Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"This is Just to Say..."

Perhaps you are familiar with William Carlos Williams' poem "This is Just to Say." Apparently it's a classic, though I have only just heard of it myself. It was featured this past week on This American Life. You ARE familiar with This American Life, aren't you? If not, do yourself a favour and treat yourself to an occasional listen... I doubt you'll be able to keep it to merely 'occasional.'

This past week's episode was thematically about insincere apologies. Who hasn't made an insincere apology in their life? Particularly as a kid. I know I sure did. I must have done something somewhere along the way to my little sister that I was made to apologise for when I hadn't yet developed the capacity for genuine regret for my actions. These days I don't think I apologise if I don't mean it - I mean, what's the point?

"This is Just to Say" seems to have a spectrum of interpretation associated with it. Some people take the apology as sincere, others not so. I'm going to have to come down in the 'insincere' camp, but before I get into my argument, here's the poem itself:

THIS IS JUST TO SAY, by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Where exactly does he apologise? He doesn't! He makes a demand for forgiveness, but never actually apologises. "Probably saving for breakfast..."? Is it just me or does that stink of being something that he knew damned well (perhaps it was her habit to have plums for breakfast?) was the case and now he's trying to play dumb? "And so cold..." seems like a reflection of the quality of apology, doesn't it?
Anyhow, as an apology, I don't buy it.

On This American Life they had some of their regular contributors write their own 'This is just to say...' poems. I couldn't help myself. I had too much to not apologize for myself.

This is Just to Say

I forgive me
I know
You never will


I called you
a drunk
and told people
you are
that particular
type of selfish
who would write
a hollow note
"This is just to say..."




You don't get it
And I don't

Waah waah
Eat shit
You stupid fuck.


I fucked him
while we
were still engaged

I expected you
to believe
the contraceptive gel
was for us

Though I'd
been too distracted
by him
for months
to even think
of fucking

Forgive me
The anti-depressants
and booze
have compromised
my moral


Forgive me
for pretending
I'm sorry

It may not have
been 'cool'


You expect me
to defend that?


I could not
Think less
of you
if I tried

I've had it with
Your fragile psyche
like a Fabrege egg

Prepare for the worst
I could care less
if you
forgive me


I'm sorry
You lost your job
because of me

convincing you
to stay
in bed
long enough
to give one more
blow job

Well -
what can I say?

I think my favourites are the first one and the extreme brevity of the third one. I'm hoping other folks will add their own versions - this has been heaps of cathartic fun.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Defending the Music XXI: A Million Different Voices Singing in Tongues

At last.

Number 21 of 21. The artist who was mocked, starting this entire series of posts, defending my choices for favourite music acts.

This is the only artist on the list who is an individual (though an argument could be made against that), and the timing is excellent as I saw him play live not 72 hours ago.

It was fucking amazing, and that should not be much of a surprize as he - and his band - have been making music together for over forty years.

I am speaking of Bruce Springsteen, and to a lesser extent, the E-Street Band. I will just as happily listen to the Boss's solo tracks as stuff with E-Street and lump it all together as Bruce Springsteen... and I am not alone.

Note that I only have one artist in my list of 21 who is an individual - Bruce Springsteen. He is that good. He can keep pace with 20 other bands that rely upon the creativity of an entire group.

I do recall hearing Born to Run and Thunder Road on my local radio station in Prince George, CKPG, as a kid. But I was hardly a Springsteen fan. I was well on my way towards being a punk rock kid by then. The chances of 'The River' making my playlist could not have been detected by the greatest science of the day. In fact I once allowed someone to play my guitar when I was about 15 and when he played 'The River' I felt the need to wash my poor instrument.

When Born in the U.S.A. came out my Dad bought it through Columbia Music House. My response at the time was something like "Aww, Dad, that album has been out for months. It's SO old." And sure enough it had seen two, or perhaps even three singles by that time. It would stay on the charts for fucking ever and it would seem like every song on the album made the top ten at one time or another. This is definitely hyperbole, but not by as much as one might assume. Seven of the twelve tracks on the album made the top ten and another, not even released as a single(!), cracked the top forty.

