For the past, oh, I’d say month and a half, I’ve been listening to two things exclusively at work–the Atonement score, and Andrew Bird. Recently, it’s just been Andrew Bird. I am OBSESSED with this artist. Cambria’s sometime boss Kathy apparently knows him somehow, so I’m trying to figure out a way we can score great tickets through her for his next New York appearance, which I don’t think will be for a while. Step One of this plan–get Cambria into Andrew Bird–is going well. Step Two–get Andrew Bird to come to New York–is going to take a little bit more effort, I think.
Anyway, perhaps I was inspired by Pat’s annual blog post; this year, he talked about some artist I’ve never heard of called Burial, which, as it turns out, is the first thing you get when you type the word “burial” into Amazon. To be truthful, I’d heard of Andrew Bird long before I started listening to him, from this guy who is sort of hipstery and I was just not going to be drawn into that, but I like to stream my friend Marisa’s music via our network when I’m at work and she has a lot of Andrew Bird. She eventually burned me a CD and now, well, it’s all I listen to.
What’s so great about him is that his lyrics are so apocalyptic and bizarre. “Fake Palindromes“, probably his most well-known song, is upbeat and almost cheerful, but if you actually listen to the words it’s quite violent and sinister. The folks at Song Meanings are mostly idiots, but someone over there did point out that it’s got a very horror movie quality, it almost reminds me of Stephen King’s Misery, except the captor/monster is a hot girl instead of, like, Kathy Bates. My stab at what the song means is that it’s about the transformation of someone you think you know into something that rips you apart, perhaps emotionally? I don’t even know, I’m not so good at the close reading (as anyone who was in Veeder’s class with me last year will tell you!).
There’s a very (and I hate to say this) aching, disaffected millennial sensibility to Andrew Bird’s music. I hate to say even more that this kind of stuff speaks to me, but it’s so hypnotic and brilliantly encapsulates all the frustrations of being young right now. “Banking on a Myth” sort of speaks to the way we, as post-college chumps, are simultaneously entranced and repulsed by corporate America. In “Masterfade” he takes on the omnipresent question, “What does it all matter?” by conjuring up post-technological Mayberry imagery, superimposing binary code on the blue sky. “Measuring Cups“, one of my favorite Andrew Bird songs, is a reflection on the people we were raised to be, the heavy expectations, the sanitized version of reality we were fed as children: ” so put your backpack on your shoulder / be the good little soldier / it’s no different when you’re older.”
The post-apocalyptic stuff I was talking about is really evident in another one of my favorite songs, “Tables & Chairs“. It reminds me so much of a Douglas Coupland book I read at the end of last summer, Girlfriend in a Coma, about a small group of friends that survive the apocalypse and how it transforms them and redefines their relationships with each other. Andrew Bird makes it all sound sort of fun–“there will be tables and chairs / there will be pony rides and dancing bears / there’ll even be a band”, he sings–but there’s an undercurrent of dismay here as well–“we’ll trade butterfly knives for Adderall…we were so tired of being mild.” “Plasticities“, too, has a similar feel; a jubilant uprising against the forces of consumption and corporate mind control, one that, perhaps, leads to the pony rides and dancing bears, but then what? “Plasticities” talks about fighting “your own personal Waterloo“, but who are you in that analogy: Napoleon or the Coalition? Someday I’m going to write twin novels based on these two songs–I already have the concepts, plots and characters locked away in my vault–because I think that the pictures they paint of the future are so interesting, at once promising and bleak.
I’ve always had a hard time parsing “Scythian Empires“, but I think what someone said on Song Meanings makes a lot of sense: “I believe Andrew Bird is talking about artifacts, and how ours are made of materials that will be forgotten in a thousand years, unlike the Scythian articfacts, which are beautiful and mysterious.” It’s as good an explanation as any for this song, which is so beautifully sorrowful.
Other fantastic tracks are “Fiery Crash”, “MX Missiles”, “Opposite Day”, “Skin Is, My”, “Imitosis”, “Heretics”, and “The Naming of Things”. I don’t know how the music snobs among my nascent readership feel about Bird, but I don’t really care all that much. I listen to a lot of music, most of it worthless (“Whine Up”, anyone? Love that song), but of the few really talented people I find myself drawn to, Andrew Bird is perhaps the most talented. I can’t wait for another showing from him.