Archive for February, 2011
Sounds like a computer generated drum part underneath a lightly muted, upbeat clean guitar riff. An electric guitar riff follows.
You’ve got some nerve coming here. You’re so in awe. Give it back. Good morning, Mr. Magpie. How are we today?
Couldn’t make out the next lyrics. Wall of sound slowly creeps in midway through the first chorus and then fades. Back to mostly the guitar and drums, then to a Eraser-espue beat and some “ooohs” from Thom. This continues for awhile and gets markedly louder. Another verse follow accompanied by the muted guitar and second guitar.
You know you should. But you don’t.
The guitars are getting a little more driven as the second chorus ensues.
Good morning, Mr. Magpie. How are we today? They’ve stolen all my magic and took my melody.
The song ends with a sustained note that eventually fades to Little By Little.
Mellow, upbeat vibe with lots of ethereal sounds in the background.
More to come later this weekend.
Enchanting brief opening dubbed over by a synth beat (a la “Eraser”), which is followed closely by some snares playing an almost march-like rhythm. Lyrics begin after about a minute. I won’t attempt to analyze the lyrics because I won’t be able to understand some of them. Heavy reverb on Thom’s voice. Various synth loops are playing over the vocals while the march beat continues.
Thom switches to falsetto in the next portion of the song, the melody of which seems to be mirrored by some more synth stuff. Multiple layers of Thom’s voice in the background. Enter a mellow horn part, which becomes layered with more horn sounds and concluding in a wash of high pitches and then back down.
Thom’s vocals continue shortly after. The march hasn’t stopped. Horns can be heard again in the background with heavy layering. At about 4:50, the song is winding down with more Eraser beats and echoed loops.
The soaring horn section in the middle seemed to nicely reflect the title of the song.
12:15 a.m. (or thereabouts) Feb. 19
So, I’ve live-blogged a time or two on this site, most recently, New Year’s Eve 2011, but I’ve never live-blogged the first listen of a new music album. I thought it might be a good time.
Today just after midnight, I paid the $14 and downloaded Radiohead’s new release, “The King of Limbs” (available here). I thought for a second about how to best convey my initial listening of the album, and posting a series of Twitter messages initially came to mind. But I figured, I do own this space, so might as well put it to good use, especially since live blogging seems all the rave these days. I think I’ll live blogging my dachshund’s bowel movements one day. That should draw a hit or two to the site (It’s late. I think I am allowed some levity here).
But back to the music. Radiohead is well known by now for their innovative and groundbreaking knack for making music. Their last release, “In Rainbows,” was — dare I keep up the imagery? — a kaleidoscope of warming sound, from the stripped bare and falsetto-esque, “Nude,” to the searching lyrics and lilting beats of “All I Need,” to the pulsating, “Jigsaw Falling Into Place.”
While the music was grand, I actually thought “In Rainbows,” coming in at 10 tracks, was a bit short to hold up against “OK Computer” and “Hail to the Thief.” That said, “Kid A” only featured 10 tracks as well, and it was nothing short of masterful.
Thus, as I look at the eight tracks presented to us on “The King of Limbs,” I’m admittedly a bit skeptic, for if the 10 tracks of Kid A made it a excellent album, an eight-song album had better arrest the listener’s soul with every tick of a second. Here is the track listing for The King of Limbs:”
2. Morning Mr Magpie
3. Little By Little
5. Lotus Flower
7. Give Up The Ghost
And here is an article from The New York Times on the release.
Without further adieu and with headphones firmly in place, here we go.
The New York Times is featuring a slideshow of protest signs during recent demonstrations in Tahrir Square. The protest eventually led to Hosni Mubarak stepping down as the nation’s president after 29 years in power. While demonstrations led to an important change in Egypt, the signs themselves perhaps reined in a new era in protests signs, as locals often fused technology, culture and cleverness to get their point across. Here are some highlights from The Times and from around the Web.
And my favorite:
In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer. — Albert Camus, “Return to Tipasa,” 1952
An online friend of mine has the above quote as one of her signatures in a forum that we both frequent. I don’t recall having ever come across it before seeing her signature, and I told her how profound I thought it was (or some paraphrase of that). I then said that I bet I could write an entire essay on just that sentence. After some prodding from her, I said I would write some thoughts on it after I finished the last John Brown post. So, with that said, here it goes.
