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 David Herrle reviews Dina D'Alessandro's Is It Safe? music CD

 

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Review: Dina D'Alessandro and Is This Safe?

 

Proof of my observation that pretty women can accomplish worthy art and self-respect without necessarily surrendering physical femininity (culturally normative or whatever) and/or sincere confession and expression about romantic situations (from chivalry to second-guessing to heartbreak) can be found in Dina D'Alessandro's work.  Just as The Ocean Blue and The Cure weren't afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves and indulge in "wimpy," "sappy" matters, Dina unapologetically writes what she writes and sings what she sings - and no political agenda or manipulative persona burdens her art.

 

Sure, she's quite beautiful (a much better-looking cross between Elizabeth Shue, Travel Channel's pixie-like Samantha Brown, and a slight Grace Kelly), but - as most folks know (including men, ladies) - looks only go so far.  Hugh Grant may have been utter slime and deserves full blame for cheating on Elizabeth Hurley with skanky Divine Brown, but the lesson learned is that even someone as gorgeous as Hurley can't guarantee substantive interest or loyalty.  Rita Hayworth said that men thought they'd go to bed with the Love Goddess (as she was dubbed in her day) and wake up with just her.  Beauty alone is not magic.  Dina D'Alessandro delights the ear with a lovely voice and worthy guitar, snubbing both the anti-beauty snakes and the true sexists who doubt or deny that a female can deliver quality work, especially in the music field.  In a college-crowd Texas bar a guy said to her, "You're the singer and the guitar player?  And you're a girl?  Well hell, I gotta see this!"  (Granted, this goof must live his life in a coffin in a bubble in an Samadhi sensory deprivation tank in a solitary confinement cell in Area 51, but this goes to show what women still face in many professional areas.)

 

How does the Dina D'Allesandro band sound, oh David Herrle, you ask?  Similarity is in the ear of the beholder, but if I must identify slight and major comparisons I'll describe them so: some Sixpence None The Richer, The Cranberries, Dido, The Ocean Blue, Sunny Day Real Estate, The Smithereens, Republica's lighter sound, Seal, 10,000 Maniacs, Lisa Loeb's better stuff, and The Sundays.  Dina attributes much influence to Catherine Wheel (creators of one of my favorite songs, "Crank"), but I don't detect much Wheel.  Perhaps their significance is more emotional than soundwise.  Dina's voice is superior to Dido's, Republica's Saffron, Loeb's, and Natalie Merchant's, to name a few.  (The way she sings the word "energy" in "I Thought I'd Be There" just inexplicably nails me every time!)  Her harmony is so lovely, it almost hurts (particularly in the chorus of "Masquerade," Is It Safe's opening track).  And she has a penchant for incorporating wonderful vocal rounds.

 

Those seeking spite and spit should take a left turn to Hole-ville.  Though Dina doesn't hesitate to share anxiety and regret, her songs never degenerate into F-it-all seizures or revelry in foolishness.  In my favorite song on Is It Safe, "Down Again," she vows to oppose and learn from folly:

 

Bury the fool inside my head for good

I've been down this road a million times, I won't go down again...

 

Imagine in this day and age: burying the inner fool rather than parading it through the streets as a hero!  "Down Again" is about suffering the consequences of deceit that she's been warned about but had to experience for herself.  This observation reminds me of lines from The Sundays' "Goodbye": "Oh, they said you get what you deserve and all they said was true."

 

Adam White of the University of Calgary's Gauntlet claimed in a cursory 2005 review that Is It Safe failed "to recapture the pent-up girl rage Alanis Morissette tapped into with Jagged Little Pill."  Huh?  I find no rage in Dina's lyrics - and if the reviewer had been more careful he would have known that there is little rage on Morissette's breakthrough album besides her non-definitive "You Oughta Know." White also makes the indictment that "the lyrics are purely pop."  AND?  If there's one thing missing from Safe, it's pretense.  Her lyrics aren't especially witty or analytical; they come closer to The Smithereens or Down By Law than to Pink Floyd or The Who.  I may prefer quirkier, off-the-beaten path lyrics, but I understand and appreciate what Dina is sharing here: familiar sentiments that most folks can relate to.  It's like...like...being down in the dumps a half hour before last call at some club your pals dragged you to and meeting another brooding wallflower who says, "Don't feel so bad.  I feel the same way, so you're really not alone."  Dina focuses on common internality rather than politics because she wants listeners to "feel like they are having a conversation with a person who empathizes with them, not someone who is confronting them or making them feel like they don't belong."

