The beautiful game down in Brazil

I like to predict trends in music. Sometimes I’m right, like when Elle King’s Ex’s and Ohs made it huge. Sometimes I’m wrong, like when I thought Imagine Dragons’ second album would turn out better than their first.

My next prediction is that Declan McKenna’s “Brazil” will be the next alternative/indie track to inexplicably get popular on the pop stations. Following in the lovely trend of bands like 21pilots becoming mainstream, I think this song is well on its way. It’s so catchy, with a smooth rhythm and great guitar line. The lyrics are wonderful, snippets get caught in my head all the time, but so many didn’t seem to make sense.

I rarely give up and look up the meaning of a song, but with this one I had to. I’m glad I did.

Obviously, all art is subjective, and none of this is fact, just interesting to think about. According to a few interpretations on genius.com (http://genius.com/8437744) , it’s about how Brazil treated its poor terribly while preparing for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It begins by chastising the ironic choice to cut down the Amazon Rainforest to (in the end) promote tourism, when the rainforest is what many tourists want to see. It goes on to spin several allegories about rich people treating the poor terribly, and about how people actually died to appease FIFA.

I get the lines, “It gets me down,” “He talks like an angel but he looks like me” and “Don’t you want to play the beautiful game down in Brazil” stuck in my head over and over, one after the other. Now, these phrases are injected with meaning. I love songs about difficult subjects. In a world full of fluffy songs, it’s nice to have one every now and then that makes you think.

It’s not a new development. After all, as one of my friends used to bring up quite a lot, “Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake your booty.” Not all songs are, nor should be, poetic and thinky, or music would be more work than is necessary.

It was the fun beat about “Brazil” that caught me first, then its well-written lyrics, and finally its deeper meaning. I love how digging can bring out such wonderful details.

This post is all over the place. But it’s been awhile since I’ve just rambled at you all. It’s nice. Ironically, a post about deeper meaning in songs results in a rather fluffy piece overall. Ah well:)

Anyway, please! Go check out “Brazil:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39r0QFD1oPM.

Declan McKenna is only 16, I just found out while searching for a photo of him. Wow, this song is fascinating.

 

4’33”

A performance of 4’33”. If you haven’t heard it, give it a listen!:

4’33” by John Cage always brings up the question, “Is this music?” By definition, music means sound, right? How could four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence possibly count as music?

Let’s back up for a second. Before John Cage (1912-1992) was Charles Ives (1874-1954), an experimental musician who was one of the first American composers to achieve serious international renown—for a long time, American composers were not thought of as real musicians at all. Ives wrote pieces that pushed the boundaries of music, such as “The Concord Sonata” that requires tapping keys with a 14 ¾ inch block of wood to create tone clusters, and “The Unanswered Question” which features extremely long single notes. His pieces often sound like a bit of an unorganized mess, but as time went on he came to be recognized as a legitimate musician perhaps a bit ahead of his time.

If Charles Ives pushed the boundaries of music, John Cage smashed them with an iron rod, recorded said smashing, and sold it as a record. He composed by using charts, tossing coins, and using random geometric patterns. He would litter the strings of a piano with objects to change the sound. He would swish water around in a seashell. He wrote pieces called “A Collection of Rocks,” “Paragraphs of Fresh Air,” and “Water Music,” which was performed with a radio, bird whistles, and a deck of cards which the player would shuffle and then deal over the piano strings. His most famous piece, of course, is 4’33”, which is performed by a person sitting at a piano and making as little sound as possible for exactly 4’33”.

I’ve heard multiple interpretations of 4’33”. Some say that the music is the accidental sounds a room full of people make, such as coughing or dropping keys. Some say that it’s arguing that silence is music, just like scheduled rests and pregnant pauses in (to avoid the phrase “normal music”) musical pieces including sound. Some say John Cage was plain crazy, like all the other Andy Warhol’s and Yoko Ono’s that dare defy convention.

Is John Cage the “Emperor’s New Clothes” of music–something people pour meaning and relevance into when really there’s nothing there? Or is it taking the easy way out to wave experimental art off with a dismissive hand and call it pretentious?

My favorite theory—plausible, since John Cage was interested in Buddhism—is that 4’33” was a sort of surprise meditation. In concert, the audience is captivated by the performer. In an anticipation-riddled song like 4’33”, they are focused intently, waiting for something to “happen.” This singular focus, all in silence, makes the audience unknowingly meditate, in a way. Their mind is clear, they are focused, and they are silent. Perhaps John Cage felt we all needed a meditation break now and then, and what better way to ensure people were getting one than putting one right in the middle of his concert? Then again, this doesn’t explain his other experimental music, so who knows?

Of course, we’ll never know, and that’s a good thing. What’s the point of art if there’s nothing to interpret? Then again, with 4’33”, there is literally nothing to interpret except the concept itself: silence as music. Perhaps the question isn’t whether or not it “counts” as music, but the message of the song. The method in the madness. The sound of silence.

I would prefer not to.

“I would prefer not to.”

The famous words of the resistant Bartleby Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby the Scrivener,” are a quiet rebellion against society. It is not an outright refusal, it’s a preference. His words mark Bartleby as an individual who has his own ideas, exactly the sort of person the capitalist lawyer cannot understand nor control.

Bartleby is a scrivener—a low-tech copy machine.  He does nothing all day except copy papers, until he chooses to do nothing at all. He even refuses to quit, or leave the building.

I take this as an Office Space lesson in what the workforce does to people. When there’s no outlet for individuality or creativity, it bursts out of the seams in a destructive mess. If people can’t use their minds, their minds will use them.

If there’s no way to do anything fun, or engaging, or individual, one will eventually “prefer” not to do anything at all.

Bartleby’s job could be done by a 6 year old with good penmanship. A lot of jobs could be done with 6 year olds with good penmanship, or 6 year olds who can use a phone, or 6 year olds who can figure out a cash register. No wonder a lot of us feel useless.

Perhaps if Bartleby went for a nature walk after work, or took up playing guitar, or tried art lessons, or cooking, he would not have felt the need to rebel. Maybe if he unleashed his creative individuality in a healthy way it would not be fighting him from the inside for release. If Bartleby felt respected and important and alive, perhaps he actually would have preferred to work during work time as long as he could be himself during his off time.

Perhaps not. Perhaps I am looking at an old story with new values, with the knowledge of the severity of mental illness and a 21st century appreciation for creativity. But I do know that if Bartleby were alive today, the lawyer would have more tools at his disposal for dealing with who is likely a man dealing with depression. Then again, Bartleby would have more tools to express himself with. So if today’s world is easier for both parties…why do I and many like me relate to Bartleby?

Is it because we all feel useless and unappreciated? Is it because we are all individuals, ready to burst out of our skins? Is it because no one is ever satisfied, and everyone would prefer to just sit on a couch doing nothing? Is it because we’re all depressed? All caught under the thumb of a unforgiving world?

I suppose I understand Bartleby’s preference not to. I understand, but do not agree.

I prefer not to be like Bartleby. I prefer not to prefer not to.

I prefer to live.