I should make a concerted effort sometime to count every time the word “sun” is mentioned in Camus’ existentialist work, “The Stranger” (1942) or in his native French, “L’Étranger.” This is the book that came into my mind upon reading the quote from “Return to Tipasa,” and I will explain why.
Although some would argue whether Camus was actually an existentialist or not, his book about a murder on a sun-drenched beach drips with existential thought. Camus, not much for labels, seemed demure about having that particular one placed on him. Some say, rather, that he more closely followed absurdism. I would argue that absurdism is at least tightly bound up with existentialism or falls under the latter altogether.
Readers can follow the Wikipedia links above for explanations of the different strains of philosophical thought, but generally, existentialism is the idea that humans are self-determining beings responsible for their own choices in a seemingly meaningless universe. Some existentialists, like Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard were actually believers, but when I refer to existentialism here, I’m referring to the unbelieving segment of existentialists.
Now back to that beautiful winter and invincible summer. Camus in “The Stranger” uses the sun (typically signified by summer or spring) to justify in himself all sorts of emotions, from gaiety to annoyance. Here is the book’s main character, Mersault, narrating the story near the end of Part I:
Masson wanted to go for a swim, but his wife and Raymond didn’t want to come. The three of us went down to the beach and Marie (Mersault’s love interest) jumped right in. Masson and I waited a little. He spoke slowly, and I noticed that he had a habit of finishing everything he said with “and I’d even say,” when really it didn’t add anything to the meaning of his sentence. Referring to Marie, he said, “She’s stunning, and I’d even say charming.” After that I didn’t pay any more attention to this mannerism of his, because I was absorbed by the feeling that the sun was doing me a lot of good. The sand was starting to get hot underfoot. I held back the urge to get into the water a minute longer, but finally I said to Masson, “Shall we?” I dove in. He waded in slowly and started swimming only when he couldn’t touch the bottom anymore. He did the breast stroke, and not too well, either, so I left him and joined Marie. The water was cold and I was glad to be swimming. Together again, Marie and I swam out a ways, and we felt a closeness as we moved in unison and were happy.
A few minutes later on the shore:
Soon afterwards Marie came back. I rolled over to watch her coming. She was glistening all over with salty water and holding her hair back. She lay down right next to me and the combined warmth of her body and from the sun made me doze off.
So, in these passages, Camus sets up the sun as a source of warmth and happiness for Mersault. Later in the book, it will push him to murder an Arab, which would lead to his trial and execution.
Here’s a brief explanation of the shooting from shmoop.com:
Just as Meursault is about to turn around, to leave the beach altogether, we hear this line: “But the whole beach, throbbing in the sun, was pressing on my back.” “But,” he says. He would have left, but the sun was too intense. The sun “[makes him] move forward” toward the spring (and therefore, toward the Arab).
Whether instilling warm feelings in Mersault or agitation, the sun (or summer itself) is clearly established as a powerful force in the novel. Since “Return to Tipasa” was written 10 years after “The Stranger,” the sun/summer dichotomy must have still been pervasive in Camus’ mind. It should be clear at this point, but the “middle of winter” part of the above quote seems to point to a person’s darkest hours, hours of depression or loneliness or loss, while the invincible summer seems to denote the brighter moments in a person’s life, or the times in life in which a person feels the strongest, happiest or most alive.
And here we come to the profound implication: Camus seems to suggest that in his darkest hours, man can actually feel his strongest and most alive, that out of wreckage can come hope, out of despair can come scorn, out of heartbreak can come consummation. If the “scorn” statement sounds shocking, that’s because it is, but witness another astonishing line from Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus:”
There is no fate that can not be surmounted by scorn.
We see the implications of the invincible summer played out, first, in Camus’ essay about Sisyphus, in which Camus imagines that Sisyphus, condemned to push an ever-tumbling boulder up a mountain over and over again, as a man at peace.
Here are a couple important lines:
You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
Thus, even in anguish or monotony or hard labor or loneliness or depression, a man can find peace, if not in existence itself, in the struggle “toward the heights.” That, to me, is existentialism in a nutshell.
