Monday, March 8, 2010
In putting together our talk for the academy meeting (music with palliative themes for self care) we had a lot of material to work with. We couldn't possibly talk about all of the music we know to have these themes. There were a lot of... I won't say rejects, as they are still great songs. We'll call them honorable mentions. I want to give an honorable mention today to the Canadian folk rock indie band The Weakerthans and their album Reconstruction Site.
This 2003 album is structured around three songs, which are conveniently placed within parentheses so you know which ones they are, (Manifest), (Hospital Vespers), (Past Due). All three songs are written in more of a sonnet form then a typical song. To me they seem more like poetry than songs. The lyrics are even written out on their website in a paragraph form, not the typical form used for song lyrics.
The first of the three songs, (Manifest), starts out as some type of call to action. Maybe its the beginning of a life philosophy. Like wanting to see and notice everything. Take nothing for granted. The song is very upbeat, optimistic about life. It has an almost military type beat that makes it seem even more like a call to arms. Here is a link to the album and the lyrics are below.
I want to call requests through heating-vents, and hear them answered with a whisper, "No." To crack the code of muscle, slacken, tense. Let every second step in boots on snow complete your name with accents I can't place, that stumble where the syllables combine. Take depositions from a stranger's face. Paint every insignificance a sign. So tell me nothing matters, less or more. Say, "Whatever we think actions are, we'll never know what anything was for." If "Near is just as far away as far," and I'm permitted one act I can save, I choose to sit here next to you and wave.
The middle song, (Hospital Vespers) is below.
Doctors played your dosage like a card-trick. Scrabbled down the hallways yelling "Yahtzee!" I brought books on Hopper, and the Arctic, something called "The Politics of Lonely," a toothbrush and a quick-pick with the plus. You tried not to roll your sunken eyes, and said "Hey can you help me, I can't reach it." Pointed at the camera in the ceiling. I climbed up, blocked it so they couldn't see. Turned to find you out of bed, and kneeling. Before the nurses came, took you away, I stood there on a chair and watched you pray.
Now, I won't tell you I completely understand every line. (Per internet lore, "The Politics of Lonely" may be an obscure reference to a chapter title of a book about an explorer. Who could know?) But a song is what the listener gets out of it. To me this speaks to a feeling of disconnect with the medical community. A lot of references to games "card-trick", "scrabbled", "Yahtzee" like the singer feels it's all one big experiment, like a game. I think the overall sentiment is that the hospital is dehumanizing. The patient feels the need to hide away themselves, emotions, spirituality from the hospital community (with the camera as the symbol for that community). Open to interpretation. The music becomes very strange, I thought a bit eerie.
The last song of the album, (Past Due), is much more obvious. The music lightens up. You hear tinkling bells. It sounds like a conclusion. I'll leave the interpretation to you.
February always finds you folding local papers open to the faces "passed away," to wonder what they're holding in those hands we're never shown. The places formal photographs refuse to mention. His tiny feet, that birthmark on her knee. The tyranny of framing our attention with all the eyes their eyes no longer see. And darkness comes too early, you won't find the many things you owe these latest dead: a borrowed book, that cheque you didn't sign. The tools to be believed with, beloved. Give what you can: to keep, to comfort this plain fear you can't extinguish or dismiss.
The album seems to be telling a story with these three songs as the plot: hope, loss, grief, then resolution. Rebuilding life after a loss. Reconstruction, if you will.
Some of the criticism this album got is that it may be a bit too literate. These songs aren't really meant to be sung in the shower. They are meant to be over thought, which is not always what I'm in the mood to do when listening to music. But when I looked at it more like poetry set to music, I think I appreciated it more. In these songs, nothing is accidental. Every word, every note is well thought through and gives meaning. That meaning may at times be so obscure that maybe we weren't meant to completely get what was in the songwriter's head. Maybe we were meant to interpret it for ourselves and give it meaning that is significant to us.