The Musical Treasure Trove

So, I have been thinking a bit about re-reruns (prompted, I must admit by a This American Life episode about re-runs). This thinking has dove-tailed with some of my thoughts about the repeatability of the cover song and the tension between one ‘performance’ and another. Part of this thinking is a tortured attempt to try to justify what I am about to do today: repeat one of our posts. What happens when you repeat a repetition?

Like my brother, I have found that the busyness of normal life (whatever that means) has gotten to be a bit overwhelming. The end of the semester has brought me a pile of grading, a CV-length of promised articles, and two children who are growing faster than I can imagine. This has kept me (guiltily) from having the time to write a quality post while also making me wonder whether or not this blog is doing what it should.

See, it has been suggested that the posts are too long and too discursive–and, as readership has ebbed and flowed, I have wondered what the worth is. This contemplation lasts a few minutes because, when it comes down to it, I enjoy writing this blog even if the act is entirely masturbatory.

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Misunderstood: Lyrical Losses

Years ago, a friend and I got over our strange addiction to the movie The Rules of Attraction by acquiring a new drug, by becoming obsessed if only briefly with the movie Napoleon Dynamite, a wan and delicate movie whose humor still gets me to this day and whose repeatability (for me) has been bested only by that greatest comedy of the modern era, Office Space.  Part of what I liked about the movie was the use of music in the prom scene where a few of the corniest songs seem almost profound.

But the song that got me the most was “The Promise” by When in Rome

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(Songs for) Debt Servitude

I have read a lot lately about the spiraling forces of income inequality: student-loan debt, new possible mortgage fears, and the breakdown in the basic social compact of which education is a central and collapsing piece (Thomas Frank, why do you have to make me so sad?). During my sister’s recent visit when we got to celebrate the Red Sox’ most recent World Series win and even during the good news of my brother landing a real teaching job, discussions have been sobered by the reality of crushing student loan debt.

So, before the pretty lights of the holidays distract us, here’s a re-post and reminder that we live off tomorrow’s wages today.

My brother recently wrote about one of the influences on the pervasive depression–the seasonal affective disorder–in our hometown and similar regions. I think there is more to be said about it. But I want to warn you before you start reading: this post is one of those times when I am going to start ranting. I will definitely get political and personal.

Yeah, I am getting up on it

Yeah, I am getting up on it

I will talk about music, but I will mostly talk about something that should concern all of us: the widening gap in prosperity in our country, the broken promises of the American dream and a system that really can bear no better name than debt servitude.

(Ok, ok. I originally wrote “debt slavery” but the younger j thought that this was historically insensitive. In my mind, I countered that this is a big deal too, but words mean a lot. I’ll save the histrionics for the end.)

What does this have to with music? A relatively small amount, if you think about the issue directly—yet, it has to do with the hopes and fears that fuel our music and give it its themes (both high and low), the twisted values that dominate the commercial end of music in this country, and the real-life effects that send many of us rushing to our headphones for escape or with the fragile hope that someone else may communicate what we’re feeling in a better way.

Here’s the dramatic pitch. There is something really, really wrong about our system. We all buy into a series of values and promises that turn out to be worse than empty–they are filled with negative space.

Continue reading

(Songs for) Debt Servitude

My brother recently wrote about one of the influences on the pervasive depression–the seasonal affective disorder–in our hometown and similar regions. I think there is more to be said about it. But I want to warn you before you start reading: this post is one of those times when I am going to start ranting. I will definitely get political and personal.

Yeah, I am getting up on it

Yeah, I am getting up on it

I will talk about music, but I will mostly talk about something that should concern all of us: the widening gap in prosperity in our country, the broken promises of the American dream and a system that really can bear no better name than debt servitude.

(Ok, ok. I originally wrote “debt slavery” but the younger j thought that this was historically insensitive. In my mind, I countered that this is a big deal too, but words mean a lot. I’ll save the histrionics for the end.)

What does this have to with music? A relatively small amount, if you think about the issue directly—yet, it has to do with the hopes and fears that fuel our music and give it its themes (both high and low), the twisted values that dominate the commercial end of music in this country, and the real-life effects that send many of us rushing to our headphones for escape or with the fragile hope that someone else may communicate what we’re feeling in a better way.

Here’s the dramatic pitch. There is something really, really wrong about our system. We all buy into a series of values and promises that turn out to be worse than empty–they are filled with negative space.

Continue reading

Rock the Casbah: Osama Bin Laden Playlist

The Osama bin laden is dead track list

Note: I wrote this last year and just thought it work well near Martin Luther King Jr. Day (as will be clear at the end).

