The Voice, the Song, the Vision, the Light

[Video: 10,000 Maniacs and David Byrne (live), performing Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be.” (Lyrics here.)]

From whiskey river:

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])


Old Man At Home Alone in the Morning

There are questions that I no longer ask
and others that I have not asked for a long time
that I return to and dust off and discover
that I’m smiling and the question
has always been me and that it is
no question at all but that it means
different things at the same time
yes I am old now and I am the child
I remember what are called the old days and there is
no one to ask how they became the old days
and if I ask myself there is no answer
so this is old and what I have become
and the answer is something I would come to
later when I was old but this morning
is not old and I am the morning
in which the autumn leaves have no question
as the breeze passes through them and is gone

(W. S. Merwin [source])

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Midweek Music Break: Jherek Bischoff and David Byrne, “Eyes”

The pop-music landscape sometimes to me resembles coarse fabric — fabric with lots of weight and substance, which distracts you from the fact of all the holes in between: “holes” as in “opportunities,” for artists with just the right sort of corkscrew sensibilities. Jherek Bischoff is one of those odd-duck musicians who periodically poke through the surface.

Unlike most singers and songwriters, Bischoff seems to work in no particular niche. For his 2012 album, Composed (also released in a straight instrumental version, called Scores), Bischoff composed all the songs on a ukelele, with the idea that they’d eventually be performed by an orchestra. Then (in his own words):

This record was recorded with one microphone, an Mbox and a laptop. I recorded each individual musician of the “orchestra” in their very own living rooms. I then layered each instrument (sometimes one violinist playing one part twenty times for instance) until it was the size of a huge orchestra. I spent the summer bike riding from house to house recording each musician. I then took a road trip and recorded all of the singers except Caetano and David.

(“Caetano” there is Caetano Veloso, a Brazilian multi-genre performer, composer, and activist; Wikipedia describes his genre as a blend of Música Popular Brasileira, tropicália, psychedelic rock, folk rock, and bossa nova. “David,” of course, is David Byrne.)

I have no idea if Bischoff is exaggerating the makeshift elements in this description of the album. (And when he says he went “bike riding,” I sort of hope he meant via motorcycle.) However he did it, this song is a gorgeous, many-layered thing. Bischoff’s site includes some photographs shot during the video’s recording, among them what seems to be a set of choreographic instructions for Byrne’s on-camera contribution:

(In some respects, you might regard this as a catalogue of Byrne’s standard on-camera repertoire. It does not, however, seem to correspond to the actual sequence of movements in the video.)

And here’s the video itself:

[Lyrics — as you can see, there’s some uncertainty about a portion of them; this is how numerous lyrics sites handle the matter. If I ever get any other interpretation, I’ll update the lyrics here.]

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Saturday Night Music Break: David Byrne/St. Vincent, “Who”

David Byrne has never shied away from collaborating with other interesting musicians. Case in point: his new album with Annie Clark (a/k/a St. Vincent), Love This Giant.

In truth — I am so out of the loop musically anymore — I’d never heard of Annie Clark (as herself or as St. Vincent). She’s been around for several years now, playing, singing, and recording with several indie bands as well as on her own. She and Byrne crossed paths at a couple of concerts, and their first actual contact was arranged by a charity project interested in seeing them together in a benefit performance… a performance in a bookstore. Over the course of some months, they toyed around with with some ideas — among them, how best to deal with the acoustics in such a small space. Clark, it seems, came up with the what’s-wrong-with-this-picture? idea of using  a brass band as the principal accompaniment.

