By now, “Gangnam Style” is widely regarded as a modern-day “Macarena.” It’s got all the hallmarks of the ’90s phenom — the attendant silly dance, the indecipherable lyrics in a foreign language, the element of goofiness. And while I’m sure I’ll be horsey trotting around the dance floor between “The Electric Slide” and “C’mon N’ Ride It (The Train)” at my wedding (date, time, and groom TBD), I’m not so willing to brush off “Gangnam Style” as just another silly fluke of an import from somewhere far away.
A column about music and travel would be remiss if it didn’t take a brief glimpse at the travel inherent in much of music-making: the tour. This month, we’ll take a look at touring through the eyes of two filmmakers (full disclosure: one of them is my former editor from my days as an intern at Paste magazine) who set out to make a documentary about live music by putting rubber to pavement and imitating the touring lifestyle while filming. As it turned out, the experience itself gave them a newfound understanding of how this intersection of music and travel can be fulfilling — and the sacrifices it requires.
It’s something like a cliché to say that, as broadening as traveling can be, one if its chief benefits is how it changes your perspective about home. Usually, the remarks we hear are along the lines of how nice it is to have running water, electricity, a life free of disease and other things relatively low on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. But the thing that traveling really made me look at differently was being a woman, how that experience is portrayed in pop music and how that portrayal influences women’s self-images. This was never more true than while listening to and watching music videos for K-pop.
Since its inception, this column has been a venue for anecdotes of music and travel, the way the two enhance each other and music’s power to comfort, and to connect people and to transcend wide cultural divides. But music and travel are related in other ways, not all of which can be captured in the personal narrative form that this column has taken so far. Today, we’ll talk with a musician about the ways in which travel, experiencing music and creating original songs interact.
If the cover song is the highest form of musical flattery, then David Byrne must be tickled pink at how his 1983 classic “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” has fared over the years. It was perhaps most famously covered by Arcade Fire, with the endorsement (and participation) of Byrne, as a B-side to their single “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out).” But it’s also been moped over by the Counting Crows, stretched into a full-on jam by The String Cheese Incident, piped from a laptop by MGMT and whimpered by Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio, who prefaced his cover by saying “A lot of people have told me this is their favorite Talking Heads song.”
I never loved living in West Virginia.
Even growing up in Huntington, home of Marshall University and a decent hub of culture with such novelties as a modest annual international film festival and a gay bar, I felt isolated from the offerings of the wider world. Not realizing what a walking cliché I was, I reveled in hating my small town and yearned to live someplace worldly, like New York City or Haight-Ashbury in the ‘60s. My father’s commitment to his home state, and his frustration and wounded feelings over my disdain for the Mountain State didn’t hurt either. There’s a picture I remember from when I was about three: my dad and I posing in front of a tent in Cranberry Glades, where he loved to camp. And he looked so happy. Little did he know that, years down the road, I’d start to prefer hanging out with my friends on the weekend to hiking, or start to think his music, which I’d once loved wiggling to, was terrible. By the time I graduated high school, being too cool for West Virginia had become a linchpin of my identity, and being a monster to my dad was a favorite pastime.
If you’re like me, one of the last things you probably expect to see when you go out to brunch is a cross-dresser and a senior citizen with hot pink hair rocking AC/DC covers. But that could just be because neither of us is German.
When I hit the six-month mark without a single request for Justin Bieber, I thought I was in the clear.
I was living in Busan, South Korea, teaching English to kindergarten and early elementary students at a private academy, or hagwon. Both mine and my students’ favorite part of the day was the fifteen or so minutes at the beginning of class we dedicated to song and dance. I loved it because it gave me an excuse to revisit favorite songs from my own days as a tiny person. The five-year-olds loved it because it was the only time during the 80-minute class periods when their natural wiggling, fidgety tendencies were encouraged…