 

When I go through one of my Rush binges, I sometimes wish they'd just belt out a love ballad instead of polemics or another Neil Peart epiphany.  This is similar to appreciating Primus' amazing instrumentation but thirsting for some more serious lyrics and vocalization.  Even XTC, who were constant preachers of their worldview, allowed themselves to get sappy once in a while.  This is because we are not merely political animals any more than we are merely economic animals.  Vast matters are less fathomable than a heart-by-heart scale.  So "selfish" inwardness is needed for small-scale outwardness and fellowship to succeed at all.  This inwardness involves all the typical love ups and downs the poets can't shut up about.  And it strikes closer to the core of the human condition: the desire and need for love (which goes hand-in-hand with worth).  Jim Morrison pleaded for it, so did Shirley Manson.  Dina believes that evil could be reduced "if everyone felt loved and cared for."  That belief is not as naive as the average modern person might think.  

 

As much as I love most of Jello Biafra's musical and speech work, I must disagree with his bashing of love rock in "Buy My Snake Oil":

 

O woho poor pitiful me
Born white in the world's richest country
I can't have my way, life is so depressing
Nothing's as important as me and my girl 

 

Sorry, Jello.  Love doesn't necessarily improve with economic or racial status.  And, yes, sometimes nothing is "as important as me and my girl."  That's the point of romance: It doesn't give a flying fig about mass movements or programs or futile struggles to establish lasting happiness (whatever that is) on the planet.  (Watch Doctor Zhivago.  He was a cheating creep, but...well, watch it.)

 

Mind you, because of socialization - from the most primitive tribe to the filthy rich environmental policy executives - humans are political and philosophical to different degrees.  There's a time and place for everything, as the vulgar say.  So I admit that I'm curious how a non-relationship/love song by Dina might turn out.  The music can handle any topic she chooses.  I can picture a beautiful Dina song sounding lovey-dovey but actually being about...who knows...saving veal or bashing the IRS.  This transition is not a must for Dina, however.  Some folks seem fit for their chosen trademark.

 

Regardless of topic, maybe we can't help but express and absorb loveliness through music. When I listened to Dina's latest song, "Astronaut" (available for sneak preview at her MySpace site), I wrote: Listened to "Astronaut" a few times this morning.  It takes a special sound and spirit in music to enthrall me: A-Ha's "Take On Me,"  Tom Wait's "Grapefruit Moon," Billy Bragg's "Tank Park Salute," and Ramones' "Something To Believe In" and "Howling At the Moon" for example.  "Astronaut" is added to the esteemed list.  The good chill, the wink of God through voice and instruments.

 

Like some of the previous positive female artist examples, Dina doesn't write off relationships or resort to radical alterations.  Her songs tend to be confessional: thinking aloud in real-time rather than declaring a lifelong resentment.  She admits retreat, attempted denial, and avoidance of pain.  The very admission, though, is facing, is therapy.  Her denial attempts don't blind her to problems: "I make believe it's all okay, but it's not okay."

 

In the opening track, "Masquerade" (which runs a bit long), we aren't hearing anything new in regard to feeling insane and anxious about reality: "...I've got work and bills to pay...I'll deal with it another day."  We've all done that.  Avoidance is repeated in "Dream the Day Away": "I don't want to leave the safety of my fantasies."  The worth lies in the whole product.  Often art is not about the rarity or uniqueness of a subject but how it's presented.  How many nudes or mythical/religious iconography have painters done over the centuries?  Toss a stone and you might hit a Venus rendition.  Dina's ensemble of music and voice is the dealmaker, guaranteeing success in future albums.  "It's...about mood and how you touch [listeners and fans] emotionally," she says.

 

Dina seems obsessed with temporality and disloyalty.  This breeds continuous caution, sentences her lyrics to private reiteration.  Listening to her unpretentious words, I can't imagine them being verbalized to anyone but herself - certainly not with the implied Significant Other.  We are "overhearing" them, and her lovely voice makes the confessions quite dramatic: like speeches in empty rooms, sobs into a pillow, letters never written, messages in bottles that never leave shore.

 

From "I Thought I'd Be There":

 

Through all your troubles and all your pain,

through all the energy spent in vain,

through all the weekends and holidays,

through all the memories I thought we'd make

down through the years...

