Happy Halloween to all Americans, Western Christians, and various pagans ready to propitiate Samhain. To mark the occasion, I present Belle and Sebastian performing “Sukie in the Graveyard” live for B.B.C. Scotland:
The song is from The Life Pursuit.
I’ll continue my Belle and Sebastian postings with “I’m a Cuckoo” from Dear Catastrophe Waitress.
I just noticed that, in the video, a well wisher gives Murdoch cum star of track and field an Irn-Bru. Adam and I discovered the wonderful orange cough syrup flavored pop in Belle and Sebastian’s hometown of Glasgow. I still buy it at Jungle Jim’s every now and then.
I had the great pleasure to see Belle and Sebastian last night at the D.A.R.‘s Constitution Hall. I have been looking forward to seeing the band in concert for a decade; I had not been able to see their previous tours. It was a wonderful experience. The band, the crowd, and the songs were fantastic. I was lucky to be in the fourth row, and Stuart Murdoch traveled over to my side of the stage several times. Here is an image from my less than fantastic phone camera:
I had never been in Constitution Hall before. I found it charming. The lobby and basement lounge reminded me of a church hall. The concert hall itself was pleasant enough. I had read online that people do not typically stand at concerts there, which I found disappointing. However, as soon as Belle and Sebastian entered the hall, everyone in the orchestra seats and a good deal of the balcony folks stood. We stayed up the entire concert. It was much fun.
The opening act was Versus. I had never heard of them before, but I enjoyed most of their songs, especially their opening and closing songs. The audience was supportive but not overly enthusiastic. The male lead singer tried to encourage folks to get up, but few heeded his words. I thought at the time that it was due to the venue, given what I had read online. The crowd had no trouble getting up for Belle and Sebastian, but that was why everyone was there, of course. I think that Versus made for a suitable opening act. Maybe it has to do with the indie rock scene, but I love the lack of pretension with Belle and Sebastian, and I found Versus to have the same quality. They are just musicians who love to play and to perform. I suppose that is how most bands would be if the labels did not “streamline their product.” I admit that I like a wow-ing, high budget show. I was delighted to see U2 in concert. Yet, there is something Hollywood-esque about big name and big money bands—the production image largely hides the band. Moreover, that much money and fame must be quite burdensome on the soul. It is no wonder that so many celebrities crack and go nutty. I am not an indie rock snob, but there is something, shall I say, wholesome and intimate about such bands. With Belle and Sebastian, at least, they are very responsive to their devoted fans. If you write to them with questions, they will write you back. That is good; it must serve as a grounding for them, as well. I imagine that many major musical celebrities would like to be able to relate to their fans in such a way, too, but they have become too popular and too removed to be able to do it. It may sound silly, but I bet that they suffer from it.
Here is an early video that Campbell made for “Like Dylan in the Movies.” They look so young. Fourteen years go by quickly.
As I wrote above, the crowd was great. D.C. must have a devoted Belle and Sebastian following, and there was a good vibe connection between the musicians and the audience. Murdoch went through the crowd several times—one time walking along the edge of the balcony around the concert hall. I was truly worried that he was going to fall off and break his neck. He is married now, and his wife is too young to be a widow. He survived, though, and everyone enjoyed the spectacle. Murdoch also changed a line in “Step into My Office, Baby” from “I was burned out after Thatcher” to “I was burned out after Carter.” He also referred to the “Taxation without Representation” issue. I suppose that every group feels obligated to address the political class as if they have no other interests. I have witnessed it again and again. I suppose that outsiders just cannot see past the fact that it is the capital. Outsiders? Am I thinking like a Washingtonian? Woe be to Woden, I refuse to go native!
The band looked good. I was somewhat surprised by how much of a “cool cat” Bobby Kildea was. In addition to being his all around wonderful self, Stevie Jackson did a fabulous audience participation number with the new “I’m Not Living in the Real World.” We also got to see him bring out the harmonica. I noticed that he has also put on some weight. Mick Cooke was excellent on the trumpet and other horns; the brass really makes several of the songs. Sarah Martin played a variety of instruments, including some sort of flute-keyboard hybrid that I have never seen before. I wrote to her after the show to find out what it was. Unfortunately, Chris Geddes and Richard Colburn were tucked away in the back and I did not focus on them. I like when bands elevate the drummer a bit so that the audience can visually enjoy the percussion dance of the drummer. Perhaps, Colburn prefers to be at the same level as everyone else. Anyway, quite a spot on show!
The song line up was perfect. Admittedly, I really like about 98% of the band’s songs. So, the odds were good that I would like whatever they played. Yet, it seemed as though my personal preferences determined the program. At one point, various audience members were yelling requests, and I felt like shouting out “Dog on Wheels.” Then, Murdoch said that they were going to play one for Bo, as the band had joked earlier about wanting to visit the First Dog while they were in D.C. I started clapping, and I think that I was one of the few who got the clue—or perhaps that is my own narcissism. In addition to several songs from their new album, Write about Love, such as “I Want The World to Stop,” “I Didn’t See It Coming,” and “I’m Not Living in the Real World,” they also played “Like Dylan in the Movies,” “I’m a Cuckoo,” “I Fought in a War,” “Lord Anthony,” “Sukie in the Graveyard,” “If You find Yourself Caught in Love,” “Step into My Office, Baby,” “Simple Things,” “Piazza, New York Catcher,” “Dirty Dream Number Two,” “The Boy with the Arab Strap,” and “Sleep the Clock Around.” Of course, I could have stayed all night asking them to play other favorites, such as “Lazy Line Painter Jane,” “Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie,” “This Is Just a Modern Rock Song,” “Jonathan David,” “The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner,” “I Could be Dreaming,” “Women’s Realm,” “If You’re Feeling Sinister” . . . well, the list goes on and on. Still, I was elated when they played “Judy and the Dream of Horses” during their encore. For it was “The Boy with the Arab Strap” that introduced me to the band, and it was “Judy and the Dream of Horses” that made them one of my favorite groups ever. I listened to these songs back to back from my brother’s Napster list a decade ago, and I immediately fell for those Scots. Tonight, I got to see them live. I am already looking forward to the next time, God willing.
Update: Martin answered my question (of course—they are great!): she played a Hohner Melodica.
Belle and Sebastian Write about Love is now out. The band’s site features a little video about the album:
Scotland’s for me.
Last week, I finally visited the temporary Rockwell exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum: “Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.” You may look at some online images of the works shown, though pictures of pictures never do the originals justice. Among the collection were two versions of “Happy Birthday, Miss Jones.” Lucas and Spielberg both owned a copy, one the sketch and one the painting, though I forget who owned which.
I have always enjoyed Rockwell’s work, and I have a devotional attachment to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Therefore, I appreciated the exhibit immensely on many levels. Not only did I get to see some of Rockwell’s paintings and drawings up close, but I also venerated contact relics of popular culture’s hallowed saints. It was especially interesting to me to see which man owned which works, and some of the informative descriptions for the paintings contained commentary by Lucas or Spielberg about the works. I liked learning a bit more about these movie and myth makers through their love of Rockwell.
I visited Thomas Jefferson’s library at the Library of Congress last week. Jefferson’s collection reconstituted the Library of Congress after the British destroyed the original collection in the War of 1812. Looking at the tomes, I felt as though I was surveying the intellectual world in which Jefferson thought and worked. To see a man’s books is to see his soul. I think that something similar may be said of one’s art collection. I am thus thankful for Lucas and Spielberg’s generosity in sharing some of their Rockwell collection. To offer the public these works is to offer the public themselves in a significant way.
The exhibit also contained a short documentary that features interviews of Lucas and Spielberg about Rockwell and his works. Lucas and Spielberg stress Rockwell’s cinematic brilliance as a story teller, even though he only did drawings and paintings. Nonetheless, both men agree that they relate to Rockwell as directors and as story tellers. They also offer comments about Rockwell’s other qualities, and I certainly agree with their assessment of Rockwell as portraying for Americans their values and ideals—even in “lowly” commercial advertisements and magazine covers.
Much of the press coverage of the Rockwell exhibit deals with the resuscitation of Rockwell’s reputation as an artist. During those hideous years in the mid twentieth century, the establishment was not kind to Rockwell, which dismissed his work as fodder for the ignorant and vulgar masses; he was for them the Thomas Kinkade of the post war generation. Transgressive art was the way of the progressive, future man. Rockwell was stuck depicting silly people engaged in ordinary life. How bourgeois.
Fortunately, more and more Americans are growing beyond the childish rejection of beauty, form, and goodness in the arts. People now commonly value older architectural, musical, and visual artistic works, having suffered enough the nihilistic pretensions of the past few generations. Thank goodness. Nature will have her way, and man by nature loves the beautiful, Mencken’s commentary about Americans’ tastes notwithstanding. Man also loves the good, and he finds such good in the best of his social order. Not all art has to be that of social criticism and protest. Euripides was an unlikeable fellow, genius though he was, and the West has long had far too many unworthy Euripides’ posing as Socrates with a jarring aesthetic. In addition to the scornful chastiser from on high—the artist as angry prophet and revealer of society’s faults—a nation needs artists who incarnate in their works the beauty, love, and insight of their own civilization. The art of the last century, like the intellectual movements that defined it, was strong on hatred and rejection and weak on love and celebration.
Rockwell stood out from this nihilism and despair. He fulflled the ancient role of the artist as servant of the people who manifested in his works the greatness of his people. To see his work is to see ordinary Americans at their best. It is to recognize the goodness of life and to smile at the little, quirky absurdities of society and of common living. We do not need a scathing critic in order to laugh a little at ourselves. We always laugh at ourselves. To be human is to be a wee bit ridiculous—and to be aware of it. Nonetheless, or, rather, as such, we are full of life and thus of loveable goodness. One who cannot see the divine splendor even in banal, domestic settings suffers from demonic blindness. Rockwell had no such defect. Like all good artists, he saw the beauty in the world and reflected it in his images with wit, delight, mercy, love, and a profound sense of humanity.
Der Spiegel has several photo galleries of the destruction of German cities during the Second World War and of the consequent architectural decisions taken after the war. The pictures reveal horrendous devastation. I must repeatedly ask myself what lunacy must have prompted Europeans to engage in such fratricide—and suicide—in the first half of the twentieth century. To consider the amount of human, social, and civilizational destruction that occurred in the last century, with two world wars, totalitarian dystopia, and the alienation of Europeans from their past is profoundly disturbing. So much was lost, and what was gained? Wisdom? The West is full of fools finding themselves wise in their decadence.
The photographs of German cities before and after the war manifest in images what I think of the recent evolution of the West. Consider:
“Germany Comes to Terms with its Ugliest Buildings”
with its photo gallery: “When Architecture Goes Wrong”
“A New Look at Germany’s Postwar Reconstruction”
with its photo gallery: “A Century-Long Project”
Other related photo galleries:
“Architecture Out of the Gray”
“Emerging from the Ruins”
“An Endless Sea of Concrete Apartment Blocks”
“Problematic Postwar Architecture”
“Women in the Rubble”
Do we see an end to the madness—to the modern dark age?
As someone firmly convinced that Western civilization is hemorrhaging before our eyes, I do not see many positive developments in the world. However, City Journal‘s Heather MacDonald gives us one contemporary blessing for which to be thankful in “Classical Music’s New Golden Age.” MacDonald examines the vitality of the classical music scene throughout the world and argues for its prominence in the near future while also debunking or modifying some of the reasons for the widespread pessimism concerning the state of high cultural music. She also reports on the explosion of interest in early music and even mentions some of the groups that I love. The article delighted me and gave me hope. The barbarians are ever at the gate, but we have survived and flourished nonetheless. May such continue for many millennia more.