April 07, 2008

Two Unusual Musical Career Paths From Two Centuries

Freezepop.jpgSetting up a MySpace page for your band is all well and good but to make the leap from the long tail to the short head, you still need a helpful leg-up. And if you don’t get it from the industry, the music press, mp3 blogs, or a massive groundswell of fans, what other options do you have? Well, how about getting a job as a music director for a video games company?

Back in 1999, Freezepop had just started out as an electro-pop outfit in Boston when one of their members, Kasson Crooker, signed on as a sound designer and composer at Harmonix, a games house devoted to vocal/instrumental “karaoke” games. In the years that followed, Harmonix released a series of well-received games of this sort and all the while, Crooker was there, inserting Freezepop songs into many of the projects he worked on. Then, in 2005, Harmonix (and Freezepop) hit serious paydirt with the outrageously successful Guitar Hero. As the franchise grew into a phenomenon, Freezepop became a band with a million fans who not only heard their music but played along with it.

(Ironically, this band - who became the catalyst for a million masturbatory guitar-god fantasies - contains no guitars and even revels in that most “unrock” bastard child of the guitar – the keytar…)

Here’s an 8-bit remix of Freezepop’s first video game outing – Science Genius Girl

Jewface.jpgIf you were an aspiring Jewish songwriter in New York in the first decade of the 20th Century, then your first port of call was vaudeville and this would invariably mean writing Jewish minstrel songs. Just like their “black” counterparts, these songs were parodic riffs on contemporary stereotypes of Jews. Unlike them though, they were written by Jewish songwriters for a Jewish audience. And they weren’t just a fringe activity – one of the greatest American songwriters of the early 20th century, Irving Berlin, started out penning songs like “Cohen Owes Me $97”, a minstrel ditty about a Jewish businessman on his deathbed who is obsessed about the money owed to him by one of his debtors.

In addition to providing amusement to a Jewish audience, these songs were popular with the gentiles who perceived them as pandering to their anti-Semitic tendencies. Probably for this reason, they remained largely concealed for much of the latter part of the 20th century and have only really come to light with the release of the Jewface compilation in 2006 (which jokingly refers to itself on its cover as “Perhaps The Most Offensive Album Ever Made”.) And here, from that album, is a 1908 tale of inter-racial love in the Wild West.

Edward Meeker – I’m A Yiddish Cowboy

Posted by Warren at 09:36 PM