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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.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Hussalonia Song # 17: I Want To Be An Owl

I must begin by saying that this is one entry I have been especially looking forward to since this blog began. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of my absolute, all-time favorite Hussalonia recordings. It is a definite pick for a "Leonard Kirke's Personal Mix" compilation album, if one existed. It is also a tie with "Marvin, I Love You" for my all-time favorite robot song.

Every time the music begins on this track I feel totally pulled in to the world of the song. The production, the musicianship here is exceptional in all ways; I'm too unfamiliar with musical terms to know if I'm really applying this phrase correctly, but what comes to mind as soon as I hear it is "wall of sound." Really, it has one of the richest arrangements on the whole album, and one so fine you'd expect it to be reserved for a song sung by a human. Such is Hussalonia's commitment to honoring and bringing out the best of these robot performers. The piano, guitar, and that unforgettable banjo…all of them together are really incredible, really beautiful. It is also, arguably, the most idyllic, peaceful and lushly arranged of all of the robot songs on either of the Hussalonia Robot Singers albums, at least of all that come to mind at the moment.

Now, I like this song so much for its own sake, but there is also, at least in the back of my mind, a personal reason for enjoying it as well. You see, once upon a time, I too wanted to be an owl.

No, I'm not joking, nor have I gone mad. When I was a child, I have a distinct memory of responding to the question of "What do you want to be when you grow up?" with, you guessed it, "An owl."

"OH REALLY?" I hear you say.

I can't recall what was going through my mind when I said this. Owls do eat mice, which I find rather unpleasant, and they do regurgitate fairly often I think, which is also rather unpleasant. Yet they are indeed strangely elegant looking animals. They seem to command respect, yet are aloof and not keen on bothering those who aren't prey. They keep to themselves and appear always alert. They are unique in appearance among birds, with an almost regal yet mysterious way about them.

I suppose that there is just something alluring about them, stemming from all these qualities, that would make one want to be one, and so I assume that is what motivates the robot singer. For the record, these days when I am asked what animal I would like to be, I usually say lemur. More about lemurs when I write about "Dear Hussalonia: Letters from Animals, Mostly Ducks." I would like to add that, ideally, if I'm going to be able to physically transform, I'd most prefer it to be a constant, reversible ability that also allows for multiple forms. That way I'd get to be an owl and a lemur. Reach for the stars, kids. Don't settle or compromise; get exactly what you want, if it is decent, or be happy without it.

The atmosphere in this song is very striking: "Everyone disappears when the sun leaves the sky / hiding from the dark / leaving stars and airplanes to wander the sky / and me to wander the park." I'm drawn in right away. I can almost feel that "cool summer breeze" and hear that "lonesome cricket sound." I can almost smell the way the house smells in summertime. It is incredibly evocative in this very sensory way. The style of the music might be considered country, and the sense of loneliness, freedom, chasing one's dreams out in the open has an almost Old West kind of romance to it.

Really, the robot singer is sad and inspirational all at once. A suit of brown feathers isn't the same thing as actually being an owl, and presumably this is a robot that can't fly. Yet at the same time, what else would we have him do? Give up? He may not be an owl, but he's got a nice brown feather suit, he's got a beautiful, breezy summer evening and a sky filled with lights. All things considered, it doesn't really sound like such a bad place to be. I actually find the scene the song conjures rather peaceful, a bit like a certain beach in South Carolina at night-time is for me.

One thing I find myself wondering nearly every time I listen to this song is exactly what sort of robot is singing. As I mentioned in the previous entry, I tend to assign some sort of specific role or form to the robot personas, if one is not already given, as is the case with the song that is the focus of our next entry. I can't think of what sort of robotic machine would be in a park at night. I suppose it is just your classic humanoid robot; heck, perhaps this one is an autographical song written by the singer himself. I will mention, though, that over time I've envisioned this song's narrator to be some sort of short, squat vacuum-cleaner type of machine, perhaps some kind of outdoor Roomba.

This is another song that I feel is ripe for some sort of visual accompaniment. Of course, there's always the danger, they say, of a visual interpretation of a song or story ruining one's personal vision of it, but usually I am able to ignore an outside visual interpretation of something if I dislike it and return to my own imagination. In this case, I'd love to see some sort of creative music video or something for this song. The setting alone could be worth the effort.

