Rufus Wainwright’s WW III: An Unofficial Slideshow

Rufus Wainwright’s WW III: An Unofficial Slideshow

This is a real change of pace, but it’s kind of an unusual song for Rufus, one that I suspect he wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself. Written with Guy Chambers, “WW III” was intended to be a pop song, although the subject of global apocalypse is an unusual choice for someone interested in pop success. It actually appears on the second disc of the deluxe edition of Rufus’ “Best of” album. Since I pretty much had all of Rufus’ major lp releases, I never really bothered to listen to “Best of” collection and–in fact–only heard this song for the first time a few weeks ago. I was immediately struck by its beautiful piano line and the remarkable criss-crossing, building harmonies of the conclusion. The subject was also arresting, in that Rufus doesn’t usually write songs with such an overt political meaning (“Going to a Town” would be the exception). Granted, there is a romantic layer, but the song comes across as about 70% geopolitical. In the YouTube comments to the original video, I can see some people found the lyrics rather awkward (e.g. “Don’t bore us / Get to the chorus”), but I actually see them as an astute expression of the limits audience’s can impose on pop stars; people who want catchy hooks, not bleak ruminations about coming disaster. It is, of course, very Rufus-like to express all of these complexities and contradictions in a pop song, and a breathtakingly beautiful one at that. Hope you like it.

Elbow’s “Newborn”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Elbow’s “Newborn”: An Unofficial Slideshow

As you might have guessed, I’m a big fan of this band, although they aren’t especially well known in the U.S.  I believe I first became aware of them when they appeared on an episode of Live from Abbey Road. I was impressed enough to buy their new album at the time, The Seldom Seen Kid, and was even more impressed by their i-tusnes concert. After Build a Rocket Boys, I was a fan, and after seeing them in oncert at The Wiltern on The Takeoff and Landing of Everything tour, I became a devoted follower of this Manchester band.  Guy Garvey’s voice–rather like Rufus Wainwright’s although their voices aren’t that similar–just connects with me on some deep level.  Their arrangements are intriguing, varied, and not really like anbody else, while their lyrics are deeply evocative of  memories and emotions I had thought were private. I’ll be seeing them twice this week–once tonight in Santa Ana at The Observatory, and then on Thursday at The Wiltern. Their fans seem like genuinely nice and friendly people, an attitude the band seems to consciously foster by, for example, encouraging fans to post band-related material to their Facebook group..  This slideshow consciously recalls some of my other Elbow slideshows, including “Lost Worker Bee,” “Kindling (Fickle Flame),” “Scattered Black and Whites” (which frankly I consider my best slideshow to date), and “The Night Will Always Win.” The audio for Newborn is an extended version of the song from a Kendall Calling performance in 2015 (the song originally appeared on Asleep in the Back [2001]).

Donovan’s “Poorman’s Sunshine”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Donovan’s “Poorman’s Sunshine”: An Unofficial Slideshow

“Poorman’s Sunshine” is a track from Donovan’s Beat Cafe album (2004). A very intriguing album that revisits Donovan’s  early experiences with beat culture, this is a standout track, with some terrific upright bass playing and some simple yet fascinating lyrics, delivered with conviction by the Glaswegian bard. The slideshow was great fun to do, with the last section kind of deliberately recalling the Atlantis/1983 slideshow/video from a couple of months ago. Certainly part of the meaning of the song is that music can be a “poorman’s sunshine,” although I sort of expanded the meaning to suggest that sunshine–or happiness-exists wherever you find it, which is probably true for everyone, but it is probably more true for those living on the margins. Anyway, I hope you like it (I’m really quite proud of myself for this one), but even if you don’t, just close your eyes and groove on this fantastic, little-heard song.

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)

 

Loudon Wainwright III’s “Brand New Dance”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Cross-posted at my Unoffical: Loudon Wainwright III fan page. This is fairly dark song and slideshow, although leavened by a good deal of humor and a blast of rock and roll energy Although Loudon has written rock songs before (“At Both Ends,” “Watch Me Rock, I’m Over Thirty”), they don’t tend to be his signature songs. This rockabilly number is from Loudon’s 2014 album, Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet). It works remarkably well, and fuses nicely with Loudon’s tongue-in-cheek celebration of the “joys” of aging. Hope you enjoy the slideshow, although–like the song–it does raise some serious points.

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.