts them ahead of a million great voices with no other redeeming factors.

They then take these two things and combine them with "image." "Image" is whatever persona you put on to fit a changing industry. For example, Britney Spears had an "image" as a virginal teenager who wanted to be corrupted, at least until that great bondage party "Slave 4 U" on MTV. Depending on the quirks of your record label, you will either be asked to conform to what is "hot" in the industry at that time, what sells, or you will have the rare A&R executive who wants to present you as the polar opposite of what's selling, sometimes with fantastic results (witness the Rolling Stones' raw unclean down-and-dirty image vs. the early Beatles' "take me home to your mother, she'll just love me" four boys in suits image), sometimes less so.

3. Songs
There is a strict formula for pop hit making, and even if it sounds "emo" or overly dark, the songs of most acts these days will tend not to deviate from that formula. It's a very simple structure. You start with a verse ("A"), and some songs may have a second verse (and that could go anywhere, placement below is not a firm thing), but for the purpose of brevity, we'll lump that in as A. Then there's a bridge ("B"), and that's simply the way they go from the verse to the chorus. Then there's of course what will sell the song if written well, the part everyone tends to remember, and the industry tends to call it a "hook," but let's call it what we know it is, the chorus ("C"). Then there's the option of an instrumental, such as a guitar solo, and again it's totally optional, but often used ("D"). Then from the instrumental, you come back to the hook and fade out with it so the audience remembers it. In short, A-A-B-C-D-C-C-C.

It's an easy quota to meet, especially if you want to earn a paycheck and can turn out generic songs very quickly. In fact, there are many songwriters these days with the productivity skills that they could release six or seven different albums a month if it was just them doing the performing. People like Desmond Child and Diane Warren are notorious for being on just about every album known to man since the late Eighties with some of the catchiest tunes ever heard that fit this formula (Child for such songs as Aerosmith's "Dude Looks Like a Lady" and Ricky Martin's "Livin' la Vida Loca," and Warren for such songs as Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing," Meat Loaf's "I'd Lie for You (And That's the Truth)," and Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me"). People like these are masters of pop songwriting--if you want to succeed in today's world, develop a plastique quality (meaning you can study whatever genre you're supposed to write a song for and be able to do it like that) and study the styles of songwriters like these.

4. Trickery
Once the songs have been picked for whatever image they're going to give the entertainer, the entertainer then hits the studio to record the album. It's usually with an established producer, and the album may indeed include several "guest producers" (meaning a popular rapper or singer may come in if the push is needed for your publicity, add something to a song or two on your album, remix it, and it becomes a "celebrity guest spot" that can provide good publicity). Ultimately, however, your best friend in the studio should be the mixer--even with the producer and engineers at the controls, talk to the mixer as much as possible. They're the audio techs who create the final mix of the album to be mastered and made into the CD (or iTunes download, be that as it may) that is released. Treat them well. Feeding them chocolate muffins gives you bonus points (especially if it's Mixerman, and inquire discreetly with them about that one).

Now it's a question of the thing that should matter, but is usually one of the last things taken care of: the voice. If they're a good enough singer and need only little fixes or additions, then the label is breathing a sigh of relief. The first thing they'll do is try to mix the backup vocals high enough to cover some of your bad notes, which is trying to take the easy way out, and if the singer is really good, it will work. If that fails, digital trickery becomes their next course of action.

The three most commonly used digital tricks in the recording studio (even with very good singers) are equalization, reverb, and AutoTune. For the first, if you apply enough EQ, it "smoothes out the cracks" where your voice is concerned, making it sound very...I wouldn't say generic, but basically it sounds clean and precise (and sometimes robotic). The other two are mainly for missed or flat notes. For example, if it's a flat note (meaning you try to hit it but fall flat) but you're so in the ballpark that you're practically playing the game, talk to the guy about reverb. A good vocal reverb, well selected for the particular track, can cause the vocal to sound more polished than it otherwise would sound (a good example of obvious reverb is the final note on Meat Loaf's song "Bad for Good" off his most recent album).

If it needs more help than that, if you're missing more notes than you hit, and it's not your fault that you have a limited range, you'll see the producer ask for AutoTune. Applying AutoTune to a track is usually a last resort, but if they can hear your legendary badness quickly, AutoTune will become their best friend. Basically, it automatically (digitally) adjusts your pitch so that you sound like you're singing in the right key and not missing any notes. Again, has some of the same effect as EQ (sounds clean, precise, and a little robotic), but is basically a commonly used tool.