Still, music video musings aside, this song more than stands on its own. It is difficult to listen to it without being reminded of some personal dream, something that may never happen but you keep trying anyway. I've got a number of dreams like that, not just the childhood dream of wanting to be an owl. I take some sort of comfort in this robot, guileless and innocent as he is, doing his best to become what he wants to be. It might be comical, it might be sad, but it is also inspiring in some way. It strikes me as a reminder to never give up, even when one is left alone with a dream, even if there is little or no hope of it coming true; instead, one keeps pressing on. So I applaud this determined, joyous robot, alone in his own, lovely, dreamy little night-time world. So I applaud Hussalonia as well, for bringing me his song.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hussalonia Song # 16: Neglect Has Turned Me Orange And Brown, But You Have Made Me Blue

I'm not sure if I'm just imagining the similarity, but whenever the vocal part of "Neglect Has Turned Me Orange And Brown, But You Have Made Me Blue" starts up just after the one minute mark, I'm strongly reminded of the Tom Waits song "Innocent When You Dream." Thematically I can't think of any such similarity, but something about the tune sounds to me at least slightly reminiscent of the Waits song.

This, "Abide With Me," "I Want To Be An Owl" and "Home On The Range" are my personal favorite tracks on this album, though this and "Abide With Me" are both very short. The vocal part of this song in particular doesn't start until near the end, and it only lasts roughly 45 seconds or so. Still, short though it is, it is short and sweet, as are much of Hussalonia's recordings.

While a robot is doing the singing of the tracks on both Hussalonia Robot Singers albums, I find myself imagining the different everyday appliances, imbued with some AI-higher consciousness, that might possibly be the source of the robot voice. Now, as I referenced in the previous entry, there is a fascinating explanation for the history of the Hussalonia Robot Singers, but I feel that the trio of singing robots are like so many great troubadours, singing for those without a voice. Johnny Cash became the Man in Black to sing for the poor, underprivileged, abused and those taken advantage of, Bob Dylan told us the stories of the Hurricane and poor Hattie Carol and Hollis Brown. The Hussalonia Robot Singers, however, tell us the stories of our modern mechanical servants, our toasters, blenders, and barbeque grills and all of the neglect and abuse they suffer.

When I think of a neglected machine turning orange and brown (and feeling blue about it) I think of a grill. Something, perhaps, went wrong with it. The burgers didn't turn out quite right. So you just tossed it out. It was a cheap-o anyway, you said; you found it on sale and then haggled to get it for even less, and that's all it's worth to you. So when the first sign of the most minor trouble appeared, you'd rather not waste your own precious time. So you toss it. It's time for a new one, you think. You leave it outside with a cardboard sign that says "FREE." It stands there by the side of the road, sign propped up next to the leg, homeless. The rain comes, the ink runs off the sign and the rust starts. Nobody wants it now. Then, it is finally picked up…by the garbage collector.

To think, of all things, it only wanted to be used, to do a good job for you, to help you make a delicious summer meal. Now it is the dead of winter and it rusts to death in the dump.

"It's only an object," you say, "it's not like it was a person I tossed aside, or even an animal. What's the big deal?"

Maybe nothing, maybe it is not a big deal at all. Yet…it might be worth considering, that perhaps there is some significance in how we treat the things. Things are "just things" to us, yet even the things crafted for a utilitarian purpose are products of human effort, products, perhaps, of one of many in a great, assembly-line human machine of production. It may be worth a thought, the idea of what it means to treat with such carelessness that which one's fellow human beings have produced. It was, I believe, the Czech filmmaker and stop-motion animator Jan Svankmejer that once remarked, when asked about the items he brought to life in his stop-motion animations, that he chose old items only, because in those he got the most sense of, I think he said, identity, or spirit from them, some sort of history inside them. After all, in all that we use, in all that we create, isn't there some blood, sweat, and tears?

Isn't there some spirit?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hussalonia Song # 15: Abide With Me [A Cover]

Now we begin our exploration of the bizarre world of "The Hussalonia Robot Singers." In this entry I hope to cover such topics as the origin of the song "Abide With Me," which is the first cover performed by Hussalonia that I shall write about on this blog, my own feelings about robots, and finally a brief mention of how a robot song inspired me to study philosophy.

Prior to hearing this album, I'd never heard "Abide With Me," or at least I can't recall having heard it, despite attending a number of Christian churches in my youth. Most hymns never really got my attention as a kid; I only began to appreciate many hymns and traditional songs in adulthood after hearing covers by artists such as Bob Dylan who appreciate such songs and manage to give them the street cred that they deserve and that churches and local choir performances don't really convey, at least not to me. Since Hussalonia and "The Hussalonia Robot Singers" introduced me to this song, I've bought two beautiful versions by Mahalia Jackson and Hayley Westenra. The Jackson version ended up inspired a lovely short story idea that came to me while watching fireworks on the third of July last year. So I thank you again, Hussalonia, for inspiring my own creative efforts, albeit indirectly.

