Words and Music

When Simon & Garfunkel songs get lodged in my head, they’re usually songs like “The Sound of Silence” or “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” possibly “Mrs. Robinson” or “The Boxer.” They’re one of the bands my dad and I used to listen to together. Stuff like this makes you realize the ol’ dad is kinda cool after all. And excellent musical taste, when you ignore the country music.

“Richard Cory” is one of his favorites. It was one of my first hints that he actually liked poetry. It doesn’t get lodged in my brain nearly often enough:

Inspired by NP.

Things That Piss Me Off: Shallow Culture Edition

Back when Tarja quit Nightwish, I remember reading the band’s criteria for a new lead singer. They nattered a bit about great voice, etc., but above all, they said, the singer must be physically beautiful. With extra emphasis on the beautiful. And you know what? They ended up with someone gorgeous – who’s not a fucking patch on Tarja. She doesn’t have the voice for symphonic metal. That’s why our relationship ended when Tarja went solo.

What brought this to mind? George at Decrepit Old Fool found a gem:


I’ve heard that the music industry is driven by how photogenic performers are, as much as by how the music sounds. But see if this performance by unknown Susan Boyle on a British talent show, doesn’t make you want to stand up and cheer. And be amazed by the emotional impact of unexpected difference between expectations and reality.

Only for a dear friend like George will I subject myself to idiotic British spinoffs of American Idol. And I’m glad I did. Susan Boyle has a double chin, a pug nose, a body that figures in few teen male fantasies – and a voice that belongs on Broadway. Fuck her lack of fashion sense. To hell with cultural ideals of feminine beauty. It enrages me that a voice like hers got confined to her shower and a circle of friends just because she’s not a physical knockout. Besides, don’t these shallow little money-grubbing record execs realize that two hours with Stacy and Clinton would turn her into a supermodel? If physical appearance is that damned important, fucking hire somebody to solve the problem with some clever clothes and makeup tricks. Or maybe, y’know, stop being so fucking superficial.

Listen to this and tell me this woman doesn’t deserve a CD just because she’s not a pin-up:

Great music transcends physical appearance. You only need a great body if you have no fucking talent. And I think the response to this woman proves that in spades.

I’ll tell you what delighted me about this, aside from the fact that Susan Boyle is one of the only people who’s ever sung Fantine right and the fact no one expected her to because they were too busy laughing at her frumpy appearance: the expression on Simon Cowell’s face. Mind you, I’ve always liked Simon. I’ve a soft spot for absolute bastards with British accents. But usually the poor man looks tortured. He genuinely loves music, which probably goes a long way towards explaining why he’s always so acerbic. Wouldn’t you be were you in his shoes? And while the other two judges were reacting with shock, awe and tears, he just sat back with a blissful smile that said he’d been transported. This was what he’d been waiting for. Yes, I melted. I likes to see Simon happy.

Simply outstanding, all round.

Feasts for the eyes are nice, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that physical beauty doesn’t have its place in the list of Things That Make Life Worth Living. But it’s not so essential that it trumps all other glorious talents. Susan Boyle could’ve had running sores and an ear growing out of her nose. It would’ve ceased to matter the second she opened her mouth and sounded that first ethereal note. There’s beauty, and then there’s beauty, and I don’t want some jackass denying us such auditory euphoria simply because he thinks only sexy bodies sell.

There’s a fan club, by the way. C’mon over and join the rest of us who love a lovely voice.


I need a little beauty, and something to celebrate. So the words of this song may not on the surface offer much to celebrate, but letting the world begin again sounds like a damned fine idea to me, and besides, listen to Vibeke Stene’s voice.

If that isn’t something worth celebrating, nothing is.

Tristania – The Modern End – Tristania

Camera angles
decadence of a dying world


Long dark corridors

They’ve got the urge to die young


Carousels and fireworks

Ferris wheels
are spinning in the arc-lite city
Do they know
They have slept for so long

Do they know

The taste of their tongue

Do they know

They are trapped
Let’s celebrate the modern end
Let the world begin again

Celebrate the renaissance man

Ha! Proof!

I’ve always said that black metal was modern-day classical music. The complexity and richness of it matches the greatest works of Beethoven and Mozart. Once you’ve gotten over the shell-shock of the death-grunt vocals and the double-bass, the beauty and sophistication of it becomes gloriously clear.

And now I have proof that these genres go together like wine and chocolate:

Meet one of my new discoveries, a band named Haggard. Their total awesomeness can’t be comprehended unless, like me, you love Dimmu Borgir and Rachmaninoff equally. Most black/death/doom metal bands haul around synthesizers to get their classical elements going. Haggard wins my adoration for hauling around actual classical instruments.

They prove that classical melodies and death grunts go quite well together. Have a listen:

I’m loving them. Where have they been all my life?

As you lot are my witnesses, if Chaos Lee tells me he’s known about Haggard all along but never introduced me, I shall beat him soundly with a cello.

