The History of the Concept Album

Concept albums are an interesting phenomenon. While most songs tell some sort of story, concept albums are based around the idea that each song is a small part of a larger story. Some people take these to an extreme, with stories about dystopian futures or evil sorcerers and perform in full costume. They essentially use the medium of a concept album as a way of putting on a production. Other people take a much simpler road and base their album around the same general concept.

The concept album hit its popularity height in the 80s, but as music videos become increasingly popular and artists continue to innovate, it seems concept albums are making a small comeback.  And while the concept album is still most popular with rock artists, many of the more famous concept albums of the past decade have been in other genres such as rap, R&B, and folk music. Examples include Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, M.A.A.D. city, which earned five Grammy nominations in 2012, My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, which earned itself a reissue for its 10th anniversary in 2016, and Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown, which recently made the jump to Broadway as a musical.

Interestingly enough, when you chronicle the history of the concept album, its roots date back not to the glam rock or rock opera scene as you would suspect, but to folk music.

Woody Guthrie – Dust Bowl Ballads

Woody Guthrie’s most well-known album was also the very first concept album which was released in July of 1940. Guthrie was at the time referred to as an “Okie” – a poor migrant farmer from Oklahoma or the surrounding area that fled to California during the dust bowl. The semi-autobiographical album, and Guthrie’s first recorded album, chronicled his experiences during the 1930s dust bowl. Though he later found national fame with the song This Land Is Your Land, his first album helped launch him onto the folk scene.

Frank Sinatra – In the Wee Small Hours

Frank Sinatra is often mistakenly credited as the inventor of concept albums. This is due to his popularity and to the sheer number of albums he made that were concept albums. He made a slew of them in the 40’s, starting with In the Wee Small Hours. Up until this point, most albums were just a collection of singles. Sinatra started to change this up by releasing a concept album with serious songs that all followed the same similar themes of loss and love gone wrong. He was inspired to do a serious album in part because of the failure of his first two marriages. The album was a hit, and he went on to do four more concept albums, all of which followed a general theme or story.

The Wall – Pink Floyd

The Wall, generally considered the gold standard for concept albums, is the 11th studio album from rock band Pink Floyd. The Wall was released in 1979 in response to the band’s disenchantment with their celebrity profile, particularly during their previous tour. The story follows a depressed rocker who constructs a metaphorical and physical wall around himself to protect himself from his surroundings. Despite receiving mixed reviews from critics, the album was a commercial success. It went on to inspire songs in later Pink Floyd albums, became one of the top-selling albums of all time, and was eventually adapted into a movie by Alan Parker in 1982.

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Green Day – American Idiot

Considered the most notable concept album made since their decline in the 80s, American Idiot is the 7th studio album from punk band Green Day. The album was a departure from the band’s previous music and a direct response to the underwhelming performance of their 6th album. The plot follows Jesus of Suburbia, a lower-middle-class young man, and deals with themes of disillusionment and anarchy during the tumultuous early 2000s and the Iraq War. The album was wildly successful, garnering five popular singles, a hit Broadway musical (where Green Day lead vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong did several runs as the character St. Jimmy), and even a planned film adaption.

Dirty Computer – Janelle Monae

One of the more recent concept albums to come out, Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer garnered high praise from critics and listeners alike. The story centers around Monae’s character, Jane 57821, as she attempts to break free from a dystopian society. In addition to the album, Monae also released a 46-minute movie which she has referred to as an “emotion  picture.” The album garnered a Grammy nomination in 2018.

 

This is of course not an exhaustive list. There are many other concept albums that have been recorded, whether it be during the height of their fame, like Iron Maiden’s Second Son of the Second Son, or within the last few years, like The Mountain Goats’ Tallahassee. All of these albums and more can be found in our music section on the first floor of the library.

