Vol 6, Num 21 :: 2007.11.16 — 2007.11.30
FILM: Pieces of April
If you’re looking for a movie that captures the spirit of Thanksgiving in 21st Century America, rent this bittersweet 2003 comedy about April Burns (Katie Holmes), a girl who invites her family to her little apartment in New York City for Thanksgiving. April’s mom (played by Patricia Clarkson) is dying of cancer and is willing to drive with the family to see her “problem-child,” even if she believes the day will ultimately end in yet another family disaster. As the film follows April’s family on their journey to the city, we start to piece together why April and Mom had such a rough relationship in the past. And the humiliation April is willing to go through to make the Thanksgiving meal reveals just how much is at stake. Written and directed by Peter Hedges (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, About a Boy, Dan in Real Life), Pieces of April will make you thankful for the people and things you’re surrounded by every day but woefully take for granted. Basically the film does what Thanksgiving is supposed to do.
MUSIC: 69 Love Songs by Stephen Merritt
After you watch Pieces of April, you’ll want to know who wrote the soundtrack, because it’s so great. You’ll do a little research—or just wait until the end of the credits—and discover that it was the critically acclaimed songwriter Stephen Merritt who, if you dig a little deeper, completed one of the most ambitious pop music projects of the late nineties, 69 Love Songs. These 69 songs were performed with the group The Magnetic Fields with an 80s synth-pop sound that complements the subtle matter-of-fact comic touches of the lyrics. Here are a few examples of how Merritt’s lyrics straddle the sentimentally romantic and the comically realistic experience of falling in and out of love. From the song, “I don’t believe in the sun”:
The only sun I ever knew was the beautiful one that was you
Since you went away it's nighttime all day and it's usually raining too…
The moon to whom the poets croon has given up and died
Astronomy will have to be revised
And from “The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be”:
The cactus where your heart should be has lovely little flowers
So though it's always pricking me my ardor never sours
The cactus where your heart once was has power to rend and flay
I stick because I'm stuck, because I just can't tear myself away.
You probably won’t be able to get through the three volumes in one sitting, but after the first fifteen minutes of listening, it will be clear that every song is good and surprisingly unique. Just when you thought the subject of love had been exhausted, you’ll hear an improvised scat like this one on “Love is Like Jazz”:
Love is like jazz
You make it up as you go along
and you act as
if you really knew the song
but you don't
and you never will
so you flaunt your mistakes
and you make them until
they were you
Love is like jazz
the same song a million times
in different ways
"Strange Fruit" with
and without wind chimes
and it's almost entirely
but it'll do
69 Love Songs will make you fall in love with that old and familiar art form, the love song, all over again.
Nick Cave’s newest incarnation as lead singer and guitarist in a four-piece band of dirty middle-aged men is one of the most startling music releases of the last several months. Cave invokes the sad brokenness of John Lee Hooker’s take on Memphis Slim’s “Grinder Man Blues” (which might have roots in this poem by Roy L. McCardell published in 1894?). The band’s self-titled album has several recurring themes: animalistic sexuality and procreation, frustration, Darwinistic evolution and Christian theology. Throughout the album, Cave sings from a position of alienation. He is a man who has come out of the “ooze” to spread a seed of love, a wisdom that perpetuates generation after generation, “Get it on!” But no one’s having it, so he is frustrated and lonely. All attempts to satisfy deep needs seem futile. He reduces the Christian notion of love to sex and he can’t find either. In the video for “No Pussy Blues,” we see the band playing the role of the organ grinder, inspiring the children to dance and fulfill their animal desires. The organ grinder’s monkey mystifies and hypnotizes, but as the young people are having fun we see the misery of Grinderman, the band, whose job it is to fill the night with frivolity while they themselves suffer from profound loneliness. A few brief scenes in the video show a woman having sex with a wolf, a purposeful literal interpretation of the animal love Cave’s band is encouraging. Cave does not want the listener to look for deeper, hidden meanings, though. He wants you to look at the main character’s lust as it is, not as a symbol of something else. Then, having accepted that this guy just wants to have sex really, really badly reveals a deep emotional problem. As the album goes on, we feel the sadness of Grinderman more and more until we get to the last two songs, a hint at a higher love that the singer says will come down, a “love bomb” that will make the “banners of defeat” and longing and despair disappear. 2,000 years of Christian history have not taught us how to love each other yet, Cave says, but there’s still hope. We’re still evolving. Grinderman leaves us wondering what kind of children we are making when we love each other as we do.