The song itself was written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1847 (making it public domain, for those of you following at home) as he was at death's door due to tuberculosis, or so says Wikipedia. Perhaps the religiousness/spirituality of the song isn't your thing, but I can't imagine not being moved by the sincerity and passion in the song, especially given the circumstances in which it was written. For those wishing to read and maybe even appropriate (for your own creative works) the complete lyrics of this public domain classic, Wikisource has got you covered: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Abide_with_Me. Hats off to you, Wikisource, and all of the lovely people out there who make public domain material readily available to us all. I would certainly rank it as one of the finest hymns/religious songs I've ever heard. Oddly enough, I discovered it via Hussalonia around the same time that I discovered another personal favorite, traditional-spiritual song, "Lone Pilgrim," via Bob Dylan's album of covers of such older songs, "World Gone Wrong."

The cover by Hussalonia/The Hussalonia Robot Singers, clocking in at only 42 seconds long, only includes the first verse. Nonetheless, in the album's strange way, it remains quite lovely. I should take this opportunity to talk about the album as a whole and my personal feelings regarding robots. In most cases, I hate stories that involve robots or normally inanimate objects as protagonists or supporting characters. The Star Wars films don't bother me in that regard too much, as C-3P0 and R2-D2 act primarily as comic relief and so I don't find myself mired in troubling philosophical questions about their selfhood. In the Star Trek series, which I became interested in only very recently (and no, I was not named after either Leonard Nimoy or Captain James T. Kirk, in case you were wondering) I feel that the character Data from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is actually quite likable and his android-hood is treated in a way that somehow subverts whatever would normally bother me about such a character, and other artificial intelligence-based characters in the series are treated in a way that I feel treats the elements of such characters that I normally find irritatingly taken for granted with proper respect. I do hate when the Borg are featured, though. I find the Borg disgusting.

I really can't embrace Osamu Tezuka's widely beloved "Astro Boy" series despite how much I enjoy his other works. In regard to inanimate object stories, I can't stand any of the "Toy Story" films or that blasted "Velveteen Rabbit" story. Things such as that just rub me the wrong way somehow. Oddly, though I generally dislike robot and inanimate object-centric stories, I'm drawn to stories with elderly protagonists, such as the film "Bubba Ho-Tep" and the animated film "Up." Go figure.

I do, however, enjoy both "The Hussalonia Robot Singers" and the sequel album "The Somewhat Surprising Return of The Hussalonia Robot Singers." That said, when I say "enjoy," I use the word loosely. Both of these albums give me the same grossed out, creeped out feeling that most robot stories do, and that usually is enough to make me hate them. Oddly, though, in regard to both inanimate object stories and robot stories, there always seems to be one or two exceptions to my general dislike that I really enjoy and which, strangely, I really enjoy for the exact reason, more or less, that I normally would dislike such things. For one of the few inanimate object stories I love, there's the animated film "The Brave Little Toaster." For robot stories, there's another "robot song" I heard years ago that indirectly led me to one of my most important passions in life, philosophy. That other, non-Hussalonia "robot song" is "Marvin, I Love You."

"Marvin, I Love You" was written, if memory serves, by Douglas Adams, and it was a comedy single based on his "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" franchise that included both a radio play, a television miniseries and perhaps the most well-known telling of the tales, the novel "trilogy" that wound up including six books. The song is mostly a spoken word piece performed from the perspective of Marvin, the "the Paranoid Android" who is played by the same voice actor from the television miniseries. The song involves the perpetually "gloomy robot" realizing that there is a message in his "dusty old databanks" that is, essentially, a recorded love letter to him; it is a woman's voice singing of her love for him. The woman, the only of the two voices that actually sings, is portrayed, oddly enough, by Kimi Wong. For those of you who aren't familiar with her, she was once married (I think at the time she recorded this track) to Richard O'Brien, the creator of "The Rocky Horror Show" and the cult film adaptation of that musical, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," in which he also played the character of Riff Raff and Kimi Wong, if memory serves, played one of dancing "Transylvanians" during the "Time Warp" sequence.

