Episode 63: Osama Bin Laden Loves Taylor Swift

Episode 63: Osama Bin Laden Loves Taylor Swift

The Overthinkers take on the music industry: The VMAs, Lady GaGa, and Rock Band.

Matthew Wrather hosts with Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and John Perich to overthink the MTV VMAs (with live coverage from our correspondent at the show), the avant garde performance art of Lady GaGa, and whether Rock Band is real music.

Tell us what you think! Leave a comment, use the contact form, email us or call 20-EAT-LOG-01—that’s (203) 285-6401.

Download Episode 63 (MP3)

17 Comments on “Episode 63: Osama Bin Laden Loves Taylor Swift”

  1. Bianca #

    I haven’t finished the podcast yet, but since I’m half-way through a bottle of Graves, I figured I’d post this in reference to the first question. I was raised a sheltered, black girl in East Orange, NJ during the 80s and 90s. At the time, we used to brag about WHITNEY HOUSTON being from there. I was resplendent in my sense of privilege, since my elementary school was named after my paternal grandfather, the only Catholic high school was named after a maternal great-uncle and my unemployed, paternal uncle was called an ethno-musicologist ;-). That is until Naughty By Nature debuted the autobiographical video “Ghetto Bastard” on Yo! MTV Raps, containing shots 3 blocks from my home. The scales fell from my eyes, and my fondness for Gov. Thomas Kean pushed me towards the Republican Party (clearly, Clinton-supporting, black people were ruining my hometown). Fortunately, George W. Bush cured me of this affliction! Now, I’ve learned to smile brightly and suppress the urge to drink every time I hear the name of Whitney Houston Elementary School…which was built two blocks from my house, in the other direction.


  2. Sylvia #

    As amusing as the podcast was, the train of thought on this one reminded me a lot of the Rainbow Road from Mario Kart.


  3. HBomb #

    1) The VMAs were in NYC so I have no idea what Perich was doing in LA!

    2) If Perich was in LA, why didn’t he come visit me, pfft! I could have introduced him to all the drunk twenty-something young ladies that roam my town. Not to mention I haven’t seen Father Perich since May ;-)

    2a) You guys really should start that Meghan’s Tweet, but you may have to list yourselves…. jk NSA.

    3) How did you not know about Osama and Whitney?! I’m really relieved to know that our national intelligence is gathering this info on Osama bin Laden’s musical tastes… I wonder when they’ll let us know what he thinks about her new album?


  4. Gab #

    Lee, I totally agree with you about The Doors- never been a zOMG! kinda fan of them, myself.

    Re: Vegas!!! Thanks, Perich, for pointing out the problems Vegas is experiencing. About the construction: There are two very different “cultures” of construction in Vegas. It’s a racket, for the most part. Anybody and their goldfish can get orange cones and put them out in front of their house with a claim about doing some construction inside, and they leave the damn things up for ages. Vegas residents eventually become desensitized to construction zones because there is never not something going on in a five-ish-mile radius from any given point in the city. And city or state-funded projects on roads always take a bajillion times longer than necessary because of how the budgets work (the more $ spent, the more they get next year, so they waste it a lot). And it’s pretty understood that roadwork or “improvements” are deliberately planned insufficiently to ensure the need for future “fixes” in ways like purposely not taking growth into account or not providing decent drainage systems in areas that consistently get flooded and damaged in flash floods whenever it rains. The Strip, however, is the exception, since that’s the major artery of revenue, so if a street is being fixed in that area, it’s done lickety split. And buildings around town, not just casinos, but any, go up extremely fast, too (but this doesn’t mean the “construction zone” goes away any quickly, though, unless it’s on the Strip or blocking one of the more residential resorts).

    But I doubt Vegas is ever going to do something aside gambling because the gambling industry completely runs the state. Casinos and luxury taxes provide the majority of the state income, and Vegas is the main source of that- I can’t remember where from, but I heard a while back that the county Las Vegas is in, Clark, provides over 2/3 of the state’s entire revenue. When Vegas suffers, the entire state does. BUT, the state itself is too… what’s the word… there is too much of a grandfathering, buddy-buddy system that runs in a business-as-usual, thisishowwe’vealwaysdoneitandalwayswilldoit sort of fashion. Changing the state’s source of revenue would take a drastic change in state government and a total overhaul of the entire system that I don’t anticipate in any near time period because of the demographic of the voters outside of Clark County (Clark votes center-blue and everywhere else votes bright red)- they don’t realize the people they keep reelecting are part of the problem, so they and their friends will keep holding office, and why should *they* do things differently, since it’s an easy ride?

    Oh, and yeah, gas has gone to almost $5 at more than one point in the past few years in Vegas.

