Friday, December 31, 2010

Favorite songs not on a top 10 album of 2010

I enjoyed too much music this year to limit myself to a top 10 albums list! So here are some songs that made my year better but would be left unacknowledged in the top 10 albums format because the album they appeared on will not make my list. The song titles will have links for your (and my!) listening pleasure. Let us not grow weary of discussing/hearing/dissecting music!

Sufjan Stevens – “All Delighted People

Of the three epic, 10-minute plus tracks that Suffy put out this year, only one truly affected me. “Djohariah” loses itself in cronky soloing for several minutes, and “Impossible Soul” loses my interest at the first instant the autotune creeps in. This one, though, Sufjan got right, and wonderfully so. From the chorus of ladies behind him, to the fitting tribute to and/or repurposing of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence,” to the variety of melodies that find their way out of the progressions, it is marvelous and thrilling for all 11+ minutes.

Women – “Eyesore

On the strength of several tracks this album was close to making the top ten, so there is much more here than one song. “Eyesore” is a monstrously disjointed jangle, snaking through sections that seem melodically unconnected, which stand in for verses that eventually give way to the rockin' finale its been stowing away all along. The dissonance and atonality in some of the album’s tracks is close to intolerable – if not at least confusing – but when they put their minds to it, Women are capable of utilizing these more distancing elements to enhance, stimulate and draw nearer. This is apparent on the album’s closer, “Eyesore,” the most affecting song on their album Public Strain, and my favorite album closer of the year. I can't get enough.

More to come!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On clothing

Colossians 3:12 ...Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

It occurred to me this evening that clothing may be an under-examined aspect of a.) the human experience, and b.) the bible. Mostly the latter has interested me. So I thought about it:

Adam and Eve, if we are to take the book's word for it, fashioned clothing in a last-ditch attempt to hide the shame of the reality that they were human. The first humans, in the very moment they became human, found their most pressing need to be that of clothing - of a covering for what should not be exposed. Was it not also a shield between their real selves and the world that they now understood? Was it not a shelter from all that wounds and, therefore, did they not ultimately see themselves as the first wounded ones?

I have selected a verse above that also encourages clothing, but this kind is more ethereal. If this is the "clothing" we are encouraged to stretch over our heads and tuck in around our waists, what of the clothing that we shed? Earlier we are urged to shed "all such things as these: anger, rage malice, slander and filthy language..." We clothe ourselves also in these things, I wager, because in our minds they do quite a bit better at protecting us than mercy or humility ever could. I shield myself from others with pride; I am ruthless and grace-less because these qualities shield me from my shame, from nakedness. They keep me from seeing the mirror; they keep others from seeing inside me.

What if we put on these new clothes, then? How can I be shielded by gentleness, kindness, compassion? Are these not attitudes that make one vulnerable, more accessible instead of defensible? Which is the natural clothing?

We clothe ourselves, if it is up to us, with that which will shelter, protect and cover. Following the line of Adam and Eve, who taught us well, we cower behind malice, blind hatred and cynicism. Shame cowers there, too, and it is not exposed for its cowering. Our shame, which is that we are failures, that we are those lost flounderers who lay at the mercy of the world, is too much to bear exposure. We brace ourselves against that harshness with our own version of it, but inside are we not still beating hearts and wide, blinking eyes before it all?

Putting on new clothes, then, seems a kind of re-veiling of that vulnerability in such a way that it exposes us to all. And yet, in the end, all are also exposed by it. All who will receive that compassion, mercy, and kindness must too perceive their own selves as they are.

New clothes, transparent clothes, and now, finally, we have become who we were all along.

Monday, May 24, 2010

My LOST Finale reaction/analysis

There are few experiences that can draw out that classic "life flashing before one's eyes" kind of sensation. I think those are some of the more telling and extraordinary moments of life because they lend a perspective to our daily monotony that we otherwise fail to see. When Michel de Certeau speaks of being lifted to the summit of the now nonexistent World Trade Center, he senses that he is transformed from pedestrian into deity. He says,

One's body is no longer clasped by the streets that turn and return it according to an anonymous law; nor is it possessed, whether as player or played, by the rumble of so many differences and by the nervousness of New York traffic. When one goes up there, he leaves behind the mass that carries off and mixes up in itself any identity of authors or spectators. An Icarus flying above these waters, he can ignore the devices of Daedalus in mobile and endless labyrinths far below. His elevation transfigures him into a voyeur. It puts him at a distance. It transforms the bewitching world by which one was "possessed" into a text that lies before one's eyes. It allows one to read it, to be a solar Eye, looking down like a god.

