34 years later, I still don’t understand Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”.

I was 14 years old when I first heard O Superman (For Massenet) by experimental musician Laurie Anderson. I don’t know if it qualifies so much as a song than as a spoken word piece with some musical bits to it. I remember being entranced by it and not being able to explain why. It’s eight and a half minutes long and the one constant is a “ha” that serves as the beat, in as much as it can be said to have a beat.

If you’ve never heard it, you can watch the video for it right here:

I had completely forgotten about it until this morning when it showed up on my Thomas Dolby radio station on Google Music. I was immediately taken back to those days in 1982 when I listened to it repeatedly trying to figure out what it was supposed to be about and understand why it had such a hold on me. Not just a hold, it affected me deeply. Particularly when it gets to the lyrics about mom.

Today, 34 years later, it was a jolt to hear it and realize that it still deeply affects me to listen to it. So much so that I had tears welling up as I sat here at my desk, which is really out of character for me. I love a good song as much as the next guy, but it’s rare that any music moves me to tears. I’m not a huge fan of the artist; I’ve never bought her albums and the copy of this song I had was taped off of a local radio station as we were wont to do back in the days before MP3s.

Reading the lyrics does little to help me understand it:

O Superman. O judge. O Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad.
O Superman. O judge. O Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad.
Hi. I’m not home right now. But if you want to leave a
message, just start talking at the sound of the tone.
Hello? This is your Mother. Are you there? Are you
coming home?
Hello? Is anybody home? Well, you don’t know me,
but I know you.
And I’ve got a message to give to you.
Here come the planes.
So you better get ready. Ready to go. You can come
as you are, but pay as you go. Pay as you go.

And I said: OK. Who is this really? And the voice said:
This is the hand, the hand that takes. This is the
hand, the hand that takes.
This is the hand, the hand that takes.
Here come the planes.
They’re American planes. Made in America.
Smoking or non-smoking?
And the voice said: Neither snow nor rain nor gloom
of night shall stay these couriers from the swift
completion of their appointed rounds.

‘Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice.
And when justice is gone, there’s always force.
And when force is gone, there’s always Mom. Hi Mom!

So hold me, Mom, in your long arms. So hold me,
Mom, in your long arms.
In your automatic arms. Your electronic arms.
In your arms.
So hold me, Mom, in your long arms.
Your petrochemical arms. Your military arms.
In your electronic arms.

A good chunk of the song is a phone conversation between someone who initially claims to be the mother of the person they’re calling, but then reveals that to be a lie. Then it gets surreal with statements like being the “hand that takes” and something about planes coming and so on.

When I was 14 I thought it was very deep and I was just too stupid to figure it out. I’m not sure I’ve gotten any smarter in the time since. Today we have the Internet and Wikipedia article on it offers up the following explanation:

As part of the larger work United States, the text addresses issues of technology and communication, quoting at various points answering machine messages and the slogan “Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”. That line is inscribed over the entrance of the James Farley Post Office in New York and is derived from a line in Herodotus’ Histories (8.98), referring to the ancient courier service of the Persian Empire. This line is also interpreted in the accompanying music video into American Sign Language by Anderson wearing white gloves, white sunglasses and a white coat.

The lines “‘Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice / And when justice is gone, there’s always force / And when force is gone, there’s always Mom” derive from the fourth sentence of Chapter 38 of the Tao Te Ching: “When Tao is lost, there is goodness. When goodness is lost, there is kindness. When kindness is lost, there is justice. When justice is lost, there is ritual. Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.”

All of this is in the context of an attack by American planes and arms. In an interview with the Australian magazine Bulletin in 2003, Anderson said that the song is connected to the Iran-Contra affair, but she meant the Iran hostage crisis which took place in 1979-1980. Anderson appeared as a guest co-host on WFMT Chicago to say the song is directly related to the crash of the military rescue helicopter outside Tehran — a disheartening incident where U.S. military technology essentially let down the government. This equipment or pilot failure, she continued, was her primary impetus for the creation of the song/performance piece. When it became an emerging hit in the U.K., she was as surprised as everyone else, and the need to press more singles to meet emerging U.K. demand was what led to her first multi-album record deal.

Um, OK. So it was inspired by the Iran-Contra affair, but I’ll be damned if I understand how you’re supposed to glean that from the lyrics. Nor does it explain why I am so affected by something I simply don’t understand. I love this song in spite of it. I’ve listened to it several times while writing this entry. I don’t know why.

I can’t say for certain whether my reaction today was because of the song itself or the feeling of being transported back to 1982 and being on the verge of adulthood. The year 2000 was less than 20 years away and I was going to experience “the future” first hand. My cynicism hadn’t fully developed and the future looked promising even if I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do as an adult. I was still ignorant enough of the larger world around me that I could be optimistic without any good reason for it. The future! It was coming and I was gonna be there for it. Looking back it’s not quite what I thought it was going to be, but it could be a lot worse than it is so I’ll take it.

