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Scrabble-Rousers #8: Nihilism

12 Jul

What Scrabble-Rousers is: A word is chosen at random by blindly flipping the pages and finger-pointing a word/phrase (in this case “nihilism”) from a book also chosen at random (in this case: the I ♥ Huckabees script written by David O. Russell & Jeff Baena).

"Of course not," Gorgias said. "He never existed."

What does nihilism have to do with music? Nothing.

Bad joke.

It’s impossible to talk about punk, rap, goth, metal and a lot of fringe underground music without discussing nihilistic themes. Whether you truly believe the Sex Pistols were sincere enough to be nihilistic (even though contrived controversy to further commercialism seem contrary to the doctrine) doesn’t matter because they were inevitably associated with it.

Sid Vicious was without a doubt a bad, bad nihilistic man – he brutally beat a man with a bicycle chain, blinded a young woman with the throw of a beer bottle, is a legendary bassist despite having been a bad bass player, may or may not have stabbed his girlfriend to death, and died from heroine procured by his mum. If Sid Vicious wasn’t a nihilist, he was “Something Else”:

Stereolab harped on the very roots of nihilism in their song “Nihilistic Assault Group”, questioning morality’s existence as a real human virtue or a contrived shroud. Or something like that. “Nothing” seems to be lost in translation from the group’s French tongue. Regardless, Stereolab summons its most shoegaze sensibilities on this track.

Nihilist Assault Group by Stereolab.

Rancid actually sang about the lure and temptation of nihilism and the supposed liberation (“release me from moral assumption”), while staving off what seems too obvious a pitfall (“nihilistic feelings are moving/if I try real hard, I’ll see right through them.”). They may look the part of nihilistic scum, but Rancid cares. Maybe this helped kill punk.

Or is it better when two actual nihilists watch the same video and critique it:

Mouse on the Keys, a jazzy leader in the world of abstract musical expressionism, hold court by participating in the ongoing nihilistic debate with “Completed Nihilism.” One could guess what completed nihilism is – a past-tense jab on Nietzsche’s thoughts, or something so meaningless it is only perfect? Don’t know, don’t care, because it is a vague introduction piece to Messiean-like expressionism, particularly “Vingt Regard sur L’enfant – Jesus”:

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Scrabble-Rousers #7: Burt Reynolds

2 Jun

What Scrabble-Rousers is: A word is chosen at random by blindly flipping the pages and finger-pointing a word/phrase (in this case “Burt Reynolds”) from a book also chosen at random (in this case The Andy Warhol Diaries edited by Pat Hackett).

Having grabbed The Andy Warhol Diaries from the shelf, today’s topic of Scrabble-Rousers had the topic range potential from AIDS and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Ardehir Zahedi and ZZ Top. And, so, Burt Reynolds related music it is.

Burt

Burt Reynolds is known to inspire a mustache here and there, but inspiring a legitimately good metal guitarist to pursue a life of mock metal? That’s the case with former Byzantine guitarist Skip Cromer, whose current project, The Burt Reynolds Death Metal Experience, is as much hilarious as it is good. And it only makes sense that Cromer has opened for Unknown Hinson.

Cromer’s own video introduction: “Classic vintage music video from 1987. This was Burt Reynolds Death Metal Experiment at its height in popularity.”

Scouring the Burt Reynolds catalog, the list of classic soundtracks and songs that played while the mustache danced for us is impossible to enumerate. This, however, is perhaps the most famous sound in cinematic history:

Burt helped bring disco back for a spell with his appearance as pornman Jack Horner in Boogie Nights. Unfortunately, the soundtrack (which was released in two parts) was nothing more than an expensive version of any other 70s compilation cheapo. The second release did feature Apollo 100’s only hit.  The studio-based group recorded “Joy,” a re-arranged baroque-pop version of J.S. Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper both played conduit to the pioneering rock and roll of Bill Justis. Justis was an accomplished musician in his own right, but also arranged music for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records, including arrangements for Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.

“Raunchy” was Justis’ biggest hit:

Reynolds played Quint Asper on the TV show Gunsmoke in the early 60s, which actually began as a radio series. The Dodge City narrative of westward expansion gave way to two theme songs: one without lyrics composed by Rex Koury and one with lyrics written and sung by Tex Ritter, which was never played on either radio or television:

Traditional:

Tex Ritter:

Finally, Burt Reynolds himself performing a Silver Jews-like honky-tonk “Let’s Do Something Cheap and Superficial.”

From Smokey and the Bandit 2:

Scrabble-Rousers #6: Garret

23 May

I should preface each edition of Scrabble-Rousers with the concept’s explanation: A word is chosen at random by blindly flipping the pages and finger-pointing a word (in this case “garret”) from a book also chosen at random (in this case The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen). This is how Leif Garrett all of a sudden appears on a blog.

