The Decemberists have not only mastered the trick of writing songs that sound like they might belong in a different decade; they write songs that sound like they could be hundreds of years old. On a superficial level, we think we know what the trick is: the trick is that a well-deployed mandolin or fiddle goes a long way towards making something sound ‘traditional’. But there’s plenty of fiddle-laden songs that still sound like the hot millennial garbage that they are. To sound traditional, you have to learn about tradition. It’s having an ear for history, if you will. It’s being the kind of music nerd who knows their way around madrigals and pibrochs. And it’s knowing how to deploy the lowly fiddle without sounding like it’s hoedown night at the Old West Saloon.
This begs the question, why are dogs named Rover? I’ve never met a dog named Rover. It would be interesting to find out where that trope came from. Television, probably. Anyhow, here in this song, Ian Anderson uses a doggy metaphor to represent himself as both loyal companion, and a wild and free spirit. Which is not even all that doglike, making it a pretty weak metaphor. But it’s on point with Heavy Horses‘ animal and nature themes, which explore the tension between freedom and domesticity, and the trade-off of modern comfort vs. a harder but more satisfying un-industrialized life. The fate of lowly domestic animals is entwined with the progress of man, and while a few pampered mouses might enjoy the safety and comfort of modern man’s lifestyle, most creatures benefit from it far less than man does. Dogs certainly enjoy all of the comforts, if not more, the price for which being that dogs are as far removed from their wolfy heritage as men are from their monkey ancestors. Dogs are as neurotic, spoiled, helpless and diabetic as their human overlords. If any animal is the metaphorical symbol of the coddled and useless modern being, it’s the fat lapdog who barks incessantly at his own shadow and never sets paws outside.
Noise can be cathartic and fun, as any toddler could tell you. Some people listen to nothing but aggressive noise-music, which is clearly a red flag regarding their mental health. Most of us have at least one or two really loud and noisy records that our neighbors hate us for blasting. For me, The Dead Weather are a primary ‘venting’ band. They’re not the loudest or most aggressive band that ever was, but they know about distortion and they know about delivering attitude. Just enough to annoy people who are just trying to have a quiet day.
To anyone who imagines the past as a cleaner, wholesomer time – it wasn’t. This is coming to you from The Clovers, who were better known for their harmonizing on clean and wholesome hits like Love Potion No. 9. Sure, it ain’t something that would fly on the radio, or even in stores, but the dirty blues flourished from the beginning of the recording industry until the 1960’s, when there stopped being a need for it. It makes you wonder what kind of things your granddad got up to in his day. I think he’d tell you that in his day they didn’t have your PornHubs or your RedTubes or your Adult Friend Finders and they actually had to leave the house and do some footwork to have a sexual experience that left them feeling filthy inside. That is, a lot went on hidden beneath the guise of outward wholesomeness, and a little evidence of it survives. Songs like this one, the oeuvre of Irving Klaw, the cheapo paperbacks known as pulp fiction: all point to a time of thinly veiled promiscuity, when every closet was filled to bursting with embarrassing predilections. It’s just that today we keep that shit out in the living room.
Just in case you were feeling good about something. Let Nico bring you down. Who knows what kind of internal purgatory that woman lived in, but it’s clear from the soundscapes she composed that she wasn’t a merry spirit. She made it a point to reject anything others might consider beautiful or life-affirming. Of course, she always insisted that what she created was, to her, beautiful and comforting. She also liked to say that she would be quite happy imprisoned alone in a dark cell. She didn’t reap much reward for those sentiments while she was alive, but she’s gathered a following of people who share her aesthetic. Lots of us like solitude, cold and dark.
“Don’t believe the florist when he tells you that the roses are free”
I want to print these lyrics and hang them in every grey cubicle in every office, for the edification of everyone who needs a little uplift to get through the day. What could be more motivational? All it needs is a picture of a kitten in a tree. Ok, maybe the twisted humor of Ween is not for everybody. For some people it might just be the worst shit they’ve ever heard. For others, it’s music that speaks directly to their own weird souls. There’s not a lot of in-between; you’re either an acolyte of Boognish or you can’t press the stop button fast enough. For acolytes, however, Ween really are an inspiration. They’re two homely dudes who started out as teenagers making tapes in their basements and bedrooms, and somehow their mutual weirdness and in-jokes reached out and touched – in pre-internet times! – an awful lot of people who recognized them as kindred eccentrics, and they’ve maintained that connection over decades. Obviously being wildly gifted and able to play any kind of music helped them along, but you know, a lot of people are wildly gifted in the technical sense but still don’t have anything to say, and it’s a much higher calling to be eccentric in a way that touches people’s hearts.
Here’s a song with literary reference. It takes its title from a 1951 Tennessee Williams play, or its better-known film adaptation. I haven’t seen the movie or the play, and I don’t understand the Spanish parts of the song, so I can’t tell you how much of a reference it really is. But David Byrne seems like he would know his Tennessee Williams, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I guess that’s a homework assignment for me, then.