If you have anything to do with music, whether you play an instrument or are into recording it, do yourself a favor and watch this interview with Daniel Lanois.
Twenty-four years ago, the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay Area. It caused the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to collapse. The eastern span was fixed, but a plan to build a new, safer eastern span was put into place – hopefully protecting commuters from an earthquake. Over the years, the bridge closed for long durations, typically on the three-day weekend of Labor Day.
Fast forwarding to yesterday. My girlfriend’s mom invited us to go kayaking in the bay. “Heck, yes”, I believe my response to be. I didn’t think the outing would carry any significance until we were gearing up to go out. Ms. Mae Rose exclaimed, “I can’t wait to hear how quiet it’ll be under the bridge.” I hadn’t forgotten that the Bay Bridge was closed for the final construction efforts to open the new, earthquake resistant easter span, but absence of countless commuters roaring across the western span hadn’t occurred to me.
After paddling out to the bridge, we sat underneath taking in the eerie, yet calming absence of the empty bridge. I wanted to … I needed to capture this experience. This video, recorded from my phone, doesn’t do it justice until you fully understand the industrial hum and noise is coming from the city.
If you’re thinking “big whoop”, understand that the construction of the new eastern span is complete and the likelihood of the bridge closing to traffic for a considerable amount of time is … well, unlikely. Maybe I’ll go back another day to record video for comparison. Until then, use your imagination.
The opening line of William Congreve‘s The Mourning Bride seems like a fitting beginning to this tale. It reads:
“Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast, To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.”
While I could go on and on about the misquotation of this pull quote and the many others, which are sometimes misattributed to William Shakespeare, this isn’t about history and literature. Instead I’m going to talk about music and how, like a great novel, it can take me away to faraway places and unknown worlds. More specifically, I’m going to focus on M83’s 2011 album, Hurry Up We’re Dreaming. If you have Spotify, feel free to listen along with the embedded links or, if you’re not a Spotify user, click the accompanying YouTube video links. Let’s start the journey!
A few days after the album was released on October, 18th 2011, my friend Jonathan sent the entire album to me on Spotify. He gave no description or reason for the recommendation. I had heard M83 previously, but in the days since I decided to quit pirating music and couldn’t afford to feed my deadly music addiction they fell into obscurity. Luckily with Spotify, I was able to embark on musical journeys without the worry of buyers remorse and I was ready to plow full steam ahead into M83’s sixth studio album.
“We didn’t need a story, we didn’t need a real world. We just had to keep walking and we became the stories, we became the places. We were the lights, the deserts, the faraway worlds. We were you before you even existed.”
Titling a track “Intro” instantly says, “this is going to be epic”, but the whispering story at the beginning of the opening track demolishes any forms of skepticism. Like the blaring fanfare that accompanies the opening crawl of the Star Wars films, I’m jarred into my suspension of disbelief. Anthony Gonzalez and Zola Jesus’s vocals begin to send me across oceans of stars and deep into an unknown universe, but my memories of the world I just left are still fresh in mind.
The first notes of this song are the most unique elements in music I’ve ever encountered. I don’t know how to describe them perfectly and default to calling them horns, since I imagine an alien instrument resembling a vuvuzela making this sound.
Inspired by experiences with my creative personality being trampled by an education system that wanted me to conform, I see young children being sent away to internment camps by their families, who are ashamed and scared of their abilities. The children’s abilities aren’t the stuff of X-Men, but more an ability to see the world through a different frame of view. To the parents and adults, these children are freaks for their understanding of one another, their ability to see others for their true colors without any context. Away from the internment camps, a young couple walk their child into a restaurant in a big city. After they’ve ordered, a woman in a business suit sits down adjacent to them with the morning paper. She connects eyes with the child who instantly calls her out for the skeletons in her closet. Embarrassed and shocked the parents leave money on the table and hurry out of the restaurant.
The parents, blindsided by this event, attempt to hide the child in fear of him being taken away, but they can’t act fast enough for the reach of the politician’s network. In an emotional scene, he is ripped from his parents and taken to the internment camp where he meets the other children. Unlike the others in the camp, he wasn’t discarded by his parents. This difference from the others creates an anomaly in the camp. Before the children accepted their fate – believing that they were the scorn of the world. The new child recognizes this in his peers and seeks to help the others find purpose in their lives. In the following months, he becomes their leader and leads an uprising in the internment camp, which scares the administrators and guards away. As the most amazing saxophone solo of the 21st century screams, the children celebrate their victory and hail their leader. We’re left with the impression that they’ll begin to turn the camp into a city, a city of their own, as the song fades.
The album is filled with the innocence of childhood and Reunion provides the first concrete lyrical representation of this, but with a dab of adolescence. Gonzalez’s lyrics and Morgan Kibby’s spoken words remind me of naive first love – being drawn to one another by hormones that suppress the harsh reality that their desires will not last forever. Neither being the realist, one asks if they’ll stand on their land forever, while the other replies that they could build a fort and play all day, forever. When the song transitions into the next …
… I see a man sitting at a desk watching the scene on a monitor, wishing and wanting what these star-crossed lovers possess. Turning off the monitor, he stands up to walk through the small, dark room, pass his bed to a small window that spills in blue light, juxtaposing the amber glow from lamps and console controls.
