Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

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Nonsensically Epic! A ramble through language and song

Random thoughts can coalesce in odd ways. Probably because midday radio guy Rick Emerson is a big fan of the band Cheap Trick, I got thinking today of their most famous song, "The Flame." You've likely heard it:

Remember after the fire, after all the rain, I will be the flame...

Thing is, I tried to recall another line from that song. There's the line, right before the chorus, that goes You were the first, you'll be the last.

I first thought it was You were the first to be the last.

Which, if you think about, is nonsensical...but sounds epic.

It's misheard, but I kind of like it. It makes no sense, but seems like it should make enormous sense.

I'll do that sometimes, come up with something that doesn't make sense but seems to have dramatic weight to it. I once was inspired by Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels to concoct the phrase Death rides a horse. (Remember that, happyspector?) Hmm. Death rides a horse. Sounds like the title of a Spaghetti Western, doesn't it? Sounds portentious. It sounds less portentious and epic if you've read the novels and know that the horse Death rides is named Binky. (Yes, in Terry Pratchett's work, Death is a character. And Death has a sense of humor.) Stephen King once said that any noun plus any verb always, always, equals a sentence: "Rocks explode. Jane transmits. Mountains float. These are all perfectly good sentences. Many of them don't make much logical sense, but even the stranger ones (Plums deify!) have a kind of poetic weight that's nice." I'll do that sometimes, too. My favorite such sentence? "Teeth melt." Heh.

Certain words, phrases, and musical effects can be used to make a song feel epic. That's partly why I don't like that My Chemical Romance song about the marching band ("Welcome to the Black Parade"). It seems very calculated, like it's trying too hard to be epic, with that solo piano opener, the musical build, the "Oh I'm so feeling this emotion" delivery of the lyrics...but the lyrics (I think) get too wannabe-epic too quickly. I mean, the first line is

When I was a young boy,
My father took me into the city
To see a marching band

And the very next line is

He said, "Son when you grow up,
would you be the savior of the broken,
the beaten and the damned?"


WHOA. Got heavy a little quickly there, dude. (I mean, my dad would've been likely to make some deadpan joke in the same context. That's what I'm used to.) It seems such a dramatic leap...and I don't make that leap along with the song. I kind of tune it out at that point, in fact. (I'm likely to turn off a radio, if something comes on that I think will annoy me.)

Emerson actually mentioned My Chemical Romance recently, noting the heavy Pink Floyd vibe they're giving off, especially with their album art and the posters for their tour. And Pink Floyd, of course, did plenty of Epic, but at its best their epic stuff felt very personal, and not calculated. I actually think Pink Floyd The Wall is a little overrated: remember, it's an epic about a rock star having a bad day. But the second-to-last track on that 2-disc, 4-side (on LP) monster is "The Trial," where everything comes to a head and things seem to be exploding and The Wall falls, and it feels felt. Like the guys in the band mean it. And it has orchestrater-conducter Michael Kamen leading the orchestra into that glorious Kamen chaos I love so much, and it all coalesces (I like that word, "coalesce") into a song I love. Maybe if My Chemical Romance could have had that Kamen kick, I'd've liked the song more. (I miss Kamen.)

And there are better examples of the personal-as-epic (or maybe it's epic-as-personal) in Pink Floyd's work. Currently my two favorite Pink Floyd albums are The Final Cut and Wish You Were Here (whereas I've never responded as well to Dark Side of the Moon; maybe I know the singles from that album too well as singles, not as part of the album experience). The Final Cut, if I remember correctly, evolved from a handful of songs not used for The Wall into a kind of compare-and-contrast of the World War II-era England that the bandmembers' parents lived in with the 1980s Thatcher/Cold War-era England that the bandmembers knew. And The Final Cut is by turns angry, perverse, heart-breaking, sardonic to the point of being mordant, and ending (literally) with a bang (nuclear war!) but with perhaps the quietest song on the album. It's an unexpected way to close, but it's so perfect.

And Wish You Were Here is even more immediate; it was their smart-assed but still sincere ode to former bandmate Syd Barrett, whose mounting health problems and related troubles had led him to leave the band. The album is very direct and, more importantly, raw: and 26 years after its 1975 release, "Wish You Were Here" became a strangely perfect song to play in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, something that left so many of us raw.

You know, I really didn't think I'd start with Cheap Trick and come to 9/11. This is what happens when I ramble.
Tags: creme de la chris, language, music

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