Off the Shelf Classics (continued)
JEFF RIOUX is the director of the Larsen Student Union and campus activities.
Classics are important. We should read, watch, and listen to them. But they are not specifically for us. To be sure, the Beatles wrote scores of groundbreaking music, and some of it has come to be called “classic.” But the Beatles were not directing their music toward us. They wrote for a generation in the sixties that was dealing with specific issues. While truly great music can transcend generations, we should also focus on great music that is written for us by contemporary musicians.
From this rich pool of contemporary music, I’ve selected my top three albums of 2006, all of which happen to be by artists who have performed at Messiah College sometime during the past three years. You could call these selections “modern classics.” Each of these albums landed on several critics’ top ten lists for 2006. This is compelling music written for people living in our post-9/11, post-Hurricane Katrina, postmodern world.
Dylan, who has certainly produced a number of “classics” over the years, has not let up. He continues to write music both striking and prophetic. After September 11, Dylan was asked if he saw any hope for our situation. His response was, “Things will have to change. And one of the things that will have to change: People will have to change their internal world.” Dylan’s songs have argued this same sentiment since the sixties, and his latest album is no exception (“Thunder on the Mountain,” “The Levee’s Gonna Break”).
M. Ward’s album title can sound hopeful or ominous; his music leaves a similar question. On the opener, “Poison Cup,” Ward sings to his lover, “A sip or a spoonful won’t do nothing for you, except mess you up. I hope you know what this means. . . .” His distinct vocals, hushed and cranky, call the listener to pay attention. After a few listens to Post-War, you realize that this wise counselor does indeed have good news. Listen carefully.
Colin Meloy, the lead vocalist and songwriter for the five-member indie-pop band The Decemberists, loves a good story. He turns the folk tales, stories, and histories he hears into literate, affecting pop songs. The title track, “The Crane Wife,” is a three-part retelling of a heart-breaking Japanese folk tale. The band also reworks a twisted bedtime cautionary tale into an eerie song (“Shankill Butchers”), warning of the dangers of using fear to motivate (“If you don’t mind your mother’s words, a wicked wind will blow”).
This is an anti-war album that never mentions a modern war, like the war in Iraq, but instead uses Civil War ballads (“Yankee Bayonet”), stories of star-crossed lovers (“O Valencia!”), and apocalyptic romps (“Sons & Daughters”) to make clear that death and murder are messy subjects.
Here is a list of other great albums by artists who have performed at Messiah recently:
Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
Rilo Kiley: More Adventurous (2004)
Over the Rhine: Drunkard’s Prayer (2005)
—JEFF RIOUX is the director of the Larsen Student Union and campus activities.
TIM SCHOETTLE is an assistant professor of philosophy.
At one level, the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe are tales of crime and treachery, but at the same time they suggest the strange unease of a lack of self-knowledge. Consider, for example, the wonderful description of the house in Poe’s short story “William Wilson”:
But the house!—how quaint an old building was this!—to me how veritably a palace of enchantment! There was really no end to its windings—to its incomprehensible subdivisions. It was difficult, at any given time, to say with certainty upon which of its two stories one happened to be. From each room to every other there were sure to be found three or four steps either in ascent or descent. Then the later branches were innumerable—inconceivable—and so returning in upon themselves, that our most exact ideas in regard to the whole mansion were not very far different from those with which we pondered infinity. During the five years of my residency here, I was never able to ascertain with precision, in what remote locality lay the little sleeping apartment assigned to myself and some eighteen or twenty other scholars.
The narrator’s difficulty in locating his own sleeping quarters relative to the building as a whole mirrors the difficulty he has in recognizing himself in the eerie double who bears his name. This passage prefigures the dramatic and mysterious climax in which, during the course of a struggle, the distinction between the narrator and his doppelgänger completely breaks down. Other favorite Poe stories of mine include the “Purloined Letter” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
—TIM SCHOETTLE is an assistant professor of philosophy.
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