February 21, 2015

Arcade Fire's Will Butler adopts the blogging method of songwriting.

He's not saying it's like blogging. I am. He's saying it's like Bob Dylan:
Arcade Fire’s Will Butler will be writing a song a day based upon a news story in the Guardian for a week from 23 February. Each original track will premiere on the Guardian’s website.

“It was partly inspired by Bob Dylan, who used to announce that certain songs were based on headlines,” Butler says of the project. “It would be a song he wrote in two weeks or something, such as The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, which is one of the greatest songs ever. So I’ve set myself an impossible bar.”
Yeah, William Zantzinger could have sued Bob Dylan for the defamation in that song:
"The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll" got famous
And Bob Dylan became the most honored of rock stars
Zantzinger kept quiet and wouldn't talk to the press
He just lived through the decades with that song on his head
And he probably cried for himself and for Hattie
And what did he think of that songster Bob Dylan?
"I should have sued him," he finally said later...
Back to Will Butler:
“I’ve been reading the Guardian every day, perusing the different sections."
Oh, perusing! I've been perusing and excusing and infusing and accusing. Overusing. Now, I'm oozing, all while you sing. (All I really want to do is be friends with Will Butler.)
"Some of them possibly lend themselves to songs. It’s a cruel thing..."
An uncool thing... a damned fool thing....
"... but sometimes you read something and think, ‘Uh oh. I could make something really meaty out of that.’"
Uh oh. I could make something really meaty out of that. Uh oh. You could make something really cool and cruel out of "Uh oh. I could make something really meaty out of that." Perhaps"Uh Oh, Love Comes to Town" infused (and confused) with "Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy." I'm thinking of a graffiti entreaty in Tahiti, sweetie.
"Something like the Dominique Strauss-Kahn trial – my God, that’s the gnarliest story in the world, but it’s interesting."
See? It's like blogging. The standard is that standard of standards: interestingness. Back to Butler:
"Or you might read a science headline and think, 'The universe is so much bigger than I thought it was.' There’s something really beautiful in that."
"Big and small" is one of my favorite tags, and it's because — and I cannot figure out why — I invariably visualize everything smaller — often far smaller — than it really is. I'm a minimizer. A minimalist. So I'm with Butler, except no mere science headline can correct my mind's distortion. The universe will always be much bigger than I think it is. And "always" will always be far longer.

So, anyway, Will Butler is interested in politics, interested enough to have applied to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He got in, but he didn't go. Which says something about where he was in the development of political sophistication — a process that began when he was a teenager, when he read Dostoevsky and Kafka.

Bob Dylan has no songs with Dostoevsky and Kafka (though he does have Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain's tower and he sneers at a man who thinks he's something for having been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald's books). It's hard to rhyme Kafka, who drinks vodka with his latka, not to mention Dostoevsky (are you kidding me?).

Will Butler says:
"On the one hand, the government is – in a country like America or Canada or the UK – the expression of the people. It’s not freedom from things but its freedom to govern, which is a beautiful concept. But there’s a sense that modern government almost takes the place of the Old Testament God. Things happen because governments cause them to, but people are like, 'No. This is how the world is. It’s a world of pain.' There’s something very Old Testament about that – yet we’re on our knees to them about policy as well."
After that quote, The Guardian scurries to tell us that Butler is "an Obama fan." You could write a song about the lefty newspaper's need to assure its larval readers that the artist they've been reading about and whose music they're getting primed to receive is properly on the left even though he just said that modern government almost takes the place of the Old Testament God.

30 comments:

Ann Althouse said...

"To be a great artist is inherently right wing," I said, back in 2005, in a discussion about Bob Dylan. The lefties said that was inane and insane.

tim in vermont said...

I was just in Boston and was listening to the weather report and the weather girl talks about "The winds out over the ocean." and James Taylor jumps into my mind

"They're blowin' which way they choose
Those winds ain't got no emotion,
They don't know the blues"

And suddenly I have an image of James Taylor writing that song while watching the weather on TV in Massachusetts somewhere.

tim in vermont said...

All I'd like to ask is that you get your mind around what I'm trying to say before reflexively rejecting it. I'm not surprised that lefty bloggers and commenters can't do this. - Althouse from the linked post.

Reject first, ask rhetorical questions later! -Jonathon Haidt on Liberals.

Must use preview...

traditionalguy said...

This must be how Will Shakespeare got started writing: Using historic events as structure for characters for expressions of dialogue that stun the mind.

OK, maybe he's just another Baby Boomer wannabe who wants him a cushy job on MSNBC.

Titus said...

I speak at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Those students have amazing backgrounds.

They have been in wars and shit.

In case you didn't know how fab I am.

tim in vermont said...

This must be how Will Shakespeare got started writing: Using historic events as structure for characters for expressions of dialogue that stun the mind.

Not to diminish Bill Shakespeare's genius, because I couldn't, but didn't he basically just rewrite common story lines, as was the custom of the day?

But what you wrote reminded me of another thing Althouse wrote, about Dylan saying "You could have written Blowin' in the Wind" if you had played as many folk songs as I have played as many times" (I paraphrase)

I read a biography of The Bard, and his education consisted of being drilled on the rules of rhetoric for ten hours a day for his entire childhood. Of course other kids presumably received that same education, but their barroom repartee and stable cleaning badinage is unfortunately, lost to history.

Ann Althouse said...

@Titus

You are seeing the ones who are there, not the ones who are not there who, like Will Butler, could have been there but found somewhere else.

Ann Althouse said...

Also, Titus, you should have rhymed at least 2 of your lines.

I speak at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Those students have amazing backgrounds.

They have been in wars and shit.

And I am lazing, half-drowned

Big Mike said...

"But there’s a sense that modern government almost takes the place of the Old Testament God."

Nonsense! Everybody knows that Anthropogenic Global Warming takes the place of the Old Testament God. Warm weather? Anthropogenic Global Warming! Bitter cold weather? That's predicted by Anthropogenic Global Warming. Lots of snow? AGW. Snow deficit? AGW.

Whether we know that God by the name of Anthropogenic Global Warming or "Climate Change," it matters not. He is the same God and He is responsible for all things that happen.

We can only propitiate this angry God by paying taxes on the air we breathe and the CO2 we exhale (and shame on us if we eat Mexican and fart methane into the air!). We must pay our money into the pockets of the already rich and well-off to administer the cap and trade program, because only through cap and trade comes salvation.

And the poor people shall freeze to death in the dark, but the wealthy who administer cap and trade will find that good, because the poor people shall not exhale CO2 or fart methane anymore.

And that is pleasing in the eyes of Anthropogenic Global Warming. Amen.

tim in vermont said...

Sinners in the Hand of an Angry Gaia.

Big Mike said...

@tim, with this record cold weather Gaia is trying to tell us something. Why will we not listen?

Bob R said...

Meade - Did she rap that post to a beat box? You'll have to set up a recording studio.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

After reading this post I have to ask:

Why aren't so many law professors taking psychiatric drugs?

virgil xenophon said...

Ah, but Big Mike, you are wrong. Remember, the AGW crowd firmly believes that MAN not only caused AGW but that it is within his powers to change/eliminate it, thus making Man master of all that he surveys. In this Butler is in league with the philosopher Eric Voegelin, who's famous phrase describing this process of the replacement of the judgement and vision of a Government of men over that God was the "Immanentization of the Eschaton i.e., that the disorder in the world can be transcended by extraordinary insight, learning and knowledge, which Voegelin labeled Gnostic Speculation (the original Gnostics themselves historically called all this gnosis)

Further, Voegelin argues that from this comes the desire of such people who have, in the words of Thomas Sowell "The Vision of The Anointed", a desire to implement and/or create a policy to actualize the "Gnostic speculation", i.e., to impatiently make "Kingdom Come" here on Earth, rather than in Heaven. IOW, "control freaks." Late in life Voegelin said that "the end result of all 'progressive' politics leads inevitably to totalitarianism."

Butler is in good company..

virgil xenophon said...

PS to BigMike:

I should have added that we must give our props to the great Agustus Compte and his concept of "logical positivism" or "man-made"/centered government and laws as the only valid legitimate basis for societal control for hastening this totalitarian process along..

Big Mike said...

@virgil, it's too early in the morning to drink, plus I have do some driving in heavy snow in a few minutes. I will reconsider what you wrote at a later time.

JSD said...