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JRR Tolkien, the Father of Fantasy

In the long run, it would be easier to talk about what fantasy media that JRR Tolkien hasn’t inspired. Considered the “Father of Fantasy,” Tolkien redefined what high fantasy looked like. It has gotten to the point where it’s often hard to tell where inspiration form his work is meant and where it’s subconscious.
Still, in honor of his birthday, it would be fun to look at some of the ways he inspired other artists. Some of them are fairly obvious, but many are surprising.
 
Harry Potter 
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Michael Gambon as Dumbledore is pictured on the left. Ian McKellan as Gandalf the Grey is pictured on the right.
One of the most famous examples of Tolkien’s influence is the Harry Potter series. Some of these influences are more obvious; a wizened old magician helping to guide the protagonist on their journey, an object of power that has dark magic that affects the behavior of those near it, a Dark Lord who seeks power and immortality, and on and on. Some of the similarities seem to be an accident but are still similarities regardless; the protagonist’s best friend being a lower class boy who enjoys food or a secondary villain being a long haired wizard who uses his position of power to do evil. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The similarities are numerous enough that a search for “similarities between lord of the rings and harry potter” gets over 500,000 hits. Whether any of these references are on purpose or not is anybody’s guess – including JKR. While she has stated that he was a bit of an inspiration, she’s a bit fuzzy on whether she purposefully pulled that much inspiration from Tolkien.
Interestingly enough, Ian McKellen was offered the role of Dumbledore after the original actor died. Even more amusing is the fact that Elijah Wood and Daniel Radcliffe have both spoken about how they’re often mixed up by fans.
Led Zeppelin
A number of songs written by the famous rock band include references to Lord of the Rings. The most notable references are in being “The Battle of Evermore” and “Ramble On.” “Ramble On” has the most obvious reference with lyrics like “but Gollum, and the evil one, crept up” and “‘Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor.” The Battle of Evermore does contain some obvious references as well. It discusses a dark lord, queen of light, dragons of darkness, and “ring wraiths ride in black.” The song also draws influence from Celtic music, and Tolkien based some of his cultures off of the Celts.
These aren’t the only songs that feature references although they are some of the most obvious ones. “Misty Mountain Hop” is a reference to the Misty Mountains that Bilbo travels to. Fans speculate that “Over the Hills and Far Away” references Sam and Frodo’s journey to Mordor throughout the books.
It’s no surprise to fans that the band draws influence from Tolkien so often. Robert Plant is a fan of Tolkien, even naming his dog after the character Strider. Jimmy Page, who writes most of the band’s lyrics, is a fan of magic and mythology, so many fans believe he has also read Tolkien.
A Song of Ice and Fire
Another obvious example of Tolkien influence is George RR Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire series. GRRM has stated that Tolkien influenced how he built up his world of magic. As GRRM explained, he ascribes to Tolkien’s feelings on how magic should be used sparingly so it stays magical. In Tolkien’s stories, people don’t use magic as if it is nothing. It happens in moments that make the magic seem amazing, such as Frodo’s healing after he is stabbed by a morgul blade or the rescue by the eagles. In a similar vein, ASoIaF turns into a story where magic is slowly coming back. First this appears as a dragon or direwolf cropping up here and there, to smaller acts of magic happening in isolated instances, all finally flowing into epic scale battles between dragons and wights.
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Pictured on the left are the eagles from The Hobbit soaring over mountains. Pictured on the right are Daenerys’ dragons in season 6 of the show, soaring over ships.
Of course, who can forget Sean Bean’s heartfelt performances as both Boromir of Gondor and Lord Eddard Stark? Or his very similar ends in both stories?
 
