Tag Archives: music

The Fake Japanese Beethoven And Musical Cognitive Dissonance

Not a composer, not deaf, and maybe Irish, female, and 12-years old, for all we know.

Not a composer, not deaf, and maybe Irish, female, and 12-years old, for all we know.

There need be no debate about whether this was unethical, or why. It is obviously one of the great arts hoaxes of all time.

Mamoru Samuragochi, the composer sometimes known as “The Japanese Beethoven,” was exposed this week as being more like a Japanese Milli Vanilli. A double fraud, he didn’t compose the works that made him Japan’s most popular classical composer, and he isn’t even really deaf, which was a large element of his fame and notoriety. Samuragochi has perpetrated a long, elaborate, audacious hoax, hiring a musical ghostwriter to compose for him over nearly two decades. The Man Behind the Curtain revealed himself as Takashi Niigaki, a  lecturer at a Tokyo music college, who admitted to writing more than twenty compositions for Samuragochi since 1996, receiving the equivalent of about $70,000.  Samuragochi’s  most famous works include Symphony No. 1 “Hiroshima,” the theme music for the popular video games “Resident Evil” and “Onimusha,” and especially the “Sonatina for Violin,” which is the program music for the Japanese Olympic figure skater Daisuke Takahashi.

What interests me most about this strange story is how it illustrates the power of cognitive dissonance in the arts. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Character

Pete Seeger Was No Hero, But That’s OK

“Was Pete political? Of course,” wrote singer Tom Paxton in a featured Washington Post salute to folk legend Pete Seeger, who died this week at the age of 94.“He was political as Walt Whitman was political, as Clarence Darrow and Woody Guthrie were political; as, for that matter, all of us should be political. He felt that ordinary people deserved protection from bullies of all stripes and his was the gift of being able to express this belief in music and in the way he lived his life.”

Reading Paxton’s dewy-eyed remembrance and the formal obituaries and tributes from most of the news media, one would never suspect that Pete’s belief in protection against all bullies didn’t stop him from being a fervent supporter of and an apologist for one of the worst bullies in human history, Josef Stalin, and not just momentarily, but for most of Seeger’s life. The fact that supposed news organizations nearly unanimously decided to gloss over that element of Seeger’s legacy tells us a lot about the Left, our journalists, bias….but not a lot about Pete Seeger.

If I followed my heart and my tapping foot but not my brain (and if all I knew about Pete was what I read in the newspapers and read from my theater colleagues on Facebook—And only in our Orwellian reality would someone of such incomparable achievement, one who displayed such overwhelming humanity, have been held in contempt of congress. An inspiring life,” wrote one, who should know better), I would have made Seeger an Ethics Hero Emeritus. He had some notable heroic moments, as when he stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee, refusing to take the Fifth Amendment while defying the Committee in defense of the First, and getting himself cited for contempt of Congress and blacklisted as a result. I was thrilled and proud of him in 1968, when fresh off the blacklist he appeared on the Smothers Brothers show and sang his “Big Muddy” song (which you can watch above) with anger and passion, condemning the Vietnam war in metaphor and calling LBJ a fool on national television at a time when such a direct insult against the President was taboo. I didn’t even completely agree with Seeger at the time, but this was brave protest art at its finest and most effective.

If only the hypocrisy of continuing to support a system of government and a regime that tolerated no freedom of speech and that would have squashed a protester like Seeger as if he were a maggot had occurred to the folk singer while he was doing these things. But it did not. Folk singers tend to be like that, and Pete Seeger, one of the greatest folk singers, was more like that than any of them. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society, War and the Military

Ethics Dunce: Justin Bieber Enabler, Adidas

today-justin-bieber-mugshot

You have to admit, the kid takes a great mugshot…

Sure, why wouldn’t a multinational athletic shoe company want an irresponsible, sociopathic drunken creep as the face of its product?

With any half-ethical company, the news that the celebrity it is paying a fortune to endorse its wares to consumers has just completed a six month period of embarrassments with an arrest for drag-racing under the influence would be followed immediately with a pink slip and an apology. Not Adidas.

No, despite the news of the continued unraveling of the 19-year-old Justin Bieber,—previously seen egging his next door neighbor’s home—who seems determined to emulate the worst of spoiled child idol cautionary tales, Adidas announced that Bieber is still their boy, which means that it is still promoting him as an icon and role model, and officially communicating the position that a teen’s impaired driving is no big deal—certainly nothing to lower the teen’s status in the eyes of a major corporation. The company also signaled that it doesn’t care if its ethical shrug amounts to enabling and rewarding The Bieb’s self-destructive behavior, increasing the burgeoning odds that he ends up in the gutter, on a slab, or wort of all, in a pathetic reality show before he’s 30.