The Sound of Silence – As You’ve Never Heard It

I’m having one of my gallops through the playlists sites looking for new music with which to feed my Muse, and I have discovered one of the most awesome things evah. I never expected the monks who did Chant to start doing covers of popular rock songs, and when I found out they were I expected it to be teh suck.

But I clicked anyway. And, damn.

The Sound of Silence – Gregorian

Gorgeous, isn’t it? Fair left me gasping in awe, that did. But then, I’m a sucker for the big, rich sounds.

Of course, the original is still classic:

The Sound Of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel

Simon and Garfunkel – one of the greatest gifts my dad ever gave me. We used to sing The Boxer together. Well, we used to sing them all together – and until you’ve heard a bullfrog and a treefrog singing Bridge Over Troubled Waters, you’ll have no way to imagine what that was like.

One more for ye. Way back before the Intertoobz made it possible to look things up, I’d only heard a friend describe what it was like to hear Queensryche cover Scarborough Fair. “The original’s like a fall day,” he said, “a little bit melancholy, kind of nostalgic. Well, the Queensryche version’s like a winter-blasted hillside and it’s suicidally depressing.”

Well, with a description like that, I absolutely had to have it. I spent years trying to find the single it was the B side to. Now, with the magic of the interwebz, I can let you have a listen right this minute:

Scarborough Fair (2002 Digital Remaster) – Queensryche

Dark and delicious. Just the thing for a cold winter night.

Hope, Humor and Harmony

Today, Seattle was bright and sunny, but I felt like crawling into bed with the covers over my head for a good long snivel. It was all I could do to make it through work.

This country is falling apart. The banking industry is collapsing. Bush is determined to scorch the earth as he retreats. My fellow Americans are being snookered by the two biggest, most dangerous cons since Bush/Cheney. FEMA’s fucking over the Gulf once again, and all the media really wants to talk about is fucking bullshit. Oh, and Russia’s flexing its muscles, Venezuela and Bolivia chucked out our ambassadors, and it’s clear that their newfound disrespect for America can be laid firmly at Bush’s feet. If McSame and Sarah “Bush-Cheney Hybrid” Palin get elected, it looks like a few countries might get disgusted enough to start a whole new Cold War – unless they plump for hot, instead. I doubt McLame would do much about it – after all, since the RNC was over, he decided that watching a Nascar race was more important than grandstanding in the Gulf. Funny how Republicons only remember to be compassionate conservatives when the cameras are watching.

And that’s just today.

So I almost couldn’t bring myself to blog. All I wanted to do was crawl into bed, curl up in a miserable little ball, and cry into the cat. That is a tricky proposition, because my cat exhibits sympathy for about 2.4 seconds before she attempts to rip my face off for getting her fur wet. If she was a human, she’d probably be a Republicon.

I planted arse in chair, wrapped myself in a blankie, and read on. Because it’s a chilly night, the cat plonked herself down on me and started purring. She only tried to remove limbs twice. And then I started to find precious hope, humor and harmony.

Glenn W. Smith chats at Firedoglake about being “In Molly’s Back Yard: Resisting Rove.” He’s right:

For years we embattled Texas liberals used to gather in my late friend Molly Ivins’ Austin back yard on the “Final Friday” of each month. For a few glorious hours – if the whisky held out, it would be many glorious hours – hopes ran high and hearts ran wild.

These last couple of weeks of Democratic anguish and anxiety make me think of those evenings at Molly’s, where morale stayed so high even the ducks weren’t down. I’m certain there were ducks.


We were then and we are now the Undaunted. Because we have to be. Them that daunt, die. Somebody probably said that once at Molly’s. Probably more than once.

Texas liberals are, um, very familiar with Karl Rove. We have a couple-decade head start on the rest of you, though the last eight years might count double.

Here’s a reminder that a key Rove strategy is the demoralization of his opponents, and it’s a strategy learned well by John McCain’s top lieutenant, Steve Schmidt. This year, they’re at it again. We have to resist it.

Go read the whole post. He’s right, he’s absolutely right, and we have to fight this. We have to be the Undaunted. That was what carried Barack Obama to victory in the primaries, after all: that invincible feeling, that utter faith in the power of us. It’s still there. For fuck’s sake, McCain’s slipped so far that even Rove’s saying he’s gone too far. Yes, we can defeat this fuckwit and save this country. Not just by electing Obama, but by sweeping Democrats into power and giving the Cons the swift boot to the ass they so richly deserve.

So there was a little fire in my belly. But it wasn’t enough. I needed some lighter fluid:

First of all, all of the undecided voters I talked to like Palin. They like her a lot more than they like McCain. They are compelled by her energy and her looks and her demeanor. A couple were pro-life, and McCain’s selection of Palin had turned them from “leaning Obama” to “undecided.”

