This image links to Hussalonia's official website!

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

No comments:

Post a Comment