We can safely fast forward fifteen years during which I was pretty much unaware of Springsteen. I knew he won an Academy Award for the song he wrote for Philadelphia and had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and got married to one of his bandmates, but really I wasn't interested. The closest he came to really registering on my radar was when Rage Against the Machine (of all people) did a cover of one of his songs... which I found I actually quite liked.

Then someone flew a plan into a building in New York and changed the world.

Springsteen responded with what for me would proved to be his most important album. Some people saw it as opportunistic - capitalizing on the grief and disaster, but not me.

My friend Norm exhorted me to give The Rising a listen. I evaded it until he gave me a copy, at which point it became nothing but capriciousness to not give it at least a token listen. Musically it was a revelation for me. Damn he's a good song-writer - I suppose that ought to go without saying if someone is going to have as long and illustrious a career as he had had. In many ways The Rising said many of the things that were lingering in the back of my mind. He personalized the incident and stepped away from the cliches that had already developed. He was the only artist with the voice to say the things I needed to hear without getting all jingoistic about it.

Roughly a year later I had been cast in "Of Mice and Men." As is my practice, a ritual developed around the show for me - I won't get intot he philosophy of that here, though it may be worth commentiing upon at another time. In this case the ritual included walking each night to the theatre - about a 45 minute trip across town (as it turned out, usually in the pouring rain). I was going to need some music for the trip. The very first night, I stopped at a store to choose the disc that would be my ritual disc for the trip. It turned out to be a really easy selection. The thin edge of the wedge was already in. When I saw Springsteen's Greatest Hits disc on the shelf I knew that it was the appropriate choice - after all, the RATM song that I had liked had been "The Ghost of Tom Joad", so there was an obvious Steinbeck connection. That and the additional ties between Americana and my own developing musical tastes made it a shoe in.

Within a few months I also owned a copy of "Live in New York City." And within another year I pretty much owned his entire catalogue.

He remains one of the best song writers of the past fifty years, and proves it album after album. When his latest single was relased, Radio Nowhere, I was stunned that a man approaching retirement age could rock that hard.

Last week - a week ago tonight, in fact. I recieved a phone call from my friend Mark asking if I was a fan. I told him that I was and he asked me to come use his extra concert ticket. It didn't take any real provocation.

The concert was spectacular. He opened with my favourite song, 'Atlantic City', moved on to the hard rocking 'Radio Nowhere' and just kept on killing. During those first few songs I thought to myself that Bruce was looking his age, but 3 hours later he was looking a lot closer to the 35 years old he was back when he recorded the 'obscure outtake from Born in the USA', that they played for allegedly the first time ever live.
The raw energy of his performance was inspiring - and is legendary. On top of that, the nine members of the E-Street band make up a wicked group of musiciians who have been playing together for around 40 years... is it any wonder that they can turn a relatively sedate gospel-blues number like Reason to Believe into something that had more in common with heavy metal, with The Boss literally screaming through his harmonica (which was sonically awe inspiring, and something he apparently started doing after the best clip I could find of the song in concert).

I have only ever been to one other concert where there was such an air of mutual belonging. As Mark said, this show 'wasn't a concert so much as a revival.' The house was packed with true believers, and any doubt as to why they felt that way would have been put to rest long before the crowd leapt (and admittedly in come cases creaked) to it's feet for the opening chords of 'Born to Run'.

A week later I still have "The River" pleasantly coursing it's sad path through through my skull. It was amazing.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Defending the Music XX: How Long to Sing Their Song..?

I've been putting this off.

I was waiting for something specific to happen. Something relating to the band I'm dealing with in this post, but then the night it was supposed to happen (night before last) it was totally upstaged by something relating to the artist I've been saving for last! So I figure that it's shit or get off the pot time for both artists...

First up - U2.

Yeah, they are almost too easy a choice. But I do get to genuinely make the claim that I was a fan before they became huge.

