Friday, August 13, 2010

Strange As Angels: Some Songbirds Are Singing Like They Know the Score

Angel's Flight: A still from Asian Kung-Fu Generation's video for "After Dark"

                                                                Just once, 
                                                                everything, only for once. Once and no more. And we, too, 
                                                                once. And never again. But this
                                                                having been on earth—can it ever be canceled?  
                                                                                  —Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies
The Tallest Man on Earth is a big dupe: Where I Thought I Met the Angels   
Josh Ritter articulates a phenomenology that sprouts Wings at Hollywood's Music Box

Kabir wrote: If you don't break your ropes while you're alive/do you think/ghosts will do it after? Brandon Flowers puts himself on the ropes in the video for Crossfire from his solo debut album Flamingo, out September 14, 2010

Music/poetry/meaning exists as one united phrase, one three-part method, in the subtitle of this site. What does this mean? Like the teacher who appears when the student is ready to learn, willing to know, serendipity finds us when we sing "one and one and one are three."

Merge a scrap of song from satellite radio with a scrap of print, found poetry, that you spied on an envelope glimpsed on a desk. Trick these two into suggesting what their relationship means. "The world is charged with the grandeur of God," wrote Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. I've had his book open to that poem often and items have fallen hard on world and grandeur: pine needles, tears, the fall-out of a sandwich I was eating, as novelist John Fowles' creation Sarah Woodruff ate, "without any delicacy whatsoever."

We can set down a book of poetry next to the iPod next to the bag of groceries. The book could be Robert Bly's versions of Kabir. I'll bookmark my paperback copy with what is right at hand: "Pick of the Week" Download cards from Starbucks. Kabir is bearing within his depths Jonsi and Broken Social Scene. It's just fine to consider popular music and great poetry in the same breath: snobbery isn't possible once the great poet Kabir is opened to, evoked. He plainly champions listening: If you want the truth, I'll tell you the truth: Listen to the secret sound, the real sound, which is inside you.

And in another: So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is, /Believe in the Great Sound.

How do we teach ourselves to listen? Glean meanings from the juxtaposition of any two elements that gain your notice during the day. Treat them as if they spoke to you. Play music. Ask questions about it. Antony Hegarty's "Crazy in Love" or Beyonce's reminds us of the most important part of the trick of listening: crazy intensity. The truth is heard by those who yearn to hear, who ache to hear. Kabir again. When the Guest is being searched for/ it is the intensity of the longing . . . that/ does all the work.

Perhaps pop music can school our intensities for a time. This is where, historically, Americans have come to ache and to yearn.  The debate over value, high art versus popular arts, melts away when we emulate the transcendent pragmatism of the humble weaver-poet Kabir who "unites in one body the two rivers of ecstatic Sufism—supremely confident, secretive desert meditation, utterly opposed to orthodoxy and academics, given to dance and weeping—and the Hindu tradition, which is more sober on the surface, coming through the Vedas, and Vishnu and Ram and Krishna." (from Bly's Preface)

"Show me how you do that trick/The one that makes me scream, she said/ The one that makes me laugh, she said," plays on the iPod and on the yellow Playlist cassette device on this site."Just Like Heaven"  The Cure.  Run for the Rilke? But don't automatically consider his your better angels. Robert Smith will author the title of this multi-part meditation: Strange as Angels. Rilke's Duino Elegy 9 must furnish the epigraph: reread above to discover again the stakes  of this life.

Consider four artists, songbirds all, pictured here, singing here. Their work acknowledges the stakes in this life are high:

1. Idaho-born, Oberlin-educated singer-songwriter Josh Ritter will conflate songbirds and angels, and then follow, through a fog, a group of people moving on, stepping away, from the damaged hardscape of our world. Under their jackets, Ritter sings, someone, a woman, sees that these people have wings. "Wings" starts the Playlist.

2. The Tallest Man on Earth, a New Folk Swede, my favorite new voice, sings as if Eeyore, Carol Channing and Domingo "Sam the Sham" Samudio, the Wooly Bully guy, shared a body (no snark here, of course, just gobsmacked admiration and an attempt to be descriptive). TTMOE will admit he has escalated his yearning well past beginner levels "where the safer sorrows burned/the ones with no intent to drown you/ the ones where nothing's to be learned." He's taken the high-degree-difficulty dive off the high board. When a certain group of voices, "brought up by bell towers/and always nurtured by the sound" sang to him, he thought they were angels. He sought them, found them. He's now their prisoner, tied up by "mad girls" who are all about "sin." Lucky for him he has another song or two besides "Where I Thought I Met the Angels." A tough one called "Love Is All" notes it is possible for something or someone to be both "savior" and "sin."

3. Brandon Flowers, in the video for the lead single off his first album done apart from The Killers will appear much the worse for wear for being "caught in the crossfire of heaven and hell." He's all tied up literally. "Crossfire" is the name of the song and it's got "cross" and "fire" in it just like my Kabir has Jonsi in it. Is kick-ass Charlize Theron his avenging angel? Or is the singer's revealing display of wounds and bindings and constraints a waystation of self-correction that leads to turning angelic himself like the J-Pop guys? It appears that the Flowers and Theron characters might like to drive right out of this video and catch up with the sacred group moving on up in Ritter's song.

4. J-Pop stars Asian King-Fu Generation will run shocked again and again through their video of "After Dark," freaking out because Generation Now young men have been utterly defeated as conventional Japanese salarymen because they are metamorphosing into angels.

Kabir says: Let's leave for the country where the Guest is. 

The Playlist--that yellow cassette thing!-- on this site contains some sound to train your heart for Sound.  Enjoy!

1 Josh Ritter, Wings
2. The Tallest Man on Earth, Where I Thought I Met the Angels
3. Crossfire by Brandon Flowers
4. Just Like Heaven by The Cure
5. After Dark, Asian Kung-Fu Generation
6. Crazy in Love by Antony Hegarty
7. Crazy in Love by Beyonce
and much more . . . (Jonsi, Broken Social Scene . . .)
and more . . . 

Just Like Heaven.

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