33 And 1/3 Under 45: Track Fourteen – Black Tie, White Noise

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebooktwitter, or instagram for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on September 15th, 2019 and can be found below.

Content Warning: this column deals with trauma, September 11th, 2001, and similar topics. All the heavy stuff is prologue to the column, so feel free to skip to the actual album review, starting with the fourth paragraph.

God is on top of it all
That’s all
We are we are we are

What’s the difference between a timeless legacy and a dated representation of the times? How do we decide what’s worth focusing on when we look back? It sure seems like a random and arbitrarily decided distinction. Sure, some are clearer than others. It’s easy to give credit for era-defining albums or days that live in infamy. Less noteworthy things, like one-hit wonders, are usually revisited as a nostalgia trip, not because they’re still relevant, whatever that means. Relevancy is such a nebulous concept and one that varies so much from person to person. Because of that, this column is going to be a little more divided than usual, focusing first on what’s on my mind leading up to putting this month’s album on repeat before diving into the album itself.

Just a few days ago, we passed the 18th anniversary of the September 11th attacks in New York City. I’m not going to get into my personal connections and memories with the event here, as I think they’re much too complicated to have as a backdrop to a music column. But this year felt… different for me than it usually does. Yeah, every year I see a lot of “Never Forget” posts alongside edgy jokes belittling it, the usual internet discourse ranging from deeply personal to the shallowest callousness and every level of no/half/full-hearted messaging in between. I was surprised, though, to see a lot of people talking about how it’s been so long, why do we still make such a big deal out of it, that it’s no longer relevant enough to justify all this attention. And this year, I saw an elevated level of animosity, which is, frankly, what I’ve come to expect in 2019. Some using it as an example of true American sacrifice, the day we were shown just how at risk the life we had taken for granted was. Others using it as the starting point of the modern American imperial era kicked into effect by the Authorization For Use Of Military Force Against Terrorists bill and the Bush Doctrine. Projecting it as the event that jingoists and fascists use to justify their politics. And while I don’t disagree with any of that, per se, I think there’s something deeply personal missing from that dichotomy, a focus on what parts of the event are still relevant and necessary to include in our thoughts on that horrible day.

I’m sure it’s because I’m a New Yorker, but I don’t think enough people give space for the trauma that it caused in so many of us. Yes, it is more important than ever to discuss the politics of the weeks, months, and years after that, especially now that people born after that day are now old enough to go fight in the wars that spun out of it. I was extremely lucky not to lose anyone that day, but knew plenty of people that did. When we look at such a catastrophic event as that day, we too often forget that the people affected are still affected and walk around with that weight every single day. First responders dealing with the mental (and physical) damage from being a part of it. People who were harassed, abused, and worse just because they looked like the people who did this. Children who were forced to confront so many things about the world, prematurely, that Tuesday morning. So many people lost something that day, and even though it’s been 18 years, not everyone’s found it yet. We all need to remember the real people that these macroscopic events touch, the micro reasons why 18 years isn’t nearly enough for these events to no longer be considered… relevant.

So what does that have to do with David Bowie? Aside from him playing “Heroes” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” at the Concert For New York benefit, not much on it’s face, actually. I was stuck thinking about the kinds of legacies that are left behind and how much weight we should give facets of more complex legacies. Whenever I’m stuck in a loop in my own head, thinking about some complicated or challenging feelings, there’s almost always a Bowie record that helps me focus. I think it’s because he reinvented himself so many times. Bowie is always relevant because he was always relevant. In the late 80s and early 90s, he was in a critical slump and a lot of people counted him out after he was unable to match his success of his early and mid 80s albums. But with 1993’s Black Tie, White Noise, he reintroduced himself and kickstarted one of my favorite eras of his career, his electronic house/industrial phase. Fresh off of his tenure in the band Tin Machine and beginning a marriage, this album serves as not only a revamp of what a David Bowie record sounded like, but a goodbye to the Bowie everyone already knew. From “You’ve Been Around:”

Where’s the pain in the violent night? I’m depressed by the grin.
I stay over many years. I should have thought of that.
For the love of the money. Like a black-hearted vile thing.
It’s the nature of being. It’s too many lonely nights
I can’t tell bad from wrong
I can’t pass you by, too exchanging
You’ve been around but you’ve changed me

The album has way more than just the lyrics to show the bridge between Bowie’s past and future. He considered it a blend of 60s pop melodies with 90s house music. Bowie brought back Nile Rodgers, his producer from Let’s Dance a decade prior, but made a conscious effort to distance himself from that sound. Bowie picks a few covers to include on this album, too, and those choices are very telling. He covers Morrisey’s 1992 track “You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side,” which itself was heavily influenced by Bowie’s glam rock era, not least of all because it featured Mick Ronson, Bowie’s guitarist from 1970 to 1973, most famously on Ziggy Stardust. Bowie covers the contemporary song inspired by his classic style, once again merging the past and the present. There’s a very 1993 version of Cream’s 1966 single “I Feel Free,” featuring Mick himself. This was their first collaboration in 20 years, but tragically, Ronson passed away from cancer only 24 days after the album’s release. The inevitability of moving forward is clear on the record, no matter how familiar it may seem on paper. From “Miracle Goodnight:”

Don’t want to know the past, I want to know the real deal
I really don’t want to know that
The less we know, the better we feel
Morning star you’re beautiful, yellow diamond high
Spinning around my little room, miracle

Bowie, more so than any artist I listen to, always managed to stay relevant while staying familiar. He always sounded like Bowie, even when what that means is so hard to describe. His catalog serves as a long narrative, with twists, turns, and losses that I find really inspiring. Every few months I do a full listen of his discography, chronologically, and I have different takeaways every time. Sometimes I love the Berlin era most of all, sometimes his early work, this time his 90s stuff. It always helps me to get clarity on complex issues I have, knowing that it’s possible to consider the multitudes and learn more as you revisit the complexities. You don’t have to completely understand every phase and growth right away, whether it be from an artist’s work or your own traumas. Someone like Bowie, someone beautifully expressive and honest, helps to shed light on my darkest thoughts and keep me company in my loneliest memories.

It’s hard for me to imagine a time when people thought Bowie’s career was over. But like all timeless art, his time came again, and he was able to reinvent himself and cement his legacy as someone with countless aspects. As we look back through the art we love, the people we idolize, and the events that shaped us, it’s important to try to look at them with the nuance they deserve. It’s always more complicated than it seems on the surface and bullet points rarely capture the whole picture.

They’ll show us how to break the rules
But never how to make the rules
Reduce us down to witless punks
Fascist cries both black and white, who’s got the blood, who’s got the gun.
Putting on the black tie, cranking out the white noise

33 And 1/3 Under 45: Track Thirteen – The Wall

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebooktwitter, or instagram for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on August 15th, 2019 and can be found below.

Just a content note, I’ll be talking about genocide, fascism, and political generalizations based on demographic trends, so you don’t have to yell at me if you’re “one of the good ones.”

Mother, did it need to be so high?