The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion
The fourth installment in the popular video game The Elder Scrolls pulls inspiration and even gives a bit of a shout out to Tolkien fans. The game draws inspiration from Tolkien’s orcs, using much of his original design as inspiration for the Daedra. The other most notable reference is The White-Gold Tower that appears in the game, which bears a striking resemblance to Orthanc, the tower that Saruman sets up in during the series. Additionally, there are a number of Easter Eggs that appear as a nod to fans of both series.
The first and most obvious is a character in the game named Boromir. This is a reference not just to the character, but also to the fact that Sean Bean, who played Boromir in the movies, voices a character in the game. Another reference is a ring the player receives upon completion of a quest which has the the same inscription as the One Ring.
The third and most involved reference is a character mentioned in a manifest the player receives. The character, who was killed by a villain, is mentioned by name. A description of what he had on him when he was killed is given also. The character’s name is Oford Gabings, which is an anagram of Frodo Baggins. The items he was carrying are also a reference to items that Frodo carries throughout the series. They include a travel cloak with a silver and green leaf fastener, an enchanted shortsword with inlaid writing,  a golden ring with an inscription, and a leather bound travel journal. These are references to, in order, the cloak given to Frodo in Llothlorien, Frodo’s sword Sting, the One Ring, and Bilbo’s journal, which Frodo took with him.
 
The Dark Tower
The epic saga by Stephen King takes its inspiration from many places, including Tolkien. The science fiction western pulls the bulk of its inspiration from a poem by Robert Browning, but there is an important element that Stephen King has said comes from Tolkien: the use of a fictional language. Tolkien had been fascinated by language since he was a teenager and spent much of his past time inventing languages. It was an odd past time to be sure, but one he excelled at.
This invention of language was a skill he demonstrated much of in the writing of The Lord of the Rings and the Silmarrillion. Some of the languages he invented included Khuzdul, The Black Speech, Rohirric, Sindaran, Númenórean, Quenya, and dozens of others. In addition to inventing these languages, he also developed cultural backstories for the languages as well. This element of his writing, while not the first to ever exist, was the most involved and detailed example of it. The fascination with his language skills became so entrenched in fantasy that it’s expected for “artlangs” to be in contemporary fantasy. Stephen King, inspired by this, developed his own form of language for the world of Dark Tower called High Speech. He also took inspiration from Tolkien’s naming conventions, with his world being called Mid-World, in a similar fashion to Middle Earth.
written by: kassie

International Day of People with Disabilities

The International Day of People With Disabilities, or Disability Day, has been celebrated every year since 1992. Each year a theme is announced for that year. Each theme touches on ways the international community can continue to push for accessibility for disabled people. The theme for this year is, “transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all.” To put it simply, the theme means that no one should be left behind when it comes to the betterment of society. This includes helping to pull down barriers that exclude disabled people while also encouraging disabled people to be active contributors of society.

To honor that theme, the included items on this list are movies that center not just on a disabled character but on those characters rising to the occasion and on the people around them helping to pull down the barriers that exist in society against disabled people. There is also a focus on actors and musicians who work to be active in the community as well.

Children of a Lesser God

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Marlee Matin (right), playing Sarah Norman, signing something to her on screen love interest James, played by Wililam Hurt.

Children of a Lesser God is a special case for many reasons. Much of the criticism when it comes to the way disability is portrayed in the media is two-fold: that the portrayal is incorrect and that disabled characters are being played by able bodied (or non-disabled) people. In this Oscar-winning movie based on a play of the same name, main character Sarah Norman is deaf and is in fact played by a deaf woman, Marlee Matin. It gives the film a bit more realism and ensured that the portrayal was true to the life of an actual deaf person as well. The story, based around new teacher James Leeds attempting to get school janitor Sarah Norman out of her comfort zone, is a touching romance that deals a lot with how isolating it can be to be disabled. Matin, for her part, not only won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role, she is also the only deaf woman to ever win that award. She continues to speak for deaf people in the country, using her fame to contribute to the betterment of deaf people in the country.

