One of my very favorite things is songs about antiquated modes of communication. I love to be reminded of times when people used to sit around waiting for the postman to arrive. You could realistically spend weeks to months in anticipation before you finally realize that your crush is just not that into you. If nothing else it makes me intensely grateful to be living in an age where you can enjoy the instant gratification of having the person you like ignore you in real time. The more things change though, the more they stay the same. Being ignored by your crush is something you and your grandmother can bond over, because I guarantee you she still remembers that time Josef from the next town over stopped answering her letters. Maybe he died in the war, maybe he’s just not that into you.
With songs like this one, Regina Spektor sometimes seems like an artist who belongs to a different time. I imagine she would have been quite at home generations ago, the singing sweetheart of 1924, say, and your great-grandmother would have been happy to tune in to her weekly radio show. Think back to a time before popular music became the domain of the young, before it became the popular musician’s job to appeal to the desires of teenagers. When music was performed by dignified, nicely dressed people for audiences that sat before them in reverence. A quieter time with more string arrangements. Of course things were worse then, but maybe people valued things of beauty a little bit more because of it. Poor Regina may just be too refined and full of poetry about roses for this world of gleaming bodies and thousand dollar logos.
Do you want to watch an ambitious satire of the way we live now, circa 1973? Well, don’t watch O Lucky Man! It’s a terrible movie. But it does have an outstanding soundtrack by Alan Price, and I’d say that the songs pretty much make all of the points the movie wanted to make, but it doesn’t take three hours to make them. Capitalist society is a target, because or course it is. The funny thing being that in hindsight capitalism was just getting warmed up and looking back at a satirized 1973 it just looks as quaint as all get-out. But yeah, modern life is dehumanizing and every human emotion can be monetized and the military is evil and big corporations want to turn you into a human guinea pig – literally!
The baby Bowie of the sixties was dorky, earnest and notably uncool – exactly the opposite of everything we’ve come to associate David Bowie with. It was adorable. It was also odd that out of all the exciting things going on in music at the time, Bowie was writing twee little narrative songs in music hall style, probably the least hip possible direction to go in. It does show that he was already an iconoclast with a nose for the unexpected. He just hadn’t figured out how to channel that in a way that people actually liked. Of course it also means that, in his absolute failure to get attention, he really dodged a bullet. Imagine an alternate universe in which something like this (or worse, The Laughing Gnome) became the novelty hit of the summer. It would have been an absolute career dead end, not a reputation one could easily shake or move on from. We would then have enjoyed decades of David Bowie, composer of cute novelty songs and writer of middling West End musicals, perhaps with a lucrative sideline banging out power ballads for vocal divas. That’s not a world I’d much like to live in.
She’s selfish but he still loves her. That’s a little bit of an ambiguous love song, but you know what, real life is riddled with ambiguity, and love songs traditionally don’t reflect that. We experience mixed feelings a lot more than whole-hearted ones. Admit it, you know you do. We need that to trickle into our pop music. I’m a big advocate for smart and clever pop, which there’s never enough of. Indie pop is where it’s at, though. With those things said, I give you, Miniature Tigers, an indie pop group with a smart take on the usual pop song love shit.
It’s adorable to hear a kid barely out of school lamenting about how much hard living he’s seen. Most of us at 17 haven’t seen very much beyond our own living room. There are, of course and unfortunately, plenty of children who’ve seen lifetimes of horror in the years in takes most of us to figure out there’s no Easter bunny, but I have it on good authority that Jake Bugg wasn’t one of them. But here is where the artistry comes in. If you can’t imagine a life outside your own circle, you’re not much of an artist, and songwriting is all about empathy and imagination. If Jake can imagine himself as a real tough who’s been to a lot of knife fights, we can imagine it too.
By keeping an ideal facial structure fixed in his mind…
Or somewhere in the back of his mind…
That he might, by force of will, cause his face to approach those of his ideal…
Wouldn’t that be nice? If that were true we would all be morphing and changing throughout our lives. Which we do, but only in one direction. We may not be able to change and improve our faces, realistically, but we can change and recreate ourselves by how we live our lives, which may be the harder challenge.