“In the Bleak Midwinter”: An Unofficial Slideshow

“In the Bleak Midwinter”: An Unofficial Slideshow

It may be that after “I’ll Be Killing You This Christmas,” I was feeling the need to balance out my Christmas karma, but mostly I was just poking around YouTube listening to various Rufus Wainwright tracks and I ran into this, which is actually from Renee Fleming’s 2014 album, Christmas in New York. The album is basically composed of duets between Renee and another artist, and “In the Bleak Midwinter” is the one song she does with Rufus. It’s also a lovely poem which I distantly remember from my school days, composed by Christina Rossetti of Goblin Market fame.  The sad and slightly stern woman who appears twice in the slideshow  is Christina (she’s the speaker, and I use those stills of her when she talks about “I”). While I’m not quite sure, I think the heart shaped key fob that appears near the end of the slideshow may actually be Ms. Rossetti’s. The music is by Gustav Holst, who some will remember as the composer of The Planets. I was trying to achieve a sombre but reverent mood, in keeping with the tone of the song, and I hope I have come close to achieving it, but obviously the final arbiter wil always be the audience.

Loudon Wainwright III’s “I’ll Be Killing You This Christmas”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Loudon Wainwright III’s “I’ll Be Killing You This Christmas”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Loudon has long had an affinity for holiday songs that take slightly unusual perspectives. Family dinners (“Tnanksgiving“), the 1st day of April (“April Fools Day Morn“), and of course throwing out the old christmas tree at year’s end (“Suddenly It’s Christmas“), I was seriously considering the latter song as a possible topic for a slideshow when I ran into this one, again (like “Brand New Dance“) from Loudon’s 2014 studio album, Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet). It takes a rather different approach to the holiday, and is in fact the darkest Christmas song I can think of off hand (I suppose “Granda Got Run Over By a Reindeer” might be sort of in the same ballpark).  Rather unusually for Loudon, it seems to come close to taking a stand on a controversial social issue, albeit an ironic stand. Apparently, at least in the U.S., Christmas day is among the most violent of the year, although less so than New Year’s (the safest day, strangely, is January 5th, presumably everybody is either too pooped from assaulting people on New Year’s, or just too hung over to commit any more crimes). The murders directly referenced in the slideshow are the Lawson Family murders (Germantown, North Carolina, 1929), the Covina Massacre (2009), and, with the stills at the end largely being of people who had the misfortune to be murdered around Christmas (including JonBenet Ramsey, who actually did not die from a gunshot).  A number are from holdiay themed horror films (the Covina Massacre, which included a murderer in a Santa Suit and a home-made flame thrower, was for instance is referenced in the 2012 film, Silent Night, where a number of the stills come from). Most of the other photos are from advertisements or Christmas cards people have posted on the web, and are probably in no way intended the be ironic.  While I admit to a certain curiousity about what comments I’ll get (if any), it’s a curiousity tempered by sadness in that I have pretty good idea about what a number of them will probably be. But hey, it wouldn’t be a family holiday without a few death threats.

 

Elbow’s “Scattered Black and Whites”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Elbow’s “Scattered Black and Whites”: An Unofficial Slideshow

I always loved the piano on Elbow’s “Scattered Black and Whites.” As Guy Garvey says somewhere (I think it is in the i-tunes interview), the song has a fairly simple melody and a rather monotonic vocal line that the keyboards sort of dip and weave around to remarkable effect. I had originally conceived of this slideshow as being almost entirely about abstract art, but as I listened to and looked up the lyrics, I realized that it was basically a memory song, with the speaker going into a reverie caused by smelling his sister’s perfume. The “scattered black and whites” are actually old photographs, and the song is to some extent about the claims the past (as embodied in old photographs, but also childhood memories) makes on us, calling out to us that they once existed, and that we need to visit and revisit them once in awhile. It’s like a seven minute version of Proust, and kind of breathtaking in how successful it is. I chose this version from Manchester Cathedral simply because the song seems rooted in Manchester, where several of the band members grew up. It was a really interesting exercise for me (kind of like Kathleen), in that I tried to keep to a very limited palette, except for the modern performance pictures of the band. I’m actually quite proud of it, possibly even more than for “Kindling (Fickle Flame).”. Hope you like it.

Here are the lyrics, by the way, which aren’t always that easy to make out:

Been climbing trees, I’ve skinned my knees
My hands are black, the sun is going down
She scruffs my hair in the kitchen steam
She’s listening to the dream I weaved today
Crosswords through the bathroom door
While someone sings the theme-tune to the news
And my sister buzzes through the room leaving perfume in the air
And that’s what triggered this
I come back here from time to time
I shelter here some days
A high-back chair, he sits and stares
A thousand yards and whistles
Marching-band (Boom-ching)
Kneeling by and speaking up
He reaches out and I take a
Massive hand.
Disjointed tales
That flit between short trousers
And a full dress uniform
And he talks of people ten years gone
like I’ve known them all my life
Like scattered black ‘n’ whites. (Elbow)

 

Two Elbow Music Videos: “Kindling” and “My Sad Captains”

Two Elbow Music Videos: “Kindling” and “My Sad Captains”

Only the first of these is my slideshow, but I thought I would include the second as another wonderful example of a rather simple, low-cost but remarkably effective video, the kind this Manchester band often produces. (Cross posted at the Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour and Elbow FB group). Since this version of “Kindling” first appeared in my Facebook feed a couple of months ago (it originally appeared, without John Grant’s vocals) on their Little Fictions album last Spring), I’ve been entranced with it. The way it folds together memory, strong emotion, and its sudden, stunning rebirth are very affecting, while the restrained melody complements the way John and Guy’s voice interweave to absolutely stunning effect. Anyway, this is my fourth Elbow slideshow, my way of preparing myself for their shows next month at The Observatory and The Wiltern.  The video clips are from Shutterstock, and–yes–I paid for them. Hope you like it.