The Station Agent

True fame didn’t come to actor Peter Dinklage until several years after this movie, when he was cast as the cunning Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones.  Yet despite that his role in this small-budget film is one of his most lauded roles. A bit of an ensemble film, the Station Agent focuses on pulling Dinklage’s character, Fin, out of his isolation and into the lives of his neighbors and friends. Also included in the movie is a woman named Olivia, played by Patricia Clarkson, who deals with severe depression after the loss of her young son. The two characters, along with a peppy neighbor played by Bobby Cannavale, form a close bond that makes them realize they cannot continue to isolate themselves from each other and from the world anymore. In his personal time, Dinklage campaigns in a more quiet way that most for those with dwarfism. While he doesn’t necessarily give long interviews, he has in the past used his fame to bring attention to issues – most notably during his speech for his 2012 Golden Glob win, where he casually brought the issue of “dwarf-tossing” into the public eye.

Little Miss Sunshine

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Though the focus of this comedy is more on the entire family’s dysfunction than one person, part of that dysfunction involves the disability of Steve Carrel’s character, Frank. Frank has depression and attempts suicide before the events of the movie take place. His sister, Olive, feels unsafe leaving him home alone and so Frank is roped into a road trip for his niece’s beauty pageant. Much of Frank’s story centers around him attempting to deal with his own feelings. His ending is more realistic than happy; by the ending he has built a strong support system with his family. The importance of having a support system and how oftentimes, those without support systems can falter, is emphasized with Frank. He finds himself, if still depressed, then at least looking forward to the rest of his life more than he was before.

Tell Me You Love Me – Demi Lovato

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Demi Lovato’s new album cover for Tell Me You Love Me

Demi Lovato, former Disney idol and current pop star, has had a difficult journey to get to where she is. Since her big break in the Disney Channel’s Camp Rock, the star has dealt with eating disorders and severe mood swings. After an infamous confrontation in 2010 that ended in Lovato punching one of her back up dancers, Lovato revealed she had bipolar disorder. She started in therapy and on medication and since then has found herself living a much more stable life. Her new album Tell Me You Love Me, available on hoopla, dropped in late September to positive reviews. In addition to her music career, Lovato has helped with many charities and programs for mental illness. She even started her own, the Lovato Treatment Scholarship Program, to help pay costs for mentally-ill patients.

Pacific Rim

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Rinko Kikuchu as Mako Mori and Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost.

A science fiction film is not the first place to look for disability representation, and yet Pacific Rim offers a unique look at disability. Most of the named characters suffer from PTSD, and all attempt to move about their lives despite their illness. Also included in the main cast is a physically disabled character and a cancer patient, both of whom play important parts in the movie. Between epic fight scenes the characters build each other up and create important emotional bonds. Sure, the movie isn’t a dramatic look at disability, but it incorporates disabled people into its story seamlessly. Above that, it shows that disabled people can rise to any occasion – even one that involves fighting sea creatures from the deep from the inside of a giant robot.

Digital Services at The Berwyn Public Library

Here at the Berwyn Public Library we aspire to move with the times instead of against them. Technology changes every day and it’s important for public services like libraries to change as well.

To help patrons who prefer streaming services over hard copies of DVDs and CDs, we allow access to the streaming sites Hoopla, Freegal, and Overdrive through a Berwyn Public Library Card.

If you need help logging into these services or are confused about what they offer, look no further!

Hoopla

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Hoopla lets you watch movies and listen to CDs online instead of having to come into the library. You can “check out” a max of eight rentals. These rentals are checked out for a certain amount of time – it ranges from 72 hours to two weeks – and then returns them automatically so there’s no worry of late fees.

Each library gets its own page and its own number of max rentals, but every library has access to the Hoopla database. These movies can be watched on any desktop, tablet, or mobile phone. The CDs and audio books can be streamed right through the site itself.

Freegal

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Freegal is a music streaming website. You can search its system to find the music you want and then download or stream to your heart’s desire. Each patron is allowed up to three hours of streaming per week and three downloads per week. The search engine is also easy to use so finding music isn’t difficult.