Or, in Mersault’s case, in facing an execution. While Camus himself may have not been apt to welcome labels upon himself, the final passage of “The Stranger” is sun-drenched in existential thought and imagery, and it deserves an airing here. Mersault is in the final moments of his life, and as dawn breaks, his execution for murdering the Arab looms:
I must have fallen asleep, because I woke up with the stars in my face. Sounds of the countryside were drifting in. Smells of night, earth, and salt air were cooling my temples. The wondrous peace of that sleeping summer flowed through me like a tide. Then, in the dark hour before dawn, sirens blasted. They were announcing departures for a world that now and forever meant nothing to me. For the first time in a long time I thought about Maman (his deceased mother). I felt as if I understood why at the end of her life, she had taken a ‘fiance,’ why she had played at beginning again. Even there, in that home where lives were fading out, evening was a kind of wistful respite. So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again. Nobody, nobody had the right to cry over her. And I felt ready to live it all again too. As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself — so like a brother, really — I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.
So, like Sisyphus, in a moment that would shake most anyone to utter despair, Mersault is happy. And here is the consummation for Mersault and for the “Return to Tipasa” quote: Mersault had lived. He had experienced good times and bad, but in both, he found peace.
Or, as Camus said in one part of “The Myth of Sisyphus:”
To two men living the same number of years, the world always provides the same sum of experiences. It is up to us to be conscious of them. … The preceding merely defines a way of thinking. But the point is to live.
As I’ve nearly finished reading, “John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights,” one of the most important questions about the raid on Harpers Ferry remains: did enslaved blacks living in the area around the federal arsenal respond favorably or not to Brown’s plan to first, liberate slaves in the area and then have them fight alongside whites for the end of slavery in the country?
The plan, as outlined by author David K. Reynolds, was to seize control of the arsenal and its weapons, head to local plantations, free local slaves, arm them and allow them to fight for their freedom with their white supporters. The growing number of whites and blacks would seek refuge in the Appalachian mountains, where they would conduct a type of guerilla warfare against the federal forces that were sure to come. They would conduct rogue operations across the countryside to enlist more and more slaves to the cause, thus growing their numbers and their influence. Eventually, as Brown schemed, the South would grow weak-kneed, and Congress would eventually enact legislation to overthrow the peculiar institution in the States.
The main question was this: Would slaves trust Brown, a white man, and rush into an insurrection or would they recoil to the familiarity of the plantation and the comfort of their families and friends therein? They were, after all, being asked to trust a white man, probably the only white man they had met in their entire lives to have claimed to be on their side. The riddle, at least for them: was he really on their side?
The Reynolds bio is a fine contribution and has done a great deal to advance the popular misunderstandings and biases that have reigned as a result of older, biased works. On the other hand, Reynolds himself followed certain conventions in his writing that are likewise problematic, including the quotation you feature. It is absolutely not a given that enslaved people did not respond to his efforts in Virginia, or that he “misread” the black community. If Brown misread blacks, it was that segment of educated, elite leaders to whom he appealed for assistance. …
As to the enslaved people, I refer you to Osborne Anderson’s 1860 booklet, A Voice from Harper’s Ferry … He says that blacks turned out enthusiastically, and would have greatly supported Brown had he not gotten himself bogged down in gunfighting in the town.
Osborne Anderson was one of Brown’s black raiders on the Ferry, and his first-hand account seems quite important when thinking about this question. Following is a passage from his pamphlet, “A Voice from Harper’s Ferry,” in which Osborne notes that “hundreds” of slaves were ready had Brown adhered to the original plan, left the arsenal and took to the mountains (He lingered for too long inside with the prisoners).
Here’s an excerpt:
OF the various contradictory reports made by slaveholders and their satellites about the time of the Harper’s Ferry conflict, none were more untruthful than those relating to the slaves. There was seemingly a studied attempt to enforce the belief that the slaves were cowardly, and that they were really more in favor of Virginia masters and slavery, than of their freedom. As a party who had an intimate knowledge of the conduct of the colored men engaged, I am prepared to make an emphatic denial of the gross imputation against them, They were charged especially with being unreliable, with deserting Captain Brown the first opportunity, and going back to their masters; and with being so indifferent to the work of their salvation from the yoke, as to have to be forced into service by the Captain, contrary to their will.