I spend a lot of time doing deep dives on music and I try to break open as much of what the songwriters are trying to say as I can, whether it be about themselves or the world around them. But it’s becoming more and more obvious that a lot of people don’t do that, even when they’ve been listening to these songs for decades and especially when they’re really popular. The more these songs are played out and diluted, the less real meaning they seem to have, like an album everyone seems to know, Pink Floyd’s 1979 album, The Wall.

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of older generations lately, after starting to really delve into the solo career of Roger Waters, the bass player and main songwriter for Pink Floyd, primarily Is This The Life We Really Want?, his newest record. I was searching through some reviews for it and came across this one:

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If you know anything about Roger Waters, you already know more than “Steve S,” but if you don’t, he’s pretty consistently written political lyrics. Even before the Pink Floyd album I picked for this month’s column, you can clearly see his politics shine through in most of his post-Dark Side Of The Moon work, both solo and with Floyd. Here’s “Sheep” from their 1977 record, Animals.

What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real
Meek and obedient, you follow the leader down well-trodden corridors
Into the valley of steel
What a surprise, a look of terminal shock in your eyes
Now things are really what they seem
No, this is no bad dream

The entire album is politically driven, from attacking capitalism, media censorship and “traditional values,” to blindly obeying a leader until you realize how far you’ve fallen. The issue we’re seeing today, though, is that so many people, especially when they’re privileged enough to be less affected by day-to-day policy fights, don’t realize they’ve fallen from their ideals at all. They think they’re on the right side of history, but if you were to supplant their opinions now relative to the oppressive power structures back just a few decades, they would almost certainly be the people calling Martin Luther King Jr. a dangerous radical and contributing to the almost two thirds disapproval rating that he had in 1966. They’d much rather just “keep politics out of it” and “talk about something else” instead of standing up for what’s right. King talked extensively about the dangers of these (white) moderates who sit on the sidelines in his “Letter From A Birmingham Jail.”

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride towards freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Klu Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season. 

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I’m bewildered by the present-day rejection of societal optimism and justice from the generations that viewed their elders as the evil traditionalists standing in the way of integration, civil rights, ending the imperialism of the cold war, alongside so many societal ills that have by no means disappeared. The hippies of the late 60s and the punks of the late 70s grew up and stopped caring about making the world a better place, choosing instead to stay complacent in favor of the status quo that now benefited them. Instead of internalizing the messages of their heroes and inspirations, they became the villains of their favorite stories. They act like children who don’t know better, whether it be by naïveté or ignorance, but refuse to honestly engage with the things that inspired them when they were young, learning all the wrong lessons, just like the generations they fought against.

Which brings me to The Wall.

It’s a rock opera, and like most narrative albums, the plot’s a bit murky, so I’m not going to get into the inspirations on which characters are based on what or the deep cuts behind it. But the main bullet points of the plot are:

A young boy’s father dies in a war.

Daddy’s flown across the ocean, leaving just a memory
A snapshot in the family album, Daddy what else did you leave for me?
Daddy, what’d you leave behind for me?
All in all, it was just a brick in the wall

The boy is left with his overprotective mother, who pushes him to isolate himself from the world around him. 

Hush now baby, don’t you cry
Mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true
Mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you
Mama’s gonna keep you right here, under her wing
She won’t let you fly, but she might let you sing
Mama will keep baby, cozy and warm
Ooh babe, Of course mama’s help build the wall

His school teachers’ harassments and cruelties add to his anxiety; they, too, are stuck in cycles of abuse

When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers
Who would hurt the children anyway they could
By pouring their derision upon anything we did
And exposing every weakness however carefully hidden by the kid
But in the town it was well known, when they got home at night
Their fat and psychopathic wives would thrash them within inches of their lives

As he grows older, after a back and forth of infidelities, a divorce pushes him even further into emotional isolation. 

Day after day, love turns grey like the skin of a dying man
Night after night, we pretend it’s alright
But I have grown older, and you have grown colder 
And nothing is very much fun anymore

Despite that, he becomes a rock star, has to medicate to even function through his anxieties, and imagines a world where he’s a fascist leader, who scapegoats minorities with extermination. 

Waiting to put on a blackshirt, Waiting to weed out the weaklings
Waiting to smash in their windows and kick in their doors
Waiting for the final solution to strengthen the strain
Waiting to follow the worms, waiting to turn on the showers and fire the ovens
Waiting for the queers and the coons and the reds and the Jews
Waiting to follow the worms
Would you like to see Britannia rule again, my friend?
All you have to do is follow the worms

Realizing the monster that lurks inside him, he puts himself on trial within his own psyche and confronts the characters that pushed him to build up his walls.

Good morning, worm, your honor, the crown will plainly show
The prisoner who now stands before you was caught red handed
Showing feelings, showing feelings of an almost human nature

But in the end he is “sentenced” to let himself feel real emotions again, and tears down his defenses, exposing his vulnerabilities to the cruel world around him, while the album hints at the cycle starting all over again when it ends with a loop that connects it to the opening track.

Since my friend, you have revealed your deepest fear
I sentence you to be exposed before your peers
Tear down the wall!

The politics of the album aren’t explicitly clear until the latter half, but Waters is saying a lot throughout. Our protagonist, Pink, is constantly blaming everyone around him for his flaws. His father, his mother, his teacher, his wife, eventually blaming anyone “impure.” But throughout all of his projection, empty sadness, and blind rage, he only finds actual growth and solace when he does some, albeit dramatic, self-reflection. He puts himself on trial, not because he’s forced to, but because it’s the only way he can exorcise his demons. It’s not anyone’s fault but his. Sure, he had external struggles, but at the end of the day, he was just an asshole who was turning his daddy issues, mommy issues, issues with women, etc, but most of all his fears into a force to hurt people. Honest self reflection and confronting the internalized trauma, usually ingrained from childhood, are the only real ways we can grow and develop into the people we thought we’d grow into when we were kids.

The people that always look for blame around them, especially when directing it at the most vulnerable, instead of the systems that enable the real villains, should remember what it was like to be that scared kid watching the world change around them, whether it was in the 50s and 60s, or just yesterday. To imagine how the people that inspired them would look down at them now, with disgust, as they’ve gone from the victim of the trauma to the perpetrator. Maybe as an absent father, or an overprotective mother, or a cruel teacher, or maybe simply as a person who’s adding just another brick to the wall. But it’s a much better story if we tear down the walls in the end instead of building even taller ones for tomorrow’s children to have to smash through.

And when they’ve given you their all, some stagger and fall
After all, it’s not easy, banging your head against some mad bugger’s wall

33 And 1/3 Under 45: The B-Sides – Carrie & Lowell

The B-sides was a spin-off column for albums chosen by patreon backers.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebooktwitter, or instagram for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on July 16th, 2019 and can be found below.

This album was selected by Will.

Spirit of my silence, I can hear you. But I’m afraid to be near you.
And I don’t know where to begin
And I don’t know where to begin

Folk music can be a real bummer. Indie folk? Forget about it. Sufjan Stevens? Well, I might as well grab some ice cream because I’ve been listening to his 2015 album, Carrie & Lowell, and it’s a doozy. I’ve only heard Sufjan’s earlier indie-folk stylings in passing, and years ago at that, so I had no idea what to expect when this album was picked for my first requested record. I’d heard he got really experimental with electronica music? Well, definitely not here because this is a real mellow acoustic album and, even with that, it has a lot of weight to it.

