Bertis Downs Article Is Published

Quick update. A few weeks back I wrote about my experience meeting and interviewing Bertis Downs, the former manager of R.E.M., an entertainment lawyer and a current educational activist.

I also wrote a story for it for the Entertainment section of our college newspaper, The Transcript. That article has been published online.

You can find the story here. Happy reading!

As always, God bless and have a wonderful day.

-A.L.D.

The Fitness Playlist

Greetings, friends. If you read my blog you may know that I am a current student, and therefore sometimes school makes me feel like I am losing my marbles.

One of the ways I’ve been dealing with my stress levels lately is establishing a routine of going to the gym at least twice a week for an hour or so, and working out until I start to feel more calm. Not only is this healthier than locking myself in my room and dwelling on the influx of assignments I’m plowing through, but it’s also a productive way to stay in shape.

I always listen to music while working out, and generally rely on the “shuffle” function on my phone. So, I present to you the playlist of the top-played songs my phone generates from my library while I am trying to convince myself to think that running on the treadmill is fun.

A link to the playlist can be found here and the track listing is below.

  1. Run 2/New Order
  2. This Way/Jets Overhead
  3. You Might Think/The Cars
  4. Head Over Heels/Tears for Fears
  5. Short Skirt/Long Jacket/Cake
  6. Smile Like You Mean It/The Killers
  7. Can’t Stop/Red Hot Chili Peppers
  8. No New Tale to Tell/Love and Rockets
  9. Ways to Go/Grouplove
  10. Shuffle/Bombay Bicycle Club
  11. Just Another Day/Oingo Boingo
  12. The Suburbs/Arcade Fire
  13. Eye of Fatima, Part 1/Camper Van Beethoven
  14. Supermassive Black Hole/Muse
  15. Calamity Song/The Decemberists
  16. Aberdeen/Cage the Elephant
  17. Whirring/The Joy Formidable
  18. Breathing Underwater/Metric
  19. Drive That Fast/Kitchens of Distinction
  20. Stockholm/New Fast Automatic Daffodils
  21. Sleep Alone/Two Door Cinema Club
  22. Forrest Whitaker/Bad Books
  23. Sixteen Saltines/Jack White
  24. BAGBOY/Pixies
  25. Out of my League/Fitz and the Tantrums
  26. Miracle Mile/Cold War Kids
  27. It’s Alright/Matt and Kim
  28. Tonight You’re Perfect/New Politics
  29. Carried Away/Passion Pit
  30. The Wire/Haim
  31. Keep in the Dark/Temples
  32. All the Rage Back Home/Interpol
  33. Hit Me/The London Suede
  34. What Kind of Man/Florence+The Machine
  35. The Party Line/Belle and Sebastian

A bit extensive this time, yes, but still a pretty good selection (if I do say so myself). Also, I must add, I hope everyone remembers to take care of themselves and deal with their stress levels in healthy ways. Staying on top of tasks is imperative, but physical and mental health are both very important. Keeping yourself healthy and happy makes it easier to accomplish your to-do list, and you deserve to feel your best.

Thanks for reading, and God bless.

-A.L.D.

My Afternoon with Bertis Downs

Sometimes, I feel really blessed to attend a school like Ohio Wesleyan University.

Case in point: Yesterday, I got the opportunity that an aspiring music journalist at a small liberal arts school could only dream about. I got to interview Bertis Downs, former manager of R.E.M., educational reform activist and retired entertainment law professor from the University of Georgia.

Downs was invited to OWU by our politics and government department to give a lecture titled “New Adventures in Storytelling: Music, Business, Schools, Life.” As a journalism minor, I got to interview Downs and cover the lecture for our school paper, The Transcript (the article will be online soon; I’ll try to post a link).

My conversation with Downs ranged from discussing the value of small schools, the changing shape of music creation, studying history, my own high school experience and his favourite moments with R.E.M.

“They were good at what they did. I had something to do with the business planning and strategy,” Downs said. “I had a pretty light touch as a manager. They didn’t want a lot of control.”

Whether or not you agree with the band’s politics, you have to admit R.E.M. had a pretty successful career not just as musicians, but as social activists as well.

Downs said some of his favourite moments with the band happened while they were playing benefits for Neil Young’s Bridge School, Bruce Springsteen’s Vote for Change in swing states or Live 8 to help fight global poverty.

The band also helped get Athens, Georgia’s first female mayor elected. They even helped get the Motor Voter bill signed during Bill Clinton’s presidency, an act that made all licensed drivers eligible to register to vote.

“They just had some really great political lyrics,” Downs said. “Like the song ‘Stand’…’Stand in the place where you live.’ That’s a great message. Do what you can, make a difference with what’s in front of you.”

Downs said an especially impactful moment was watching R.E.M. play a show in Hyde Park a week after the London bombings of 2007. “Someone in the crowd was holding up a sign that said ‘Thank you for staying,'” he said.

