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Monday, February 28, 2011

Hussalonia Song # 24: That’ll Be The Day

Now, this is a change of pace! Hussalonia is in rare form on this track, and I do mean rare! The Hussalonia Founder's voice is different too, it doesn't even sound like the same person! Amazing!

This is a really nice, smooth little rock ' n' roll number, in which the narrator sings about the unlikelihood of his girlfriend or wife ever actually following up on her threats to leave him. Despite the potentially emotional subject matter, the song sounds very upbeat and lighthearted, and it is easy to just rock out to it. Really, the difference from the usual Hussalonia sound is just so impressive, I can't even belie- wait, what? Hold on a second, my producer is handing me a note here. I…what? The wrong track? What is he talking about, the wrong track? That's the title, right there! That'll Be The Day, it says it right there in digital black and white! See? That'll Be The Day by Budd…oh. Oh. Well…never mind. I'll just start this one over.

The Hussalonia track titled "That'll Be The Day" is in fact a 26 seconds-long bit of sound collage with drums and crowd noise. Now, when writing about sound collage previously on this blog, I've used it as an occasion to do some free-form writing. However, in that case, the track was roughly 8 minutes long. At 26 seconds, I can't really do that here. It takes me a few seconds longer than that to write a sentence sometimes. So what to do?

I don't mean to imply that the track is unpleasant, but I confess that I can't think of a great deal to say about it. It makes for a nice opening for the album; it actually sounds like a bit of warm-up before a concert begins, which is a fitting way for an album to start. It brings back "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" memories. Perhaps the best way for me to write about this track is to mirror it and simply use this entry as an introduction to the album, and my writings about it, as well.

The official description of this album on The Hussalonia Internet Concourse contains the following statement: "Charles Hardin Hussalonia is a love letter to the pop song convention, a subversive songwriter reveling in a guilty pleasure." I'd like to begin with a few thought on creative projects that are "guilty pleasures."

Hearing that phrase used about something implies a sort of shame or regret. Obviously, when one feels "guilt," it is presumed that one is doing something that one ought not to do. I do not think that anything on this album is worth regretting or feeling guilty for; it really makes for a wonderful listening experience. For a long time it was for me "the last" Hussalonia album. After stumbling onto "The Public Domain EP" in early 2009, I acquired as much Hussalonia material as I could. At the time, "The Somewhat Surprising Return of the Hussalonia Robot Singers" was the last album released, and though I had confirmation that Hussalonia was alive and well, I had no knowledge if new music was forthcoming, and throughout that year I was left to wonder if I'd stumbled onto something great just after it had ended. I'm thankful that such was not the case. However, at the time, all I could do was explore the excellent material available for free online and also the few CDs that were still for sale. If memory serves, I bought all the physical CDs that were still being sold at CD Baby first, as I tend to prefer hard copies of things in most cases. Finally, after that, I got "Ernest Evans Hussalonia" and, at last, "Charles Hardin Hussalonia." As it was the last Hussalonia album I hadn't heard, I saved my first listen up for my usually annual beach vacation that year. It made for an excellent summer day listening, and I'll continue to have fond memories of it as the ocean sped past me in the midday sun. It was a lovely time, and the kind of songs that appear on this album make for such perfect summer listening in most locations. It really is a great album, and if creating it was a guilty pleasure, then I wouldn't mind indulging in some such guilty pleasures myself, at least if I could produce something of the quality of this album as a result.

I've mentioned on this blog a few times a children's fiction series I've been writing since, oddly enough, 2009. It has become a massive project now; it began as a one-off project written as a favor for a friend. It began for me as a "guilty pleasure." In some ways I still feel that it is. I don't like to admit that I enjoy writing it (well, in the spirit of full disclosure, writing it can always be very painful for long periods of time) and I don't like to claim I enjoy writing the romance in it. When I say I don't like it, I'm not really lying, but then in another sense I'm not telling the truth either. To be honest, a part of me just loves writing about little furry animals that can talk growing up and having adventures, loves writing about awkward humans my age falling in love and having wonderful, romantic experiences that I have never had and probably never will and probably don't really even want, loves big epic storylines where all the good guys get to be heroes and the bad guys get to get their butts kicked, loves exciting chase scenes and madcap races against the clock and cute things and people that hug each other and love each other and learn that in their own hearts all is right after all.

Part of me loves every last blasted part of that. A lot. Every Disney movie-style minute of it. I admit it. There. Happy now?