I should have known better, to see what I could see.
My black shroud, holding down my feelings
A pillar for my enemies
I should have wrote a letter, and grieve what I happen to grieve
My black shroud, I never trust my feelings
I waited for the remedy

When I was three, maybe four, she left us at the video store
Be my rest, be my fantasy

The album deals with some more complex looks at death than I was prepared for. Sufjan’s mother had just passed away and this record deals a lot with the difficulties he’s feeling, as she was not exactly the most… present kind of parent. But still, when someone’s gone, it has a sense of finality, regardless of whether we’re able to make our peace with them before they go. 

When I was three, and free to explore
I saw her face on the back of the door
Be my vest, be my fantasy

I should have known better, nothing can be changed
The past is still the past, the bridge to nowhere
I should’ve wrote a letter, explaining what I feel, that empty feeling

This album really made me think about my relationships with people and what it would be like if the current status quo was permanently set as the finale. The album is full of the kinds of solemn regrets that accompany them, but that in and of itself is not all that rare in folk music. The tone is really what sets Carrie & Lowell apart. Sufjan has this atmospheric and airy quality that draws you in and just kinda floats around your head for a while. Even when I wasn’t initially picking up the themes, the intent was clear. I generally gravitate towards much more full and upbeat folk, like The Decemberists, but I still found myself getting lost in the world he was painting, even when the song itself was deeply somber.

For my prayer has always been love, what did I do to deserve this?
With blood on my sleeve, Delilah, avenge my grief
How? God of Elijah

As fire to the sun, tell me what I have done.
How? Heart of a dragon?

One of the things that really stood out to me on this record was how specifically anecdotal Sufjan’s lyrics could be. A lot of folk comes across as “everyman” stories and universal truths, but here, Sufjan doesn’t steer away from specific locales and stories that help build his story as more personal, less universal and help build an irresistible ethos around his narrative.

Emerald Park, wonders never cease
The man who taught me to swim, he couldn’t quite say my first name
Like a father, he led community water on my head
And he called me “Subaru,” and now I want to be near you

Since I was old enough to speak, I’ve said it with alarm
Some part of me was lost in your sleeve where you hid your cigarettes
No, I’ll never forget. I just want to be near you.

Carrie & Lowell isn’t my usual style and I found myself drawn in a lot more to the lyrics than the more stripped down and slower musical stylings of the record. But sitting with them as I wrote really helped me internalize just how personal and poetic a lot of these songs are. After the first few listens, I didn’t expect to be so moved by the honesty that Sufjan shows about his relationship with not only his mother, but his stepfather who remains a very positive and important part of Sufjan’s life. The difficulties he went through, grieving someone who was not there for him, while still being supported by someone who’s life his mother chose to be a more active part of make Carrie & Lowell an album as complex as it is beautiful and one that’s definitely worth following along with as you get lost in the music.

So can we be friends sweetly, before the mystery ends?
I love you more than the world can contain in its lonely and ramshackle head
There’s only a shadow of me; in a manner of speaking I’m dead

I’m holding my breath, my tongue on your chest, what can be said of the heart?
If history speaks, the kiss on my cheek, where there remains but a mark
Beloved my John, so I’ll carry on, counting my cards down to one
And when I am dead, come visit my bed, my fossil is bright in the sun

So can we contend peacefully before my history ends?
Jesus, I need you, be near, come shield me from fossils that fall on my head
There’s only a shadow of me; in a manner of speaking, I’m dead

33 And 1/3 Under 45: Track Nine: Diamonds And Pearls

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebooktwitter, or instagram for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on April 15th, 2019 and can be found below.

Love say “Take my hand, it’ll be alright.
C’mon, save your soul tonight.”

I had a really hard time picking what album to cover this month and kept putting it off. But then I fell down an unexpected rabbit hole and ended up deep in early 90s Prince, which is a pretty great place to find yourself. It all started because our stupid president released his first campaign ad for 2020 and used some music from his favorite (probably) Christoper Nolan movie, Batman: The Dark Knight Rises and had it almost immediately taken down by Warner Bros. for unauthorized use. He has a long history of using music for campaign things without permission, but that’s neither here nor there. So I ended up dipping back into the only Batman soundtrack that actually matters, Prince’s soundtrack for Batman (1989), and decided to just continue on through from there.

All hail, the new king in town
Young and old, gather ’round

Since I last wrote about Prince, I’ve gone through his entire catalog, and can sincerely say there’s not a single album with his name (or symbol) on it that I don’t love. But a run of albums that really stand out to me are the early-mid 90s, specifically 1991’s Diamonds And Pearls. It kicks off with this huge vocal-driven gospel track, “Thunder,” that immediately lets you know that you’re in Prince’s church now. Even though this record isn’t one of his universally beloved or top 5 albums, it’s a really fascinating era for Prince. It’s his first with a full band lineup since The Revolution disbanded five years earlier. This time, The New Power Generation brings a real 90s party vibe with them. Every song on the record shines with the quirky production, hip hop beats, and rap verses that immediately take you back to the early 90s. And the album itself perfectly captures that tone. Diamonds And Pearls is a whole lot of fun, but hidden under the party are some deeper undertones. Even with that, though, the vast majority of the album is just about sex and dancing. And there’s a whole lot of real 90s slang. You know I eat that kinda thing up. Who couldn’t love deep metaphors like “Mack Daddy In The House” and “clocking a freak in the low pro?” Plus, the cover (up top) has one of those sick holograms!

Yeah, we gettin’ funky in the house tonight.
Doin’ the jughead
Come on, get stupid, get stupid

But even moreso than the new music styles Prince was embracing, this era is interesting because Prince was kicking his feud with his label, Warner Bros, into high gear to get out of his contract. (For more on that: I highly recommend his 1996 triple album Emancipation, his first release after he finally succeeded.) This album explicitly lays out the struggle Prince is having after the dopey dance track, “Jughead,” in a perfect example of the dichotomy of this record.

What you need is a manager” “For what? Money minders are like parasites. They pose as wheelers and dealers for your rights. And most companies say that you need em! Not me! But I’ve kicked back, observed, and watched ’em bleed ’em. Artists young and old. Where’d this unwritten law come from anyway? That years after the contract, you should still be getting paid? Boy, I go broke and hit the skids before I take care of a rich sucker’s kids. Hell, A contract ain’t got no pension plan. Years after this, my kids are still gonna make the grand.”

Moments like this really stuck out to me when I realized I only initially grabbed Diamonds And Pearls because of some jackass trying to steal someone else’s music to fearmonger in a propaganda video. There’s a lot more here than just catchy songs like the title track, “Diamonds and Pearls,” or singles like “Cream,” and “Gett Off.” It’s more than Prince fully embracing the 90s sound. It really is a time capsule for 1991, both for Prince and for the world around him. Immediately after “Jughead,” comes “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night,” which seems like a sexy 90s slow jam, until…

Hey now, maybe we can find a good reason to send a child off to war.
So what if we’re controllin’ all the oil, is it worth the child dying for?
If long life is what we all live for, then long life will come to pass.
Anything is better than the picture of a child, in a cloud of gas.
And you think you got it bad.

