Monthly Archives: October 2011

Putting the ‘corporate’ in corporate rock

A week or so ago, my kids and I were invited to a press event for a new series of animated shorts designed to teach kids about money. YO and I went along mostly for the free food, and because we were curious – we don’t usually get invited to these kinds of things. But now of course I kind of feel obligated to write about the program, I mean YO and I did get decent cheeseburgers on the day. So here’s my two cents about ‘Cha-Ching’:

The show is for an English-speaking Asian audience, aged 7-12, and airs in three-minute bursts on Cartoon Network Asia. Each episode is built around a song about say, how to be an entrepreneur or where money comes from. The kicker here is that it was created and produced by Prudential Corporation Asia after the company surveyed parents around Asia about their children’s perceived ‘money management skills’ (from the official website). Prudential found parents were quite concerned about how little their kids knew about managing money (surprise, surprise!) and decided they’d bring in an educational expert to create a platform for teaching money smarts i.e. ‘financial literacy’ in corporate-speak. Here’s a sample:

So right away you know that this show is really for parents, not kids, which is a huge strike against it from the get-go. You can see it in the show’s earnestness, complexity and utter lack of zaniness and a good groove. Makes me want to ask if any insurance folk have ever heard of Phineas and Ferb and The Backyard Beach. Profit and loss for seven-year-olds? What’s next: dealing with small-business regulations? I also wonder if Prudential’s survey uncovered what expenses our children are actually responsible for? YO earns a bit of pocket money each month and we do encourage her to divide it in to three sections: savings, spending and charity. But all she needs to worry about is donating money on school dress casual days and saving for books or sweets. In that respect, the Family Budget Manager, which I downloaded, is just too complex – a waste of time quite honestly – for children in this age group. EO is in her first year of secondary school and she’s just now learning how to manage a small budget we give her each week for school lunches, public transport and the occasional frozen yogurt.

The next drawback to the whole premise is that the cast of characters are in a band called ‘Cha-Ching’ (get it?) and, I quote again from the official website: “Originally friends from music class at their school, the group’s passion for music sees the band growing in popularity, quickly attracting a loyal fan-base around town.”

Let’s be honest here, we don’t need another kids’ show about being in a band! This whole notion of striving for celebrity – whether it be on Victorious or Big Time Rush or JONAS – is just toxic and tiresome. Maybe I’m getting off base a little here, but judging from the name and the quality of the tunes, I’d say Cha-Ching’s passion lies with making money not, in the immortal words of Jack Black, ‘sticking it to the man’. Because in reality, if Cha-Ching were an actual tween band in a ‘medium-sized town in Asia’, they’d have to be completely subversive. At that age, and with the expectations facing today’s kids, you’d better believe it. What do you mean you’re performing in a show instead of going to Kumon class! You rebel!

I just don’t know if the band concept works in Asia that’s all. So why not make them regular kids who deal with regular things, like wants v. needs, and who want to learn about how they can make more money or how much a new pair of Crocs cost or why their friend gets more money than they do when the tooth fairy visits.

Some final comments:
1. THANK YOU for not rapping.
2. YO thought the episodes were boring but did enjoy the games (which is probably where the future of Cha-Ching lies).
3. The official website is surprisingly slow, videos are much easier to watch on YouTube.
4. I’m sorry but Zul cannot sing. “It’s Got To Be Earned” is more like “It’s Got To Be Excruciating”.

In all things educational and musical, I must now defer to the gold standard of kids’ music. For quality, melody and pure catchiness you can’t get any better than Schoolhouse Rock. From the early ’70s all the way to 2009, musical director and jazz musician Bob Dorough led a Schoolhouse team that crafted some of the best, most informative songs for kids, ever. I played some for YO and EO last night and already had YO going off to bed singing, ‘Lolly, lolly, lolly’.

So check out Cha-Ching and let me know what you think, but have a look at Schoolhouse Rock for the real deal.

R.E.M. RIP

Bill Berry always looked good in a vest. All photos on this post are from the official R.E.M. website.

We are young despite the years
We are concerned
We are hope despite the times

We define parts of ourselves – we build our selves – with the bricks and mortar of music, movies, labels and gadgets. They shade our personality and accessorize our history, like grade school ornaments on a Christmas tree. The first time I used a tiny-screened boxy Apple was in a friend’s dorm room. What was the movie you-popped-in-to-the-VCR-with-microwave-popcorn-after-a-late-night-out? I had two: Valley Girl and The Sure Thing. “Something light!” Which band have you seen in concert the most?

That would be R.E.M.

