This image links to Hussalonia's official website!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hussalonia Song # 2: Chubby Checker

I am only familiar with Chubby Checker in passing; I don't own any of his albums or songs, and nothing about "The Twist" ever really captured my attention in particular other than the fact that it is indeed pretty catchy. Considering that this album is full of references to the man, I'm probably the worst person to be writing about it. Still, I shall press on regardless of my own ignorance. Isn't that the way to live?

The song displays a contrast between the narrator's life as he is "living check to check," with the freewheeling party spirit of a recording of Checker performing "The Twist." It brings to my mind those times when certain stresses of life seem best dealt with by way of escapism. After all, if I'm not mistaken, isn't early rock n' roll a kind of escapism, a rebellion against the mundane, the everyday, the conformity, and, most dreaded of all, the practicality? It brings to mind a song by another popular rocker of old, Chuck Berry's "School Day." In that song, the narrator sings of how after a boring day of school all you've wanted to do is dance, and so you head to the juke joint. The narrator of Hussalonia's "Chubby Checker" seems to have been listening to "The Twist" by the eponymous singer with such escapism in mind (as he would like to "do the Twist with you"), but it just isn't working for him at that particular moment. Checker "must've really loved that dance, [but the narrator's] just so worried about making the rent." This is a sad story indeed; the power of rock has failed to overcome the blues of struggling to get by. I'm not stranger to looking to a song for some kind of relief or escape from something bothering me, and sometimes it works and the blues get blown away, and other times it just doesn't work for you at all. This song captures those moments for me most excellently. The music doesn't remind me of Chubby Checker's style at all, as the album description warned, but for the song's short length it has the beautiful vocals I've come to expect from Hussalonia and a tune that seems to ring out into a wind tunnel in my mind. I think that this may be one of my favorite tracks on this album. I may not be a Chubby Checker fan myself, but I think this song (and the album as a whole) gives a very nice expression of appreciation for him. Perhaps somewhere down the line I'll pick up an album by him; maybe it will lift my spirits, if the time is right.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hussalonia Song # 1: I Used to Be Afraid of the Dark

Well, here we are at the beginning of this little odyssey at last, and it feels so wonderful to be here with you on my first (regularly maintained) blog!
I should start, as I did in the introduction, by drawing attention to the fact that the title of this blog is a misnomer. Hussalonia's first four albums, released on cassette in 1997, are not in my possession in either hard copy or digital formats. Having no means of listening to them, and no knowledge even of the track listings on them, I have decided to simply start with the album released the earliest that I do own. That album is "Ernest Evans Hussalonia." For posterity, I would also like to list the four Hussalonia albums that I do not own: the first was "Holden Hussalonia," which may or may not have had some connection to J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher In the Rye," the second was "Don Juan D'Hussalonia," which may or may not have had some connection to romance, the third was "Russophile Hussalonia," which may or may not have had a connection to an appreciation for Russian culture, and the fourth and last of the 1997 releases was "Maryann Hussalonia," which may or may not have had any sort of connection to the character played by Dawn Wells on the 1960s television series "Gilligan's Island" or to the same Maryann who featured in the later Hussalonia album "The Somewhat Surprising Return of the Hussalonia Robot Singers." Once again, I'm just a fan, folks. All you'll get from me here is personal ramblings, speculation, and probably much less insight than what you arrived here with (I might even sap some of yours before you're gone).
According to the album description on Hussalonia's official website, the material on "Ernest Evans Hussalonia" was recorded 2000-2003, and the album itself has a release date of March 4, 2003. Being out of print, it is one of the few for-pay Hussalonia albums that I was only able to get a copy of digitally. That was a bit of a disappointment to me, as I'm the type who collects things obsessively and always prefers a hard copy when at all possible. Such is life.
Drawing again on the information already provided by the website's official description, one will note that the album contains many references to 1950s and 1960s oldies music while not really being very similar to that music at all. I am only vaguely familiar with that type of music, I confess. I have one Buddy Holly box set that I hardly ever listen to. I have no dislike for that music; it just isn't the type that grabs my attention very often for some reason; I might say that I'm simply not in the mood for it very often, for whatever reason. I own no music by Chubby Checker. I'm probably missing a ton of references on this album.