On the Sunday evening of the outbreak, we visited the plantations and acquainted the slaves with our purpose to effect their liberation, the greatest enthusiasm was manifested by them –joy and hilarity beamed from every countenance, One old mother, white-haired from age and borne down with the labors of many years in bond, when told of the work in hand, replied: “God bless you! God bless you!” She then kissed the party at her house, and requested all to kneel, which we did, and she offered prayer to God for His blessing on the enterprise, and our success. At the slaves’ quarters, there was apparently a general jubilee, and they stepped for- ward manfully, without impressing or coaxing. In one case, only, was there any hesitation. A dark-complexioned free- born man refused to take up arms, He showed the only want of confidence in the movement, and far less courage than any slave consulted about the plan. In fact, so far as I could learn, the free blacks South are much less reliable than the slaves, and infinitely more fearful. In Washington City, a party of free colored persons offered their services to the Mayor, to aid in suppressing our movement. Of the slaves who followed us to the Ferry, some were sent to help remove stores, and the others were drawn up in a circle around the engine-house, at one time, where they were, by Captain Brown’s order, furnished by me with pikes, mostly, and acted as a guard to the prisoners to prevent their escape, which they did.
It is true then that some in the press misrepresented what had happened. As Reynolds notes, the Chambersburg (Pennsylvania) Valley Spirit, a Democratic paper at the time, had this to say:
Brown’s expectation as to the slaves rushing to him, was entirely disappointed. None seem to have come to him willingly, and in most cases were forced to desert their masters.
As a Democratic paper (Remember that Democrats in the mid-19th century were nearly, if not wholly, in favor of the continuation of slavery), it’s understandable that the paper would make such a claim.
But here is a Harper's Weekly (a politically moderate publication) columnist who witnessed John Brown answering questions after the raid. Brown
confidently expected late reinforcements from Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, North and South Carolina, and several other Slave States, besides the Free States—taking it for granted that it was only necessary to seize the public arms and place them in the hands of the Negroes and nonslaveholders to recuit his forces indefinitely. In this calculation he reluctantly and indirectly admitted that he had been entirely disappointed.
Reynolds, in his analysis, does note that some blacks did join Brown’s numbers during the raid:
To be sure, there were instances of black who joined the liberators enthusiastically. Osborne Anderson [See the previous comment from DeCaro above] recalled that Lewis Washington’s coachman, Jim, fought ‘like a tiger’ and was killed in the battle against the proslavery troops. Anderson also said he met some slaves along a mountain road who joined Brown’s force when they learned of its mission.
Still, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that most of the blacks responded with indifference or fear. When Cook took some eleven freedmen with him to the schoolhouse to meet Owen and the others, it was not long before all of the blacks had fled back to their farms. In fact, the defense lawyers for Brown and his confederates cited the blacks’ fear or apathy in an effort to refute the charge of inciting insurrection. One of John Brown’s attorneys used this argument, and John Cook’s lawyer, Daniel Voorhees, made it central to his case. Far from endangering slavery, Voorhees argued, the raid supported it. Witness the outcome, he said. A supposed Moses appears and promises freedom to the slave, but “the bondsman refuses to be free; drops the implements of war from his hands; is deaf to the call of freedom; turns against his liberators, and, by instinct, obeys the injunction of Paul by returning to his master!”
To be awakened late at night by whites, in consort with blacks, who offered weapons for liberation must have been a baffling experience for many of them.
Besides the few blacks who reportedly joined Osborne Anderson on the road, none are known to have volunteered to join Brown’s group.
And in questioning after being captured, Brown was asked by Virginia congressman Alexander Boteler:
Did you expect to get assistance here from whites as well as from the blacks?
Then, you have been disappointed in not getting it from either?
Brown, with “grave emphasis,” as Reynolds notes:
Yes. I — have — been — disappointed.
Thus, while it is true that he misread black abolitionists and other white supporters in the north, it seems that by his own admission, he did not receive the support he had expected from blacks in the area either. Or to restate my response to DeCaro:
I think the point Reynolds may have been getting at what was that while some (slaves in the area) were enthusiastic supporters of Brown, Brown’s assumption that droves (i.e. “hundreds”) would turn out to fight against slavery was an overestimation on Brown’s part since most of them had been beaten down, sometimes physically, or at the least, socially and emotionally, for decades and generations by white people. It must have not been an easy thing for many of them to willy-nilly trust a white man who claimed to want to fight with them to end slavery.
So, while Anderson may have been correct in saying that hundreds from plantations were poised to rise up, it seems peculiar that, if they were so enthusiastic about the plan, why they wouldn’t have simply joined Brown at Harper’s Ferry, added to the numbers there, beat back the resistance Brown had faced, and then helped Brown and company make their escape, visit more plantations, head to the mountains and so on. Brown and company held the arsenal for a remarkably long time with such a skeleton crew. Hundreds more might have tipped the scales in their favor.