Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Media: Distortions

 As Allison Anders' classic film GRACE OF MY HEART winds down, singer-songwriter Denise Waverly (played by Illeana Douglas -- think Carole King) is in the studio producing her own album -- with "a song for everyone" and, as she mixes "Boat On The Sea" at the controls,  asking her late husband Jay (Matt Dillon) It's not going to distort. I want it in the red.  Jay, help me out now."  She's trying to run the full range of what can be recorded on the high end and the bass without distorting.  But what is life without distortions?




Barbra Streisand turned 81 in April and some see her future music career is nothing but archival releases.  Could be.  But she's more than the notes and she might surprise a few people.  Equally true, she's already survived a huge change of voice and did so with little attention or remarks from most.

She was at her finest voice on THE SECOND BARBRA STREISAND ALBUM.  She had the same notes that she'd had on the previous release, THE BARBRA STREISAND ALBUM, but she had a new mastery of her voice that put THE SECOND BARBRA STREISAND ALBUM ahead of anything else and it was her first gold  album.  The previous album also went gold -- but only after THE SECOND BARBRA STREISAND ALBUM had managed that feat.


When COLUMBIA released LIVE AT THE BON SOIR November 4th of last year* on digital and CD, we thought people might use that moment to comment on this.  But they didn't.  Then, more recently (June 17th of this year per AMAZON), the album was released on vinyl and that still didn't prompt the discussion. 

A lot of things didn't get noticed last week.  CBS NEWS allowed Ronald DeSantis to make false claims that, if he were president, he'd treat everyone the same when failing to point out that -- as governor currently --  he refuses to treat everyone the same (see the targeted attacks on LGBTQ+ persons, on African-Americans, on education, on immigrants and -- for that matter, on DISNEY) and they allowed him to bring up his "Don't Say Gay" law and lie about it (it doesn't apply only to elementary school, as he lied, since he now has enforced K through 12).  Why let him lie?  You're doing the interview and doing it on a program entitled CBS EVENING NEWS and you're letting him lie?  Forget CBS EVENING NEWS, though, because last month, the entire media landscape let Ronald lie and get away with it

It's a popular lie that hate merchants can't stop using.  In their war on trans people, they repeatedly try to come off as moderate and caring and they do that by lying.  They aren't doing anything wrong, the hate merchants insist of themselves, by refusing care -- such as hormone blockers -- for children.  It's not wrong to do this, they insist and then they'll cite tattoos.  Why you can't get a tattoo under 18 in my state, why should you be able to get puberty blockers!  In August, Ronald DeSantis used that lie to try to sell his bigotry,  "As a parent right now, I can't take my six-year-old daughter and get her a tattoo, even if I want to do that."  That's what he said and the press all reprinted it and rebroadcast it and none of them practiced journalism while doing so.  

Journalism is not simply repeating a claim someone made.  Journalism is checking that claim.  Florida law? Parental permission gets you a tattoo.  Not only that, you can get one for medical reasons.  The full text on that, Florida statute 381.00787,  just the first clause: "(1) A person may not tattoo the body of a minor child younger than 16 years unless the tattooing is performed for medical or dental purposes by a person licensed to practice medicine or dentistry under chapter 458, chapter 459, or chapter 466."  So, yes, a child in Florida can get a tattoo under the age of 16 -- no, not 18, 16 -- if they meet those conditions. 

Enter Mike Pence last week.  And grasp that hate's not selling.  Grasp that the hate merchants are facing pushback.  In recent elections, hate merchants are losing.  The anti 'woke' are discovering that standing against 'woke' is not energizing any voters beyond the corrupt and crazed minority.  And it is, in fact, turning off the majority of voters.  Moms For Bigotry -- a non-organic organization that's fueled by big money -- is learning what actual organic organization is as, around the country, real parent groups are springing up to fight for the rights of their children and against hate merchants like Moms For Bigotry. But hate merchants like Mike Pence want to have their prejudice and spread it too so they resort to lies. 


Last week, Melissa McCollister showed up at a Mike Pence townhall and rained some reality on his bigoted ass:


Melissa McCollister: Good evening, vice president. I am an LGBTQ member and I have trans individuals in my family. Recent anti-LGBTQ bills have been signed into law all around this United States, including here in Iowa. So far, in 2023, 15 transgender individuals and gender-nonconforming people have been murdered. The vast majority of those people have been Black and Latinx transgender women. It is very hard for me to ask these questions after just hearing what I heard. What is your policy plan to protect the transgender community, specifically Black and brown trans women from historically high levels of violence?