For years, when I thought that I had some desire and, perhaps, need to write, before I went into long slumps of inactivity, I thought that the only things I would write would be intentionally stark, Kafkaesque, existential pieces filled with worldly absurdity, personal reflection, spiritual longing, raw honesty and incessant, unfailing questioning. I haven't given up on those stories. I haven't given up my intent to write them, even though years have passed and I have grown lazy and ridiculous. I have no intention of giving them up. In fact the one that means the most to me, the one that means more than all the others, is currently on my mind and I'm considering taking a break from the "fun/commercial" series and sitting down and getting the thing written in a complete rough draft as fast as I possibly can, after years of unfinished, failed drafts. I hope I do it; I hope I don't get discouraged, distracted, overcome with depression due to fear that I'll die before finishing it, or overcome with depression due to fear that I'll die if I do finish it. I hope I finally get it written.

I'll tell you something, though. Those "serious" stories still mean the most to me, but the "fun" stories mean something to. It is, I think, about balance. If I worked on only one or the other and never gave the other any thought, I'd probably lose my mind. It is great to be an artist, to take yourself seriously, to write things that are meaningful, that mean a lot to you, that preserve the ideas for which you want to live and die. But it's great too to relax sometimes, to take time off, to not take yourself so seriously, to have some fun, to work with friends on the things that give you pleasure and that make you happy, to get that Traveling Wilburys vibe if you can, to do favors for friends and help them on their own creative projects, to not worry so much, to take it easy and just do what you really like to do and (assuming it isn't illegal or doesn't violate the precepts of various systems of morality) not feel guilty about it.

I've learned to forgive myself over time for something I don't think requires forgiveness from anyone anyway. I've learned to embrace the talking animals without giving up the work that feels the most meaningful to me. I've learned to create things that I like regardless of how anyone else reacts to them or how bizarre anyone else finds them. I've learned to have fun and do what I feel I need to do.

Everything in moderation, after all, everything in balance. All work and no play make Leo a dull boy. I speak without authority. I'm in no position to give anyone any advice, really. But if I was going to give general advice to artistic and creative types, I suppose the stuff I just said would be it.

A few years ago I used to make short videos with friends. I look and act like a goof in all of them, but I've learned not to let myself feel embarrassed (well, not TOO much) but to just enjoy the memories of projects like that, without pretension, without any goals except the joy of creating and collaboration. If you've got it, cherish it, kids.

That's all I've got to say for now, but I hope you'll stick around for the rest of my entries on "Charles Hardin Hussalonia."

Who am I kidding? Of course you will! You love to hear me ramble on incessantly from topic to unrelated topic! Go ahead, say you're gonna quit checking in.

That'll be the day!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Hussalonia Song # 23: Home On The Range [A Cover]

Already we come to the close of our first adventure into the world of "The Hussalonia Robot Singers." It will be quite a while before they somewhat surprisingly return, and with a vengeance. Until then, we are left with this lovely, bittersweet cover of the state song of Kansas, "Home On The Range."

Based on the poem "My Western Home" by Dr. Brewster M. Higley, the name of a man alive during the 1800s if ever I heard one, this is a song familiar to most American folk. I seem to recall it often as a child appearing in classic "Looney Toons" shorts. It is the sort of song that a fourth grade music class can ruin for you, but if, years later, you take a look back, perhaps through the fresh medium of a robot's voice, you'll realize white a contemplative, reflective, pretty song it is. My hat is off to you, Mr. Higley. Wikipedia, it goes without saying, has more information, including various versions of the lyrics. Also, there's a nice recording there from 1939, performed at the Raiford Penitentiary in Florida by a one James Richardson. Recorded by John and Ruby Lomax, Wikipedia lists this recording as being in the public domain, however, the Library of Congress website includes a "Rights and Reproductions" page that, while seemingly reiterating that the recording is believed to be public domain, nonetheless reaffirms that nobody seems to know anything about the copyright status of a lot of antiquated material, and mentions that if you want to use it you'd best get a lawyer to check into it.

I find things like this troubling and irritating; isn't the point of public domain, of cultural commons, being that it is free to use? I do understand why it is this way, but it is frustrating nonetheless; if I want to use something created by an artist who is dead, I might as well send a big fat royalty check to whatever descendent or, worse, corporation that is profiting from his or her work rather than spend the time and money in order to search for the definite verdict on the work's copyright status. Such things are most vexing to me. When I'm dead and gone, I certainly don't want any faceless entity tying my work up in money and red tape. When I'm gone, take what I created, respect it, learn what it is and what it was created for, and then, as long as you do your own thing with the raw material in it, do what you want. Take a crap on it and bury it in your backyard. What do I care? As long as it remains out there, available to everyone who wants it (even if that is only one person), and as long as what it is and why I created it, the meaning behind it are respected, then really, that's all that's needed. Having it any other way seems ridiculous to me.

Now that my rant is over (I don't worry; most likely this subject will be revisited when I write about "The Public Domain EP") let us return to "Home On The Range" as performed by "The Hussalonia Robot Singers."