It got me thinking about the context of the world in 1991.  This album came out in between what I would consider the two defining moments of George H. W. Bush’s presidency. The first Iraq war had been over for just over 7 months and that imagery was obviously still very present in the public’s eye. And just over the horizon, about a year later, the first President Bush was about to pardon most of the people involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, to finalize the cover up of one of the biggest presidential scandals in American history. And who was the Attorney General who pushed this gross misstep of justice? William Barr, of course! The man who wrote the “synopsis” of the Mueller report. So maybe this fun trip to the early 90s was a bit less of an escape than I thought it would be. Nostalgia can be a great tool to dip into and get away from it all for a bit, but I’ve been trying to remember that a lot of the bad parts about the times I fondly look back on are still here and have only gotten worse. But like everything, it’s more important than ever to contextualize the whole picture. We still found reasons to dance and fall in love in the 90s and we sure as hell will now, too. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Don’t talk if it’s against the rules? Just walk away and be a fool?
That’s what they want you to do.

Strollin’, Strollin’ We could have fun just strollin’.

33 And 1/3 Under 45: Track Eight: Marry Me

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebooktwitter, or instagram for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on March 15th, 2019 and can be found below.

I’m not anything at all

I’ve been leaning into some major escapism this month. Sometimes we all just need a break, you know? Mostly this means I’m reading a lot of sci-fi novels, but I almost always keep music on while I read, to really tune out the distractions and get lost in a world that’s got a better sense of morality than the one currently on the other side of my headphones. This time, it’s been a lot of St. Vincent, the musical identity of Annie Clark.

St. Vincent’s an artist I’ve only very recently gotten into, specifically with her 2017 record, Masseduction, after I was given it for a network Secret Santa from Falling In Love Montage‘s Helen. After going backwards through her whole catalog, Masseduction is still my favorite, but recently I’ve been gravitating towards her debut, 2007’s Marry Me. It doesn’t have the bombastic and explosive melodies of her latter work, or the complexity of some of her collaborations, like Love This Giant (with David Byrne) does, but Marry Me has really resonated with me beyond an album hiding in the background of my solitary reading sessions. Now, I don’t mean the album is best listened to passively, as it’s very strong on it’s own and certainly deserves your full attention. What I mean is that, unlike the rest of Annie’s catalog, Marry Me has a simplicity to the structure of the record that lets you forget just how brilliant it is.

While Jesus is saving, I’m spending all my days
In backgrounds and landscapes with the language of saints
While people are spinning like toys on Christmas day,
I’m inside a still life with the other absentee

The album has a lot of themes of the naive idealism of love from someone new to it, something I’m always a big sucker for. The overwhelming feelings you’re controlled by. The agency you give up to the other person, as you lie awake wishing more than anything that they feel the same way. Thinking, no, knowing, that this is the most important thing in the world, until you come up for air and realize it… wasn’t. Until it is again.

But you, you’re a rock with a heart like a socket I can plug into at will
And will you guess, when I come around next, I hope your open sign is blinking still
So marry me, John, I’ll be so good to you
You won’t realize I’m gone, you won’t realize I’m gone
As for me, I would have to agree, I’m as fickle as a paper doll being kicked by the wind
When I touch down again, I’ll be in someone else’s arms
Oh, John, C’mon

But albums about young love are not exactly the hardest thing to find. This album stands out above and beyond for a few reasons. Most importantly, the melodies and instrumentation are very good. It’s the kind of album where I struggle to pick what should’ve been the single.  There’s a lot of really great production, a lot in really unexpected places. There are 17 different musicians present on the record and it shows. Lots of strings, brass, and more help to layer the album, but the real shining star is Annie’s voice. I really love her guitar playing, too, but her voice ranges from choir backups (alongside the additional singers present) to some raw and straight-from-the-heart solo vocals over a simple piano. The record jumps from full string arrangements to the barest melody and back again without ever feeling jarring or out of place. The highs and lows of love are clear, not only in the lyrics, but in every aspect of the record. Her voice, alongside her writing, is so versatile that listening to her debut, you can clearly see why her records went on to be so unique. The dichotomy is here, bouncing between the simplest and most complex aspects of young love, embracing the overwhelming beauty of it all without ever ignoring the darker sides of it.

All of your praying amounts to just one breath,
Please keep your victory, but give me little death, It’s time, you are light,
I guess you are afraid of what everyone is made of,
So take to the streets with apocalypse refrain,
Your devotion has the look of a lunatic’s gaze

It’s these deeper and darker sections, like in “Paris Is Burning” or “The Apocalypse Song” that forced my ears to perk up and focus more on the music, even if it meant reading the same page over and over again. St. Vincent lures you in with simple melodies and catchy hooks, but her lyrics and delivery keep you coming back when the record’s over. Her other albums, specifically Actor, St. Vincent, and Masseduction, stood out as great records immediately, but Marry Me is more subtle and has been exactly what I’ve been looking for this month. The slow burn kind of record that you find yourself starting over more often than you realize, even if it’s just on in the background… at first. But it won’t be for long.

You say “Love is just a bloodmatch
to see who endures lash after lash with panache.”
In the spring, I’ll dust off my lute, stuff my suitcase full of blues,
and stir the dust underneath the thrust of my clicking heels,
C’est la vie, what me worry? I never do

33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Seven: Oliver Appropriate

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebooktwitter, or instagram for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on February 20th, 2019 and can be found below.

New York, release me from my strata

I’m back and so is Say Anything. This time, it’s all about 2019’s Oliver Appropriate, the final record in the era of Say Anything’s catalog kicked off by …Is A Real Boy. I really could write a whole column on every one of their records, but for now, I’ll be fast forwarding to Oliver, which serves as a spiritual sequel to the themes I talked about last time. Just a quick content warning up at the top, this album deals with a lot of sex, sexual identity discussion, and violence against partners.

Quick recap: …Is A Real Boy was all about that entitled and obnoxious mentality that almost always accompanies a suburban punk dude, explored through singer and songwriter Max Bemis’ first person narration. Rage at everyone who won’t give you exactly what you want. Screaming over everyone else because you don’t think anyone’s listening. Stroking your ego just to cover up how little you actually like yourself. Lashing out. Constantly. Really all the time. At everybody. Like this guy:

Wait, that’s me

Definitely not me. I don’t know why that’s there. Weird.

Yeah, Max. That’s who I meant. I swear!

Oliver skips ahead 15 years later to see what that teenage jackass is up to now. It’s a thematic record, so I really recommend listening to it as a whole, even if the plot isn’t the clearest narrative on the first listen. The story opens with the titular Oliver, narrated by Max, an older version of our Boy protagonist. His band’s broken up, which he assumes is a devastating loss to the public, and he’s living his life through an alcohol and pill induced haze. He’s conformed to the standard hetero liberal “ally” lifestyle, despite holding deep resentments for everyone around him.