If ever there was a band that wove itself in to the fabric of my life, it was R.E.M. Still is. And not just in a nostalgic, wasn’t-it-great-to-be-young kind of way (I leave that to Duran Duran and Depeche Mode), but in a living, breathing infusing-my-life-with-deeper-meaning kind of way.

Now, as a group, the boys from Athens are no more.

Jefferson I think we’re lost!

My oldest brother, on holiday from university, brought home Reckoning when I was seventeen. I put the album on my Magnavox stereo, which I’d inherited from my other brother, and tried to make sense of a sound I’d never heard before. So different, so new, so absolutely, completely different from anything out there. Then I went off to college and my sister and I, now roommates, listened over and over to the earthy dreams of Fables of the Reconstruction. We went back to discover Murmur and Chronic Town and marveled at a band that used words like ‘Moral Kiosk’ and made music as shy and beautiful as ‘Perfect Circle’.

It’s these little things they can pull you under
Live your life filled with joy and thunder

My first R.E.M. concert was on the Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Appropriately enough my oldest brother and sister were there too, all of us on that night right where we needed to be, dancing to the driving guitars and pounding hope of songs about man’s demands and burdens, desires and destiny. Even now, when I hear ‘These Days’, I have to stop and let its brilliance wash over me, Bill Berry’s drumming and Mike Mills’ harmony cutting right to the core of what it means to be alive.

Leo-nard Bern-stein!

A couple years later, R.E.M. returned to Austin, bigger now, supporting the Green album. We got floor seats with friends – my sister with me again – and spent two hours in ecstasy, turned on by ‘Orange Crush’ and a shirtless, long-haired Michael Stipe.

I want to figure you out

Flash forward to the Monster tour; I’d lived overseas and been back twice, felt proud of R.E.M.’s success with ‘Losing My Religion’ if a bit lukewarm about the album itself (not one I go back to much), traveled Europe with Automatic For The People as my soundtrack – an album of such depth and emotion that I challenge you to find a clunker on there – and now returned to school and life in the States.

I know it might sound strange
But I believe you’ll be coming back before too long

Here I found a tree with similar trimmings – a girl in grad school who wanted to go to the R.E.M. concert too. We swapped music stories and cemented a lifelong friendship while standing in line for tickets too early on a drizzly Saturday morning. We were in to stadium territory now, but the band thrilled us all the same, covering the old and the new and previewing songs from New Adventures in Hi-Fi.

New Adventures… was the last album I coveted. Years passed and R.E.M. released records that I’d hear about months after the fact. I bought them and listened a few times, and then tucked them away. It was an inevitable but sad separation, the friend you lose touch with save for a Christmas e-card.

Well, everybody is young forever
There’s so much to tell you, so little time

A few years ago, R.E.M. came to Hong Kong – the one and only time they’ve stopped by in all my years living here. I bought tickets straight away, and went along with my husband and my close friend, whose children played with my children. In my third decade of R.E.M. fandom, I was now a wife and mom, but dying to rush the stage and bounce my way through the entire show. I sang all the songs (except for some of the new ones ☺) and basked in the glow of their exceptional talent.

I believe in what you do
I believe in watching you

When YO has trouble falling asleep, she listens to a playlist of soft songs I compiled to help her relax and drift off. Between Eric Johnson and Dolly Parton is ‘Find The River’ – one of her favorites. The acoustic guitar, piano and a strange instrument called a melodica pair with Stipe’s dreamy lyrics to lull her to sleep like a lazy train rolling over afternoon hills and warm meadows. I hope that she’ll want to hear more as she grows up.

All of this is coming your way…

If you knew nothing about R.E.M., had never heard their music, and someone played ‘Finest Worksong’ or ‘I Am Superman’ or, better still, ‘Pilgrimage’, you’d be hard pressed to pin down a time and place for those songs. You could easily imagine them as part of today’s sound, somewhere between the shy intellectual pop of The Shins and the southern gothic rock of My Morning Jacket, yet R.E.M. have been around for 30 years. They reached out to us from deep inside the poorly-lit cinderblock structure of college radio, with their indecipherable lyrics, earnest longings and jangly-Byrds’ guitars. From the piney woods and deep red clay of Georgia, they called out to us: we believe in this music, please listen! From the past, present and future, they conquered us.

No one sounds quite like them. Still. Always.

Oh life...

In case you didn’t recognize them:
1. ‘These Days’ – Life’s Rich Pageant
2. ‘Little America’ – Reckoning
3. ‘Sweetness Follows’ – Automatic for the People
4. ‘It’s The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’ – Document
5. ‘Don’t Go Back to Rockville’ – Reckoning
6. ‘Departure’ – Murmur
7. ‘Turn You Inside-Out’ – Green
8. ‘Find the River’ – Automatic for the People
All lyrics © R.E.M.