I very much appreciate the sounds that bookend the song: city sounds, cars driving past, people crossing the streets and walking the sidewalks, talking to themselves, wrapped up in their own little worlds. There's something they missed; it's the robot on the street corner, right next to the Hussalonia building, I bet. There he is, singing about wide open spaces, about nature, about individuality and freedom and solitude, while he's surrounded by concrete, skyscrapers, honking cars with revving engines, babbling, uncaring passers-by and no view of the stars at all. The Hussalonia Founder joins in near the end, to provide some backup vocals, and once again I imagine that he is there to offer support to these lonely robots. It is an appearance that rounds out the song very nicely.

I very much enjoy the way that, as the instrumentation comes into focus, the background sounds of the city fade. It is as if this robot, through his song, has transported maybe the one person who stopped to listen, or maybe only himself, to that home on the range he's singing about. The song grows stronger as the inattentive busy city world weakens, and for just a while, for just one magic moment, he's home, he's where he needs to be. He's no longer a mechanical man in a mechanical world; he's simply a man out enjoying nature, enjoying the free air. It is an appropriate song for a man who feels imprisoned; whether in actuality, in the walls of the Raiford Penitentiary, or inside a mechanical body in a cold, busy city.

As the song ends, the city fades back into focus. The robot's human companion puts down the guitar and moves back inside. The robot is alone in the crowd; nobody even puts change in the hat. It's a shame, but at least he's still able to dream, if only for a moment, of better things, of a better world and a better life. That's certainly still something to hang on to, that's certainly a ray of hope.

So ends the album "The Hussalonia Robot Singers." It is certainly a wise song choice to close out the album, a note of melancholy longing and a tiny but determined sense of hope. After hearing the two traditional song covers on "The Hussalonia Robot Singers" and the public domain release of "Know Your Eastern Anthems," I cannot help but wonder what a straight-up album of traditional covers by Hussalonia would be like, perhaps an album of traditional covers by "The Hussalonia Robot Singers." Perhaps an album of classic public domain poetry as read by animals (mostly ducks)? Ah, but I'm daydreaming. Writing about, and as a result listening more closely to "The Hussalonia Robot Singers" has given me an even greater appreciation of this album. Something such as this, experimental as it is, will undoubtedly be difficult to get used to for most people, yet if you really give it a good listen, there is much to enjoy in it. I am proud to own one of the final physical CD copies of this sold.

Now we must move forward. I don't know about you, but I'm ready to rock, and so it shall be with "Charles Hardin Hussalonia." Will I be able to continue the pace I've been keeping as I've written about "The Hussalonia Robot Singers?" Who knows? Will I abandon writing this blog completely? That'll be the day! If I have anything to say about it, this blog will not fade away!

You may proceed to throw vegetables at me at any time. Keep them in stock; I've got more puns up my sleeve.

Until next time,

Leonard Kirke

Hussalonia Song # 22: Rave On!

On the page of the Hussalonia Internet Concourse devoted to "The Hussalonia Robot Singers," one reviewer, Bernard Fenton, writes that "Hearing these expressionless confessions does strange things to a human ear." That is true, but after a while, the reverse becomes true as well: hearing a human voice, suddenly, after being immersed in the songs and speeches of robots, is actually quite jarring. It feels oddly unfamiliar after all this time spent in the world of the mechanical.

I like to imagine that while recording, the robots needed maintenance, and so the Hussalonia Founder stepped in to help them complete the album by recording "Rave On!"

Though I'm not always sure about my ability to correctly indentify musical genres, I think that this track might actually be considered techno. If so, then it is, if I'm not mistaken, the only techno song recorded by Hussalonia. I am also struck by how much this track reminds me of the music of The Flaming Lips, specifically their albums "The Soft Bulletin" and "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" and the singles and EPs that were released around the same time as the latter. I don't suppose they are considered techno artists, so perhaps that isn't really the word for the genre that this song seems to exist in. What would the word for the genre of those Flaming Lips albums be? Perhaps one could call it "Lipsian?" Who knows? I don't suppose it matters that much anyway.

The title of the track leads me to expect a rather more intense, up-tempo song, and though that expectation is not met, I'm more than satisfied with the actual recording.

This is a track that, prior to focusing on it for this blog, I didn't really listen to often or with much attention. Having given it several proper listens now, though, I find it to be a real hidden gem for me. It is difficult to pinpoint what the quality of this song is that I find so familiar and appealing; it is something I have tried to describe before in other writings unrelated to this song. I'll give it a valiant effort here.