 

These songs are declarations that seem to be unintended for actual discussion.  (The Smiths and solo Morrissey seem this way.)  Some are pep talks for the self and some are resignation to eventual failure.

 

You said that you're so happy this way,

well, I'll just wait and see

And I wonder how I'll feel on the day

that you'll get tired of me...

 

The private doubt motif was established on Dina's debut album, Sweetness and Decency.  In "Disappear," a song featured on the TV show "Scrubs" and prime material for a charts-busting single if given the chance, she hopes against romantic abandonment while also perceiving another woman's involvement in an undeclared love triangle:

 

...I pray that you won't be another man

that takes my hand and leads me on

and disappears, disappears.

 

...and desire's high in your mind, disturbing me,

And the envy shines in her eyes, disgusting me.

 

I don't think the woman in these songs would ever directly confront the man or the other woman in the situation -- not from cowardice, but from habitual internalization, a voyeuristic observation even of herself.  

 

For all of the introverted thoughts, however, the music and vocals are extroverted.  The shy and introspective woman asserts herself best through sound more than language.  Peter Birkner's and Edward Shemansky's drums dare to be variable; Daniel Todd Ramsey's bass stands out instead of going along for the ride (ala Mike Anthony from Van Halen).  Dina's guitar is intense, alternating between aggression and sweetness.  The band isn't afraid to include instrumental elaboration between familiar verse/chorus alternations.  Dina's building guitar solo in "Down Again" (making the solo in "Masquerade" second-best on the album)  reminds me of the Edge's repetitive jams from the early Boy and October days of U2.  And the charged music behind "Hard To Believe" rocks.

 

I believe I've detected two instances of homage to The Ocean Blue, one of Dina's stated influences.  The syncopated guitar/drum pattern for the verses in "Dream the Day Away" seems like a nod to The Ocean Blue's "Marigold" on their Cerulean album.  And the main acoustic guitar riff in a brief instrumental called "Interlude" smacks of the introduction to Cerulean's "I've Sung One Too Many Songs For A Crowd That Didn't Want To Hear."  ("Interlude," by the way, features wordless, climbing Dina vocals and is much too short.  I want more.)  This derivation isn't copying, mind you.  I doubt many folks would notice (since my superior recognition skills are not common).  If the riffs are deliberate, they're respectful, and if they're subconscious, they're minor.

 

It's brave for a female singer to dwell on familiar romantic relationship matters these days, especially to gush or admit the need for exclusive companionship.  This honesty, as I've said before, is often discouraged and undermined these days.  Consequently, one can feel old before their time in a mad world.  Dina says: "Nobody likes to think that they are wasting their lives, but in this day and age people don't always have the luxury to worry about that.  They just do the best they can to stay alive, and hopefully find meaning along the way."

 

Dina seems to catch herself feeling illusory age, and she admits the fact that she really hasn't had too much experience.  The simple desire for sharing love is really her problem, not some quantitative, existential conflict.  Such simple desires are ultimately monumental, however.  We feel that we need creative love.  Why else do so many songs and personal declarations of affection involve the words "all I need?"

 

From "Wait For Me":

 

I'm feeling way too old again,

I haven't lived that long,

And all I need is here with me

 

Knowing that Dina originated from what she calls "complacent" Tucson, Arizona and traveled to England to taste more of the surrounding world, I paid special attention to the song "Silly Girl."  This is not only a coming-of-age song, it's also a rather interesting conflict between two simultaneously helpful and harmful forces.  It's good to eventually leave youth's na´ve shelter and learn mature reality -- but might complete abandonment be bad?  Destroy a shelter in a hostile environment, and chances of death are greater.  Dina repeats "silly girl, I don't know what you're talking about" throughout the song, which led me to wonder if the lyrics were mixed dialogue between the former (silly) girl and the worldly woman.  

 

Another line served as a clue to this interpretation: "I hear your voice in my brain, so condescending."  Is this the grown woman resenting the judgment of the pure girl -- or is it the silly girl complaining about being mocked by the grown woman whose experience and hard lessons make her condescending to the simpler self?  So it's the jaded adult who, perhaps in defensive denial, insists, "silly girl, I don't know what you're talking about."  Either she doesn't remember or she wants to bury the lost (Quixotic) innocence that just might be needed to survive the cruel world.

