Monday, March 19, 2007

Rolling out the guns

Johnny - Gowns

This war drags on and body counts grow and participants -- soldiers and insurgents and noncombatants who somehow (inevitably?) become combatants anyway -- invent new ways to swell those numbers. And those in the thick of the bombs and blood hope and pray for the war to end and for those they love to not get killed before then. And some who aren't in harm's way but care anyhow protest, march in the streets, raise high signs until their arms are heavy with a satisfied ache and shout fervent until their throats burn. Others who care press cash into the palms of politicians who promise to end it now or in six months or a year. And still others mutter unconvinced and unconvincing about moving to Canada or Europe, about relinquishing their own country and its foreign policies, but offhand, late at night, half-drunk in bars into their beers. And then there are those who write songs, anti-war songs. Most of these songs are no good: clumsy, hysterical harangues that neglect complex geopolitics, historical trajectories and the vagaries of chance. Songs that proffer simple solutions for something that is not simple.

The most (perhaps only) disappointing thing about the new Arcade Fire album (I think you know the one) is some of its lyrics. Specifically, those about holy wars and not wanting to live in America no more. Glib, unconsidered, easy, too easy, words like these make the songs that hold them -- however dynamic and melodic and otherwise full of honest feeling -- clumsy, hysterical, harangue-y. The latest Low album is a different kind of problem. Borrowing its title from the grim "guns and drums and guns and drums" incantation that weaves through the old folk standard "Johnny" like a dirty-gray specter, that record is all vague, horrified reaction and paralysis (despite having some other good things to recommend it).

I'm not certain there is such a thing as a good anti-war song.
But the way Gowns performs "Johnny," in rasps and gasps, hisses and glitches, prying turgid harp lines with thick thumbs, seems true, it sounds right. Hard despite its soft, florid beauty, it intimates the agony and weariness of war, insinuates the mechanical motions of machines and men and the arduousness of resisting that mechanism, affirms the futility of saying, they'll never take our sons again.

Gowns release their first album, Red State, next week on Cardboard Records.
Gowns' website.

2 Comments:

Anonymous eric said...

A nicely considered post. A local talk show host played a clip of Ted Koppel on one of the Sunday shows -- Koppel is well-connected, and seemed to indicate that the most powerful people in our country have already accepted that we are in a war that our children's children will still be fighting. If/when we exit Iraq, there will still be a war, a different kind of war, but still part of the same war. Our children's children. Ghastly.

I don't know if there is any way to avoid this completely. However, the war against us is being funded in large measure by dollars we spend on oil "over there." Energy independence ought to be our goal, but I don't hear anyone expressing it in those terms. Canada has five times as much oil as Saudi Arabia. Not as cheap to extract and refine, but it would be well worth the extra cost to be able to say no to Venezuelan, Middle Eastern, even Russian oil.

Where are the leaders?

1:04 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Thanks, Eric. The complicated nature of the situation that you nicely elucidate is exactly why (well, among other things) I resent the hell out of the simplistic sentiments offered in these types of songs.

11:53 AM  

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