They fade into the liberal bourgeoisie,
Their hatred now inflamed to stoke your daughter’s screams
And ramble about Trump over Stellas
And headline Coachella

He takes that resentment as some sign of his superiority. He’s miserable because he’s better than everyone and always has been. He only pretends to be one of them to fill some hole in his self worth. His flaws are what define him, but no one’s allowed to see them; Oliver himself barely acknowledges them.

And everything they told me was wrong is still in my heart to turn me on
My ego is built on all my pain. I’m your migraine.

Deep down his struggle with his sexual identity gets covered up in a way that may seem familiar to a lot of people who came of age in the “newly woke” era. Oliver “pretends” to be queer as a joke to hide his insecurities. He kisses men as a goof to show off how “comfortable” he is with his heterosexuality, but never pursues these relationships past the mockery phase. He’s satirically macho to the point that he falls into the same tropes that outward misogynists do. And that struggle with his identity manifests itself, not only in his sexual identity, but in a deep hatred of women, no matter what he pretends to feel.

I somehow became a feminist, when ten years ago I was feeding drinks 
To women I’d laugh at when they’d think amongst my friends
It’s such a lie

After we really get to know Oliver, his whole world changes. His facade slips and he actually lets himself go home with a guy, maybe as a joke, maybe not, but he crosses a line he never did before and starts to really fall for someone after the high of getting his band back together lets him actually show some honesty, played by the drummer and co-writer of the record, Karl Keuhn.

Is it funny when I fuck? Is it funny when I suck?

One night with me is bringing back the memories of that old room where you started fucking the fear
Two broad shoulders and two hands as big as mine, I bet you think, I bet you know the end is near
And maybe it is.
‘Cause people like your father don’t take it lightly when we kiss
So now you either follow, let go, or bury below
But you can’t escape the sinking feelings you don’t outgrow

And Oliver finds himself… himself for the first time. This guy has let him be Oliver. And then… it’s over. This character defining moment to Oliver was just some night. He’s in love with someone else and Oliver was just some fling. We’ve all had these moments that keep us up at night for years, people you can’t get out of your head. And those people probably don’t even know we exist. We end up defining ourselves by something that the person responsible thinks of as negligible, if they think of it at all. But most of us eventually accept and get over it, but how does someone as self absorbed as Oliver take no for an answer? Well, we’ve all met these kind of guys and they usually… don’t. So Oliver goes to his apartment and…

Never earned the key so I’m knocking and now you’re home
My liver tells me so, it demands moonshine to blind the truth
That I was fine before you made me know myself, I wish I could go back
What does he got that I don’t? 
All I know, you’ll never love me

And Oliver murders him, ties them together, and drowns himself in the East River alongside him.

If you should die in your own form, I’ll reinforce that (I’ll convince you)
I’ll slit your throat and leave you gaping, oh, the hardest part of being alone
I’ll leave you torn, I’ll leave you waiting, oh, the hardest part of being alone
You break our beating hearts wide open
You’re the hardest part of being alone
You break our bleeding hearts wide open
You’re the hardest part of being alone
Being alone, Being alone, Is that enough?

It’s a pretty hard turn in the plot, but it’s what makes the whole album work so well. If you’re going to take a cautionary tale of entitled ego and advance it 15 years to now, to the Trump era, to the incel era, you have to follow through with it. We’re in an era where horrible men are being empowered to treat everyone as less deserving. An era where we continue to give the worst of us the loudest voices and the most power, normalizing and amplifying their bigotry and violence. All because they can’t take no for an answer. They can’t even imagine a world where people exist outside of what they can do for them.

It makes me sick and I don’t know what to do about it. I’m as powerless as our character in …Is A Real Boy was and I want to lash out and scream at everyone. But isn’t that the problem? Isn’t that why we’re in this mess to begin with, and if so, why was I so surprised when it happened? It’s because I’m privileged. Absolutely, I am. When Trump won, I couldn’t believe it. But then I heard plenty of people saying “Of course he won, this is the America we’ve always known. You didn’t notice?” Of course Kavanaugh was confirmed. Of course this is the world we live in. Because men don’t learn the right lessons from anything. A cautionary tale becomes an empowering icon.

I wish I could go back to that angst-ridden, entitled, suburban asshole and slap the stupid smirk off his face and tell him to get better faster. Never let yourself be satisfied or complacent. Nobody owes you anything. Yeah, life sucks sometimes, but acting like this hurts people. People like Oliver kill people every day and the majority of us don’t say a goddamn word about it. We deem it inappropriate to even discuss it in an uncivilized way. So maybe a lot of us could benefit from taking a look back at who we used to be and really think “am I that much better now? Am I good enough yet?” I bet a lot of us won’t find a good enough answer. So come up with a better one.

So go ask your Chomsky
What these systems produce
The cracks in commandments
That we can slip through

God, I’m smart and I’m worth hating

33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Six: …Is A Real Boy

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebooktwitter, or instagram for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on February 10th, 2019 and can be found below.

And the record begins with a song of rebellion

Here we go. I’ve been putting off writing this one for a while. I’m going to try to keep the gushing to a minimum here, but Say Anything’s …Is A Real Boy has been called my favorite record more often than not over the last 6 or so years. I could go on about how “Alive With The Glory Of Love” is a perfect song, or how one of the best songs to cover with my high school band was “The Futile,” with it’s intro of SHIT, NOTHING MAKES SENSE. Or even how neither my wife nor I hesitated to say “I Want To Know Your Plans” had to be the first dance at our wedding. So instead of just talking about how flawless it is, I’d rather talk about why I’ve been listening to it a lot lately. I don’t plan on getting into the songs that mean the most to me, but what the record is trying to say as a whole. As an aside, you gotta admit it doesn’t get more precious than this, captured by Flying Machine Network host, Elle Riccardi.

You’re what keeps me believing the world’s not gone dead,
Strength in my bones, put the words in my head.
When they pour out to paper, it’s all for you.
‘Cause that’s what you do. That’s what you do.

So if this record is such an important part of my narrative, why am I writing about it now? This month, I’ll be doing a two part column about Say Anything’s first major release, the aforementioned …Is A Real Boy, and their most recent and allegedly final record, Oliver Appropriate. I’ll save most of the Oliver talk for next time, but the premise is that it’s a concept album that extrapolates the character set up in …Is A Real Boy and follows up on where that character would be 15 years on. So let’s take a look at that guy’s beginnings.

