U Know Your Reichs (Nirvana Cover)

U Know Your Reichs (Nirvana Cover)

Originally posted, in somewhat different form, on the The Daily Kos back in May, and on Facebook last Thursday. This seemed an appropriate followup to the last diary I posted, which also touches on the subject of Holocaust denial (actually, it’s better than this slideshow, so if you have to choose, you should watch the Eva Kor video below, which I had nothing to do with).

This is the first slideshow I made this year, probably around the end of April or the beginning of May. I’ve done about sixty since this one. I haven’t really pushed it, in part because I thought it really didn’t come across as well with the two versions of the songs I ended up having to use. Originally, it was set to the Nirvana’s “You Know Your Right” and Liza Minnelli’s “Heiraten” from Cabaret, but neither were available for use (often, you can use songs as long as you are willing to cede all monies generated from YouTube ads to the copyright holders–but sometimes this is forbidden). To replace the Liza Minnelli song, I have used Zarah Leander‘s “Adieu” (a Swedish singer who was a popular in Europe in the thirties). She was actually strongly anti-Nazi, and had a hit with “I skuggan av en stovel” (“In the shadow of the boot”) which was an anti-fascist song written by her husband.

If you noted the rather obvious pun in the title to this diary, you probably know where this is heading. Essentially, the slideshow was inspired by the confluence of two things: watching Andre Singer’s Night Will Fall, a powerful documentary incorporating many reels of long forgotten footage that British soldiers shot when they were liberating the concentration camps in the western part of Germany. As someone in the film says, the footage conveys the utter despair of people in the camps more powerfully than anything else I have seen (admittedly, I have not watched Shoah). Even the relatively inexperienced military cameramen who are interviewed—sixty years later—are still visibly traumatized by the experience of witnessing and recording such a spectacle.

Even more obviously, of course, the title refers to Nirvana’s last studio recording, “You Know You’re Right.” Recorded just a month before Kurt Cobain’s suicide by shotgun, I have always found it a powerful and memorable song, even if I didn’t always understand the lyrics. Recently, I have come to understand how perfectly Cobain’s song captured the thoughts and feelings of someone of verge of suicide. The guilt and shame, the overwhelming desire to escape (“I will crawl away from here”), to not hurt anyone else (“You won’t be afraid of fear”), an overpowering sense of inevitability (“I always knew it would come to this”), the utter mental agony (for a long time I thought he was saying, “Ay-ay-ay-ay”; what he is actually repeating is “Pai-ai-ai-ain”), along with rage (tinged by Cobain’s characteristic sarcasm) that invites everyone who ever called him a no talent loser to self-righteously pat themselves on the back at having gotten him so right (suicide also being an act characteristic of a “loser”), but also to pull back in sudden revulsion at their own self-congratulatory glee at another human being’s intolerable suffering. It’s so brilliant that it hurts, which could also be said of Singer’s film.

All apologies to Nirvana fans who may feel that my slideshow has fundamentally misinterpreted what was obviously a intensely personal song. I have taken the most intimate act imaginable—that of taking one’s own life—and re-contextualized it as a deeply impersonal one: genocide (for how could we do such terrible things to our fellow human beings if we truly saw them as people with their own hopes, dreams, loves, and fears?). I realize, of course, that it is always deeply personal to the victims of genocide, as well as to their family, relations, and friends. For copyright reasons, I have used a cover version of the song by Grubby Paws (the NC in the title means “Nirvana Cover”). It’s actually an excellent cover, but still not quite as powerful as the original version.

Chelsea Hotel #2: An Unofficial Slideshow

Chelsea Hotel #2: An Unofficial Slideshow

Listening to Rufus Wainwright’s interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel #2” was a kind of revelatory experience. While I had heard the song before, it suddenly seemed to have a remarkable emotional depth where all sort of insights lurked. Although I had heard it before a few times (mostly Cohen’s version, I think), I had not heard it with his introduction in which he explains how he came to write the song about what seems to have been a fairly brief encounter with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel in New York (uploaded by rhino49 in 2008). As Rufus’ live version also includes a brief introduction from Cohen in which he praises the yonger singer’s performance, it seemed obvious that what I needed to do was stitch Cohen’s introduction to the live audio of Rufus’ performance, with a few pictures of other celebrities who stayed there (yes, that is Joni Mitchell, and–in other photo–Rufus, although long after the events narrated in the song) while keeping the focus on Leonard and Janis. In some ways, although I didn’t plan it that way, this is a logical followup to the “Leftover Wine: Little Girl Blue” slideshow I did last week, while the joining of a revealing live introduction to a different version of the song being introduced echoes what I did earlier on “Bluebirds Fly.”  Anyway I promised something accessible and moving after last week’s “As an unperfect actor” (which has actually gotten a more positive response than I expected), so I hope this achieves that. I hope you think so too.