    One more thing about Vegas, then I’m done. The housing market. Both ends of the spectrum were hit very hard in Vegas when it and the economy crashed: millionaires and the poor. See, those houses Wrather was talking about that got built were all huge and costly homes meant as bait for celebrities or people with a similar amount of wealth and, as such, they were often bought as second, third, etc. homes. As the economy got tight, these poor little rich people had to downsize and oh noes, they chose to sacrifice their vacation getaways. So there are a bunch of empty almost-mansions around town. On the flip side, Nevada was one of the hardest-hit states when the sh*t hit the fan. My theory is this has to do with how it grows exponentially every year- people flood in in droves because various industries (that are still dependent on the casinos, mind you) increase the need for workers (this is why my own family moved there from SoCal when I was little- my dad’s company at the time, a paper distributor, wanted to open a branch there in order to do better and bigger business selling TP and paper plates to the casinos). So these new residents need quick, cheap housing in order to move. Because of the drive in the mid-nineties by the Clinton Administration to encourage ownership over rentals, loans in Vegas, like anywhere else, were handed out like they were candy, and at increasing rates as time went on because of the increasing levels of demand. Vegas was a win-win situation for banks, or so it seemed, because there was never a lack of loan applicants. Anyhoo, I think I’m rambling too much, but the point is while there were indeed a lot of expensive homes abandoned, there were even more working-class homes foreclosed on. When I went home for a vacation in the middle of the whole mess, it was rather shocking (and scary) to see the number of signs on lawns in my neighborhood and in the neighborhoods of friends.

    Oh, hang on- Foam swords: we called it Boffing at my college, and it was run by the Medieval Society. Was your group affiliated with the SCA?


  5. Matthew Wrather #

    Let’s be clear here: It wasn’t “our” group. Except maybe Fenzel. Didn’t he say he was in it? ;)

    That’s a fascinating overview of Vegas, and a good account of how it has suffered during the recession. I agree that you don’t have to shed any tears for the rich folks losing second or third homes, but I wouldn’t necessary sneer at them either—they dump money into an economy and that economy suffers when they leave.

    The presence of that high-wealth demographic—and influential moneyed interests in the gaming and hospitality industries—strikes me as what makes Las Vegas’s economic situation a special case, as opposed to, say, Phoenix/Mesa, whose middle class was growing just as fast or faster before the recession, and whose local economy was likewise decimated in its wake.


  6. Dan #

    So, here’s some overthinking of Rock Band from someone who dropped out of a doctoral program in astrophysics at Yale (where he hung out with nerds) to pursue a career in the performing arts. How’s THAT for a friggin’ tie in to the podcast?

    I think people who compare Rock Band to playing the corresponding instrument are really sort of missing the point. I think the real strength of the game is not as a pale imitation of performing the songs, but rather as a different way of understanding them.

    I’m a band conductor. As part of my job, I study scores. I also study scores for pieces I will never, ever conduct in real life. Sometimes I listen to a recording of the piece while I am doing it.

    This is not the same activity as rehearsing a real orchestra. Even if I wave a pointy stick around while I’m doing it, it’s still not even close. The recording doesn’t respond in any way, any more I can change a note of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on Rock Band.

    But in studying the score, I learn more about the music. By physicalizing (yes, dammit, I have decreed that to be a word) my involvement with the piece while I am looking at the score, I gain a deeper understanding for what is going on.

    Likewise, when you play Rock Band, you are paying attention to the music in a different way then when you just listen to the song. For starters, you are *focusing* on the song. The game does not allow you to move the song into the background, as happens nearly all the time when you are just listening.

    Think about it… when was the last time you actually sat down and listened to a song, start to finish, without reading anything, looking at anything, thinking about something else, or being otherwise distracted? When you’re playing Rock Band, the song has your undivided attention.

    Further, it requires you to focus in on one particular part. That too, is a level of analysis most people don’t really bother with. After playing a week of Beatles Rock Band I will never, ever again make fun of Ringo’s drumming.

    So in a way, Rock Band is score study for rock and roll. It’s a brilliant system for helping you analyze and focus on a piece of music one part at a time. Is it like actually PLAYING a guitar? No. But you sure have a better appreciation for what the real guitarist is doing when you’re done.

    Sometimes my wife ad I will play “fake Rock Band,” using a fake fake instrument. In other words, one of use will play Rock Band bass… and the other one will pick up our REAL bass and try to follow along. The little colored squares are a simplified representation of real notes, but they do help give a sense of the contour of the music. It’s easier without them than with them

    I don’t think Rock Band promotes or discourages real instruments. But it does promote a deeper understanding of real music.