 

The woman in "Everybody Loves You" shows that she's wise to the game, aware of illusions.  She knows the temptation to buy into the illusion game is great.  Though the song can be taken as a woman's inner debunking of a handsome but deceitful man, it can also illustrate the battle against illusory purposelessness, strict materialism's powerful and often convincing argument for the closed machine, the ultimate non-communication between humans that many "angst"-ridden folks are buying.  (Bold emphasis added.)

 

Could it be that I'm too sensitive?

Could it be that I'm unfair?

Could it be that you're just a normal guy with a roaming eye?

Could it be that I shouldn't care?

 

That everybody loves you

'Cuz you're a charming guy

And nobody but me sees

The devil in your eyes

 

And everybody says

They know you.

But only I can see

 

Right through you.

 

Could it be that I'm too critical?

Should I act like I'm na´ve?

Could it be that when you manipulate in your selfish way,

Should I act like I can't see?

 

But nobody believes me

I'm out here on my own

But someday they'll remember

I tried to tell them so

Oh, but they don't wanna know.

 

No, you're not foolin' me.

No, you're not foolin' me.

No, you're not foolin' me at all.

 

Should she just not care?  After all, that's the hip thing to do.  Should she act as if she can't see?  Or should she share the truth beyond the fašade that she can right through -- even though "they don't wanna know?"

 

From the vibe I get from her physical presentation and her lyrics and correspondence, I can tell that Dina is brimming with love and the creative urge instead of sinking into modernity's mud.  What a rare flower.  She's not resorting to the flesh sale that sold starlets like Britney and Aguilera or taking the wide and easy road to irresponsibility and despair.  And her successful sound is evident in the fact that I caught myself singing "bury the fool inside my head..." under my breath on the way to work today!

 

Is it safe?  No, not all the time, especially with that annoying free will thing that we can't seem to shake for very long.  The woman in Dina's songs knows it's not safe, but she knows it can be lovely -- if not just for her beautiful voice singing against the pressing silence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Context: Saps, Psalms, Sick Rock, Looks, and Chicks

 

Spin the pop-rock roulette wheel these days and chances are it'll stop on stylishly unwashed, Cobain-stained 1990s leftovers, rich-as-hell anger pods who rant socialism but were part of the Napster witch hunt, Bono as world savior, dime-a-dozen Goo Goo Dolls clones, and post-post-post-punk "pop-punkers" who mistake juvenile political cliches for important protest music.  Among many female-led bands, the deliberately monotonous voice or the annoying yodel persists.  The MTV-crowned "divas" are busy shakin' their "junk" for gangsta gold fetishists; Madonna is dealing with age-centric, forgetful masses and contemplating the Ten Sefirot; the Aguilera/Spears wars have died down for now.  And Justin Timberlake - where has she been?

 

Many folks will defend the past decade as far better than the cheesy, bubblegum of the 1980s.  But they overlook the worthy work of many musical artists underneath the bubblegum: Rush, U2, The Police, 10,000 Maniacs, Talking Heads, XTC, The Smiths, Sonic Youth, The Cure, Tears For Fears, Minutemen, (matured) Ramones, Pixies, R.E.M., All, Big Drill Car, King's X, etc.  Despite expressed fears, restlessness, and some steam-blowing, these bands still dealt with reasonable commentary, cerebral convictions, ideas: from spiritual redemption to social/political satire.  Rebellious to mainstream notions, yes, but they maintained mental order and didn't revel in negation.  Many of these bands' songs were quite moral -- though I find some in error - but imbued with righteous indignation and philosophy at least.  While the Sex Pistols and Black Flag threw tantrums, The Clash, Ramones, and Buzzcocks showed intelligent cohesion.  Black Flag seemed to stutter their way toward an ethos, but their "I've got no values" and "I'm out of this world" nihilism were too frequent for my approval.  Misfits put out some amazing music.  Too bad they wasted it on a dark, loveless genre.

 

KISS set the stage for the rise of heavy metal and thrash rock in the 1980s that raised some eyebrows.  Look past drag bands like Motley Crue and W.A.S.P, though.  By Master of Puppets the majority of Metallica's lyrics were quite thought-provoking and groping for some ethical stability.  Compare their output to creeps like Rob Zombie (who makes Ozzy seem like Bob Ross).  Sure, Van Halen reigned as ultra-macho, cat-calling showoffs, but their trademark love ballads balanced their testosterone frenzies.  "Little Guitars" is still one of the most touching songs ever.

