There’s something wrong about hearing Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ bout Love” in the shiny, beglittered elevator on a Carnival cruise ship.
I can’t say exactly what. There’s just something… wrong about it. There’s a lot wrong about the ship that can’t be exactly pinpointed. Not the ship itself mind you, which is a marvel, and not only one of money extraction; but there is a casino, folks, a casino, and that is, I suspect, one of the prime machines of money removal from the pockets of the cruise crowd. Not me. Not that I’m better than that (not that I’m not), but I just don’t seem to have the gambling bone. One thing I love about the casino, though: this shimmering soundscape that sounds like Heaven, kind of. It’s this layer-after-layer of bing! and ching! and bling! bling! bling! that must be some part of the origin of the term, but I hear something else: I hear a sort of constantly-ending 80’s synth pop song. I don’t know: Flock of Seagulls or something… It’s a magical sound and I love walking though the casino just to listen to it. I keep thinking that if I listen closely, I can learn and memorize this ethereal song.
Let’s talk about music some more: in this, my second cruise experience, I again see that there’s a lowest-common-denominator about the music on a cruise ship. There’s a wide variety of styles played over the ship PA and in the stage shows and by the myriad of cover bands/karaoke venues. They all have this in common: the songs must be ubiquitous. Of course, the fallout of this criterion is that generally the songs must therefore suck. If only by virtue of having been heard by most ears approximately 900 million times prior to the cruise.
Last night, we caught as much of the big shooooow as we could handle. Lots of things on a cruise are sort of going for that really big show kind of vibe and they tend, as a result,, to be unintentionally high-larious. Last night’s show was kind of a Big Tribute To All of Your Favorite Music, Cruise People! So there were these set pieces with dancers and singers and such to such beloved concepts/genres/legends/flashes-in-the-pan as: Elvis (“Jailhouse Rock” featured—somewhat scandalously—dancers in thongs and leather jackets. Ass cheeks anybody?); The Beatles sort of leading into The Rolling Stones (or maybe it was THE SIXTIES, it was hard to tell, since “Twist and Shout” was performed in highly psychedelic little, um, uniforms.); Prog-Rock (extra bizarre in its featuring of sort of Pink Floydian instrumentals accompanied by “modern” dancing (quote marks, mine); Madonna (basically a copy of the vid where she’s dressed like Victorian royalty); and on and on… we hit the door during Madonna, not so much because of that, but rather because the Right Said Fred tribute was so, um, unforgettable, but maybe not in a really good way.
Other musical notes (ha ha! Such puns are really really funny on a cruise!!): I’ve routinely tried to miss the all-purpose island band that plays the main stage to hundreds of drunken current and former greeks. I’m not talking about the nationality here—they merely tend to own cruise ships—but rather to the collegiate variety. That band is called Cool Runnings, mon… Nice work if you can get it. Other onboard acts include a guy who’s ruining a perfectly decent piano bar. I think his name is “Scott,” but I could be wrong because in the daily what-to-do publication that appears magically on our bed every evening, several of the DJ’s names are in quotations. I don’t know if this is some sort of code or just some bad editing. Anyway, note to self: If (no, when) I have my own piano bar, make sure not to follow “Scott’s” lead and have MIDI-strings and drums and stuff. Just a piano is plenty to carry such classics as “Feelings” and “Midnight at the Oasis.”
FInally, I’ve got a little bit to say about the scariest place on the ship: The Karaoke Bar. Pick any evening and it’s packed. I’m talking about people-sitting-on-the-floor packed. And this to hear somebody giving their all in a rendition of some Alan Jackson song or something. What is it that terrifies me about this? Is it it the rapt look on the audience’s faces? Or maybe the actually decent quality of much of the singing to these schlock Young Country ditties? I think it has to do with the seeming preference of a lot of people to hear “jest plain old normal folks; like you and me!” sing songs that everybody knows and can relate to—classics like “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” (ha ha! tequila! get it? it makes her clothes fall off!) Please fellow humans: get thee back to professional musicians. Karaoke is the musical equivalent of standing in an art gallery and announcing “Hell, I could do that.” (self-deprecating ps: you really haven’t lived until you’ve heard my rendition of “The Rainbow Connection”)
“But Mick,” you may be asking, “didn’t you dig something the most, and what was that mostest thing that you dug?” Well, let me tell you, gentle reader. There’s this jazz trio in a cigar lounge. And they rock most undeniably. We’ve palled around with them a good bit at this point. It’s a funny little trio: two youngsters and a bryl-creamed older fellow on drums, who—bless his heart—loves to give lengthy explanations of each song that mostly nobody is interested in hearing. But I am, gentle reader, I am!
I even became fast friends with him by opening up the thrilling conversation topic of Is Hoagy Carmichael from Indiana or what? He did some research on the Internets, friends and came back to me with the answer Yes! Hoagy Carmichael is from INDIANA!
The real key to this trio though is a 25 year old piano wiz named Ian. I hate Ian, because guitar is his primary instrument, but he just happens to be a goddamned near-prodigy at Monk-style bop piano jazz. Fucking bastard, is what he is. Due in large part to his chops, the trio is capable of blasting through entirely cock-eyed renditions of warhorses like I’ve Got You Under My Skin or My Favorite Things or Stardust (“Hoagy Carmichael, ladies and gentlemen, who hails from the great state of—that’s right—Indiana!”) and sort of massacre them with unmitigated brilliance. I can honestly say that Ian has restored my faith in Jazz. Watching him play, whilst guzzling promptly-provided Black Russians from pixie-like server Ni (an Indonesian who has memorized all of our cabin numbers and names and drink preferences), I’ve remembered this great thing about jazz: It’s about the melody, a living thing that—if it’s a good one—is capable of being twisted, warped, turned inside-out—and still holding its original charm. Jazz is about flipping a song on its head and keeping the listeners enthralled with the promise of that sweet melody becoming once again familiar, reemerging when the time is right. Ian is absolutely capable of doing exactly that. This trio has been our cocktail hour staple throughout the cruise.
That may be enough for now, friends. We’re headed back to Miami. This is a mixed blessing, I suppose. It’s sad that we don’t have any more ports to call upon. San Juan, Sint Maarten, and St. John/St. Thomas all had their own delights, yes, it’s true; on the flipside, we’re all pretty sick to death of ship culture: 3000 ugly Americans (some of them, not even Americans, if you can imagine the nerve) vying for an overabundance of prime rib, tacos, pizza and hurricane-like drinks in tall plastic cups. Ye gods.
But! This just in! We’ve successfully managed to change our Miami accommodations to The Clay Hotel and Hostel on South Beach and will be partying most gallantly at jernts like the Delano and the Shore Club all day and night upon docking! So there’s that! Neon! Salsa! The Beach! Art Deco! Near nudity around most corners!
Pray for us!