  7. stokes OTI Staff #

    Dan – I’ve been trying to find the right words for how Rock Band relates to actual music basically since it first came out, and I think you really nailed it here. It’s not performance… but it brings you closer to the music in the sort of the same way that performance does. I personaly feel like I understand music according to the following scale (low to high):
    1) Music I have listened to
    2) Music I have played
    3) Music I have analyzed
    4) Music I have written myself

    Music I’ve played on Rock Band would probably be about a 1.5. That’s pretty low, but it’s nothing to sniff at.


  8. fenzel #

    I would add that if you play something like guitar hero or not, you listen to each individual piece of music VERY closely, and you listen to it A LOT.

    That alone is worth something.


  9. Dan #

    Having just reread my post, I notice a bunch of typos. Sigh. Most are obvious, but the second to last sentence should be “It’s easier with them than without them,” not the other way around.


  10. Megan from Lombard #

    I can brag that the Plain White T’s are from the town next to me (Villa Park) and that they went to the same High School as me; some were even in my graduating class. I even have a friend who lives next to the grandmother of one of the guys.

    As for Lady Gaga, I watched a interview she did on ‘Friday Night with Jonathan Ross’ and she said that her stage name was a ‘Queen’ homage (although the only thing that pops into my mind is the song ‘Radio Gaga’) and that she did go to the different clubs as a teenager and do all sorts of crazy stuff; using hairspray in combintion with a lighter was one example she gave. She also said that she likes, and even searches for, non-traditional outfits (for the interview she was dressed in what looked to be a plastic post-it dress with one stuck in her hair).

    I think that she thrives on all the “buzz” her outfits and music causes, not really caring what people think about her which I think is good but at the same time it can be detrimental to her career because she’ll do anything if it creates enough sales.


  11. Gab #

    @Wrather: I guess I did come across as a little harsh. Those people giving up extra homes do indeed help the economy when they’re in town. But you’re right, it is rather difficult to feel genuinely sorry for *them*, while much easier to feel sorry about the loss of income the city/state gets when they put the houses up for sale.

    @Dan: I agree 100% with what you have, but I can’t hold back my desire to point out that some people don’t “get it” the way you do, and they actually see it as performance. This itself varies in degree of realism, for some will get inspired to take real guitar or voice lessons, while others assume getting good scores in the game means they must automatically be able to play the real thing.

    General question: Am I the only one that knows people good at the real thing and terrible at the game?

    Oh, and one very specialized appreciation for it: One of the kids in my classroom does “air Rock Band guitar” when he’s stemming sometimes during his lessons, and it’s 1) a lot less distracting than when he wants a Hot Wheels car or something, and 2) approved by his physical and occupational therapists-they really like the idea because of the coordination it takes. It’s actually pretty impressive- he’s a million times better than I’d ever be, I have no doubts.

    Just a theory: I think the way different people “interpret” a game like Rock Band, what they take out of it, can vary from person-to-person in a way not unlike other games. Take all of those “fact-based” war games, for example- an enlisted guy is probably going to think about one on a very different level from someone who’s only experience with war or veterans was watching “Forrest Gump.” I think the conversation here is a little skewed because the comments, so far, have been dominated by people with at least mild experience in music performance and/or analysis. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but I’d be curious to hear from anyone that has never played or studied music but has experience (good or bad) with the game.


  12. Tom #

    @Dan: I was just about to make the analogy of playing Guitar Hero/Rock Band to close-reading scores, when I saw that you made the point more eloquently than I could have. Suffice to say, I agree – you can learn a lot about how songs are put together by studying how the musical parts are put together. (This is also a product of good game-making on the part of the developers, of course.)


  13. James T. #

    On the subject of Queen and songwriting credits: most of the major Queen albums have a pretty even distribution of compositions from different members. Mercury wrote many of the most well-known ones, but May had a few hits too, most notably “We Will Rock You” and “Fat-Bottomed Girls.” “Another One Bites the Dust” was actually written by Deacon, the bass player.


  14. Dan #

    @Gab Really? I guess my friends are all less silly then that; no one equates Rock Band with real performance. Then again, most of my friends are musicians…

    And there’s a whole genre of YouTube videos of bands doing poorly in Rock Band at their own songs, so that would be a resounding “yes” to the question of people who are better in real life than at the game.


  15. stokes #

    I read an interview with a guitar teacher who said he was getting a lot of people coming in for lessons who were shocked to realize how much harder actual guitar was than Guitar Hero guitar. So I guess some people do get confused… but it doesn’t last long.


  16. takenoko #

    In podcast 43 I believe it was Fenzel who asked if anyone saw Lexx. A coworker lent me some VHS copies that he made of it. He hyped it up as some crazy sci-fi show, which it really was, but in a real bad way. It was just all over the place and seemingly weird for the sake of being weird.


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