Songs of the Year—2002

Songs of the Year: “The Only Answer,” Mike Doughty; “Get off,” The Dandy Warhols
Runners Up: “Don’t Know Why”, Norah Jones;  “Goodbye to You,” Michelle Branch
Honorable Mentions: “Clocks,” Coldplay; “Fell in Love With a Girl,” The White Stripes

After the doldrums of 2001, I actually tried to like some new music in 2002. My Elliott Smith obsession got serious; I tried to like Badly Drawn Boy. Some albums were released that I would learn to love much later (by Spoon and Tegan and Sara especially). I never did get very deeply into Badly Drawn Boy. I remember standing on an elevated platform, waiting to change subway lines, listening to a track for the second time and then just unplugging my headphones. I couldn’t connect.

While some of the top music of the year wasn’t terrible (Coldplay’s Rush of Blood to the Head wasn’t bad) the horrors of 2001 lingered (John Mayer; J. Lo; Britney spears). There were too many bad albums by good bands (Maladroit by Weezer, among others) while others released compilation albums (They Might Be Giants) or live albums (Ben Folds) to occupy my time.

Continue reading

Call and Response: Religious Songs

As we come to the high frenzy of this holiday season, I’d like to turn to one of my favorite exchanges from the past year, when my brother and I stopped being silly and got a little serious about, you know, religion and stuff. It seems that this is the season for that sort of thing, right? So, this is a re-post, but updated and just right for the longer nights and the colder days.

In last year’s honest, and soul-baring post, my brother daringly ventured into one of the two subjects verboten at dinner tables and water-coolers throughout the country—religion (we crossed the politics line a few times in the past few months, so why not get this one over with?). I responded with an ambling, sometimes senseless, and mostly unclear comment.

My brother’s moment of clarity and its relation to music, however, deserves more thought. It deserves more time. It deserves a weighted and patient consideration. Yet, I fear, I may not be the right person to do this. As I said in response to my brother, music is the one thing that has made me feel a sense of something greater (unlike writing, music can be powerfully communal). Despite these feelings, I remain skeptical and unsure whether feeling something beyond yourself has anything to do with the divine.

“Down to the River to Pray”, Alison Krause

This beautiful song has been in my head off and on since I first heard it on the soundtrack to O, Brother Where art Thou. The fact that the “Sirens” sing this song in the movie points to an uncomfortable connection between Homer’s seductive and dangerous creatures and religious music…

Continue reading

Apocalypse Playlists: Songs for the End

In the spirit of Halloween and the depressive fog that fall can bring, I am combining two posts my brother and I wrote last year into one massive Apocalyptic post. Enjoy?

As my brother and I texted back and forth during the Walking Dead premiere on Sunday night, we got into a conversation about what would be a good playlist about the apocalypse. Granted, you almost certainly would not be listening to any tunes in the event of a catastrophic world event, instead focusing on any route of survival. So, I leaned more towards songs about the end of the world and ended up having to cut my list down to accommodate the end of the world as we know it.

No, I did not include anything by R.E.M., although I hope my brother does. I don’t think the world is actually going to end in December of this year 2012 because most simply, we don’t have all the information even to know what the whole clock even means. When the Spaniards came to the New World, they burned much of the written record of the Mayans after witnessing a human sacrifice complete with the heart being taken still beating out of the victim’s chest.

I mean come on, what use could the history of a people who are so obviously heathen homicidal maniacs possibly be? (If it’s not obvious, this is sarcasm) It’s really too bad because there is much information we could have used and I don’t think we have a real grasp on who they were as a people so this end of the world thing pertaining to their calendar is probably bullshit.

Unless our sun does burn out or we are hit be some giant celestial object or some massive nuclear war, the end will probably be a very gradual ordeal that no one generation will remember. Rarely does anything huge happen in history quickly. Nevertheless, the end of the world, or conception of it at least, has inspired a lot of good music

1. “The Weight”- The Band

Hard to believe this beloved anthem of the hippie generation is about the end of the world, but it is one of the themes. Robbie Robertson has said it is about that and the impossibility of always being a good person. It may not seem obvious, as it is an upbeat song, but think about it.  Some guy named Luke is waiting on the Judgement Day and the Devil is floating around.  It never occurred to me until I read into it a little.

I always associated this song with Easy Rider and my father, a former motorcycle enthusiast and eternal hippie. It’s interesting also that the song talks a lot about asking other people for help, favors being traded for favors. In an apocalypse style situation, you would have to depend on whoever else was around and I’d imagine the currency system as we know it would go right to shit.  Even now in the rural area I live in, I often trade labor for labor with friends but I think this is a dying thing in the hectic 24/7 over-connected and electronic society we live in. Unfortunately, I think it would take an ending of the world as we know it to get people to work together.

2. “Electric Funeral” Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath is one of my top five favorite bands. I really don’t talk about them enough on this blog and how awesome they are. I know Ozzy made himself look like a fool on MTV a few years back and his solo work never did much for me, but Black Sabbath is the real deal. They created heavy rock as we know it, obviously with help from a few other bands, and basically all metal and heavy rock now is Sabbath in some respect.

For coming out in the afterglow of the swinging 60’s and singing about dark scary things in down tuned jams that lurch along, they deserve some type of medal. Nobody sounded like them and I just love that they put this stuff out not caring if anyone even wanted to hear it. This cheery little number is about atomic bombs and the chilly aftermath of nuclear winter. I love the guitars in this and the tempo break near the end. This is a mainstay of their music, the long and slow climb and then a kick up into a faster time with an ill guitar solo. Never gets old for me and I hope that if you haven’t ever tried Sabbath out, that you go ahead and give it a whirl.

3. “Pink Moon” Nick Drake

I never had any idea that this song was about the end of the world and it probably isn’t. I was having difficulty coming up with a different song so I googled “songs about the apocalypse  and this one popped up. Nick Drake is really great if you don’t know him, kind of like Elliott Smith but from way earlier and with less of an output. Exceptionally pretty songs but very morose.  Is this about the end of the world? I think Drake’s world anyway because he did die accidentally through a lethal combination of medications.

The couplet “None of you stand so tall, Pink Moon will get you all” is quite a bit more ominous than the melody would suggest. Is the pink moon a result of nuclear winter like in “Electric Funeral”? Who could be sure but I really dig this song. Great for summer nights at the end of the world.

4. “The End” -The Doors

The classic break-up tune and what a jam it is. I loved this song from the first time I heard it as the jets napalmed the hell out of the jungle in the opening scenes of Apocalypse Now. Although definitely about a break up, this is a great song about the end of the world as well. I think Morrison always wrote lyrics open to interpretation and this is one of the best. Like the Sabbath, it slowly builds through cool jazzy riffs and Morrison’s stoned poetry full of images of despair and Oedipus. I absolutely love the jam at the end, it feels like some type of tribal dance thing and it inspires me to take my clothes off and bang my chest like a chimpanzee. I think that would help in the high stress of an apocalyptic event.

5. “Santa Monica” Everclear

Another song about suicide and certainly the only one I like by this band. But what a song, from the very beginning fuzzy guitar riffs to the ending lines of “Let’s swim out past the breakers and watch the world die” Some thing about that really makes me happy like, ok it’s the end of the world but at least we have each other.

In some respects,  our world is pretty cluttered up right now so maybe we could use some massive cleansing to work out the kinks. I don’t hope a bunch of people die or anything but just from watching the nightly news it’s clear we need to make some serious changes in the way we treat each other. The word apocalypse, from the Greek, means revelation of something hidden. Perhaps we need to swim out past the breakers, watch the world die and find whatever it is inside of us to come alive. I look forward to re-posting this in December of this year and think we will be around quite a bit longer after that.

(if you think there’s more to say, my brother does too: he wrote his own damn list)

Well sure as planets come, I know that they end. 
And if I'm here when that happens, will you promise me this my friend? 
Please bury me with it! 
I just don't need none of that Mad Max bullshit.
-Modest Mouse

 

Recently, my brother listed his favorite songs about the apocalypse. For various reasons, I cannot let this post stand alone. (This says far more about me than about my brother or his post.)

Why are we obsessed with the apocalypse? I actually ask this of my students on a semesterly basis. I think that the answer, if there is one, is partly psychological and structural. First, we know that we begin and end individually—part of our death drive or obsession also nearly demands contemplation (and fantasy) about everything expiring just as we will.

In addition, there is a structural logic among the cultural offspring of the Abrahamic religions. We tell the story of the world being created. Logically, that which is created must eventually be destroyed.

(Oh, and science supports this. Oh, and we keep destroying things. And, by the way, our lifestyle and growth rates are unsustainable….)

So the Younger J confessed that during the premier of The Walking Dead we were texting song lists back and forth. My brother’s list is great and, I am sure, cooler than mine. His music taste and knowledge can be so much deeper. My corresponding ‘interests’ are random and aesthetically scatter-shot.

Oh, and I am also pissed that he stole my shtick and mentioned that apocalypse is Greek in origin.

So his list is good, but it isn’t mine. In ascending order of my subjective taste (from best to 8th best), here are my favorite songs about the apocalypse.

 

1. “(Nothing But) Flowers”, The Talking Heads

The happiest song about the end of the world—at least on the surface level. I have loved this song since my best friend in high school (a previously mentioned Lead Singer) played it for me when we were in 7th grade. I can still remember the road we were on, the caravan his parents were driving, and how hilarious we both found the song.

While I still see the humor in it, I think that Byrne’s lyrics are more satirical and cynical. His post-apocalyptic paradise is one where men cannot adjust—not because it is too terrible or tough, but because it is too wonderful.

This was a discount store,

Now it’s turned into a cornfield

you got it, you got it

Don’t leave me stranded here

I can’t get used to this lifestyle

2. “Bury Me With It”, Modest Mouse

What more is there to say about this great song? I love the frantic balance of the multi-syllabic verses with the almost-screamed chorus. The instrumentation supports the contrast beautifully. This is Modest Mouse at its most quintessentially schizophrenic.

When I ask my wife about post-apocalyptic scenarios (on the occasions she will entertain my hypotheticals), she insists that preparing for the occasion is a waste of time. She says she wouldn’t want to survive in a world undergoing whatever cataclysmic event could be called an apocalypse.

Besides loving the late alt-rock crunch of this song (and, in general, appreciating the even quality of Modest Mouse’s work), I love this song for this one line: “I don’t need none of that Mad Max bullshit”. The command of the title and chorus (“please, bury me with it”) reflects my wife’s opinion just enough to demand the inclusion of this song.

 3. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”, REM

I know my brother didn’t include this song because a lot of people despise REM. In fact, of the seminal early alt-rock bands REM get the least respect and probably garnered way too little attention when they called it quits. I think that this comes from a few things.

First, REM had too many styles and took risks (“Shiny Happy People”? Worst song by a great band). Then, when REM broke through it was with the wrong music. “Losing My Religion” was a fantastic song, but not grungy enough or angry enough. Who wants contemplative when you can be mad?

Second, “Everybody Hurts”. When I first listened to Automatic for the People (and “Drive” had just been released) I knew that “Everybody Hurts” was going to be a big hit. But like similar 1990s explosions (say, Hootie and the Blowfish and Forrest Gump) what seemed initially universally appealing, aged quite poorly. Now, “Everybody Hurts”sounds like a parody of itself.

But I don’t care about any of this. “It’s the end of the world…” is one of the few American made indie-rock songs from the 80s that (1) almost everyone knows, (2) many have imitated , and (3) sounds like nothing else. REM was one of the most important and influential bands on College Radio—they didn’t break through with a consistent style and image like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, or Green Day, but they took more risks.

There is something about the insouciance of this song that is reassuring. I also have fond memories of covering this (rather poorly) with one of my bands. It is successful because of the radical juxtaposition of the end of all we know with a feeling of not sorrow or elation but measured acceptance.

And, if you’re living through the apocalypse do you want to take risks and feel fine about it or what?

4. “Eve of Destruction”, Barry McGuire (P. F. Sloan)

This is a phenomenal protest song that I grew up hearing on the radio (since my parents only listened to Oldies stations). I love the gravel in the vocals and I love the melody and desperation in the song. Now, I know that this is not literally a song about the apocalypse, but rather one anticipating.

Nevertheless, I guarantee that if there were a cataclysmic event occurring, too many of us would be in denial about it and would ignore voices like McGuire’s as if they were panicked Chicken Littles. And, hey, it isn’t like Global Warming is a serious issue. Or that overpopulation will eventually outstrip developments in agriculture. Or that we’re playing with house money when it comes to the fact that we haven’t used atomic/nuclear weapons since WWII…

5. “Seconds”, U2

Speaking of nuclear weapons and bands that no longer get sufficient respect: U2 has almost become a dirty name to ‘real’ music lovers. Bono is a megalomaniacal self-mockery at this point and while many praised All You Can’t Leave Behind, the band should have been disbanded after Zooropa.

But, to be fair, how many bands have given the world so many great songs? This song is about nuclear holocaust. As the Historian and I used to discuss, people just a little younger than we are (say, the Younger Js age), fear terrorists and Global Warming (and Zombies, fake things). We were raised with the fiery fear of nuclear war. I remember attack drills. I remember the 80s arms race. Even in my 30s, I still mistrust Russians because I was born and bred to expect a war of total annihilation in my lifetime.