Still, this damned song. Do you guys have anything similar or is it just me?

And now for something completely different: The Wintergatan Marble Machine

I cannot begin to imagine how one would begin to build something as amazing as this is.

Wintergatan’s YouTube channel has a number of videos of the build process if you’re curious.

Not Today (The Building Is on Fire)

The folks at Songify The News (previously Auto-Tune The News) have a new hit out:

Here’s the original video they made this out of:

If you’d like to help Michelle Dobyne, the woman in the video, as she tries to recover from the fire that prompted her awesome interview, there’s a GoFundMe page for her here: https://www.gofundme.com/cyhnqkpw

An ode to homophobic Kentucky country clerk Kim Davis.

Sandy and Richard Riccardi were so inspired by the plight of recently incarcerated for her religious beliefs contempt of court county clerk Kim Davis that they just had to sit down and write a song in her honor:

*sniff!* That brought a tear to my eye.

And now a musical interlude: Pomplamoose performs “I’m The Shit.”

They’ve got a new album out — Besides — and so far I’m enjoying it immensely.

Still one of the best Christmas songs ever…

Checking in with the 2014 Christmas light shows.

It seems that every year the number of folks doing synchronized Christmas light shows on their homes grows. So much so that there are a number of television shows on the air this year such as the Great Christmas Light Fight.

In fact, one of our first videos tonight is from a family that was on that show. The music is the Christmas Can Can by Straight No Chaser and is an impressive use of the lights they’ve put up including a row of spotlights along the apex of their roof. They’ve got another video featuring a melody of Star Wars songs worth watching too:

Next we go to El Paso where we find another entrant on ABC’s show that won this year:

Let’s swing over to Trinidad for a light show that wasn’t on TV, but still deserves a mention for its use of quotes from various Christmas movies. Not sure why, but Dubstep seems to work well with these sorts of displays. Bonus points for the confused dog that wander through about half-way through the show:

The Delaney family may not have the most lights in their display, but they make good use of what they’ve got with a melody of recent hits and dubstep remixes:

It’s not Christmas until you’ve watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the Kremer Family in Minden, Nevada have put together an impressive display using a pixel tree and some projection mapping to honor that venerable animated special:

So many of these light shows seem to be in southern states or places with no snow to speak of. So it’s nice to find a family in a snowy area who are joining in on the fun. Christmas lights look best when they’re surrounded by real snow. Bonus points for the projection mapped Santa in one of the windows:

Let’s head out to Iowa and the obligatory light show using songs from Disney’s immensely popular Frozen:

One of the growing trends is to forego lights altogether in favor of doing full projection mapping on your home. This has become very popular for Halloween light shows, but not as much for Christmas so far. At least not outside of big productions by companies such as Macy’s in New York. Here’s one example I did find on a home if you can handle some more music from Frozen in addition to some Jesus torture video:

So how do you top that? By going bigger, of course. Which brings us to our final video this year. What it lacks in novel light patterns it makes up for in sheer size. This is what you get when you talk all your neighbors into letting you sync up their lights to music. A display so big you have to use a drone to film it:

You gotta admit, that’s damned impressive.

How to make a hit Christmas Pop Song.

Brett Domino is a musical genius. I am now fully prepared for making my own hit Christmas Pop Song despite a total lack of talent in the songwriting or the instrument playing normally associated with music creation. That’s how amazing this instructional video is.

Check it:

That song is going to be stuck in my head for the rest of the day now.

Amazon just launched Prime Music.

PrimeMusicI love Amazon Prime. We signed up for it a year and a half ago and it’s been worth every penny. Between the large collection of TV shows and Movies we can stream for free and/or rent and the free two-day shipping, it’s paid for itself in a matter of weeks. Now Amazon has made it even better with the launch of Prime Music.

If you’re an Amazon Prime member you can now listen to over a million songs, without ads, on almost any device, at no additional charge. You can even download the songs to your mobile device to listen in places without Internet access. I think the only thing you can’t do with them is burn them to a CD, but if you want to do that it’s pretty easy to purchase the MP3 you just listened to.

This won’t completely replace Pandora for me because the point of Pandora is to be exposed to stuff I might like that I don’t know about and Prime Music doesn’t appear to offer a similar function. Still, it’ll come in handy when I decide that I really like some group I’ve just been newly exposed to and want to hear a whole album from them. Plus I can make playlists of stuff I haven’t gotten around to buying yet. If you’re a Prime member you should check it out.

What do you get when you combine a light-up diablo and a digital projection system?

A wicked cool music video: