Br Still and Listen.
Br Still and Listen.
I wrote this the other day while planning on writing a paper. I didn’t start on the paper, but I think it was worth it. The plan was to edit and revise it, but now the paper, along with another paper, have caught up to me, so I’m just going to post it as is. Uncut and uncensored…and unedited. You got me at my most vulnerable.
Quick note. We have an opportunity that has never been presented in the history of mankind. Let’s take advantage of it…
I read an article for class last week that talked about how television does not report news, it creates news. This is becoming more apparent to me with every passing day. Obviously it’s more of a complex issue than I make it sound, but I am a hypocrite and don’t want to bore you with the details…
I have come to admire and respect public figures who strive for a simple life. The Henry David Thoreaus, Sufjan Stevens, G.K. Chesterton, etc. These people detect the fakeness that can come from technology. Everything is a representation. Relationships are built off of a series of pictures and short status updates. They realize a life truly experienced is a life away from technology, immersed in the reality of our world. But to live and experience the reality of our world, one must be aware of and immersed in technology. It cannot be ignored.
It is an extremely difficult balance to embrace technology and fear its influence at the same time. Technology is not evil. The internet is not evil. But it most certainly can be and allows for evil a booming voice.
For the last two or three years, I took a hiatus from popular television. Not fully, of course. But I have tried to avoid it as much as possible. I couldn’t put it to words, but I detected that something was broken. Sure, I watched the occasional episodes of various sitcoms and other shows on Netflix, and still do. But, other than weekend visits to my parents’ home in Cheyenne, local and national news stations were invisible to me. I even let SportsCenter drift away from my consciousness (something I spent hours watching every day in high school).
So, if the theory I read about television creating news instead of reporting news is accurate, the media has to be the single most influential aspect of our culture. It forms the way we think. If we surround ourselves with media centered around sex and booze, we will find ourselves almost literally molesting each other at the local bar or club, which will lead to bigger things. We will find ourselves holding onto unhealthy relationships because of the sex, or just the idea of being in a relationship; or going to the bar for an easy hook-up, a quick fix to one’s loneliness; or idealizing celebrities and their glorious lifestyles and finding ourselves spending money we don’t have as a result of our desire to live like them.
I have news for you. Happiness is not found in wealth or sex. Fulfillment cannot be instant.
Though I may be criticizing right now, that is not my intent with this post. It turns out I have been encouraged by technology lately.
Because it gives everyone a voice and everyone an opportunity to be heard.
If we allow it to be, we can use it to undermine those who are trying to control us with their advertisements and their celebrity. We can turn this world around on its head.
Thanks to the internet, music, movies, art, and subcultures that otherwise would never have been realized are finding homes all around the world. Musicians can record on their own, without being forced into a product by record labels; independent movies without sufficient funds can find a passionate and loyal fan base with the will to sacrifice their own money for its continued production; sports has found the importance of the fearless role player – the one without the big shoe contract and without the big billboards.
There is a ton of deception and artificiality found on the internet, but there is equally as much passion, genuine spirit, love, and hope. We have an incredible opportunity, because we can decide what succeeds. We can decide what we are influenced by.
We can recreate this world.
Last weekend my friend Dan and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful snow in Laramie and shoot a couple videos.Snowy evenings like this are a big reason why I love living in Laramie.
Here is the one of those videos.
(Thank you Dan for doing the camera work.)
Before I get started with the top five, I realized that I left out on very important album release of 2011. I think these kind of countdowns are almost always slightly skewed toward records released toward the end of the year, since their impact is so fresh. The Decemberists – The King is Dead is certainly worth mentioning, but since it was released so early in the year, I forgot that it was released in 2011. It is, at the very least, worth the most honorable of mentions. Here are the top five.
5) Thrice – Major/Minor
With every Thrice record comes an evolution of some sort. They are never content writing the same kind of record and that is one thing that I absolutely love about them. Major/Minor is no different. It is still Thrice, yet it is also something that has never really been done before. Listeners can hear the strong influence of their past records, but only as much as listeners can hear the influence of one band on another band. If it weren’t for Dustin Kensrue’s unique and powerful voice, you wouldn’t be able to recognize the band from one record to the next. Not easily anyway.
Major/Minor is the most powerful record the band has put out since their earlier days, yet it is arguably the most melodic. It plays with time changes, key changes, and just about every other musical change. It is sophisticated, yet simple at times. It is loud, yet very soft at times. It is Thrice, and it is very, very, very good music.
4) Feist – Metals
Speaking of good. I listened to nothing but this album for about two weeks and I still listen to it as frequently as any other. Feist took a long hiatus from songwriting after her hit record The Reminder and it was worth every moment of the four-year wait. The singer/songwriter has one of my all-time favorite voices, male or female. It’s classy, yet dirty, classic, yet new and unique. Metals is the same. It’s powerful at times, see opening track The Bad In Each Other, and likely to lull you to sleep with the soft and beautiful feel at others, see closing track Pine Moon. It is a lot of things, and each one of them feature the word great.