Indie Music, Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, meh. Nothing against Ivy Leagues or fancy New England prep schools, but pretension Indie Music is really awful. Spit-in-the-eye-of-God rockers, bluesmen and punks generally don’t have Columbia University or Phillips Andover pedigree. I’m sure they’re nice people, but it’s lacking that earthly gritty broken soul.

Titus said...

While giving a speech at the Kennedy School I met a doctor from the Congo who fought M23 rebels.

He was very upbeat and excited about working for my company.

I was like whatever-have you ever done a guy?

Titus said...

I seriously met a student at the Kennedy School, undergrad Harvard, who finished the bible, the jew bible, the koran, and some ginormous India religious book. She has never worked. She was wearing full Gucci-head to toes with Channel glasses and handbag.....I hated her yet wanted to be her. She was a jew from NYC.

tits.

Chris N said...

I noticed a disturbing trend in the potential song titles:

'Gaia's Cryin'

'This Land Is Not Your Land'

'Croissants & Gin'

'Gaia's Still Cryin'

'Why Aren't We Enforcing The Kyoto Protocols?'

Titus said...

During my presentations at MIT I met Saudi Royals who looked all American and made me horny.

Titus said...

I also met an Iraqi War vet with only one arm at The Kennedy School. I felt very patriotic and loved him and then cried afterwards....He was alone in Cambridge; his family was in Idaho.

Drago said...

Titus: "They have been in wars and shit.

In case you didn't know how fab I am."

Brian Williams, is that you?

Drago said...

"Arcade Fire’s Will Butler will be writing a song a day based upon a news story in the Guardian for a week from 23 February. Each original track will premiere on the Guardian’s website.

“It was partly inspired by Bob Dylan, who used to announce that certain songs were based on headlines,” Butler says of the project."

We should study this as another manifestation of modern cargo cultism:

http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/cargocult.htm

Jack Wayne said...

I never heard of the greatest song ever so I listened on YouTube. If that's what the guy is shooting for the bar is about an inch off the floor.

khematite@aol.com said...

Maybe no explicit references to Kafka in Dylan's work, but there are these memorable lines in "Desolation Row":

And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

The impersonal bureaucracy Kafka knew best was the insurance company he worked for in Prague. And, of course, he wrote a novel called "The Castle." So maybe.

Chef Mojo said...

That Althouse post shines brilliant
Not a servant to an accident like Vincent
Van Gogh, violent like the government
A peasant opponent in a convent

While in the valley walked an elephant and serpent
Disguised as an ass upon stolen firmament
Becomes the insolent persistent tyrant
Squealing with patent detachment

As Bob chuckles with blunt merriment
Will looks down at the impotent testament
Upon the guardian's long beaten pavement
While the ice crackles with lame disappointment

So Will exhales an elegant grunt
At the next convenient agent
Strutting the floor as if he were relevant
As a peacock who hints for a judgement

The agent sniffs in the dime store department
Finds on a shelf another willing client
Who moans in sufficient embarrassment
Now awaits his ancient appointment

Across town the blond of neutral detachment
Stretches her fingers over the instrument
Of punishment
That clicks

tim in vermont said...

Althouse,
What you meant was that the left does not really believe in human freedom, not in its entirety. The left believes in a directed life, with rules and authority, and small freedoms, like smoking pot, fucking without consequence, not working, etc, no great artist who wants his work to last can submit to that.

I would say it is the rare lefty who really understands the nature of leftism. They mistake the small freedoms they champion, freedoms from responsibility, for the larger freedoms a larger human soul craves.

Ann Althouse said...

Ha ha. Thanks, Chef!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Butler, whom I think is a good songwriter, misses a couple of things about Dylan: in New York in the early 60's, Dylan read a lot of headlines, but they were from the 19th century (check out his 'Chronicles...') ,and, right after he wrote 'Hattie Carroll' he gave up protest songs (topical/current political songs) as they were an artistic dead end (merely 'finger pointing songs'). (check out Another Side of Bob Dylan and 'Younger Than Yesterday', specifically) That decision lead to BD becoming a great artist.

Whenever a songwriter does a (mainly) political album, its usually one of his most forgettable efforts: think Steve Earle, Jackson Browne, ...(does anyone remember their political records?)

Political songs are boring and uni-dimensional. Butler is making an artistic mistake and he should write about something he really knows about.