Yep. It’s that time of year.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to listen to some good tunes. I already watched part of The Last Waltz on TV this morning. Now it’s time for a little bit of the ‘Mats. It’s a jaunty tune with melancholy lyrics, something Paul Westerberg and the boys specialized in. I’ve been given flowers and cards, with a side of drama (not my story so I ain’t telling). Mom just went out somewhere “looking for something.” I have no idea what that means. She already paid for a Disneyland annual pass for me, so I think that takes care of birthday presents for the next couple of years. And there’s still the promise of a nice meal at Hof’s Hut waiting for me (I’m in their birthday club, so I get a freebie during my birthday month).
I like birthdays. I admit the number of birthdays I’ve had is starting to become a little daunting, but having that number increase is better than the alternative. And really, things are good right now. I suppose that means I should start looking around for shoes dropping from high places, but I think I’ll just try to roll with it for once.
So Happy Birthday to me. Today I’m gonna do my best to be zen and not listen to the little voices in my head. There’s time enough for that tomorrow.
Some weeks ago, I went and saw Richard Thompson at my local indie record store, Fingerprints, and the highlight of the all-too-brief show was his cover of this Britney Spears hit.
Thompson originally recorded this song for his 1000 Years of Popular Music, where he examined a bunch of songs that were the tops of the pops in their day. Thompson proves that his talent is wide-ranging and prodigious by making what is an atrocity Britney Spears’ hands (or at least in the hands of her production team at the time) a truly entertaining tune.
Have I mentioned that I really dig Richard Thompson? I might be just a wee bit biased.
But actually, he does demonstrate that this overproduced, pretentious piece of fluff is actually a fairly well-written and structurally sound pop tune. The sight of cute little Brit in her red catsuit is there to distract us from the fact that her vocals are autotuned to the point of nonexistence and the music seems to be all played by computer. The fact that there seems to be almost zero human input into the making of this song is disturbing, but we shouldn’t blame the song itself. To be fair, it’s not a great pop song; it’s average at best. But to see what appears to be a perfectly serviceable if rather sexist song turned into what amounts to a pre-programmed tune on an 80s-era Casio keyboard is kind of sad. (It is a pretty sexist song: She basically admits that she’s nothing but a nasty whore, and he really should’ve known better.)
This kind of pop music continues to be produced with ever-greater frequency. Solution? Just send everything to Richard Thompson to cover. He’ll reveal at least the competence of the songs, if not their true greatness.
I need to start this with the statement that I do not believe anyone younger than I am should be dead. I do not say this to deny the reality that every single day, a multitude of people who have spent less time on this planet than I have–many of them considerably less–die. Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of the Cranberries, was just 46 when she left this plane on January 15th; I’ll be 49 this coming Saturday. My belief that people younger than me should not be dead is rooted not only in my own fears about mortality, but also my general belief in fairness. And it is simply not fair that people die young.
Once again, my desire for fairness is not rooted in some sort of denial about the reality of the world. There is no philosophy or religion that guarantees fairness in the universe; if there were, I would’ve signed up for it by now. But the arbitrariness of it all makes me feel, well, kind of helpless. Sure, O’Riordan had some health challenges in the last few years, but she was doing okay at the moment and her death was a shock. It must always be a shock to find a seemingly vital and happy person dead on the floor of their hotel bathroom. Add to this the news that Tom Petty’s death was due to an accidental Fentanyl overdose and a young person’s death in the family of someone I know. (My mom has Fentanyl patches for pain relief; obviously I’ll be monitoring her use of them very carefully from now on.) It’s just kind of disheartening.
Which makes the Cranberries’ “Zombie” the perfect song for this mini-memorial. It’s a great tune, but it also expresses the shadows that violence and anger and death cast over everyone in their orbits. It’s about The Troubles in Ireland, about the way politics and religion can be twisted into oppression, about the way we all turn anger into prejudice and prejudice into violence. It’s about how those with power use that power against everyone without it, everyone who is different in some way that they don’t like. In terms of the current presidential administration, it’s a nice little reminder. In terms of a history lesson, it’s a little vague but can be used as a starting off point. In terms of music and mood, it is a black hole. It sucks all the light and the hope out of the room. It is not a denial of reality but an acceptance of it. Sometimes, you just have to sit with the grief and anger, let it flow over you and simply feel it.
Then you get up and get on with life. No, it is not fair and people will always leave this plane too soon. But flowers will still bloom and there will still be joy. You just learn to carry them with you.