porcelainandporcupines

Archive for January 2016

First, a bit of news: I recently discovered an NPR station that stays tuned in on my car radio the entire length of my commute, rather than switches over to country music 1/3 of the way to work. Which, as far as novelties go, was exceptionally short-lived. But, the point is, now that I can spend an entire car ride pretending I have people to talk with, I may have less to say on the subject of whatever good or terrible song I have just heard for the first time. I know you’re sad, but at least I leave you with this discussion of Shut Up and Dance, by the band Walk the Moon, which holds the distinction of there being no other song that makes me change the radio station faster. 

Which,  honestly, makes it hard to know how to start talking about this song and my deep feelings on it, since I’m really only familiar with about 17 seconds of it. But those 17 seconds stick with me, because the song raises a conundrum which I then spend several minutes considering, and that conundrum is whether the song is incredibly cynical, or am the cynical one for thinking this is the most cynical song I’ve every heard?

It seems like the easy answer is me, that I’m the cynic, since, on the face of it, Shut Up and Dance is nothing but an upbeat bit of fluff exhorting the audience to dance, albeit quite impolitely. It is instantly sing-along-able and has a retro vibe beyond the sample of Where the Streets Have No Name that opens the song.

But then that sample starts to trouble me. Not because of anything I have against sampling, but I think that to count as sampling, you have to alter the original in some way, use it in a different context or in some other way be unexpected. Like when Naughty By Nature sampled the Jackson Five for O.P.P, taking the hook from a schoolboy’s crush and reapplying it to the homies who betray both their bros and their hos by indulging in the titular,uh, property, that belongs to other people. Shut Up and Dance, on the other hand, doesn’t do anything with U2’s guitar chords other than just, you know, play them as they lay.

This is what makes me believe it’s the song that’s cynical, rather than me. Because I’ve never in my live heard a song more clearly designed to be a big hit song than this one. And I say “designed” because I don’t believe this was written by actual human beings, but instead is the result of an advanced algorithm designed by an away team  of undercover aliens this close to mastering our human ways.

As a very lazy person, I do respect that strategy. It’s hard to write a big hit song; U2 did it in 1987, so why reinvent the wheel? We all know that U2 approves of recycling, so if they’re cool with it, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be, too. On the other hand, if Walk the Moon isn’t going to bring any of itself to this endeavour, there’s no reason I shouldn’t just listen to the U2 song.

 

Of course, the U2 chords fade, to be replaced by generic ’80s guitar and synth, uh, things (you guys: I don’t know about music), as the focus shifts to the songs lyrics. Which isn’t an improvement, because I don’t understand at all what is the story this song is telling. 

The first verse goes as such:

Oh don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me
I said you’re holding back
She said shut up and dance with me
This woman is my destiny
She said oh oh oh
Shut up and dance with me

When did these two meet? I’m given the impression that they’re relationship starts with the song does- and, indeed, Google reports that in a subsequent verse the gentleman describes their relationship as “chemical physical kryptonite,” which is illusively evocative and entirely nonsensical but also gives a degree of urgency usually associated with the beginnings of things- which makes his “You’re holding back,” to be more than a little presumptuous. Yes, of course she’s holding back; that’s what people do with strangers, until they get to know them better. It’s probably supposed to be romantic, and maybe if I listened to the whole song I might end up rooting for this couple, but being familiar with only this one verse, I have to say it comes across as a little bit rapey.

Also, for a song so reliant on ’80s tropes, they missed a major opportunity in not having that woman be his density; that’s a song I probably could have gotten behind.

Finally, let’s talk about the band name for a second: Walk the Moon. I understand there are no official rules to naming a band, and thus no requirement that the name make sense. But I think we can all agree that, if a band name is going to nothing more than  string of random words, it shouldn’t include any verbs. Neutral Milk Hotel? Sure – sounds like a strange place to stay, but I’m along for the ride. Walk the Moon? No – fuck off and don’t tell me what to do.

That’s a lot of words to spill on a song that seems destined for the dust bins of history. I’d probably have more to say if I could listen to the whole song, but instead, let’s end with a nice list of 5 one-hit wonders I’d rather listen to than this hear this nonsense ever again:

  1. Mmmbop, by Hanson – I legitimately like this song. It seems peppy, but it’s actually a surprisingly dark discussion of aging. It’s not Death in Venice, certainly, but for a pop song by a bunch of teens, it’s unusual.
  2. Tubthumper, by Chumbawumba – now here is a song clearly written to achieve massive popularity, and nothing more. But, the almost angelic voice of the woman singing “Pissing the night away,” is a clever note. I’d hang out and chat with these guys for a little while.
  3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Deep Blue Something – I feel bad for Deep Blue Something, because I am sure some record executive somewhere promised them they’d be the next Hootie and the Blowfish, but apparently none of them had the charisma of Darius Rucker even if I really like a redhead. As for their name, well, the ’90s was an experimental time in overt apathy, so I grade them on a curve. But, all that said, I’m okay with this song. I wouldn’t buy an album, but I’m pretty sure I have a perfectly legal download of the single.
  4. Inside Out, by Eve 6- Most likely the only reason this song is on the list is because I just found out the band’s name was inspired by the X-Files episode “Eve”, and I like the X-Files enough not to watch the reboot. This is a perfectly serviceable if unmemorable song. Oh, and look at that – another redhead!
  5. Come on Eileen, by Dexy’s Midnight Runners – This is maybe the granddaddy of one-hit wonders from the ’80s, and overall I have to say that after three decades I’m actually quite tired of it. But I feel like DMR is a great example of being born in the wrong time, and that with the current popularity of bluegrass and folk music, they might have had a shot at sustained popularity if they were coming up now. So I feel a little bad for them. I also feel like they’re ripe for a comic book adaptation about Dexy’s Midnight Runners, a courier service that handles the most urgent overnight deliveries, and the interesting and/or sinister characters they meet on the job. As long as it didn’t get too, like, super-hero-y, I would read that.

