Nick Cave really makes marriage sound like a life sentence with no chance of parole, although, by all accounts, he has a lovely one himself. Well, for many people, that’s exactly what it is. For anyone who looks at ideal models of romance and sees a life-sucking bottomless void, Nick Cave is your man, your guy, your guru, your creep at the door. He’s your ringmaster of why everything is bad and wrong. And that, perversely, makes the dark nights a little more comfortable, if not brighter.
No one ever did psychedelic epics quite like Pink Floyd. Which amazingly, they managed to successfully do long after the ‘psychedelic’ descriptor fell out of style. From ‘psychedelic’ to ‘progressive’ to infinity, as they say. Pink Floyd distinguished themselves in the 60’s, when everyone was competing to see just how long of an extended Moog solo they could get people to sit and listen to. By the end of the 80’s the ideals of psychedelia and the ambitions of prog were on no one’s mind, but Pink Floyd was still selling out stadiums, and all despite their own internal rancor and legal wrangles.
David Bowie imagines himself as the world’s weirdest lounge act, complete with a satin suit, and campy covers of decade-old pop hits. It felt like quite a novelty and it still does. There’s some suspension of disbelief required, watching a vermilion-haired alien croon about chasing some Earth-dame as if this rock messiah would stoop to the childish dating rituals the original McCoys song was referring to. Tongue-entirely-in-cheek of course.
Peter Tosh is kind of a forgotten giant. He was founding member of The Wailers and recorded some classic albums as a solo artist, but he hasn’t been able to promote himself and grow his legacy on account of being dead. Now, Bob Marley is dead too, but apparently his heirs and offspring are thorsty and business savvy above and beyond most people’s capabilities. I don’t see whoever’s in charge of Tosh’s estate trying to plaster his face on a line of vanity bongs. I suspect, though, that Tosh would have found that sort of aggressive profiteering very vulgar and antithetical to his philosophy. It’s better to be well known to a few for the power of your message than vaguely known to the masses for nothing more than the image of your face.
David Bowie has a real quarrel with the straight world and the briefcase-carrying types who populate it. It’s not just David Bowie, of course. Artists and musicians and assorted Bohemians have mocked the conventional life in a trope as age-old as dogs chasing cats. It’s a real tragedy that so many people remain locked in a life of silent conformity, and the probability that most of them are perfectly content with it just adds to the pathos. In David Bowie’s eyes, it’s also symptomatic that we’re all living in some kind of an Orwellian regime that actively punishes free thought and self-expression, which is just… reality. George Orwell, for his part, may have added one or two science-fiction-ish flourishes to his world, but mostly he was just describing the perfectly real. So we’re all children of the silent age, aren’t we though?
From the image of Ian Anderson boiling his tea water over an open campfire, to the final ode to domestic tranquility, everything about Songs From the Wood speaks to my heart. Jethro Tull tapped into something that rock music, with its relentless bluster, rarely touches on: the appeal of a peaceful life. They also leaned hard on English folklore, another thing that pop culture usually disregards. It’s a sustained vision of sprites in trees, Solstice revelries, sexy outdoor sportage, and warm homes full of happy dogs. Everything a soul might long for when they have to spend most of their lives in windowless, featureless modern public spaces. There’s an entirely conflicting fantasy, of course, about the glamour of urban life, but glamour, unlike a nice backyard garden, is a very nebulous thing to aspire to. For someone who hears the highway through their bedroom window, the longing to hear leaves rustling and to smell the earth and sleep in natural darkness is… well, it’s there, quiet and small and undiagnosed, like a vitamin deficiency.
I used to think, as a kid, that this song by Sparks was the height of New Romantic romanticism. The keyboard curlicues are so dramatic, and Russ delivers it with such romantic conviction. It takes a few listens to realize that absolutely none of the words make sense, as if the songwriters had gained a weak grasp of the English language entirely by listening to romantic pop songs. The songwriters are actually American, and what they’ve grasped is that the bar for ‘words that make sense together’ is very low in pop songs, and it’s the delivery and production that people respond to. All the lyrics have to do is deliver a vague sense of the general sentiment. Ah, it’s romance! And dancing! Please, say no more.