David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music, Volume 2 — Problem-Solving

Problem-Solving

• Early in their careers, before making it really big, the four members of the vocal group 98 Degrees decided that they would like to sing the national anthem at a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. They sent in a demo tape, but they were told that singers were already signed up for the national anthem for the rest of the season. However, the members of 98 Degrees decided to take action on their own. They went down to Dodger Stadium on a workday and sang outside the stadium on the sidewalk. Many people stopped and listened to them, including many members of the Dodger organization. Eventually, the booking executive for the Dodgers came out to talk to them, and because of their talent, she offered them their choice of a few games at which to sing the national anthem. Ohio boys all, the members of 98 Degrees choose to sing at a game between the Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds.

• The musicians who make up the music group They Might Be Giants — John Linnell and John Flansburgh — occasionally create engaging oddities of music. For example, on their 2007 album The Else appears a song titled “Contrecoup,” the lyrics of which contain the words “contrecoup” (which means an injury that is caused by a secondary blow), “limerent” (which means intensely and romantically desiring another person), and “craniosophic” (which means having a comprehensive knowledge of skulls). Why would They Might Be Giants write a song with lyrics that contain those three particular words? Because lexicologist Erin McKean, editor in chief of the New Oxford American Dictionary, wanted them to. She is afraid that these words will vanish because of disuse, and to prevent that from happening she wants creative people to begin using these words.

• Mahalia Jackson was active in the civil rights movement, singing often to raise money for the cause. She also was occasionally able to get involved in integrating audiences who had come to hear her sing. At a Baptist church in Corpus Christi, Texas, Mahalia saw that her audience consisted of both black people and white people — and that the two groups of people were segregated. Blacks were sitting in the balcony and in the back of the main floor, and whites were sitting in the front of the main floor. Mahalia told the audience, “Some of you people in the balcony might want to come on down here in front — got some seats down here. And any of you folks rather sit back a little from the singing, feel free to take any seat that’s vacated.” Some people changed seats, and Mahalia started singing to an integrated audience.

• All too often a rock band will have a stellar first album followed by a mediocre second album — the result of putting the band’s best material on the first album. How to solve this problem? Johnny Ramone of the Ramones knew how: “We already had 30 to 35 songs, and we recorded them in the chronological order that we wrote them. I didn’t want the second album to be a letdown by picking through the best songs for the first one and using the lesser songs for the second album.” Fortunately, the Ramones’ material was strong enough that both their first and second albums are stellar.

• Lucy Lawless, the actress who played the title role in the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess, is also a singer and problem-solver. In January of 2007, she performed at a sold-out concert in the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, she was plagued by a bad sound system for her first two songs, so she asked her fans to turn around and face the sound booth. Then Ms. Lawless told the people in the sound booth that these people “want to hear me.” The sound problem was quickly fixed — no one wants to face 500 angry Xena fans!

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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