If that's not enough, and they absolutely need outside help, labels begin to sweat--and with good reason. If the producer has, say, tried a solo career and failed because they had the talent but not the looks or something else that is equally petty, they will not be above taking this step, and in fact will probably plan on doing so from the get-go. On the same note, a producer will often find someone doomed to be a backup vocalist for life and want to use them for something--they can sing like an angel, but they' do you say...not very photogenic. Some producers are famous for doing this. Frank Farian did it multiple times (with Boney M, Milli Vanilli, and other such acts...he still does it to this day...Sony BMG just renewed his contract--gee, I wonder why), and Dieter Bohlen has also done it to great effect. The process is called "ghost singing," and it also applies for live acts, but I will cover that in the next installment.

Basically, it goes like this: a producer (or any other number of capable vocalists) will come into the studio and do the songs themselves. The songs will be carefully chosen to match an image, and so will the voices (i.e., you'll never hear a distinctly African-American sounding voice for an Asian singer, as an example). The people who can sing will record it, usually either signing confidentiality pacts and going along their merry way with steady hush money checks, or getting credit on the actual CD as "backup vocalists," and if the producer really wants to push the envelope where plausible deniability is concerned, they'll have the "non-singing star" record also, discard their takes, and then convince the artist in playbacks that the better voice they hear is just them with a battery of effects. In legal terms, that covers a ton of tracks if someone sues for missed payment (ghost singer says "I didn't get my last check," artist says "I recorded my songs and I can prove it," there are witnesses to the artist's takes being recorded, and everyone knows via common sense that digital fixes go on every day, so it would be a losing battle).

Milli Vanilli did it, and didn't acknowledge their ghost singers. They got caught, and were forced to return awards and refund the sales of their mega-hit debut. (On a side note, the ghost singers had their own successful album a couple years later as "Try 'N' B," but their success was short-lived.) Boney M did it, and gradually acknowledged their ghost singer, and the more they acknowledged what was basically an open secret, the more they slid down the charts in their biggest markets. Right now, another mini-scandal is brewing that was revealed in veiled terms on the blog of a Hollywood lawyer (click here to read). This is the riskiest ploy a producer or label could pull, and they stand to lose a lot from it, so be very careful if this situation comes up.

5. Success
The last step in the sordid business called music is success. If the music is good enough, or more likely if the product is packaged properly with the right amount of advertising (which is a different success story in and of itself), one simply has to maintain the success they've already earned.

In the old days, this was accomplished with a promotional tour. Some artists, such as Meat Loaf, worked a punishing circuit of six shows a week in as many cities to put their albums in the charts, let alone make them best-sellers. Some artists did this at great personal risk, losing their voices or endangering their health (either by workload, or taking drugs/alcohol of some kind to help them cope with said workload), sometimes permanently. But now that's not necessarily a problem. Well, let's be honest...they're gonna drink and drug anyway, it's part of the celebrity game, and it's how the entertainment "suits" keep them somewhat under control and blissfully unaware of how badly they're being fucked by said upper 1%. But risk of one's voice is rarely a problem these days, for two reasons, both also not unknown to the studio: AutoTune (or variations thereof), and ghost singers.

While it's not exactly AutoTune, and I am unaware of the machine's actual name, it serves much the same function, i.e. it fixes one's pitch. When someone sings into it live, their voice comes out better to the audience. And if that fails to impress, we add to the scene with ghost singers.

Last entry we discussed their presence in the studio. Hired hands being used for a song or two on an album is not uncommon. Hired hands doing whole albums is also not uncommon, although very risky (witness Milli Vanilli). But singers (or "singers") with actual talent use them, too, and there's hardly shame in it. With acts such as these being highly choreographed with very dance orientated staging, one naturally wants to avoid the audience knowing the only too true fact that a person cannot sing well and dance at the same time. Notice I didn't say they can't sing...they just don't do it WELL. All that dancing leaves them breathless, and missed or flat notes are common.