 

The 1980s was a sappy, John Hughes/plumage flaunting/heart-on-sleeve/"I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight"/"Hungry Eyes"/too-much tacky sax in songs/chivalric decade that can be emotionally summed up by Cameron Crowe's Say Anything.  The pop culture was generally soft-hearted despite the overblown "Greed is good" indictment.  Folks were generally class conscious indeed.  Coming To America, Trading Places, Pretty Woman, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Dirty Dancing are just a few class-centric films.  The main staple in young adult films and shows was the question of peers' class.  Protags usually had to figure out if rich folks were all cruel snobs or not.  Sometimes they learned that this was false (as in Pretty In Pink) and that there were prejudiced poor or middle classers.  1980s romantic dramedy culminated in Ben Stiller's lovely Reality Bites in 1994 and Frank Coraci's 80s homage film, The Wedding Singer, in 1998.  Aspirations for salvation and good endings were geo-politically symbolized by the climactic razing of the Berlin Wall. 

 

In the 1990s, undisciplined pessimism and hip (misunderstood) "angst" set in, minced by hedonist binges.  The ultra-marketed revamping of Woodstock in 1994 allowed spoiled youths to luxuriate and slam dance in mud mixed with portable toilet overflow and the country was stained with the sensualist, flim-flamery of low-brow President Clinton.  The 1980s' hyper-hetero dance between the genders gave in to the simplified cold war between the sexes.  While women were bashing men as swine, they failed to notice that most of the "boy bands" and male rockers were groaning about heartbreak and pleading for trustworthy, loving women to be loyal to.


Spiteful women like Courtney Love and Garbage's Shirley Manson expressed the "F-it-all," "we-can-be-raunchy-too" tantrums of the Sluts R Us crowd.  The Bangles, Cindy Lauper, and the Go-Gos might as well have been Debbie Gibson or Tiffany by this period of self hatred and recycled disillusionment.  These new whippersnappers were dubbed Generation Y (following Generation X).  Gen Y's youths' metaphysical question wasn't "WHY" but "WHY CARE."  Kurt Cobain's suicide didn't surprise me.  It was a fitting conclusion for his metaphysical living death that showed so well in his lifestyle and lyrics: "Death/Is what I am."  He practiced and achieved what he preached.  "Counter culture" mistook anti-philosophy for refuge and action - as it did in the 1960s and continues to do today (though anti-philosophy is almost mainstream now).

 

All was not Kafkaesque and self-destructive.  Not everyone wanted to grow up to be Sylvia Plath.  There were bands like INXS that still believed in romance.  Buffalo Tom rocked.  Bob Mould's Sugar kept heterosexual conflict and courting cool with intensity left over from Husker-Du and the pop-punk foundations laid by Descendents, All, etc.  (Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy bravely portrayed a fad lesbian falling for a sap-dripping male, showing that sexual prejudice exists in both straight and gay circles.)  King's X continued their Christian-undertoned work, Belly (headed by former Throwing Muses member Tanya Donelly) usually left me cold with their goofy lyrics.  I can't recall one warm love song by them.  Other Keatsian male bands surfaced or continued from the previous decade: Catherine Wheel, The Ocean Blue,  The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Morrissey, and INXS.  Swervedriver did some excellent work.  Pearl Jam produced some astute and stunning work (especially Ten) despite their puzzling appeal to mutton-headed frat boys.  Green Day made their mark with the impressive Dookie album (though they've since become American Idiots in my book).  Bubblegum continued too.  Bubblegum always continues.  Bubblegum will outlast the cockroaches.  The 15-minute famous Spice Girls blasphemed bitter "feminism" by being cute; and Hanson, the Backstreet Boys, and NSYNC were...well...  

 

Thoughtful, poetic, feminine female bands made names in the 1990s too: The Cranberries, Sarah McLachlin, Lisa Loeb, Mazzy Star, The Sundays, Bjork.  Hell, I'll give Sheryl Crow a nod.  Kate Bush released a few albums and compilations.  She had been belting out quality albums since the late 1970s: unashamed to sing of love and worry for men ("The Man With the Child in His Eyes," "Between A Man and A Woman," "You're The One").  I know a lot of folks dig Tori Amos - and I appreciate her reinvention and musical prowess, but her music often strikes me as belonging in a Halloween 10 soundtrack.  And there has been a sad but true renaissance of respectable female musicians in country music (my dislike for the genre notwithstanding).  Many of these ladies are talented and foxy: Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Martina McBride, Gretchen Wilson, and the Dixie Chicks and so on.  (Any group brave enough to call themselves chicks is A-OK.  If I were female I'd call myself a chick.  I love that term.)

