“Invisible Sun” (The Police)

Unusually downtempo, with descending melody line threatening to fall into the abyss. It mimics a lyric rich in negative theological implications: absent Sol means that all demands by the dominated are phrased like Bartleby might (“I don’t want….”). Crucially, only a liquidation of man, made in God’s image, will suffice: “they’re only going to change this place/By killing everybody in the human race.”

 

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“So Many Things Have Got Me Down” (The Search Party)

Protestant lo-fi and languid psych from 1968, recorded in the chapel at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Sounding like Tim Buckley in sweetest voice, the singer presents, without rebuttal, that “some have said that God is dead” (such as Time’s famed April 8, 1966 cover: “Is God Dead?”), while others hate church doctrine. Still others (resolute secularists) regard Christianity as a “private club for those who can’t face the contradictions of life.” So why am I still “hanging around” the seminary? Some sort of calling remains, pace Altizer and death of god theology: “I want someone to share the nothing that I have to offer.” Religion (after religion), barely.

 

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“Pop Musik” (M)

Robin Scott was a folkie who adopted the “M” moniker in order to undertake, in his words, “a cynical reflection of contemporary politics.” So what is M’s angle? The topic is the revaluation of “pop” and the ways it can be said to be more interesting than “rock” because of its cosmopolitan ability to travel and its unique primary audience, made up of denizens of global cities. Certainly, the song says something in particular about 1979, the year of the trax’s release: at that time, the British independent charts often saw action from “New York, London, Paris, Munich.” (Tokyo is obviously missing from this list, as is a Benelux representative, such as Brussels.) Neither the British nor the U.S. charts are strongly cosmopolitan in the 21st century, but perhaps we can still hear the call of this argument. One of its requirements would be lyrics that are relatively simple to the point of nursery rhyme nonsense. Sung in the voice of a carnival barker, with heavily ironic “shooby dooby do wops” in the background, the “cynical” perspective is clear. So when M sings “fe fi fo fum” (literally, Gaelic for, “Behold food, good to eat, sufficient for my hunger”), one realizes a secret agenda behind the transnational singsong: we’re tasty, and global pop wants to consume us.

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“Working on a Building” (Cowboy Junkies)

Permanent housing. Gospel traditional reworked through Xanax-like vocals and behind the beat accompaniment. Singer plays with possible performances (as a drunkard and liar) and then denies she’s a singer; if she were, though, she’d sing and work on the building for “my Lord. “Religious subjectivities, surely, are always structured by denials, but also by somnambulant identity politics: the bondsman forced to produce/build self without own signature.

 

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“March On” (The Awakening)

Evacuation but not a fleeing. Bass figure, regardless of the multiple variations, starts and ends with same note, incessantly. Episodic sax overblown, exploring furthermost regions until sinking back so that another instrument can solo. During drum solo, muted cowbell presses eighth notes, then half notes, then nothing; no “whole” to be attained or to move towards, only the difference of the unlike same.

 

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“Batterram” (Toddy Tee)

The coverage of the Michael Brown and George Floyd protests were almost breathless. What’s new with this iteration of popular uproar? Is it the “bottoming out” that finally leads to racial progress? The further militarization of the police? Rather than seek out an event in today’s headlines, the contiguities are more sobering. Toddy Tee’s grudging 1985 homage to Daryl Gates’ police tank—“it’s coming”—could be taken as both a warning to crack dealers and a protest over police violence and the suspension of the fourth amendment in black and brown neighborhoods. And it would be just fine as that. But there’s also the mayor’s decision to “legalize something that works like that.” Operating during the early height of the War on Drugs, the Batterram was used to strike in indiscriminate discriminatory ways. The police are like “F Troop,” knocking on random doors trying to entrap residents. But these circumstances are a dime a dozen with law-and-order governors and police departments inheriting equipment used during recent wars. According to one protestor from Ferguson, Missouri, the city “could be any town in the world.” Absolutely true, but more often not. As the places add up—Dearborn Heights, Sanford, Los Angeles, etc.—the patience wears thin. Both the media’s hopeful exhaustion and a healthy dose of neighborhood utopianism.

 

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“Breakaway” (Kelly Clarkson)

Watching the Foundation for a Better Life’s commercial featuring this trax—a stitched-together series of royalty-free videos, it seems—one probably wouldn’t assume that it’s related to Philip Anshustz, notorious contributor to and advocate for causes aimed at defeating Kyoto Protocol compliance, overturning LGBT rights in Colorado, and an intelligent design think tank (the Discovery Institute). “Focused on our commonalities, not the beliefs that divide us,” the Foundation aims to “share [positive] values.” But it also tiptoes ever so gently onto the ground of Antonio Gramsci’s “good sense,” claiming that even though “people are basically good,” they need a “simple reminder.” Clarkson’s video, comes at this same point from the opposite direction, positing one’s younger self as the avatar of complete faith in the realization of emancipation. The difficulty is figuring out who the oppressors are. Willingly deaf parents ignoring the pleas of a youngster? Exurban/Suburban isolation and a temperate climate? Record company execs and rejection ad infinitum? Don’t be misled, because it’s not about being a victim. Saying “goodbye” to “make a change”—considering business propositions—is the “risk” to be taken in a world that rewards entrepreneurial moxie. Libertarian domination.

 

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“Wealth” (Talk Talk)

Mark Hollis, in full organ hymn mode, seeks the “wealth” that is a “sacred love,” and asks the gods or the fates to “take my freedom” in exchange. It is certainly true that the freedom-of-being cannot be squared with accumulation of any sort (its register is loss unremitting, and  not gain).

But to therefore seek freedom-from-being, and in the name of some half-baked romance. . . . Well, such talk is cheap.

 

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“In My Own Time” (The Patterns)

The first verse of this International Artists track (penned by the Bee Gees) remains the most interesting: singer once received an “invitation” to come to the “United Nations,” but “that was when I was somebody.” Being somebody in the international community involves a temporal recognition/leveling: one cannot participate so long as one remains “in my own time.” There are no singularities in the family of nations, and no figures not judged present (i.e., precisely co-temporal with the “modern” and the “civilized”; cf., Justice William Johnson’s concurrence in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia [1831]).

 

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