I have said it on here before, but I can’t say it enough: If you value the work that artists in any field do, you should support them by buying their work, attending their events, etc. In the music world, listening to internet radio or using streaming services are not a substitute for buying an artist’s record. That’s not to say that at some point they might not be viable financial models, but right now they are a joke. Read the above article about Pandora’s latest attempt to screw artists. If we want to have a viable culture in this country, one that doesn’t just reflect the lowest common denominator, than we need to make sure that the artists we value can earn a living.
I couldn’t help but post this picture of Morrissey and Jackson Browne together. To top it all off they were both attending a show by Buffy Sainte-Marie. Anyone that has read this blog for awhile knows that all three are favorites of mine. All three are also writers who have a mastery of poetry and politics. They have the ability to look out at the world and describe what is going on with unique insight. They are original voices, first-rate melody writers, and absolutely fearless.
Look at the Facts by Buffy Sainte-Marie:
For America by Jackson Browne (Yes, the production is dated, but what a song!):
Last, but not least, Mountjoy by Morrissey (Mountjoy is a notorious prison in Dublin):
Reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. It is about Lincoln and his cabinet. The book is endlessly fascinating. I am only about a tenth of the way through and already I have learned an incredible amount about this country. I read the following passage today, about Lincoln’s first major anti-slavery speech:
Rather than upbraid slaveowners, Lincoln sought to comprehend their position through empathy. More than a decade earlier, he had employed a similar approach when he advised temperance advocates to refrain from denouncing drinkers in “thundering tones of anathema and denunciation,” for denunciation would inevitably be me with denunciation, “crimination with crimination, and anathema with anathema.” In a passage directed at abolitionists as well as temperance reformers, he had observed that it was the nature of man, when told that he should be “shunned and despised,” and condemned as a the author “of all the vice and misery and crime in the land,” to retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart.”
Though the cause be “naked truth itself, transformed to the heaviest lance, harder than steel,” the sanctimonious reformer could no more pierce the heart of the drinker or the slaveowner than “penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw. Such is man, and so must he be understood by those who would lead him.” In order to “win a man to your cause,” Lincoln explained, you must first reach his heart, “the great high road to his reason.” This, he concluded, was the only road to victory – to that glorious day “when there shall be neither a slave nor a drunkard on the earth.”
It is a hard thing to do, to change people’s minds. Lincoln was such a great leader and was able to get so much done, precisely because he had empathy, the ability to put himself in other people’s shoes, even those he vehemently disagreed with.
Politics is a tricky thing, because you need people that are going to tell the truth no matter who it offends, to get the ball rolling a lot of the times. Yet you also need people that can reach out and change people’s minds. It’s a hard thing to know when to do what.
In George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, the second half of the book is his argument for socialism. However, it is also a diatribe against socialists, because he feels that they are going about their cause completely wrong. Even though he agrees with them politically, he feels that most of the socialists of that time are wrong in the way they approach people. Orwell spent a lot of time with the working class in England, especially in the mining towns. Orwell felt that if you wanted to bring the common man over to the cause of socialism you couldn’t do things like attack their religion, something that many people need to make sense of the world. He felt that in order to influence people one needed to reach them where they were at.
I think different forms of communication require different kinds of tools. If someone is a songwriter, for instance, you only have so many lines to get across an idea. Music is also based on emotion. I think because of this it is a form that is better suited to going all in and conveying something with passion.
However, politicians need to do the hard work of actually leading people. I think they have to have more empathy in their approach. Having empathy and trying to understand others is not to be confused with being wishy-washy, as so many politicians are. I think one can take the moral high ground and at the same time extend an olive branch out to those that disagree. Unfortunately we have very few leaders these days that are able to do both at the same time.
P.S. Although we all know prohibition was a nightmare and a mistake, one needs to understand how much people used to drink to understand, in part, the temperance movement. Read up on it as it is a pretty good laugh. I was just reading a passage in the above book where Senators in our government were described as being, “beastly drunk.”
Jackson Browne, one of my favorite songwriters, has a new album coming out in October. This is the first song released from the record, The Birds of St. Marks. I’m glad that it sounds like he is in top form. HIs last studio album, Time the Conqueror, was one of the best albums of 2008. There are few songwriters that can match intelligence and emotion in equal measure as he has done throughout his career.
I really like when lyrics start with some kind of strong visceral image that brings you into the world of the song. Even the best song writers don’t always write front to back strong lyrics in a song. There may be a bland line or verse that moves the song along rather than being exceptional in its own right. Sometimes lines and couplets can be taken out of context and be exceptional and sometimes they are just functionary within the song. Songwriters, unlike poets, are also stuck trying to form words to a melody, so occasionally they may need to take a dive on a line to serve a melodic hook. I thought I would post a very small portion of some of my favorite opening lines or verses in song.
Brandenburg Gate by Lou Reed
I would cut my legs and tits off
When I dream of Boris Karloff and Kinski
In the dark of the moon
Makes me dream of Nosferatu
Trapped on the isle of Doctor Moreau
Now My Heart is Full by Morrissey
There’s gonna be some trouble
A whole house will need re-building
And everyone I love will recline
On an analyst’s couch quite soon
Your father cracks a joke and in the usual way
Empty’s the room
First We Take Manhattan by Leonard Cohen
They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
Lisence to Kill by Bob Dylan
Man thinks ‘cause he rules the earth
He can do with it as he pleases
And if things don’t change soon he will
Man has invented his doom
His first step was touching the moon
The Auld Triangle by Dominic Behan
A hungry feeling, came o’er me stealing
Black Boys on Mopeds by Sinead O’Connor
Margaret Thatcher on TV
Shocked by the deaths that she sees in Beijing
It seems strange that she should be offended
The same orders are given by her
Bill Lee by Warren Zevon
You’re supposed to sit on your ass
And nod at stupid things, man that’s hard to do
And if you don’t they’ll screw you
And if you do they’ll screw you too
East by Marah
This evening pigeons turn to bars of gold
In the sun’s last light
Across the river, Camden is a gilded kingdom
On the verge of night
The Naked Ride Home by Jackson Browne
Just take off your clothes and I’ll drive you home I said
Knowing she could never pass on a dare
And knowing it sounded more desperate than reckless or bold
I just put it out there cold, too far gone to care
Satan Rejected My Soul by Morrissey
Satan rejected my soul
He knows my kind, he won’t be dragged down