Friday, November 09, 2007

Poets and Polemicists

National Blog Posting Month Day 9

Since as a geezer in his forties, I am the last remaining sucker of the music industry that pays cash money for shiny little circles of money. The music companies have been catering to my tastes with a lot of recent releases of new material by artists that had their heyday in the 70s and 80s. I’ve bought a lot of those lately and while the music is both fresh and comfortable sounding, I’ve noticed the inclusion of the mandatory political song on a lot of albums. It’s no secret that most musicians are a little lefty or else they would have become investment bankers or country singers, but if you are going to polemicize your songs, it has to be done with a certain style and panache.

The Eagles are a band that has always been more than the sum of their parts. Their first album of all new material in eighty-five years had to be two discs to contain all the egos. The negotiations between members of how many songs by whom get on the album or the setlist must make Middle East peace talks look tame.

Don Henley is a clever if not overly subtle lyricist. He was a way with the bon mot line that is just so. “Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac” is a phrase of pure genius. His song “Business As Usual” takes a lot of pot shots, but the center verse is particularly political.

Monuments to arrogance reach for the sky
Our better nature's buried in the rubble
We got the prettiest White House that money can buy
Sitting up there in that beltway bubble
The main jefe talks about our freedom
But this is what he really means...

Business as usual
How dirty we play
Business as usual
Don't you get in the way
Yeah, make you feel helpless
Make you feel like a clown
Business as usual
Is breakin' me down

Any guesses as to who “the main jefe” is? Bueller? Anyone? And the irony of a song about the mispractices of the music business being sold as a Walmart exclusive is too delicious to not notice.
Eagles-Business as...

Another singer-songwriter that has thrown away any carefully encouching of themes is my girlfriend Melissa Etheridge. I've lamented before that her transmogrification from an artist into an icon has hurt her music. And like Al Gore, throwing Oscars at her just encourages her worst excesses. Here is part of “Kingdom of Heaven”:

A suffering soul on the way to the kingdom of heaven
Held up a sign that says god hates America
A child has been lost; a mother is shocked and is grieving
And turning away, turning away

He said there is a love that is so hideous and destructive
We must drive it from earth to save all of our children
He must know it well in the night it's the hell that he speaks of
It keeps him awake, keeps him awake

My god is love, my god is peace, my god loves you, my god loves me

A suffering soul on the way to the kingdom of heaven
Prayed in the dark, death to the infidel
He strapped on his desperate pain and his faith to his body

Blew them away, blew them away

Packing abortion clinic protesters, self-hating gay Republicans, and Islamic suicide bombers all into one song is a grand feat that matches the souring cliché of the shredding guitar solo.

Melissa Etheridge-...

Bruce Springsteen has never been not political. He was a charter member of the No Nukes crowd (although conspicuously absent from the latest incarnation) and took on Sun City before it was cool. Right around 2004, he deliberately took sides in the election and alienated a good portion of the frat-boy sided of his fanbase. They immediately put him in the Shut Up And Sing bin next to the Dixie Chick and Bruce bid them good riddance. On Magic, the most overt call for action is in “Last To Die”

Who'll be the last to die for a mistake
The last to die for a mistake
Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
Who'll be the last to die for a mistake

The wise men were all fools
What to do

The sun sets in flames as the city burns
Another day gone down as the night turns
And I hold you here in my heart
As things fall apart

Of the songs I’ve highlighted here, it is both the most overt and the most subtle. Rather than scream and rage, he takes it down a notch, makes it personal and turns it into a lament. The signature line echoes the Vietnam War which Bruce has bona fides for. His early concerts often had a long rambling very non-Woody Guthrie-ish narration of his draft board encounter. Now that he is a father of teenagers, his concerns over the trade of blood for oil and land are still as poignant. And he does it with the touch of a poet.

Bruce Springsteen-...


2fs said...

All that "my god" stuff in the Etheridge lyrics reminds me of a few of my favorite Pavement lyrics - which, despite their simplicity, say a lot more, and more profoundly, than Etheridge's high dudgeon:

"Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god
Oh my god, oh your god, oh his god, oh her god
It's everybody's god, it's everybody's god, it's everybody's god, it's everybody's god.
The worlds collide, but all that we want is a shady lane."

This is delivered in a rather offhand, sing-song manner - not ranted up into Wagnerian boom.

yellojkt said...

"Wagnerian boom." I like that. It seems to be Melissa's default style.