Bookmark and Share

Bat sense: Is that all there is?

Since this is ostensibly a “music column” (although its title should be fair warning that anything can happen) and I am, by implication, a music writer, it should or could be assumed that I am somewhat attuned to sounds and noise.

The ears of a bat, I have. If I go blind, I could navigate my way around town with echo location. That’s how keen my awareness of sound is.

Those of us who find listening value in the noise of No Age or Lil Wayne or Karlheinz Stockhausen are members of a very small tribe. It’s a matter of hearing the beauty beyond the noise, sharing something secret with the musicians. The clan of the bats.

My kids will attest to my bat sense. Not just because they’re subjected to Captain Beefheart or John Cage from time to time (“What is this, now?”) but because I’ll translate their attempts at absolute silence as a precursor to mischief. The merest whisper of, “We can’t let daddy know,” will echo in my ears from several rooms away and the kibosh will fall firmly on their devious plot.

You’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to pull something on daddy (which, on the weekends, is any time before noon).

The bat sense is not infallible or all that consistent but it serves me well enough.

Sometimes, that sense also works in reverse and it’s the lack of noise that captures my attention. For instance, a couple of Sundays ago, as I watched the Vikings come back in the fourth quarter and beat the Cardinals in overtime (sweet!), the silence was a symphony — and not in Cage’s “4.33’”

It was what I was not hearing during the game that made my bat senses tingle. During the numerous commercial breaks (thank you, NFL), the gobsmacking and plop of mud that had polluted the airwaves the past few months was gone.

Absent were the endless ads of craven stupidity and outright lies, the endless yammer of politicians insulting my intelligence. The rockin’ hot cars and beer babes were back, filling the void left by the voices of doom, the mealymouthed mutterings of the agents of destruction.

Yes, the Vikings coming back to score two touchdowns made me breathe easier but not nearly as much as not being bombarded by the incessant blather of bull merchants.

Believe me, I love our democracy — I’m just disenchanted by what has become of the process. The noise of the screeching weasel that has become our political campaign season is more than I can endure.

And so I say to our political process, stop it. Please.

Send the corporations, unions, PACs, shadow groups and other slimy funding mechanisms back under the rocks from where they crawled. Make all campaigns publicly funded and set a six-week moratorium on the length of all the nonsense so we can all breathe easier.

Save our ears and our sanity.

Hereabouts, we have a new county commissioner. My congratulations go to him and my best wishes extend to the candidate who came in second. I know that they both worked very hard in the runup to the election and, personally, I like them both as people.

The mud in Archuleta County was minimal, nothing nearly as bad as the idiotic flyers stinking up my PO box and the wretched chatter assaulting my ears from the television.

As a welcome to our new commissioner, I present a “Town and County” mix I made about a year ago. It’s somewhat satirical, mixed with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek; having said that, some of my truth and my perception was nonetheless burned in with the song selection.

Presented with the caveat that my bat sense is refined with age and anger.

I begin with Peggy Lee’s “A Doodlin’ Song,” a lounge classic that, from the “Do do-de-oo do-de-oo do-de-oo-de-oo ... Why don’t you join the group? It’s better than being a party-poop! opening captures my frustration with the grinding, plodding pace of government. I can picture bobbleheads bopping in time, like tiny metronomes to Lee’s nonsensical “Do do-de-oo,” syllables and anyone who has endured an interminable meeting and hours of bloviating will understand how appropriate, “Say you love me, please believe me ... when you noodle with a doodlin’ song,” is as the beginning of this mix.

“Walk, Idiot Walk,” by the Hives, aside from being a monster rockin’ song by one of the tightest bands from the last decade, is an indictment of the process that has caused us all to throw up our hands. With lyrics like, “He won and know he’s gonna do something about it ... and if you don’t wanna feel like a putz, collect the clues and connect the dots, you see the pattern that is bursting your bubble,” there’s no doubt that we’re not the only ones fed up with empty promises and ineffective, unresponsive government.

The main emphasis of including “Where’s Your Head At?” by Basement Jaxx was not the lyrics — aside from the obvious, the chorus — a BJ song is never heavy on the lyrical content (no Bobby Zimmerman, there) but big on the boom. “Don’t let the walls cave in on you, We can’t evolve alone without you,” nevertheless add a little commentary to the Big Question.

Loathe to present any commentary (especially in this county), I’ll just lay out some lyrics, “He’s gonna cover us up with leaves with a blanket from the moon, with a promise and a vow and a lullaby for my brow, Jesus gonna be here, gonna be here soon,” and let the reader decide what I was trying to say.