"I Used to Be Afraid of the Dark" is a rather odd song in terms of my introduction to it; as I've already said, it is the earliest Hussalonia release that I possess a copy of (though not the earliest recording; "Charles Hardin Hussalonia" holds that title, if I'm not mistaken) but I didn't listen to it until after I'd heard nearly every other Hussalonia album. This was, as you might expect, due to the fact that I listened to all of the more recent, free material first before I began to purchase the for-pay albums. In other words, I more or less discovered Hussalonia's entire catalogue in reverse order.
The first thing that the song's title reminds me of is the 1990s Nickelodeon creep-show "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" and so it goes that my exposure to American (though I think the show was based in Canada) pop culture already begins to affect my reactions to these songs right from the start, and, of course, in the most irrelevant way possible. You might also note that I have already turned to my strange practice of writing exceedingly long, meandering sentences.
The song itself begins like a late-night, tape-recorded bedroom confession; the vocal is soft and restrained with only acoustic guitar for company. It doesn't take long, however, for the song to reveal this opening as a bit of a ruse. About fifteen second in another sound enters in, and if I may get right to showcasing my complete musical ignorance, I can't place what was used here, though I'm fairly confident it was a synthesizer of some kind. The vocal and guitar don't even make it a full minute into the song before the entire thing becomes more of a sound collage than a song. Sound collages feature fairly frequently in these earlier Hussalonia works (I think that somewhere it is mentioned that the four 1997 Hussalonia releases were full of them) and they are something of an acquired taste, I'll admit. However, I do enjoy them when the mood strikes me a certain way.
The lyrics here, for whatever reason, are not especially memorable to me personally, and I cannot venture a guess as to why – though I remind you that statements such as this are highly subjective and this blog will be full of them, and in this case saying that the lyrics aren't especially memorable to me likely says more about my memory than about the lyrics. The words that close the lyrical portion of the track, however, do stick out in my memory: "I used to be afraid of the dark, insects and death." That statement inspires me to question why on all three counts.
As far as my ability to relate goes, I'm not sure that I was ever afraid of the dark per se. I have an odd memory from my early childhood that to this day I cannot adequately explain, though on the internet I have stumbled across one or two other people with a similar experience, and this memory may relate to a fear of the dark. I recall that as an infant, lying in my crib, on at least one occasion I saw "shadow people" standing over me. I recall their skin being as black as shadow, almost of a kind that could absorb light like a black hole. There were two or three of them. I could see their shapes only vaguely, though I remember with some greater distinction their hands, grasping the railing of the crib. My only response to this was hiding under the covers. It is possible that it was an early nightmare, or a kind of waking dream; perhaps even a form of sleep paralysis or something. It is possible that it was a childish hallucination based on a general fear of the dark. Whatever it was, it felt real to me, and if nothing else it feels real to me when I remember it. I found an article on the website "Retrojunk" some time ago by a guy who described the same sort of experience, and he simply called the figures "phantoms" if I recall correctly.
I have always been rather afraid of, or at least disgusted by insects, including dead ones. Several weeks ago I found a spider crawling on my foot. A year or so ago a centipede crawled over my foot as well. On both occasions I switched to wearing socks in the house for some time afterward, though I don't prefer to do that. The spiders that crawl around the ceiling and don't move much generally don't bother me a great deal. Black spiders, and faster ones, such as one that I found on my bed several weeks ago in yet another traumatic incident, disturb me very much. I despise centipedes; something about them strikes me as some sort of unholy, unnatural, demonic terror. They tend to come out in the spring and show up here and there until late fall. I almost always wear socks in the summer.
