Friday, September 23, 2011

Hearing it from both sides

As a married man and as a parent, I know something about selective listening. But as someone who has spent way too many years in the communications business, I'm continually surprised by the number of people who only hear what they want to hear... or what they don't want to hear. Many liberals only read news from liberal media sources and conservatives only frequent conservative sources. That way their opinions won't be challenged. The trouble is, we should be seeking out the other side of the story to test what we believe and what we hear. If we refuse, we do not know nearly as much as we think we do.

Some items of information are more easily believed. Many WANT to believe that there is a conspiracy against them, or that somehow someone else is getting something for free that they aren't getting. So if a person hears that Jack got a free hot dog at the concession stand or cheated to get his new job, chances are good that person will believe it. It's the fuel that feeds gossip and misunderstanding. Usually it begins with someone overhearing Jack say something about buying so many hot dogs that he should have been given one free, then the story gets twisted like in the kids game, telephone.

Or it could be a story that was made up by someone, then repeated by many “well-meaning” people, swearing to its authenticity. Please understand that when someone tells you, “I heard from someone that...” whatever that person is going to tell you is almost always untrue. That's the way gossip works. One person listens selectively (if at all) then starts spouting off what they believe, then as the old saying goes, “A lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on.”

Gossip and falsehoods are nothing new to our society, but with the so-called Information Superhighway at your service, sometimes the information you get is nothing but gossip and falsehoods. Yes, even the forwarded emails sent to you by your trusted friends could be (and probably are) nothing more than rehashed garbage. For example, no soft drink company is printing a can with the words “Under God” left out of the Pledge of Allegiance, and no one survived the World Trade Center collapse by surfing or sliding down with the debris 80 stories. Several websites have been set up to correct the false campaigns waged against people and companies that are passed along by people who decided to listen to the nonsense. The most popular one is Please make a note of that one before you forward anything to your entire address book. It's a chance for us all to help truth get its boots on.

The same problem exists in other media. Sometimes, a reporter, anxious to highlight something that will get people's attention, will focus so hard on one side of a story that the other side gets ignored entirely. In all the hoopla after this week's execution of Troy Davis for the 1991 shooting of a police officer, many reports shouted that seven of nine witnesses had recanted their testimony, but almost no news source told the whole story that only two of the witnesses actually claimed Davis was not the shooter and that Davis himself kept them from testifying before the court. Oh, and there were 34 witnesses, not just nine. As a reporter, I know there is the easy way to write a story -- repeat the information others give you -- and the tougher way which involves investigating what others claim. Please understand that I'm not saying one thing or another about the death penalty or anything else, I'm just pointing out that we all need to examine both sides of the story before we claim anything as truth. If we do not, we're cheating ourselves and silencing the truth.

Must-hear albums?

Critics can be funny people. And by “funny” I mean “completely out of touch with humanity.” That point was driven home for me this week when I stumbled across “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.” This book is a list of one critic's most important musical releases since 1955. Of course, I was stuck on the title. Are there really 1001 albums I really MUST hear? I am a music lover, so I've listened to well over 1001 albums in my life, but there weren't that many of them that I considered worthy of everyone's attention before death. And I'm still not sure WHY I have to hear them all. Is it so I have a more rounded musical experience? Is it so I'll look cool at parties? Is it so some of these albums will sell more copies and funnel money back to the guy who wrote the book?

Then I looked through the list. There are some great albums on there. In the 50's section, there are picks from Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, Frank Sinatra, and Billie Holliday. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and the Who made the 60's section with the Doors, Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder in with the 70's, and so forth. But what really got me scratching my noggin were some of the other albums listed as “MUST BE HEARD” by the author. Like the album “Don't Stand Me Down” by Dexy's Midnight Runners. You remember the tune “Come on Eileen” right? That band. (Sorry if the tune is stuck in your head now.) Why in the name of all that is good would I need to listen to an entire album from a forgettable 80's one-hit wonder band? And “Come On Eileen” isn't even on that album! There are plenty more questionable selections for a “must hear” list from every decade. A “must hear” list wouldn't include albums from the Electric Prunes, Quicksilver Messenger Service, or Haircut One Hundred. Not even if I had to struggle to come up with 1001 albums, would I pull out Blue Cheer or the Incredible Bongo Band!

So, you're surely asking yourself, what albums are the ones I MUST hear? First of all, there are no albums you absolutely must hear, but if you want a list of albums that would give you a well-rounded musical background, maybe I can help. I've taken care to introduce my kids to some music from before they were born, and this might be a good opportunity to work through some of those. With that in mind, here are some albums you should probably listen to if you want knowledge about popular music.

From the 50's - Chuck Berry “After School Session” (or any early Chuck Berry record). I like Elvis as much as the next guy, but Chuck Berry is the real King of Rock and Roll. That signature guitar riff is what it's all about. Also toss in any album by Hank Williams (Senior), Ray Charles “The Genius of Ray Charles,” Miles Davis “Birth of the Cool,” and Elvis' “Elvis Presley.”

From the 60's - Beatles “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.” This is the obvious choice from the psychedelic era because it influenced so many artists. (Almost as many as Chuck Berry!) Add to that the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds,” B.B. King “Live at the Regal,” Johnny Cash “Live at Folsum Prison,” and Bob Dylan “Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.”

From the 70's - Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run.” The New Jersey sound that The Boss and his band brought to America was incredibly different than anything else on the radio at the time, but became commonplace soon afterward. Then throw in David Bowie “Changesbowie,” Boston “Boston,” Willie Nelson “Red Headed Stranger,” and the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever.”

From the 80's - Prince & the Revolution “Purple Rain.” This was the mid-1980s. The music was a remix of a watered-down Jimi Hendrix sound with a dance groove. Then check out Michael Jackson “Thriller,” Stevie Ray Vaughn “Texas Flood,” George Strait “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind,” and Van Halen “1984.”

From the 90's - Nirvana “Nevermind.” The commercially-successful beginning of grunge rock came from this Seattle band's landmark album. From there, try U2 “Actung Baby,” TLC “CrazySexyCool,” Alanis Morissette “Jagged Little Pill,” and Garth Brooks “No Fences.”

These are not necessarily the best albums, but the ones that will fill out your musical knowledge. Now, go and educate yourself. But if you feel the need to argue my selections, email me. But I'm not budging on the Dexy's Midnight Runners album. Deal with it.