3) Bon Iver – Bon Iver
This album starts out with the most powerfully mellow song I have ever heard, titled Perth. It’s perfectly accompanied by Justin Vernon’s eerie falsetto, a trademark for Bon Iver. For about the first seventy-eight listens of this album, I could only understand about one word per song in the lyrics, but that never even mattered to me. Vernon might as well have been singing gibberish like Jon Birgisson from Sigur Ros. The music is that good. Once I finally read through the lyrics though, I was absolutely blown away. The dude is a poet. I don’t know what a large portion of the lyrics mean on paper, but I haven’t really taken the time to analyze them. I don’t feel like I need to because the music says it all. Where the lyrics disperse into ambiguity, the music gathers with pure and genuine emotional strength. It is something you have never heard before, but something vastly familiar. It is winter in a headphone. It is absolutely brilliant.
2) Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
I was a pretty big fan of these guys until I saw them live this summer. Then I become an obsessive fan. I have never heard a band sound that truly amazing live. It was almost a religious experience. Helplessness Blues is certainly darker than their amazing self-titled debut, but it is just as good, filled with tympani, strange screechings (possibly kazoos?), and the best harmonies you will find since the Beach Boys’ releases of Pet Sounds.
This album takes folk music to a whole new level. It is filled with the beautiful harmonized wailing, the anxious and striking voice of Robin Pecknold. The album begins with the anxiety-filled Montezuma, building on its listener’s emotional integrity and sets the tone for the more triumphant track two, Bedouin Dress and on through the remainder of the tracks. This is an album to be listened to all the way through. It takes its listeners on a journey filled with ambiguous lyrics and unique pacing. It is like reading a novel, each song serving as a chapter. You love the song you are currently at, but can’t wait to feel what the next song serves you. “I was raised up believing, I was somehow unique like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes unique in each way you can see. And Now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.” Though every song is a highlight, that is definitely my favorite lyric on the album, a lyric that I think would be hard to top by anyone on an album that, this year was only topped by one.
1) Portugal. The Man – In The Mountain In The Cloud
And that is In The Mountain In The Cloud. I have been obsessed with Portugal. The Man for years, possibly to an unhealthy degree. I’ve seen them perform four times in the past three and a half years and each time they blew my mind. That’s why, when I told my friend Charlie that In The Mountain In The Cloud was hands down, without a question, the best Portugal. The Man album to date, he was skeptical. “Brendon,” he said. “You say that about al of them when they first come out.” But this one was different and I knew that immediately. It seems to be the kind of music the band, who famously releases one album each year without many breaks in touring, has been reaching for with their previous three or four albums.
The album starts out with possibly one of my all-time favorite tracks, So American, continues on through nine tracks that convince me that they are my favorite with each listen, and end with certainly one of my all-time favorite tracks, Sleep Forever. Every single song is unique to the album, yet perfect for the album, layered with countless keyboards, ambient noises, classic guitars, etc. This album is a masterpiece in music and I could write pages and pages about it. But I will just end here and let you listen for yourself.
Have a happy new year.
Below is a cover of MGMT’s “Kids.”
Here is song number 4 of the concert series. It’s called Fairy Tales.
It has the lyrics again, which are based off a couple G.K. Chesterton quotes. He is probably my favorite person.
I wrote this paper for my songwriting class last semester. It’s an analysis of Bob Dylan’s song It Ain’t Me Babe. I’m putting on here because it’s an example of a close listening to a masterpiece in songwriting (I have an irrational obsession with Bob Dylan despite that he is a narcissistic asshole).I do believe that he is one of the greatest (I would say the greatest but I don’t think there is such a thing) songwriters of all time.
Anyways, I want to promote close listenings as well as close readings because I think that both are becoming a lost art. I wrote it in February. With that said:
It Ain’t Me, Babe.
Valentine’s Day was a couple days ago. For the last few weeks TV stations were littered with jewelry and flower commercials. Guys took their girlfriends on expensive dates. They spent lots of money, made lots of promises, maybe dropped the “L-bomb” for the first time, or dropped the big question. A message of love was portrayed; a message of dependency on love and on one’s own love. It makes me wonder if Bob Dylan wrote the song “It Ain’t Me, Babe” in response to this holiday, or at least in response to this sort of behavior. In this song, Dylan uses, what many people will consider to be the classic, “early Dylan” format. There are only four mediums for this song; guitar, harmonica, voice, and of course words. This is the perfect format for an anti-love song like this one as each instrument is used to accompany the voice, bringing the lyrics and the message to the forefront of the audience’s attention.