So seven people texted me now the same thing, albeit in different wording: Osama Bin Laden has been killed. My first reaction is to think, “Well, finally”. I’m stoked, I think, but didn’t they set out to do this like ten years ago?

Then, I think of a conversation I had with a veteran who served in the 1980’s about having to sit on a tarmac in the Balkans with a planeload of soldiers waiting to invade Afghanistan on the side of Osama and his boys whom we’d been training and funding against the Russians. A local recently got into this with me, disputing my claim, but it’s true, look it up.

Now, I don’t think our involvement at the beginning takes away anything from this event, this stuff has happened numerous times in history, but it certainly does make you wonder. I am certainly not a bleeding heart liberal or a conservative, I am sort on the fence: no one extreme is the way to go, in my opinion…

What I do question is the reaction to it by the American public: as I am sure it will turn into a bi-partisan pissing match over who gets the credit accompanied by a short burst of new-found patriotism which I find sickening. Either love your country all the time or don’t. It doesn’t mean anything if you pick and choose times to use it. I like to think I’m patriotic all the time and I do fully support our troops even if I do sometimes question their orders.

I guess my point is I want people to know as much of the facts as possible because I believe an overarching problem in our country is people acting from ignorance. Maybe it’s a human nature problem? I mean, how we can even be sure Osama was ever at fault for anything specifically? Furthermore, everyone knows that there are scores of sleeper cells just waiting to be called up and that Osama was probably a figurehead that probably wielded little if any real power. Anyway, in this day of perceived victory, I am reflecting on such things and this is what I’m listening to:

1. “Rock the Casbah”-The Clash. This was the first song I really knew by the Clash and on the first cd I owned by them, Combat Rock . It’s a nice little diddy about  a Sheik banning rock and roll music and the populace fighting back and “rocking the casbah”.

But, it was and has been used as a sort patriotic, rah-rah song for Middle Eastern campaigns. A story goes that Joe Strummer wept while hanging out in Granada when he was told American troops were writing the title on bombs they dropped during the first Gulf War in 1991. The song is about fighting oppressive Sheiks for rock and roll, but the Clash was a super liberal band that supported no wars. So why am I listening to it? Mostly because it reminds of the fight in the Middle East and that a lot of the time, people take whatever meaning they see fit for things even if it’s not the meaning intended.

2. “Bad Days”, the Flaming Lips; So after many years on the lam, they pop the old boy, test his DNA and drop him in the ocean. A seriously bad day for him and an essentially good day for all of us back in the states who think now the war is over.  Well, that is far from the truth as our troops still fight in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere; so this song is for everyone. “And you’re sort of stuck where you are/but in your dreams you can drive fancy cars or live on mars and have it your way”.

I mean, I want to know if Osama even cared about the jihad in the end. Maybe he felt stuck where he was (not that I cut the crazy bastard any slack or think he didn’t get what he deserved if that was even him they dumped in the ocean). From some accounts, he was on dialysis at the end and probably very ill.

Whenever people who are extremists die, I always think back to Mother Theresa. Not that the two have anything in common except that they are extremists on the opposite ends of the  morality spectrum But, it came out from her diaries posthumously that she was actually severely depressed and doubted the existence of God even while performing His good work until the day she died.

So, I wonder if towards the end of Osama’s life, did he even give two shits about the fundamentalist rhetoric he’d built his whole life upon? Was he happy to die to get away from it or did he think he’d earned his way to Paradise? We’ll never know unless he kept copious diaries or shows up behind the counter of a 7-11 in Akron, Ohio someday. (Wow, all that from a Lips song, Wayne Coyne would be proud.)

3. “Working Man”-Rush: This was just a random song I was listening to and then it clicked that we all of work for someone and at times, it can suck. Osama was seemingly working for his perception of God and was in the line of terrorism, a job even if its intentions are evil.

I’d imagine that being a terrioist sucks most of the time: you are always on the run and people are trying to kill you. But, then again, I don’t carry any extreme ideology so that probably explains my lack of enthusiasm. “Working Man” to me, is about how maybe we could all live better if we didn’t have to work so much.

Alternately, I think if you love what you do then it doesn’t seem like work. I once asked an exiled Buddhist Monk what he did for fun when he wasn’t praying and through his translator he said that praying was fun for him. So maybe this is where devout people are at. Whatever the case, I know I don’t like all my jobs all the time right now and I am sure I could live my life a lot better than I think I am.

Post Script: I wanted to say something deep about not celebrating someone’s death unless it’s in mourning; my brother MLK Jr. said it better so here it is:

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr.