Great Songs in Okay Shows: "Grandma’s Song" from Billy Elliot

            It was said of Gary Cooper that you could never catch him acting on set, that only on film did his performances spring to life. Billy Elliot is a show in a similar vein. On record, it isn’t a particularly special score. Between disappointingly conventional melodies and frequently clumsy lyrics, the songs depend entirely on powerful staging and choreography to bring them to life. The result is a show that is a good bit of fun to watch, but not much fun to listen to, with one exception; “Grandma’s Song” is the number I keep returning to even after all the other songs have worn out their charm.

Stage vs. Screen: Cabaret

(note: in places where embedding has been disabled, I provide the link so you can click through to the video on youtube, which I strongly encourage you to do; believe me, it’s worth it.)

I ought to preface this article with the statement that I like the movie adaptation of Cabaret far better than the stage show. If that happens to be a dealbreaker for you, feel free to read no further. If you’re open to the idea, read on and I’ll attempt to explain my view.

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A Pleasant Surprise, or I’ve Still Got A Long Way To Go

I freely admit to being someone so constitutionally averse to risk and the unexpected that the concept of  pleasant surprise seems comparable to the idea of being hit in the head with a brick covered in felt–you are forced to acknowledge that your circumstances are not as bad as they could easily have been, but you had still made rather definite plans not to be hit with a brick today.

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Billy Joel: The Great Musical Theater Lyricist Who Never Was


There is a certain species of popular music critic who tends to conflate the genuinely profound with the merely obtuse, and this has bred a culture of pop lyricists whose work is painfully awful, but is granted the luxury of a blind eye because no one wants to admit that they didn’t understand it. In reality, very few pop lyricists manage to combine poetry with meaning. Leonard Cohen did. Pink Floyd did in their best moments. It’s entirely possible that Bob Dylan also did, but I confess that I am not as well-acquainted as I should be with Dylan’s work, mostly because I can’t get past the fact that his voice sounds like an irritable cat in a blender.

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Why There Are Only Two Oscar Nominees For Best Original Song

As what promises to be the most tediously predictable Oscar night in years approaches, we must cling to whatever small surprises we may alight upon. For example, when the nominations were announced a few weeks ago, the most significant surprise was that only two works had been nominated in the category of Best Original Song: “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets, and some song that no one even remembered from Rio.

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Adele’s sweep at the Grammys on Sunday was heartening, even if it did lack that elusive quality of surprise. I feel as if I should say something about her, but what is there to say? That her music is fresh and invigorating? That her lyrics actually sound sincere rather than asinine or cheaply provocative? That her success has given me a renewed (though probably short-lived) feeling of faith in pop music? That her body type helps to move pop music away from its worship of appearance over content?

I could easily say any one of those things, but do I need to? Not especially. Everything that needs to be said about Adele has been said, and then some. So stop listening to the hype; just listen to the music.