The One Where I’m Pissed Off at the Entire Country

Listen to these lyrics:

It amazes me how relevant that song still is. So relevant, in fact, that every single line represents an aspect of the current state of our culture, be it the militant partisanship, gun control issues, the war between the generations, or the upswing of political activeness from all directions (without most of us actually being any better informed than in our pre-internet days, thanks to the media’s inability to report without an ulterior motive and most people’s desire to be told how to feel by their political leaders/heroes and to be “part of something” than figure it out for themselves).

Ultimately, it goes to show that generation studies experts and my undergraduate humanities professors are right — everything happens in a cycle. The ’90s-2001 can be likened to the ’50s — a veneer of success and relative peace, when many people were financially secure, business was booming, and status and conformity were everything. Then the Twin Towers were attacked, and we woke up from the dream. We went to war, got political, the housing market (and then the rest of the economy) crashed, we got more political, and now we’re in a veritable mud fight, where everyone is screaming and throwing mud but no one is actually listening.

This is simultaneously frustrating, depressing, and reassuring. Frustrating and depressing in that, in 50 years, nothing has really changed — some of the discussion points have, but not human nature. But it’s also oddly reassuring to know that all of this has happened before and we as a nation managed to get through it (on the whole) with our hearts and lives intact.

The funny thing is, I’m very conscious as I write this post that when people listen to the song and read my commentary — whether they listen to Rush Limbaugh and read the Dredge Report, or think President Obama is a godsend, or are somewhere in between — most will nod their heads and say, “Yep, that’s exactly what’s happening,” and blame the other side for it: the radical liberals who are immoral and hell-bent on destroying our nation’s most deeply held values, promoting abortion, secularism, gay rights, and inconvenient environmental consciousness; the radical conservatives who are bigoted, greedy, selfish, and warmongering; the “Peter Pan” youths who are entitled, immature, and overly idealistic; the older generations who are out of touch, jaded, and overly conformist; and, of course, the white majority and various minority groups (I’m not even going to write what I’ve heard in terms of race from people of all races). But we’re ALL a part of it, and until we admit that we’re culpable and are willing to change our attitudes and methods of communicating, it’s only going to continue. And this culture of screaming, cotton-in-the-ears mudslinging is not one I want my son growing up in.

Unless, of course, his generation is better than all of ours because of it and human nature improves. I’m not going to hold my breath, though. Even so, I’m going to raise him as best I can so that he, at least, will have the sense not to be part of it, that he’ll rise above it and make actual change in the world with whatever gifts he has to give.

I hope he realizes that we’re all just people, regardless of who we are and what we want for ourselves and the rest of the world. As I pointed out in my previous post, we have all experienced pain that has colored our views of the world and each other. We all, ultimately, want what’s best. It’s just that we don’t always agree about what’s best, and our fears have a knack of getting in the way of us doing the right thing, whatever that is. And sometimes our greatest fear is admitting that we might be wrong — at least a little bit.

Stephen Stills is as right now as he was in 1966 — it’s time for everyone to stop and look at what’s going down. Seriously, stop. Let all of your well-digested biases and indignation pass through your intestines, colon, and rectum and fall into the toilet where they belong, and — for the love of everything that is good and kind in the world — LOOK AROUND.

March 20

In honor of the March equinox/first day of spring  (at least for us in the Northern Hemisphere), here are a few things that look both forward and backward — fitting for this time in which dark and light are momentarily in balance and things begin to wake or make their return.

“The Current”
by Wendell Berry

Having once put his hand into the ground,
seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,
a man has made a marriage with his place,
and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.
His hand has given up its birdlife in the air.
It has reached into the dark like a root
and begun to wake, quick and mortal, in timelessness,
a flickering sap coursing upward into his head
so that he sees the old tribespeople bend
in the sun, digging with sticks, the forest opening
to receive their hills of corn, squash, and beans,
their lodges and graves, and closing again.
He is made their descendant, what they left
in the earth rising into him like a seasonal juice.
And he sees the bearers of his own blood arriving,
the forest burrowing into the earth as they come,
their hands gathering the stones up into walls,
and relaxing, the stones crawling back into the ground
to lie still under the black wheels of machines.
The current flowing to him through the earth
flows past him, and he sees one descended from him,
a young man who has reached into the ground,
his hand held in the dark as by a hand.

From “Rising”
by Wendell Berry

6.
Ended, a story is history;
it is in time, with time
lost. But if a man’s life
continue in another man,
then the flesh will rhyme
its part in immortal song.
By absence, he comes again.

