Exodus 16:7

and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, for He hears your grumblings against the LORD; and what are we, that you grumble against us?

I’m not one who usually finds recurrent product & pleasure in programs that require physical stagnancy, like video games or television shows or quiet reading (which is a shame because I want so badly to want to read, but my antsy legs have minds of their collective own), but there are ways to perform & receive stimulation through stasis, & some of them I’m finding I quite like.

Mostly I’ve discovered it’s a matter of relevance & calculation – find one aspect of television you deem worthy, look forward to it, & sit down & watch it.  For the past month, this calculation has been college basketball, & there are few things in life that can pull me out of my seat faster than a buzzer beater.  In this way, the NCAA tournament becomes a strictly visceral experience, an Artaudian experiment of popular culture: find a language, a method, that moves the audience to their feet, moves them to tears, to expletives – find this & you speak directly to the hearts of man.

Now that the tournament has ended (UNC holding onto the title as continuous bane of my existence, those athletically impeccable bastards), this reflection on sports culture as social performance is ever the more prominent.  Even if situated alone on the couch, give me a tied game with 8.3 seconds on the clock, possession arrow pointed the right way, & I’m a physical, blundering wreck.  The string of four letter words wakes the neighbor’s dog, the banister on the stairs is rocked precariously on its molding, my shirt could be torn my teeth are digging so far into the cotton — these are all purely physical, “gut” reactions to ultimately inconsequential performances taking place in a location sometimes hundreds of miles from myself.  And what does this teach us?  That the discovery of language that taps into the immediacy of man’s desiring is enough to control the social market?  Or perhaps that we perform as individuals much as we perform in self-functional circles so long as we preserve that self-functional role?

In my mind, it’s mostly a question of reactionary performance: we observe, we react, & we dilute this reaction beyond a point of consequence.  As a result, college basketball controls minds, makes slobbering lunatics of citizens, & when it ends the world is all the better for it.  Now if only this helped my bracket.

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James 3:4

And look at ships! They are so big that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are steered by a tiny rudder wherever the helmsman directs.

In my most recent arduous counter-reflections of scholastic venture, I have been fascinated in the idea of the adaptive, impermanent performance.  Groups like the San Francisco Mime Troupe & El Teatro Campesino, though at this point having progressed beyond radicalism & into popular culture as mere memories, both began in the 1960’s as theater groups whose pieces were performed in arenas of improvised social spectacle, the former in public Frisco parks, the latter on flatbed trucks on the fringes of SoCal & Mexican working fields.  The method of performing unannounced & without preconceived social awareness fascinates me because it constructs a form of performance that keeps one step ahead of the market’s tendency (& I would say inevitable capitalist trend, for better or worse) to devour artistic ingenuity that mirrors the cultural hip.

This is just a terribly overwrought way of saying this: if you put on a performance without announcing your performance, it will have ended before the chameleonistic market has a chance to catch up.  All of this, of course, is just another transition to a million great videos.

Because although this was the way of many groups in the 60’s & into the 70’s, the trend continues today in the relevance of the traveling troubadour.  In particular, a French-Canadian director calling himself “La Blogotheque” has amassed a more than impressive collection of popular & semi-popular musicians quite literally taking their music to the streets.

The Take-Away Shows (or Concerts-a-emporter, if you’re a frog) follow a simple direction to create unbelievably moving results: take a musician, make him play music in public (usually while walking), & make a video of it.  These performances, then, become half-musical/half-reactionary; the average street-goer stops & stares, or stops & cheers, or stops & jeers, & it is all a result of the public performance as intrusive, unapologetic object.   I could espouse on this further & further, but the videos tend to speak for themselves, & if ever you have a moment to experience musical movement (both literal & emotional, in just about every case!), take the time to watch these videos.  The lighting is haunting & glows radiance onto the performers; the music fades high & low as the camera pans to different angles, or follows a musician in circles (the Fleet Foxes video is a great example of this, as well as Beirut), offering the listener an in-house experience; the performers themselves are modest & oftentimes uncertain, baring their souls un-produced & un-hinged in the middle of a street or park, the fear of refusal or rejection always an option on the audience’s part.

