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.
Here is a duet between David Byrne and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond (who you may also know from her work with the Decemberists.) The record, of course, is Here Lies Love, the rock opera wherein Byrne gathers a winner’s circle of outstanding female vocalists to tell the story of disgraced political figure Imelda Marcos. Byrne himself is mostly missing in action, but he does take the role of incarcerated opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. Although I do recommend a quick brush-up on Filipino political history, it’s not strictly necessary. It’s a song about a man in prison and his spiritual struggle. He could be any man. But the history is fun to learn.
It’s a beautiful spring day and the very thing that I need is a morose drone. To dampen any excessively high spirits, you see. So I may just spend the next few hours listening to Interpol, who are a band best suited to the dark depths of a sub-arctic winter. (Are they very popular in Finland, I wonder?) I’ve always held that there’s no wrong time to revisit your own sub-arctic depths. Especially when you’re having the audacity to feel good about your life. That’s when you really need to balance the four humors.
“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.
Here Lies Love is a record that rewards delving deep. (Why do you think I’m still writing about it so much?) Obviously, it should inspire an interest in learning the history of the Philippines. It’s also a treasure trove of talent to follow up on. Nearly every one of the 22 tracks feature a different vocalist. Some of them you are sure to know of: Cyndi Lauper, Tori Amos, David Byrne. Some were still obscure-ish in 2010 but later became huge huge stars, such as St. Vincent and Sia. Most, however, are under-the-radar artists who don’t get much press, but are worth discovering. This one is Canadian music royalty Martha Wainwright, who is a singer-songwriter in her own wright but doesn’t have all the accolades of her brother. (Hahahaha, see what I did there?) Worth checking her out!
Marina Diamandis sure knows how to make angst poetic. She’s dramatic in her lyrics, in her vocals, and in her image. She may have pop diva sensibilities, but they’re constantly in a balancing act with her emo side. Because although her music might sound ‘big’ her topics are intimate. She writes a lot about things that are interior in a way that most pop doesn’t usually touch. Lots of songs about insecurity, about not knowing who you are and what you’re doing. That’s an essential part of being young, of course, and dealing with those feelings in a productive way is an essential part of becoming less young. That’s why Marina strikes a chord with the young and the not so much. She’s a figure study in how to be vulnerable and creative about it.