 

 

Loudon Wainwright III’s The S*** Song: An unofficial slideshow

Loudon Wainwright III’s The S*** Song: An unofficial slideshow

This has been a rather humbling few days, although in sort of a good way. One of the benefits of making a fan page like my Unofficial: Loudon Wainwright III on Facebook is that you find out stuff you would not have otherwise known about through people’s comments. Thus, about three days ago I discovered Loudon had a book out (Liner Notes: On Parents & Children, Exes & Excess, Death & Decay, & a Few of My Other Favorite Things). I bought it and downloaded it on my Kindle app. The first chapter (all I have read) is very engaging, almost brutally honest, and rather funny (that’s kind of how Loudon works). Then event sounds like a conversation/book signing with maybe a couple of songs (I hope) at the Largo on Cahuenga. The admission comes with a copy of the book, so it looks like I’ll have a hard copy too, which presumably I can get signed. If I’m really lucky (I’m planning to bring a camera), I can get my photograph taken with Loudon, which will promptly replace the one I currently have with Rufus on my Unofficial Loudon Wainwright III facebook page (it will stay up, of course, on my Rufus page). While I’m not totally sure I’ll be able to go, he is also performing what I assume will be a largely musical set at McCabe’s guitar shop in Santa Monica on Saturday night (it’s sold out, so if anyone has a ticket they are willing to sell, message me). Sheesh, talk about an embarrassment of riches.

All of that has nothing really to do with the following slideshow, although if I stretch I suppose I could say it is another live version of one of Loudon’s songs, and I’ll be seeing him live so that’s a connection, I guess. I must admit, I’m rather partial to his live albums, partly because he is such an engaging performer, and I think partly because the “So Damn Happy” live album is when I got back into Loudon’s music after not really having listened to him for about two decades. Well, this is another song from “So Damn Happy” (so were “Much Better Bets” and “Men”), with the slightly off-putting title, “The S*** Song.” The whole song is really just a metaphor, of course, and I hope that the slideshow succeeds in highlighting those metaphoric implications without being too disgusting. Despite the title, it’s a very wise song and–while there is one moment he might seem to be mocking the disabled (and yes, I laugh every time I hear it), as with so many of Loudon’s songs, I think there is something much more subtle and even profound going on. WARNING: Includes profanity (if you haven’t figured that out).

 

The Divine Comedy’s “Gin Soaked Boy” and Robert Benchley

The Divine Comedy’s “Gin Soaked Boy” and Robert Benchley

It was apparently humorist Robert Benchley who said, “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.”  Certainly, Mr. Benchley was poking fun at the very human tendancy to divide things into often opposing dualities: men and women, parents and children, insiders and outsiders. It’s not exactly that the dualities are untrue, but they oversimplify a more complex and nuanced reality. Thus, “there are two types of vessels on the sea, submarines and targets,” ignores the fact that sometimes submarines are targets and that–if only because there are no submarines in the vicinity that day–the targets are just ships, still subject to the whims of  the weather, their captains, and the quality of their last overhaul–but not targets in any real sense.  Opposites in fact often imply and even include those things they are defined in opposition to. Thus “near” and “far” would be meaningless without the other term, as would be “normal” (that which is not abnormal) and “abnormal” (that which is not normal), or even darkness and light. You could define the first as either an abundance or light or a lack of darkness, and do the same (but in reverse) for its complementary term.

The Divine Comedy is a British pop band comprised of of Neil Hannon and–more or less–whoever he happens to be working with at the time. The band has thus has thus had a remarkably fluid lineup over the years, with songwriter, frontman, lead singer, and multi-instrumeltalist Hannon providing the group with a nucleus while expeimenting with a dizzying variety of tones and influences. As the band’s name implies they are an unusually literate band. In “Gin soaked boy” a song added to their “A Secret History . . . Best of the Divine Comedy” cd (actually how I became aware of them) attests; it is sort of pop song as modernist novel, comprehending the universe through a series of apparent polarities that aren’t really polarities as at all, but continuties, and suggesting that if we see them as such we can more truly be of the universe instead of merely in it.  I’ve been wanting to create a visual accompaniment to this song for awhile, and with Final Cut Pro I felt I finally had the tools to at least begin to do it justice. I hope you think so to, but you can also appreciatel the following slideshow as just a rather surreal, somewhat trippy journey (or, to put it more in the “Gin Soaked Boy”‘s idiom, the meaninglessness in the meaning). Hope you like it, or at least don’t dislike it too much.

