“Beth/Rest” by Bon Iver

I will admit to being a Bon Iver fanboy. Pretty much everything Justin Vernon touches turns to gold; from his incredible work as Volcano Choir (especially their second album, “Repave”) to his subtle additions on the insanely catchy Kanye West-led “Monster” (warning for those of you who aren’t familiar: it features graphic language).

But back to Bon Iver. I’m still getting into his latest album, “22, A Million” but I’m sure I’ll love it. (Here’s a pretty good review of “22, A Million” in case you’re curious.) This guy just seems to find deep spaces in my mind and create music out of them, using a lexicon I’ve either forgotten or never figured out how to use.  Continue reading ““Beth/Rest” by Bon Iver”

Straining to Hear the Bells on Christmas Day

Every day in the US, 48 children (or teens) are shot. (Source)

It’s getting harder for middle class families to cut it. (Source. And counterpoint.)

The United States is no longer a democracy; rather, it is an oligarchy, ruled by a small class of economic elites. (Source 1. Source 2. And counterpoint. )

The War on Terror continues full steam, and the bodies are piling up. (Source.)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

If you take more than a cursory glance at the news, like I do, it’s easy to despair, and to feel that the traditional sentiments of this time of year are just saccharine and banal, offering little in the way of real hope.

I’ll admit that in the face of overwhelming circumstances, it’s easy to ask the big questions. What can I do? How can I make one bit of difference? What’s the point?

It should come as no surprise that I’m not the first one to ask that question. And as I’ve wrestled with it the last few weeks, there are two writings that have been significant comfort to me.

Continue reading “Straining to Hear the Bells on Christmas Day”

Ditties About Destruction, vol. 2: I Think I’m Going To Kill Myself

In the last post on this topic I discussed “Bombs Away” by the Police; in that song, we found a sobering and dark message embedded in a pert and bouncy melody, and touched on similar techniques of juxtaposition in pop art.

This next song tackling a dark theme in a shockingly upbeat way is Elton John’s “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself.” Included on 1972’s “Honky Chateau” album (possibly one of his finest, if also more understated, records).

The song starts out in a minor key, so the initial feeling is one of unease. And the opening lines only reinforce that feeling:

I’m getting bored, being part of mankind;

there’s not a lot to do no more.

This race is a waste of time.

So the nihilism sets in early, and fast. He then launches quickly into talking about purchasing a gun (“I think I’ll buy a .44 and give ’em all a surprise”).

Continue reading “Ditties About Destruction, vol. 2: I Think I’m Going To Kill Myself”

“Don’t Hang Up” by 10cc

Lately I’ve been listening a lot to the “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack. The cover art pays tribute to the touching (if somewhat predictable) story behind the improbable collection of late 70s pop that suffuses that comical interstellar romp: it’s a mixtape given to the protagonist by his ailing mother. (No real spoilers, all of this happens in the first 5 minutes of the film.) I say “improbable” because, while you’re likely to recognize most of the songs on this album, there’s no “Rocket Man,” no “YMCA” or “Brick House.” The songs feel like deep cuts but they’re all readily recognizable; at the very least, you’ll know Blue Swede’s “More Than a Feeling” as the “ooka-chaka” song that played behind that eery dancing baby from the late 90s.

 

Granted, you’ve got the Jackson 5, David Bowie, and Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” (also featured in the soundtrack to the film “Phenomenon” which, despite being a forgettable film, had a very good soundtrack). The song that I keep listening to, though, is “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc. Like many of the other songs on this album, the song was very familiar, though “10cc” was not a name I recognized. But the melody, the chords, were so resonant, that I’ve been listening to more of them, and I’ve been really impressed.

Continue reading ““Don’t Hang Up” by 10cc”

Ditties About Destruction, vol. 1: Bombs Away

Q: What do Don Draper and Homer Simpson have in common?
A: Satire. The much-lauded Mad Men is a jaundiced commentary on an impression, a tainted recollection. By highlighting the excesses of marketing executives in a time of license, the show calls up the moral laxity tolerated among the upper crust.

 

Similarly, The Simpsons was part of a new wave of popular comedy that skewered the lingering impressions of the “normal”, nuclear American family.

Both of these shows build drama by exploiting a disconnect between popular ideas of normalcy with the lived experience of the protagonists which, it is supposed, we share. Dissonance can be a very powerful way for an artist to highlight the strangeness, irony, or cruelty of the world. The pop art movement (without which we might not have either of the aforementioned TV shows) took images from mass-produced sources and placed them in unusual settings or combinations to subtly call out the disorder that lay beneath the surface of a supposedly placid consumer culture. Continue reading “Ditties About Destruction, vol. 1: Bombs Away”