Since I was very young (I'm not sure exactly how far back in my life this goes, but I'm inclined to believe it began even before I began elementary school) I have had visions of my head of particular scenes that are synonymous with certain moods. I have, in fact, referred to them as "mood scenes" for many years, for lack of a more creative term. I've never really been able to put the "feel" or mood of these scenes into words, at least not in any sort of way that does them any justice. It feels like they come from somewhere beyond language, a place of pure emotion and experience, a place that you can remember but never express fully to anyone else. The most striking of these images, and the one I am always able to remember most readily, is in a rather lavish apartment bedroom, high in a building in a city. The sheets on the bed are satin, and there is a woman there. It has a sort of romantic and, the word I would use more specifically is "celestial" atmosphere. There is moonlight steaming through the window. Everything is that moonlight color, light blue and dark blue mixed together. It is emotionally intense and heavy; there is a sense of temporality, like while I'm in that moment I know that it can't last but for just a split-second it feels like time might go easy on me and just freeze that instant forever. That blend of the finite and the infinite makes it bittersweet, but it still makes me feel ecstatic, even as it feels that I might be crushed by it.

A painting I recently saw, by Edvard Munch, captures the color scheme and to some extent the mood exceptionally, almost eerily well: "The Kiss." Look it up. I can't recall any kissing going on specifically; in fact, it is odd that there is even a romantic, almost sexual element to it, considering that this image has been with me since I was fairly young.

This and a few other "mood scenes" have been reoccurring in my thoughts for years. I've had dreams that have had similar moods and that have created similar longings to return to them. Certain films have captured that feel too, including one I referenced on this blog recently, Satoshi Kon's "Paprika" and to some, less intense extent, Richard Linklater's "Waking Life." The original "mood scenes" feel like memories; perhaps they are only memories of dreams. At any rate, I've wanted for many years to return to them. I've long wanted to master lucid dreaming for this reason, to explore them consciously in a dream and find out what they are, where they came from, and experience and enjoy them fully. I haven't managed to lucid dream at will yet, or even have any significant lucid dreams in recent years. I'm still trying and still hoping for it.

Though most things that bring the scenes and feelings to mind involve dreams, and though dreams are what I consider the scenes to be at heart and what I associate them with, "Rave On!" brings it to mind in a different way. Rather that mentioning dreams it mentions dissatisfaction, it mentions ecstasy, it mentions not getting what one craves, all set to an appropriately unusual, ethereal, beautiful tune. I can't think of any other Hussalonia track that has achieved this most unique effect for me; it feels like a comment on the experience itself. I've no idea, really, how far my response to this song is from the intent behind the creation of it, but nonetheless, there it is.

Over the past couple of years the idea has occurred to me that one most likely lives best when he neither compromises for the things he wants nor regrets losses; in other words, reach for what makes you happy, don't accept a weaker, diluted form of what you want, but if you don't get it, be happy with what you have. In other words, it's all or nothing, no regrets. I've decided since then not to settle in life for inferior versions of the sensations and emotions and places I've gone in my own mind, no drug-induced stupors, only seek it instead through self-reflection (including lucid dreaming) and be happy without it if it doesn't work out. The main thing is to avoid compromise, for getting a lesser version of what I'm looking for. I've decided to go all or nothing, no regrets. I've been feeling pretty good since.

This track brings that thought to mind in a fittingly beautiful way. There is some sadness, some bittersweetness in it, sure, but at least the way my mind processes it, that's just a part of the beauty of it. "Oh, I dance alone!" It's sad but you can enjoy it and maybe even change as you go along. It's worth a thought, anyway. Enjoy it while you have it, enjoy whatever it is. "Rave On!"

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hussalonia Song #21: You Are A Girl, I’m A Machine

The instrumental part of this song sounds rather like a videogame to me. To be more precise, it sounds like a videogame from the late 1980s or early to mid 1990s. It brings to mind many hours of a squandered, but not too regrettably squandered youth, battling such terrible foes as The Dark Queen (Battletoads), King Bowser Koopa (Mario Bros.) and Dr. Robotnik (Sonic the Hedgehog, and don’t give me any of that new-fangled “Dr. Eggman” crap; he’s Dr. Robotnik, and he always will be). I think the music here reminds me especially of the Mega Man X games, specifically the original “Mega Man X.” I can’t quite recall the level, but I’m thinking that it might be the final boss battle with Sigma that has an instrumental, 16-bit song at least somewhat similar to the music in “You Are A Girl, I’m A Machine.”

I’ve mentioned before my habit of imagining music videos in my mind to go along with songs I enjoy, and I recall mentioning my thought that some sort of music video might make a good compliment to “I Want To Be An Owl.” Well, for this song, I’d suggest something a bit different: I can easily imagine this being used in a classic videogame. In fact, considering the subject matter, I could see this as a featured song in an especially steamy, romance-laden “Mega Man X” game bizarre as that idea is.