These are real moments in the lives of real people, & the performer as debased-human-interloper has never been as apparent.  Sometimes it is a mere moment that makes you gasp & weep, not the music: the sun setting as Andrew Bird pauses & a bird whistles with him; the wind whipping through Sufjan Stevens on a forgotten warehouse roof, his soft resiliency & harmony; the cameraman falling over to My Brightest Diamond’s pealing laughter just as she ends a Franco-English heartbreaking hymn.  These are those moments, & so much more:

Beirut – Nantes & The Penalty
(both are so different, yet such remarkable moments of street fare)

Fleet Foxes – Sun Giant/Blue Ridge Mountains


Fleet Foxes – A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

My Brightest Diamond – L’hymne A L’amour

Sufjan Stevens – The Lakes of Canada

Andrew Bird – Spare-Ohs

There is more to come on this subject, & I promise to stay closer to the hearth within these next coming weeks. This space has been left dormant once more, let’s push onward.  For now, spend time on these Take-Away pieces, peruse the archive & you never know if your new favorite heart-ful artist is waiting for you.

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Revelation 13:13

He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men.

According to The Death Clock, a website manufactured for the explicit reason of calculating your exact day of death & supplying you with a convenient clock that counts down to said date second by second, I am expected to kick the proverbial bucket on Monday, December 30, 2086.

This means I would live to be nearly 99 years old.  I can live with that.

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1 Kings 14:11

“Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs will eat. And he who dies in the field the birds of the heavens will eat; for the LORD has spoken it.”’

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After some friendly banter between two tuneful figureheads, Ray Charles kicks everyone’s ass around 0:40.  Next time it’s not my bedtime there is a post coming concerning neo-whiteboy-soul.  For now, spin this soulified country music.  The off-screen horns are enough to implode muscles on the spot.  The 10 seconds of anticipation from 2:03 to 2:13 caps this thing off so nicely.  Oof.

Thanks to Ruby for this gem.

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Jude 1:23

Save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

This post is subtitled “Why Pop Songs Mattered in 2008,” but in all honesty it’s an overall misleading subtitle & so I may just end up scrapping the idea of using a subtitle at all.  But seriously pop songs really mattered in 2008!  And there are three reasons why.

1. They proved we really are the most post-modern generation after all.

“We” really means “me & kids my age,” but that doesn’t matter in the end because even if it’s my generation, every other living generation exists in spheres around this one  — my own — & each of our generation’s actions & products affect all others.  These effects include one generation’s recognition of and vested interest in its own products, a self-reflexivity that was mirrored brilliantly in 2008 in one of its golden boys: T.I.

Yes, I recognize & understand clearly that hip-hop at its very core is a genre of music founded on the borrowing from other snippets of artistic effects, but rarely before has a song become so pop-culturally lauded for borrowing from a snippet of a snippet of an otherwise completely unknown, unimportant effect.  Let me explain.  T.I.’s song “Live Your Life” was one of this year’s biggest radio hits, reaching #1 on the Billboard charts & reaching Platinum sale status (the song alone!  Not even the album from which it was pulled!  But that’s a whole nother post).  The song begins with a sample of the song “Dragostea Din Tei” by the Moldovan group O-Zone, a song that, though it was a hit throughout Europe, holds no real cultural significance in America besides being the subject of arguably the most popular YouTube video of all time.  This is the “Numa Numa Kid” video that changed the whole game of YouTube to begin with; not only did it make a hero out of an embarrassingly hilarious, overweight man with small headphones, but it spawned an innumerable amount of spoofs & responses, practically inventing the necessity for the “YouTube Response.”  This might not have been the Internet phenomenon to start all Internet phenomenons, but it will certainly go down in the history books as one of THE biggest videos this generation has produced (& there are so, so many…).

Regardless, the insertion of a sample from O-Zone’s song is not so much a consequence of T.I.’s vast musical knowledge (nor is it a consequence of his DJ’s knowledge, as very rarely does an emcee ever pull a Rakim these days & actually make his own music) as it is a consequence of an enormously post-modern culture weighing in on pop radio.  The song opens up with the immediately distinctive “Maya-heeeee, maya-haaa” that this generation has come to know so well, borrowing not necessarily from a song that has an interesting or unique sound that would emphasize the strength of a beat, but in fact pointing out to the listener that hey, million-dollar rap stars are just like everybody else.  They watch YouTube, they laugh at chubby kids lip-syncing in font of a computer.  And this generation’s public responded brilliantly, launching the song up the pop charts & pumping the song out of each & every speaker within reach.

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I did exactly the same thing.  Because, quite honestly, that song is really damn good.  And Rihanna will never cease to be attractive.  Probably ever.

2. They proved the love song will never die.

And do you know why the love song will never die?  Because the people who are making the most popular love songs today (and probably the best love songs today) are younger than even me.  All three of them.

Okay, technically, Kevin Jonas is two & a half months older than me, but I refuse to consider anyone posing in Tiger Beat as being my senior.

In 2008, though, a year that saw a continuance in the world of pop radio of rock songs lamenting love lost & of hip hop songs flaunting money & of country songs disappearing before our very eyes (as hard as it is to listen to one of his albums in its entirety, Alan Jackson might continue to be the last true bastion of modern country music.  Chuck Klosterman once called pop country “Wal-Mart country,” implying country albums that sell out in Wal-Marts across the nation, & Jackson makes more than anyone can count, God bless him), the Jonas Brothers exploded onto this September’s Video Music Awards with a premiere of their new single, a Sesame Street-esque rendition of “Lovebug.” At the time, I was actually watching the VMA’s for the first time since that one where Britney Spears carried a big yellow snake onstage (that shit was sick as anything, too), & had both very little knowledge of & very little interest in JoBros.  Like most of the country, I was sick of them without having even a clue of what their music sounded like.

But this song was something else; the chorus is sung quietly, a breathless confession about a lovestruck someone losing their breath.  It’s a cheap lyrical trick, & it’s one that will always work.  And these boys know this, & perhaps this is what makes them geniuses.  I would say it’s what makes their marketing men geniuses, but (mostly because I’m making a point here somewhere) because these guys are actually writing their own songs – a rarity in the world of tween pop music, perhaps predictably so – it’s all on their shoulders.  And most importantly, they know how to sound innocently in love because they are innocent — the completely terrible & surprisingly uglier-than-expected host of this year’s VMA’s spent an unnecessary amount of time picking on the three of them for sustaining from having sex until marriage.  The complete backlash that these statements caused forced the host to later apologize & retract his “funny” comments, & cemented something in the minds of every member of this generation: the Jonas Brothers are one of the most abnormal groups making pop music right now, for their complete admonishment of the current cultural norm of blind promiscuity if nothing else.  They’re making love songs without making love, & somehow this is the most unpredictably genius strategy anyone has come up with in recent pop music history.

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As for the song changing gears 2/3 of the way in & going Dylan-electric, it grew on me.  These guys know what they’re doing, & this is what’s going to keep letting them do what they’re doing for countless generations.  Catch this lovebug again…& again & again & again.

3. They reminded everyone that no one makes better singles than Beyonce Knowles.

Not including last year (I guess she was on her honeymoon with Jay-Z, I donno), Beyonce has made my favorite pop single every year since the release of her debut album Dangerously in Love“Crazy in Love” was my jam junior year of high school — it was everyone’s jam, really, & it will probably go down in history as one of the greatest lead-off pop singles an artist has ever released (in my mind, at least).  Senior year was the year of “Naughty Girl,” which, although it isn’t in the same league as “Crazy in Love,” it didn’t really need to be.  It was a follow-up single, was hot enough to get anyone & everyone dancing, & became my favorite because it borrowed from the strangest song in pop single history: Donna Summers’ “Love to Love You Baby.” Two years ago, there was “Irreplaceable,” a song that I played on repeat more than any other song I have ever played on repeat.  It was heartbreaking, it was crafted with every little piece in place for a very specific reason (all those “whoa-oh”s, give me a break!  Those things killed me, every single time.  Always.), & it had two false-start choruses before the real one ever even came in…each time it came in.  I did not think a song could ever top “Irreplaceable,” & I’m entirely certain this is why Beyonce took a year off before releasing this year’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).”

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With the best beat her producers have come up with since “Crazy in Love,” the harmonies in the line “don’t pay him any attention,” & a music video in which nothing happens but Beyonce dancing in a leotard & high heels (I know: what?!?!), “Single Ladies” is this year’s best song by 3 million miles, & will continue to be the best song on the radio until next year, when Beyonce comes out with the defining song of 2009-2010.

The anticipation alone is going to make this a very, very good year.

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Kings 1:1

NOTE: The YouTube videos in this post aren’t showing up.  If someone knows how to fix this, that would be really fantastic.  Here’s where I wish I were just a tad more tech savvy.

Now King David was old, advanced in age; and they covered him with clothes, but he could not keep warm.

I have been tinkering loosely & somewhat carelessly recently with poetry.  It seems to me to be one of those things in which one starts out confident, important to himself, & with a kind of unabashed fearlessness of the “actual” world of poetry — the one of money, jobs, day-to-day.  Inspired at first by Dr. Harding’s Performance Studies class last spring, my dealings have been minimal and mostly performative (not of my own, but in watching others do what they do best), and I will not try to posture like I know much more about performed poetry than names like Saul Williams, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and the figureheads of HBO’s Def Poetry.

Having slowly immersed myself in this recently, I was delighted to hear that slam poet Beau Sia was going to perform at Mary Washington last Tuesday, arriving to an empty room 15 minutes before the actual performance.  Watching him perform his poetry, though, was certainly something far beyond even what I was expecting — it was personal, direct, emotional, shivering, uproarious, and completely LIVE.  You can watch Sia speak on every season of Def Poetry as much as you want, but until you are close enough for his words to physically shake your ears & you can feel his breath from 2 rows back, the living poetry is still just words on a page.  I would recommend the experience to anyone and everyone.

Which brings me to a post that in a sense has been a long time coming.  Because you see, the absolutely fascinating thing for me about poetry is the method in which it is presented to the reader.  A typed series of stanzas plastered between bound covers has its physical establishment in our hands, & as an English major I cannot deny that a large part of me really prizes that occupation of concrete space.  But the performative reading is something so much more alive, enables the receiver of the poem to react with immediacy and directly to the author’s face — the space of the white page becomes an interactive space of bodies communicating, & at this point in my life there is little more that I treasure than that occupied, physical, human space.

The students of Intro to Creative Writing every year are invited to perform a piece or two at the Thursday Poems series at the end of the semester, & this means next week I have a chance to experience the role of performing poet for one of the first substantial times.  It is unnerving, exciting, & a complete experiment in putting onself out there without pretensions or fears.  It is reactive & human for both the performer & the audience, & I am greatly looking forward to being on the side of the former this time.

Because I have been watching Def Poetry with a certain level of intenseness the past month or two, I have come across several performances that have resonated incredibly deeply with me.  So I guess this is where I share them:

Taylor Mali —

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Rives —

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Suheir Hammad (weep worthy!) —

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Beau Sia —

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Geoff Trenchard —

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Steve Coleman —

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Gina Loring —

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Am I jealous of the talent?  Unabashedly!  Do I still love it with all my passion?  Absolutely.

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Psalms 74:5

It seems as if one had lifted up
His axe in a forest of trees.

My dear friend Katie Jabro shared this with me, & because I do not know a lot about technological scienctific procedures, the biology of it confounds me to no end.  All I know is that this man is undergoing brain surgery WHILE playing the banjo — I believe how it works is this: surgeons tweak different sensory areas in one’s brain in order to determine the best spot for “deep brain stimulation,” a way to treat essential tremor (which is not Parkinson’s, & is in fact much more dangerous and severe).  Thus, in order to find which pulses in the brain are best suited for this “stimulation,” the surgeons require the patient to stay awake during the surgery and do something requiring their motor skills so that they can tell when the motor skills themselves have been affected.

This man is a world-class banjo player, & thus the only logical activity for him to be doing during surgery (OPEN HEAD SURGERY, mind you!) is to play the banjo.  I am amazed by this technology, comforted by its accuracy, terrified by its implications.  Is this or is this not the coolest video you are likely to see for a very long time??

Link —-> Man Plays Banjo During Brain Surgery

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Ruth 3:5

She said to her, “All that you say I will do.”

Lucio Battisti “Un’avventura,” 1969.

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Give it to 2:38.  Stax, eat your heart out.

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Matthew 2:18

“A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH,
WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING,
RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN;
AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED,
BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.”