I know, I know: the company is taking a wait and see stance, which only means it is venal and irresponsible, and if Jeffrey Daumer was their official Adidas-wearing superstar, and the kids who buy Adidas shoes didn’t care who he ate, Adidas would keep paying him millions too.

In these situations you only get one chance to show that you care about the values and conduct you endorse, and Adidas already missed it. It has no values.

But I guess most of us already knew that.

(I saw this coming, you know…)

___________________________________

Sources: TMZ, The Province

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Before Christmas Gets Away: A Brief Note On The Most Insidious Christmas Song Of All

Drummer Boy

In response to my post about the decline of Christmas which included some comments on  the dearth of new religion-themed Christmas songs over the last half-century, some readers, on and off site, have pointed me to the 1977  duet between Bing Crosby and David Bowie from Bing’s last (and posthumously broadcast) TV Christmas special, where Bing sang “The Little Drummer Boy” (yechh) and Bowie sang some doggerel about world peace in counterpoint. Aesthetically, as one who yields to no one in admiration for the copious talents of Der Bingle,  I found the song atrocious when I saw it. Philosophically, politically and ethically, however, it is even worse.

Here are the lyrics of Bowie’s section: Continue reading

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Hall of Fame Ethics… Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,That Is

Cat Stevens

Conservative blogress Kathy Shaidle pleaded with voters not to enshrine Yusuf Islam, a.k.a Cat Stevens, into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and then, when they added him anyway, expressed her disgust. Her objections were not based on music criticism (as would be justified with nominees like Yes), nor on Cat’s honor blocking more worthy nominees (like, say, The Zombies). She objects to Yusuf Islam on political and ethical grounds, complaining that during his activist days and perhaps even now, he qualified as a Muslim radical.

It doesn’t matter. Cat Stevens belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because of his art, not his character. His character is irrelevant to the reach, influence and value of his art, as are his politics. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes no pretense of making difficult measurements of an artist’s character, unlike the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which has come up on Ethics Alarms frequently. Baseball players are cultural icons and societal heroes, whose symbolic exploits on the field of play evoke and inspire young people as well as the rest of us, embodying positive traits like courage, perseverance, fortitude, sacrifice, team play, loyalty, honor, fairness and honesty. As derided as it is by sportswriters and jaded fans who would like to see both the baseball Hall and its rosters filled with enabled and highly paid cheaters, felons, thugs, miscreants, deadbeat dads, and worse—like those of professional football and basketball—the character clause holds baseball players, at least those who want to be remembered as great ones, to a higher standard. And that higher standard is relevant to the game they play and our appreciation of it.

The character of artists, however, are simply accompanying trivia to the artist’s contributions to society. If there was a character clause in the Crooner’s Hall of Fame, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby might be barred from entry, meaning that it would then be the Imitators of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby Hall of Fame. For entrance to the Classical Composers Hall of Fame, Mozart and Wagner (and a lot more) would need to buy a ticket. Don’t get me started on the Novelist’s Hall of Fame, or the Hall of Fame for American Playwrights. Beautiful, transcendent, moving and immortal works have issued from ugly, warped, cruel and diseased minds, and it has always been thus, in Rock and Roll as well as every other art form. Picking on Cat Stevens, among all the others, smacks of anti-Muslim bigotry to me. Sure, I hated Cat’s politics; I hated John Lennon’s politics too.

It’s the art, and only the art, that matters.

______________________________

Sources: PJ Media 1, 2

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Here Is A Law Suit To Root For

birthdaycake1The continuing charging of licensing fees for commercial use of that most public of songs, “Happy Birthday,” has been an annoying anomaly for as long as I can remember. Why did TV families always sing some lame approximation or substitute when a character had a birthday? Just last week, I expressed my chagrin when Tom Selleck’s extended family on “Blue Bloods” brought out  granddad  Len Cariou’s birthday cake, blazing with candles, as they sang, “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow!” Who sings that at a birthday party today? People who don’t want to be held up for the licensing rights for a song over a century old, that’s who. I believe the first time this issue imposed itself on my consciousness was when they sang some lame birthday song stand-in on “The Flintstones.”

Jennifer Nelson, a film-maker, has had enough. She was producing a documentary movie about the song, and naturally wanted it to be performed at one point in her film. Like many before her, she was told she would have to pay $1,500  via a licensing agreement with Warner/Chappell, the publishing arm of the Warner Music Group, which acquired the rights to the song  in 1988.  Nelson’s company paid the fee and is now seeking certification for a class action law suit arguing that “Happy Birthday”  is in the public domain, and has been. Warner/Chappell collects about $2 million a year in licensing fees for it, and the suit seeks return of the  fees it collected over  the last four years. The lawsuit cites the research of Robert Brauneis, a professor at the George Washington University Law School and the author of a 68-page article titled “Copyright and the World’s Most Popular Song.” In the study, Professor Brauneis demonstrates, to his satisfaction at least, that the Hill sisters,  Mildred and Patty, wrote a song in the late 1800s with the same melody called “Good Morning to All.” Nobody is certain who wrote the lyrics referring to a birthday, but it was in popular use as early as 1911. Continue reading