Sadly, no one has yet put together that bookstore performance; happily, Clark and Byrne have given us a song, and now a video, like this one. In the video, Byrne — channeling his familiar dancing-stork soul through the body of, say, the later Dan O’Herlihy — comes across a lovely, apparently helpless young lady lying in the road, and proceeds to pepper her with question marks. She answers only with one of the most difficult questions of all, and one that Byrne’s character himself manages to leave out (and disregard):


“Who” is the first song in the track listing. From reviewers who’ve heard the entire album, I understand that Byrne and Clark sorta-kinda take turns on lead vocals as they work their way through Love This Giant (which will be released in the US on Tuesday, 9/11). So far, I’ve heard only one other single, the second and rather perkier track, “Weekend in the Dust”… in which — yes — Clark does the vocal honors. The horns are still there, too, especially a big old saxophone and/or tuba:

[Below, click Play button to begin Weekend in the Dust. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 3:07 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

[Lyrics not yet available]

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Midweek Music Break: David Byrne and Brian Eno, “Home”

Several of Running After My Hat‘s regular commenthood are overhauling what “home” means to them:

Nance — and Mr. Mature, of course — are caught up in readying their house for a (dearly longed-for) sale. Marta — amongst writing a flash-fiction story every day this month, and competitive skating, and teaching, and the gods know what else — has moved with her family into their first house, with all the attendant packing and unpacking, inspections, signings of documents, painting, arranging and re-arranging, and re-assessment of what counts (and how much). And in a turn almost unimaginable, at least to me — having followed his blog for four years — Brit ex-pat Froog prepares to leave China altogether, bound for… Lithuania? Uruguay? parts unknown (but presumably with no shortage of watering holes)?

From At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson:

Houses are amazingly complex repositories. What I found, to my great surprise, is that whatever happens in the world — whatever is discovered or created or bitterly fought over — eventually ends up, in one way or another, in your house. Wars, famines, the Industrial Revolution, the Enlightenment — they are all there in your sofas and chests of drawers, tucked into the folds of your curtains, in the downy softness of your pillows, in the paint on your walls and the water in your pipes. So the history of household life isn’t just a history of beds and sofas and kitchen stoves, as I had vaguely supposed it would be, but of scurvy and guano and the Eiffel Tower and bedbugs and body-snatching and just about everything else that has happened. Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.

From Brian Eno, writing on (speaking of 2008’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today album):

This record was born as a dinner conversation. While dining in New York with David and some other friends, I mentioned that I had accumulated a lot of music, which, despite my intentions, I had never formed into songs. David volunteered to give them a try…

Upon starting this project, we quickly realized we were making something like electronic gospel, music in which singing becomes the central event, but whose sonic landscapes are atypical of such vocal-centered tracks.

David Byrne himself adds:

The challenge was more emotional than technical: to write simple, heartfelt tunes without drawing on cliché. The results, in many cases, are uplifting, hopeful, and positive, even though some lyrics describe cars exploding, war, and similarly dark scenarios.

These songs have elements of our previous work — no surprise there — but something new has emerged here as well. Where does the sanguine and heartening tone come from, particularly in these troubled times? …some of my lyrics and melodies were a response to what I sensed lay buried in the music. My task was to bring forth into language what was originally non-verbal. In the end, we have made something together that neither of us could have made on our own.

This particular number, I think, doesn’t fall quite into the “electronic gospel” genre. There’s a nearly martial, rolling-snare-drum effect which plays well behind Byrne’s vocals, and that voice verges on strident. But the lyrics speak of both the universal and the deeply personal meanings of home. Especially when the song is overlaid (as here) by dozens of still photos of dozens of types of houses, it’s easy to imagine an utterly different performance: solo, acoustic, nothing at all electronic — a plucked string fastened at one end in the present day and at the other, deep in history.


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One Fine Day

[Video: time-lapse film of an entire year in a wooded area, over “One Fine Day,” by David Byrne and Brian Eno (lyrics in the note at the end of this post)]

From whiskey river:

The Storm

Now through the white orchard my little dog
romps, breaking the new snow
with wild feet.
Running here running there, excited,
hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins
until the white snow is written upon
in large, exuberant letters,
a long sentence, expressing
the pleasures of the body in this world.

Oh, I could not have said it better

(Mary Oliver [source])


Life moves on, whether we act as cowards or heroes. Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such. Life is now, every moment, no matter if the world be full of death. Death triumphs only in the service of life.

(Henry Miller [source])
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