And so ghost singers are sometimes necessary. An artist will scour the earth looking for a singer who sounds close to their voice. That person will then be hired as a "back-up vocalist," but more often than not, depending on the choreography, it will be the back-up vocalist's voice you hear singing lead. It sounds close enough to be the real artist, it's still live, they still put on the show, they still make money, no lawsuits, no bullshit of any kind. If anything, they deserve to be commended for attempting to provide a good show for their fans instead of touring when their voice is completely shot and giving people the feeling that they should just fade away rather than burn out (I'm looking at you, Meat Loaf).

Examples of those who are known to use ghost singers include:
1. Mick Jagger
2. Madonna
3. Cher (her latest ghost singer used to be a Cher impersonator in Vegas and was hired fresh off the block)

Example of someone who is likely to use a ghost singer, but may just use the pitch machine:
1. Miley Cyrus (I'm not one to point fingers, but a lot of her live vocal work lately has sounded like Letters to Cleo, and until recently, that band's lead singer Kay Hanley was touring with her as a "back-up vocalist"..."hmmm" is all I'll say...)
2. Britney Spears
3. Just about any other pop act in existence

With this mini-novel done, I now move on to other topics. But I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world of pop manufacturing. I don't claim it's authoritative or even entirely accurate, but I can vouch for much of it.


To follow up on my note about regrets, here's a little something about mistakes. The dictionary defines mistakes as "wrong actions attributable to bad judgment or ignorance or inattention." Everybody's made their fair share. I've made my share of mistakes as well, some of them too heinous (read: embarrassing) for me to go into.

Well, one mistake I made is related to my list of regrets. Tonight I made the mistake of thinking that I could heal the wounds in that friendship I talked about. I worked toward it, but he didn't. I assumed it was because we didn't see each other that often anymore, never mind that he lives across the street from me. But tonight we had a fight over the stupidest of things.

See, he has a new girlfriend. Well, relatively new. Well, she was (and in a way still is) new to me. She's apparently from Manchester, England (I shit you not) and was visiting family here when he met her. I asked him a couple times for a little face time with her, for me, and also for his cousin whom he doesn't see very often anymore, a great kid who practically lives with me sometimes and is a hell of a friend. I've known the dude with whom I'd been trying to patch up my friendship since the summer after second grade, I know better than to embarrass him, and I figured maybe I could help his good impression on this girl. He always said, "We'll see what happens."

Smash cut (that's Hollywood talk for an abrupt scene change) to her having already left. Naturally, I felt left out of the loop. I asked him why he hadn't brought her by to see us at least once, considering the fact that I'd asked him more than once. He said that they felt they needed their alone time, and they were never down there anyway. Well, I can grant that, because who knows what her family that she was visiting would allow her to do, God forbid she ever see his house or anything (note the sarcasm). As for alone time, I pointed out that while I'm nearsighted, I'm not in fact blind, and I had seen on Facebook that the two of them had hung out a few times with mutual friends of ours. If they needed so much "alone time," how come they were spending it with them?

I guess I should have just fucking shut my mouth at this point and realized what he was politely trying to say. But like the inimitable dumb ass I am, I pressed the issue. I said, "Well, maybe we can catch her next time." And he then threw up what he thought were his aces in the hole: "That's not till next spring. And besides, next spring, we're all going on a road trip and we won't see you." Translate that to mean, "I don't care about your opinion anymore." Funny that I haven't met this girl and that I've known him for such a long fucking time. I don't think that the latter makes me entitled to anything, but still, the least he could have done was asked if I wanted to come, brought her by, told me where they were all hanging so I could come chill too, but nothing. Nothing but silence and side-stepping and lies. And so I've decided to wash my hands of this prick.

Well, I'm glad to see that I count for shit with him. Thanks, pal. Now I know who my true friends are and where my loyalties lie.

Let's get personal for a mo. I'd like to talk today about regrets. We are all sorry -- in one way or another. Despite all the good words about the futility of regret and guilt, we cart both around with us, make room for them in our everyday. We regret rash words and actions, ways of going about matters that seemed necessary once and foolish now. Or we regret that we had to do what we had to do: It's likely we wouldn't change a thing, but we're sorry that circumstances (of which we were, in part or in whole, the authors) had to go the way they did. Had to hurt.

Or maybe we simply regret not acting, not speaking up when we should have, for ourselves or others.

