Paul McCartney’s two-minute toss-offs are better than your symphonies. That’s an exaggeration; symphonies are symphonies and Paul McCartney’s are not all that. But two-minute pop songs are a different story. How many hit songs come out that cost millions of dollars to produce and have a credit list to rival a Hollywood blockbuster? And how many of those songs suck so much it makes you wonder if any human beings were involved in their making at all? Then there’s what Paul McCartney comes up with just doodling around alone in his basement. McCartney puts most of the rest of the music industry to shame.
Here is a song about infanticide, and I couldn’t be more here for that. I can’t condone the practice itself, but I’m also tired of hearing about love all the time. It takes a brave creative visionary to make such a dark and twisted little song and make it their big hit single, but The Decemberists are nothing if not uniquely visionary. They know, even if you don’t, that epic narrative songs about horrific things used to be every bard and minstrel’s bread and butter. Perhaps not so much the cold-blooded sociopathy narrated here, but definitely murder and bloodshed galore. How do you think people entertained themselves before God created binge-watching? They wanted to hear about, in great detail, what terrible things could befall those less fortunate than themselves, just as we do. This isn’t a novelty song that somehow found its way onto indie radio, it’s the scion of a narrative folktale tradition as old and deep rooted as human language itself. It reflects what evils humans may do, and the cultural salves we create to comfort each other. Narratives tie us together, they warn and educate, they condemn and they comfort. The night is, in fact, dark and full of terrors.
“Revolution is internal, help yourself at any time”
If you haven’t heard, Gogol Bordello are releasing a new album. Obviously, they couldn’t be more relevant than at this moment, and I can’t wait to hear what they have to say. A lot of us right now are thinking to ourselves “I didn’t leave the fucking motherland to keep on dealing with this shit, I left it so I wouldn’t have to!” I didn’t come to America to be surrounded by mindless violent nationalism, that’s what people come to America to get away from. Unfortunately, America is basically that suspiciously hot girl on Tinder who turns out to have meth mouth and both kinds of hepatitis. So at a time when America’s international diaspora is collectively quaking with fear and rage, we really need an uplifting voice. We need to be reminded of how strong and brave and vital our immigrant communities always have been and always will be. Yes, we’re deeply disappointed right now; we thought we wouldn’t have to be dissidents anymore. But if there’s one thing Joe Make-America-Great-Again doesn’t understand, it’s that people don’t come to America because they think it’s going to be a fun daisy carnival; they come because they’re desperate to survive. Everyone who comes here does so because they’ve seen and lived through things so intolerable there’s nothing left to do but leave. In that regard, we’re way better equipped than any white-bread Americans are to deal with whatever spiteful baby-fascist bullshit comes next. It’s hard to bring people down who’ve already been down. We can be dissidents again. We can drink and party our way through whatever troubled times may come. We pass free thought around with the vodka bottle.
This. Either you get it or you don’t. There’s no particular cosmic secret to it or anything. It’s a just a joke. You’re either in the spirit of it or you’re not. Bob Dylan is divisive like that, and this one of his most intensely love-it-or-hate-it moments. I can definitely understand that if you don’t happen to be a fan of incomprehensible lyrics or people who sing like drunk frogs, Dylan can be excruciatingly annoying. Which also happens to make him appealing to people who enjoy the knowledge that the things they’re into are annoying to others. That may be part of the reason why, in his heyday, his followers dubbed him the voice of his generation. Because the young generation really made it a point to confuse and irritate their elders; it feels so revolutionary and radical when the things you enjoy are closed off to outsiders who just don’t get it, man. But that’s just a common trait of being young and eager to break the apron strings. That’s why there’s been so many annoying subcultures based on annoying things. Bob Dylan, for his part, found the phenomenon of being the voice of anyone but himself extremely annoying, and spent a great deal of time and energy trying to alienate his own fanbase. He didn’t mean for his funny joke song to represent the enmity of generational groups and the cultural disjointment caused by radically changing values. It just happened to.
Well, this is about the polar opposite of my own life, but I’m glad that Rihanna and Nicki are both getting some. Obviously, the level of bad-bitch-ness that Rih and Nicki Minaj are at is an unattainable ideal, especially for those of us who spend most of our time indoors with our cats. But there’s a little bit of a bad bitch inside of all of us, and we need to remember that when we’re feeling like useless blobs of angst. The musical stylings of Rihanna don’t get a lot of credit for having deep cultural or spiritual impact, and hey, they’re not really there for that. But Bad Gal RiRi is there to remind us that we should be having fun and being fabulous and there’s billions of fish in the sea, just in case anyone cares about fish. Don’t ever misunderestimate how fucking empowering it feels to be fabulous and get in front of the lights and cut loose.
You turn to the Decemberists, like you turn to a midcentury novel, for reminders of the near-forgotten; words and concepts like ‘spinster’, ‘always the bridesmaid’, even ‘raincoat’. Literature and music have always been better at recording history than history itself, in the biased hands of historians, ever has. We look back at the last stretch of living memory, and its memorabilia, and witness society steadily lurching itself out of the dark ages. Here it stands, a bit battered, unsteady on its feet, still coated with the filth of history, but at we’re slouching forward, at least. Nobody says spinster anymore, but unmarried women are still treated like apples rotting under the tree. We can toss our raincoats aside and blithely not own an umbrella, because we’re children of science who don’t remember that a sniffle and a cough used to foreshadow a visit from the grim reaper. Sometimes it seems that the only reason we remember history at all is because it still clings to our language.
The golden god takes no rest in his sunset years. Well, maybe some, but not as much as he could be. Robert Plant could be content to just reel in money from the hits, but he isn’t. He’s still a formidable force, as you can see. This song sounds quite timeless; it’s not an old folk song, but it could well be. It’s clearly derived from folk music, so you can’t really say that it’s not. How derived depends, I suppose, on how much credit you want to give Plant for his lifelong habit of ‘deriving’ things from other people. Not that it matters – tradition is meant to be bent and mutated by the individual, that’s what allows it to survive.