I confess that I can’t really imagine what the situation might be that this song reflects. Is it (not unlike our old friend Marvin the Paranoid Andorid) a lonely robot, who somehow experiences the human emotion of love, but, being a machine, also experiences the all-too-human phenomenon of unrequited love? How could this happen? What might have led to it? What sort of robot is this, anyway? The song poses more questions for me than answers, and it invites one to imagine a story rather than tells one directly. This is, to some extent frustrating, but I would also venture that it is a strength (and the strength of many creative works in this way is often both admirable and frustrating) as it invites the listener to fill in the blanks him or herself. I must also add that I find this tune a bit creepy. The music, which brings back memories of extremely tense videogame battles in a sort of post-traumatic-stress-syndrome-for-nerds-way, tends to make me feel very nervous, and the deep, emotionless voice of the robot speaker is so dead-set and blunt that I feel unnerved. It brings to mind a voyeur, hiding in plain site; in other words, people, don’t undress in front of the blender, who knows what might be going through its mind? It is a terrifying, if irrational thought.

One final note: I mentioned Satoshi Kon in my previous entry, and considering that I’m currently writing about “The Hussalonia Robot Singers” it seems inappropriate to fail to mention his final film. Though begun with Kon himself directing, it will be completed using the notes and guidance he left behind following his death. It is supposed to be called “The Dream Machine” and will be his only film aimed at a younger audience, and it also happens to feature only robot characters, no humans. Apparently it is at least partially a tribute to Osamu Tezuka’s “Astro Boy” (or “Tetsuwan Atom” for those of you well aware of his Japanese roots) which I’ve also mentioned previously on this blog. (Fun trivia: the original "Mega Man" game was intended to be an "Astro Boy" videogame!) I have a cautious hope about how much I will enjoy his last film. As you know, I don’t generally enjoy robot stories, but there are, of course, exceptions. “Astro Boy” is entertaining though I don’t prefer it to any other of Tezuka’s works. Still, if anyone can make a robot story that I’ll enjoy, it is Satoshi Kon. Here’s to hoping that I’ll be able to see it in a theater somewhere.

Hussalonia Song # 20: If I Could Only Shed A Tear

"I'd learn to write sad stories / and make it a career / and I'd feel a whole lot better / if I could only shed a tear."

I've written already of finding it easy to relate to certain robots and statements from "The Hussalonia Robot Singers," and to that list I must add this verse, if not the entire song. That is, if I'm hearing it correctly. I generally have little to no trouble understanding the robots' voices, but I'm not entirely sure if the lyric actually is "and make it a career." The second Hussalonia Robot Singers album comes with a handy lyric book, but as the original has no such thing, I can only assume my understanding of the lyrics is correct. So, assuming that the lyric is here transcribed correctly, I say again: it is very relatable.

This blog has already included a number of mentions of my anxiety with my writing "career" as I seem to find references to a similar internal struggle over art vs. making a living/crowd-pleasing and corporate pandering (or "pop vs. popular" to borrow one of Hussalonia's memorable slogans) throughout the entire body of Hussalonia's work. This particular line doesn't relate to that specifically, but it certainly brings it to mind again.

Now, the refrain of this song, "If I Could Only Shed A Tear," that's something I relate to as well.

I recall crying on a number of occasions as a child. Most children do cry with at least some frequency, and this is quite normal; in fact it might very well be distressing for it to be otherwise in a particular case. I recall crying during a number of times that I was depressed, generally fueled by anxiety about death, and to some extent the future. As mentioned on a recent entry, this kind of anxiety has affected me less sharply as I've gotten older. I also remember crying when having to get shots at the doctor as a child; one of the last few times I got a shot at the doctor I remember laughing, because the radio was playing "September" by Earth, Wind and Fire and I associate that song with a bizarre in-joke. I also remember finding the nurse taking the blood sample physically attractive. Quite a difference between the two times in my life, indeed.

It seems that I don't cry very easily these days. Sometimes it bothers me when I find myself having little emotional reaction to things which I ought to, such as stories of tragedies. It also bothers me that even when it makes me sad to hear of the death of someone, my first instinct is, confusingly, to laugh. I recall this happening once in high school when I was thinking about a girl who died in a car wreck; I found myself compelled to laugh even though I was actually very sad about it and didn't see anything in it to laugh about. Perhaps this is some sort of subconscious, existential reaction to the absurdities of life and death. Perhaps it is a psychological defense mechanism to keep me from feeling sadness too intensely. It is troubling, either way.

I recall crying at my great-grandfather's funeral. I did not cry at my great-grandmother's funeral, however; not because of any negative feeling or lack of feeling for her, though. She died after many years of Alzheimer's disease, and so by the time of her actual death she, as I had known her, had faded from my life. In some way it softens the blow of losing someone. In another sense, it robs you of a proper goodbye. I can't say I regret having the impact lessened, but I can't say I don't regret that lack of a real goodbye, either.

