Backtracks: Alex Raspa


On this BACKTRACKS entry, bossanova echoes in the night during Alex Raspa‘s childhood in Argentina.  A sound engineer with deep interests in world music and global cinema, Alex discusses a song that reminds him of how his father introduced him to cultures beyond his own. Listen to his story here:

AlexRaspa195The songs in Alex’s story were written by Vinicius de Moraes, otherwise known as O Poetinha, a seminal figure of Brazilian music who left behind a string of significant albums (and eight marriages) when he passed away in 1980. According to Alex:

“Moraes was a poet, a playwright and a songwriter as well, he’d been active in all these fields since at least the late forties/early fifties in Brazil. But the other interesting thing was he was a diplomat for the Brazilian government. He was actually working for the embassies for Brazil in France and other countries, he also worked for UNESCO. But when the military took over in Brazil in 1964 in the coup, he was considered a bohemian, and not exactly a conservative so he wasn’t liked by that government. So eventually he was forcibly retired from the Ministry of Foreign Relations where he worked in 1969. The political police spied on him, they branded him as a “rabble” and a drunk, so pretty much he couldn’t work for the government once the military was in.”

Moraes and Antônio Carlos Jobim wrote several well-known Brazilian classics, not the least of which was “Garota de Ipanema”, which many will know from the English version popularized by Astrud Gilberto, with João Gilberto and Stan Getz. The original Portuguese version is included on the album, “Vinicius de Moraes: Live in Buenos Aires”, which was first titled “Vinicius de Moraes en La Fusa”.  Alex says he found out years later that the album didn’t exactly capture the sound of Moraes live in concert.

“They decided not to record the album live in the actual theater. Instead they recorded it in the studio so they could concentrate on the sound, and they did record ambience and clapping and audience responses from the actual show, and they interspersed those in the album to give it more of the feeling of it being live. The first time I heard this record I must have been at least 5 or 6, even though it came out in 1970 when I was 2, and at the time I didn’t realize it was recorded in the studio.”


For Alex, it is impossible to hear the songs of Moraes from this album without connecting it to life in Argentina before the military coup of 1976, the repercussions of which are felt to this day. In May of this year, Jorge Rafael Videla, the military commander who was head of the junta in Argentina from 1976 to 1981, died in prison at age 87, after serving a sentence for crimes against humanity. Videla was the architect of Argentina’s Dirty War,  during which 30, 000 victims of state terrorism were killed or “disappeared”. Democracy was restored following Argentina’s defeat in the 1982 Falklands War, and though their families continue to search for them, the Desaparecidos have never been heard from again. To Alex Raspa, this Brazilian album is a snapshot of a more peaceful and innocent time in Argentina’s history.

Backtracks: Anthony Artis


Anthony Artis is a confidence man, but NOT the type you think. In his career as a film-maker, media educator and public speaker, he exudes the kind of upbeat energy and poise that makes you feel instantly connected. On this BACKTRACKS, Anthony talks about 3 songs that banished his childhood insecurity and helped fuel his positive outlook on life.

Listen to Anthony here:


Now, the first track Anthony describes is best known for the version sung by Roberta Flack and then the cover by the Fugees. But the song was first recorded by Lori Lieberman, and a bit of controversy sprung up about its origin. In this video, Lieberman tells her side of the story behind the song:

But getting back to Anthony…do you remember having something like this in your house when you were growing up?:

stereo ataljumpstart_5585

That was Anthony’s first introduction to music. He says:

In the household I grew up, single mom household, just me and my mom from the age of 3 on up. No instruments but we had one of those big console stereo units. This thing had to be six feet long and came up to your waist, basically a piece of furniture. Only thing in there was a turntable and an 8-track deck. It had speakers but it took up this giant space. I discovered music like a lot of people, through my parents’ music. She had a great record collection, which I inherited just recently.

indexBut there was another kind of record that Anthony sampled from his Mom’s music collection:

My mother passed away a few years ago, and I got all these great cool records – R&B, soul stuff, but hidden in there,  these old comedy albums – Richard Pryor, Red Foxx, Pigmeat Markham –  people I never even heard of but were funny…and dirty!…as I don’t know what, but certainly something I shouldn’t have been listening to at the ages of 7, 8 and 9. Hence the mouth that I’ve developed.

I didn’t always understand the jokes that’s true, not until I got to be about 14. That wouldn’t stop me from repeating it, the fact that I didn’t understand it, to my friends.   And it’s funny because now I can see my kid doing the same thing, telling jokes that he doesn’t understand that are in appropriate, so it’s all come full circle.

We’ll leave off with some courtroom mayhem from Pigmeat Markham, and our thanks to Anthony for sharing his musical memories!

