Mercy Mercy Me / What’s Going On (Usher cover)

You don’t need to believe in the efficacy of prayer to be moved by the overdub in Marvin Gaye’s original of “Mercy Mercy Me,” a love song for the Earth, wherein he repeatedly sings “have mercy Father, please have mercy…”

And “What’s Going On” (the song, and the album) remains one of the great testaments of compassion in contemporary music:

mother mother
there’s too many of you crying
brother brother brother
there’s far too many of you dying
you know we’ve got to find a way
to bring some lovin’ here today

father father
we don’t need to escalate
you see, war is not the answer
for only love can conquer hate
you know we’ve got to find a way
to bring some lovin’ here today

picket lines, and picket signs
don’t punish me with brutality
talk to me, so you can see
what’s goin’ on, what’s goin’ on
yeah what’s goin’ on, what’s goin’ on…

The originals could never be topped, but this acoustic version was a sweet discovery.

Songs our world desperately needs these days. Send them round —

they’re back (they’re so back…)

At the full moon, so the astrologers say, this seems to have been the day I came into this life. That means I get to send a post out to myself.

I haven’t heard it all yet (got my order for the CD in today), but there’s this…

A succession of bardos, saying goodbye over and over and over, and finally a bit of warmth at the loneliest top of the world.

To have shared a realm and an age with such pure exquisiteness…

yes, the ultimate Cocteau Twins mix

The Cocteau Twins were so sublime that my “best of” compilation represents over one quarter of everything they recorded! I spent a lot of time trying to make this flow immaculately from beginning to end, and listening to it in sheerest bliss some weeks ago driving through the mountains as late afternoon faded into twilight into evening has convinced me I could do no better.

Just the playlist for now, but hopefully soon I can put together a YouTube playlist of the whole thing (they are all there) and embed it here. For now, this post is mainly addressed to those who are already familiar with this unspeakably exquisite music.

One of these days I would like to write a proper appreciation of this band (Liz Fraser, Robin Guthrie, and Simon Raymonde). There will never be another like them. There are even times when I find myself thinking that the greatest privation of death will be being unable to hear these songs again…

CD 1

  1. Pandora (Treasure)
  2. Cico Buff (Blue Bell Knoll)
  3. I Wear Your Ring (Heaven or Las Vegas)
  4. Throughout the Dark Months of April and May (Victorialand)
  5. The High Monkey-Monk (unreleased, bonus track on The Box Set)
  6. Cherry-Coloured Funk (Heaven or Las Vegas)
  7. Athol-Brose (Blue Bell Knoll)
  8. Know Who You Are at Every Age (Four-Calendar Café)
  9. She Will Destroy You (The Moon and the Melodies [with Harold Budd])
  10. Hitherto (Sunburst and Snowblind EP)
  11. Otterley (Treasure)
  12. Great Spangled Fritillary (Echoes in a Shallow Bay EP)
  13. Primitive Heart (Tishbite single)
  14. Aikea-Guinea (Aikea-Guinea EP)
  15. How to Bring a Blush to the Snow (Victorialand)
  16. Theft, and Wandering Around Lost (Four-Calendar Café)
  17. Smile (Violaine single)
  18. Donimo (Treasure)
  19. Squeeze-Wax (Four-Calendar Café)

 

CD 2

  1. Millimillenary (The Pink Opaque [compilation, otherwise unreleased])
  2. Crushed (Lonely Is an Eyesore [4AD label compilation, otherwise unreleased])
  3. Iceblink Luck (Heaven or Las Vegas)
  4. Feet-like Fins (Victorialand)
  5. Alice (Violaine single)
  6. Frou-Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires (Heaven or Las Vegas)
  7. Evangeline (Four-Calendar Café)
  8. Heaven or Las Vegas (Heaven or Las Vegas)
  9. Serpentskirt (Milk & Kisses)
  10. Rilkean Heart (Twinlights EP)
  11. Carolyn’s Fingers (Blue Bell Knoll)
  12. Bluebeard (Four-Calendar Café)
  13. Those Eyes, That Mouth (Love’s Easy Tears EP)
  14. Pur (Four-Calendar Café)
  15. Pink Orange Red (Tiny Dynamine EP)
  16. Seekers Who Are Lovers (Milk & Kisses)
  17. Golden-Vein (Twinlights EP)
  18. Calfskin Smack (Milk & Kisses)
  19. Touch Upon Touch (Volume 17 and Splashed with Many a Speck compilations)

bowing to maestro Bowie (part 2)

“If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to/It’s nothing to me…”

I was interested to discover a couple of years ago that David Bowie had briefly studied with Trungpa Rinpoche, the Tibetan lama whose writings have probably made the single greatest impact on me of any buddhist teacher. Bowie had made the trek up to Samye Ling in Scotland in the late ’60s, before Rinpoche had migrated to the United States. And just today a brief article was posted quoting Bowie on his time there: “I was within a month of having my head shaved, taking my vows, and becoming a monk,” he said. It was 1967, he was 20 years old and already a recording musician — this would have been either just before or just after the release of his first LP, David Bowie.

