Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Kale Occupies Wall Street

Yesterday, the typical combination of curiosity and student loan debts led me to Zuccotti Park, where the Occupy Wall Street movement was celebrating its first birthday. Once inside the encampment, surrounded by politically-passionate conversation, hand-crafted pickets, Berlin Walls of shielded police officers and the occasional freely-floating joint, I sat down and took out a book from my backpack.

When a group of young people sat down across from me and asked me what I was reading, a pleasant conversation about identity politics, Soviet history and the advocates of marijuana legalization ensued. They revealed that they were High School students. One claimed to have been a Christian conservative only two months prior. Another was wearing a red t-shirt with Emma Goldman stenciled on it.
After booing some police officers while they randomly arrested someone, we began our march towards the New York Stock Exchange; the closing bell was about to sound. I walked alongside a mother carrying her child; a contingency of leftist grandmothers; an activist from the movement’s beginning who was warning people to close the gap between the protesters, as police are keen on arresting those within such gaps.

Somewhere above the Charging Bull at Bowling Green, we were told to walk back up Broadway, then told to walk down Broadway, and then told to reverse again. What I initially thought was some confusion on behalf of the group leaders turned out to be the product of a massive police kettle. The police had blocked us in both directions along Broadway, thus severely limiting our movement, yet were threatening us with arrest if we stayed still. “This is not where I want to be right now,” said a man in a sweater that read “Sweden.” I felt similarly: the police appeared ready to pounce, and a probable Vietnam veteran taunting the blockades of the angry-jowled officers seemed to further stretch their patience. Instead, we were allowed to cross Broadway facing Trinity Church and head back to Zuccotti Park.  Around the church, I passed a stony-eyed blonde woman, smiling passively and holding a sign which read: “I (heart) cops who smoke (pot leaf).” Unlike over 150 others jailed that day, we escaped the fate of a night behind bars.

The organizers were offering free bottled water and cough drops. A thoughtful gesture: my throat had gone quite dry from chanting the topical slogan “All Day! All Week! Occupy Wall Street!” and the classic refrain “Who’s Streets? Our Streets!” I took one such drop from the concerned-looking bearded gentleman handing them out.

“Wanna cough drop?” One policeman said to the other, in jest, pointing-out the free offer. The bearded organizer extended the cough drop offer seriously. “You can have one.” But the officer, perhaps taken aback by the organizer's sincerity, did not accept.

Upon returning to Zuccotti Park, frenzied dancing to whistle blasts and the beating of buckets continued to mark the movement’s birthday. I bobbed my head and swayed for a while with the occupants before leaving. My keepsake from the day is a lovely, DIY pin, which reads “Zuccotti Park 2011, I was there,” which is a lie

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ten of the Most Horribly Depressing Songs Ever Written, In Order

Although I began compiling this list in pursuit of fun, I might have created a monster here; repeatedly listening to the following songs might destroy every ounce of hope holding your tormented psyche together. With that prior warning in mind, here’s the list:

10. “Embrace,” Low
Apparently, Mimi Parker was having a baby around the time this song was written. The lyrics do suggest giving birth: “Holding my head for the last of race/Pushing my body to get that embrace.” Yet, this song is not a celebration of childbirth, but instead a chilling reflection on the transience of both infancy and motherhood, perhaps from someone doubting their aptitude as a parent.

9.  “Love is a Losing Game,” Amy Winehouse
As a lyricist, Amy Winehouse could write songs that sounded simultaneously concise and emotive; that sounded darkly self-deprecating without asking for pity. “Love is a Losing Game,” one of the late musician’s masterpieces, illustrates this rare capacity.

8. “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” Marvin Gaye
Given the strong hints of sexuality in a lot of his songs, it is no wonder that Marvin Gaye sometimes gets pigeonholed as a musician meant for sexytimes. Indeed, once could say the same of the music behind his 1971 concept album What’s Going On? The lyrics, on the other hand, are a different story; the whole album follows a soldier returning from Vietnam only to find his country ravaged by unemployment, inflation, racial tension and environmental degradation. In “Mercy Mercy Me,” probably the most well-known track from the album, Marvin laments the destruction of planet earth.

7. “Little Girl Blue,” Janis Joplin
One thought more depressing than that of a little girl, sitting alone in a corner, unhappily counting her fingers, is the realization that this unhappy little girl might be a young Janis Joplin. By covering an old standard, changing the lyrics so as not to include the happy ending in the original, this is one of the legendary singer’s most vulnerable recordings. 

 6. “Names,” Cat Power
Chan Marshall states the names of childhood friends who were killed, sexually-assaulted and addicted to drugs before age fifteen, all with an unsettling matter-of-factness in her voice.

5. “Alone Again (Naturally),” Gilbert O’Sullivan
Gilbert O’Sullivan mourns about being orphaned. First Dad dies, then Mom dies shortly thereafter of a broken heart. following all that death, feeling terribly lonely and lacking a single soul to talk to, the narrator "treats himself" to suicide.

4. "Michael," Red House Painters
Mark Kozelek wonders what happened to his best friend from adolescence. Considering all those allusions to delinquency, drugs and mental illness, “Michael” could be anywhere, if he's even alive at all.

3. "The Kids," Lou Reed
“The Kids,” from Lou Reed’s concept album Berlin, is a remarkably cruel, disturbing track. Without giving away too much of the story, the narrator believes that the “miserable rotten slut” in the lyrics, his previous lover, deserves punishment – namely the loss of parental rights – for her sexual promiscuity and drug use. In truth, the entire Side B of Berlin is an incredible downer, but the malicious lyrics and the added sounds of shrilly-screaming children earn this particular song a place on my list.

2. "I Know It's Over," The Smiths
No tribute to a failed relationship competes with this devastating Smiths classic. I’ve often thought that the four lines starting with “sad veiled bride, please be happy” critique the unhappy business of marriage altogether, but so much of Morrissey’s brilliant lyrics are best left to your own, personal interpretations.

1. "The Crucifixion," Phil Ochs
As the 1960s progressed, the songs of topical singer Phil Ochs, once sanguinely revolutionary, eventually became characterized by intense expressions of political despair. I personally find lots of his later work debilitating. This song, about how we build moral leaders only to tear them down, was originally written about John F Kennedy, but unintentionally picked-up Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and Salvador Allende along the way. As his surviving brother once described, Ochs had the ego to take the violence of the 1960s personally, thus leading him headlong into the torments of his later life.

Honorable mentions include Tracy Chapman’s tale of poverty, divorce and alcoholism, “Fast Car,” and Janis Ian’s classic teenage angst track, “At Seventeen.”

While putting the finishing touches on my list, I listened to every one of these songs. If you did as well, are you as drained as I am? Anyone fancy a drink?