Sunday, June 13, 2010

Writer’s Jukebox – Soccer, Strauss, and Steppin’ Out

In our modern times (some might call them the endtimes), music rarely exists on its own.  It’s an advertisement, a soundtrack, a transmedia collaboration.  Hell, I discovered one of my favorite songs this year, the two- or three-year old “Ali in the Jungle” by the Hours, because of an ad for the Olympics.

Boivin’s listening habits draw inspiration from the World Cup.  Pankin turned to the Strauss piece Kubrick made famous.  And Jordan, well, he actually seems to have found his picks by simply listening to music. 

Way to be an outlier.

Boivin – World Cup Fever

The nation has begun its descent into fair weather soccer fandom, and I have descended right along with it. In keeping with the spirit of the times I should recommend a tune having to do with World Cup fever. 

Weezer frontman River Cuomo is a die hard soccer fanatic, so much so that Weezer's 2002 world tour was named the "World Cup Tour" (and it was awesome, Sparta and Dashboard opened, it was like one of the best nights of my 15-year-old life). In the ensuing disappointment of Team USA's exit after coming so far, Cuomo wrote the bittersweet anthem "My Day Is Coming" in tribute to the 2002 squad. It namechecks just about every starter and serves as the perfect song when you've come so far only to fall short. It has a great, "we'll get 'em next time" feel to it, which is, unfortunately probably the best that the USA can manage. But we'll see...we tied England!

Pankin – Thus Spoke Strauss

Who here would recognize the opening of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey? I can't see you out there, but I'm assuming most of you are raising your hands. It's a simple, five-note motif: octave, octave-and-fifth, two-octaves, two-octaves-and-major-third, which immediately dropped to a minor third. (For those of you who only listen to music, rather than speak it, this might help.)
Or if you're not a Kubrick fan, maybe you've seen Peter Sellers jamming out the Deodato's jazzy version of the motif in the film Being There. (I actually haven't seen the movie, but I hear it's fantastic.)

If you're a music scholar, you might know the motif by a different name - as the Sunrise theme of Richard Strauss's tone poem Thus Spoke Zarathustra. And if you're a philosopher, you might recognize the title of the composition from Nietzsche's seminal work of the same name, on which the tone poem was "loosely based."

I've been listening to this music a lot lately. Not just the iconic introduction, but also the rest of the composition, each movement of which is named after a chapter from Nietzsche's philosophical novel. "Von den Hinterweltlern" (translated variously as "Of the Backworldsmen," "the Afterworldly," or even "the Hinterworldly" as in "the people behind the world") has a sweetly lyrical theme. "Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften" ("Of Joy and the Passions") introduces a second motif that flows throughout the piece. And "Der Genesende" ("The Convalescent") sees a return of the introduction theme with a powerful vengeance.

The character Zarathustra is based on the ancient prophet who founded Zoroastrianism (Zoroaster is an Ancient Greek rendition of the Avestan Zarathustra). His doctrine frames the struggle between truth and lie as the primal foundation of the universe. In the novel, Nietzsche turns the historical Zarathustra on his head, claiming that if he was the first to recognize the concepts of truth and lie, he would logically be the first to recognize that those concepts are false and empty.
Strauss takes chapters from the book out of context to frame a sort of abridged version of Zarathustra's journey. To truly understand that journey would require much deeper and more careful listening than I've embarked on.

Jordasch – Who knew M.I.A. still had it?

The musical gods be praised: the new M.I.A. song doesn't suck! After the WTF-ness of "Born Free" and the spectacular disappoint of "XXXO" (which, admittedly, sounds much better with aguest verse from Shawn Carter), what a relief it was to hear "Steppin' Out" when it leaked this past Friday. A jumpy, schizophrenic mishmash of robot-speak vocals and glitchy metal-shop sound effects, the track is welcome return to form for an artist who never really had a form to begin with.

Other than the stuff I've tackled in my recent reviews, I've settled into a summery groove in these, uh, summer months. There's the explicitly groove-able: Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On - a better record than What's Going On, if you ask me - has been on near-constant rotation on the iPhone. And I've rediscovered Maxwell's BLACKsummer's Night, a supremely confident slice of dark neo-soul.

You don't often associate Americana with groove, but the ironically Canadian members of the Band manage to craft almost danceable pieces of roots rock that (almost) never sound lame. Tracks like "Up On Cripple Creek" and "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)" strike up a dichotomous balance between cowboy-ready and danceable (not even just line danceable). But for American music that's only at home in the honky tonk, Jamey Johnson's the only game in modern country. His new single, "Macon," sounds soulful and laid-back, but may just be boring. Time will tell.