A stat counter at the top right hand corner helps you keep track of how long you have been listening and how many songs you have downloaded. It will reset every week.

Overdrive

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Overdrive is our free digital library. Here is where you can get access to any of our e-books and audio-books.   There is a ten book limit to how many books you can have checked out at one time.

Accessing Streaming Sites

The first would be through the library website itself. To do it this way, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Berwyn Public Library website and click the “eLibrary” tab.
  2. Click the second link on the page. It should say “Digital Media Services.”
  3. Scroll down until you see the logo of the site you want and then click the logo.
  4. Follow the directions to log in. All four sites will all ask for your library card number and your home library if this is the first time you have used them, so have that at the ready!
  5. Freegal will ask for your pin. This is the last four numbers on your library card.

If you are browsing through our swan catalog, you can also access the sites through there. Say you are searching the name of an author you like. Once the search results come back there will be a number of categories on the left hand side to help limit search results. Under Downloadable Format and Vendor there will be options such as “Hoopla Audiobook” or “Overdrive.”

Checking the box next to one of these options and then clicking “include” will refresh the search results with these limits. Then on the right side next to each item there will be two dark grey buttons on top of each other. The bottom one should say, “Download.”

If you click this, another box will come up prompting you to pick a format such as .pdf or html. Simply choose the one you prefer, and voila, you have your book.

If the box comes up and says “Redirecting” you simply click “Open Content” and your browser will direct you to that page on Hoopla.

written by: kassie

Banned Books Week

To honor banned books week, we in the Audio/Visual Department have decided to honor some of the movies made that were based off of banned books. Some of these movies, despite being based off of controversial books, went on to soaring box office sales and even to win Academy Awards.

A Streetcar Named Desire

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The critically acclaimed play-turned-movie by Tennessee Williams is unique to this list because it was never technically banned, despite being on almost every “banned books” list floating around the internet. The reason it hits so many lists is because of film censorship and bans. The play features a number of references to domestic violence, rape, and homosexuality. While this may not be something out of the ordinary for our own time it was considered immoral to show on screen under the Hays Code of the 1950s. To comply with the strict code, many scenes that were violent or sexual in nature were cut, as well as all references to homosexuality. Over the years, as the Hays Code fell out of favor compared to the more forgiving MPAA rating, special editions of the movie have come out to include many of the scenes that were cut initially.

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

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Banned when it first came to print all the way back in the 1970s for being “controversial,” Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was a milestone in history; it marked one of the first books to paint Native Americans as victims of the United States expansion and not as savages or aggressors. When it was first put on school reading lists, the rationale used to ban it was rather frustrating; they believed it should be banned because it could cause controversy. The teachers pushed back against the ban to allow it in classrooms and eventually won their case. The book was made into an HBO movie, making it the first of two on this particular list, and went on to be nominated for seventeen Emmys, of which it won six.

The Lord of the Rings

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Lord of the Rings falls under an interesting reason for being banned: it is considered irreligious. Of course, plenty of books are banned because people feel they are irreligious or Satan-worshiping. Lord of the Rings is special because the author, JRR Tolkien, was in fact a devout Catholic and considered the trilogy to be religious in nature. Despite being considered literary classics, the trilogy places in at #40 for most banned books in America. That didn’t stop director Peter Jackson from taking on the epic fantasy series to adapt into a trilogy of movies. Considered to be on of the most ambitious film projects ever taken on and ultimately costing anywhere from $281-$330 million to make, the trilogy was nominated for 30 total Academy Awards and won 17 of them. The final film, Return of the King, was nominated for 11 awards and won all of them, tying it with Ben-Hurr and Titanic for most Academy Award wins on a film.

