Sunday, January 11, 2009

Stream of Consciousness

A few hours ago on "The Writer's Almanac" site I read that Jan. 11 is the birthday of William James, the philosopher and psychologist who coined the phrase "stream of consciousness" (my boss would no doubt find this amusing as these are words that often apply to my offbeat and often ill-timed comments at meetings).

So, for a "stream of consciousness" post -- tying an evening online music search to the Olympics -- here goes:

A few weeks ago I read in a back issue of The New Yorker an article about Chinese pianist Lang Lang and his preparations for performances related to the Beijing Olympic Games. GRAMMY winner Herbie Hancock was mentioned in the article (apparently the two played together at the GRAMMY Awards ceremony last year). (disclosure: The Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter is a client of Edelman, the P.R. firm where I work)

Recollections of this article lead me to search online for music by Mr. Hancock, and I stumbled upon one of his older tunes, "Watermelon Man," which was new for me in spite of its tenure in the music world (first released in the early 1960s, I learned). Something about the tune was familiar.

It took a few minutes to recognize the groove, but then it hit me that Madonna sampled "Watermelon Man" in her 1994 release "Sanctuary" on "Bedtime Stories," a cassette I purchased on a Chicago/Milwaukee road trip during my last year of college at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Before the long track was over I had that cassette's liner notes out and sure enough Herbie Hancock was cited.

This activity all got me started on searching for an Olympic connection both to Hancock and to Madonna. All through work at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympic Games, after all, there was speculation whether Madonna would perform "Hung Up" at the Opening or Closing Ceremonies, given her Italian roots and the fact the song was topping the charts around the time Italy was welcoming the world ("Hung Up" was one of the few English songs we could get on the radio there).

Though Madonna was a no show for Torino, there IS at least one connection for Herbie Hancock and the Olympics (the pop diva, Ms. Ciccone, must have some Olympic ties, too, but will have to locate and post those later).

Turns out his aforementioned GRAMMY performance with Hancock and Lang Lang lead U.S. Olympic sponsor United Airlines to hire the piano playing duo to reprise their "Rhapsody In Blue" performance for their 2008 commercials that debuted on 8 August 2008, just in time for the Olympic Games.

The public relations team for United Airlines apparently did a blast of outreach to publicize the commercials, and there are some interesting videos from that announcement still up on YouTube, along with YouTube's posting for "Watermelon Man" and "Sanctuary."

Thanks, Mr. James. This stream of consciousness thing makes me want to "Rock It!"

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