A few outlets noted her remarks, many more noted just Pence's response to them which included this:

For me, what adults do in their lives, decisions that they make, including transgender adults, is one thing, but for kids under the age of 18— there’s a reason why we don’t let you drive ’til you’re 16. In the state of Indiana, you can’t get a tattoo until after you’re 18, you can’t drink until after you’re 21, that’s because we understand that kids don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions.

Before being Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence was governor of Indiana.  Is that why no one thought to check out his claims?  Did so-called journalists believe that he had to know Indiana law since he'd been the governor?

He lied.  

The press amplified his lie instead of fact checking him.


If you're a child in Indiana, you can get a tattoo.  You need parental permission to do so but you can get one and that's the law.

So why does the press continue to aid hate merchants in their war on the transgender community by repeating these claims without fact checking them?


That's the law in most states, by the way.  And, to aid lazy journalists in the future when the next hate merchant lies about how-you-can't-even-get-a-tattoo before the age of 18?  Click here and go to the WIKIPEDIA pages entitled "Legal status of tattooing in the United States" -- yes, they have a page for that. You'll be able to do a fact check in an instant.  And you'll find that most states operate under parental/guardian permission required.  Oh, sure, there are a few backward states like Arkansas, the Carolinas and New York, that don't allow it but they are in the minority.  Could it be that the heavy concentration -- way too heavy -- of media in New York has led too many failed journalists to conclude that New York dictates everything?  Is that why they so quickly repeat the lie and fail to fact check?

We have no idea.  But we know we're damn sick of it.

So if they say that their state doesn't let you get a tattoo under 18, fact check it.  If they say "Many states don't let you get a tattoo under the age of 18"?  That's still a lie.  The majority of states in the United States allow someone under 18 to get a tattoo with the permission of a parent.  

Or guardian!  We should include that.  Especially for the backward and in-bread states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  Why there?  Your spouse can be your guardian and both states allow 14-year-olds to get married.


So much didn't get addressed last week.  Take Project 2025.  Various extreme right think tanks got together and came up with this 'project' (planned assassination of checks and balances and of rights and liberties).  Few outlets have bothered to discuss it.  Kyle Kulinski didn't avoid the topic.

Project 2025 is the action plan for the hate merchants of the fright-wing to put into play immediately upon election of a Republican president.  It would decimate the federal government by turning jobs over to patronage and making them exist -- or not exist -- on the whim of the president.  It would launch attacks on the rights of immigrants, people of color, all women and the LGBTQ+ community. 

The illegitimate Supreme Court would most likely back everyone of the items on this agenda.  They're an illegitimate Court with filled with corrupt justices (most infamously Crooked Clarence Thomas) and they're not just bought off by the wealthy, they also have no respect for precdent -- for the very thing our laws are built upon.  The demonstrated that with DOBBS and Clarence Thomas' concurring opinion on DOBBS included a wish list of other laws he'd like to see overturned.  Guess what?  Project 2024 checks off Clarence's wish list.


This should be huge but people don't want to discuss it.  In the few times that it is discussed, it's just the elimination of federal jobs that gets discussed.  

Project 2025 should scare everyone -- even mentally competent Republicans should be scared by it -- if there are any left.

Democrats should be bringing up Project 2025 on every media appearance they make because we doubt nothing would turn out more voters in the fall of 2024 than the knowledge of what an extreme group of Republicans are planning. 

But knowledge is always in such short supply.  Even among whom you'd think were the devoted.

Take Barbra fans.  No, they've never been as passionate as Judy Garland fans -- or, for that matter, fans of Diana Ross or Madonna -- but they are many and they are devoted.

But apparently, they only know what they're told.  


So let's tell some hard facts to the Church of Barbra.  LIVE AT THE BON SOIR is not a great album.

If you're going to call it one, you better mean for historic purposes.  LIVE AT THE BON SOIR, though the latest Barbra album to be released, was the first album she ever recorded.  She had signed with COLUMBIA and they thought a live album would be the way to go.

Stop a moment and grasp that.


Barbra's fabled judgement is not as infallible as many fans want it to be.  She had complete artistic control written into her contract from day one.  They couldn't make her record songs she didn't like -- per her written contract -- and they couldn't pair for duets without permission and they had to release not one but two albums in her first year and she had approval on cover photographs and on this and on that. 

Barbra was part of the "they" that decided to do a live album.


It was a huge mistake.  And COLUMBIA shelved it.  For the 2022 release (on digital and CD), they did tremendous work enhancing the recordings and it still doesn't save the album. As a historic document, it's an important release.  For those who need to have a complete collection of all recordings, it's an important release.