He was conflicted about whether or not to stay at the centre and asked Trungpa about this, who told him to carry on being a musician. So now we have another thing to thank that man for…

The last two songs on Blackstar are the most direct leave-takings. They’re really hard to listen to today. Dollar Days with its wailing sax from Donny McCaslin and final repeated alternations, “I’m trying to, I’m dying to, I’m trying to, I’m dying to…” is wrenching. Both phrases had appeared in a different context earlier: “I’m dying to/Push their backs against the grain/And fool them all again and again/I’m trying to.” And: “Don’t believe for just one second I’m forgetting you/I’m trying to/I’m dying to.”

And finally the last one on the album, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” where he kind of sums it all up:

“Seeing more and feeling less, saying no but meaning yes: this is all I ever meant, that’s the message that I sent”

He was one of the most endlessly innovative artists of our time, and one of the most complete artists, because his mind was attuned to music, art, design, film, and dance in almost equal measure. He influenced nearly everybody across two generations to one degree or another — and he’s not done yet.

What more to say? Blessings, Mr. B. Please come back as something equally amazing.

 

bowing to maestro Bowie…

… for making his entire life (and now, we realize, death too) into a work of art.

Blackstar — what a gift to leave as the last one. To know it would be the last and to go out as innovative and protean and inspired as ever. That breathtaking title track: one of the most astounding things he ever did. I have watched the video of it multiple times today, along with listening to the rest of the album (released three days ago on his 69th birthday). Filled with moments of brilliance and unforgettable images: the astronaut concealing a skull laden with jewels; the juxtapositions of glowing cosmos, stylized Middle Eastern towns, shadowy loft, gyrating figures; a skeleton flying towards an eclipse… The refrain with its fragment of medieval chant, the driving breakbeat, and that sax…

“in the centre of it all, in the centre of it all…”

And then (as if you thought that was it!): a big hush. What on earth is next? It’s an image almost indescribably perfect: the camera panning Bowie holding a leather-bound book reminiscent both of a Bible and a Communist catechism (but note his left arm against hip…), its cover bearing only the eponymous black star; the previously gyrating figures (one white, one black, one female) staring with him in the direction the book/star is pointing; the sun comes out. The lighting and tableau remind me of that opening slow-motion shot in Blue Velvet somehow in its sense of wonder, innocence and the technicolor quality of the blue painted sky alternating with ground level shots of vegetation.

And then … we are back in the loft, and Bowie is clasping his hands, as if in prayer. He sings, and his falsetto is as gorgeous as ever, the voice childlike at first: “Something happened on the day he died…” Followed by — what genius — gazing back on his whole life, he makes a kind of declaration, but more about what he’s never been rather than what he “is.” The backing singers provide this (as far as it goes and in wonderfully murky harmony): “I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar.” But he thumbs his nose at the line “you’re a flash in the pan,” and his dancing — 68 at the time, and very ill — is still elegant. You want to bow.

“I see right so white, so open-heart it’s pain/I want eagles in my daydreams, diamonds in my eyes/(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)”

And the trio of scarecrows, lined up as the Crucifixion: what startling composition and colors in that frame, and the subtle slow-motion swiveling hips of them, fantastic…

“at the centre of it all, your eyes, your eyes…”

Evidently part of what the song (and video) are about, according to someone who spoke to Bowie, is the Islamic State. In the latter part of the video we see a group of women reacting instantly to the jeweled skull, which has reappeared: whenever it is held in front of them they gyrate, hop, or raise their fists (I found myself remembering that ceremonial scene in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut also). And the opening music returns, but this time without the breakbeats. It has followed on from the middle section so seamlessly that you hardly notice. But the song is about much more than that, and I could keep going on about it, but I’d rather just let it speak for itself.

And Lazarus… Few words. It’s too raw. No one has ever put out anything like this before: Bowie sings from, as it were, his very deathbed, and he sings about what it feels like to die.

And then he stands, and even makes a dance move or two, and gets inspired, and writes, and finally fades into the wardrobe. Is it a Narnian wardrobe? Where is he going? None of us can say, and that is what he gives us as our final image of him.

Apparently Bowie was often too ill to attend rehearsals for his musical Lazarus (his other final project), but according to the director, Ivo van Hove: “Bowie was still writing on his deathbed, you could say. I saw a man fighting. He fought like a lion and kept working like a lion through it all. I had incredible respect for that.”

(More in the next post.)

“This Dark Matter” — London Electricity

“The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams…. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. And dreams come true. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe….

“So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. You can feel it. It is called life. This is who you are.  Second question: Who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules?…. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. Our innate nature is to create the conditions that are conducive to life. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep, innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.

“This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe…. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.”

— Paul Hawken, “The Earth Is Hiring,” speech to the graduating class of the University of Portland, 2009, from The World Is Waiting for You, edited by Tara Grove and Isabel Ostrer.