Tragically Vague

I should like the Tragically Hip.  They are Canadian– though that’s really not relevant to me in that regard.  They are fairly authentic: no factory beat, no synthesis.  They are honest and hardworking and true and they ignored the temptations of American pop stardom and stayed here.  They actually refer to Canadian things in their songs: hockey and Newfoundland and the CBC.  The band itself is musically decent– far better than, for example, than Crazy Horse, Neil Young’s awful backup band for several albums.  They can crack a beat. I respect them.  But I’m not a fan.  I tried.  I loaded up four of their albums on my music player and listened to them on my walk.  It only reminded me of why I never cared enough about them to have a collection of their albums.  It’s their lyrics, mainly.  Here’s a sample, picked at random:

I’ll be short and brief And to the point
The fighting has resumed
In that tone of voice
The plague is exhumed
He said “What I’m going through
Is essentially all true
Made no less amazing
By the fact that it’s see through”

And here’s another:

You triumphed over will
You had immunity to kill
You had your dreams fulfilled
And I love you still
But there's a power beyond control
There's a fire in the hole
Ah the nights are getting cold
All your secrets will be told
Turn your lanterns low

As long as you can dig up proof
As cold as water through the roof
Brutal as depicted truth
That kid's a fuckin' goof
Turn your lanterns low
But there's a power beyond control
There's a fire in the hole
Yeah the nights are getting cold
All his secrets will be told
Turn your lanterns low

What’s it about?  The Hip’s lyrics, mostly by Gord Downie, are allegedly “poetic”.   But the artist they remind me the most of is not Dylan, or Lightfoot, or Cohen– not by the wildest stretch of the imagination– but more like those pretenders, Mumford and Sons.  Downie’s lyrics are not really about any particular idea or emotion or situation or insight or perception.  They are not.  They have no particularity to them at all: they are snatched out of the air, fragments of isolated half-baked disconnected images without any weight or adherence.  “There’s a fire in the hole/Yeah the nights are getting cold”?  Wait a minute– are you suggesting something about heat and light here, or something about a cold winter night.  Maybe the next line will tell us: “All his secrets will be told”.  Whose secrets?  In the cold or in the hole with the fire in it?  “Turn your lanterns low”.  Why?  Who doesn’t want the secrets to get out?

Read the rest of the lyrics in vain for enlightenment: they are random images with no overall cohesion or purpose.  The Tragically Hip’s lyrics suck. Tell me what this means:

yeah that's awful close
but that's not why
I'm so hard done by

It was true cinema a clef
you should see it before there's nothing left
in an epic too small to be tragic
you'll have to wait a minute
cause it's an instamatic

Not only are Downie’s lyrics disappointing to me.  I think they are just about the worst lyrics of any major band I can think of.  Even Mumford and Son’s sound more coherent, with their ridiculous…

‘Cause I have other things to fill my time
You take what is yours and I'll take mine
Now let me at the truth
Which will refresh my broken mind

So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears

Now, I don’t object to the idea of discordant or absurd images or sequences of images, but I do object to random images that have just one connection to any over-all artistic entity: that they happen to be sung in sequence.

I suspect that some of these writers have heard Dylan songs that struck them as random sequences of jarring images and ideas.  They are seriously mistaken.  Dylan is always either telling a story or commenting on the world in parody and creating a set of images that tell you something about the players in the story, or the narrator, or the object of desire, or whatever he’s thinking about:

They are selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tightrope walker
The other is in his pants.

Above all,  Dylan’s images are almost always striking, funny, and memorable.  Downie’s are not: “Hairbird plucks a hair from a sleeping dog/To build her nest, she said I’ve looked around and I like your hair best”.  These lines really are incredibly lame and incomprehensible– not because they are difficult to understand, but because they really don’t hold anything to be understood.   They really don’t belong to an idea or an impression or a narrative or even an emotion.

Does Downie believe there really is a deeper meaning to his lyrics?  Quite probably.  I would guess that Downie would not see a whole lot of difference between the quality of his lyrics and some of Dylan’s.

The mistake here is not unusual.  Some great poetry is allusive and obscure, but not everything that is allusive and obscure is poetry.

[whohit]Tragically Unhip[/whohit]

Emasculating Spock

One of the most unique, fresh, and compelling characters ever created in science fiction television or movies is Mr. Spock.  Mr. Spock was an alien whose planet, Vulcan, had joined the Federation, thus making him eligible to serve in Star Fleet.  He was the “science officer” on the Enterprise.

