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:
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.
Also posted yesterday at The Daily Kos. I had a rather disturbing conversation the other day with someone I very much respect, someone—in fact—who has probably done more to improve my outlook on myself and even the world than anyone I have met in a long time. I had just shown him two slideshows, They Moved the Moon (about the California genocide of American Indians), and The Freshmen, a slideshow that started out as an attempt to find a foundation for dialogue in the pain that every individual inevitably experiences, but ended up being more like a prophecy of mutual doom amounting to a kind of self-genocide that would hardly be acknowledged (if ever) until it was far too late. He seemed to be saying that the problem was not with the world, but with me; and if I could just figure out the roots of my attraction to subjects like injustice, inequality, unmerited suffering, and genocide then everything would be—if not exactly all right—at least I wouldn’t be very concerned and therefore a happier, better adjusted human being.
I recognize that there is a good deal of truth in his point of view, I probably would be a happier, more well-adjusted human being, although probably never “normal,” at least in the normal sense of the word. This slideshow is to some extent a product of that conversation a few days ago, and I realize that I, with characteristic perversity, have responded to his call for more tightly focused self-exploration of my anxieties and fears with the goal of eventually forging a more optimistic perspective on life by doing exactly the opposite. While I wouldn’t have really thought it was possible for me to go darker after The Freshmen (which at least started out as an attempt to empathize with people I didn’t like very much at all), I think I may have managed it, in part by Guilt’s wider focus, and in part by its direct attempt to address subjects which are usually either suppressed, denied, or belittled in America: the toxic effect of social expectations and stereotypes, the use of a religion as a justification for exploiting and destroying the marginal and powerless, the silencing and even murder of those who dare to tell us truths we don’t want to hear, and the deliberate suppression of many of the more unpleasant parts of our own history that do not conform to our self-flattering image of ourselves, to our incessantly repeated mantra that “America is the greatest country in world” (I suppose it may be true, depending on what you think “greatest” means).
All of these slideshows essentially grow out of a subject (here, guilt) and a song (here, three songs). Perhaps not surprisingly I chose Marianne Faithfull’s song “Guilt,” originally released on her brilliant Broken English album, although this version is from a live performance on a late-eighties television show. I chose it largely because I thought the drums, and the propulsive drive of the song, were a bit sharper and crisper than on the original. This section largely deals with private and personal feelings of guilt, but also introduces some larger issues explored in the second section. For this next section, I chose a version of Iggy & the Stooges “Dirt,” originally released on the 1970 Funhouse album, although this one is from a 2011 live performance in Detroit, which I chose largely because of the late Ron Asheton’s stunning atonal guitar work. Here I really move into questions of collective responsibility for the way the world is and don’t really come to any cheery conclusions. The final section, to a large extent inspired by Arctic Monkeys “This House is a Circus” from their Favorite Worst Nightmarealbum (2007). The “house” in question is, of course, The White House, with Hair Furor being the embodiment and inevitable conclusion of the escalating fear, hatred, selfishness, and victimization that are undoubtedly hard-wired into human nature, merely waiting for the proper circumstances (unfortunately now) to bring them to full, poisonous fruition.
I would certainly understand if you decided not to watch something that I freely admit is pretty depressing (in fact, kudos to you for having read this far). I should warn you that there are a couple of curse words (it is Iggy, after all), and one of them is even written out, a young woman flips off the camera, and a few of the images are disturbing, although probably not as bad as something you could see any day on cable TV. Personally, I’d rate it a PG. I hope you do watch it, in part because I think it works as an aesthetic object, in part because I think it is emotionally powerful and moving, and finally because they are pretty terrific versions of some pretty terrific songs.