BUT, by far the MOST important issue for all of them is the economy. These people are disgusted by oil company profits, disgusted by high gas prices, disgusted that relatives of theirs are losing their jobs and unable to find new ones. They KNOW that the system is unfair, that corporations are bleeding this country dry while they are suffering.

When I spoke to them about Obama’s tax plan (the elimination of income tax for many seniors, the tax breaks for middle-class people and the increase for corporations and the rich) – EVERY UNDECIDED VOTER I TALKED TO WENT FROM UNDECIDED TO LEANING OBAMA.

Mmm, feeling warm. And this, this line from that phonebanking post is mesquite fucking charcoal on my growing fire:

These people don’t want to hear us rip anyone apart. They want to know that Obama has a plan.

Some people in this country actually want to discuss issues? They’re persuaded by people talking policy? Oh, fuck, yeah! We’re blazing, now!

Bring on the naptha:

I attended the “Change We Need” rally in Manchester, NH, on Saturday morning.
(See Part I of the photojournal here,
and Part II here.)

I saved some of the best photos for last. Just look at the crowd he draws–8000 diverse people, believing in the “Change We Need.”

As Barack told us in his new stump speech, John McCain may have lobbyists, but he has us.

Damn skippy he has us! Go, us! That’s what I remember from this spring – that solidarity, that brilliant, beautiful sensation that we the people have the power and the passion to lift this country up. We can do this. Of course we can. We’ve done it for over two hundred years.

But to lift up a nation, we need to uplift ourselves. Which is why I spent so much time tonight playing with this. I think tomorrow I might make Chevy Generals, do some shots of Claw Washout, and get thoroughly, shit-faced Mole Valdez. Hell, yes!

Take that, Ladel Torque Palin! Texas and I fart in your general direction!

Now, now, the fire’s burning hot enough to grill up some nourishing, fresh hope. I’m serving it up hot and savory. We just need some music to round out the meal. Not just any music, my friends, but an opera-oratorio based on Charles Darwin. Science, my friends, has finally gone classical, thanks to the inspired efforts of Tristero:

After a year and a half of near-daily composing, I have finally finished The Origin, an opera-oratorio inspired by the life and works of Charles Darwin. It was a challenging, and very enjoyable, project and will premiere February 9, 2009 at the State University of New York, Oswego – that’s 3 days before Darwin’s 200th birthday!


The texts used in the Origin are taken entirely from the writings of Charles Darwin – with a brief cameo by his wife, Emma. They were compiled and arranged by poet Catherine Barnett and myself. Most of the words come from The Origin of Species; the so-called “transmutation notebooks;” Darwin’s autobiography; The Voyage of the Beagle; and his letters (you can find a huge selection of Darwin’s writings at this incredible site). My purpose was to celebrate Darwin’s thought and life in music, concentrating specifically on the writing and ideas in The Origin of Species.

This is just awesome beyond words. Darwin finally has his day.

So shall we, my darlings. So shall we.

There’s hope. There’s humor. There’s harmony.

It’s enough to give this nation a fighting chance.

My Perfect Band

So, in a fit of writer’s-blocked frustration, I started pulling quotes from some of my new CDs. This was the first time I’d listened to Epica’s The Phantom Agony from beginning to end, and really paid attention to the words.

I’d caught on from songs like “Facade of Reality” that they weren’t too happy with extremism. But that didn’t prepare me for the fact they’re the perfect band for this atheist.

They’re symphonic heavy metal.

They have a fabulous female vocalist.

They have the death-growling male counterpoint.

They fuse metal with operatic elements in a phenomenal way.

Now, usually, bands with all of the above elements rely very heavily on the pagan themes. Which is fantastic for an SF author. But Epica relies on… reality. They make reality itself epic.

That’s just fucking outstanding.

Further proof you really can have the ethereal without the religious woo. You can have transcendence without ever leaving the comfort of actual reality.

At least on this album. I’m not even sure they’re atheists, agnostic, or anything: all I know is they’ve created the perfect atheist album for this girl, and the perfect atheists’ anthem in “Cry for the Moon.”

And that makes me a happy atheist indeed.

Cry For The Moon “The Embrace That Smothers – Part IV”

Follow your common sense
You cannot hide yourself behind a fairytale forever and ever
Only by revealing the hole truth can we disclose
The soul of this sick bulwark forever and ever
Forever and ever

Indoctrinated minds so very often
Contain sick thoughts
And commit most of the evil they preach against

Don’t try to convince me with messages from God
You accuse us of sins committed by yourselves
It’s easy to condemn without looking in the mirror
Behind the scenes opens reality

Eternal silence cries out for justice
Forgiveness is not for sale
Nor is the will to forget

Virginity has been stolen at very young ages
And the extinguisher loses it’s immunity
Morbid abuse of power in the garden of Eden
Where the apple gets a youthful face

You can’t go on hiding yourself
Behind old fashioned fairytales
And keep washing your hands in innocence