Music Monday: Sacrilege

Great song but the original video is way too disturbing.This performance on Letterman is incredible.

One thing I find interesting about the song is that the lyrics seem better than they are because of the music and performance. I mean here’s all the distinct verses:

Fallen for a guy, fell down from the sky
Halo round his head
Feathers in a bed
In our bed, in our bed
Asked if I would try
To leave this all behind
Halo round his head
Feathers in a bed
In our bed, in our bed
And the two choral lines:
It’s sacrilege, sacrilege, sacrilege, you say
And I plead and I pray
So, the story is basically, narrator slept with a fallen angel. That’s it! No details.

But the song is so rich and evocative it doesn’t matter. The words are more than good enough to work with the music.

OTOH, compare with “Angel in the Storm”:

The music is terrific, but there’s so much poetry in the lyrics. Zoe seamlessly — effortlessly — weaves the mundane with the transcendent:

She’s had many lovers
And then vanished from their lives
She thinks that they’ll forgive her
If she carries them all with her
Like a necklace made of knives

I know that I’ll be one of those
Who waits for her return
But she never flies the same way twice
She says the more you sacrifice
The brighter you can burn

It would be interesting to hear a more intense arrangement of “Angel in the Storm”. The current one has a more blues grassy feel which is tremendous fun but doesn’t quite punch the way “Sacrilege” does.

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Music Monday: If I had a Cello

I will not let my post count stay at 666, appealing as that might be! Time to start blogging again.

I’m picking two old Zoesongs, two of my absolute favourites and two which demonstrates just how fucking fantastic a songwriter she is. Both are “muted” overall, medium tempo, only a bit of range stretching and fairly simple arrangements. But the lyrics and music are devastating. Today, “If I had a cello” and next week “Songs of Love and Distance”.

This song is so heart achingly world weary yet…uplifting! It starts so strange:

Dont ask what I’m doing these days, I don’t know,

I lose track of it all

Is the interlocutor a daily acquaintance? I don’t think so. They seem like a far off person, at least temporally. Someone trying to catch up. Someone who we might have expected to lose track of the narrator’s all. But so has the narrator!

I’m alright I just lie here watching the light
as it slides down the wall

Depression? Or just…on the phone with an old friend or lover wondering wistfully. I always hear this as a call out to Paul Simon’s, “Obvious Child”:

I’ve been waking up at sunrise
I’ve been following the light across my room
I watch the night receive the room of my day
Some people say the sky is just the sky
But I say
Why deny the obvious child?
Why deny the obvious child?

(This is certainly one of the more elliptical verses of a song with a lot of elliptical at best bits.)

And some things have happened, but nothing’s really news
Maybe I’ll get a cello, and teach it to sing the blues

This not a blues song. It’s a meta blues song. The fantasy of getting a cello and mastering it to the point it sings the blues is so extravagant compared to the prior lines. Then we get the first round of the chorus:

If I had any sense I would say I was steady
If I had any say well I’ve said already
And you know, if I had me a heart I’d have something to lose
If I had me a cello, I’d teach it to sing the blues…

The first time I hear that it killed me. The way Zoe’s voice comes down on “blues” is so wishful, emotional, yet detached. I sometimes read it as about depression (esp with some dissociation and depersonalisation). Depression doesn’t always manifest itself as tearful sadness and more than grief does. Sometimes, you’re just lost. So far away from anything that feels real or good or true or happy that there’s just nothing. Numbness is a coping strategy but it doesn’t feel good. It’s distressing.

The second version deepens the depression theme, but the second chorus really hits the bluesiness:

And I don’t wanna cry and I don’t wanna holler
And there’s nothing to buy with another day’s dollar
And you know, I got nothin’ to say, nothin’ to lose
But if I had me a cello I’d teach it to sing the blues…

The transmutation of elements of the first chorus are spectacular. From  the sense of saying “I was steady” to not wanting to cry or holler feels like the surveying of the range of futile options (reinforced by the second line).

The start of the last verse makes me tear every time:

Don’t ask if I love you today, I don’t know
I’m a bit out of touch
I forgot what it feels like to care a whole lot
About anything much

I don’t feel like singing, there’s nothing in it now
If I had a cello, I might remember how!

