Marianne Faithfull’s entire career is built on songs about being sad, starting when she was a teenager with very little to be sad about. She’s gained plenty of sorrows in the meantime, though, making her a perfect traveling companion for people who love to be sad. I’m not saying that I love to be sad, or that anyone should wallow in sadness just for the sake of being contrary, but… But it’s healthy to accept that sadness is part of life, and it’s something that you, a human being, are going to cycle in and out of, sometimes for years, so learn to take it for whatever beauty or inspiration you can find. It’s accepted wisdom, anyway, that there’s been more, better art created by people trying to navigate their way through sadness than by happy people. Happy people like to just sit there and smell the daisies or whatever. When you’re happy you don’t need to justify or explain it or somehow hammer it into something more meaningful. It’s sadness that needs to justify itself by being creativity juice or forming into pearls of wisdom or providing that big breakthrough in therapy that makes everything else make sense all of a sudden. Therefore we treasure sad music for making our sadness sound more like a state of grace and not so much senseless and overwhelming.
Bob Marley got that right. Marley got a lot of things right and a few things wrong, actually. Lamenting the troubles of the world is eternally on-target; no matter how much change and progress mankind achieves, the world continues to be cloaked in sorrow. It just shifts and moves and takes on new forms to match the times. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the fighting; everyone should do the work of standing up and making their own times a little better.
Just as there have been books written about Leonard Cohen’s best known song, there are movies being made about his best known love. Cohen had the archetypal artist-and-muse relationship with a real person named Marianne, a relationship we see as so anachronistic and exotic that we keep wanting to examine it and pick it apart, even though Marianne, unlike other famous modern-day muses, was a private citizen with no aspirations of being a celebrity in her own right. It’s a relationship dynamic we can’t quite wrap our heads around anymore, now that women are very rarely likely to settle for a life of making sandwiches in the warm glow of their partner’s genius. We even ask if it’s somehow unethical for an artist to leech inspiration not only from his own life but from the life of his partner. But we still find it romantic, because poetry. Who doesn’t want to be remembered forever in the flattering glow of love? That feeling when you’re in love that everything is more special, more beautiful and imbued with deeper meaning? It’s a feeling most of us can’t articulate, and may not even be able to hold on to in our memory. But poetry keeps that glow burning forever, and it serves as a proxy for people who don’t have the ability to set their feelings down in words and images.We may be uncomfortable, now, with the implications of articulating love and desire too well. It makes us think about objectification, possession, jealousy, control, all the things that can turn beautiful experiences into ugly ones. To be in love is to be subsumed, on some level, by another person’s view of ourselves, and it’s terrifying, especially now that the social rules of courtship have changed and we’re all fighting so hard to nail down the boundaries of our identities. How do you allow yourself to be another person’s object of love and desire, and yet still remain yourself? Well, don’t fall in love with an artist, I guess. Fall in love with someone who will take their vision of you to their grave with them. I guess that love songs and art will always be a little bit unethical, because they drag the most private feelings out into the open, and the artist opens themselves up because that’s what the artist does, but the muse is opened up, with or without consent, and on the artist’s terms. And the reward is to be loved by the world, not as you were, but as your loved one saw you.
I feel a childlike sense of delight watching Sparks videos from the 80’s. They’re really 80’s but at the same time really tongue-in-cheek about being really 80’s. When I was listening to this music when I was a kid, I had no idea how satirical it was, I just knew that it didn’t have all the seriousness that made most grown-up music so hard to relate to. And, of course, it actually was the 80’s and nobody had the benefit of hindsight to parse how the nuances of the decade’s pop culture lent themselves to parody. The nature of 80’s pop culture was such that many parts of it have aged better as parody than they did in their straight-faced iterations. That very much applies to music videos, because it’s impossible to take anyone’s earnesty at face value when they look… the way that they do. But with a nod and a wink, everything becomes fun again. At least a few people knew they were being silly, and now they look a lot less stupid than the ones who didn’t.
Everyone needs to discover the early work of UB40. It’s so much more edgy than their later stuff. Which what every fan of every band ever has said at one time or another. Because everyone needs to know that you knew about the thing before the thing was popular. In this case, I can’t claim that I knew about the thing before the thing was popular, because I hadn’t been born yet. UB40 actually became popular the year I was born, which makes me the same age as Red Red Wine. Everything before that is like a mysterious window into the lost ages of the past. Or, in this case, what 80’s music sounded like before it became the sound that became known as “80’s music”.
You gotta wonder what it is the Pet Shop Boys have to be so mournful about all the time. No matter how uptempo their beats are, in their hearts they’re always sad. I’m sure that in real life Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant are very fun guys who aren’t mopey at all. But on record, they’ve set their tone as ‘music to cry to after coming home from the gay bar all alone’. Which honestly is a niche that needed to be filled. You can give them credit for showing that synth-pop and dance music can be thoughtful and emotionally deep. To this day there’s a lack of deep thought and feeling in the genre, as though people who go out dancing don’t have those things either. There’s the argument that people go to clubs and listen to dance music to escape from the thoughts and feelings that haunt them the rest of the time, but that’s a little bit simplistic. I mean, there’s nothing more emotionally triggering than dragging your alienation down to the club only to discover that it won’t go away no matter how much you drink, dance and grind up on strangers. Also, we’re still having trouble letting go of the idea that music with synthesizers and beats in it is something you only hear at the club while wearing booty shorts. Sometimes it’s basically emo with Casio keyboards instead of acoustic guitars. Or when songwriters like PSB get ahold of it and suddenly it’s filled with the full emotional complexity of the human condition and stuff.
Eek-a-Mouse has recorded about twenty albums, give or take, and I only listen to one of them. U-Neek is just one of those records that I’ve listened to so many times over I know every song, and it’s a record I put on when I want to leave my troubles at the door. I’m sure that some of Mouse’s other records are fine as wine too, but this one is just special. I can’t recommend a better party record, for one thing, if you’re into weird parties. It’s good for getting drunk and dancing alone in your bedroom like a goddamn teenager in an 80’s movie. Children like it. And it’s funny. Five stars, an absolute favorite.