But for anyone who cares about sound quality, it's not a good release.  And it never would have been.


Barbra's voice at that point was known for its range, clarity and power.  To exhibit those in 1962, you needed a studio recording.  The Bon Soir was a club.  It's acoustics were okay for a performance because we accept flaws in performances.   They were not up to recording standards, however.  Peggy Lee wouldn't have done a live album at The Bon Soir so it was a huge mistake on Barbra's part to do one there.


And it was just one mistake after another.


Barbra's first two studio albums?  They have her working with Peter Matz who must consider -- with cause -- to be the Nelson Riddle to her Frank Sinatra.  Peter Matz was not part of The Bon Soir recording.  He'd come into Barbra's life only after the record label deemed the live recordings unreleasable.  


She did have a Peter in her life, Peter Daniels.  He'd become her accompanist, playing piano when she performed live. He didn't play on her first studio album and had very limited contribution to her second.  That's a good thing because he didn't know what the hell he was doing.


Listen to any track on LIVE AT THE BON SOIR and groan at what he's doing on the piano.  Sometimes it's just two notes he goes back and forth over and over and over throughout a verse.  He's always striking some note, though, isn't he?  Even when it's not needed.  He's competing with her voice and that's not good.  It wouldn't be good on a studio album -- Peter Matz, who did the arrangements on the first two studio albums, knew when to float Barbra's voice, when to bring in the musicians and how many.  His arrangements really do have no equal except for the work Nelson Riddle did with Sinatra.  


Peter Daniels' piano playing is too damn busy and that's annoying.  But it's too damn busy during a 1962 live recording (three nights of recording, November 5, 6 and 7th).  Daniels might have been perfect on piano in a small club with people coming to see an unknown or an emerging talent.  But for a live album he's far too busy.  And not just because he's distracting and stealing attention but because he's part of the distortion on the album -- even after it's been cleaned up for this release.


Not noted in the promotional material for the album, there were mike problems.  In 1962, there would have been microphone problems and there were including, on the first night, a microphone loudly going out.  And Barbra wasn't an expert at microphones.  She used them in club performances and on some of her limited TV work (THE TONIGHT SHOW was the only national program that had her on as a guest prior to the release of any album or single).  In terms of using a microphone for recording, her only professional experience was with the cast album for I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE from the musical for which she got her first Tony nomination and then for PINS AND NEEDLES: 25TH ANNIVERSARY RECORDING -- an album celebrating the 25th anniversary of that musical -- not an original cast recording released 25 years later -- on which Barbra sang six songs (at the insistence of composer Harold Rome).  

She knew very little about recording with microphones.  Years later, she still knew very little about recording.  She couldn't have been, for example, Denise Waverly at the mixing board until the 70s.  In fact, she only really learned about mixing while recording 1969's WHAT ABOUT TODAY?  She was listening to recording from the sessions and she couldn't understand something basic.  She'd gone from soft vocal to loud vocal but the recording didn't show that big of a shift.  Wally Gold, producer of the album, had to explain to her about how the sound could distort and the safe range that you mixed in and about compressors and limiters and so much more.

Had she known that in 1963, she wouldn't have tried for a live record.  

She's got microphones shorting out and she's got Peter Daniels making sure his friends and family hear him on every note of each song.  It's too much for the limited technology of 1962 to capture in the non-conducive to recording acoustics that The Bon Soir had.  It was considered a "sh**ty recording" in real time and all the work they did cleaning it up all these years later for release didn't do a whole lot.

And LIVE AT THE BON SOIR has depressed a number of Barbra fans. We understand.  It's part of a downward trajectory she's been on for some time now.  Substandard recordings as she lost some of her range.  Bad duet albums that exist to meet contractual demands and rake in dough but that don't belong in her discography (2014's PARTNERS, 2016's ENCORE: MOVIE PARTNERS SING BROADWAY), 2017's THE MUSIC...THE MEM'RIES...THE MAGIC! which works as a NETFLIX special but really not as an album especially not with the substandard releases that preceded it (the duet albums allowed her to hide the lost range -- or try to -- with the excuse that her partners required different keys to sing in; the live 2017 special was just her being lazy and sitting around and talking when not singing in that now limited voice).  2018's WALLS which quickly became her worst selling album of all time (and why the hell an artist of her talent would want to make an album 'responding' to a jerk like Donald Trump to begin with is beyond belief), and now LIVE AT THE BON SOIR which is her worst charting album ever (even the soundtrack to ON A CLEAR DAY did better and COLUMBIA released that a month after the film was released; do not point to THE OWL & THE PUSSYCAT soundtrack because she does not sing on that soundtrack, her credit on that is earned from the album featuring dialogue from her and George Segal). 