I first stumbled upon this song when I bought a copy of the "The Very Best of Dr. Demento," which I sought out after years of being told of the Dr. Demento show airing locally earlier in my father's life. This song instantly captured my attention and interested me greatly; something about it struck me as being very poignant, despite being, essentially, a "novelty song." It was comedic, and Marvin's downtrodden tone was itself comical, but I couldn't help but feel a little bit of real sympathy for him too. The synthesizer music was very atmospheric, and the mention of computer data being stored on "tapes" really brought to mind this 1980s-era retro-future world that I find oddly appealing as well. I should mention that one other thing I have a strange fondness for is obsolete technology. Old records, old tapes, old film, old recorders, old cameras, floppy discs, old computers, all of it has a weird appeal to me; I'm fascinated by the idea of things being recorded and created in formats that people lose the widespread ability to use and decipher. I've actually got a number of my old writings saved on floppy disks that I'm still saving despite not being able to use with my new computer. This song, the idea of a robot which acts essentially as an anthropomorphized computer regretting that his design is becoming increasingly useless, struck me right away as something perfect for me. I recall being unsure of exactly what the quality was about the song that I enjoyed so much but I knew it was something about the mix of the themes of aging technology, lost love, regret, and loneliness and synthesizer music. The combination was just perfect for me.

From there, I sought out "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series. I ordered the first book of the series at a Sam Goody store (remember those?) and on the day I went to pick it up, I was informed by the clerks working there of two things: my order had been botched and the book wasn't going to arrive, and the author of the book, Douglas Adams, had died that very morning of a heart attack at the age of only 49. Despite this depressing setback, I eventually obtained the whole book series and enjoyed them thoroughly. A few years later a collection including his unfinished final book and a bunch of essays was released under the title of "The Salmon of Doubt." During a beach vacation in South Carolina, I read through the book, and was fascinated by his essays on atheism (he was a friend of Richard Dawkins, who might be more familiar to many readers) and felt a need to engage them in thrilling philosophical combat, just to be contrary, I suppose. I joined some fan groups based on "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (which, ironically, remain online mostly abandoned, becoming "obsolete technology" themselves, covered in ridiculous spam messages worthy of the absurd humor of Adams himself) and it was in one of these that a film was recommended to me. I had seen Hayao Miyazaki's brilliant "Spirited Away" (a film which reconciled me with anime) and asked in one of the groups for other excellent animated films to bed recommended. One such recommendation was for Richard Linklater's "Waking Life." The following summer, on vacation in South Carolina again, my friend stumbled onto that film airing on television; we both enjoyed it from the moment we saw it, and it wasn't until later that I discovered that it was the same film recommended to me in the group. A man in that film appears in only one scene and says "Kierkegaard's last words were "Sweep me up!'" That name stuck out to me for some reason. I resolved to investigate the man and his work but promptly forgot about it; less than a month later, I was browsing a Borders bookstore and, inspired by my considerations about atheism brought about by my reading of Douglas Adams, I took a quick look in the philosophy section. There, I found "Works of Love" by Soren Kierkegaard. This would prove a turning point in my life as Kierkegaard's work would reinforce a number of philosophical ideas that occurred to me during my readings of Adams the year prior and, with far more eloquence than I possessed, expanded upon those ideas. It is difficult to convey here in this single blog entry just how important Kierkegaard, as well as Adams in a different way, proved to be for me in the years since, but I suppose it will suffice say that all of these experiences were very significant, life-changing ones, and it's all thanks to my initial love of novelty music and a robot song.

After that lengthy digression, I must return to "The Hussalonia Robot Singers" and "Abide With Me." For the album as a whole, I certainly appreciate the way the album (and the sequel album) was constructed. They give proper weight to the relevant "robot issues" in a way that I respect, and I can find in them various shades of that quality that I so enjoy in "Marvin, I Love You." Also like that song, they keep an overall sense of humor, albeit a rather tragicomic sense of humor. The songs on both albums tend to show more willingness to enter darker territories than the Adams song as well, which creates a nice balance, but for me at least this makes many of the songs rather difficult to listen to on a regular basis. I can appreciate them, but I can't always "enjoy" them in the usual sense of the word.

"Abide With Me," specifically, is an unusual track. Not being an original, robot-centric song, it creates an odd clash of expectations, as one normally expects to hear such a song performed by a church choir. What are we to make of this choice of material for an album like this? Is it a social commentary, creating a critical comparison between religious humans and robots? Is it simply absurd humor? Could it be chosen simply to reinforce the sadness of the robot singers' existence and existential angst? Perhaps it is there simply because the Hussalonia founder enjoyed the song? Could it be all of the above? I suppose all of those things are possibilities, and there are probably other ways of looking at it as well. I prefer the simplest explanations, that this and "Home On the Range," the album's other cover of a traditional song, were simply personal favorites' of the robot singers' inventor. For that fascinating piece of history, I encourage you to read the explanation provided on the album's own page on Hussalonia's official website, The Hussalonia Internet Concourse. It is a most informative and entertaining read.

Though it is only 42 seconds long, and only one verse of a longer work, "Abide With Me" is still a personal favorite from this album. The sudden, inverted human choir sound near the end, finishing off the rising volume of the robot voices is a startling, unusually lovely finish to a bizarre recording, and an equally lovely yet bizarre beginning to one of the stranger albums in Hussalonia's catalogue. Much like "Marvin, I Love You" led me to other important things such as philosophy and Soren Kierkegaard, so this track led me to a beautiful traditional song which in turn inspired a very important (to me, anyway) short story. One must take time, once in a while, and appreciate these beautiful threads in our lives.

One final note: I bought this album on CD via CDBaby about a year ago, and I checked in recently on a whim and discovered it was no longer on sale as a physical CD. I'm honored to be one of the final Hussalonianites to have bought a copy of the album in physical form! For those of you playing at home, I noticed that "Percy "thrills" Hussalonia" is listed as having only a few copies left in stock as well, so get 'em before they're gone, kids.

Our next entry will be on "Neglect Has Turned Me Orange And Brown, But You Have Made Me Blue." Until next time, this dude abides, and I hope that you do too.


Hussalonia Song # 14: What Will Become of Me? [Third Appearance]

Well, folks, here we are: At last, the final track of "Ernest Evans Hussalonia." It's taken me just over a year to write about the entire album, a totally excessive length of time brought on by a tendency to become distracted from personal projects and by a broken ergonomic keyboard. Yet, here I am, here we are. Today is the first day of the rest of this blog.

In preparing to write about this track, I decided to reread my entries on the other two recordings of this song that appear on the album, and also listen once again to all three in succession. Surprisingly, I didn't feel ashamed of my previous entries, as I sometimes do feel about confessional writings, especially those available to the public. They really weren't bad little writings after all, despite the occasional typo and the bizarre or outright incorrect wording (I used "illusive" when I meant to use "elusive" at one point, though I'm not really sure the former word didn't fit just as well) and they made for a nice time capsule of myself from roughly one year ago. I can't say my situation has changed that much since. The only notable difference is that my solitude has made me rather stir-crazy this winter.

Since I wrote about my fears of dealing with soul-crushing corporate entities when it comes to my literary efforts, I've had one experience that brought those anxieties back to the forefront of my mind. Last fall, I submitted a number of my fiction pieces to a student literary publication at my university. I'd submitted a few plus an essay the previous year and all were rejected, and I didn't really mind. Somehow I'm able to take rejection of my most serious writing efforts rather well, as I have an ingrained belief that the more my work is rejected by and bothersome to others, the more I am doing something right. This year, however, in addition to a stack of fiction works, I was recommended by a very nice professor who taught a nonfiction class I was taking at the time to submit a brief two page piece I'd written for an assignment. He gave it an A and recommended I submit it to the magazine in his comments. I was flattered, of course, and I very much appreciated how supportive he was, and I still am appreciative of that. Still, the thing I had written, as with most things I write due to obligation rather than personal interest, was something I threw together with very little forethought and passion. I wrote it in, I think, one sitting (as I do with most of these blog entries) and just didn't feel much connection to it, despite it being based on a personal experience from my childhood. Upon his recommendation, though, I revised and submitted it and was informed that it had been accepted for publication a week or two ago.

On the one hand, I feel compelled to be glad to have any public recognition of anything I write, to have anything I've written published, and also to be grateful to my professor for recommending it. It gives people, especially family, at least some idea that I'm making some sort of definable progress with my writing "career." On the other hand, though, this also bothers me in a way much more extreme than the rejections the previous year; I felt fine with my own, honest efforts being rejected. Again, I've long had the feeling that if one's art is rejected, ignored, and seen as bothersome by others, there's a better chance that there's something right about it. Yet here, I got some sort of little recognition, but it was for doing something that others enjoy and that I have no personal stake in. Of all the things I submitted, the one thing that I had created out of compulsion to please someone else, rather than out of genuine desire to write on my own terms, is accepted, and the others were ignored (the previous year I was given rejection letters for the things that didn't make the cut, this year the rejected pieces weren't even acknowledged, which I suppose doesn't really matter, but it stuck out to me nonetheless) and so it goes.

I suppose that the whole of this doesn't really matter, and that I should enjoy whatever inching towards material benefit it might have a slim chance of bringing me and not worry about any existential crisis it might create. After all, it doesn't stop me from writing the things I want to write. It just brings to mind the fear that I won't last long doing that, and that is where it begins to bother me. I am, I think, a rather contrary person, and it is the fear that I might become too agreeable that haunts me in consideration of things such as this. That part of my personality is one reason I've been enjoying the recent Hussalonia track "The Pleasure of Saying No" so much. It is most relatable. That, however, is a material for another blog entry.

Another thing I mentioned in the previous entries on "What Will Become of Me?" was my efforts at writing a potentially commercial, simply fun-to-write series. Since that mention, I've finished thus far a couple of novella-length pieces, three short stories and have just recently reached the halfway point of an origin story for the protagonists, and that is so far the longest single draft of a work I've ever written. Despite only being halfway finished, it is roughly 128 pages long. There have been some tough moments in writing it, and some long periods of not working on it, but overall it has progressed nicely and it remains fun to write. Once it is finished, I plan to offer at least a significant part of it for free online in order to see if there is any interest in it as a commercial endeavor. I've also begun correspondence with another illustrator with an aim for a possible graphic novel adaptation of the series. That project, at least, remains quite satisfying and in many ways refreshing from my less "fun" works.

Lastly for the purposes of recapping my previous entries, during my first exploration of "What Will Become of Me?" I mentioned the way that the track reminds me of that odd experience I sometimes have when, while in a depressed funk, I feel a sudden exuberance. I'm brought back to that initial impression on this third and final arrangement/recording of the song. The song's production is brilliant, with vocal tracks in the tempo of both of the previous arrangements juxtaposed against each other, creating a lovely duet of a single voice. While listening to this track, I can almost feel that strange elation that appears in the center of my bouts of depression, that odd sunshine during the eye of the storm, as the two tracks of that single voice sing in their own time. I am reminded, reflecting on those strange, strangely happy moments, of a sort of existentialist way of looking at things, of being both burdened and overjoyed with one's life, both circumstances and potential through choice. I am reminded of an experience described by one of my favorite writers and thinkers, the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard; he described it as "the dizziness of freedom."

The song's narrator says that he doesn't "care, how, when or where" but the urgency and the seriousness of the vocals seem to suggest otherwise. As I wrote before, this song's title returns to my mind in anxious moment, perfectly describing that emotion of uncertainty about the future. Yet likely one is best off just not worrying about it, as much as they can help it.

This thought, and this song, are a perfect way to end this entry on the final song of "Ernest Evans Hussalonia." As I said, today is the first day of the rest of this blog. Covering just one album took me far too long, but who knows, I may pick up the pace? Who knows if I'll ever catch up with Hussalonia's own output? Does it matter? What will become of me? I'll burn or I'll float, I'll scream or make not a sound, as the song says. Let's find out where this blog is going.

Bidding farewell to "Ernest Evans Hussalonia," we now say hello to "The Hussalonia Robot Singers," a truly fascinating album.

Until next time, I wish you the best.

Leo Kirke

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hussalonia Song # 13: A Farewell to Alarms

Writing about sound collage tracks has proven to be rather difficult. Actually, writing about the more traditional, music tracks has proven difficult as well. Nonetheless, I find that writing about a sound collage in a commentary fashion to be perhaps the most difficult thing thus far about this blog. So, for the second to last track on "Ernest Evans Hussalonia," I've decided to do things a bit differently. Normally I listen to a song multiple times, maybe three or four times, before writing about it, and then I play it while I'm writing, repeating for as long as it takes to finish the blog entry. For "A Farewell to Alarms," aside from one or two preparatory listens some time ago, I decided ultimately to play it only once during the actual writing of the entry, and rather than attempt a commentary style, I simply wrote free-form, almost-stream-of-consciousness, finishing up when the track ended. I say almost because I did sort of edit myself as I went along, but for the most part what you'll read is directly what came out of my mind as I listened to "A Farewell to Alarms." It may have some spelling mistakes and etc. but, like the other entries on this blog, I didn't go back and revise significantly, and nearly all the editing was done alongside the original writing itself, and so whatever problems I missed there remain present.

One thing to note about the piece itself: As what drew me to Hussalonia in the first place was a search for public domain music, and since The Public Domain EP remains one of my favorite Hussalonia releases, I've decided to dedicate the following bit of fiction to the public domain. It will be the first time I have dedicated anything to the public domain, though I have planned on releasing something that way for quite some time. It may not really be very good, in fact there really isn't much to it and it isn't very lyrical, but maybe somebody can do something with it. I enjoyed writing it, and I find myself drawn to the idea of creative efforts being inspired by other creative efforts, and so this may not be the only time I write some short, disembodied fiction based on a Hussalonia recording. I should also mention that this piece mentions a band called "The Regrets." I made this up as I went along, and I've never, as best as I can remember, heard of a band going by this name. I'm fairly sure a name can't be copyrighted, but I believe it can be trademarked, so if you're a member of a band called The Regrets, and I have stepped on your toes, feel free to let me know and I shall edit the piece to include a different name. Maybe something generic, like "The Band." Oh, wait…crap! Well, maybe I'll just delete it altogether if it bothers you. For those of you wishing to appropriate this piece thanks to it being dedicated to the public domain, I encourage you to make up a different band name at the end, just in case that's not something I can rightfully include in fiction without violating some copyright or trademark I don't know about. I believe that the only reason I included it as that it had, in my mind at the time at least, some sort of fitting, poetic quality that I enjoyed.

In the sense that this was really more of a creative exercise, the lack of focus or quality actually feels appropriate to me for a public domain release. If the public domain exists to foster shared creativity, then it makes sense to me to share in the normally solitary process of writing, which sometimes begins as it does here with the creation of a rough disembodied stream-of-consciousness prose piece. For the solitary writer this rough material would normally be revised and built upon and refined into something more aesthetically pleasing or philosophically stimulating or both, and that is an admirable individual effort. In the case of releasing a rough draft or rough piece into the public domain, however, there is the possibility that the same process happens more than once for different artists using the same rough source material. This makes an often solitary process feel a little cozier and less lonely. If, as it is sometimes said, all art is built upon past art, then it makes perfect sense to me to share rough drafts and sketches like this freely. I think that this really fulfills the mission of this blog to give proper due to every Hussalonia recording: what better way to honor a work of art than to create one inspired by it? Perhaps, as with some rough drafts created in the writing process of a single writer, no one will use this to create anything new, and it will fall flat and into obscurity. Still, much of the joy of art for me is in the process, and so there is no harm, no foul, and no regrets.

Title: "Outside in the Rain, Waiting"

Author: Leonard Kirke

Notes: Inspired by Hussalonia's "A Farewell to Alarms" and released directly into the public domain, though "A Farewell to Alarms" is not itself in the public domain and remains the property of Hussalonia. The following is not endorsed by Hussalonia, nor created in association with Hussalonia and does not reflect the original intent or context of the Hussalonia recording that inspired it.

The public domain material begins below, in italics:

"Cobblestones streets outside, and inside the concert is about to begin. I heard the band tuning up, rehearsing, and the rain starts to fall. They won't let me inside until precisely the time that the ticket says "DOORS OPEN." I have ten minutes left. Nearby a car alarm cries out into the night, and the rain falls harder, trying to drown out the noise. I'm being soaked; my clothes feel like they're melting into my skin, becoming dripping clay against my bones. Hansom cabs saunter by, the drivers whipping their horses to hurry, but the horses will not go any faster. I wonder if they enjoy the rain on their bodies, or if they just enjoy forcing their drivers and the Valentine's Day couples, currently their passengers, to get drenched.

Inside the hall I hear a dissonance, I wonder if something has gone wrong with the band. The church across the street is aglow, and there is chanting; it sounds like monks. Through the rain I can't see what denomination of church it is, or even what religion it is. I imagine that the monks are placing a curse on the band with their song. There is crashing and banging, and what I think is a large drum being dropped on its side. The hansom cabs keep slinking by; the procession appears endless.

It occurs to me that it has been over five minutes since I've been standing here. It is as if time suddenly sped up to accommodate me as I waited. A man at the door motions to me. I approach the warm light of the entrance hall. Pots and pans are clanging and crashing as they're carried into a side door, I suspect it is the kitchen. The horses continue to plod by. The monks are still chanting in the church. I enter, and I gaze at the poster on the wall: "Tonight Only, The Regrets!"

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hussalonia Song # 12: There’s No Such Place As Home

Ah, once again, it has been far too long since I've added an entry to this lovely little blog. In fact, this is the longest gap yet between entries since this blog began. I hope you can forgive me for my lack of focus. However, I make no promises towards improvement in that regard. Whatever happens happens, isn't that the way it works? I make no promises.

Hussalonia's one-release-a-month project for 2010 seems to have ended just two months short of the goal. The final two entries were one song each, but they were excellent enough in quality to make up for a lack of quantity. The final release of the year, "Through With Music," is a song I've listened to repeatedly over the last few months and one I've dreamed of making a movie of just to use it as an ending theme (making music videos and musical segments in movies is something I do frequently, if not constantly, when I listen to music I really enjoy, so don't be surprised if I mention that again) though I must confess I worry that the song might be autobiographical. I certainly hope that Hussalonia isn't really through with music; I've dealt with the retirement of several artists I've enjoyed over the last few years (including the retirement of the band The White Stripes announced the morning of February 2nd, including a statement that their music "now belongs to you," which frankly outside the context of dedicating work to the public domain I do not understand at all) and though I always try to meet the end of an artists' output philosophically, I can never quite shake the feeling of being bummed out about it, either. Still, if this is the end of Hussalonia's creative output, then I must take a moment and give proper thanks once again for all of the incredible music created over the years, and also I must mention the volume of it released entirely free of charge and further still the songs kindly dedicated to the public domain. My gratitude for Hussalonia's efforts is what this blog is all about, after all, even if I do neglect updating it for far too long. Whatever the future may hold, I thank you, Hussalonia.

