Friday, September 28, 2012

Playing I-IV-V Chords Like Good News

Not Star-Crossed Anymore

"That's epic," she said.

And then she kept talking. And I stopped listening. I didn't realize that until much later; but that's what happened.

And it's not her fault. She was just using a word. A word all her friends use.

A word that used to mean so much more.

"Epic" shouldn't be just good. It should be astonishing, awe-inducing. It should aim for something impossible. It should be less craft and more art.

It should be rare. Something to strive for.

And she kept talking. As I thought about epics.

The ones that still resonate. And the ones that failed.

Monumental failures. Embarrassing failures. And the failures that were interesting not for what they achieved, but for the way they couldn't quite hit the target they aimed for.

I thought about Apocalypse Now, a movie so deeply flawed and endlessly compelling. Not always for what it achieved, but for the intent that it couldn't realize.

And still she kept talking.

And I remembered Harry Chapin. His best songs were transcendent. His worst were cringe-worthy. Who seemed obsessed with making a Great American Statement through music -- but was putting out records in the 1970s when the best American Statements seemed far in the past. A guy who'll be remembered less for performing hundreds of benefit concerts per year and more for a catchy song with lyrics that read like a first draft.

And then she stopped talking.

And I stared at her.

"I don't think you know what that word really means," I said.

She smiled. Because that's what she does. "It doesn't matter if I use the wrong words, as long as you know what I meant."

And I nodded. I knew what she meant.

But it would never be epic.

Because she wasn't even trying for epic. She was trying for adequate.

And I was looking for something else.

Something that aimed for transcendence.

Even if it ultimately failed.

This song is 35 years old. Older than the 34 that caused the song's narrator to make the song's narrator feel old when he realized he'd lived longer than Jesus and Moses.

And even if the attempt to interweave the decline of the U.S. with the decline of the music business doesn't quite work... and even if the lyrics sometimes seem a little strained... and even if the entire exercise seems impossible... the attempt is nothing short of epic.


Anonymous said...

Great song! Hadn't heard it before

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Your blog is the kind of blog that makes me make a note: check this out again in the cold gray morning sun to see if it's really as great as you think it is. P.S. Is there a book in the works on account of these blogs? If so sign me up for 10 copies -- and I've never been known to lie (true story) ...

Alex said...

Mr. Who, thanks! Yes, there's a book in the works... official announcement about that soon.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Wonderful news! Really looking forward to it!