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The Love You Gave Me, Nothing Else Can Save Me

A stunning cover of ABBA’s “S.O.S.” appeared this week on Portishead’s Facebook page, in response to the killing of British politician Jo Cox last week. The song transcends context, however, something which the new arrangement makes all too clear. A prayer of epic proportions:

This comes only three weeks after the Swedish megastars occupied the same stage for the first time in almost 30 years. What better opening to post a few paragraphs from the “Crying ABBA” chapter of A Mess of Help:

If there’s a downside to scoring so many number one singles, it’s that [ABBA’s] albums have been overshadowed by their hits. They recorded eight LPs over the course of nine years, and all of them are pretty terrific. But albums are what serious artists make, and up until very recently, ABBA were considered pop stars. Their squeaky clean image—the silly outfits, the disco dance routines, the somewhat loose grasp of English—has not helped their reputation as bubblegum fluff. Of course, you cannot completely blame the public. A song like “Put On Your White Sombrero” doesn’t exactly command respect.

And yet, if we know anything about the group, it’s that appearances can be deceiving. The smiling publicity shots hid the crumbling marriages of both couples in the band: Bjorn & Agnetha and Benny & Frida. (Or, as they’re more commonly known, the Mullet & the Blonde, the Beard & the Redhead.) The ultimate feel-good band of the 70s did not sing about very happy subjects. “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, with its sparkling guitars and upbeat melody, tells a heartbreaking and rather hopeless story of divorce. “S.O.S.” surfs a joyous chorus to relate feelings of genuine desperation. “The Name of the Game” is almost too vulnerable for words. The sexual bluster of “Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)” is a red herring. Behind the disco gloss, the song reeks of loneliness and depression, a prayer for someone to “chase the shadows away” and “take me through the darkness to the break of the day”. (It’s also about as Christological as they ever got). Perhaps they were more Scandinavian than we thought.

The secret to ABBA’s lasting popularity (or at least ubiquity) is that their relationship songs are more concerned with emotional truth than propriety or correctness. Listen to a later single like “One of Us”—the singer has left her lover, she’s got her own space now, but she is not happy. Late at night, when she can’t sleep, she knows she is lying to herself. If she could do it all over again, she wouldn’t have left. Such an admission may not sound like that of a ‘strong woman’, but it certainly sounds like that of a real one. Or their devastating “The Winner Takes It All”, which presents love in startlingly binary terms, acknowledging that, as one critic read the song, “a person should be able to have it all, but it’s just not possible.” In other words, ‘should’ and ‘is’ collide in the music of ABBA, and the results have enduring power.

Don’t Let Me, Don’t Let Me, Don’t Let Me Down

Don’t Let Me, Don’t Let Me, Don’t Let Me Down

Last weekend, I went on a mini-staycation with some of my dear girlfriends from young adulthood. Between the group of us, we’ve suffered (either directly or indirectly) illness, addiction, money issues, mental health woes, parenting struggles, job uncertainties, and marital difficulties – in a nutshell: life. We spent the day at the pool catching up, and then stayed up late into the night (okay, 9:30 or 10 tops) discussing politics and grooming habits and all manner of subject-matter generally considered taboo at the dinner table. We did what all women do when two or more are gathered and rosé is…

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“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”…and That’s a Good Thing

“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”…and That’s a Good Thing

This one comes to us from SM White.

I can’t get no satisfaction…I try and I try and I try and I try…When I’m watchin’ my TV and a man comes on and tells me how white my shirts can be. But he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me – The Rolling Stones, 1965

I can’t get no satisfaction. That song was written over 40 years ago, and yet Mick Jagger’s anger at the demands of consumerism still rings true today. “Your life can be improved; it needs to be improved–in fact, you aren’t complete, you haven’t…

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The Old Account Was Settled Long Ago

June Playlist

New feature: See if you can spot the JAZ pick.

Mockingbird: Bringing You the Gospel, Pt 44

Exploring the Oddball World of Leftfield Christian Music (1975-1985)

Hope you have a shovel handy cause here comes a treasure trove! This session from The Rev DJ JAZ in NYC was truly one of a kind. Legendary perhaps? You tell me:

Exploring the Oddball World of Leftfield Christian Music (1975-1985): An EpiscoDisco Primer – John Zahl from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Why All Christian Music Sounds the Same (Even When it Doesn’t)

Why All Christian Music Sounds the Same (Even When it Doesn’t)

The other day, my sister (who was visiting from out of town) walked into our kitchen during the chaos that is breakfast prep. Over the usual din (“What cereal do you want? Oh, all three kinds? No, it’s too late for eggs”) she heard the song that we were listening to (it happened to be “Wake Up Sleeper” by Zac Hicks and Coral Ridge Worship) and, after probably three seconds, said, “Is this Christian music?”

I’ve had this conversation many times during my life–why is it that you can always identify “Christian music” within seconds of hearing it?–but I’ve never been…

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Vulnerability, Judgement and The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds Turns 50!

Vulnerability, Judgement and The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds Turns 50!

Half a century is pretty “outta sight” if you ask me. To celebrate, here’s the two main Pet Sounds portions of The Beach Boys essay in Mess of Help. We’ve posted portions before but never all of it. Catch a wave: 

Brian Wilson was the original heart-on-your-sleeve auteur. Young men had been vulnerable on record before, but usually in the service of garnering swoons rather than expressing actual warts-and-all weakness. Brian’s was not the attractive kind of vulnerability; it was the awkward kind. In the song, his girl’s devotion even makes him “want to cry”. The Beach Boys sang about teenage male tears more than…

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Sending Lady Gaga to Her Room

Sending Lady Gaga to Her Room

Circa 2009, around the time of The Fame Monster, there were very few American high schoolers cool enough to talk down about Lady Gaga. For both girls and guys, she was edgy enough (and inevitable enough, releasing single after single after single) to leave everyone feeling at the very least a distant admiration. She did however possess a particular power in the art classes, one that you wouldn’t see her having on, say, the lacrosse field, and this was because historically speaking art classrooms have always been “interesting” places. Mine was no exception: it was by all accounts an underground church, the…

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Call Me Aaron Burr, Sir

Call Me Aaron Burr, Sir

During a 1995 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Pat Conroy related a story about his father, Don, that epitomized the patriarch’s delusional view of identity. The two men were discussing why Pat’s mother left Don when the elder Conroy broke down sobbing. Thinking that Don had finally realized the error of the ways, Pat quoted the ensuing conversation to Gross: “‘Dad, do you understand what you did wrong?’ And Dad said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘What is it, Dad? What did you do wrong?’ And my father said, ‘I was too good. I didn’t crack down hard enough. I was…

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Beyoncé, Lemonade, and the Things We Inherit

Beyoncé, Lemonade, and the Things We Inherit

This one comes to us from Heather Strong Moore.

What happens when one of the most successful and influential artists of our time experiences a deep and fairly public heartbreak? She takes those lemons and makes them into Lemonade. Beyoncé’s “visual album” was released on April 23rd and already it’s made history with every track appearing on the Top 100 charts. In her hour-long film that accompanies the majority of the tracks, she tells the story of a broken relationship and the process one goes through when one’s life falls apart.

This story appears to be about her 8-year marriage to Jay-Z and a…

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