The general idea behind the record is that our narrator, an angst-ridden, entitled, suburban asshole has been cursed that everything he feels and thinks just pours out of his mouth in a dramatic, musical way. Definitely not how I see myself in any way, I swear. But this character isn’t supposed to be our hero. I’ve been thinking a lot about the problematic lead style of storytelling and what it lets us explore. I’m a big fan of following the, I don’t want to say villains, but the characters we aren’t supposed to agree with, to help illustrate the flaws we all have. SeinfeldIt’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and Rick & Morty are prime examples of cautionary tales of letting your pettiness and ego get in the way of being a real human being. We also have characters like Han Solo, who we see develop from problematic asshole to hero in their own right. That growth is what makes them fan favorites. But I’ve also been thinking a whole lot about the role that these characters play when the wrong lessons are learned by the audience. Rick & Morty’s fanbase is one of the most toxic places around and they worship at the feet of a character that’s supposed to be the villain of the series; taking his narcissism as an ideal to strive for instead of seeing the damage he brings to the rest of the cast. People look up to Joker and Harley Quinn, a couple that was literally created to bring domestic abuse and mental illness to the forefront of the already traumatic and messy world of Batman. But does that mean we should abandon work with problematic characters, regardless of authorial intent? Personally, I think it’s more important than ever to showcase the problems these characters work through and help show their motivations and the impact they have. Fiction is a safer place to explore the problems of society, than let people just like our characters exact more harm on the people around them and get surprised by the fallout. But by bringing voice to problematic views that people define themselves by, are you doing more harm than good? As Vonnegut said, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be,” after all.

So how does that relate to …Is A Real Boy? Max Bemis, the writer behind Say Anything’s catalog, has openly spoken about how often the themes of …Is A Real Boy were misinterpreted. Our character was never supposed to be Max, but the manifestation of what drives an angst-ridden, entitled, suburban asshole who can’t control his own impulses.

I watch this dude each night, same table
He creates and crumples up
His eyes are wide from sipping endlessly his endless coffee cup
He feeds me quotes, that lonely goat
I watch him grazing by himself
I will not stop him when he rambles
I’m becoming one myself

Lou is bugged, shot up with drugs.
He sweats this bird he hardly knows,
All he wants is to see someone he respects without their clothes.
So like some hybrid mother/lover, she’d soothe and heal his wounds
And kiss those dying ears so softly
That the reaper stops to Swoon Oh, please

Full disclosure, I completely missed this in high school and couldn’t stand his vocal delivery and writing style until years later when it finally clicked. I thought it was celebrating his ego and lust for sex and acceptance (mostly the former), but it wasn’t. It was projecting what this guy, who was a hell of a lot more like high school Ryan than I’d like to admit, wanted more than anything in the world, but it wasn’t supposed to make you feel good and empowered. Revisiting it years later, it made a hell of a lot more sense why his style was so… sarcastic.

And this girl, who I met.
Who’s pride makes her hard to forget.
Took pity on me, horizontally, but most likely because of my band.
And that’s all I can get, when I’m lonely. 
And these visions of death seem to own me
In the quiet of the classrooms
All across the stacked United States of Woe, whoa
We live with woe, oh, oh, oh, oh

When I read Catcher In The Rye in middle school, it was on the recommendation of my 8th grade English teacher, two years before we read it as an assignment. She pulled me aside after class and said “You really should read this now. If you wait to read it with a class, you’ll hate it.” I don’t know what she saw in me at 13, but she was right. When I first read it, I was in disbelief at how much of myself I found in Holden Caulfield. I read it over and over again, every winter for the next several years and my feelings towards the book changed significantly every time I finished it. My senior year of high school, I realized, yeah, I was Holden and Holden really sucks. I was also convinced that the whole book serves as a farewell message to his therapist before an inevitable suicide. And, being an angst-ridden, entitled, suburban asshole struggling with my own depression, I knew, deep down, that if I didn’t make a significant change to my cynical, spiteful, implicitly misogynistic self, I would end up there, too. I hated everyone around me and what did I have to show for it? A lot of hate. And nothing else. So I worked on it, went to college, and reinvented myself as a romantic optimist. Desperately trying to escape Holden Caulfield.

I still adore Catcher, don’t get me wrong, but much like …Is A Real Boy where I once took it literally, I finally realized that it’s supposed to make me uncomfortable. It’s supposed to challenge me to rise above this character. In “Every Man Has A Molly,” we have a break up song with more vitriol than you can believe. It’s about how his emotional honesty has pushed his girlfriend away and now he’ll never “have rough sex with Molly Connelly again.” Max has openly spoken about how he was a virgin till college and how there never was a real Molly. But in this character’s mind, there should have been one. In “Admit It,” a diatribe against the exclusive nature of liberal hipster culture, we see that same rage directed at “the same superiority complex shared by the high school jocks who made your life a living hell. And made you a slave to the competitive, capitalist dogma you spend every moment of your waking life bitching about.” It’s pretentious, it’s pissed off, it’s what I felt like as a teenager. All I wanted to do was scream at everyone I thought I was better than, which, of course, was everyone. But luckily, I used characters like this to address and start the process of exorcising the parts of myself that I see in these characters.

So what happens when the audience learns the wrong lessons from a cautionary tale? What does Holden Caulfield look like 15 years later? What kind of person grows out of someone like this if they never learn how to be better? I’ll be back later this month to talk about the sequel, 2019’s Oliver Appropriate.

So you’ll come to be, made of these, urgent unfulfilled.
Oh no no no no no.
When I’m dead, I’ll rest

33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Five: In A Silent Way

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebooktwitter, or instagram for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on January 15th, 2019 and can be found below.

Shhh. Peaceful. Silent.

Happy new year, everybody! It’s January, and while I’m generally not one to make resolutions, there is still something about changing out my calendar that gets me thinking about where I should go next. 2018 was a big year for me and I feel like I’ve grown a lot. But that always pushes me to think “Ok, so I did all that, now what?” And I found myself gravitating towards music that asks the same questions.

There’s something about Miles Davis. Every single time I hear his trumpet come in over any of his incredible rhythm sections, I can’t help but think “why the hell don’t I listen to more Miles Davis?” But for Davis’ In A Silent Way, it doesn’t even take that long. It takes this record 7 seconds to kick in and it does not let up until it’s over. It opens with Joe Zawinul’s low organ hum until Tony Williams’ hi-hats, John McLaughlin’s guitar, Dave Holland’s bass, and Chick Corea’s and Herbie Hancock’s electric pianos kick in and just like that jazz fusion was brought in to the limelight, all in 7 seconds. Rounding out the band is Wayne Shorter’s beautiful soprano saxophone. And then, there’s Miles. His trumpet is unparalleled here. Sure, most people prefer his deeper exploration into the murky waters between rock and jazz in the following year’s Bitches’ Brew, but for me, In A Silent Way is where it’s at.

By the late 60s, Miles Davis was already an incredible musician and a huge force in the jazz world. In 1968 he had just gotten married to Betty Mabry, who introduced him to a whole lot of funk, soul, and rock throughout the New York scene, and as I talked about in my previous few columns on Prince and Bowie, newlyweds discovering music together is something I can really get into right now. But even though they were divorced the following year, her impact on his music was hardly a temporary thing. With 1969’s In A Silent Way, Davis had fully integrated the guitars, electric pianos, and organs of rock music into his jazz ensemble. There had been a handful of artists pioneering this mix of jazz and rock (eventually called fusion), but few had the jazz world’s respect that Davis had. As he continued to explore with dissonant and challenging mixes of genres throughout the 70s, he became so controversial and reviled in the jazz world, he went in to retirement for a bit, but very little of that strife is heard here.

The record is two acts, one on each side. Side A is an 18 minute suite of “Shhh” and “Peaceful.” As I said up top, this piece is one of my favorites. The bass, drums, and pianos hold a perfect rhythm while the leads go explore. Davis lets the guitars and keys explore for about two minutes before he comes in. This is the kind of improvisational jam you would later hear on albums like The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers or The Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 tour, but here, it’s more… adventurous. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking those fantastic records. But when rock bands jam, you feel the music building heavier and heavier and the focus is often on the dynamics, to give the musicians and the audience the release of an explosive crescendo. The exploratory jams are some of my favorite things in rock, for sure, but it’s a different vibe. You can feel the band’s energy as they push the jam bigger and bigger. But on this record, Davis grows the music sideways instead of up. The bass and drums never get more intense, they just evolve. The keyboards never start hammering away, they only add different kinds of texture. Just about all of my improv experience is through rock, so when I really listen to an improvisational piece like this, I’m always amazed at where the musicians choose not to go. When they choose to just stop and let someone else completely take over. Davis spends a lot of the song in the background while the guitars and keyboards complement each others. Every time the song builds up to just when I’m really feeling it, the band stops. Waits a second. And comes back in, just like before. With that organ hum, then hi-hats and bass. But this time, it’s somehow even better. I love a lot of Davis’ earlier work, but In A Silent Way is truly a whole other animal.

Side B is another suite, this time the Zawinul-penned titular track, sandwiching the Davis number “It’s About That Time.” “In A Silent Way” is a beautiful, soft ballad between guitar and keyboard that lets every note ring and flow just long enough to make me nostalgic for a time I don’t quite remember. But when Davis’ trumpet comes in with an overlaid melody, be still my beating heart, I feel like I’m falling in love for the first time again. But after a few minutes, the underlying harmonies start to get just a little darker and the melody starts to get a little more dissonant and just when I start to feel it, it ends and the funk-infused “It’s About That Time” kicks in. This one doesn’t have the same driving rhythms that “Shhh” and “Peaceful” had and it takes its time on the main themes longer than Side A, but the melody in the organ is just as strong, if not stronger. This is where Shorter’s sax really shines, too. The entire midsection of this piece is playing off a simple, but perfect melody that I never want to end, but of course, like all things on this record, it suddenly stops just when it really starts to hit its stride, going right back into the reflective and tranquil beauty of “In A Silent Way,” but this time closing out the record with a flawless reprise.

Miles Davis was never satisfied doing the same old thing over and over again. He could’ve easily kept cranking out albums derivative of some of his earlier masterpieces like A Kind Of Blue or Sketches Of Spain. But he didn’t. He pushed fusion into the mainstream, often up against the derision of both critics and audiences, and brought jazz into the world of so many new listeners. His entire “electric period” is brilliant, but my favorite is the one that really started it all. Yes, he hinted at a few of the things to come on the record or two before it, but In A Silent Way stands out as his testament to always push forward. Building from where he was, but never afraid to show just how far he was willing to go. Heading in to 2019, I think that’s as inspiring a message as I’m gonna find, and I hope for just a fraction of the creative bravery found on this record.

33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Four: The Berlin Trilogy Part 3 – Lodger

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebook or twitter for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on December 29th, 2018 and can be found below.

In the event
that this fantastic voyage
Should turn to erosion 
and we never get old
Remember it’s true, dignity is valuable
But our lives are valuable too

Here we go! We’re at the end of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy. We started with Low, continued with “Heroes,” and now we’re finishing up with Lodger. I’ll be back to monthly after this, so I’m excited to see where I end up in January.

Full disclosure, right up front. I don’t have nearly as much of an attachment to Lodger as I do Low and “Heroes.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good album. For sure. It just doesn’t have as grandiose of a thesis as the last two. It kind of wanders and is a bit all over the place. But that’s why it works for me. When you’re going through a transitional period, you can’t always end up in a clear, concise, and obvious place of growth. You usually just end up “here.” And you usually can’t tell where here is until you’re already… somewhere else. But it’s important to remember how you got “here.” Even when that trip was a rough one, it’s still, as Bowie calls it, a “Fantastic Voyage.”

But any sudden movement I’ve got to write it down
They wipe out an entire race and I’ve got to write it down
But I’m still getting educated but I’ve got to write it down
And it won’t be forgotten
‘Cause I’ll never say anything nice again, how can I?

We’re learning to live with somebody’s depression
And I don’t want to live with somebody’s depression
We’ll get by, I suppose

It’s a very modern world,
but nobody’s perfect

There’s a lot of interesting directions Bowie and Eno choose to take on their final (for now) collaboration. Songs like “African Night Flight” and “Yassassin” pick up where the final song on “Heroes,” “The Secret Life Of Arabia” left off, with Bowie and Eno experimenting with world music. These serve as the most diverse songs on the record, which doesn’t feature any of the ambitious atmospheric instrumental pieces the last two albums featured. I don’t have a whole lot to say about them, but these serve to define the eclectic and meandering style of the record. Coupled with the German influenced “Red Sails,” this record really feels like Bowie wandering around the world trying to find the next musical outlet to call “here.” In case the diverse styles aren’t enough to convince us of this, here’s Bowie on “Move On.”

Sometimes I feel the need to move on
So I pack a bag and move on
Well I might take a train or sail at dawn
Might take a girl when I move on

Somewhere, someone’s calling me
And when the chips are down
I stumble like a blind man
Can’t forget you

The second side of the album is more focused and thematically driven. After establishing that Bowie can do whatever he wants on Side A, Side B is all about expectations and what those restrictions can do to people. Now that Bowie has broken out of the standards he’s set on his own records, it’s time to explore just what that kind of pressure can do when you *can’t* break free of it, in four different acts.

First, in “Look Back In Anger,” we see the set up. No matter where the pressure is coming from, we can so often only get mad and just wait for it to reach a tipping point.

Look back in anger, driven by the night, Till you come
(Waiting so long, I’ve been waiting so, waiting so)
Look back in anger, see it in my eyes, ‘Til you come

Then “Boys Keep Swinging.” What about privilege? Can these societal pressures benefit some of us? Is it fair? What’s the downside to that?

Heaven loves ya, The clouds part for ya, Nothing stands in your way
When you’re a boy
Clothes always fit ya, Life is a pop of the cherry
When you’re a boy
Uncage the colors, Unfurl the flag, Luck just kissed you hello
When you’re a boy
Learn to drive and everything, You’ll get your share
When you’re a boy

Well, the downside is for the people that tell those boys no. Nothing’s ever their fault, everyone else is just getting in their way. When someone is expected to be handed everything, over and over again, how does that person confront people that say no? Usually pretty poorly, as he lays out in “Repetition.”