So what, lately, has caused me to shed a tear? It seems that I'm more apt to get emotional about fiction than real-life events. I did shed a tear when I saw the Johnny Cash video for "Hurt" when it was first released. I believe I got choked up at the end of the anime series "Cowboy Bebop." Speaking of anime, which for too many years I foolishly dismissed as a useless genre of junk, I don't think any other single director has caused an emotional reaction in me quite like Satoshi Kon. "Tokyo Godfathers" is a film I consider one of the all-time best, and it gets to me every time I watch it. When I first saw "Millennium Actress," I didn't care for it that much and considered it inferior to "Tokyo Godfathers" and "Paprika." Yet a second viewing changed my mind. At the end of the third viewing, I felt that I finally, fully "got it" and was, admittedly, holding back some tears at the end, and now I consider it another one of the all-time greatest films. Certain episodes, mainly those near the end of the television series "Paranoia Agent" also became emotional viewing experiences for me. Kon was a master. He got one less cry out of me last August when he posted his farewell message to the world, revealing that he had been diagnosed with cancer in May and died on August 24th, 2010. His farewell message, which I discovered only a day or two after being informed of his death, is one of the most moving things I have ever read, and I highly encourage you to seek one of the many translations kindly provided at various blogs and websites. If I ever return to my other blog, I intend to write about Satoshi Kon and his work quite often and in detail.

Back to the general subject of the song, the inability to shed a tear and feeling bad about it, I'm reminded of another recent experience which I'd prefer not to go into too much detail about, but which I would like to mention anyway. I recently had the experience of reconnecting with someone I used to have strong feelings for many years ago, and found that, though the outward aspects of our relationship resumed as if nothing had changed, I no longer felt so strongly. This, I found, was very disappointing, even though the way things used to be didn't ultimately create any particular, positive result. I've felt a sort of hollowness since (though lately somewhat abated) and a sense of disenchantment; not that she was not who I thought she was, but that I've lost the ability to feel inspired by her in the same way as she is, perhaps unable to make of the relation what I liked, through the use of self-deceptive fictions, or at least so far it has been that way. It hasn't been terrible overall, but there is certainly emptiness in that regard that hangs over my head. Such is life, and I'd feel a whole lot better if I could only shed a tear.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hussalonia Song # 19: Buy Me!

"You may find me tasteless, and cheap, but I'm not free." So begins "Buy Me!"

This is another spoken word recording, and so once again I want to take just a moment to honor the instrumental backing of the song. Intense, blaring, electronic, and attention-grabbing, it is the perfect compliment to the robot seductress's machinations.

"Buy Me!" feels like the essences of the advertising industry and commercialism packed into one solid minute of in-your-face, aggressive fast-talking. What we have here is a product that really sells itself. And how!

I would absolutely LOVE to see this track used in an actual commercial. It is all there, as I said, all the aggressiveness, attempted seductiveness, condescending attitude, and the call for more than necessary.

I've noticed that the older I get, the less patience I have for commercials. I spoke in the previous entry on "The Questioning Machine" about how when I was younger death seemed to bother me more, and I was more frequently depressed because of it, and as I age I feel at least marginally more at peace with it and much less frequently depressed over it. If anything, I've become more troubled by life than death at this point. Perhaps it is this increasing appreciation of life that makes me increasingly bitter about others wasting my time, rather than being able to waste it myself, in private, in a variety of ridiculous ways.

It might not be such an irritating issue if commercials had some real effect. If I was seduced by them successfully, as it is with the best seductions, I might not regret being taken advantage of. Sure, I'd lose a few bucks, but I'd go away from it without regret and a bittersweet little romantic memory.

Yet commercials do nothing. They appear on my TV screen and scream at me about how great I look but how, with their products, I'd look even better. Or sometimes they try and scare me into buying their crap. But none of it works. I'm not seduced. These people don't know how to seduce. They're the sleazy one at the party, the one you can't take seriously, compliments or not, because the tricks they're using are so obvious; they're just pick-up lines invented during the last century that everybody already knows by heart. Nothing is new or interesting or attractive. They're the overly aggressive one with no subtlety; "You. Me. My place." Where's the fun in that? These people haven't the faintest idea how to get things done.

Sure, once in a while there's something that does strike a pleasant note. I will admit to finding Billy Mays rather charming. That whole "ShamWow!" thing was amusing because it was so self-aware of how ridiculous it really was. Commercials done right can be funny; commercials done well can, at least in theory, get you interested in a product that you might actually have real use for. This ideal, however, is more rarely seen in action than a Sasquatch.

I've actually considered creating a blog in which I explore the undertones and implications of commercials. Writing this entry makes me think, once again, that I ought to. If anyone out there reading this has any interest, let me know, and maybe I will do it.

Back to the matter at hand, most commercials are just a waste of time. I don't buy the products I see. I don't have any interest in them. This doesn't change with repeated viewings. So why must I see it again and again while trying to watch a film or television show? It changes nothing. It spites me for not buying the product by refusing to leave, yet if I bought the product it would be encouraged to stay anyway. I want these time-wasters out of my house and out of my life!

