This is the first of a string of songs named Sober, which invites a series of conversations about sobriety. An important topic, to be sure. However, this song by Broods is not actually about sobriety. It’s a plaintive love song, which invites a conversation about certain songwriting tropes. Poets and songsmiths have been leaning heavy on the metaphor of love as an addicting intoxicant for as long as all of culture, so it’s safe to say that it’s been done from every angle. You could argue that it’s not even a metaphor, more an exact description of what love hormones do to the human brain. Either way, we never seem to get tired of it, and as Paul McCartney once wrote “What’s wrong with that, I’d like to know.” So enjoy a plaintive love song that’s not designed to invite anything deeper than your own plaintive feelings.
This might feel fragmentary, but maybe you should listen to the entire album. Bombay Bicycle Club are more of a sustained atmosphere band than a stand-alone singles band. That makes them a little old-fashioned, now that playlists have trumped albums as units of musical consumption. Nowadays, every song has to be a potential stand-alone single, in hopes of being picked for someone’s #MOOD playlist. I’m as guilty as anyone with this mentality; I’ve been trying break songs out of their original context since before platforms like Spotify made it so easy. I’m from the mixtape generation, I understand the urge to curate your own experience. However, there are still some artists who aren’t trying to be playlist friendly. Artists whose songs are best appreciated when you play 10 or 12 of them all in a row. What, ten songs in a row by the same artist? Now that’s a curated listening experience.
Well, here I am asking myself if it’s wrong that I still enjoy Morrissey’s newer records. Morrissey once said that being his fan must be very hard, and ever since, he’s thrown down the gauntlet to make it even harder. Why does he keep saying all these nasty racist things? Is it because he’s a racist old white guy? The best I can say for him is that he has the very immature mentality that he should be allowed to say whatever he likes and not expect any pushback, and when he says dumb shit and earns negative pushback, he acts shocked and wounded. More to the point, I would say that he is an elderly man who has calcified, as people tend to do with age, into someone more ignorant, more conservative and more deeply out of touch than his younger self used to be. (Although his younger self was kind of a jerk too.) Can we just accept that most of our icons are scum? Most people are scum when you look at them closely enough, but especially if they’re white guys of a certain age and too much money in their pockets. That’s just demographically factual. Even the so-called good ones. They were all raised to believe that their shitty behavior is somehow ‘charming’ or symptomatic of inner depth or is negated by their talent, or whatever. And then we all collectively threw money at them and hung their picture up in a frame. Every day there’s another breathless news story about some old dude saying or doing or being accused of saying or doing some shitty stupid shit like they don’t understand that the entire culture has changed and people are no longer going to shrug and say “oh, you!” like a put-upon sitcom housewife. And lest you ask, female elder statesmen are in no way exempt from this; Brigitte Bardot, for example, is absolutely abhorrent in her politics, while the likes of Diana Ross and Barbra Streisand have decided that defending Michael Jackson (a man who did sex to little boys, on the scale of shitty things to have done) is the hill their reputations would die on. Does that mean that Morrissey is canceled, as the kids say? Well, no. If every shitty person’s art was canceled, there would be no art left, because we’re all shitty people and we all have done things we’d like to not have dredged up on Twitter. Even Michael Jackson is not canceled.
I discovered Hurray for the Riff Raff by stumbling into a SXSW performance, back when SXSW still meant something. I was a little blown away. Alynda Segarra is both very tiny and cute and an incredibly powerful performer, someone seemingly grew out of centuries of troubadour tradition like a pithy fruit. We don’t really talk about protest music anymore, because it’s been decades since anyone has used music as a political tool in any organized way. We forget the impact of effective political songwriting, and it’s too bad. Good music is just what the revolution needs.
This what soul music is all about. Sharon Jones was a modern-day paragon of soul, and her life was its own triumphant soul song. Soul music is the expression of people’s downright magical ability to nourish love, optimism and generosity of spirit out of a lifetime of hardship, disappointment and misfortune. It’s this big-spirited perseverance that allows us, as people, to continue hanging in there, all together. Nothing reflects that more than the vibrancy and creative joy that flourish in the most oppressed and disenfranchised communities. All broad sociological strokes aside, though, we love soul music because it makes us feel good and reminds us that we can and should feel good despite the worst of times, and that satiates a universal thirst for comfort.
Leonard Cohen lays out his philosophy for life, and it’s just what you would expect. He’s a downtempo kind of a guy. When I hear this, I hear it as a decades-too-late reply to Marlene Dietrich, who crooned “A guy who takes his time, I go for every time” back in her day. Dietrich didn’t leave much question as to what she meant, and she was, indeed, a fast-movin’ gal, if you catch my meaning. We can be sure what Leonard Cohen means about it too. He’s talking about cruising along savoring the slow stuff, and sensualism has always been his philosophy. Of course, he comes from a different time, when the pace of life was not so jacked up on synthetic adrenaline, and taking things slowly just to enjoy them didn’t seem like such an exotic luxury. Well, we all have something to learn from the old geezer, don’t we?
I never thought that it would come to this, but it seems that droning, feedback-laden guitar rock – of the kind that Lou Reed patented in the waning 1960’s – has become something of a rarity. The world moves on, of course, and the dozens of bands that were formed because someone stumbled across a Velvet Underground album have flourished and run their course. It is the nature of culture. We are dominated now by a different set of collective musical gestures. And that’s ok, because contrary to the nostalgia narrative, the culture was not objectively better when everyone sounded like they’d stumbled upon a Velvet Underground album. If nothing else, now it actually feels like a treat again to hear someone who has mastered that particular droning laissez faire. Maybe one day kids stumbling upon Parquet Courts records will be motivated to start yet another garage rock cycle.