Then again, R.E.M. seems to have an impact wherever they go.

“College rock became the counterculture in Athens,” Downs said about R.E.M.’s early days. In a town focused mostly on college football, bands like R.E.M. and the B-52’s offered a different scene for those more interested in music.

“Lots of fraternity brothers still came to their (R.E.M.’s) shows. They didn’t care. Anyone could come to their shows,” Downs said. “They were just happy people were coming.”

Downs said college radio was what really helped R.E.M. gain traction before the radio success of “Losing My Religion.”

“It’s easier to make music now. Anybody can make music and get it out there on the Internet,” Downs said. “Now when you make music it’s going to be available for free. You didn’t have to do that 30 years ago. We used to judge success based on how many records were sold. Now, it’s how many clicks you get on Spotify.”

Downs spends a lot of time now focused on what he calls “the disconnect between policymakers and students on the ground” in public schools.

In his ideal world, Downs would want a school system with adequate funding, well-paid teachers, teacher who were passionate about changing lives and not stressed about standardized testing, a multicultural student body and a curriculum of many different topics.

He wants public schools to get the respect they deserve. “Public schools are being criticized and attacked for lousy teachers and low test scores. This seems counterproductive,” Downs said.

He said he is against the “obsession” American policymakers have with using standardized tests as a way to measure student/teacher progress. Instead, he wants public schools that everyone will be content with sending their children to to learn and grow. He believes that current circumstances should never limit a student’s chance to rise up in the world, attend college and get a well-paying job.

Like myself, Downs (a graduate of Davidson College, a liberal arts school in North Carolina) is a huge fan of a liberal arts college education.

He especially likes that students get to learn about a variety of topics and take classes in everything they’re interested in. He said this makes students who are quick to adapt, eager to learn and able to think critically.

“Lots of things I learned in college have a lot to do with what I do now. College helped me get my feet wet,” Downs said about his own education.

Really, Downs thinks it’s important to learn something new every day. For him, classroom learning is definitely important, but so is learning from everyday interactions with the people around you.

“I just learned today that Branch Rickey went to Ohio Wesleyan,” he said, laughing.

“The lesson I’m proudest that my kids are learning is how to have a lot of empathy,” he said. “You might not know what things look like from someone’s perspective, but you can at least try to put yourself in their shoes.”

As always, thank you for reading, and God bless.

Until next post,

-A.L.D.

Why I Love Stripped Back Performances

(In an earlier post I outlined why I love demo versions of songs so much. Here is the continued version, where I talk about why stripped back performances of songs appeal to me).

As some may know, I use my satelite radio frequently to discover new music. This year I’ve come to appreciate both SiriusXMU’s (channel 35) and Alt Nation’s (channel 36) in-studio Sessions that they do with bands who are gaining traction in the music world.

Why is it that I like stripped back sessions so much? As I mentioned in a previous post, the first time I ever heard EL VY’s “Return to the Moon,” it was the SiriusXMU Sessions version and I thought it was gorgeous.

A stripped back version captures the original emotion of a track, just like a demo. It’s the closest the song can get to raw bluntness of its first recording.

Like when I heard a piano version of Passion Pit’s “Take a Walk” on Alt Nation. I love the political themes in this song and the sense of desperation in the lyrics, and the original is bombastic with synthesizers, drum machines and backup vocals. But hearing the subdued and quiet pleas of frontman Michael Angelakos over a simple piano line made the message of the song far more haunting.

Or, when Small Black stripped down their songs “No On Wants it to Happen to You” and “Boys Life” from their newest record “Best Blues” on SiriusXMU. Taking away all the synthpop elements and lo-fi production helped bring the stark portrayal of life for New York residents post-Hurricane Sandy right to the front of the tracks.

And, who can forget the hauntingly beautiful version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” that Bono and The Edge played at U2’s Pop Mart tour show in Mexico City? All of the exaggerated vanity and over-the-top theatrics of U2’s 1990’s persona created a brutal contrast with this performance of a song about violence breaking out at a march for human rights on a cold weekend morning in Northern Ireland.

But a stripped back version doesn’t always have to be slow or moody or resigned. I heard POP ETC play an unplugged version of “Vice” on Alt Nation, and honestly, I liked it way more than the original. I’m pretty indifferent to the single; it’s a standard alt rock radio hit, but with no production flourishes, an acoustic guitar and minimal backing vocals, it had a MUCH more fun and playful vibe.

What do you think of stripped back performances? Do you prefer them to the album version? What are some of your favorites?

On an unrelated note, I apologize for the delay in posting. Classes have just started up for me, I’m starting a new job and I’ve been busy moving into a new house. I will try to keep up with blogging in my down time.

Thank you so much for reading, happy Sunday, and as always..

God bless.

-A. L. D.