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.
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.
This is my second DCC slideshow in a week, although I don’t really have plans for creating a page (although I suppose I could let one of my current ones life fallow for awhile, and work on DCC instead). Like “Long Division,” this is another song from Narrow Stairs, which probably remains my favorite Death Cab album. I’m actually I’m a little surprised I am making this, just because I expected there to be an official video out by now that explored the song’s dual frame of reference. I remember when I first heard it that I admired the way it cleverly used romantic distress as a way of also commenting on ecology, particularly the issue of global warming. However, I seem to be the only person who noticed this, which makes me wonder if the lyrics’ ambiguity is simply a product of my over active imagination. It would certainly be comforting to think so. Perhaps global warming is simply a mass delusion on the part of climate scientists. Again, it would certainly be comforting to so. Unfortunately, things that give us comfort also have great potential to mislead us, all the more so because we want to believe them. Oh well, here’s the slideshow:
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.
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.”
Although I didn’t realize it until I was actually putting it together day before yesterday, “Seminole Bingo” is kind of a natural counterpart to my “They Moved the Moon” slideshow. If the first is about the dispossession of Native Americans, the second could well be said to be about taking some of their own back from those who dispossessed them in the first place. I always felt a little uncomfortable about the first in that I realized I was quite probably radically recontextualizing the song in making it about the California genocide of Native Americans. The song could well describe any disorienting and dislocating experience, and may well have been highly personal, even autobiographical for Warren when he wrote it. What I did with it (which was not meant to be in any way prescriptive), was simply an attempt to use the song as a way of exploring my own feelings about what happened in California, and my surprise and horror at discovering it. “Seminole Bingo” is much more obviously a story song about a character who is not Warren, although the two may share some traits in common. I realize, of course, that the song is not about Michael Milliken (who did not gamble his fortune away in Florida) but–as the widely-acknowledged “junk bond king”–his image was the logical one to use. I do find myself if wondering if there is a something deeper going in the song, as the title character in essence made his fortune by selling essentially worthless bonds at vastly inflated prices. So much of modern culture seems to be predicated upon building up little or nothing into a “something,” a commodity that can be sold at vastly inflated prices based on a vastly inflated (mis)perceptions of its value. Of course, the same thing could be said about these slideshows, although the only cost to you is time, and–of course–there are many things of value in the world (Warren’s songs, for instance), you just have to learn to look for them. Anyway, here it is, and I hope you think it is worth your time.
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).