 

The bonus coincidence of pretty women excelling in music needn't reinforce a women-as-mere-eye-candy attitude.  I'd rather have this situation rather than one that punishes women for their allure and makes them invisible lest they tempt men.  The positive angle is this: Prettiness needn't merely replace or garner female excellence.  This is proven from beautiful soprano Sarah Brightman to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi or Democrat-baiter Ann Coulter.  Ever see billiards champions Ewa Mataya Laurance or Jeanette Lee kick ass at pool?  Their talent is breathtaking though they could pass as models.  George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin) was quite pretty despite her habit of dressing in men's clothes. 

 

Mind you, countless excellent women haven't needed to be "lookers" to be prominent and professional.  Margaret Fuller was considered to be a genius but even she regretted her lack of beauty; Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein could have doubled in Grumpy Old Men; Ayn Rand got Dr. Ruthish in her later years; Janis Joplin had a face for radio and, as far as I'm concerned, a voice for a vacuum.  This goes for men, obviously: from Ernest Borgnine and Boris Karloff to Stephen Hawking.

 

Maybe there's a current backlash against the many years of (political) gender confusion.  (There have been recent studies that -- sit down for this -- males and females may be different!)  Maybe smart women are abandoning agendized "feminism" and choosing to truly make their own decisions - and look the way they want.  (Linda Strawberry has a song called "F**k You, I'm Beautiful.")  They may want to wear lipstick and adorable shoes and just be presentable to audiences or fans or even - horror of horrors! - dress up to be attractive to men without becoming a possession or a doormat.  Shulamith Firestone wrote in 1970: "Sex objects are beautiful.  An attack on them can be confused with an attack on beauty itself.  Feminists need not get so pious in their efforts that they feel they must flatly deny the beauty of the face on the cover of Vogue."  Poor analogy: a grassy knoll is easier on the eye than a parking lot, correct?  General aesthetics doesn't necessarily determine worth or usefulness.

 

I applaud any resistance against the K.D. Lang/Boy George-legacy gender squelchers or the "f**k men" brigade.  Rebels against dogmatized rebellion are like wonderfully selfish Zhivago poets amidst staunch Red protocol or like using a less dangerous gang to keep a worse one at bay.  Anything to monkeywrench the fully politicized female (a more unshakeable form of objectification) enough for sensible, truly feminist strains to flourish.  The sad fact, however, is that many female artists end up in Maxim or FHM for the sake of promotion.  (Mark that, Avril Lavigne!  Way to "rebel"!)

 

Speaking of looks, self-hating, life-negative Kurt Cobain sang, "I'm so ugly, but that's okay, 'cause so are you."  This line sums up popular nihilism in general: We're dirt and that's fine with us.  Joan Osbourne expressed the mindset of aiming lower by singing "What if God was one of us/Just a slob like one of us?"  If even God's a slob, we might as well just screw it.  Shirley Manson from Garbage has some fitting alternatives to hope: "Let's get loaded/Let's get wasted/Let's get shitfaced/Let's get stupid/Let's get wicked/Let's get toasted/Let's get hammered/Let's forget it."  We're in the spiritless machine and can't get out because there's nothing outside of the machine.  Manson sings, "Nothing ever came from nothing, man."  Ultimate meaninglessness leads to tantrums and dissolution as expression, and anti-philosophy dominates.  Garbage again: "Don't believe in love/don't believe in hate/Don't believe in anything/that you can't master."  No heroes or chivalry because "there's nothing left to save."  The Doors' Jim Morrison revealed the dire conclusion: "This is the end/My only friend, the end."  Dr. Francis Schaeffer noted that "man forgets his purpose and thus he forgets who he is and what life means."

 

Meanwhile the Ramones, in "Something To Believe In" from the Animal Boy album, honestly admit frustration and sadness, but Joey sings, "I don't feel that it's hopeless/I don't feel that I'm useless...I can't throw it all away/And with your love, I know with all my heart I can win."  (Italics added.)  And Edie Brickell: "I'm filling in the negative space with/positively everything I do."  We've all been low and lower than low, but a fundamental worldview of life as shit pervades deeply and becomes the "cool" norm of generations.  Ideas of romance and absolutes wither.    Battered folks reach an existential fork in the road: lose all care or seek help beyond the machine.  The Sundays' Harriet Wheeler sang, "So I cynically, cynically say, the world is that way," but she also sang of Joy and reiterated the Stones' "Wild Horses."  In one of Jim Morrison's more humble moments he sings, "Can you find me soft asylum?/I can't make it anymore" after denying the efficacy of prayer.