 

 

Texas Trilogy 3: My Ride Comes Home

Texas Trilogy 3: My Ride Comes Home

This slideshow i s actually set to two very different songs that both have Texas settings. The first, by Denton band Deep Blue Something (best known for their 1995 hit “Breakfast at Tiffanys”), is a deeply affectionate portrait of Denton and East Texas generally.  If anything,  the slideshow is even more expressive of this sense of place than the song is, although I also personalize it by including photos of several people I actually do miss from Texas (I have gotten their permission to use their photos).  The second song, by Warren Zevon, is from his penulitimate album, My Ride’s Here. Although he spent much of his adult life in California, he places this song in a rather surreal East Texas. This seems fitting, because (at least to me) Texas could be a rather surreal place. As it is also a song about death (Warren died of cancer a little more than a year after the album was released), it seems an appropriate place to end this trilogy of slideshows.

Texas Trilogy 1: Dreidel in Texas

Texas Trilogy 1: Dreidel in Texas

This is a slightly re-edited and expanded version of a slideshow I did about five months ago, probably the second one I compiled this year (I did two in all of last year). I originally called it “Random Memories of East Texas,” in part because I wanted a deliberately flat title to balance the rather sensational subject matter, but also beacause I realized it was an attempt–however flawed–to come to terms with living in East Texas for twenty years.  It wasn’t a very good or even very accurate title, as most of the events it focused on didn’t even take place in East Texas, but in Dallas and Austin. Also, although they were someone’s Texas memories, they weren’t really my memories, since I didn’t start living in Texas until 1991, well after the tragic events depicted in the first two movements of the slideshow.  Also, I felt that James Bryd Jr.’s killing, which I was at least in Texas for (although over fifty miles away from Jasper), really didn’t get adequate treatment, in part because the song ended too soon for my purposes. In the re-edited, expanded, and re-titled version, I have extended the audio track with some sound effects, thus allowing me to insert another six or seven slides in the final section.

I’m not sure it has a message in the conventional sense, beyond the obvious point that Texas can be a dangerous place, in part because of its culture, and in part because it’s simply so big that some more or less random bad stuff is bound to happen. I always liked Don Maclean’s song “Dreidel,” and I have a fairly clear memory of him performing it on some daytime talk show about the time this album (his third) was released. I’m fairly sure it was a song (like the “The Pride Parade”) that he wrote to explore his own mental situation in the wake of the massive success of his American Pie album that had come out the year before. Nevertheless, I think most people have a tendancy to personalize the songs they like and listen to a lot, and I’m sure I tended to think of both songs as in some sense reflections on my own feelings on entering high school in Southern California in the early seventies. I don’t think that sense of identification ever fully left me, even when I stopped listening to Don Maclean (probably a mistake on my part, and doubtless one of many).  The immediate stimulus for this slideshow was probably watching “The Tower” on Netflix, a brilliant documentary looking at the Austin clocktower murders of 1966, an incident I really don’t remember (I would have been nine), although I remember my mother talking about it. Similarly, I was even younger when President Kennedy was assasinated, and I’m fairly sure I did not see it live (it seems unlikely it was even carried live on most national television stations, although it may well have been in the Dallas area). I do remember my mother hearing about it on the radio and talking with our next door neighbor, Mrs. Leddy, over the wall separating out two backyards from one another. I think they were crying, but I may be embellishing the memory (I would have just turned six a couple weeks before).

James Bryd Jr.s death was widely reported in Smith County where I was living at the time, and I am pretty sure many local people were aware that it made the national news, which tended to make the people I knew uncomfortable.  I even remember the joke making the rounds at the time (“What red and black and two miles long”–I think you can guess the answer, even if you haven’t heard it before). Humor is of course one way human beings tend to express and deal with discomfort, although it is also a way of expressing and reinforcing power relationships, often making sure that marginal groups stay marginalized. I suspect both were at work here, although I am sure some would disagree, especially as meanings of things like jokes tend to change according to time and context, so  that one particular performance may well convey different meanings, and even different listeners may take different meanings away, some perhaps quite different than the teller consciously intended. Anyway, here is the first of three slideshows about Texas (the other two are both quite different, and were made several months after the first version of this one).