Interestingly, my computer’s dictionary defines “garret” as “a top-floor or attic-room, esp. a small dismal one (traditionally inhabited by an artist).” I’m not sure if anyone actually uses the word “garret” anymore, what with “attic” seemingly more available on the brain; I’ll try as hard as I can not to ruminate on musicals and limericks (which most certainly make lyrical use of “garret”).

The Honeydripper

The only song with the word “garret” in the title that exists in my collection (and I was shocked to even see one) was Roosevelt Sykes’ “Skeet and Garret.” Sykes was a blues artist from Arkansas known to music historians as the father of modern blues piano. He was also known as “The Honeydripper.”

“Skeet and Garret” by Roosevelt Sykes

The most popular songs dealing strictly with the subject at hand is the traditional Irish folk song “Old Maid in the Garret.” (The song title is commonly misspelled with two T’s). The song is sung in a cheerful way though the story is of a single, desperate middle-aged woman resigned to her attic. At one point, she welcomes “any man at all that will marry me for pity.” Sign me up. The traditional version, almost always sung by a man, can be construed as a horrid artifact of sexism. This is why Steeleye Span, a folk rock band of 40 years, liberated it with their own rendition featuring two female leads (Maddie Prior and Gay Woods). Here are both:

The Clancy Brothers version:

Steeleye Span version:

Sexism indeed, but try not to chuckle from this lyric: “There’s nothing in this wide world would make me half so cheery/As a wee fat manny who would call me his own deary.”

Time to cheat. There really isn’t much out there musically by way of garrets outside of show tunes, so what happens if we slyly switch synonymously over to “Attic.” Same idea, less ye olde arcane. The instinctive thought of an attic should be the same to everyone – dark, damp, Anne Frank, ghosts, grime, dust, sadness, isolation, old, musty, things forgotten. “Attic Lights” by Atlas Sound has a striking connection to all the aforementioned indirect connotations of an attic. It is a song of great pain, density and sadness, yet has an ending of pure triumph and closure.

The Antlers, when it was still just the solo project of Peter Silberman, released In the Attic of the Universe, an album he has now stated was written during a dark period in his life. In an interview with Ca Va Cool, Silberman said the album “was made at a time that I was really screwing up my life and very unhappy, and for some reason was finding some kind of comfort in the enormity of space. I was really disconnected at the time.” What doesn’t come up is the interview is the juxtaposition of the timelessness/infinite space and the confinement/claustrophobic nature of an attic. However, like Bradford Cox’s “Attic Lights” found paradise, Antlers’ “Stairs to the Attic” found  “The answer, the feeling, and the truth/ That I’m small.” In that cosmic sense, yaknow?

Scrabble-Rousers #5: Oxygen

21 May

Oxygen: Atomic number 8, symbolized by O, provides fine programming like Talk Sex with Sue Johanson and Jersey Couture.

Atom & the Ants

Today’s edition of Scrabble-Rousers is brought to you by Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, of which the television series brought us the synthesized companion compositions of Vangelis:

But has there been a true ode to O? Can survival gases truly be a muse? No, not literally at least. Singers sing about survival in general, primitive/biological needs and the destruction of us. In song, writers utilize the symbolism of oxygen to depict survival, last breaths, referring to lovers as oxygen, coming up for air from heartbreak suffocation, etc.

The Donkeys (not the modrocking Donkeys from the 70s, but the San Diego Donkeys from today) sing about escaping a violent reality and retreating to the ocean where, “Dolphins make good friends/but sharks give you the truth in the end/We are all fish/No need for oxygen.” The escapism is poignant, but fish do need oxygen. Listen here: “No Need for Oxygen” by The Donkeys.

RAWWAR by Gang Gang Dance

“Oxygen Demo Riddim” was one of three songs from the 2007 RAWWAR EP from Gang Gang Dance. It’s impossible to guess how a band names an instrumental track without actually asking them, but GGD manages to insert an organic sound despite all the flying electrons: “Oxygen Demo Riddim” by Gang Gang Dance.

Most songs that reference oxygen are lame. One very famous song, however, mentions oxygen in its purest form amongst its cohorts and champions the element-lyric universe.

Scrabble-Rousers #4: Hypocrisy

18 May

Hypocrisy and its bedmates – pretenders, fakes and phonies – have always been a source of consideration for artists. Just as in Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice where today’s word comes from, musicians have taken aim at social and political hypocrisy as far back as Ludvig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. In 1804, Beethoven titled his third symphony “Bonaparte” in honor of Napoleon, who then held the title of First Consul. Beethoven cast Napoleon in the same light as great Roman leaders because of their staunch opposition to tyranny and dictatorships. However, Napoleon announced himself “Emperor of the French” which so deeply angered Beethoven that he renamed his third symphony “Sinfonia eroica, composta per festeggiare il sovvenire d’un grand’uomo” (“Heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.)”