 

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Although I had some grand plans for my first paid vacation in 2 years, I spent the majority of my week and a half vacation wearing pajamas, enjoying the luxuriously soft new sheets I received as a holiday gift, and watching an absurd amount of television on my laptop while Oola Belle slept on my legs. And while I am happy to watch an endless marathon of just about any procedural on USA, I was intrigued by all the passionate reviews of Netflix’s new series Making a Murderer, particularly the favorable comparisons to Serial, whose own second season just returned only to immediately and frustratingly take a holiday hiatus, as well as The Jinx, which I actually didn’t watch but enjoyed reading about. And so, on Sunday, when no other investigative shows seemed to be streaming, I decided to check it.

I did not love it. Not for the reasons that I’d read, because of a justice system that is grossly incompetent at best and deliberately obfuscating the truth at worst, and an innocent man railroaded by a corrupt system, although there was some of that at the outset. But the longer I watched, something nagged at me; it seemed small, almost trivial at first. And then Steven Avery – wrongly accused man who tragically spent 18 years of his life in prison – said he’d been arrested for setting a cat on fire, and I realized the problem is two-fold.

First, I don’t like Steven Avery. While others might find his circumstances to be extenuating, I am comfortable with my unwavering and inflexible belief that, like the waiter rule, an otherwise good person who is cruel to animals is not actually a good person. Steven Avery set a cat on fire, and that is his defining trait as a human being as far as I’m concerned.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think he deserves to be treated fairly by the justice system. That I think he’s garbage for killing an animal doesn’t mean he should have served nearly 2 decades for a horrific crime he had absolutely no part in. Further I thought the show – in the form of one of Steven’s attorney’s – made an excellent point in that much of the reason Steven was in jail for so long is because of a justice system not constructed to investigate its own shortcomings; it is not designed to admit that it has made a mistake.

But what the show doesn’t do, and this is problem the second, is that it doesn’t question Steven’s explanation about what happened with the cat: that he and several friends were playing catch with the cat near a fire, and it unfortunately got burned. Which, even if this is true – and there is ample evidence that it’s not, that Steven very deliberately set a cat on fire and let it burn to death – is not reasonable or excusable behavior. But the show doesn’t question Steven’s explanation. They don’t investigate the contradictory evidence. They let his story pass, uncontested.

The show takes a similarly interesting approach to another of Steven’s prior arrests, mentioned in that first episode, that he ran a woman off the road and pointed a shotgun at her. This was part of an ongoing feud between Steven and his neighbor, who was also a relative, as well as dating a member of the local law enforcement. And while much is made of the fact that Steven had a feud with someone involved with a member of the law enforcement, much less is made of the fact that he ran a woman off the road and pointed a shotgun at her.

In fact, one lawyer while questioning the woman about the incident asks if she had started a rumor about Steven having sex with his (Steven’s) wife on their front lawn. Although it’s not stated outright, it seems to me very heavily to imply that Steven’s violent behavior was somewhat understandable; that perhaps in this case, turnabout was fair play.

And this is what I objected to in the 1.5 episodes that I watched: Steven Avery was unjustly incarcerated, but that doesn’t mean he’s never committed a crime. He has, and serious ones at that. These crimes certainly don’t justify him spending 18 years in prison for something he didn’t do. But, the other side of that coin is that, just because he spent 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit doesn’t automatically mean he couldn’t possibly also have killed someone. The effort to portray his as an innocent, simple man in my mind betrays the very serious bias of the makers of this project.

I would like to know what happened to Theresa Halbach. But Making a Murderer is not an investigation into the murder of Theresa Halbach. It is not an unbiased presentation of evidence, but someone else’s interpretation of events. Clearly, the filmmakers believe in Avery’s innocence, and judging by the reviews online, the make a compelling case. But they are ignoring key pieces of evidence that don’t support their theory of the crime(s). They’ve presented a plausible alternate theory by going after an easy target in the prosecution that so seriously botched their investigation of the first crime. But there are holes in their own case, too, just as there are holes in the prosecution’s. I can’t overlook them. And their efforts to wave their hands and make them go away just make me not trust them.

I will repeat that I would like to know what happened to Theresa Halbach. It seems unlikely at this late date, with both sides so deeply entrenched in their own stance, that there will ever be a judgement that is accepted as definitive proof. And the real shame of this case (which I must admit I read elsewhere online, although I read so many different articles I can not give proper credit) is that Ms. Halbach has become a footnote in her own story. She, like Steven Avery, deserves justice.

 

 


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