He’ll get home around seven
‘Cause the chevy’s real old
And he could have had a cadillac
If the school had taught him right
And he could have married Anne with the blue silk blouse
And the food is on the table
But the food is cold
(Don’t hit her)
“Can’t you even cook?
What’s the good of me working when you can’t damn cook?”
Well Johnny is a man
And he’s bigger than her
I guess the bruises won’t show 
If she wears long sleeves
But the space in her eyes shows through
And he could have married Anne with the blue silk blouse
Shows through

And finally, he concludes the album, and this theme with “Red Money.”

Oh, can you feel it in the way
That a man is not a man?
Can you see it in the sky
That the landscape is too high?
Like a nervous disease
And it’s been there all along
It will tumble from the sky
It’s been there all along
Project cancelled
Tumbling central
Red money
Can you hear it fall
Can you hear it well
Can you hear it at all  

Lodger is a complicated album. Sure, it’s use of world music, and hooks helped influence so many musicians for decades to come, but at the time it was met with a pretty middle of the road response. But I think that’s fitting. After the masterpieces of Low and “Heroes,” expectations couldn’t be higher for a listener going in to Lodger. And what do you find? Wandering through different styles, grasping to see what works or what resonates with an artist in limbo. I’ve heard it described as a thesis-less album, but what if that’s the point? Aren’t we all unfocused, thesis-less people until we move on and someone decides what our “defining” thesis was? Sometimes we get the honor of deciding, but more often than not, it’s just the imprint that we left on someone else that actually matters. We’re all just different stages of put together as we fall sloppily through someone else’s idea of a narrative. If Lodger is about anything, it’s about the struggle of finding the balance of who you are, how society helped create that person, and how hard it is to overcome those expectations. There’s no clear answer, within the record or within ourselves, but at least the record ends with a hopeful:  

Such responsibility
It’s up to you and me

33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Three: The Berlin Trilogy Part 2 – “Heroes”

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebook or twitter for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on December 22nd, 2018 and can be found below.

Something in the night
Something in the day
Nothing is wrong but darling, something’s in the way
There’s slaughter in the air
Protest on the wind
Someone else inside me
Someone could get skinned, how?
(My, my) someone fetch a priest
You can’t say no to the beauty and the beast

I’m back and so is Bowie! Last week, I covered his 1977 masterpiece, Low. And don’t worry! Next week I’ll be talking about the final piece of the trilogy, Lodger.

But today is all about “Heroes.”

If Low was about facing your demons and recognizing where you went wrong, “Heroes” is all about what comes after that realization. From the opening track, “Beauty And The Beast,” I could feel Bowie’s desire to grow. But not by forgetting the past or ignoring your mistakes. Our flaws and origin stories are a part of us, whether or not we let them define us; ignoring them only makes it harder to prevent slipping back into those old habits.

I wanted to believe me
I wanted to be good
I wanted no distractions
Like every good boy shouldNothing will corrupt us
Nothing will compete
Thank god heaven left us
Standing on our feet
(My, my)
Beauty and the beast

Facing my struggles head on really is the only way I’ve found that helps me get over them. Pretending that you’re perfect just creates a cycle of constant avoidance and Bowie lays that out on this record. Like in “Joe The Lion,” a song that, to me, pretty clearly makes a case against the strong face we put all of our energy into maintaining instead of just letting everything in. It creates a cycle of “always on guard, always defensive” that isn’t good for anybody.

You get up and sleep
Joe the lion
Made of iron

I’ve always had trouble with letting little things go. I always hold grudges and because of that, the slightest things set me off. This has been a pretty constant theme of my arguments with those I care about, as I’m so often saying “No, it has barely anything to do with this thing, it’s a larger issue.” If I could just address the issues as they happened, instead of staying silent at the time, these things wouldn’t build up so badly and I wouldn’t put all of my stresses onto one innocuous event. Moments that seem trivial to others often become these huge turning points, character defining moments, or silent breakdowns for me.

Sons of the silent age
Listen to tracks by Sam Therapy and King Dice
Sons of the silent age
Pick up in bars and cry only once
Sons of the silent age
Make love only once but dream and dream
Don’t walk, they just glide in and out of life
They never die, they just go to sleep one day

Like Low,“Heroes” ends with several instrumental tracks that are just as beautifully constructed by Bowie and Eno as the ones from the last record. “Sense Of Doubt” is a terrifying and deep bass-heavy piece, but with swells of treble optimism. “Moss Garden” is an exploration of calm tranquility. “Neukoln” feels like a tense, dissonant sci-fi soundtrack that draws from both of the previous pieces. Just sit in a room and spend a few minutes with headphones on. I think this block is even more immersive and well-constructed than the ones on Low and are worth really diving into. They close the record with questions on where to go, like Low, but this time, I felt like some of the answers were hidden in there. Just waiting to be revisited and re-contextualized when I was ready for them. Now, of course, I can’t leave without talking about the title track. But I’m going to break chronology again and talk about another song first, “Blackout.” It pairs well with my main takeaway from “Heroes,” that the only way to really accept and move on from your flaws is to take them one day at a time. One of the major beliefs I hold is that love is the most empowering force in the world. Sure, I’ve had plenty of times in my life where I projected way too much of my happiness and self-worth on a relationship, but that unhealthy dynamic too often overshadows the inspiration and strength that we can pull from love. “Blackout” sets up the co-dependence trap that so many of us have fallen into. We’re all waiting to be saved, waiting for a dramatic kiss in the rain that fills all the emptiness, but if you wait for someone else to do all the work, you’ll never get there.

If you don’t stay tonight
I will take that plane tonight
I’ve nothing to lose, nothing to gain
I’ll kiss you in the rain

Get me to the doctor
Get me off the streets
(Get some protection)
Get me on my feet
(Get some direction)
Hot air gets me into a blackout
Oh, get me off the streets
Get some protection
Oh, get me on my feet

That brings us to the title track, ““Heroes.”” This song means the world to me. What does it mean to be a hero? Is it always being perfect? Is it always being the strong one saving everyone? No. A hero is someone who loves. A hero is someone who lets themselves be loved. They draw on the strength from those that they love and that love them back. They lift each other up and work together. Everyday we fight the villainy of our own inner demons. We don’t always win, but together, we can learn how to not lose, just one day at a time. All it takes to be a hero is to do what you can, even if it’s just for one day.

I will be King and you will be Queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day

It’s not about erasing or hiding your weaknesses. It’s about embracing them. Maybe as a cautionary tale. Maybe to see those same weaknesses in people we can help. Maybe just to remind yourself how far you’ve come and how strong you truly are.

And you can be mean and I’ll drink all the time
Cause we’re lovers and that is a fact
Yes, we’re lovers, and that is that
Though nothing will keep us together
We could steal time, just for one day

Even if we aren’t strong enough today; maybe today we just can’t fight. So? There’s no harm in trying. And that’s all a hero is. Someone who tries, no matter what. No one’s a hero until they try to be one.

I can remember standing by the wall
And the guns shot above our heads
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
And the shame was on the other side
We can beat them, for ever and ever
We’re nothing, and nothing will help us
Maybe we’re lying, then you better not stay
But we could be safe, just for one day

So who can be a hero?

We can be Heroes –  Just for one day – What d’you say?