 

It is normal to grieve, to feel hopeless and persecuted.  The Biblical Psalms cover the range of human emotions, from vengeful rage to loneliness to ecstasy.  (One might consider Jim Morrison to be a psalmist.)  The opening of Psalm 5:

 

Listen to my words, O Lord,

Consider my inmost thoughts;

Heed my cry for help...

 

How long, O Lord, wilt thou quite forget me?

How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?

How long must I suffer anguish in my soul,

grief in my heart, day and night?

 

We get angry at the apparent silence, and we rejoice in the lovely simplicity.  Consider "Is That All?" from U2's second album, October.  (The band used to be in the habit of writing songs to God.)  What a sincere modern psalm:

 

Singing this song makes me angry
I'm not angry with you
Is that all
Is that all
Is that all...

Singing song that makes me happy
I'm not happy with you
Singing this song makes me pale
Is that all
Is that all...

Is that all you want from me

 

In a despairing culture love with all its highs and pangs becomes a topic for "bourgeois" sheep or victims of sexism and patriarchal sickness.  Particular relationship disappointments can be mistaken for the universal death or non-actuality of love.  And once love is seldom or no longer trusted on a scale larger than temporary letdowns, disgust and mockery set in.  Sometimes the last resort of the despairing person is a desperate reach for obscure grace, a listening ear in the apparent silence of the universe (as seen in the previous Psalm): an act analogous to seeking refuge and fulfillment in a lover, as expressed in the following lines by INXS.

 

In the silence, I think of you
I send a message, and I hope it gets through

 

One of the sappiest lyricists in the last fifteen years is David Schelzel of The Ocean Blue (though he falls short of Ian Broudie from the short-lived Lightning Seeds.)  The Ocean Blue has been a favorite of mine for many years because of their absolute boldness in singing forlorn and ecstatic poetry (and their splendid instrumentation, of course).  Few songs can match the straightforward love celebration in their "Love Song":

 

I'm in love
My friend's in love
We're both in love
For real...

 

And love always protects
And love always hopes all things
And love always trusts
And love always is there

 

Such genuine receptivity to pervasive love reminds me of the song Louis Armstrong made famous (composed by Bob Thiele and George Weiss and George Douglas):

 

I hear babies cry, I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

 

The colors of a rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are there on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands, sayin how do you do

 

Clear moments reveal a meaningful existence, a structure and beauty (a mentality the "Old World" took for granted before total fragmentation).  Psalm 19:1-4:

 

The heavens tell of the glory of God,

the vault of heaven reveals his handiwork.

One day speaks to another,

night with night shares its knowledge,

and this without speech or language

or sound of any voice.

Their music goes out through all the earth,

their words reach the end of the world.

 

As these lyrics signify, hope and romance beyond the machine's misery persist in bugging us.  Even The Doors returned and returned to at least a question and an obscure grasp for salvation.  Yen for storybook romance is a recurrent manifestation of our innate wiring for love and definition.  So as much as politicized males and females bash "archaic" gravitation and "unrealistic" notions, men and women continue to revive the tried and true emotional motifs.  Ayn Rand wrote that "the people's need for a ray of Romanticism's light is enormous and tragically eager."

 

Remember the previous INXS lyrics about sending a message through the silence and "hoping it gets through?"  Those lines and the inherent Romantic need Rand wrote about remind me of the creativity that often unwittingly works against the absurdist message of, for example, Ingmar Bergman's The Silence.  Despite depiction of a city devoid of God where the term "soul" is a foreign word, damned to zero communication and salvation, Bergman's love for music inspired the entire structure of the film.  I think Bergman's very art betrayed his messages of no message, his basic denial of meaning.  Music, film, and all other art can't help but reflect meaning and the innate sense of creation in humanity.  Despite dissolution and apparent chaos, we tend to seek structure and order.  Let some lines from INXS' "What You Need" speak for themselves (bold emphasis added):

 

Don't you get sad and lonely
You need a change from
What you do all day
Ain't no sense in all your crying
Just pick it up and throw it into shape

Hey you, won't you listen
This is not the end of it all
Don't you see there is a rhythm
I'll take you where you
Really need to be

 

Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer said: "God has made man to love."  Echoing this inner drive, Bjork sings on her Gling-Glo album:

 

Fish got to swim, birds got to fly
I got to love one man 'til I die
Can't help loving that man of mine...

 

The stubborn still sell the now conformist-stale gender schism.  Consider Ani DiFranco's song "Not A Pretty Girl":

 

I am not a pretty girl
that is not what I do
I ain't no damsel in distress
and I don't need to be rescued
so put me down punk...

 

...and I have earned my disillusionment
I have been working all of my life...

 

...I don't want to be a pretty girl
no I want to be more than a pretty girl...

 

Being "more" is the key, yes, but it doesn't necessitate abandonment of prettiness.  Physical attractiveness shouldn't be a detriment any more than it should be a free ticket.  If folks chalk such rejection up to anger, Ani blames that on their fear.  But could it be that the struggle has come full-circle - and the fear of the "old" romance situations might be to blame quite often?  After all, heterosexual norms shouldn't be any more persecuted than gay norms.  Not every gay man digs Liza and cares about drapery; not all straight men desire doting, mindless, downtrodden women.  So why should honest desire for a good man be equated with such submission?

 

From Garbage's "Why Do You Love Me?":

 

I'm not your Barbie Doll

I'm not your baby girl...

Nothing ever smells of roses

that rises out of mud...

 

That's just wonderful, Shirl.  Bravo.  (Notice the "why do you love me" question.  This sums up the anxiety of modern humankind: If there is love, why should we even be loved in the first place?  If there is a God, why would he stoop to our level ("a slob like one of us")?  Contrast the last clip to the opening of Psalm 40, one of the most lovely poems ever written (and rendered perfectly by U2 on their War album):

 

I waited, waited for the Lord,

he bent down to me and heard my cry,

He brought me up out of the muddy pit,

out of the mire and the clay...

and on my lips he put a new song...

 

Shirley Manson alters her tune in "Sleep Together," as Morrison did in the Doors' lyrics shown previously:

 

Make me a pretty person

Make me feel like I belong...

Make me beautiful

 

Ah, that bothersome romantic spirit: pisses off the baby-out-with-the-bathwater deconstructionists.  I wonder how pissed DiFranco was when famed female rocker Alanis Morissette came out with "Superman":

 

I'm lookin' for someone who can made me feel
A serious love like Juliet's is real...

Superman I need a superman

 

But she's selective, not desperate:

 

He's gotta be fair and treat me properly yeah
I want him to understand equality...

 

She expresses hope and is not afraid to seek a wonderful man to love and love her:

 

I can't wait 'til I can stop
all my lookin' around now

I found my Superman, I found my Superman...

 

Liz Phair:

 

Baby you are that something that pulls me trough
So I'm giving it all to you
Giving it all to you...

 

More Liz Phair:

 

'Cause you're a human supernova,
A solar superman,
You're an angel with wings of fire...

 

Women can flex the choice to pine for a lover every bit as much as they assert their intellectual capabilities.  Like 1960s Leslie Gore, they're not ashamed to admit that "it's my party and I'll cry if I want to" or, like The Shangri-Las, commemorate "Then He Kissed Me."  And - horror of horrors! - that darned "Leader of the Pack" tendency still shatters embittered agendas.  Consider Paula Cole's "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?":

 

Where is my John Wayne
Where is my Prairie Song
Where is my happy ending...

 

Kick back and watch the TV
And I'll fix a little something to eat
Oh I know your back hurts from working on the tractor
How do you take your coffee my sweet...

 

I am wearing my new dress tonight
But you don't, but you don't even notice me...

 

What's the use of wearing a new dress if it's a mark of objectification and men don't know how the heck to react?  I think Cole's song is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it seems to imply a question: Can we at least fantasize about or aspire to some old-fashioned romantic concepts?  Worthy heroic motifs like cowboys and knights are mocked while "anti-heroes" are lauded for mediocrity or pathology.  In this Brokeback Mountain era, I'm at least amused when another talented, respectable female artist fires the men-as-useless-as-bicycles-for-fish crowd up with something like these lines from a Cranberries song:

 

Oh, I thought the world of you.
I thought nothing could go wrong,
But I was wrong. I was wrong.

 

I wanted to be the mother of your child,
And now it's just farewell. 

  

(Don't feel defensive for poor Ani DiFranco, by the way.  She keeps her publicist and designer and stylist busy keeping her "not pretty" and not poor.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

- review by David Herrle 2/2006

 

 

 

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