Posts Tagged ‘Rock’



It isn’t often that this writer is moved to write about music.  I’m not much for reviewing things in general, and it’s difficult to write anything about the arts without adding a hard critique to the copy.  I’m writing this in the first person… something that most reviewers avoid, if only to distance themselves from the hate that pours out from a fan base when a critique is negative.  Even now, while I’m consumed by the topic I am shifting uncomfortably in my chair.  This will NOT be a review, but rather, an astonished listener’s admittance to being awed by Alt-J’s eclectic library of influences.  I find it amazing and comical that a band can remind me of “The Maccabees” and “Vampire Weekend” at the same time.  I don’t claim to be moved by the band’s message.  I don’t think they’re the greatest thing since ________.  Truthfully, I’m not even sure if I like most of their stuff.  I like most of what I believe has influenced them, however, and it is through comparisons to these other artists that I feel motivated to write about Alt-J.

The local alternative rock station here in southeastern Wisconsin has embraced Alt-J’s single “Left Hand Free,” much as the band had hoped.  “Left Hand Free” is the most mainstream sound on “This is all Yours,” the band’s second major release.  By the band’s own admission, “Left Hand Free” was written solely to be a single, and is “the least Alt-J song ever.”

I like this song a lot and so does my daughter.  Weirdly, my sixteen year old daughter and I share similar music interests, something that I cannot say about my relationship with my own father.  So, the way I see it, I’m either the coolest dad ever or my daughter is strange.  I prefer the former.  “Left Hand Free” caught my ear instantly, and after allowing it to bounce around in my brain for a while I told my daughter about how this song by Alt-J was my newest obsession.  Of course, she already owned the CD and was generous enough to give it up to me for a few days so that I could get more acquainted with the band.


alt j live


I had expected to hear songs that were comparable to the library of “Muse” or “Imagine Dragons.”  Just a few seconds into “Intro,” however, I thought I was listening to a “Glee” production similar to their cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”  Strange, for sure.  When the song morphed into some sort of abstract “Gregorian Chant” a few minutes in, I knew I was in for a ride.

By the fourth track I had been reminded of The Kingston Trio, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Buckley, and early Pink Floyd — mainly the resonance of the “Atom Heart Mother” album.  The bells in the 3rd track “Nara” sang as if Trans Siberian Orchestra was ringing them.  By the eighth track I’d heard The Black Angels, The Killers, Dave Matthews, and Toad the Wet Sprocket.

Soft percussion and synthesized leads seem to be the norm for these guys, but changes in cadence and style leave the listener wondering what might be lurking around the corner.  Although I find none of their songs to be hard-driving or catchy – save for “Left Hand Free,” the melodies alone are engaging enough to draw one in.  The lyrics, abstract and murky, are almost goofy to the point of dismissal.  But don’t do it.  There’s deep meaning encoded within them.  “Nara,” for example, articulates the oppression of homosexuals in today’s society.  The singer pleads with his suitor to “Saut dans le vide (leap into the dark), my lover,” imploring him to jump into an unknown future with him. Later, there are references to Republican Party founder Alvan Bovey and the conservative state of Alabama… after which they call out the hosts of the 2014 games in Sochi, pleading with them to “Unpin your butterflies, Russia.”

I don’t find greatness in this album, but I find it in the band.  Their insistence on being complex and transcendent in the face of failure is admirable.  Their ability to write a song for the mainstream, releasing it as a single and having the foresight to calculate their actions for effect, proves they’re smarter than the average bears, putting a song in the ears of the public that can trap a Pooh Bear like honey.

Have a listen.  You might like ’em.  You might hate ’em.  You might think I’m nuts.






A long time ago I was watching a piece on television about the assassination of John Lennon.  The report was claiming that, after taking two bullets from Mark David Chapman’s pistol, Lennon had staggered into the lobby of his apartment building, the Dakota, and exclaimed to a nearby concierge, “They’ve shot me.”

Apparently he never said, “They’ve shot me.”  Doing a search online about the last words of John Lennon will get you a couple of different stories.  One will claim that instead of “They’ve shot me,” he uttered, “I’m shot,” before collapsing on the steps inside the lobby of his apartment building.  Another story says that he was conscious but incoherent in his last moments, answering “yeah” or “yes” to officials asking him if he’s John Lennon in the back of an ambulance.

What a stupid question.  “Are you John Lennon?”  As an EMT, I’ll have you know that — Oh hell, that’s for a different blog altogether.

No matter which story is true… no matter what his last words were… it’s all irrelevant to this post.  I’m still hung up on “They’ve shot me.”

As witnesses to history, we are (usually) provided with information after the fact that tells us how and when things occurred and the motivations behind those things.  Today, we know that Mark David Chapman was an obsessed fan of Lennon who had planned on murdering the former Beatle for more than three months.  Chapman had other celebrities in mind for termination as well, including Walter Cronkite, Johnny Carson, George C. Scott, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Chapman’s grievous act caused him instant celebrity.  Anyone who followed the career of John Lennon also knows the story behind his assassination.  Notice I’ve used that word — assassination — twice now.  Does it seem out-of-place?  Most use the word “murder” when talking about the death of John Lennon.  Assassination is usually reserved for those who hold political office.  Lennon, although often political, did not hold office.

Today, Chapman’s motives are obvious to history.  This does not mean they’re condoned.  We simply understand why, even as we can’t empathize with the why.

“They’ve shot me.”

This simple misrepresentation of Lennon’s last words are always what I go to when I think of the death of the musician.  We might understand who Chapman was and why he did what he did, but his victim will never understand anything about his own assassination.

Yes, I get the whole “afterlife” thing.  I’m a Christian myself.  To die is to gain knowledge of everything.  This post is about the here and now.

How would Archduke Franz Ferdinand look upon his own assassination?  I’m sure he’d gladly die if his death could have prevented a world war, but what about starting one?

I feel like part of Len Bias might be waiting to wake up from his first experience with cocaine.  “Man, this buzz sucks. Let’s go to IHOP.”

I’m no conspiracy theorist.  I know there was nothing more than the work of a madman at work in the death of John Lennon.  But Lennon had no way of knowing who killed him or why they did it.  “They’ve shot me,” could mean so many things.

“I’m shot,” although more basic, can mean just as many.

We’ll never know what was going through John’s mind as he lay dying in the lobby of the Dakota.  I would like to think it was about Yoko and family, but I imagine it was something like, “Who the hell shot me?  What did I do to deserve this?  Holy shit, I’m bleeding out.”

RIP John.