I've just begun the process of writing my Best Music of 2009 column and in the process wanted to revisit one more time my Best Album of 2008 before crowning this year's champion. I took some flak for naming Counting Crows' Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings my Best of 2008. I defended the decision in the discussion that ensued and defended it since, not that it really needs defending. It's a great album that stands up to repeated listens, blending brilliant musicianship with penetrating, precision lyrical insights. It made a major impact on me upon its 2008 release and was listened to regularly even as exciting new albums were released this past year. With that, let us jump into our time machine and consider the first song from the Saturday Nights side of the record, "1492."
Context. I think most of us remember those exercises in school where you read different sentences in different order and see how context can change the meaning. I suppose context is important in experiencing most art. It seems particularly crucial when listening to a Counting Crows record.
Into the dark Italian underground of disco lights and disco sound
And skinny girls who drink champagne
And take me on their knees again
Then pull me up and out the door
Some people will read that and think this is posturing, the likes of which rockers and rappers have been doing forever. Some people will react to what they perceive as braggadocio and find it silly while others will see glamor and find themselves envious.
I've tipped my hand, so now for the context. The character in this song isn't bragging about shit. He's not celebrating. He's recounting a repeating horror. He immolates himself in pursuit of connection and real feeling and instead settling for degrading himself with empty gestures. Context
Oh, where do we disappear?
Into the silence that surrounds us
And then drowns us in the end
Where all these people who impersonate our friends
Say, "Come again, come again, come again…"
He asks the question, "Where does all of this lead?" It leads into a silence that surrounds and drowns. It leads to a place of pretend relationships and counterfeit connections. It's a repeating cycle, beckoning him over and over again. Are those who invite him back as empty as empty as he is and the misery needs company, or are they unaware of just how empty their lives are?
Context. Glamor can be deceptive.