I have almost always feared the deaths of loved ones much more than my own. That is another question I would pose to [The Hussalonia Founder] about the statements in this song, if they are in fact autobiographical: namely, was his fear of death of the same sort as mine? I have lost very few loved ones in my life, and frankly I have very few to lose (which makes my losing them all the more terrifying to me). For whatever reason the reality of death struck me at, I believe, about the age of six, and I think that perhaps it caused me more depression then than it does now, though I'm not entirely sure why. The fragility of life has been on my mind very, very often since that early age and I think that perhaps it is one of the things that have shaped my personality and way of thinking most strongly. I have endeavored to enjoy and appreciate life's best aspects as often and as deeply as possible. I try not to take anything for granted, though I do not always succeed. Further down the years I wonder if perhaps the best way of dealing with death anxiety is to simply allow oneself not to think about it much, even if that leads to taking things for granted at times. Is it better to take something for granted that you will someday lose or to try and appreciate it and struggle to do so against a terrible anxiety over the inevitability of losing it? This might be a good time to invite you, dear reader, to leave a comment if you so desire. It is nice when, in times of despair and in thoughts of great gravity and stress, we do not have to feel as alone as we are.
The dog my grandparents have owned since I was in the fourth grade died rather unexpectedly two days ago. It has left me feeling rather glum and strange; it is funny, in a way, how the lack of a dog's presence can leave one feeling totally out-of-whack, like life is missing some key component that makes it what it is or is supposed to be. The last time I lost a dog that was in my family was a good many years ago, and it was a dog that they owned since I was in kindergarten. When she died I listened to "People Are Strange," one of the few songs by The Doors I really liked, and it all but ruined that song for me due to the memory association.
If I were to ask [the Hussalonia Founder] any further questions about these lyrics directly, I might also ask exactly why he no longer fears the things mentioned here (again, assuming that this song is, in fact, an autobiographical one; I realize that not all songs are, though I do tend to think that at least a little bit of ourselves gets implanted into the things that we create). Overcoming fears, in most cases, is usually a positive experience, and if there is any knowledge on this particular subject that I am missing and that may be of help, then I welcome it.
After the vocal section of the song ends, the sound collage really takes over. I think that I am most often reminded of the Beatles when listening to Hussalonia, though on two or three occasions I am reminded of another band entirely: The Flaming Lips. This is one of those occasions. The Flaming Lips, if memory served, started off with more use of sound collage and later focused on traditional song arrangements and the like, and the sound collage section of "I Used to Be Afraid of the Dark" sounds like it wouldn't be out of place on a Flaming Lips album, especially an earlier one. The track takes on a sort of dark, techno kind of sound as it progresses, and it brings to mind a sort of black-and-white 1950s science fiction image. I can imagine it being the soundtrack to a film with lots of old-school flying saucers, ray guns and monsters. It doesn't inspire in me any particular emotional or intellectual reaction, but it is a pleasant listening experience despite what I perceive to be a rather ominous tone.
That, I suppose, concludes my first written reaction to a Hussalonia song. Perhaps if you forgive it the rambling, the imprecision of language, and the occasional boring anecdote, you might find something worthwhile here after all. Keep on the positive side, and keep on truckin', my friends!

Monday, January 11, 2010

An Introduction: “Who are You and What is This “Hussalonia” You Speak of?”

Hello, my dear friends, and welcome to “Every Hussalonia Song,” a tribute in blog form to one of my personal favorite creators of music in the modern era: Hussalonia.
You are probably wondering at this point exactly who or what I’m referring to when I say “Hussalonia.” To put it very simply, Hussalonia is a pop music cult. Founded in 1997 by one [Name Redacted by Order of Nefarico] of Buffalo, New York, Hussalonia has been producing pop music for over a decade. Since 2006, Hussalonia has done the unthinkable in this very commercial world: starting with “The Broken Hearted Friends EP,” a collection of cover songs, all Hussalonia music has been released for free online. That’s right; you are quite free to download all of Hussalonia’s music released post-2006, right now, without paying a cent! As if releasing music for free wasn’t enough, Hussalonia has gone the extra mile. As of the date of this writing (January 11, 2010) a total of three of Hussalonia’s albums have been released directly into the public domain. For those not in the know, this means that these recordings are not only free but free of copyright, and so may be used for any and all purposes including but not limited to film, video, television, radio, elevator music, and beyond, both commercial and non-commercial, without any permissions or licensing needed (though if you do use any of it, be nice and give Hussalonia a credit!). These albums, for the record, include “OMG LOL WTF,” a 6-track album of experimental sound collages, “Know Your Eastern European Anthems,” a collection of covers of, well, Eastern European national anthems, and the aptly titled “The Public Domain EP,” featuring four very beautiful pop songs. Hussalonia’s earlier, commercial recordings are now out of print and hard copies are becoming increasingly scarce, though a few are still available to be purchased digitally.