I included Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand,” on a Halloween mix from last year — scary stuff — and it’s no less appropriate for this mix. Cave’s imagery is harrowing, a dark shadow cast over a bleak landscape. When he sings, “Through the ghettos and the barrio, and the bowery and the slum, a shadow is cast wherever he stands, stacks of green paper in his red right hand,” followed by, “You’re one microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan, designed and directed by his red right hand,” his intent (and mine) is as clear as the bell that tolls throughout the song ... we know for whom it tolls.

In a reverse conceit, “Common People” by Pulp explains that, well, the powers that be never seem to remember where they came from nor how they came to serve (or who they serve). The upshot is — and always will be — “Sing along with the common people, sing along and it might just get you through, laugh along with the common people, laugh along even though they’re laughing at you, and the stupid things that you do.”

(Yes, I really do miss Bobby Kennedy and the promise he was).

Just like Basement Jaxx, it’s only the chorus that matters with “Everyday I Love You Less and Less,” by Kaiser Chiefs. Of course it’s a tale of a relationship that is heading south with dispatch but, as I watch $2 million slowly dissipate into pools of pet projects, I don’t think my sentiment is exactly alien or unwarranted.

Almost no one wields a poison pen the way Elvis Costello has; he’s made a career writing some of the most caustic, cynical and hilariously abrasive lyrics ever written. Although with “This Town,” he turns his jaundiced eye towards art (and the art world, “You’re nobody in this town, you’re nobody in this crowd, you’re nobody ‘til everybody in this town knows you’re poison, got your number knows it must be avoided; you’re nobody ‘til everybody in this town thinks you’re a bastard,” is as true in Costello’s song as it is in our little corner of Hell.

I included “A Well Respected Man” by the Kinks for the all the obvious reasons — “‘Cause he’s oh, so good, and he’s oh, so fine, and he’s oh, so healthy, in his body and his mind. He’s a well respected man about town, doing the best things so conservatively.” — is a fairly trenchant explanation for permanent gridlock.

Probably the most toxic statement about this place is, “That’s not how we do things around here.”

Well, dude, maybe it’s time to try something new ... and not, “Doing the best things so conservatively.”

I included James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” for it’s brash misogyny that, despite this being the 21st Century and all, hardly seems a bit out of place in this county.

A metaphysical meditation on Teleology, “Bukowski” by Modest Mouse begins, “Woke up this morning and it seemed to me, that every night turns out to be a little bit more like Bukowski. And yeah, I know he’s a pretty good read. But God who’d wanna be? God who’d wanna be such an a*****?” only to go on to ask, “If God controls the land and disease, and keeps a watchful eye on me, if he’s really so damn mighty, well my problem is that I can’t see, well who’d wanna be? Who’d wanna be such a control freak?”

Not deifying anyone in our local government but, really, they should read a little Bukowski and ask themselves those very questions.

“Dinosaur Act,” by Low (one of the great lost bands of the ’90s) is, like a few other songs here, just about the chorus. Because, sometimes as I walk out of a meeting, I feel it was just a Dinosaur Act.

The same could be said about “Dirty Old Town,” by the Pogues — saying the same thing, with different words. With all their Celtic wit and rage, the Pogues threaten that, “I’m gonna make me a big sharp axe, shining steel tempered in the fire, I’ll chop you down like an old dead tree, dirty old town, dirty old town,” as agents of change and voices of the oppressed. Few but the Irish could manage that while making it sound so sweet.

“Satan, Lend Me a Dollar,” by Hill of Beans, is an Irish reel, a good follow up to the Pogues (‘natch), and something we all wonder how many times has been said by our respective board members.

“You F***** Up” by Ween — is there any reason to explain why this song is here? (Other than the fact that they’re one of the great under rated bands of our time and a favorite of Trey Parker and Matt Stone).

On my way into a meeting, “Cretin Hop” by the Ramones is almost always on my mind. It’s an expectation, yes, and as objective as I try to be, the Cretin Hop is the impression I invariably walk with moments after the motion to adjourn has been approved.

Finishing up (almost) with a surrealistic masterpiece of alienation and manipulation, we turn to Bob Dylan (at last — how could we not?) and “Maggie’s Farm.” With Maggie, her brother and her husband taking everything Bob has, just to let him work, it’s no wonder that he ends up asking, “Well, I try my best to be just like I am, but everybody wants you to be just like them, they say sing while you slave and I just get bored ...”

Who among us has not experienced that same exasperation? We have Dylan to thank for expressing our angst so well.

As we began with Peggy Lee, we end with her, “Is That All There Is?” Because, at the end of the day, “If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing, let’s break out the booze and have a ball.”

Again, all in fun (mostly) but with an added sly warning: Just as my kids swear by my bat sense, our local government officials should take note, that I’m always listening ... and I don’t miss much.

Bless my bat sense.