There is a kinship of the fields
that gives to the living the breath
of the dead. The earth
opened in the spring, opens
in all springs. Nameless,
ancient, many-lived, we reach
through the ages with the seed.

It’s our first spring at our (first) house, and it’s exciting to discover the flowers and plants we didn’t know existed when we bought the place late last summer. We’ve planted strawberries and lemon thyme in the front yard around the mailbox and more strawberries in the backyard near the porch, and the seeds we’ve ordered for our vegetable and herb gardens should be coming in any day now. So, for us, it’s a time of surprise and anticipation, of eagerness and hope. It’s also, as with other things, a time of returning. As my husband said while we were preparing the soil around the mailbox, “It’s like being a kid again — digging in the dirt outside.”

Creepiest Songs Playlist

My sister and I have been working on this for years, gradually adding songs to the list as we hear them. The general rule: they have to seem normal (even romantic) until you listen to the lyrics because it’s always creepier when the creepiness sneaks up on you. Like deranged toddlers. It’s delicious. And the work isn’t done yet — like Pokémon fans, we want to catch ’em all. But since it’s that special time of year where we celebrate all things creepy, and because I haven’t posted anything in a while, I figured I’d share what we have so far. Enjoy! And if you can think of any additions, please list them below. (Also, these are in no particular order, and the links go to Youtube videos as official as achievable.)

1. “Private Eyes” by Hall & Oates
H&O are a guilty pleasure of mine, and this song seems really upbeat when you don’t pay attention to the lyrics (which my mom, for one, never does). The first verse even seems pretty run-of-the-mill until you get to the last line before the chorus that says, “You can’t escape my private eyes…” And suddenly it becomes a stalker theme song.

2. “Every Breath You Take” by The Police
This is probably the most famous stalker theme song, but it still counts because if you’re not really paying attention to the lyrics, it sounds like a normal, you-broke-my-heart-but-I’m-still-in-love song. But it’s really, really not.

3. “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” by Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra, featuring vocalist Val Rosing
This is a little different from the others on the list because it sounds super-creepy but is actually — when considering the lyrics alone — just a sweet children’s song from the ’30s. Which makes the song as a whole even creepier.

4. “Sunglasses at Night” by Corey Hart
My sister and I used to laugh about this song — the bad synths, the cheesy, wailing guitar, the fact that Hart seems to think that wearing sunglasses at night makes him cool — until we heard it on the radio on the way to the airport one fateful day. And we realized two things: a) it’s actually pretty awesome (in a cheesy, ’80s pop music way), and b) it’s a classic stalker song filled with veiled threats alluding to switchblades and at the same time trying to be reassuring by telling the beloved, “Don’t be afraid.” Which makes me afraid.

5. “Living Room” by Tegan and Sara
My sister gets the credit for this one. Another stalker song, this time with a banjo. But, admittedly, if Tegan Quin confessed to spending every morning obsessively watching me go about my daily business, I’d invite her in for a glass of wine instead of calling the cops.

6. “One Way or Another” by Blondie
If we were to compare songs to real stalkers, this one would be Stalker Sarah, a little bit older, in heels.

7. “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band
It really does sound like a regular love song throughout most of it, until you get to 3:17. I won’t spoil the surprise in case you don’t already know what I’m talking about.

8. “One of These Nights” by The Eagles
It took me forever to realize that this was actually a threat veiled in sweet nothings. Don Henley, a love song is no longer romantic if you threaten to come up behind and “get” me.

9. “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League
Like the Police song above, this one is pretty obviously stalker-creepy, but I didn’t realize it until the Swiffer commercials. I’m going to assume that other people lived the majority of their lives thinking this was just a New Wave dance song, too, and I’m blowing your minds right now.

10. “Aqualung” by Jethro Tull
The line “Sitting on a park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent” and the later, connected line, “Sitting in the cold sun, watching the frilly panties run” is really all that needs to be mentioned about this song. Also, ick.

11. “I Will Possess Your Heart” by Death Cab for Cutie
Another seemingly normal love song, assuming that the title isn’t a literal vow. But the line at 5:38 changes everything. As casual as he tries to make it sound, it is not okay to look into someone’s window as you “slowly pass.” Maybe it’s not at the stalker level, but it’s still creepy.