The second is the band’s offical video for “My Sad Captains,” from their Take Off and Landing of Everything album. It’s a lovely, poignant song, and the video really manages to encompass the song’s beautiful innocence, sadness, and acceptance, all in about four minutes. Other than the multiple cameras, it almost looks like a home movie, which actually contributes to its success, I think.

Warren Zevon: Two Slideshows

Warren Zevon: Two Slideshows

Here’s one I finished at the beginning of the month. I’ve always liked the Transverse City album, in part because of its distinctly experimental vibe. Warren was trying lots of new things, and they worked a lot of the time. Where the title track and “They Moved the Moon” seemed to push musical boundaries, “Nobody’s in Love This Year” pushes lyrical ones in the way it uses financial metaphors to describe love relationships or–more accurately–their collapse. It certainly captures one of the darker and more prevalent aspects of the Reagan years–one that is still with us–but it does so with Warren’s characteristic wit, lyrical grace, and melodic beauty. Hope you like it.

A reader of my “Unofficial: Warren Zevon” fan page suggested I do this song about Warren and the RR Hall of Fame. It seemed like a good idea, and I think the slideshow turned out OK. The web address at the end is to 2017 petition on change.otg to induct Warren. This petition has apparently just been closed, as the nominating ballots for 2017 have just come out, and again Warren isn’t on it. Another indifferent year in heaven, I guess. So it goes.

Loudon Wainwright III’s “The Man Who Just Couldn’t Cry”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Loudon Wainwright III’s “The Man Who Just Couldn’t Cry”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Previously posted on my Unofficial Loudon Wainwright III FB page.

‘ve liked the “Man Who Couldn’t Cry” since I first heard it on Loudon”s Attempted Mustache album. I still have a fairly clear memory of him performing it at the Roxy in Los Angeles on the T-Shirt album tour. At one time, I knew how to play it on guitar and could even sing all the verses, which was an exceptional achievement for me at the time (I could play or sing, but not both at once). This is actually the version from Loudon’s 2008 Recovery album, which I recently purchased. I must say, I usually prefer Loudon’s live versions of songs, but I was deeply impressed by this, which really gains something from the drums and orchestration. I’m still not wholly sure what the song is about, exactly, but it seems to have something to do with karmic justice. I did go for a few cheap jokes, but by and large I think it remains true to spirit of the song, except perhaps the end where I find what may well be an unjustified optimism (perhaps playing with the idea of “Recovery”). It was just to bleak to leave humanity and its home in the song’s last line. 

Donovan: Two Evocations of Place

Donovan: Two Evocations of Place

I sort of came back from Cuba with an embarressment of riches, but they are mostly performance clips of Rufus Wainwright (I got a good deal of practice filming, which I sorely needed), but they really belong on my Unofficial: Rufus Wainwright page rather than here, so I thought I would post these two Donovan slideshows from early September.

Looking at it now from the perspective of a few weeks,  I think this slideshow sort achieves what it set out to do. “The River Song” is a rather haunting, gentle, meditative song from the Hurdy Gurdy Man album, that showcases Donovan’s intriguing finger picking style (possibly learned Maybelle Carter of the Carter family). This audio recording, which I downloaded from YouTube, sounds as if it was recorded from a vinyl album in that you can hear the pops and hisses that indicate a much played vinyl record (for those of you who remember vinyl albums). Although I have a digital download (yes, I paid for it, and it’s really quite good), nevertheless I kind of like this version–it has a lived in feel (sort of like nature). I was going for a kind of Thoreauvian idyl, immersed in a sharply observed nature while at the same time suggesting an interior journey, sort of like Marvell’s “green thought in a green shade” from his poem “The Garden.” I actually did two edits of this: the one here and another one with a video excerpt from Ryan Larkin’s “Syrinx.” It’s actually still up on my YouTube page if you are curious (it says “Larkin edit” in the title), but ultimately I found the shift to Larkin’s animation a little jarring, which is just what you don’t want in a project like this.  “The River Song” video/slideshow was made with Final Cut Pro, by the way, which I’ve just started using (I think this was my second project with it). I’m still learning it, but that’s where all the fancy overlays come from.

This second slideshow is another evocation of place, this time urban, of Goodge Street in London. I’m pretty sure I’ve been there (and I’ve certainly been in the Tube station), but I don’t have any particularily sharp memories of it (there’s a lot to see in London). Oddly enough, in spite of the daytime focus of the title when I listen to the song I also hear foreshadowings of evening (e.g. the smearing of colors), and again it seems to be describing in it such a way that I wonder whether the light or darkness he describes is exterior to the poet/singer, or interior. Quite a number of the pictures are from Goodge street (I didn’t really try to achieve any unity of time, but a few people will notice Marianne Faithfull), although some evoke, I think, a more generalized London nighttime. Hope you enjoy it as much as people seem to have liked “The River Song.”