I regret:
-- Not getting my shit together when I'm supposed to (I registered so late at CCRI I almost didn't get in, and that's just one example; ask any teacher who's assigned me a project of some kind about that)
-- Not shutting my damn mouth sometimes
-- Not treating my friends better than I have
-- Not doing the little things (some people would never know how much it irks me that I often forget to wash my hands before I eat)
-- Being such an idiot around women (and men)
-- At times, being so open about stuff with people (granted, it's a good thing that people know right off the bat who I am and what I stand for, but sometimes too much is too much)
-- Making certain mistakes that could never be forgiven
-- Not handling a certain two-year-old situation with a friend better than I could have
-- Losing that friend, probably for good now
-- Not pursuing what I wanted to simply out of laziness
-- Feeling sorry for myself (even though regretting is a form of that)
-- Not having said "I love you" enough
-- Not having said "goodbye" to those who are gone
-- Treating my little brother like shit just because he chooses to spend his day in a different way than I do
-- Belittling people for not being interested in the things I am
-- Treating people like they don't know what they're doing and I know all when, half the time, they know better than I
-- Having an ego that knows no bounds
-- Not using this LiveJournal enough

What do YOU regret? Respond to this note with what you regret, and maybe we can all find common ground.

RIP George Carlin
23 comedy albums
14 HBO specials
3 books
2 TV shows
Several movies
A footnote in U.S. legal history regarding the use of obscenities
One George Carlin

You crazy nonconformist! We will never forget you. Hope Joe Pesci and the sun have a place for you in their afterlife. Hey, if you're closer, maybe the rate your prayers are answered will change.
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The worst bands known to man

When I was younger, so much younger than today (yes, let's continue the trend of ripping off popular composers), I used to escape the problems in my life by inventing characters. I guess that's what made me want to be a writer initially, the fact that I could create these characters off the top of my head. That, and the fact that I'm a pathological liar, which makes it easy to create stories.

One of my favorite trips was inventing the worst band ever heard. It was inspired by a list that the late great George Carlin made in his book Napalm and Silly Putty of names of "punk bands [he had] known." I decided to come up with some unlikely names, based either partly on real life experiences or just stuff that I thought was so bizarre it could only fit in this scenario.


First, the one based on real life experience. It was called first The Roaches, then The Spyders, and was basically the worst Beatles tribute ever assembled. Beatlemania struck me in fifth grade, and so my friend Josh and I briefly formed a tribute band. The other two guys were interchangeable, but we always stayed. We lasted about a year, as we were so bad at our instruments that we decided to try to "Milli Vanilli" it and it fell apart.


And then the more fantastical one, based on a running joke in the last days of high school. It was dubbed The Fat Waitresses, and before you ask, there was no fat waitress who inspired the name, nor were any fat waitresses members of this imaginary band. The bass player was a guy named Jimmy Dunn (he ate a lot of chicken, so people were always cracking lame jokes about Jimmy Dunn chicken instead of Jimmy Dean...I planned to cut the joke, stop snickering), and he was the de facto leader aside from the singer, Del Bigson (a clever disguise for moi, no?). Bigson was the fifth wheel in a quartet so to speak, as he sang lead for a power trio (bass, piano, drums). I know, crazy shit, huh?

All of the band's original material was either written or co-written by Jimmy. The piano player, I never remember the name I gave him, but his nickname was "25 Fingers" (don't ask, I don't remember why) and that stuck more in my memory. And last but not least, the drummer was Bob. Never came up with a last name, but I didn't really want to find out...this guy's lights are on, but nobody's home, if you take my meaning. The best line of reference for his drumming style is Animal from the Muppets, even on a ballad. I shit you not. Personality issues (Bob, 25, and Del wanted to write some of the material too, and Jimmy didn't want to cede that much control of what he considered "his" band) meant that they swore never to reform. (AKA I was trying to avoid having to make up more of the stories to make my friends laugh.)


This guy wasn't just any black blues harmonica player, he was (to quote an underclassman at Vets when I was there) "a REAL FUCKIN' MIDGET!" (No offense intended to little people out there.) He was supposed to be the very best of all the blues harmonica players on the East Coast, an inspiration to all and sundry, including Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Monkees, the J Geils Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and more. Every great blues and R&B singer learned their craft from him and he was sort of the unsung hero of music period. He appeared on just about everybody's record, wrote all the hits uncredited, and was always paid for his work.