There are occasionally commercials I respect. I like the All-State "Are you in good hands?" commercials. The spokesman acts in a way that frames the product in terms of serious caution rather than crazy, hysterical fear. Nothing in it feels exaggerated and the audience is shown respect itself.

However, in recent times I have noticed more often an irritating trend in which commercials blatantly condescend to and insult the viewer. The Twix commercials which advocated "chewing it over with a Twix" made sense and had an easily comprehended internal logic, even if the scenario displayed was unrealistic; your girlfriend asks if the pants make her butt look big, you chew on a Twix and your candy-garbled speech is interpreted by her as a compliment of some sort; essentially the idea is that Twix allows you to become an auditory Rorschach test that allows people to hear what pleases them. It was clever, even if the applications were unlikely.

On the other hand, the similar commercials for Snickers are condescending and make much less sense. The protagonist of the commercial is meant to be a counterpart to the viewer. The Twix man with the girlfriend in the unflattering pants did nothing wrong and was only trying to be polite without being dishonest. One can relate to that without any guilt. The Snickers guy, however, is trying to trick a girl into sleeping with him by appealing to her vain, superficial interest in social activism. Also, the very idea of having someone over to "blog about [their] ideals" is bizarre to me; who blogs together? Maybe I should invite someone over and see how it works out.

Nonetheless, that Snickers commercial irks me every time. Since the guy is the one who makes use of and benefits from the effects of the Snickers, I have to assume he's the one I'm supposed to relate to. So, to the people that created this commercial, I am, or at least their target audience is, a meat-headed horn-dog with no scruples who attempt to bed shallow, superficial, stupid self-absorbed women? Thanks a lot, Snickers, I'm flattered. Also, as the guy's moment of Snickers-eating takes place in an apparent time-warp, I feel that the product's use and benefits are grossly misrepresented. I've had a few Snickers bars over the years and I've never experienced a time warp. Well, actually, I did experience one once, but in that case time sped up rather than slowed down or froze, and I wasn't eating any sort of candy at all.

Just have somebody come out and tell me how delicious Snickers are. Tell me to try it once, and if I don't like it, no harm done, and back it up by assuring me that if I don't like it, I'll never have to see the commercial again. Back that up by finding some way of making it happen!

Commercials aren't content to stay on my television. They infect the Youtube videos that I watch, making me associate whatever products are being advertised with the experience of having two hands cover my screen while I'm trying to watch something and having to divert my attention each time to swatting them away. When will it end? When will people learn? When will people give up this nonsense?

Consumption can be fun. I'm not really against consumerism, just rampant consumerism. Do everything in moderation, folks, or at least most things in moderation. Epicurus, give them a thing or two to think about.

On one of the interviews on the "Live In Allen Hall" album, the Hussalonia Founder mentioned feeling a strong dislike of the world of online musicians trying to advertise themselves, what with all the Myspace and, now, Facebook friend requests. The "Hey! Be my friend! Listen to my music!" scene, was, in his estimation, pathetic, and I must agree. I do have some degree of added sympathy, though, for those promoting their own work; I can't blame anyone for wanting to live that dream of making a living from their own, beloved creative work. Still, at the end of the day, I respect most the one who does what he wants to do for his own sake and for the sake of the work, rather than for some kind of extra gain. That is a big part of what drew me to Hussalonia beginning with my initial enjoyment of "The Public Domain EP." There are other bands I enjoy, who make money, who advertise and promote themselves, and I don't think any less of them for that. Still, in this regard, Hussalonia has a special place in my heart, and so do the few others I find who operate in a similar way. Keep fighting the good fight.

Not to change the subject, but this is on my mind and I thought I'd go ahead and mention it. I recently finished the first half of my novel. Did I mention that already? I think I can have the other half done in about another year; at least that's what I'm going for. I think you'll really like it. It is about these adorable talking animals who live together in this huge…well, I don't want to spoil it, but I'm sure you'd really enjoy it. Once it's done, I'll probably self-publish it. That way it cuts out the middle man and the price can be much more affordable. If you want a copy, or more than one (they'll make great gifts!), let me know, and I'll see if I can get you one on discount. Like I said, self-publishing should really be a good process. Unless you know someone who would be interested in publishing it, in which case, let me know, and we can talk about it! I'm sure it will be a hit! You know, kids love those talking animals, and the characters age with the series, so by the time it ends it's just as much for adults as for kids, so that's a huge potential market for it. You know, Harry Potter was like that, and you know how THAT series did! Did you hear how many publishers rejected it before it was finally published? You don't want to miss that kind of opportunity! Besides, my terms are very reasonable. Anyway, just drop me a message and we'll talk. I understand your time is limited, so is mine. I look forward to hearing from you!

