jeffrey foucault

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Top 10 2006; 4

[ed. note -- lots of other cool top 10 posts at Largehearted Boy. I love seeing how my top ten compares/contrasts with everyone else's. Neatski!]

[ed. note 2 -- YANP has a radio rip of the new Arcade Fire song that premiered on the BBC. It is AWESOME, people. It gave me chills.]



04.
Jeffrey Foucault
Ghost Repeater
Signature Sounds
Wild Waste and Welter (removed. contact me for a copy.)

Having spent six years studying contemporary American poetry, I admit a certain impatience with the deliberately obfuscating lyric. I’m not of the Ashbery school; if I have to dig through every line to make sense out of a song, (i.e., Ms. Case at #7), then it falls in my estimation. I like a certain amount of beautiful, easily interpretable symbolism in my poetry; I like a well-built, concrete image. And since I consider music to be the last bastion of accessible poetry, one of the factors I look for in a best-of-year album is … accessible poetry. That’s probably why my favorite albums are blues, alt-country, and folk/Americana. Foucault could fit each of these genres, so I guess I love this album three times as much.

“Ghost Repeater” is a Midwest elegiac; Foucault’s leitmotif is the human soul’s breakdown in the face of relentless hedonism. It’s part nostalgia, part grief, and it’s beautifully stark. Over top of the mourning guitars comes Foucault’s voice and the sparing harmony: They’re selling heart attacks on credit, and shadows on a screen / And they’ll grind your bones to dust in this American machine. ‘They’ is like the protagonists of American Gods — the faceless entities who want to acquire your humanity in exchange for currency.

The album isn’t a warning that we’re about to wreck our hearts and souls — it’s already buried us and is crying over our graves. Even the narrator isn’t exempt: in “Train To Jackson,” he says, so I set all my clothes on fire; sold my soul to any buyer / wrapped my heart in concertina wire and showed it for a song. It’s an old theme, tied up in the blues, and Foucault just does it up so beautifully that it makes you promise, just a little, that you’ll be better. That you’ll look inwards for a minute and see if there’s anything still there.

[see Best of 2006 for more]

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This one’s for my two history buff friends, A.S. and R.St.A. They’re songs that mention actual historical events. Let the geekery begin! I did use wikipedia for some of the articles, but just out of general laziness. I feel wrong and dirty, because wiki is so not reliable, but I don’t have time to find a university library, sadly.

Playing Pianos Filled With Flames: A Historical Mix

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you'd like a copy.]

01. Bishop Allen – The Monitor

Besides being about an ironworks fire that the fellows in Bishop Allen actually witnessed, this song also mentions the encounter between the Monitor and the Merrimack, which was the first battle between two ironclad ships. The USS Merrimack was scuttled by the Union, but the Confederates salvaged it and renamed it the CSS Virginia. In March 1862, the Virginia and the Monitor engaged in a four-hour battle that resulted in a draw. Unfortunately, ironclad ships weren’t the easiest to fight with, and the Merrimack/Virginia eventually had to be destroyed by its own captain. The Monitor was sunk by bad weather and its wreck was rediscovered in 1973. (history.navy.mil)

02. The Decemberists – Shankill Butchers (live at the St. Louis zoo, Aug 10, 05)

The Shankill Butchers were a group of serial murderers who tortured and killed people, mostly Catholics (or people they thought were Catholics), during the 1970s in Dublin [ed. note -- I stand corrected; the city is actually Belfast]. When the gang was eventually apprehended, the court handed down 42 life sentences to the men involved in the slayings. The gang was nominally reformed in 1983, when its leader was released from prison, but he was shot and killed subsequently, and the slayings ceased. However, in 1998, all the convicted men were freed under the Good Friday Act, and remain free to this day. (wiki)

03. Tori Amos – Josephine

Josephine Bonaparte was first mistress, then wife, to Napoleon. They married in 1796, but she was not faithful. She was such a political help to Napoleon, however, and he loved her so much that he did not divorce her. This song reads like one of Napoleon’s letters to her — in one letter, he writes, “To live for Josephine, that is the history of my life I long. I try to come near you. Fool! I don’t notice that I am going further away. How many countries separate us! How long before you will read these words, this feeble expression of a captive soul where you are queen?” (Probably nicer still in French.) (napoleonguide.com)

04. Beyonce – Bonnie and Clyde 03

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow met in 1930, while Clyde was in prison and Bonnie was married to a prisoner there. Between 1933 and 1934, the FBI hunted the two of them for committing 13 murders and various other crimes (robbery and burglary). They were killed in a hail of bullets on May 23, 1934. They are seen as very romantic criminals — Crimelibrary.com notes that “With police and government detectives constantly on their trails, sometimes literally by inches, they time and time again risked their own lives to protect the other.”

05. Chicago Motion Picture Soundtrack – Cell Block Tango

“Chicago” is based loosely on two murders that occured in 1924. Belva Gaertner, a cabaret singer, stood trial for shooting her lover and leaving his body in a car; and Beulah Annan, a laundress (washerwoman?), also stood trial for shooting and killing her lover in her house. Maurine Watkins, a former reporter, then combined the two crimes when she wrote the play “Chicago” in 1926. (nationalgeographic.com)

06. Me First & The Gimme Gimmes – Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina

The biography of Eva Peron is too much to review here; if you like, you can go to Evitaperon.org to check it out. This song is from the musical “Evita,” and of course it’s very romanticised, but it’s generally agreed that Eva Peron loved her country. No matter whether you agree with her social policies, I don’t think anyone can argue that she thought she was doing the right thing. She was asked to be the Vice President of Argentina, but had to decline, as she was ill. She died soon thereafter, in 1952.

07. Nirvana – Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle

Frances Farmer was an early screen star; she lived a wild Hollywood lifestyle and eventually became depressed and abused alchohol. In the 1940s she returned to her hometown of Seattle, where she was eventually committed to a mental institution by her mother. In the 1950s she left the hospital and tried to make a screen comeback, but was only marginally successful. Many sensationalized stories (including Cobain’s) allege that Farmer had a lobotomy performed on her during her time in the mental hospital, but that’s been refuted. (wiki)

08. Mississippi John Hurt – Stagolee

In 1895, a man apparently named Lee Sheldon shot another man who had taken his hat and refused to return it. The man died; Sheldon went to prison. Someone wrote a song about it, calling Lee Sheldon “Stagger Lee” on account of his being drunk at the time. It became a traditional blues tune, and Nick Cave wrote a version for “Murder Ballads,” but I don’t like it. I do like Mississippi John Hurt’s version; listen to that fantastic guitar picking. (wiki)

09. Mountain Goats – Raid On Entebbe

On June 27, 1976, terrorists from the PLO and Baader-Meinhof hijacked an Air France plane carrying 250 passengers and diverted it to Entebbe, Uganda. By July 1, many of the hostages had been released but all the Jewish/Israeli passengers — over 100 — and the flight crew were still being held. On July 4, an Israeli strike team went into Uganda as a rescue force and killed all the terrorists in a 35-minute battle. The strike team’s leader and three hostages were killed as a result of the firefight, but the rest of the hostages were freed. (BBC)

10. Jeffrey Foucault – Secretariat

Secretariat was the winningest horse ever. He set a world speed record for the Belmont Stakes; he won 21 races in 2 years. And, according to Secretariat.com, he was the father of 653 baby horses. Way to go, man! Way to go. (The song also mentions Rodin (sculptor), Joe Frazier (boxer), and the burning of Atlanta.)

11. REM – Man on the Moon

“Man on the Moon” is about Andy Kaufman, a comedian of many personalities. Kaufman died in 1984 of lung cancer, but since he had told many people that he was going to fake his own death, the legend persists that he is still alive. (wiki)

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