Think about that: “science” officer.  Think about that when you hear someone mock the idea of “global warming” and “climate change” and vaccinations.  You can’t believe that crap, they’ll tell you.  Why?  They don’t know.  They just feel it, because Donald Trump and Exxon and Fox News tells them it’s a hoax and they just feel that they’re right.  They are going by their emotions.  (The real reason, probably: they might have to give up their big pick-up trucks.)

Spock rationally analyzed the facts of any given situation, calculated the odds of success when necessary, and made a decision based on the best information available.

But even the original Star Trek couldn’t quite bear to not pull their punches.  If Captain Kirk was in the shuttle caught in some meteor storm or something and the only way to rescue him was by risking the lives of 400 crew members even though the odds of success were ridiculously small– Spock would do it.  Spock would do it not because it made sense on any level, but because everyone wants to have sex with a virgin.

You heard me right.  Spock is the virgin of Star Trek.  Over the years, he has become the most admired character in the original series because of his amazing intelligence, rationality, and integrity.  What is the first thing we want to do to a character like that?  Yes, we do.  Spock is Hans Blix.  He’s Al Gore.  He’s Jimmy Carter.  In real life, we hate them all.  Because they tell us what we don’t want to hear.  And they are right.

But in fiction, we can fantasize that the elusive, rational, respected Spock loves us.  That the one character whose judgement is not self-serving or petty or biased, loves us.

In the whorehouse of American television, occupied almost exclusively by whores, we had one virgin: Spock.  And the more virginal he was, the more people want to take that virginity, the one thing that makes him unique as a character, and thus more desirable, more elusive, more of an affront to their own thinking: I want to be like an admired character.  But I can’t.  So, instead, I want the admired character to be like me: throw facts and information out the window and go with your fucking intuition, no matter how absurd.

So, astonishingly, in a recent installment of the Star Trek franchise, the old Spock actually advises the young Spock to “go with your feelings”.  WTF!  What idiot came up with that idea?  J. J. Abrams?  And the idiots who always felt a little threatened by the judgement of a rational person can jump up and hoot and holler and shout, “See!  See!  Even Spock knows that it’s okay if I do something stupid because it just felt right!”

Aside from some other stupid plot developments– why, oh why, does Kirk– the captain, for heaven’s sake– have to be the one to climb into the engine chambers to restore some kind of energy spout thereby almost dying in the process?  This is stupid.  A child thinks it’s heroic: his favorite character is the bravest and suffers the most!  But if a military commander did that in real life, every smart person would be appalled:  all of our leaders are dead because they wanted to be the most courageous?  You are a fool.

What infuriates me about this is the same thing that infuriates me when a bunch of yahoos driving ATVs and motorcycles and off-road vehicles beg the government to give them some areas of wilderness where they can be allowed to destroy and despoil and strip bare everything with impunity and then, demand that the one area set aside for people who just want to enjoy nature, be given to them as well.  It’s so unfair: why should hikers and photographers and painters be allowed to enjoy that view, but not us on our dirt bikes, or us hunters with our guns?  And look at the beautiful, unspoiled wilderness area!  Exactly where we want to rip the hills and dump our beer cans!

All of us who love science and facts and rationality only had the one character: Spock, who represented those ideals in science fiction.  There was one virgin, and all the sluts are determined to prove that he is just as corruptible as the rest of us.  He must be destroyed.  He must be discredited.  Even Spock must acknowledge that it is more important to go with your feelings, no matter how illogical or stupid.

I dream of this scene: Captain Kirk is in the space shuttle again, and once again, he is in peril, due to some ridiculous astral threat: aliens, meteors, plasma storms, Klingons, whatever– and the only way to rescue him is for some maneuver that would imperil the Enterprise and all of its crew.  Scotty and Bones are begging Spock: you must save the captain!  He’s your friend!  You must be loyal and true!  And Spock says, “that would be irrational.  Among the senior officers here, the Captain is actually quite replaceable– the odds of finding a suitable replacement are quite good.   But the odds of losing the entire ship and all of the crew is extremely high.  I will not do it.”  And what should happen next: Kirk heroically– if he really is all that heroic– tells Scotty and Bones, “he’s right”.  Then we can have that fond emotional farewell and Kirk should die and Star Trek should introduce a new, interesting, original character who will become the next captain.

This is something “Game of Thrones” got mostly right, though they are now (Season 6) in danger of abrogating that most distinctive virtue: Snow wasn’t really dead.  It will be a great pity if they now begin to confer that tasteless shell of invincibility on their most bankable stars– like every other TV series (except the illustrious, the greatest of all,  “The Wire”).

Oh wonderful– so now whenever a major character is threatened we can relax.  He’s not going to die.

[whohit]Emasculating Spock[/whohit]