The perspective that De Certeau experiences up on high affords him the capacity to disconnect, to survey the vast, unconscious mass of urbanity that spreads out before him. It is from this perspective that I found myself seeing my life's course after having just watched the series finale of LOST.

[minor spoilers ahead]

Leading up to the final episode, I had, as many of my fellow LOST-watchers did, a checklist of the points that needed to be cleared up - the mysteries or questions left unresolved. Gladly, however, my cynicism and/or critical appraisal of the show (they are indistinguishable at this point) was overcome by the true fabric of the show: its characters. Some mysteries were left unsolved, like why Widmore want The Island so badly, why Desmond's resistance to electromagnetism actually mattered, why the characters were able to see through their time/space into The Island's, etc. Throughout the finale, I found myself fully be-goosebumped and sweating, but it wasn't because of the mysteries that they were finally revealing: it was any number of characters being unveiled to each other -- Sawyer and Juliet find each other, Hurley finds that he matters as much as anyone else, John Locke and Jack Shephard flip through their past like a picture book that recalls their ideological irreconcilability as they sat in the hospital post-op.

The characters gained a perspective not unlike the one that De Certeau describes from on high: they saw back through their past and felt all of its latent significance wash over into their current lives. I felt drawn into that kind of washing-over, as I, too, have seen 5 years of my own life pass watching this show (I watched the first season on DVDs). People have come and gone from my life since then. I have let new people into my life just as much as I have, unfortunately, lost others that were once friends or loves to the past. For only about the last hour of the finale and in the brief time since then, I sat on high with De Certeau and surveyed my life's last 5 years, its changing elevation, its ebbs and flows, the doors that have opened and closed again, and the allegros and largos of the past that has made the present what it is. I recalled memories long since forgotten that flashed back into consciousness. I felt like, for the first time in a long while, I could see the broad scope of my life in all of its shifting colors - with both the past and future in frame. As De Certeau puts it, "Perspective vision and prospective vision constitute the twofold projection of an opaque past and an uncertain future onto a surface that can be dealt with."

These two realities exist in LOST too: the previous episodes are the opaque past from which many tried to project an uncertain future of answers and solved riddles. This duality often drove the plot of LOST and the desire to understand its mysteries. Would the questions be answered later? Would earlier mysteries find their appropriate reflection in the answers of later episodes? What I concluded as I watched the last chapter unfold in what some will doubtlessly call (and not for unfounded reasons) an unsatisfactory ending is that the characters were the ones that ultimately needed reconciliation - not the mysteries. Hurley needed to fulfill a purpose precisely so that his life could feel purposeful. Benjamin Linus needed to find forgiveness for his conscience's sake, but also for our sake - so we would know how to see him in light of all he'd done. John Locke and Jack Shephard needed to hug - with all their past quarrels in perspective. Tears needed to be shed between separated loves Charlie and Claire, Hurley and Libby, Sawyer and Juliet, Jack and Kate, because these were the driving forces of the show's drama. Science fiction would be dry without such human elements as love, hate, envy, acceptance and loss. Star Wars was driven by Luke's relationship to his father, Han and Leia, and the forces of love/hate as much as any creative idea about Death Stars or space battles. And so with LOST, the characters' relationships were given the final word, because the peace they found with each other and with their experiences was the most important question that had been left unanswered.

For what it's worth, that character reconciliation is what finally fulfilled my enjoyment of the show. It allowed me to put to rest my expectation of explanation. It left me looking back into my own life for the need of reconciliation that may one day find its way to me. It helped me look down from on high and see my life for the "fathomless mystery that it is" - as Frederick Buechner as put it. I don't want all of life's questions answered either, because, really, who has the time to sort it out? What I do want is reconciliation and peace with others, and a point from which to view my life in all of its colorfulness. If that's what I can gain, the mysteries can continue to rest in peace for all I care. At the end of the day, the most important artistic creations, to me, are the ones that turn my eyes inward and let me look at myself anew. LOST has been a marvelous work of art to me in that sense.