For all of his influence and discreet ubiquity, I haven’t heard much about Brian Eno lately. Not that he’s the kind of an artist who aims to make headlines, but I could do with some better keeping up. It seems like he’s still all about composing otherworldly soundscapes. As usual, those soundscapes are both purposefully boring and subtly evocative. That is, they do evoke an distinct imaginative atmosphere. It could be the soundtrack to the kind of perversely drawn-out art movie that hardly anyone makes anymore, for example, the kind where static wide-lens shots of gently rustling greenery drag on for minutes at a time, and everyone is silently consumed with unspecified but very terrible sorrows. Eno draws the listener into this imaginative plane, and that plane is – plot twist! – extremely boring. Which is exactly Eno’s plan, his longtime devious hobby of creating things of great beauty that are impossible to pay any kind of sustained attention to.
We know that a life of beauty, wealth and fame is not guaranteed to be free from pain and suffering. But we also know that a life without those things is absolutely guaranteed to deliver the hard knocks and to never stop delivering them. And that success after a life of hard knocks is very rare. Sharon Jones is one of those rare people who worked her way to fame over decades of poverty and struggle, and she has, indeed, a unique perspective on life. She has a perspective even the greatest soul and blues singers may not have had. She didn’t observe life from the remove of a working performer, imagining it from the stage or through the window of a tour bus; she saw the real ugliness up close, in her job as a guard on Rikers Island. That kind of work can destroy the soul of the person who has to do it, but for Jones, it did the opposite. It allowed her sing about hard-knock things with empathy and authority, to be a voice for women like herself. She has no patience for shitbag men and their romantic platitudes, for one thing, and she has no patience for tough-guy posturing and big talk. She has no patience for people who don’t treat their loved ones with love and respect. What she does have is all the love and respect for women who get knocked down and get back up and learn to keep on fighting. She has respect for children who grow up strong in spite of all the hard knocks their parents passed down to them. Here, she specifically calls out the cruelty of abusive parents and celebrates the child’s strength to grow up and stand up for themselves and break the cycle.
Sham pain for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends, as they say… Marina Diamandis, clever as she is, isn’t above using some corny-ass dad puns as vehicle for her social commentary, in this case about the perils of getting yourself blackout drunk. She also wrote a song called Hermit the Frog. She likes wordplay. And she’s totally in using it. Humor and absurdity go a long way towards leavening angst-ridden topics, and Marina uses both, along with heady doses of glam and glitter, to get her message across. Underneath the hooks and costumes, there’s some heavy angst, and serious observations about how wounding and hard life can be for women and how much of a charade femininity essentially is. Also, the weight of creativity and fame, don’t forget about that additional burden. Life is an uphill battle. Let us have our dad puns.
“I may be bad but I’m perfectly good at it.”
There we have it: the definitive statement of purpose by Rihanna for unrepentant bad girls everywhere. Or the final commercialization of a formerly underground subculture. Take your pick. It could even be both. You can be delighted by Rihanna’s gleeful embrace of sexual transgression and still wonder just how transgressive anything really is if four million people are buying it. Perhaps there’s not much taboo left to fetish culture when it’s constantly in your face and at your fingertips. On the other hand, though, good. Let people be sexually liberated, empty out those closets, sweep open the dungeons of shame, stop clutching your pearls at other people’s pleasures. Girls just wanna have fun! With ball gags and Japanese rope bondage and puppy play and femdom and slashfic and cam shows and dd/lg and latex and friendly fire and cryptozoophiliac Patreon subscriptions and whatever other filthy things you didn’t know you were into until the internet brought them to your attention. It’s a great time to be alive and sexually active.
As a rule, I’m a hardened cynic who looks askance at anything too overtly positive or ingratiating. Uplifting entertainment is essentially manipulative, naive and intellectually shallow, is it not? Anyone who wants to deliver me an uplifting message about hanging in there and being my best self or whatever needs to sneak in the back door reeking of alcohol and herrings. Ahem. Enter Hutz, et al. No group of people has ever smuggled so much positivity under the guise of promoting drunk debauchery than Gogol Bordello. It’s because they know a truth that the general US public has lost sight of or just doesn’t care to admit; a good debauch is a necessity if you want to live a happy healthy life. Debauchery brings people together, builds friendships, starts romances and heals old wounds. There’s nothing more wholesome and good for the soul than a communal alcoholic binge, otherwise known as a party. It’s what ties the ties that bind us.
I wager you’re well familiar with ubiquitous hit, and I bet that sometime after the ten thousandth time you heard it, what it’s about may have finally dawned on you. You may have even felt a tiny little bit bad for whistling along. But then you whistled along anyway. It is, to refresh you, an inescapably catchy ode to that peculiarly modern social evil of our time, the school shooting. Making delightful art out of the shittiest things in life isn’t by any means a new phenomenon; people have been making whistle tunes in the face carnage for as long as people have known how to whistle. It’s an interesting thing to think about. We’re reached a point in our society where we just numbly accept the very real likelihood of getting shot by a disgruntled acquaintance or blown up by a terrorist as just a residual risk of living. While the specifics of the threats we face are uniquely ours, the mindset is nothing new. We wearily accept our timely dangers, just as people before us wearily accepted that most of their children would never live to adulthood or that a certain number of people in their communities would inevitably be eaten by lions. It’s not callous, it’s just how we’ve always survived.
Another song from Here Lies Love, featuring the French vocalist Camille. She is best known for recording with Nouvelle Vague, and is also a solo artist. Apparently she has recorded half a dozen albums, some of which were certified platinum in France. After years of knowing her only for her Here Lies Love contribution and as part of the Nouvelle Vague ensemble, I’m curious to discover Camille as an artist in her own right. More on that at a later date.