I am getting a bit ahead of myself. You are probably wondering WHY Hussalonia would turn to releasing music free of charge and (gasp!) even releasing recordings directly into the public domain. If you listen to their music you will likely wonder even more, for it isn’t as if Hussalonia doesn’t have the potential to win over many listeners to buying more than a few albums. It is most common, however, that in most cases, no matter how talented one might be, a lot of self-marketing is a necessity for success. Hussalonia founder [Name Redacted] has concluded that making music is more important than selling it and in light of this conclusion has decided to put aside the pursuit of monetary rewards in favor of having more time for simply making music. However, don’t take my word for it! Hussalonia’s official website (also linked via the image at the top of this page) has an “About” section that tells the official story, so to speak, and you can access that page at http://www.hussalonia.com/the_about.html . While you’re there, explore the entire Hussalonia web site. That will save me the trouble of needlessly re-phrasing everything already stated there or else cutting and pasting it in order for you to become better informed about Hussalonia.
That brings me to the other question you might very well be asking yourself after having discovered this blog: who is the guy writing it? For starters, I have no official affiliation with Hussalonia. I do not know [the Hussalonia Founder] or anyone else involved in Hussalonia personally. This is entirely a fan-made project. The closest it comes to being connected to Hussalonia directly would be that, in both of the two exchanges of emails I’ve had with [the Hussalonia Founder] in 2009 and 2010, he gave the idea of my making a blog such as this one his approval. This blog will be focused, for the most part, on my own, personal reactions to the songs of Hussalonia.
This, then, brings us back to the question of who I am exactly, and, furthermore, what gives me the right or reason to make an entire blog commenting on somebody else’s hard work. My name is Leonard Kirke, an unpublished author from a small village in Ohio. You can probably learn enough about me from my profile here on Blogger. I am currently pursuing a degree in creative writing, whatever that’s really worth, with the sort-of goal of having something published someday in the hope of making money in order to live comfortably. However, much of my work isn’t terribly viable in the commercial sense, at least as I see it. My work doesn’t express strong, polarizing, biased political views, it doesn’t contain sexy, sparkling vampires, and it is more inclined to pose questions that one might prefer to avoid rather than give many direct answers. I have started working on some projects with commercial viability specifically in mind (while still managing to avoid writing about sexy, sparkling vampires), in which I allow myself to indulge in more mainstream tropes of fiction and it is, admittedly, great fun to write things like that. Still, I feel like my best and most meaningful work is rooted in the things that I probably can’t, in terms of pure practicality, ever make a living off of (unless stories like Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” become the new equivalents of “Harry Potter”). I also worry that dealing with publishers/corporations/etc. could ruin my work due to meddling even if I were to make money that way. I am not totally closed off to any option, but I do have much anxiety about this subject.
As a result of this anxiety over producing commercial art, I was rather predisposed to be drawn to anyone or anything that broke the mold and didn’t allow the world to bring them down in this way. In other words, I wanted to find a person or persons who lived and worked in a way that they wanted or felt called to despite the fact that in a practical sense their work could not or would not support them (again, not necessarily due to lack of talent but more so due to personal standards). Last spring I was seeking Creative Commons-licensed and public domain music online. At the time I was still planning on working on a short, low-budget and lowbrow comedy video series that my friends and I had been producing since 2007 (this series went on indefinite hiatus due to schedule conflicts). Music really adds a great deal of life to video footage and film, and I hoped to find some high-quality songs that could be used either through the Creative Commons Attribution license or else, more unlikely, songs that were actually in the public domain.
One site I searched well was www.archive.org, a most excellent resource for anyone working in a creative field. It was here, at the Internet Archive, that I discovered an album of four, count’em FOUR, songs, all beautifully written and recorded, and, you guessed it, released directly into the public domain! I could hardly believe that some musical artist out there would take the plunge of releasing actual pop music tracks into the public domain, yet there it was: “The Public Domain EP,” a mini-album by someone or something called Hussalonia.
I was instantly taken with all four tracks. “Meaning Isn’t Based On The Importance Of Being, But On The Relationships In Between” had a mellow tune and melancholy lyrics that appealed to my existentialist tendencies. “Like Tetanus In A Wound” was beautiful but I couldn’t tell if it was a song of bitterness or of heartbreak or of both. “There’s More Than That To Being Poor” was a bit faster and upbeat, yet the lyrics at times struck me variously as hopeful and struggling to be hopeful. Lastly, “This Song Won’t Sell A Thing” was a real sing-along type of song, a perfect closer to an album released directly into the public domain and the perfect song for one who, like myself, struggles with the issue of making a living off of what one loves to do and/or feels compelled to do yet without compromising it in a way that changes it into something else entirely.
Before long I had downloaded all of the free Hussalonia material, albums and singles alike, and shortly after that I bought some of the remaining copies of the older commercial releases as well as buying the digital commercial releases. I was captivated by the entirety of Hussalonia’s collected works. I wanted to give something back. The official website recommends giving kind words in return for the free music (if one is unable or disinclined to make a monetary donation for any reason), and so I started there in April 2009. [Redacted] and I exchanged a few emails and he struck me as a pretty nice fellow. I had the idea for this blog then, and he gave me his approval when I mentioned it to him. Due to my procrastinating tendencies and the rush of everyday life, however, it would be some time before I actually got around to writing the text that you are reading now. It’s been nearly a year, in fact. In the fall, I discovered a blog that had a premise similar to my idea for a Hussalonia-based blog: “Every Bob Dylan Song.” That most excellent blog can be accessed via this link: http://everybobdylansong.blogspot.com/. I’m certain that the idea for a blog containing commentaries on musical works probably isn’t unique to either myself or Every Bob Dylan Song author Anthony Ling. At any rate, reading his blog further inspired me to create this one. Bob Dylan gets lots of free press, and I won’t argue that he doesn’t deserve it! Still, it occurs to me, couldn’t Hussalonia also use some free press, especially when nearly all Hussalonia music is given away freely? I wrote to [The Hussalonia Founder] via email again in early January 2010 to wish him well upon the release of his latest album, “Know Your Eastern European Anthems” and to state my intention, despite the nearly year-long delay, to create a blog in tribute to Hussalonia, and he once again gave his approval. So here we are.
I should also mention, as an aside, that the title of this blog is a bit of a misnomer. Hussalonia’s first four releases from 1997 were released on cassette and are no longer available. Thus I have never heard them. There are also a couple of Hussalonia tracks that appear on an ambient music album by some-time Hussalonia contributor John Hughes; I haven’t bought that album yet and though one of the tracks is posted online for free, the link to it remains broken to this day. There is also an album/group featuring Hussalonia founder [Name Redacted], “Skaros [Name Redacted] and Wild,” that I would include here if I could get a copy of it at some point (the link to that album has also been broken since I first took notice of it over a year ago). I am, however, including another [Hussalonia Founder] side-project, the most excellent eponymous album by the band The Hickory Windbreakers, presuming nobody objects to that.
Another bit of relevant information worth mentioning here is that in addition to the official Hussalonia website linked via the image at the top of this blog, [The Hussalonia Founder] himself has his own blog known as The Pleonastic Hussalonian. You can access it at http://hussalonia.tumblr.com/ .
As previously stated, the views expressed on this blog are entirely my own and do not in any way represent the views of Hussalonia , the founder, or any other affiliates of Hussalonia. I have absolutely no experience in the production of music (excepting having once learned to play “Ode to Joy” on keyboard, kind of) and chances are I’ll say some pretty stupid things here as a result of that ignorance of music-making. I feel that if Hussalonia can release work into the public domain, exposing personal songs to the whims and fancies of anyone who might want to use those songs for who-knows-what, I can allow myself to show what an ignoramus I am about music in order to spread the word of Hussalonia. This won’t be so much music criticism as it will be simple, personal responses. Things may get very autobiographical; it is hard for me to tell where this will go so early on. At any rate, I hope that, whatever I write in response to the music of Hussalonia, you will find it at least mildly worthwhile, and if nothing else I hope that this blog leads you to discover some great music that otherwise you might never have known.
Viva Hussalonia!