That's where she is now in her career.  Awful duet albums that served no purpose but to rake in cash (which they did, both went to number one and the first was certified platinum -- her last certification -- gold or platinum -- for a studio album), the sit-down and relax while I tell stories to take away from my vocal loss live album, the hideous LIVE AT THE BON SOIR and the very hideous WALLS.  In fact, let's quote the opening of Kat's review of WALLS:

Barbra's got a new love and his name is Mister Man.  That's what's so obvious at first listen to WALLS.  The second thing that's obvious is how unimportant and uninspired Streisand truly is.  Years ago, Joe Queenan wrote a devastating overview of Streisand -- one she seems determined to sign off on.  "On the great Highway of Life, this is one gal who never wanders too far away from the median strip," for example, could practically be a pull quote to promote this album.

For those who've missed it, Babs is peeved off -- and eating a great deal.  It's all the fault of Donald Trump, she wants you to know.  But her eating bricks of coffee ice cream?  She was doing that back in the sixties, in fact, she had a freezer built into an early bed for just that ice cream.  And her weight?  Again, back in the days of FUNNY GIRL, she was having to repeatedly insist that she was not pregnant due to her weight gain.

So to note that she's yet again full of it is to note the obvious.

Barbra's WALLS is not art or even mildly artistic. It's nothing but a rich woman making MUZAK.  For example, the queen mother Barbra keeps insisting how hard it is for her to sleep these days to interviewers who show up for who-knows-what-reason to speak to one of the laziest minds of our times.

She kicks off the album with a song entitled "What's On My Mind."  It matters little that it's a hodge-podge of bad tune and lyrics.  What matters is that -- in interview after interview -- Babs issues simple platitudes yet, for this bit of pop schlock, she requires three additional writers to flesh out what's on her mind.  For those who feel 'deeply,' you see, you need co-writers.  Or, more to the point, if you can't really feel it, pay someone who can.

Think of this as Babs most extreme version of checkbook recording.

She writes many checks.  Several are written to Jonas Myrin -- her apparent soul twin, responsible for four songs on the album.  And why not?  When an elderly Jewess (76) wants to speak her mind, who better than a 36-year-old, born again Christian, Swedish man to convey her thoughts?

If the songs sound less than heart felt, never forget she was incapable of writing them herself.

So, yes, we can understand fans being upset that WALLS might be her final studio album -- what a waste to go out on.  And LIVE AT THE BON SOIR said fans were really just fed up at this point -- it only charted in the US and it only made it to 150 on the sales chart -- again, her lowest charting album** (singing -- THE OWL & THE PUSSYCAT doesn't count, she doesn't sing a song on that soundtrack).


It's got to be very depressing that this might be how the career ends.  Her only real success in the last years has been 2021's RELEASE ME 2 -- and that was an archive collection of songs she'd recorded from the sixties up until 2014 -- songs she'd recorded but didn't want released in real time.  

"So this is how it all ends?"

That would be a very depressing ending.


But it doesn't have to be that way.  Is Barbra an actress who sings or a singer who acts?  That's been a question asked since she first started recording.  And one reason that's asked is because Barbra acts out her songs.  She did that originally, she's stated, because she wanted to be an actress and she couldn't get cast in roles so she could go onstage and turn every song into an act.

She can still do that and she can do it regardless of range. She is a powerful singer and, yes, her range and her ability to hold notes forever added to her glory and legend.  But she is a powerful singer even with a limited range.  Remember, Judy Garland had a limited range -- she sang like a child and that's not intended as an insult.  Most people grow out of that range but she never did and still did amazing work as a singer.


Barbra was probably the greatest singer there was in popular music in 1963 and it's a shame that LIVE AT BON SOIR can't testify to that. Don't count on any HUNGRY I recording testifying to that later on. Barbra at The Hungry I was not her at her best.  She was good and the crowd loved her but things had already changed vocally.

Barbra as she moved towards San Francisco (and The Hungry I) was experiencing a new problem that hadn't plauged  her when she started singing at cabarets and clubs in NYC in 1960 or later when she went on the road or even later when she was performing nightly in I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE on Broadway.  She was losing her voice.

