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
Kneeling by and speaking up
He reaches out and I take a
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)
‘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.
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.
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.
The Butthole Surfer’s “Pepper” was a song I liked virtually from the first time I heard it, although it always had a distinctly personal feel, naming people and places that the band was presumably directly acquainted with. The chorus always seemed to have statewide and perhaps even universal application in the way it called into question all of our flattering self-conceptions, because–as the song says–“you never know just how you’ll look through other people’s eyes.” Last month I realized that you could take the song’s verses and appy them to more statewide problems, from health, to deregulation and public safety, to gun deaths, to the environment, to oil, and to the Texas Railroad Commission (which “regulates” the oil industry with considerable help from heavily [in]vested interests). l’m not sure anyone who hasn’t lived in Texas for several years will really “get” this slideshow, and even among those who have I have a feeling many will be offended by it, not because anything in the slideshow is false, but because one doesn’t talk about such things in Texas, at least not in public. If I was a “true” Texan I’m sure I would know this and act appropriately, but I’m not anymore and probably never was, at least not really. So consider it a highly idiosyncratic take on the state from a highly eccentric Californian (and therefore to be dismissed). I don’t really expect to get a large number of views, but you never know and–after all–everything’s bigger 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).
Honestly, I barely remember hearing “Universal Soldier” while growing up in Bakersfield. The local AM radio station (“K-A-F-Y Bak-ers-feild”) played some of his other hits, like “Sunshine Superman” and “Jennifer Juniper,” but they probably felt this song was too controversial, or perhaps simply not pop enough. Hearing it again “Universal Soldier” (authored by Buffy Sainte-Marie) seems more relevant than ever, although at the same time less likely than ever to effect any real change. That may be simply illusion, however, created by the nostalgia one so often feels for one’s youth. I have to admit, in creating this slideshow I wasn’t entirely sure what approach to take, especially as there are already a couple of pretty good slideshows that take their inspiration from it on YouTube. Originally, I had thought of focusing on the victims of war, but then I got this idea which seemed more–to coin an adjective–Donovanesque. I like to think he’d approve of it, if he ever sees it. In any event, I hope you approve, or at least listen.