Monday, April 17, 2017

Sing Us a Song 

Someone ran Trump through Google's Deep Dream, then I ran it through Barbara Kruger

They say every war movie, is an anti-war movie. Can the same be said of a playlist? Is every political playlist, an anti-political playlist? Okay, that sounded better in my head. What isn’t obvious is when the “current political climate” (also known as the End of Days) makes you see songs you’re familiar with in a new light, with new meaning - or even to finally make sense of a meaning or tone you never realized. This was intended as an ode to spring but spring arrived with very little fanfare this year. Here in Toronto we’ve had unusually warm days only to be followed by wet snow and blizzard warnings that became rainstorms. The end of winter and beginning of spring has also marked the first months of a new American enterprise (it seems perverse to call the current president’s cadre of cohorts an administration) and that has left me seeing everything through that lens.

This playlist reflects both a political sensitivity and at times respite from worldly affairs. Basically, I let the stream of Spotify flow over me like a tepid shower and when something piqued my interest I bookmarked it into this list, and as is my wont, stopped at sixteen.

Shelter from the Storm - Bob Dylan
“Come in, she said
I’ll give ya shelter from the storm”
I don’t really know the original context of this Dylan classic but I happened to hear it on a day when I joined a protest of the recent American travel ban targeting primarily muslim countries. And I wondered why it hadn’t been embraced as a new kind of protest song, a song of shelter and acceptance but I guess the kids want to write their own protest songs.

What it Means - Drive-By Truckers
I’ve never really paid much attention to the Drive-By Truckers, lumping them in a sort of “Indie Nashville” kind of sound and I guess I never listened too closely to their lyrics but this song is hard to ignore:
“If you say it wasn’t racial
When they shot him in his tracks
Well I guess that means that you ain’t black”
Years ago I was enlightened to the similarities in R&B and Country Music and these lyrics, sung with a Southern twang in a traditional country music time signature could easily be rapped and set to a hip-hop track proving we have more in common than not.

Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore - John Prine
I assume John Prine’s humour and cutting words set to simple tunes reached their popularity during the war in Vietnam but really those same songs work today. What few people understand is that too much patriotism, is a bad thing. The first rule of fascist club is always talk about fascist club, while fervently waving a flag. In fact, the flag becomes a sacred symbol for which desecration becomes a sinful act. What I never understood about this logic is that burning a flag is sinful, yet wearing underwear emblazoned with the same flag is patriotic.

Ballad of the Dying Man - Father John Misty
Perhaps not a “protest” song, but a self-aware, knowing commentary on all the noise we read and hear online. We used to say the Internet democratized media, now we think it’s destroying it. As the song says, “We leave as clueless as we came” which is too bad. This song also feels out of time, as though it could be performed as an opener to a mid-70s Elton John concert.

Your Best American Girl - Mitski
I’m not that familiar with Mitski, the Japanese American singer-songwriter but here she seems to both lament not being an All-American girl for her All-American boy while accepting it because that’s who she is. That very acceptance was once thought to be the very essence of being American (isn’t there a Schoolhouse Rock video about the melting pot?) but now we just sing echoing laments about it. Much of this album deals with depression and acceptance which we could all learn a bit more about.

Cranes in the Sky - Solange
I wonder if Hilary plays this on her iPod when she walks in the woods. We’ll never know… until the FBI releases HRC’s iPod playlists.

Good as Hell - Lizzo
I suppose there are many ways to bounce back from a set back. This track always puts a bounce in my ergonomically correct office chair when I need it. I can’t do a hair toss, and my nails aren't worth checking but I can do it metaphorically.

Rinse & Repeat - Riton, Kah-Lo
I know the “kids” (Millennials) have their critics but they know how to party. Yet… sometimes it reminds me of a kind of Joyless Hedonism (not to be confused with the Hedonic Treadmill which would b a great band name). This song reminds me of that kind of cool where you are actually too cool to have fun. And it just goes on.

Wheelbarrow Walk - Michael Nyman
A few times this winter I walked to work and this song was a perfect pace for negotiating a city of cars trying to kill you at every intersection. I really want to describe how this would be the opening theme and walk-on music for my fantasy talk show but there’s really not enough space here to describe it.

I Need a Forest Fire - James Blake
James Blake needs a forest fire? Man, we all need a good old fashioned forest fire. Not the Fort McMurray/LA/Sydney threatening kind of forest fire but one of those controlled fires that gets rid of the deadfall and renews the land for the new growth to come. Basically, this could be the theme song for the Democratic Party.

Daydreaming - Radiohead
It’s oddly poetic that immigrants who entered the US as children and may have a path to citizenship are referred to as “Dreamers”. “Dreamers never learn”. I’m sure Tom Yorke is singing about some kind of personal crisis but I think it applies here.

22 (OVER Soon) - Bon Iver
Again, I’m pretty sure Bon Iver is singing about a personal relationship but we can all hope a certain thing will be over soon. Mid-terms in two years; voters will be two years older, two years wiser?

1000 Times - Hamilton Leithauser + Rotsam
I’m pretty sure Bernie Sanders has probably had a particular dream more than 1000 times. By the way, I’m taking Hamilton Leithauser as my new nom de plume, hope he doesn’t mind.

Five Years - David Bowie
This has nothing to do with the current political situation but hey, David Bowie. I can’t help but think maybe a new president will be sworn in on a day in January, 2021.

Exit Music (For a Film) - Cinematic Orchestra
Again, this doesn’t apply to the current political situation (other than the lyric about “choking on your rules and wisdom”) but lately I’ve been a bit obsessed by Radiohead’s OK Computer, partly because I can’t believe the album is 20 years old, but mostly because three of its tracks are expertly inserted into HBO’s Westworld. Fittingly, Exit Music (For a Film) is used as the exit music for the season. I created a playlist consisting only of covers of Radiohead’s original and this version is the only one that really turns the composition on its head (though Brad Mehldau’s version is my favourite).

No Surprises - Ramin Djawadi
While I was listening to OK Computer, Charlie Brooker (creator of the brilliant series, Black Mirror) was tweeting about how his young son insists on falling asleep to this bleak Radiohead song. Is it about suicide? Or the realization of a life wasted? Or are you wasting your life trying to figure out the meanings of Radiohead songs? Whatever the case, the song is insightfully linked to a robotic prostitute in HBO’s Westworld. Whenever Thandie Newton’s madam has been killed, reset and replaced back at the brothel this jaunty version of the tune rollicks from the player piano in the saloon and becomes a trigger to self-awareness for the character. Knowing the original lyrics (“I’ll take the quiet life, a handshake of carbon monoxide”) adds to the ironic twist of having it played as the upbeat, let-the-good-times-roll version played here. If I had a long running talk show (see “Wheelbarrow Walk” above for more) that was cancelled or concluded or whatever, this would be the song I would have the audience sing along to, and this would be the tempo.

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