Preferred Repetition

Given last night’s post about needing inspiration and strength in these troubled times, I thought I should post about music. Those who know me are aware of my obsessive-compulsive music listening habits. When I find a song I like, I’ll frequently listen to it hundreds of times consecutively, without allowing any other music to interfere. It’s kind of annoying habit. Right now that song is “You’ve Been Faithful To Us Clouds” by Half-Handed Cloud. It’s kind of a stupid, happy, pop-music song, but I can’t get enough of it. I absolutely love it. I think it will stand up to about another two days of listening, and then I will have completely exhausted the song, sucked the life out of it, and I’ll be on the prowl for my next song-meal.

I have a few songs that have stood up to years of repetition. Notably the oeuvres of CAKE and Abdullah Ibrahim. I doubt those two have ever been mentioned in the same sentence before.

CAKE is my old stand-by; I’ve probably listened to a CAKE song almost every day since I discovered CAKE in 1996. That’s a ten full years of CAKE. Rolling Stone said: “Cake continue to innovate pop music with their formulaic blend of tuneful guitar bursts, mariachi-derived trumpet, funky-white boy rhythms, and McCrea’s deadpan King-Missile-meets-Steven-Wright vocals.” That’s about a good a description as any. The critics don’t seem to like CAKE much (notice Rolling Stone’s sneaky inclusion of “formulaic”), and I can’t make any claims for their musical sophistication; it’s just not there. Lyrical sophistication? Let me just say this:

I am an opera singer
I stand on painted tape
It tells me where I’m going
And where to throw my cape
I call my costars brother
I call my costars knave
I play both good and evil parts
I sing to Verdi’s grave
And every single morning
By 10 AM I’m dressed
My rehearsals last for hours and hours
With diligence I have been blessed
Some people, they call me monster
Some people, they call me saint
My talent feeds my darker side
Yet no one will complain

Plus, how many “pop music” bands quote Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, and the Gospel of Mathew all in one song? I love the CAKE. Their songs deeply amuse me and provide the soundtrack to my life’s comedy of errors. I don’t really care what anyone else thinks about their music. To me, it is beautiful. Plus, they have a kick-ass blog.

One final note regarding CAKE: their cover of the classic Kenny Rogers song “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” probably accounts for about 75% of the time I’ve spent listening to music in the 2006 calendar year. According to iTunes, I’ve listened to the song over 1,000 times in the last 30 days. That’s just terrifying. (Perhaps even more terrifying is the lengthy wikipedia entry on the song…)

Abdullah Ibrahim is another matter entirely. Whereas I listen to the CAKE for the groovy pop-music sound and the tongue-in-cheek lyrics, Abdullah Ibrahim is art. In fact, it may not be enough to call it art. It’s truth, distilled. All the essential narratives of life compressed into a few simple strokes on the piano. Ibrahim was discovered by Duke Ellington, and is a towering figure in the world of African jazz musicians. His album “Cape Town Flowers” is my all-time favorite jazz album. True to my secretly compulsive nature, I listen to his song “Maraba Blue” every night before bed. It’s the last song of my day, my own Compline before heading off into the dark night. I can’t even remember how I happened upon Abdullah Ibrahim; to be honest, I think his music was on a used computer I bought around 2001. But it wasn’t until the Dean campaign that I really became obsessive about Abdullah Ibrahim; his music just spoke to me so deeply – without any words – that it became serious food for the soul, to help me relax after miserable blur of the long days.

The songs on “Cape Town Flowers” are stunning, just stunning. But one in particular speaks to me: “Maraba Blue”. In the simple chord progression of the song, there is a dark sadness about the tragedies of the world — but there is also a deep love of life and a delight in the every day. And not a lyric to be seen! The music speaks to me like no music has ever spoken to me; it’s poetry, and reminds me of a more hopeful “Try to Praise the Mutilated World”.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: