Saturday, May 29, 2010

Songs: Ohia - "Blue Factory Flame" from the CD Didn't It Rain

Didn't It Rain CD coverObviously it's all in the ear, all in the mind, of the beholder. No song has one concrete meaning applicable to all of its listeners.

People understand that, yet they still instinctively want to look up the lyrics, they still want to look up the interviews artist Y has done or read the story that critic Z has written, to try and fashion a knowledgeable interpretation of Song X.

Sometimes--a lot of the times--I think that I enjoyed the song, and understood the song, more powerfully *before* I read the criticism, before I found the lyrics. I think the crux of it is that your imagination can never quite encompass a song whose lyrics you're at least somewhat uncertain about. Whereas if you know all the lyrics--no matter how accomplished, your mind can then circumscribe the song.

And its all-powerful mystery has vanished for you.

A good recent example of this for me is "Fearless" by Pink Floyd. I'd known and loved the song for many many years without necessarily processing the lyrics all that well. Gilmour can be indistinct in his singing, and of course Meddle never came with a lyrics sheet.

So I got something about a very tall mountain and a very long climb. Maybe a spiritual quest of some sort. But nothing very specific, and the song remained therefore something very mysterious and very alluring. Then I went to one of these lyrics sites, and some of the things I'd imagined in the lyrics were confirmed, and some of the nameless things at the edges were not, and disappeared forever for me. You know, I liked it when the guy in my mind as I heard that song was perhaps an acolyte, or a pilgrim, maybe. Now that I know he's just an idiot, the song seems flatter to me somehow, less meaningful, not more.

A shame, really.

One of the best things about the Enoweb site is how they have a section for alternate hearings, to encourage a multiplicity of meaning in any one song. And I remember when I spoke with the guys from die kreuzen, they told me they specifically did NOT want a lyrics sheet included with their records, so that there could be a multiplicity of meanings taken out there.

I've long wanted to do a post about Songs: Ohia, and "Blue Factory Flame" is certainly one of the best in the canon. But instead of doing the research beforehand, and trying to get concrete as I so often insist on getting, I thought it might be interesting to try and tap some of the conscious and semi-conscious images that spring from listening to an evocative song where only *some* of the lyrics are clearly understood . . . .

Magnolia Electric Company tour postardSo Jason Molina and his buddies are big, big, Cleveland Browns fans. I bet they've all got season tickets in the Dawg Pound. I bet each and every one of 'em has one of those bulldog masks hidden in their closet, and I bet they each break 'em out for every Cleveland home game. Maybe Molina even brings one of the masks with him when he's on tour, always has to find room for it where it won't get crushed in the van, the drummer and the bassplayer are always pissed about it.

Anyway, he and his Brownfan buddies are also avid fishermen, so they decide that one of these fall mornings they're all gonna wake up early and go fishing on Lake Erie.

So they do it.

In addition to two fishing poles, they bring a Coleman lantern and a radio so they can listen to the Browns game, which for some reason is concurrently scheduled--even though it's four in the morning.

So they get out there on the lake, and the occasional bit of starshine notwithstanding, it seems like they've steered to the bottom of a vast bowl of murky empty dark. The only thing to be seen is the red lights of the iron freighters on the far-off horizon, and the only things to be heard are the staticky babbling of the self-important football announcers before opening kickoff, and the oil-colored Lake Erie waves slapping against the fiberglass sides of their boat.

Though they came out here to fish, everything seems swallowed by the enormous darkness out there on what is after all the edge of this enormous lake, their silly radio, their lantern glowing whitely, their conversations, all devoured in their insignificance by the cold black lake, and in the face of this, no-one can even muster the energy to pull out their fishing rods.

So they sit there on the lake, bobbing with the waves and with the current, paralyzed, and thinking of the bones they'll one day be.

That's when the Pirate ship all of a sudden materializes off their bow, a ghost ship winking into existence where there had only been the pitch predawn gloom before. A thousand years old it is, a relic of the iron age, bleeding hydraulic fluid, gasoline, and rusty water from its ancient bilges. No running lights, but the ship and its sails and the skull and crossbones flag flying above are all illuminated by a half-dozen or more oil drums on deck, by the orange trash fires burning smokily within them.

In response to the spectral ship under the spectral pennant, Jason hoists a flag of his own, the flag of the blue factory flame, the true colors of the vanishing rust belt machinists and mechanics, invoking ghosts of its own, and the invisible shuttered factories that line the Ohio shore, too far off in time and in space for Jason and his fishermen friends to see.

And that's it, that's all I've got. The imagery sort of fades out for me from there, and I'm not sure what happens to Jason and his buddies, not sure what happens to the ghostly pirate ship.

But I've left myself wondering what happened, which clears a bigger space for my mind in its appreciation for the song than if I had been told what had happened, or if I had checked out some lyric site--or some silly music blog--to find out.

Songs Ohia - Didn't It Rain - 5 - Blue Factory Flame.mp3

This file was removed July 22, 2010. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.
File under: Alt-folk

1 comment:

tad said...

R: I don't know the music on this 1, but I think U nailed the IDEA: I know there R LOTS of songs that have a bigger emotional impact on me Bcos I DON'T know what all the words R, & so the meaning of it remains open 2 me -- I can make it as big as I want. I'm sure there R lotsa Xamples, but 4 some reason the only 1 I can think of right now is Wigwam's "Bless Your Lucky Stars." The fact that the vocals in that song R so slurred, phased, warped & distorted that all I can really hear clearly is the repeating title line ... 4 me simply ADDS 2 the ominous, rumbling, relentless effect of the song. Have no idea what the words mean & couldn't care less.
There R lots of bands out there that seem 2 B against overly-clear definitions of what their songs or lyrics R about, leaving the interpretation open 2 the listener. 2 me, that adds 2 the fun. U're part of the creative Xperience. Some mysteries R better left as mysteries.... -- TAD.