Adagio for Strings, by Samuel Barber, as performed by The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
It’s just about the most popular and instantly recognizable collection of strings we’ve all been graced with. We’ve heard it in movies, documentaries, TV shows, and riffs of it in almost as many songs, popular and otherwise. But having said that, it surely does stand on its own. The first time you hear it, no matter the context, I’m entirely confident you appreciate it just as fully.
So of course the song feels resoundingly sad, and goodness knows I do love some melancholy in my music. But there’s far more than melancholy going on here. There’s some wonder, some hope, some toil, some frustration, some reward, some delight, and some peace. Yet above all that, there really is sadness, and it would be unspeakable if not for music like this.
And I get the feeling Samuel Barber, who was just about exactly my own age at the time he completed Adagio, was so on top of his game that he was able to compose a piece so technically capable, yet so entirely accessible, and so emotionally unavoidable, as to exist safely above even the possibility of criticism. Basically, I’ve never heard anybody say they didn’t adore it.
And I’m no expert on strings, but it doesn’t take one to understand that the choir highlighting the end of the middle section is playing near the bounds of its varied comfort level, and beautifully so. Followed by just a stunningly apt moment of reflection before we ease back into the melody’s original lovely ascent. It feels like we’ve climbed Everest, and we’ve seen the view so few get to see - but the beauty was not only in that view, it was in the entire journey.
It’s the most beautiful showcase of a melody founded entirely on simplicity and honesty, born of an era so troubled yet so glorious. The wonder of Adagio is that it doesn’t even feel like a stretch to say we hear all of that in it.
This song is for Jen.
12:13 am • 25 November 2009 • view comments
La Cienega Just Smiled
by Ryan Adams
Ahh, where to start with this gem. YOU start by listening to it, of course. Doesn’t it start beautifully? Simple, soft, understated. Really setting the tone.
And setting the tone is what this song is all about. If it weren’t, we’d hear these lyrics and cringe, and this song would be relegated to 50 years of Hallmark movie soundtracks. But we don’t, and it’s not.
The lovely setup starts with this line:
oh, the night, here it comes again
it’s on with the jeans, the jacket and shirt
Is there any better outfit, any attire more perfect for our best memories? No, no there isn’t. The Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts have it again. (Apparently, Ryan Adams didn’t include his trademark glasses in this short list of things to wear for the coming night. Perhaps he tried but the syllables didn’t line up.)
I expect that he was well past his teenage years when he wrote this, yet it feels like one of those perfect teen love anthems. He says, “and I’m too scared to know how I feel about you now”, and I think about when I was 18 and I was completely in love, and I was scared to death. And then he says, “and [I] raise my glass ‘cause either way I’m dead.” That’s terrific teenage fatalist hyperbole right there, folks. Totally petrified, but not running away - willing to raise a glass of bodily destruction to the destruction of his soul.
The end of the night comes around, the jeans, the jacket, and the shirt come off, and all ‘La Cienega’ said was “I’ll see you around”, and she smiled and waved goodbye. Still, he’s holding her close in the back of his mind, and that’s almost enough.
Get the song.
2:20 pm • 4 November 2009 • view comments
by The National
This was my favorite song from Boxer, but it was a pretty tight race between, well, every song on Boxer.
Here’s the thing. The National seems to have this indescribable feeling surrounding their music - this man and his ‘tall kingdom’. Brainy encompasses the sublime feel of the entire album well with lyrics about intellectualism (or maybe pseudo-intellectualism), complex drum rhythms, and gorgeously orchestrated strings.
Like almost all of their songs, I can’t say I entirely comprehend the story here. But look at this:
“I was up all night again, boning up and reading the American dictionary
you’ll never believe me what I found
I think I better follow you around”
The guy was reading the dictionary. If not trying somehow to feel a little less inferior, trying to learn at least something about her, anything. And he learns something perfectly unspecified. About who? This girl -
“I’ve been draggin’ around from the end of your coat for two weeks
everywhere you go is swirlin’, everything you say has water under it”
“you’re the tall kingdom I surround
I think I better follow you around”
This guy is hopelessly, destructively, incapably in love. With somebody he doesn’t really understand. And so he makes his pitch:
“You might need me more than you think you will
come home in the car you love, brainy brainy brainy”
And his pitch is suitably human and normal and even a little bit irresistible.
Get the song here.
11:02 am • 21 October 2009 • view comments