With school in full rampant glory going strong and plowing ahead right now, life has become subjected to little more than the day-to-day, routine serving only as a frame for changing attitudes, emotions, ideas, & my mind has been occupied with such.  There is a quote from Breton‘s “First Surrealist Manifesto” that has had my brain working overtime to deconstruct, figure out, and the parallels between his words and my own worldly view stick out like ornery splinters in a sore thumb —

The mind of the dreaming man is fully satisfied with whatever happens to it. The agonizing question of possibility does not arise. Kill, plunder more quickly, love as much as you wish. And if you die, are you not sure of being roused from the dead? Let yourself be led. Events will not tolerate deferment. You have no name. Everything is inestimably easy.

Everything is inestimably easy.  Everything.  is inestimably easy.

I see these words & I grin foolishly and resplendently when I take walks in fading October evenings.  These are such American times in which we live, such days of excess & worry and complete unbridled debate & competition.  Presidencies, lapel pins, “that one”s…where are we going with this?  Politics are a bore & I long daily for a good hike to take or a nice lawn on which to lay my back and laugh and swear loudly.

I have absolutely no seque for what I am about to launch into, & everything I have just written has only been a feeble silly attempt to get at it, but now I’m stuck.  So I will just get on with it: African-tinged musical delicacies, or songs straight from the world’s most sadly forgotten continent.  For so much controversy, taboo, and confusion surrounding the nations of Africa, there is just as much culture, background, terror, & uncultivated undiscovered art/beauty/art.  I have been entrenched in Paul Simon’s Graceland & Rhythm of the Saints projects, & have been meaning to share these songs that split themselves between cheesy 80’s musicianship & Zimbabwean grace, for they are true examples of neo-colonialized performance.  And whether or not you think the idea is a good one or a bad one, more dangerous & silly than actually beneficial, to deny the attractiveness of these songs is foolish, is…well…stupid.

So, Listen.

Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes.  [The percussion free for all at the end is of especial interest…& Ladysmith…don’t even get me started]
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The Obvious Child.

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Under African Skies.  [fe/male harmonies.  Wonderful so wonderful.]

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Okay I won’t beat it to death, BUT I will add these songs at the end as an addendum, & these are perhaps more important to my purpose.  Songs from Nigerian Special, a 2-disc set of Nigerian jams from the 1970s, each one worthy of 300 listens at the very least.  See the culture, see the idealism, see the romanticized beauty, the language of a mysterious tongue!  See the way the guitar sounds absolutely jangly & mystified.  I can’t describe what this does for me.  Major major props to my good friend Miss Ruby for introducing me to all of this, take it for what it is, dance to it if you can.

Leo Fadaka & the Heroes: “Blak Sound”

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Mono Mono: “Ema Kowa Iasa Ile Wa”

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The Semi Colon: “Nekwaha Semi Colon”

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Godwin Ezike and the Ambassadors: “Torri Wowo”

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So.  Good.  See you all soon probably.

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Titus 2:15

These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Every now & again everyone has that moment where they come across something that fits so perfectly into themselves that they wonder why they hadn’t discovered it sooner — it almost makes you question chance, question karma or dharma or whichever one applies here, almost makes you question your own spiritual inclinations, stand up & say, “Right!  Right! Why now!  Goodness.”  Today has got to be one of those days, this afternoon has got me singin’ “Oh Lawdy yes!”

Because I started out my day folded knock-kneed on my front porch steps picking my ukulele with the crack along the back & humming “I Want to Sing that Rock N Roll” & because I have slipped this disc into my computer & I don’t even need an entire first listen to make me grin, make me shake & make me love.  Because this woman, this Gillian Welch, her absence has been felt unconciously I’m sure, & this is it for me.  This is where it fits, this is where my days should be heading.  This woman, this singer songwriter banjo picker six string strummer muted cap-slapper, it begins & ends with this music right here.  So forgive me while I wax bloggingly & share with you these tunes of my recent months.  Do not pray for affectation, it slips in un-noticed.

You do not need to be a Welch fan prematurely or with immediacy, you just need your attention re-tuned and your patience drawn out and flexed.  Take a seat, take a listen.  Take a mug, take a sip, ‘lectrify your soul.

“Red Clay Halo”

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“I Want to Sing that Rock N Roll”

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“Caleb Meyer” (for the headbangers?)

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“Time (the Revelator)” (what an interview!)

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“Annabelle” (if educational powerpoints are your thing)

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Nothing more to say, I am impressed beyond my ages, beyond my vocabulary.  Instant timeless.

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