Local Rhythms – Short and Sweet

I may have found an answer to the nagging question of what’s ailing today’s music.


Harper’s Index recently reported that the average word count of a Top 10 hit in the 1960s was 176; last year, it nearly tripled to 436.

Stop – in the name of brevity.

In 2007 it was  “Irreplaceable,” a 552-word behemoth, according to my non-scientific computer word counter, that topped the pop charts.

You probably knew Beyonce’s number one hit as “To the Left,” which is part of another problem. Hidden song titles have bugged me since the Who made “Baba O’Riley.”

But at least I can type “Teenage Wasteland” to steal it off the Internet, and it’s only 94 words long.

Perhaps it’s the Flynn effect – the theory that each generation gains intelligence over the last, that’s behind this word bloat; a trend that, if unchecked, will contribute to global warming.

But I think it’s an inversion of that idea: the less there is to say about something, the more it takes to say it.

Whatever it is, the tunes on the radio remind me of a fast food baked potato.  There’s so much extra stuff that it’s inedible.

I know you’re probably thinking I’m picking on rappers, but this started way before Jay-Z.  For example, I’ve yet to hear anyone besides Eddie Vedder sing all the words to a Pearl Jam song.

Let’s go even further back than that – what on earth was Michael Stipe mumbling through most of the 80s?  Learning how to sing along to 90 percent of REM’s songs was like studying for the SAT’s.

Like most tests, I forgot half of it the next day.

Whatever happened to verse, chorus, verse, bridge and chorus – three-minute songs you knew by heart before they even ended?

Can I get a witness?

Country music doesn’t have this problem, which probably explains why it’s the only music genre showing any growth among new artists.  There’s no one pithier than Kenny Chesney, whose hooks (“I’m better as a memory than as your man”) get stuck in your head like kudzu on a wall.

Ditto for Sugarland, Taylor Swift, Little Big Town or Carrie Underwood – all acts that broke through this century with short, sweet, sing-able songs.

It isn’t a memory if you can’t remember the words.

Here’s a few memories-to-be:

Thursday: John Gorka, Colburn Park – Gorka writes literate songs, rooted in place and time.  “Houses In The Field” looks at the costs of progress; on “Bottles Break” he crawls inside the mind of a denizen who wants nothing more than “to buy this town and keep it rough.”  “Mean Streak” would have been a smash hit if John Mellencamp recorded it. I could go on, but you should see him and get it for yourself. Heck, it’s a free show.

Friday: Northeast Kingdom Music Festival, Chilly Ranch – Eschewing the all-jam band motif, this festival (now in its sixth year) gathers together a wide variety of musical worlds.  There’s avant-funk from Screaming Headless Torsos, the Dixieland-fueled Primate Fiasco, improvisational jazz from Vorzca, chaotic Klezmer from local heroes the Pariah Beat, and the Americana of Rusty Belle.  Two days of music (there’s a complete schedule at nekmf.com) for a modest price.

Saturday: Barnful of Blues Festival, New Boston  – You’ll recognize a few of the names playing at this all day festival a few miles south of Weare.  Both Roxanne and the Voodoo Rockers and Arthur James have strong local followings, and Bruce Marshall touches down frequently.  Add to that the Love Dogs, TJ Wheeler and seven other New England area bands, and you’ve got the makings of a great day.

Sunday: David Sicilia, Canoe Club – I have no idea what he sounds like – Great American Songbook, apparently – but his list of prerequisites is a hoot.  “Available for retirement homes, alumni reunions (aged 70+), Bingo halls, and 50th anniversary celebrations,” says his press kit.  All he needs is a decent piano that’s, get this, ”in the same room as the event in question” – gotta love humility like that.

Tuesday: American Folk Music Lecture, Norwich Library – Bluegrass veteran Ford Daley, who ran a well-reviewed workshop at last year’s Upper Valley Bluegrass festival, talks about this history of folk music with an emphasis on the Sixties, a decade he knew well (despite David Crosby’s admonition that if you could remember it you probably weren’t there).  The lecture features vintage recordings along with performances by Daley and friends.  The event is free.

Wednesday: The Panhandlers, Lyman Point Park – The large (20-member) steel drum band from VISTA, the Vermont Independent School of the Arts, plays a free show along the White River.  If it rains, the music moves indoors to the Bugbee Senior Center, but wherever they end up playing, your mind will be transported to a palm frond-laden tropical paradise, complete with coconut-sweetened cocktails and Technicolor sunsets.