So, this song takes me back to when I first started listening to U2 and when we didn’t have to hear random and unexpected attacks or religious war or Y2K.

6. “California Love” 2Pac (Featuring Dr. Dre)

I know that this song isn’t really about the end of the world. Including it also made be feel bad that (1) I didn’t include Tool’s “Aenima” which is also a song about California (and the world ending). But, Tool gets a little too heavy for me and I love this song.

What makes it fit for this list, though, is the video. Dr. Dre and 2Pac in a Mad Max party? It might not be the safest place to imagine, but what the hell do you expect from the end of the world. Count me in.

7. “Come to Daddy”, Aphex Twin

All I have to say is this. If the end of the world is anything like this video, I don’t want to be there.  Also, if you’re short on reasons that mankind may not be worthy of survival, watch this video.

( That was only partly a joke)

8. “Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth”, The Dandy Warhols

So this song is only partly serious. A great rock song—and the song the Lead Singer mentioned above said was the only one ‘half-assed’ music fans would know. This was the song that put the band on the map and which also inspired a great parody from the Brian Jonestown Massacre.

It is also a reminder that, should the end times come, survival will be random and serendipitous. The best won’t survive. The most well-prepared will not prevail. It will be chaos. Chance will preserve few. Some of those will be survivalists. Some will be honest and virtuous. But many will also be criminals, drug addicts, and, most of all, the ruthlessly selfish and opportunistic.

And, with that thought in mind, maybe I will join my wife and Modest Mouse to ask for this: if the world starts to end, please, bury me with it.

 

Songs of the Year—2002

Songs of the Year: “The Only Answer,” Mike Doughty; “Get off,” The Dandy Warhols
Runners Up: “Don’t Know Why”, Norah Jones;  “Goodbye to You,” Michelle Branch
Honorable Mentions: “Clocks,” Coldplay; “Fell in Love With a Girl,” The White Stripes

After the doldrums of 2001, I actually tried to like some new music in 2002. My Elliott Smith obsession got serious; I tried to like Badly Drawn Boy. Some albums were released that I would learn to love much later (by Spoon and Tegan and Sara especially). I never did get very deeply into Badly Drawn Boy. I remember standing on an elevated platform, waiting to change subway lines, listening to a track for the second time and then just unplugging my headphones. I couldn’t connect.

While some of the top music of the year wasn’t terrible (Coldplay’s Rush of Blood to the Head wasn’t bad) the horrors of 2001 lingered (John Mayer; J. Lo; Britney spears). There were too many bad albums by good bands (Maladroit by Weezer, among others) while others released compilation albums (They Might Be Giants) or live albums (Ben Folds) to occupy my time.

Continue reading

Call and Response: Religious Songs

In a recent, honest, and soul-baring post, my brother daringly ventured into one of the two subjects verboten at dinner tables and water-coolers throughout the country—religion (we crossed the politics line a few times in the past few months, so why not get this one over with?). I responded with an ambling, sometimes senseless, and mostly unclear comment.

My brother’s moment of clarity and its relation to music, however, deserves more thought. It deserves more time. It deserves a weighted and patient consideration. Yet, I fear, I may not be the right person to do this. As I said in response to my brother, music is the one thing that has made me feel a sense of something greater (unlike writing, music can be powerfully communal). Despite these feelings, I remain skeptical and unsure whether feeling something beyond yourself has anything to do with the divine.

“Down to the River to Pray”, Alison Krause

This beautiful song has been in my head off and on since I first heard it on the soundtrack to O, Brother Where art Thou. The fact that the “Sirens” sing this song in the movie points to an uncomfortable connection between Homer’s seductive and dangerous creatures and religious music…

Continue reading

Apocalypse (Playlist) Redux

Well sure as planets come, I know that they end. 
And if I'm here when that happens, will you promise me this my friend? 
Please bury me with it! 
I just don't need none of that Mad Max bullshit.
-Modest Mouse

 

Recently, my brother listed his favorite songs about the apocalypse. For various reasons, I cannot let this post stand alone. (This says far more about me than about my brother or his post.)

Why are we obsessed with the apocalypse? I actually ask this of my students on a semesterly basis. I think that the answer, if there is one, is partly psychological and structural. First, we know that we begin and end individually—part of our death drive or obsession also nearly demands contemplation (and fantasy) about everything expiring just as we will.

Continue reading