When analyzing most Bob Dylan songs, one must start with the lyrics and move to the other aspects of the song from there. Dylan, often criticized for his voice and sometimes criticized for his instrumentation (i.e. Subterranean Homesick Blues), continues to receive praise for his intelligent, and thought provoking lyrics. The lyrics for Dylan seem to be the one consistency that people can universally agree to be “good.” Dylan’s lyrics are what put the singer/songwriter over the top as a global icon and musician.
The lyrics to “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” as I previously stated, can be interpreted as an anti-love song. Dylan often wrote songs in criticism to topics and events of his time. This seems to me to be a criticism of the “you complete me” view of love. It breaks that view into a more realistic look at love. Within each verse is a line that describes what “you” as in the significant other (or insignificant other) being addressed is looking for in a relationship. For example, in the first verse, it says, “You say you’re looking for someone/Who’s never weak but always strong/To protect you and defend you/ Whether you are right or wrong.” Followed by the chorus, “It ain’t me, babe/ No, no, no, it ain’t me, babe/it ain’t me you’re lookin’ for, babe.” To expect anyone to be able to be strong each and every time his lover is weak, is simply an unfeasible task and therefore, Dylan is admitting that fact; that he is not the answer to all of his “lover’s” problems.
One thing that really stood out to me in these lyrics, is the repetition of “babe.” This seems to add a great deal of information and meaning to the song, as it implies that the persona still has some kind of affection for the person the song is addressing. “Babe” is a pet name used by lovers to address each other. One does not call an acquaintance, or even a former lover “babe.” It portrays a sense of reassurance to the person being addressed as if to say, “I still have feelings for you, but I simply cannot fulfill these expectations that you have for me. I cannot be your answer to all of your problems. I’m only human.”
If one wishes to portray some kind of message through song, one must, in a sense, act it out. He or she must find the emotion that he or she is attempting to portray and allow it to bleed through his or her voice, whether it is from the inflection, harmony, intensity, etc. Say what one wants about Bob Dylan’s voice, but one cannot say that he has not perfected this mode of singing. For example, in this song, one can feel a certain sense of remorse through Dylan’s voice during each verse. The perfect example of this lies in the second verse on the line “I will only let you down.” While singing this line, Dylan’s voice cracks on the word “only.” This does not seem to be a crack from lack of talent, but rather a crack of emotion. One is able to clearly hear that this is not easy for the persona that Dylan is portraying to give out this information. One is also able to pick out a slight quivering in Dylan’s voice through these verses, which portrays the same message as the aforementioned voice crack. Another example, is through the attack of the chorus. A vast shift of inflection is found in Dylan’s voice as he reaches the chorus, almost wailing out the line, “No, no, no / It ain’t me babe.” The intensity rises greatly here; a reflection of the repetition of the word “no,” which implies that it is difficult for him to accept this fact as well. One repeats a word like this, not only to convince the audience of the fact, but also him or herself, which, judging by the intensity of Dylan’s voice, is what is happening here. Because of these facts, it is difficult for me to believe that this song would be quite as effective with another voice. Dylan’s ability to adapt his voice to the message of the song and, in a sense act it out, makes it extremely unique as well as affective.
Aside from his voice and lyrics, Dylan uses the simple instrumentation of an acoustic guitar, accompanied by harmonica in certain points of the song. Judging by the message of this song and how it is portrayed through Dylan’s voice, I cannot see how it would be effective with much more instrumentation. The simple strumming of the guitar causes a sort of intimacy with the audience. Just as one can easily imagine someone standing outside his lover’s window with an acoustic guitar singing a love song, one can easily imagine Dylan doing the same thing with this song. Imagine someone doing this with a full band behind them. It simply would not be near as effective because it would take the intimacy out of the picture. Dylan, through his guitar playing, also adds a great deal of emotion to the song as the guitar being played is very dynamic. It has the ability to fade to the background at times, (particularly at the beginning of each verse) as well as move to the forefront, as in the breaks between certain lines. For example, the guitar begins rather soft, but is accented in the pause between the lines, “Leave at your own chosen speed” and “I’m not the one you want, babe.”
The harmonica also serves a similar purpose. It obviously is always featured apart from the lyrics, since it is impossible to sing and play harmonica at once; however, it adds a great deal of emotion as it is featured after every chorus. It not only serves as a space-filler, but also a punch of meaning and emotion to compliment the rest of the song. At times, it even gives a similar sound to weeping, which mirror’s Dylan’s voice inflection throughout the song.
Whether one agrees that this song is a pleasant listen or not, one cannot argue with the fact that it was highly crafted. Each note and each instrument and each word adds information to the song in some way or another. Dylan portrays the message given with the lyrics through his dynamic voice inflection and guitar and harmonica playing in a way that no one else could precisely emulate. It was Dylan’s own unique presentation of the song and not the lyric itself that has possibly been the inspiration for breakups all over the country and possibly world and many ruined Valentine’s Days.