12. “Ten Speed (Of God’s Blood and Burial)” by Coheed and Cambria
While the parenthetical subtitle of the song is pretty metal, most of the lyrics are fairly tame on a surface level. It’s just a guy debating with himself about leaving his girlfriend, right? Nope. In the spoken part in the middle of the song, it’s revealed that the protagonist is having a conversation with his bicycle about killing her off. Which takes this song (and the rest of the album) to a Son of Sam level of creepiness.

13. “Come Sail Away” by Styx
No, it isn’t a love song. It’s about an alien abduction. That may not surprise you, but it took some people I know (see #1) around 20 years to realize it. Which makes it perfect for the list.

Happy Halloween!

Down Among the Dust and Pollen

It’s been around a year since I first heard Fleet Foxes’ “The Shrine/An Argument,” and I’m still in love with it. So is my husband, who said this morning, “I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that [this] is one of the best songs ever… It’s everything amazing all rolled into one.” And that’s coming from a sometimes agonizingly picky musician.

If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s definitely folk, reminiscent of ’60s groups like Simon and Garfunkel, but refreshed by non-folk elements like the free jazz bit at the end. It’s mysterious and ambient, unexpected and austere, progressive without being off-putting. It’s deeply, tenderly spiritual in a personal, unsentimental, non-evangelistic way. It’s flakes of sunlight, dark caverns, green apples, hidden pools, gray ghosts of fog drifting along the chill northwestern coastline. It physically hurts — like lovesickness — to hear it. Robin Pecknold singing, “Sunlight over me no matter what I do,” stretching out his pretty-folk-singer voice to release a brief, hoarse cry, gives me chills. The lovesickness is for those wafts of simplicity and purity and the kind of primal spirituality that escapes language and ritual, that’s only observation and feeling, that come in certain pensive moments I wish I could gather up and cling to, but that inevitably slip away the moment I recognize them for what they are.

“The Shrine/An Argument” also has an incredible music video directed by Sean Pecknold (Robin’s older brother and the man behind Grandchildren.tv). The video, like the song, is eerily mythic, at once surreal and earth-bound. Listen to the song with your eyes closed first, then watch the video below.

New Radar Cinema Music Video Out!

This was released about a month ago, so I’m a little late in sharing it, but it’s better late than never, right? It’s a great song. Enjoy!

Worth a Listen: “We Bros” by WU LYF

“WU LYF” is an acronym for World Unite/Lucifer Youth Federation — “Lucifer” in this case adhering to the title’s original meaning, “bringer of light” (initially used to refer to the morning star), with a tongue-in-cheek, rebellious nod to its modern connotations. They’re from Manchester, England, and say they play “heavy pop.”

In a world that’s often more politicized and “moral” than compassionate and free, this is an important, necessary song. It calls us back to our roots as animals, as creatures existing without all the nonsense of ideologies and campaigns and the pointless back-biting that’s caused by those things. It’s about being connected and realizing that connection, not to the suits we wear (what religion we follow, how much money we have, what we do for a living, which political party we support, how we look, who we love, and so on), but to each other just because we are. It’s about getting back to that primordial sensitivity we seem to have forgotten — a sensitivity both to the people around us and to ourselves, our own innocent impulses. The song (the entire album, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, in fact) is one of those rare gestures that gives us permission to really be ourselves, to fully feel out our humanity without shame. And that’s important, at least to me.

 

This ship’s set sail,
set sail on you and me.
This ship’s set sail;
I just wanted to be free.

So maybe we will fail,
fail to not see;
maybe we will fail,
but at least we will be free.

You stand so holy;
Nah, don’t sit down.
Join the feet all marching
across the ground.

This place so lonely,
but, nah, don’t settle down;
just hear the beat drown over
all this lonesome sound.

It’s a sad song that makes a man put
money before life,
a sad song that puts a man up for sale,
a sad song that make a man put
money before life.
How many asses are you gonna have to sell?

We were born as animals.
We were born as animals and we bros,
but you put suits on animals;
you try to put suits on animals, but we bros.

We bros, you lost man.
We bros so long.
Put away your guns, man,
and sing this song.

And I said the mountain won’t go falling
if your still willing to climb,
but when the mountain goes falling,
true riches you will find.

Nah, we were born as animals,
born as animals and we bros,
but you put suits on animals;
you try to put suits on animals, but we bros.

We bros, you lost man.
We bros so long.
Put away your guns, man,
and sing this song.
_________________________

For more from WU LYF, check out their site here. I also recommend this really great article from Spinner.