2001: A Space Odyssey, I’m Not a Man, and the Power of Suspense

Two nights ago, when I was writing a blog about my favorite albums of 2014, I happened to watch Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time.  I realized it was a glaring omission in my film education and decided to correct it.  It was every bit as astounding as I had heard it was throughout the years.  Every single shot seemed perfectly orchestrated.  It was pregnant with ideas.  However, there is so much written about the film that I don’t feel like I can comment on it too deeply having only seen it one time.  I do just want to add that I can’t understand why special effects of 1968 look much better than many of the special effects in modern cinema.

However, although I was not high at that present time, my mind was operating like it was, pulling two different things together that had nothing to do with each other.  If you go to my blog where I picked songs from my favorite albums of the year, you will hear the Morrissey song I’m Not a Man.

Songs From My Favorite Albums of 2014

That song begins with about a minute and a half of eerie white noise.  While this space of sound makes complete sense, at least to me, in the context of the record, I understand how when hearing the track by itself it could seem a bit strange.

While watching 2001: A Space Odyssey I was taken by how the very first thing that takes place is a few minutes of eerie ambient music while the screen is entirely black.  This happens before you even see the studio logo.  At first I was thinking my TV wasn’t working as it seemed to go on longer than it should.  Once I realized what was happening I thought about how disorienting this must have been at concert volume in a real theater.

However, concerning the movie, I feel like this did two different things:  First, it creates a sense of the uncanny in a viewer before the film even begins.  This is a feeling, that uncanniness, that keeps rearing its head throughout the film, brought to a head in the final section.  It also cleared out my mind and got my attention so that when the first real image did appear, it was incredibly powerful.  By taking away something that we are expecting the imagination begins to fill in what isn’t there.  It sets a mood so that what comes after it is even more visceral than what follows would be on its own.

I think the same thing is achieved with the eerie noise at the beginning of I’m Not a Man.  It creates a degree of suspense as you wait for the song to begin.  You expect something epic to arrive, and although the song does eventually get there, the tinkling keyboard and sweet melody that begins it comes as a surprise.  The craft of the melody and chord progression, while having a power of their own, seem even more powerful when compared to the absence of form that comes before it.  I once read that, although Morrissey’s lyrics are very intelligent, that he doesn’t care if people think so long as they feel something and that he is perfectly fine if they feel uncomfortable.  The song is about how the macho male that society so often celebrates is actually one of the things that has caused so much pain and destruction in the world.  This is a topic that is sure to make some uncomfortable, and the beginning noise highlights that emotion while also contrasting the melody that follows.  Because the piece of music is not any one thing emotionally when the intro and the proper song are combined, it creates complex feelings in the listener.  This is the difference between something that is art and something that is mere pop music, even if the melody of the proper song itself is as catchy and singable as any true pop song.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how space (Not to be confused with the kind of space in the title of the film!) and emptiness are as an important a part of art as anything else.  This movie and song show how by withholding something one can create suspense and complexity.


Songs From My Favorite Albums Of 2014

Yesterday I posted my favorite albums of 20014.  Today I thought that I would post a video from each one so that you can get a taste for these records.  I am officially including my idiotic omission of Leonard Cohen into the list, so we’ll just make it 11 like Spinal Tap!  I want to mention that I believe these are the best albums, not necessarily the most groundbreaking.  There is nothing avant-garde on the list.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to that kind of stuff, but that kind of stuff is often appreciated on a more intellectual level, than it is truly loved.  I’ve been checking out Sunn 0))) lately, an experimental, doom/drone metal band, and they seem to be doing really great and interesting stuff, but it isn’t the kind of stuff you can just plop on your stereo at any time.  I really believe that the albums I picked for this list are records that are front to back great records in that they can be listened to in their full capacity at almost anytime, and you will always get something out of them.  This is music for the heart, mind, and spirit.  This is shit that you can soldier on through the darkest of days with, whether that comes from a revolutionary lyrical sensibility or from a spirit lifting melody.  Anyway, let’s get started.  I just picked one song, obviously, that I liked from each record.  I thought about putting up the best video for each, but then I just decided that I would always stick to the recorded studio version.  If you want to see the explanation behind each record go here:

My Favorite Records of 2014

Leonard Cohen – Almost Like the Blues from Popular Problems

Bruce Springsteen – The Wall from High Hopes

Chuck D – Give We the Pride ft. Mavis Staples from The Black in Man

Bryan Ferry – Johnny and Mary from Avonmore

U2 – Iris from Songs of Innocence

Sinead O’Connor – Take Me to Church from I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss

Marah – A Melody of Rain from Marah Presents: Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania 

Weezer – Ain’t Got Nobody from Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Marianne Faithfull – Sparrows Will Sing from Give My Love to London

Jackson Browne – Walls and Doors from Standing in the Breach

Morrissey – I’m Not a Man from World Peace is None of Your Business

The New Greek Ideal

Don Juan
Wife beater vest
Cold hand
Ice man
Warring cave man
Well if this is what it takes to describe…
I’m not a man

Wheeler, dealer
Mover, shaker
A-ho but lonely
Well if this is what it takes to describe…
I’m not a man
I’m not a man
I’m something much bigger and better than
A man

Two-fisted hombre, olé
Well if these are terms you’d use to describe…

Oh, I’m shaking
Look at me I’m quaking
True grit
True blue
Kill crazy
So very manly of you
You are the soldier
Who won’t get much older
You are the slow Joe
Who signed up to go

Wolf down
Wolf down
T-bone steak
Wolf down
Cancer of the prostate

Ways to sit
And of course
Ways to stand
I’m not a man
I’m not a man
No big fat locker room
Hockey jock
I’m not a man
I’d never kill or eat an animal
And I never would destroy this planet I’m on
Well, what do you think I am?
A man?

I’m Not a Man by Morrissey.  These lyrics are the best ones I have come across in a long time.  I listen to this song almost every day.  They allow you to look at the world through a new lens.  I called them the new Greek Ideal because they are idealistic, a place to strive for, but will not be reached by many.  But they are a path worth heading down, even if you fall short.  They outline the macho behavior that leads to war and the destruction of our planet.  Right now Morrissey is without a label and this record, World Peace is None of Your Business, is hard to find.  I wanted to wait till it was available again to post these, but they mean too much to me.  As soon as it is available get a copy.  Thank god he’s out there…