Fun Home

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Fun Home is unique item on this list for more than one reason.  It is the only CD on the list, the only musical on the list, and the only item based off of graphic novel. The book it’s based off of is a memoir written and illustrated by Alison Bechdel. Released in 2006, the book was the 7th most challenged book in 2015. The reasons for being banned included violence, homosexuality, graphic images, and nudity. In 2015, the memoir was turned into a musical, opening on Broadway in April. The musical was nominated for a whopping 10 Tony Awards and won five of them including Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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The biography based on the tragic story of an African-American woman whose cancer cells were used against her knowledge in medical experiments has been challenged more than once for its graphic descriptions. Many who have challenged the book believe it to be bordering on the pornographic. Despite the attempted ban, many schools have stood behind the book and its author for its important message of medical ethics. The biography was made into an HBO movie in April of this year. Despite being fairly new, it has managed to pick up a nomination already at the Emmy’s for Outstanding Television Movie.

The Namesake

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This award winning book about the cultural divide between first and second generation immigrants was banned by a notoriously narrow-minded school committee in Idaho back in 2015. The cited offense? Sexual references and language. The committee also pushed to ban John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men several years earlier although this move ultimately failed after much heated debate. Like Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Namesake managed to win its case after a community wide debate was arranged which would include the voices of parents outside of the school committee. The movie was made long before this debate, in 2006. It received overwhelmingly positive reviews and made a number of top ten lists and won a several acting awards at various film festivals.

The Kite Runner

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Considered one of the most banned books in the country, The Kite Runner has faced challenges and bans as recently as April of this year. Yanked from the curriculum of an Arizona high school with no warning, protests from students and parents alike followed. No word has been given as to whether the book will be re-included in the curriculum for the current school year. This is naturally not the first time the controversial book has been banned; reasons such as violence, sexually explicit content, language, religious viewpoints, and homosexuality have all been cited. Despite these challenges and bans, the book remains a favorite to teach in classrooms across the country and was even made into a film in 2007. The movie picked up a number of awards, largely for its beautiful score, and remains a popular and critically acclaimed movie.

written by: kassie marie

New Music Review: The National – Sleep Well Beast

 

Release Date: September 8, 2017

Label: 4AD

Not really acquainted with the music of The National? Yeah, me neither, not until I heard their newest album, Sleep Well Beast . The National is an Indie Rock band out of Cincinnati, Ohio, but are currently based in Brooklyn, and have been around since 1999. The members are; Matt Berninger (vocals), Aaron Dessner (guitar, keyboards), Bryce Dessner (guitar), Scott Devendorf (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums).

The first track, Nobody Else Will Be There, is a very chill and dreamy tune, with beautiful piano, and vocals full of emotion. Track two, Day I Die, has a retro feel to it (love the guitar), like the ‘New Wave’ music I listened to in the 80’s. Walk It Back, track three, is full of sultry vocals. The fifth track, Born to Beg, is a slow song that flows like a long, scenic drive in the country. Track six, Turtleneck is lacking in something, it just doesn’t connect with me.

Guilty Party, track nine, is smooth and tells a familiar tale of a rocky relationship. Dark side of the Gym is a slow song, like the ones that played at high school dances, when you hoped to be asked to dance, then remembered that you don’t know how to slow dance, so then you hoped no one would ask you to slow dance. I just love the lyrics “I’m gonna keep you in love with me…for a while”. The last track, Sleep Well Beast, sounds like someone explaining something to you, but they are half asleep. Not a terrible thing altogether, just a very groggy sound (for lack of a better term). Overall, the album is very easy on the ears, superb vocals. I already gave away my age, so I can tell you that this band has a sound similar to The Psychedelic Furs, and O.M.D. I enjoyed this album, and I know you will to.

Track List:

  1. Nobody Else Will Be There
  2. Day I Die
  3. Walk It Back
  4. The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
  5. Born to Beg
  6. Turtleneck
  7. Empire Line
  8. I’ll Still Destroy You
  9. Guilty Party
  10. Carin at the Liquor Store
  11. Dark Side of the Gym
  12. Sleep Well Beast

By: Sandie Neri