Backtracks: Lynne McVeigh


On this installment of Backtracks, producer/director and film professor Lynne McVeigh describes how a lost astronaut landed in her first sound design class. I was a student in one of those early Sound Image courses, and when I asked Lynne why she chose to open our initial meeting with a song about a doomed space mission, this was her response. Listen to her story below:

Lynne found the David Bowie track as sonically cinematic as any film she could have presented to a bunch of budding storytellers. In the excellent blog “Pushing Ahead of the Dame”, Chris O’Leary has been writing about David Bowie, song by song, “in rough chronological order, with exceptions.” You can find his wonderful history of “Space Oddity” on THIS POST. In it, Mr. O’Leary writes:

“Space Oddity” has come to define Bowie, perhaps because it’s as protean as its creator has tried to be. It’s a breakup song, an existential lullaby, consumer tie-in, product test, an alternate space program history, calculated career move, and a symbolic end to the counterculture dream—the “psychedelic astronaut” drifting off impotently into space (Camille Paglia suggested the last); it’s a kid’s song, drug song, death song, and it marks the birth of the first successful Bowie mythic character, one whose motives and fate are still unknown to us.


The 1969 track introduced listeners to astronaut Major Tom, and the song title alluded to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the lyrics, Major Tom launches into space, but soon loses contact with mission control and journeys into the unknown, sending his love to his wife back on earth.

But we don’t completely lose touch with Major Tom, he makes a reappearance in the “sequel” to his story, Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes “single off the Scary Monsters LP, although in this case, Major Tom is a “junkie”, and Bowie is likely referring to his own voyage through inner space.

In 1983, German synth-pop sci-fi aficionado Peter Schilling picked up the story of Major Tom, with the astronaut bidding farewell to his wife and saying  “Now the light commands/this is my home/I’m coming home.” But in the music video, the song ends with an image of a fiery object plummeting downward through earth’s atmosphere.

There are numerous references to Major Tom in music and pop culture, including Bowie’s own remix of “Hallo Spaceboy”, which he released with the Pet Shop Boys in 1996.  K.I.A. produced the song “Mrs. Major Tom” on his Adieu Shinjuku Zulu album, telling the story from the point of view of Major Tom’s grieving wife, hopelessly scanning the skies for sign of her lost husband. Incidentally, Sheryl Crow covered this song for the album, Seeking Major Tom, by that other iconic space traveler, William Shatner.

ETA: It should be added that Commander Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut who just ended a five month stint aboard the International Space Station, ended his mission with what must be the most stunning entry into the Major Tom mythos. A real-life spaceman singing to us from far above the world.

Joseph Keckler’s “I Am an Opera” Opens at Dixon Place


A highly subjective musical take on what it means not only to write an opera, but to encompass and even embody one in the modern age of internet witnessed its world premiere launching on April 5th at Dixon Place, New York City’s “Laboratory for Performance.” Written, composed and performed by ASCAP member Joseph Keckler, this conceptual tour-de-force also provided a vehicle for fellow ASCAP member Patrick Grant, collaborating as music producer, with violin arrangements added to the artistic mix by Dan Bartfield. Directed by Uwe Mengel, this highly operatic exposure of Keckler’s inner subconscious, transparent at its most ridiculous and sublime, is propelled through a multi-media series of phantasmagoric tableaux with many an unexpected turn. “I Am an Opera” steadily escalates with its unspoken pronouncement that life, especially at its most primal and personal, is supreme artistic game. Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday evenings throughout the month of April.

Backtracks: Patrick Grant

Ever wonder where Tilted Axes creator Patrick Grant finds inspiration for those infectious riffs? We’ll find out on this edition of BACKTRACKS, when a 4 year old future composer discovers his musical destiny on TV.

Listen to Patrick’s story here:

TB2013 (7 of 20)

Now that I’m a professional composer and performer, there’s supposed to be this stark moment of epiphany. I was always jealous of my schoolmates, who, by the time they were 9 knew all four symphonies of Brahms and other works by Beethoven and such, and they were exposed to that. So I didn’t get a lot of that, but I got a lot of other stuff. After years of thinking, oh, I wish I had more of a classical education, it came back to me that, no, I really grew up listening to a lot of cool music. And it really goes back to this theme. Once I stopped fighting the feeling that I should be embarrassed by this, things really started to kick in the last 5 years, things really started to flow. This really is the most formidable piece of music that I can recall in my formative years.


Composed by American jazz trumpeter, composer and arranger Neal Hefti, the Batman television theme featured “bass guitar, low brass and percussion to create a driving rhythm, while an eight-voice chorus sings ‘Batman!’ in harmony with the trumpets”, according to Jon Burlingame, author of TV’s Biggest Hits. Hefti began his professional career writing charts for Nat Towles, went on to play trumpet for Woody Herman and then a composer/arranger for Count Basie. He led his own bands as well, but chose to focus on scoring and conducting in the mid-fifties, where he found great success writing music for films such as Sex and the Single Girl, How to Murder Your Wife, Lord Love a Duck and Barefoot in the Park, among others. Besides creating the theme for the Batman series, he scored the film and television versions of The Odd Couple.

It’s no secret that Hefti’s classic television theme spawned a host of imitators and Caped Crusader-themed groups and albums during its heyday, such as “Batman and Robin – The Sensational Guitars of Dan & Dale”, and The Dynamic Batmen. Along with the Bat lunchboxes and posters and toy cars, it seems the theme music was licensed out just as freely to musicians looking to cash in on the Bat-craze. And with all due respect to the masterful Dark Knight scores of Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer, it’s really the old TV tune that’s been re-recorded and re-interpreted over and over to this day. Here are some of our favorite renditions to close out this installment of BACKTRACKS.

TILTED EXCESS – Mobile Guitars in the Media

Tilted Axes Detroit: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars
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