He was also constantly touring the old chitlin circuit working for slave wages, his lips numb from constantly blowing into a harmonica. He was known as the best musician with the worst band, which usually consisted of whatever musicians he was able to throw together in every city regardless of their ability (shades of Chuck Berry in the Seventies). It didn't matter who they were, though, he always treated his sidemen well--no matter where he was, they ate at the city's best establishments, and they stayed at the best Holiday Inns around (his promoter and manager still worked as a roving doorman, so to speak, due to his manager duties, for Holiday Inn, and thusly got them discounts on rooms). By the end of his extended stay in any city, however, the band was always shit hot, and they brought what professionalism and skills Henderson taught them to every job they worked after that.

Hope you enjoyed this excursion into the worst bands known to man!
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Ruminations on graduation

(Originally posted as "The future" at MySpace)

The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word "future" a number of ways. The one thing they can agree on is that it's a noun. The blanket definition basically says that the future is the indefinite time yet to come, or something that will happen during that time.

I had plans for a future many times in my life. Each time, they were different. Some goals were higher than others, and some were just plain unrealistic. At one point, my goal was to be in a Beatles tribute band, because I liked their music and I wanted to play it. But then I realized that you never get anywhere unless you try developing your own stuff. At another time, I wanted to be an actor. But then I realized that putting yourself in the public eye isn't a good thing unless you like being the constant center of attention, so I put that aside. And the most recent big goal I had was to be a producer, an entertainment mogul to be more to the point, working in all the fields, music, films, TV, theatre. But then I learned how cutthroat the business is, and while I didn't quit (I was unceremoniously fired), I know when to ask to be led to the shallow water before I get in too deep, so to speak. (Those with ears to hear, let them hear.)

To me, and no doubt to many people, the future is a constantly changing animal. There's always hope that there will be mostly good things and less bad things, but that's the other thing about the future: it's a constantly changing animal that is far beyond our control. I don't know what tomorrow will bring. And I'm comfortable with that. Sometimes the picture's blurry, but at least there's a picture at all.

In closing, I'm going to quote the lyrics of somebody whose music defined my life during my teenage years, which I now consider over even though I know there's another month before they are. He wrote about someone whose future was rough, but something about the arrangement of the song's music tells me that hope is not far off for that person, even if the lyrics seem to rule out any hope. You won't know the song, but you'll probably know the writer if you've hung out with me long enough. The song? "The Future Ain't What it Used to Be." The writer? Jim Steinman (and there's a quibble about whether or not one of Jim's former collaborators, Ray E. Fox, contributed anything to the song, but this mention should cover my ass, so I'm not gonna get into the debate). And now, the lyrics...

Lyrics removed out of respect for Mr. Steinman and his publishers at Lost Boys Music. If you truly wish to view them in full, visit the Pandora's Box section of this site.

For Tim

(Originally posted at MySpace)

If there are some of you who don't know, I will try to fill you in, though I find it hard for the words to pass my lips. Tim Packhem is no longer with us. He passed away sometime this evening.

Tim, I know you're there, so I'm going to talk knowing you will see this. I first met you at lunch in Gorton in 7th grade. Remember those days? We were both nut jobs, in fact almost everybody was, but I was a hostile nut job, very withdrawn, very much a loner, and not tending to talk to one person for more than a day. You were one of the first long-haulers, and one of the best.

We understood each other because we were both crazy, but in creative and fun ways, too. You helped break me out of my shell through 7th grade and a lot of 8th grade. Because of you, 9th grade wasn't such a pain in the ass. I learned to deal with people, to talk with them and to deal with them on a common level, the way we all should be dealt with. 10th grade, we never spoke much, but when we did, you were still wild and crazy, and still one of the funniest kids I've ever met.

It is my sincere regret that the last two times we spoke, I was begging for change. The fact of the matter is, I wasn't that hard up, and in fact I had five dollars in change in my pocket that day. Chances are you knew I was probably lying about not having money. But you dug a penny out of your pocket anyway, for my sake, and for that I thank you.

Tim, I think I speak for the population of Vets that you knew when I say that we will never forget you. Good night and good luck.
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