Continuing from the previous song, the scene continues and we see the blue light from the window is reflecting off a nearby, habited planet and the crammed room is a small vessel floating by as it picked up the radio waves that intercepted the film he was just watching. He retreats to his bed and looks to photos he’s pinned to the wall. He grabs one of his wife and child, embracing one another and smiling happily for the camera. Flipping it over, a note reads, TO THE LOVE OF OUR LIVES. He smiles as a tear runs down his cheek, then puts it back in it’s place next to a dual obituary for his wife and child. Laying down, his eyes close to dream of the day that they’ll meet again.
The movie in my head fades to the next story. An acid-laden documentary that merges the themes of a wildlife film and children’s programing is all that can be taken from this track’s beginning, until the little girl asks us, “Do you want to play with me?” It reminds me of another form of childhood innocence, where before we’re conditioned to expect the worse, our view of the world is that we’re all in this together. We’re a whole group of frogs, that live in harmony. The entire theme acts as a flashback to the story I imagined for Midnight City, acting as the optimism of the child who was taken from his family and became the leader for the outcasts. Because a child’s innocence can sometimes remind you that not all is evil in this world. More so, it acts as a public service announcement on a monitor at the train station in our next scene …
In the big city subway station, the public service announcement cuts to a news cast when the next train pulls up and the crowds exit the cars and scatter among the platform.
YouTube Link (this one has an ad, sorry)
It’s nighttime. Coming up the escalator in a major city is a young woman. Her headphones act like blinders to the beggars up top as she walks onto the sidewalk to join the busy crowds heading to their destinations. She stops at a corner for traffic, checking her phone to read a message on the screen, I’M AT THE CLUB, JUST TELL THE DOORMAN THAT YOU’RE WITH ME. <3 The walk sign changes to WALK and she continues ahead.
Now in the club, she looks around the dancing crowd and through the array of lights and lasers. The crowd parts at the right moment to reveal her girlfriend, sitting with two gentlemen, waving for her attention. They connect and the young woman makes her way to the group. She introduces herself to her blind date, then her friend introduces her to the hers. After a few moments her friend suggests that they hit the dance floor, but she's not feeling up to it yet. Maybe after a few more drinks she thinks she'll loosen up, but they should go ahead - and they do. She turns to her date, they lock eyes, stare ... finally they break out into laughter about the playful staring contest. They continue to laugh, smile, talk for a while; they're connection growing more intensely as the time passes. Finally her friend comes back and says they've got to go. Outside the club, everyone say their goodbyes and as the music begins to fade, she gives the guy a peck on the lips, smiles, and walks away into the night.
A man stares outward intently; he also stands on the edge of a building, atop its roof. He looks down and estimates that it’s about a hundred stories to the ground. Sneaking onto the roof a group of rescue workers want to catch him by surprise and keep him from jumping. The man closes his eyes, inhales a deep breath through his nostrils, finding peace in the decision he’s about to make. The rescuers are inching closer to him undetected until one of them accidentally hits his head on an aluminum awning that bangs with a crash.
The man’s concentration is broken as he looks back. Now angry, he yells to them at the top of his lungs that there’s nothing he could have done to protect them. It’s all his fault, he’s the coward and a sad excuse for a human being. He says that he would ask for forgivness, but wonders who would forgive the man who killed the rainbows and the species. And off he went, traveling at 120mph to the ground. His first surprise was that the fall was happening faster than he had expected. Then, just as he pondered the velocity of his fall, it began to slow down exponentially. In a way he would predict one would toward the center of a black hole, through the event horizon. Slower and slower. Until …
No YouTube Link, sorry
The man now opens his eyes to a deep blue sky. He blinks a few times, wondering what it is he’s seeing. He sits up and the fact that he’s laying in a large green field, next to a majestic forest, wearing a Spanish conquistador armor doesn’t shock him as much as the Aztec warrior standing above him, extending his hand to help him off the horse he fell off of.
The man from Where The Boats Go is laying with his eyes closed in his space capsule, which is still floating through the cosmos. The ship around him begins to fade to darkness. Upon the darkness, the scene changes to him laying in a hammock between two trees. The wife from his photo approaches him and he wakes up to see her smiling down on him. The sun makes him squint as he asks if she is really, really there. She wonders while he’s being silly. This brings him comfort. He tells her he loves her and when she returns the sentiment, he embraces her by pulling her into the hammock. As they lay, she rests her head on his chest and he cherishes the moment.
He begins to wonder the nightmare he’s just woken up from. In it he was a prisoner, floating along in a cell that transported him from galaxy to galaxy, drifting through time, past nebulas and stars. His crime he can’t remember. He knew regret, though. Fixated on his eyes, we see them close. As they begin to twitch, the light from the scene darkens and we pull away to see that he’s still in the vessel. His eyes twitch from REM sleep as he acts out his dream by stroking the area his wife’s hair would be.
That’s it for Part 1. I’ll finish the album very very soon, possibly early this week. I hope that you’ve enjoyed it and will edit this outro to be a link to Part 2 once it’s been written.
Mitch Hedberg was a genius, nuff said.
It makes me wonder if it was more the disruption from the routine-style of comedy that we had been conditioned to love by the entire act of one-liners.