An old classic.
I had a Black Dog, His Name was Depression remains a cogent, effective metaphor. I use it often in class. I think I've posted it here before, in the early days of this weblog. Here it is again:
Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages."
I remember seeing this video (embedded below) on MuchMore Music maybe 20 years ago, maybe more. I knew enough to understand how cool it was to get these guys together for the performance, but I didn't quite realize just how special it was. What a performance, and what a way to introduce people to an excellent song.
For the last few months, I've been working on memorizing songs I know, but I don't quite have memorized. I started with "Gentle on my Mind," a song I feel like I've known for as long as I've been alive but never quite memorized. It took a while, but eventually I was able to get the imagery in my head into an order that made sense, and I'd like to think the song's basically in my long-term memory for good now.
Then I moved to "My Back Pages," which challenged in a much different way. Each verse is built on strong imagery, but the images smash into one another; they don't quite create a full photograph like the verses do in "Gentle on my Mind." It took a few weeks of singing along, practicing verse-by-verse, copying out the lyrics by hand, before I could have it memorized. And even now, when it's all in my head, I still struggle to make some of the lines flow from their previous ones.
The last stanza mentions "abstract threats too noble to neglect." Dylan writes,
Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
To me, this sort of lends itself to our current "identity politics" moment: the Venn Diagram of Abstract to Practical is kinda' messy right now. That messy overlap is ok, but I hope we can acknowledge its blurriness. Everything's always more nuanced than it seems, no matter the side we pitch our tents. And abstract threats... are still threats. We need to move beyond threatening one another to move change in a useful direction.
On November 15, I attended the Hard Rubber Orchestra's King Crimson tribute at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver, BC. The theatre was packed, largely with older couples who appear to have followed the band since the 70s. One of the guest vocalists, Leanne Dunic, is a friend from high school; she's someone I've lost touch with, but I've followed her artistic escapades through social media for years. It was a good show overall, and the arrangers certainly had lots of fun with their arrangements of King Crimson classics like "Starless," "Frame By Frame," and "In The Court Of The Crimson King."
I've listened to King Crimson since high school, when a couple of my friends had copies of their debut album and THRAK, one of their most recent albums at the time. We often listened to them straight through, laying inbetween the speakers in order to fully experience the delicately-produced songs in stereo. We'd sit and talk about the perfection of "One Time," the absurd timing in "21st Century Schizoid Man," and the Mellotron-laced, despairing tone in "Epitaph." These are good memories for me, since the music seemed both passionate and interesting, perfect for someone like myself. Over those years, I collected a few more of their albums and enjoyed them immensely, even as my friends seemed to let them go.
There are plenty of songs I could talk about, but there's one that's been running through my head for the last few days, one I keep going back to despite its comparative simplicity: "Prozakc Blues."
"Prozakc Blues" follows a blues progression as closely as King Crimson can, despite numerous time changes and near-atonal solos. It's a wonder that one can hear the traditional blues format through it, particularly when it's so intensely dissonant. Despite the song's overall intensity, Fripp adds moody, airy fills throughout, and they inexplicably fall into place.
Lyrically, the song follows the blues pattern as well, but takes it to a ridiculous place. Sometimes King Crimson's lyrical humour can come off as a little too smart to even laugh at, but in "Prozakc Blues" it fits just fine. It's a narrative blues song that tells a story, that satirizes numerous classic blues tropes: "Woke up this morning," going to the Pearly Gates, etc..
When I hear "Prozakc Blues," I mainly think about the year I lived in Egypt. I had the song on shuffle on my Blackberry and spent a lot of time walking around the streets of 6 October City, trying to memorize it, trying to make sense of the time signatures, trying to hear the push-pull of the guitars and the drums. The song made me smile a lot because its humour, musically and lyrically, was pretty tough to come by in Egypt.
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