 

This fixes the depression theory for me and I remember being the interlocutor (and the narrator). The loss of love and singing is only held off by the strange cello fantasy. The last chorus throws in some more blueness:

If I had me a plane I could be on the level
If I had me a soul, I could deal with the Devil
And you know, if I had me a heart I’d have something to lose
If I had me a cello, I would teach it to sing the blues

 

There’s an awesome coda:

And nobody dies of a second rate sorrow
I could get out of bed and feel fine tomorrow

This captures one of the most destructive aspects of depression, the idea that it’s no big deal and sorta a choice.

There’s a version of the recording where she double tracks the vocals on the chorus offset by about half a line. I loved it but her dad thought it made things too cluttered. I don’t know if I still have a copy of it but I will dig around.

As poetry alone, this is amazing. It’s definitely a “song” type of poetry, but the subtle imagery and progression are precise and evocative in multiple ways. The rhyme and rhythm are perfect and the tone varies from formaller to looser without any artificiality.

Then there’s the music. It’s sneaky then it soars. It fits the words so perfectly that it carries you along through their complexities. The way Zoe hits “touch/much” rhyme makes the whole verse into devastation for the interlocutor.

Travelling Moon has a lot of a lot of great songs on it. People should give it a listen!

Music Monday: Turning My Heartbeat Up

I’m a bit of a sucker for songs which are self describing ie mention specific instruments which kick in as they are mentioned. My favorite of the genre is “Turning My Heartbeat Up”:

Argh…there’s another Motown classic that has a similar schtick but I can’t recall it right now. Boo memory!

“Pull Shapes” has a bit in the middle that does the same thing:

Addendum:

Memory finally dredged up “Dance to the Music”:

Which really is the archetype of the genre.

Music Monday: Trouble

The Shampoo version:

Love it! I’m working my way through their catalog and they are exactly my cup of tea. Girl Power rocks:

They definitely have a characteristic sound (shouty verses seem common) but I’m a sucker for bubblegum power girl punk. It makes me happy.

Shampoo seem paradoxically ingenuous and posey. They clearly are hamming it up but it’s always very relaxed and fun.

Music Monday: In This Land

Sweet Honey in the Rock is worth a lot of your time. The bookend songs from their album In this Land (including the titular song) are among their best. They don’t have good YouTube but here’s the Spotify playlist for them.

It’d be interesting to see an update to “In this Land” because there’s even more to not understand.

It’s interesting how weak their presence is on the web. Their lyrics aren’t available! They were an amazing group with a long history.

I guess being on The Streamings is something.

Music Monday: The Great Correction

We’re off to see Joan at the Bridgewater tonight (3rd time!). Plus, the video for “The Great Correction” came out:

It’s a photo/clip video and the photos/clips are pretty compelling as such. There’s some trickier going on (see around 2:35) where I suspect that they cut out a foreground element and then zoomed it separately from the background which gives a subtle emphasis without getting the Ken Burns look that slideshow software puts on us.

Eliza Gilkyson’s video ends up with the Ken Burns look:

Both the videos and performances provide interesting contrasts. Joan’s voice fits the weariness of the song better and I think the overall recording is a bit tighter (which I prefer for this). Videowise, Gilkyson intersperses quotes with the images…each quote introducing a “chapter” of images. Visually, I find the Ken Burns effect overwhelmingly distracting here. It’s a long video to look like a screensaver. In this respect, I think the Baez video made much better choices.

Of course, the narrative in the Baez video is difficult for me to discern. There are fade outs, but I don’t get what they mean. The images are often interesting (kids protesting! so cute!) but I struggle to figure out how they align with the song.

I feel in general this way about the “sequence of images (moving or otherwise)” in the series: They don’t give me enough of a hook to get me to rewatch. The marriage of visual and music isn’t there (or maybe it is but I can’t invest enough to see it). The are mood oriented and indirect where the songs are generally didactic and straightforward (with plenty of mood, of course, but mood is more backgrounded or working as part of the ensemble rather than unmoored from aught else and centered).

I’ll really be interested in the “Whistle Down the Wind” video.