I recall sitting on my friend Scott's bed when he snuck into his sister's room to borrow a record (you know records - those big black CDs with two sides) and put it on the stereo... the first U2 song I ever heard was Sunday Bloody Sunday. That strident riff permanently seared upon my ears.
I remained aware of U2 over the next year or two, even though I didn't really emotionally tie myself to them until the night of my senior prom.
I was a big fan of The Cult. Electric was released the same week as The Joshua Tree. I bought them both. For the next two weeks I listened to Electric non-stop and never cracked the U2 album. I don't recall what it was that finally inspired me to listen to it, but that evening as I was getting ready I pulled out the cassette and put it my bedroom deck. Before Bono's vocals on Where the Streets Have No Name cut in, I had sunk into my bed, rapt. I quit getting ready and simply listened to the entire first side. It was a life changing moment. As I drove out of the driveway (late) to pick up Shannon, my girlfriend, With or Without You came on the radio. It played again that night at the dance. There's no doubt that a moment in time can profoundly tie the music you hear to it and make it special, and perhaps that happened that night to some degree, but that first listen was so profound - the rest was just gravy. To this day, The Joshua Tree is my number one desert island disc. It is music as vast as the space between here and their Dublin home.

Six months later I was at BC Place with 50000 other true believers watching the best concert I have ever seen. The less than three days before had been the Enniskillen Bombing. If you've seen Rattle and Hum, the footage of Sunday Bloody Sunday was filmed the night of the bombing. They were still four extremely angry Irishmen the night I saw them. I'm betting that at that point in their career they had played few concerts that were more intense. It was awe inspiring.

Now, over twenty years later, they have managed to remain relevant. Not to say that they haven't had worrisome low-points (Pop, I'm looking at you.) but even those have grown on me, and they also allowed the band to rise again.

Never satisfied to rest upon their laurels they've constantly tweaked and updated their sound and techniques, and as amazing as anything else they are still the same four guys that started the band together in 1976. Their ability to put new songs into heavy rotation after being indoctrinated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (something a band isn't even eligible for until they've been recording for twenty five years) makes the claims of a certain other self-proclaimed "Greatest Band on Earth" laughable. Here is their R&RHoF induction - it's wicked, and The Boss does a better job of canonizing them than I can. Trying, would just be embarrasing, I'll let him do my work for me: Part 1, Part 2, Bono's Acceptance, Adam's Acceptance, Vertigo & Larry's Acceptance, Edge's Acceptance & Still Haven't Found....

Indeed, with the way music has fractured (not a bad thing), U2 may well be the last band to ever unequivocably be the best. No doubt they always will be my best.

They are so huge, that there is a separate line item in the Irish revenue service's budget just for taxes collected from U2.

I could go on ad nauseum itemizing their achievements, but this is not intended to be a history. Leave that to Behind the Music, so let's skip to the recent past and glance a little ways back and project a bit forward.

A month or so ago I saw their new concert movie - U23D. It was amazing. This was the material 3D was made for. Sonically it is spectacular. These guys still put on an amazing concert. Additionally, the director of the film knew enough to put hte 3D camera in places where we'd get to see things which we normally don't. Seeing the crowd amorphously jump up and down in time ot the music from just about their heads was very cool in 3D - which really played up the speed of sound, as the crowd didn't actually jump as one, but in visible ripples towards the back of the stadium. But the most amazing technical sight was a lens flare in 3D. We do not naturally see lens flare with the naked eye, so we don't typically get to experience it with our binocular vision. All we ever see is the flattened version on a normal movie screen... but not this time. 3D lens flare is one of the first sights in the film. It's mind blowing. And it sets the stage for what follows.

U23D should do for Love and Peace or Else, what Live Aid did for Bad - make the song a career-classic.

A new album is on the way. It's been a while since they've fallen flat on their faces, so I'm prepared for that. But I have little doubt that like Pop and Rattle and (Ho) Hum before it, even if it is a disappointment, there will be diamonds in the ashes, even if it takes some digging to find them

It's been nearly 21 years since I first started considering the message, and I keep finding new depths to it. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For is a manifesto to celebrate. U2, despite their outrageous success, continue to appreciate the journey and may they never content themselves with a destination. I aim to live my life the same way.