Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Psychic Elephant & other gems

The range of approaches and results in songwriting never fails to amaze. Just look at a sampling of the titles in this set, on a continuum from the most straightforward to the most enigmatic: Miriam’s Goodbye to Africa, Last Steam Engine Train, Satin Doll, Rio Nights, Como Siento Yo, Luz Negra, The Calling, Camions Sauvages, Kinsiona, Meadows of Dan, Fake Plastic Trees, Psychic Elephant.

Though the meaning behind musical titles can elude discerning listeners, it is often the lyrics – no matter how inventive -- that baffle us to the point of no return, even while bringing us great entertainment in our attempts at deciphering. Over the years how many Beatles’ fans and critics alike have agonized about the meaning of the classic “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” without simply attributing the psychedelic imagery and that of other masterpieces from the period to John Lennon’s well-documented interest in hallucinations?

Another fine example is Thom Yorke’s 2001 classic, “Fake Plastic Trees,” from Radiohead’s The Bends:

Her green plastic watering can / For her fake Chinese rubber plant /
In the fake plastic earth / That she bought from a rubber man / In a town full of rubber plans / To get rid of itself … // It wears her out, it wears her out / It wears her out, it wears her out…

We can speculate on whether Yorke is feeling anger or amusement, whether it’s based on some reality or merely theater of the absurd. But for many listeners, the words of such numbers are irrelevant.  It’s all about the mood created, the rhythms, the arrangements. For others, realism in lyrics is a must, and so the lyrics of a song like those by Brazilian songstress Fernanda Takai – even while dramatic to the extreme -- make much needed sense:

Sempre só
(Always alone)
Eu vivo procurando alguém
(I live searching for someone)
Que sofra como eu também
(Who suffers like me)
Mas não consigo achar ninguém (But I don’t succeed in finding anyone)

Sempre só
 (Always alone)
E a vida vai seguindo assim
(And so life goes)
Não tenho quem tem dó de mim (There’s no one to pity me)
Estou chegando ao fim (Arriving at the end)

A luz negra de um destino cruel
 (The black light of a cruel destiny)
Ilumina um teatro sem cor
 (Illuminates a theater without color)
Onde estou representando o papel
 (Where I play the role)
De palhaço do amor (Of a clown of love)

Whatever your fancy, the beauty of music is that there is a song being created every day that will soothe the soul each one of us. There’s a number in this set for each of us as well. Enjoy!  

*This is the blurb for the Daddy Peet Expresso program "Psychic Elephant and other gems":

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