One last note: As mentioned in Hussalonia's own News section on the Hussalonia website, a filmmaker named Stephen Aymond is creating a film inspired by Hussalonia's album "The Somewhat Surprising Return of The Hussalonia Robot Singers" titled, fittingly enough, "The Somewhat Surprising Return of John's Computer." Hussalonia's website links to a couple of his previous Hussalonia-based projects, and on this website: http://www.indiegogo.com/stephenaymond you can donate to his 2,000 dollar goal of financing for his film. It sounds like an excellent film, and the description reminds me of "The Brave Little Toaster," an animated film that I love. If you aren't currently low on disposable income as I am, please consider contributing to his efforts.

Now, on to this entry's song:

The home is where the heart is, that's what they say. Yet if this song is correct, and there's no such place as home, then what is in the heart? I've already confused myself.

This may sound rather dense and nonsensical, but I've long felt a strange sensitivity to time and place. It is rather difficult to define, but there is a particular experience that I think serves as the prime example of this. A close friend of mine, who experiences this same odd sense of time and space, calls it "the space-time phenomenon." It is, in short, the experience of being in a place where many people have just been but have not vacated. It is standing on a football field after the players and crowd have gone home after a game, or the empty gymnasium after the school dance is over, the theater after the end if the concert. These moments are the kind which proves most striking, but that strange sensation of time and place, of change, of ethereality, can happen in many situations.

I can recall the lobby of the student center where I struggled with staying awake as I arrived at 5 AM and waited four hours for classes to begin. I can recall it then, cold, in fall and winter, empty except for the few employees going around setting things up for the day, taking the covers off of the pool tables, turning on the TVs playing infomercials. I see one that I watched one other early morning months earlier, taking a break from a marathon editing session for a short film my friends and I created. That was just before I began at this new college. I can recall being at the old one; I can recall meetings with the class adviser who died earlier that year of a heart attack. I can recall sitting in that same area with one of my friends, checking email on one of the public computers and discovering that our short film was accepted into a film festival. Everything flashes forward; that friend has switched colleges as well, and once again I'm alone there at the end of a spring day, feeling aimless. Flash forward again, I rarely go into that building anymore, and I still feel aimless.

In the backyard of the house where I grew up I can recall playing outside as a child with friends who have since drifted away. I can remember reading "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac on the driveway and the cat that showed up and died under the porch, having snuck in there just before we went on vacation. I remember getting the mail in the front yard not long ago.

It feels, to use the old expression, like one never steps into the same river twice. Some places retain more of the same aura longer and more strongly than others; my great-grandparents' house, where I spent many days of my early childhood watching cartoons, feels like they never left. The ceramic owls are still over the same stove. The "Bless This House" sign still hangs over the cabinet. I last stopped by on my way home from college classes out of town, and when I went inside Barack Obama was on the news, after being signed into office on the television as I watched from the student center earlier that day. Hope and change was everywhere. In that house I found myself sucked into the past, into days of old lang syne, and it still smelled the same in there, underneath the cigarette smoke.

A place changes gradually and one doesn't notice until well after the fact, and when I notice such changes myself, when I reflect back on the then and now, the here and there, I feel overwhelmed, I feel dizzy.

I don't know if there is no such place as home; I'm inclined to think there is, but that places are consistent than they feel at any given moment. They say you can't go back again, but I wouldn't know.

The song, in any case, is another gem from "Ernest Evans Hussalonia." Much like "Everything and Its Opposite At Once," it packs a really huge punch in a very short time, with vocals that soar before you've even gotten used to seeing them on the ground. "Hold me down" is the request. The desire for someplace solid and for someone steady comes through in this song, a sense of helplessness and willingness to be led, but not without reservations that even outside guidance will really lead anywhere. Tom Waits once sang in "Anywhere I Lay My Head" that "Anywhere I lay my head, I'll call my home." That's food for thought, a possible alternative to this song's idea. Perhaps it is all relative. Perhaps, as in so much of philosophy, it is just a matter of words needing clearer definitions.