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[whitespace] Luka Bloom
Photograph by Frank Ockenfels

Luka Bloom keeps the flame on his new album.

All You Need Is Love

Langley Project a frightening portent of things to come

By Gina Arnold

I'LL CONFESS RIGHT now that in childhood we not only sang Beatles songs, but our pets were named after them. We also dressed as them for Halloween. While one can't easily erase those feelings of childhood besottedness, the fact remains that George, live, was GOOD. He had a good band and good songs, including "Taxman," "Something," "Here Comes the Sun." I was awed and amused and completely entertained by the show, which was (incidentally) panned in the paper the next day. By the end of his life last week, George was by far my favorite Beatle, because he had the most dignity, plus he seemed to have an excellent sense of humor, financing films like Brazil, The Rutles, All You Need Is Cash, and Withnail and I.

Thinking about the transformative experience of seeing George live brings to mind a new LP by the Langley Schools Music Project which is getting quite a bit of attention these days. The record is a pressing of a tape made in about 1976, of a group of Vancouver-area elementary school children singing the hits of the day: "Venus and Mars," "Space Oddity," "Rhiannon, "Desperado" and various songs, many of them by the Beatles and Beach Boys. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, weird in the extreme. I used to have an LP called "The Symphonic Music of the Rolling Stones," which was always my party trick to make guests laugh their heads off, but Langley Schools trumps it. "Jumping Jack Flash" played by the London Symphony is merely silly, but "In My Room" sung by 8-year-olds is truly tragic. Hence, the name of the LP: Innocence and Despair.

Reworkings of pop tunes in other musical idioms are quite common these days, I suppose because there's so much of it. There's the Aranbee Orchestra doing the songs of Abba; Luka Bloom's new LP Keeper of the Flame, in which the charming Irish singer/songwriter treats songs by U2, Dylan, the Cure, Radiohead and Bob Marley as if they were written by Gaelic folksters; and Apocalyptica, which is four cellists playing the songs of Metallica (each cello plays one track, vocal, drums, bass and guitar, an exercise which reveals both the lack of complexity in Metallica's music and the unyielding nature of the cello). But the Langley Schools Music Project is less a work of music and more the musical equivalent of a found object being turned into art, like a Duchamp urinal, or a Jeff Koons porcelain flower, or something like that. If you are someone who has any associations with the songs it plays, then they are magically transformed by the all the thoughts and hopes and dreams that you imbue the music with--and not the other way around. The title says it all: Songs like "Band on the Run" and "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" have layers upon layers of meaning, but they are embedded not in the music but in the ears of the beholder.

Langley Schools is at best a novelty item and it only works musically for people with a residual memory of these hits. It seems like there are more and more people like this rather than fewer--possibly because parents now play their children the music of the Beatles and David Bowie and the Pretenders the way the previous generation's parents played them "Do Re Mi." I sometimes wonder what kind of music will one day be created by kids who are brought up on their parents' punk, hip-hop and electronica collections. And if we are, in fact, due some day for a record of kids singing songs by Wu Tang Clan, NWA or Alicia Keys. Orchard Schools sing "Oops I Did It Again"? Now, that would be a song of innocence and despair that I would love to hear.

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From the December 27, 2001-January 2, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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