In San Francisco, she sought the help of Judy Davis who has saved many artists (including The Mamas and the Papas) with various lessons and techniques she created after listening to how they produced music.  Barbra continued singing because of Judy Davis and, rare for Barbra, she actually has repeatedly given Judy credit publicly over the years.  (She is notorious for grabbing credit unearned and also for disappearing people who have helped her along the way.)  


What Judy did was give Barbra a voice.  It wasn't the voice she had before.  


"Keening."  That's how some dismissed that early singing voice.  Others thought it was overly dramatic.  When Bob Dylan spent some time studying singing late in his career and decided to try out what he'd learned (listen to NASHVILLE SKYLINE) he lied that the change was due to the fact that he stopped smoking. Barbra likes to put out that she decided to stop being so dramatic in her singing.  No, her voice stopped and then she stopped.  

Judy couldn't give her back the voice she had.  The closest you hear that voice in her recordings after 1963 is when she sings softly -- such as on "As Time Goes By" in both her recording for THE THIRD ALBUM and for the film WHAT'S UP DOC? -- she could no longer hits those notes except when singing softly.

Judy brought her voice down -- made it darker.  We're not talking notes, we're talking placement.  It became more and more centered in the chest.   1965's TV soundtrack special MY NAME IS BARBRA shows you what Barbra sounds like without the keening (with the keening, she distorts on LIVE AT THE BON SOIR -- again that's recorded in 1963).  Without the keening and without substituting what Judy taught her to rely on instead.  


She's using her chest as the main resonator.  For the keening, she was especially hitting the resonators in her nos and the skull area above her eyebrows.  (If you're new to resonators, your face has many -- including the cheekbone area under the eyes.  The higher resonators you use, the more bright your voice sounds.)  She also used the top of the mouth as a resonator in keening.  

Though most people never bought Dylan's lie about his voice changing when he stopped smoking (because, among other things, lifelong smoker Bob Dylan has never really quit or stopped), they have bought the notion that Barbra matured as an artist and wanted to be less dramatic so that's what changed her voice.  No.  After The Hungry Eye and studying with Judy, Barbra returned to the recording studio in June of 1963 to finish THE SECOND BARBRA STREISAND ALBUM (she'd started recording it in February) and there were problems.  She couldn't do the "keening" in the studio the way she had been.  It would make her voice go rough.  She'd try to do it repeatedly and nail it for a few tracks.  But, more often than not, she'd have to resort to the new techniques Judy taught her.  That's why June was multiple dates and February was only one day in the studio.  That's also why engineer Frank Laico had so many problems with her.  He even told her they did fine on the previous album together so stop worrying -- but what had her worried were her vocals because she knew she wanted to do and she couldn't do it with her voice anymore -- at least not for long periods.  The songs that made the album were the ones she could do the keening on.  She tried "It Had To Be You" in keening and couldn't pull it off.  She then tried it using Judy's techniques but she didn't like the way her voice sounded on that.  She would work on her signing -- the things Judy taught her and the things she taught herself so that six months later she was comfortable enough to try "It Had To Be You" in the studio again and to do it with her new skills and produce a recording she was proud of (it's on THE THIRD ALBUM).

The point to that?  Barbra's reshaped her voice before.  She can do it again.  Any losses created by the aging process that effects everyone, does not rob her of her ability to bring a song to life.  Or as Joni Mitchell wrote and sang, "Well something's lost but something's gained in living every day."  And that's true of Joni's voice.  It's not what it was in the 1960s or the 1970s.  But she can deliver a song and still move you.  That's probably the case with Barbra as well.  At least we hope so because what's been released in the last eight or so years has been an embarrassment and her legacy needs something far better to go out on.




* Yes, CRAPAPEDIA says the album was released on CD and digital on September 22, 2022.  That's why we've gone to the trouble of linking -- because CRAPAPAEDIA is wrong.  September 22, 2022, use the link we provided above, is when COLUMBIA RECORDS announced the November 4th release of LIVE AT THE BON SOIR.  The link will take you to Barbra's official website and to the archived press release she posted back in September of last year.  Stop believing CRAPAPEDIA -- especially when it revolves around anything to do with a woman.


** Do not e-mail us about Barbra's CD and DVD albums.  ONE NIGHT ONLY: BARBRA STREISAND AND QUARTET AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD went platinum and did chart as a DVD -- the DVD included the CD and the DVD in one set.  BACK TO BROOKLYN also charted as a DVD release.  That's not surprising.  When you can buy the CD alone or, for a little extra, buy the DVD and get the CD included, most fans will just buy the DVD due to it being the better bargain.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }