5 Songs is a weekly series where we point out the strange, the grand, and the unique connections between our favorite songs. Let’s get weird.
Words by Chris
At our most vulnerable moments, we might come face-to-face with death and the very nature of our mortal existence. Here we will examine that bareness via the pop song, which as a vessel has carried many horribly dark tales of dealing with our flawed lifespan for decades. This is all a long way of saying: Yay! It’s Monday!
“Vittorio E.” / Spoon / Kill The Moonlight
Named for a subway stop in Rome which was named after Vittorio Emanuel, the first leader of Italy when it united in the late nineteenth century, this song is actually quite uplifting, in lieu of the fragility of death, timelines, and Britt Daniel’s fair skin in the Mediterranean sun. The song touches on some basic feelings of unrest, be it within a relationship or just the flimsy nature of life in general. “I want to be there tonight. I want to get there but it’s just out of sight. I took a river and it felt so sleight, so hold on.” Art cheat: if you see or hear “river” in anything, it’s about a journey!
“Lord Let It Rain on Me” / Spiritualized / Amazing Grace
Here we go: gospel songs. Lots of fertile death-fearing ground here. J. Spaceman is at his magnanimous best, trading quiet guitar-strumming with huge choir-accompanied choruses and orchestral swells. The song uses this format in fact to turn the gospel song on its head, to challenge Christ, “Jesus Christ, look at what you’ve gone and done. 2000 years of looking down the barrel of a gun. You got the fools believing that there’s something else to gain. Jesus Christ, when you coming down again?”
“Sylvia” / The Antlers / Hospice
This record is about the relationship between a hospital worker and a patient with terminal bone cancer, and as seen elsewhere on this blog, we like it a lot. “Sylvia” sticks out because it’s so damn intense in so many ways, detailing the attempt by the hospital worker to calm down the hospitalized woman who is (supposedly) thrashing around, terrified of the whole experience. The chorus is incredibly loud and almost celebratory, which is kind of creepy, “Sylvia! Get your head out of the oven! Go back to screaming and cursing! Remind me again how everyone betrayed you!” This song is a rather bizarre yet brutally realistic portrayal of comforting an ill person in that “spiral” (albeit by having them explain how everyone is terrible). The allusion to the suicide of Ms. Plath just makes it that much more horrific and real.
“In the Drugs” / Low / Trust
Speaking of terrifying allusions to tragic deaths, Alan Sparhawk sings in this plaintive, bluesy, quintessential Low song, “I closed my eyes like Marvin Gaye”. Dear God. There’s a lot of untold heavy tales going on beneath the surface here, and it’s all suggested really. The chorus—“But now I’ve had enough, it’s in the drugs”—performs both the numbing of pain and the hopefulness that drugs will in fact numb the pain. Not too much of an inspirational life message here against death, but probably a poignant one, “Breaking like dolls. Singing like birds. We always get what we deserve.” Damn.
“Cross Bones Style” / Cat Power / Moon Pix
One of my all-time favorite songs on one of the best records of the 90’s. This song is quite mysterious to me, because it is comforting in that hypnotic way the guitar plinks along with the beat, but one can feel something deep and dark way down in there, the place where coal is compressed slowly into diamond. I’m trying to figure out as I write this just what the lyric means, “Come child, in a cross-bones style. Come child, come and rescue me ‘cause you have seen some unbelievable things.” It always seemed to me an unreasonable plea for some kind of advice from an unreasonable source. I wouldn’t put it past the character Chan Marshall is creating here to attempt communication with some pale spirit out there, possibly in herself, that has grown to know too much and doesn’t know enough.
How are you feeling now? Sad? Introspective? Excited? Maniacal? We’re not quite sure what to think, so leave us some comments and we’ll talk about our feelings. We’d really like that.
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