This song is also by Brian Eno. It’s a slight bit strange that Eno wrote two songs with the same title with different collaborators, but I’ll take it. They’re markedly different songs. The last one was more David Byrne than Eno. This one is from Eno and John Cale’s Wrong Way Up, and it’s more Eno than Cale. In fact it’s the only song on that record credited only to Eno. Eno’s solo vocal songs have become increasingly rare since the seventies, and that’s a shame; they’re a lot more enjoyable than ambient digital soundscapes. So this makes this one a particular favorite of mine. It’s so soothing.
David Byrne and Brian Eno really need to hang out more. Every time they collaborate something brilliant comes out. The last Eno and Byrne collaboration was Everything That Happens Will Happen Today in 2008. That record was innovative in a lot of ways, mainly in terms of distribution and promotion; independently produced! independently distributed! It was two old dogs learning new internet tricks, really taking advantage of this new digital age be-your-own-master music business. It was also notable in conception. Eno and Byrne set out to make an album that explored the human condition, as it exists in the digital age, and in doing so tampered down their own natural cynicism and emotional dryness. Cheerful, simple, emotionally direct songs that aren’t about making fun of people in flyover states.
This Decemberists songs isn’t referencing Greek mythology or English literature or 1970’s folk music. It isn’t referencing any cultural artifacts at all. Its inspiration is much closer to home than all that. Colin Meloy wrote the song for his son Henry, who was about five years old at the time and diagnosed with autism. Meloy is hardly the first person to write about the fears and struggles of raising a child, but the difficulty of raising one whose brain works so differently lends it added pathos. Parenting can be a source of existential angst, I’ve been told, unique from the usual day to day angst of just living. Which could also be a source of creative inspiration, if children weren’t so damn labor-intensive and distracting. That’s probably not why the pool of pop songs inspired by children is relatively small (writers of pop songs can afford childcare, usually.) It’s just that nobody wants to hear a pop song about being responsible and sleep-deprived from constant worry; those things are most people’s daily reality. We want our pop stars to be sleep-deprived from cocaine binges and consequence-free sex.
This is the song I proffer to people who say they don’t like the Grateful Dead as an example of their thoughtful songwriting and concise musicianship. Not everyone enjoys folk songs with mandolins, of course, or lyrics with Biblical references, but overall it’s pretty hard to resist. Most people who don’t like the Dead aren’t objecting to the music, and I can count myself among those who don’t enjoy the cultish aspect of their fandom. Weird cultural baggage aside, the music holds up well enough; American Beauty is just about a perfect album. Does it make you want to take off on a stoned road trip in a Volkswagen camper van? Maybe not, but it does have that magical something that just shifts your cosmic vibes back into alignment.
This leaves me no choice but to put on Electric Warrior and then continue listening to T. Rex until it’s time to go to work. T. Rex just makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Marc Bolan has a legacy with a lot of impact, and we can talk about all of the ways his work is important and influential in the world. I can talk about all of the ways it’s important and influential to me personally. But really, it just makes me happy, and it’s supposed to do that, and that’s part of the legacy. I think I’m getting sentimental.
Watching old recordings of formative rock and roll songs by innovators such as Little Richards feels a lot like gazing at ossified sea creatures at the natural history museum. Wow, did all of life really spring from this? You’d be hard pressed to find Little Richard’s DNA in the musical stylings of, say, Fuck Buttons, but yet you know that it’s in there, just like you know that you carry the genetic material of some hominid in the Nile River Valley who got eaten by saber-toothed tree sloths or something. And that makes you mist up a little at the grandeur and awesomeness of human progress and the forces of nature that have buffeted it. Unlike the progress of hominids, though, the evolution of rock music as a cultural genus has taken place all in a single lifetime, which is to say, the lifetime of Little Richard, who is still alive at 85. A lot has changed in 85 years, but one thing hasn’t; you can still make yourself a star by mastering the two-and-a-half-minute rock song format that Little Richard helped to establish.
As a policy, I have to state that I am firmly against cattiness, gossip, judgement and self-expression shaming, in all of their forms. It is wrong. Oh, who am I kidding? There’s nothing in the world more fun than being catty at someone behind their back. We all do it. With relish. All the time. No matter who we are, or what our station in life is, we will never hesitate to eviscerate a total stranger’s choice of clothing. Just yesterday I heard a homeless man go into a rant about people who wear knitted hats; he was offended by a hipster in a bright orange knitted beanie. He was right. It was a terrible hat. So yeah, making fun of the poorly dressed, the pretentious, the basic, and the try-too-hards is one of life’s great joys. This Blondie song is the ultimate anthem and the ultimate send-up for anyone who’s ever enjoyed the sport of talking shit about people. If that stings coming from someone as impeccable as Debbie Harry, just remember that she left the back of her head its natural color because she sucked at dyeing her own hair.