Hussalonia Song # 18: The Questioning Machine

Though I hate to admit it, I probably relate to "The Questioning Machine" more than any other character or figure in Hussalonia. Perhaps that's a slight exaggeration, I'm sure there are other contenders, but at the moment I am swept away by how familiar this Questioning Machine feels to me. This is the type of track that, when I'm not listening to it, I think of it in terms of a certain emotional weight that is uncomfortable to access indirectly and too often, and so I don't think of it as a personal favorite, and yet while listening to it, I find it so moving, so original, so brilliantly written that I consider it a favorite all over again.

Really, every time I hear it, I wish I'd written it myself. Perhaps if I wasn't so averse to robot stories I'd have a better chance at writing things like this. Such is life.

It is a spoken word piece, but I would like to take a moment to recognize the instrumental as well. It fits perfectly and captures the mood. Being spoken word, it feels closer to my own style of creative endeavor, and so I feel that it is more accessible to me in that way, I could almost see myself writing something similar; the music, however, is something I can't create, but as with music in general I can very much appreciate it. I should also take a moment to honor the robot actor; for a robot with a synthesized voice, there is some real emotion in that voice, especially when he asks "Do you know what it is like to really love?" The word "love" there is spoken in a way that sounds like he is about to have an emotional breakdown, to say nothing of a mechanical one. The production here is impressive all-around.

Now, I've already said that I find the questions in this track and the mood of the machine asking them quite familiar. Having spent nearly this entire past winter alone in a house, I found my thoughts piling up inside my head. When I do get the chance to speak to someone, I tend to ramble on even longer than I am usually wont to do, getting wrapped up in my own thoughts, caught somewhere between the tendency to talk to myself and the desire to talk to someone else. I find quite a bit of myself in lines like "I'm probably boring you. I'm very sorry. You know what? Nevermind. Let's pretend I never said any of this."

I wouldn't mind if there really was a Questioning Machine. I think it was Aristotle (though it may have been Plato) who said that though the life of contemplation and reason was one of the highest ideals to aspire to, one of the truest ways to live, few people could sustain it for very long. That is quite true, and a shame it is if, as Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living; that's a notion I am quite inclined to believe myself. Having a Questioning Machine, preferably something portable, that could bring to your attention the various philosophical elements and existential issues and problems that appear within your daily life, would likely be a very good tool for self-improvement. It may get annoying quite quickly, but wouldn't you be a better person for having it? Perhaps there should be an "app for that," though that wouldn't do me any good as my cell phone is over five years old and doesn't really do so well with all the new-fangled phone tricks you kids are always raving about. At any rate, I quite like the idea, and I hope that maybe someone can implement it in some form. I'd certainly like one, though I would hope such a thing would be free.

Now, to bring this entry back into focus, and to do honor to this track, I think I shall simply respond to The Questioning Machine.

Question: I think about death all the time. Is that normal?

Answer: Normal is a rather deceptive term. I wouldn't worry about it. I thought about death far more often when I was younger. It haunted me frequently as a child, even though no one close to me died until I was older. It still haunts me now, but my depressions due to it have lessened as I've aged. I'm not sure why that is; perhaps it is my interest in philosophy. I think Lou Gehrig responded to the diagnosis of his fatal disease by "accepting it philosophically." Philosophy doesn't remove the anxiety entirely, but it can help one come to terms with it. Perhaps that is what is meant by "The consolations of philosophy."

Q: What will happen to me when I die?

A: Sam Cooke expressed an anxiety over this question in "A Change Is Gonna Come." As for an answer, you can't possibly expect me to answer with absolute certainty, and if I did, you'd be dissatisfied, because really, is there anything more repugnant and irritating than a human being who proclaims absolute certainty on a matter such as that? My advice is to not worry about it too much; I believe it is in The Bible, in the Gospels specifically, where it is observed that, at least in regards to things one can't change, worrying won't help. Perhaps in these cases, outside of using them as springboards for potentially fruitful philosophical contemplation, the best thing to do is to distract yourself and enjoy yourself as best you can.

Q: When I get old, will I live differently knowing death is around the corner? Will I want different things?

A: Possibly, but my answer to this is more or less the same as my previous answer.

Q: How many people are thinking the same things that I am thinking?

A: I have no hard evidence or solid data, but my guess is that probably most people think of these things at least one time in their lives, probably many times but not necessarily on a regular basis. Everyone is unique.

Q: I wonder if I've ever been in love. Will I ever be in love? Do you know what it means to really love?

A: In regard to the first question, I'd say probably not. In regards to the second question, it depends on the definition you are using. In regards to the various possibilities that this opens up, I don't want to go into it at the moment. Let's just say that I have my ideas and leave it at that, okay?

Q: I'm probably boring you.

A: Not at all.

Q: I'm very sorry.

A: There is no need to be.

Q: You know what? Nevermind. Let's pretend I never said any of this.

A: If that's what you'd prefer.

Q: Leave your message after the tone. Thank you.

A: Oh, well, I was…I guess I was just checking in. I don't really have anything to say.