Here is a great Dutch site streaming No. 3 in its entirety.

Folk music is a genre almost exclusive to exposing the hypocrisies of war and oppression. Peter Seeger and Phil Ochs wrote and sang with a purpose and summoned a reckoning.

John Cage just before he went deaf.

Some artists, like composer John Cage, even adapt their sociopolitical ideals to create innovative new forms of music. Cage, of the “purposeful purposelessness” school, was hugely influenced by anarchic writers and created a compositional process based on chance resembling these beliefs.

Rap pioneer Gil Scott-Heron, inspired by watching the moon landing in 1969, called out society for its racial and social inequalities with “Whitey on the Moon.” “Was all the money I made last year/For whitey on the moon?”

The Dead Kennedys and Jello Biafra were masters of finding the hypocrisy in just about everything and releasing it in their famous scathing sarcasm.

Jello Biafra exposes hypocrisy in his own madeup name.

“Holiday in Cambodia” is a perfect example, setting side by side a typical Reagan-era yuppy youth to a Pol Pot-era slave worker to display the West’s blindness and indifference.

This is endless subject and it would be great to hear from others, so please post your thoughts and songs related to “hypocrisy.”

Here are a few noteworthy literal associations of hypocrisy:

“Circle of Hypocrisy” by Napalm Death

“Hypocrite” by The Heptones

“Hypocrite” by Antibalas

Scrabble-Rousers #3: Reign

17 May

Today’s word – reign – comes from Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars and is used in reference to Nero, the tyrannical emperor of Rome who was favored by the masses but murdered his mother.

"OK, now pout as if you've just executed your mother. Perfect!"

Make of that what you will or go google Nero.

I can’t think of a single song, but there is an entire genre that “reign” brings to mind and that is gospel music. Some of our favorite musicians grew up listening to and singing gospel music – Johnny Cash, Elvis, Sam Cooke among many, many others. Given the context of today’s word, there is seemingly no better choice than to give you gospel legend Shirley Caesar singing “He Holdeth the Reigns.”

Share Don’t Drive Your Mama Away by Shirley Caesar

With that said, there were a few other nominees that need to be mentioned such as Bernie Williams’ rendition of “He Reigns.” This has no direct or indirect connection to Nero’s term as temporary tyrant, but is worth noting because of Williams’ connection to another tyrannical dynasty – The New York Yankees. The former All-Star center fielder, who cranked out over 2,3oo base hits in his career, now cranks out smooth jazz hits like this:

Another close (but oh so far) match was “He Lives and He Reigns” by Stamatis Spanoudakis. The Greek composer’s homage to Alexander the Great is a lot like the stuff you hear from the now-deceased Sam Spence on NFL Films programming. It is powerful, but evokes a certain sensitivity to its subject:

Finally, completely unrelated to anything, is simply the biggest surprise while searching for songs with the word “reign” in it. Stumbling across “Freedom Reign” by The Tenebrous Liar, the band name called for an obligatory listen. The automatic song playing on their website sounded as if J.J. Cale and Nick Cave collaborated in the studio, and it just got better from there. They wear their influences on their sleeve, assuming they listened to a lot of Joy Division, Bauhaus and dark new wave acts – especially on tracks like “Cut Down Your Love” and “Suffer You.” These guys aren’t ripoff artists though, as the sound comes across as fresh.

Scrabble-Rousers #2: Relations

14 May

The word “relations” takes on a different life when used in different contexts. The most ubiquitous (and fun) form of the word is sexual relations (mainly between living things). Even more filthy is the act of public relations, utilized best by governments, politicians and money. Another less used form, unless you’re Forrest Gump, is the familial noun. Today’s word comes from The Communist Manifest by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, who used the word to declare the communists’ problem with existing “property relations.” Today’s song choice has almost as much to do with its hateful sarcasm as it does to the band’s origin. “Neighborhood Relations” by The Spermbirds, a still-touring German hardcore punk band formed in 1982, is a venomous shot at suburban living. The Spermbirds, like a lot of other German youth in the late 70s, were heavily influenced by the American hardcore scene (Black Flag and Minor Threat in particular). Interesting, commie fact of the day: Lead singer, Lee Hobson-Hollis, was an American G.I. stationed in Germany when members of Die Walterelf discovered him.

The Spermbirds (1982-present)

I’m tired of doing mostly what I want to do/

Freedom is boring me, I’d rather live like you/

Like a job I work at everyday to feed a family I hate anyway/

Well, I don’t hate them, but I suspect that they hate me

Neighborhood Relations by The Spermbirds