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Oh, Shut Up, Kate: Let’s End The Obligatory “God Bless America” Rendition

kate_smith-sings_god_bless_america

My father hated “God Bless America.” He particularly hated jumbo 40′s singer Kate Smith’s rendition of it, which he believed exploited patriotism and combined it with sentimentality and schmaltz to get ratings and sell records. Smith had an unadorned clarion belt that particularly suited Irving Berlin’s blunt melody, and for 30 years she used the song as her signature, as much as Judy Garland used “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Whenever Smith appeared on a TV variety show like The Hollywood Palace, he would order me to change the channel (yes, I was the family remote) for fear that he would have to hear her sing that song.

I assumed that was the reason why I have felt queasy about Major League Baseball’s 7th inning stretch ritual, installed in 2001, of having a recording of Kate or a live singer ring out the Irving Berlin standard at every major league baseball game since the Twin Towers fell.  In today’s Washington Post, however, a Methodist minister—my father was also a Methodist, as much as he was anything—explained why he refuses to stand for the song. He nailed it.

James Marsh writes, Continue reading

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Ethics Dunce: Pop Star Katy Perry

When is a sincere apology unethical? Here’s a good example.

Abused and Abuser. Someone please tell Katy Perry which is which.

Abused and Abuser. Someone please tell Katy Perry which is which.

Pop singing star Katy Perry registered an ethically responsible objection via Twitter regarding the Chief Keef song “Hate Being Sober.” She wrote,

“Just heard a new song on the radio called ‘I hate being sober’ I now have serious doubt for the world.”

Me too, Katy.  The artist responsible for this paean to intoxication, however, took offense, and decided to rebut Katy’s tweet with an obscene, abusive, misogynist attack:

“Dat bitch Katy Perry Can Suck Skin Off Of my Dick Ill Smack The Shit out her”

Thus chastened (or intimidated?), Perry apologized to him, writing that she really liked the song, and wasn’t “a hater”: Continue reading

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Unethical Quote of the Week: Lauryn Hill

“I was put into a system I didn’t know the nature of…. I’m a child of former slaves. I got into an economic paradigm and had that imposed on me. I sold 50 million units…Someone did the math, and it came to around $600 million. And I sit here before you trying to figure out how to pay a tax debt? If that’s not like enough to slavery, I don’t know what is.”

Singer-songwriter, actress, rapper and hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill, complaining to the judge as she was sentenced to three months in prison and a $60,000 fine for failing to pay taxes on her earnings of approximately $1.8 million between 2005 and 2008.

slave couple

Lauryn Hill’s parents. OK, not really. Metaphorically, perhaps. You better ask Lauryn.

Now let’s see…Hill’s statement is…

  • An abdication of responsibility. Hill has been in the entertainment business, and wonderfully successful at it, since she was 18 and landed a continuing role on the soap opera, “As the World Turns.” Few “know the nature of” the strange world of stardom, agents, performing contracts and the rest that goes with the highest levels of American show business when they enter it, but most manage to learn the basics, and most also manage to pay their taxes. Hill has had plenty of time to learn “the system,” whichever one she was referring to. She is also a native-born natural citizen, and I’m sure the reality of income taxes didn’t escape her notice for all these years. Continue reading

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Are Musicals Reviewed By Ignoramuses?

STEPHEN SONDHEIM

OK, but Stephen: compared to you, everyone is an ignoramus!

Stephen Sondheim completed his personal memoirs about his career in American musicals more than a year ago, but they are so thoughtful, detailed and dense that I keep discovering new treasures, provocative observations by a first-rate mind. Yesterday, I found one that was buried in a footnote, in the middle of a technical tangent that most readers, like me in my first tour through the books, probably skimmed.

Sondheim pointedly did not use his erudite analysis and reflections in his two retrospectives (“Finishing the Hat” and “Look! I Made a Hat!”) to settle scores with critics, a group that obviously annoyed and to some extent handicapped him over the course of his long career. In this brief footnote, however, the composer/lyricist delivers a withering verdict:

“The sad truth is that musicals are the only public art form reviewed mostly by ignoramuses.”

At the end of the note, he repeats the indictment, this time changing the description to “illiterates.” Sondheim is accusing theater critics of engaging in professional conduct they are incompetent to perform, rendering expert opinions that are not really expert, and as a result, misinforming the public and undermining the efforts of serious artists, like him.  If he is right, not only are the critics unprofessional and unethical, the media organs that hire and publish them are unethical as well. Continue reading

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