by carl wilson

Vote Veda (and Welcome, Anders!):
Grab Your Coat and Your Popular Music ...

veda-hillems.jpg

With less than a week left in voting for the $5,000 SOCAN Echo Prize for Canadian songwriting, I'd better get around to fulfilling my promise to make my case for why, of the superfine roster of nominated tunes, Veda Hille's "Lucklucky" deserves your (daily) vote between now and the Sept 29, 4:59 pm deadline.

First go over to the prize page and listen to it and its worthy rivals.

"Lucklucky" is only the overture, in many ways, to one of the year's very best albums, a suite of songs about finding one's faith in the basic livability of life challenged by the cruel undertow of random fate and mortality, and looking within the lexicons of religion, of nature, of culture and psychology and more for some ways not just to survive but to flourish, to turn onions into tears and tears into water and water into wine. It shares some of these themes with other nominated songs: As Bertolt Brecht, one of Hille's heroes, wrote, "In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will be singing... about the dark times. "

But this song goes further than any of the others in its appeal to the depths of resources we have to meet those doubts and darknesses: The very randomness of human life, it tells us, as its various elements keep swirling around one another, is its blessing - the way that our minds relentlessly organize absurdity into sense might be ridiculous, but the way life sorts itself into a narrative (whether true or fiction, i.e., ultra-true) is a precarious and fragile grace. "There is the place you know/ There is the place you don't know/ Curtain number 1, curtain number 1 (you are blind, blind, blind)/ This is where I did this, this is where I did that/ It took 30 years to draw this map." The theme of geography, of Vancouver, the place that matters only because it is the place you happen to have lived your life, has been prominent in Hille's recent music. And yet, is it the territory or the representation that counts? "Now do you see/ the city or the map of the city?/ The city or your life in the city?" The real, the desert of the real and the oasis.

So far, fairly standard contemporary psychogeographic, poetic and art-rock sets of ambiguities. But what happens next, in this relentless what-happens-next machine of a song, is that an anthem unexpectedly, balls-out (if Veda will forgive me the phallogocentric turn of phrase) springs from the introspection, as if out of a psychic break, a satori, an epiphany: "You need the air! You need the freedom! You need to pit yourself against the hardship of the world!" Horns, choral voices, booming drums, hints of the church-music influences to come later on this record but also echoes of 1967 Centennial Canada anthems, Bobby Gimby's revenge - not nation but land, urban plan, trees that you piss against (another less cultural way of making maps) and paths you beat as a cause worth fighting (even yourself) for - thunder-perfect-green-mind.

"This is where we are! Are you ready? What was, what is, and what shall be! City of destiny (you are blind blind blind), city of destiny... Grab your coat and your popular music - we're takin' it to the streets!"

So here's a woman who's been quoting the likes of Carl Sandburg and Brecht in recent albums, suddenly citing the Doobie Brothers. Just as in her side project with (surely pseudonymous?) singer Patsy Klein, The Fits (which can't really be understood except live), which mental-rolodex-flips-and-somersaults through homespun medleys of novelty tunes, children's songs, Broadway numbers and other throwaway sparks of cultural lightning, "Lucklucky" revels in its church-of-subgenius way in echoes of other texts and tunes, with not just a "nothing human is alien to me" catholicism of spirit but a sense that without the alien, without absorbing into its flesh all that is opposite itself, this song and its singer can't survive. This is where we are, loving the alien, amen.

You head toward destiny, still blind, blind, blind. But just keep heading. The inanimate landscape you never bothered to love is somehow animate, animate perhaps in dialectic, busily loving you for your passage through it, remaking itself in your imag even perhaps as you make too heavy a tread, the scars self-conscious beasts leave behind. In the end if you're searching for yourself, looking within is barely a scratch on looking around.

It's not a matter of whether or not we're lucky to be alive, but the revelation that without being alive, that question would be senseless. And so to be alive is to be a creature of luck, a fluke, a fate-being. We're born luck-y, as we're born bloody and smelly and rhythmic and loud.

It's a prayer, it's a path, it's a joke, it's a victory march, it's the most Canadian (Northrop Frye School) song I've heard all year and yet the most worldly, it's an ecological anthem, it's change you can believe in and it's a mathematical constant. It's a summation of all that's come before in Hille's music and a preparation for the songs that follow it on This Riot Life, which take that question of the magic of everyday life and knock it every which way for proof and a vitality damn few artists ever uncover. It comforts as it confronts, and I find myself singing it under my breath in moments of distress at least a few days a week. You may find something similar happening, but it will be dissimilar because it will happen in your city, on your map of the city (even if that city is in the same location as mine).

And finally, since after all this is the kissing-babies time of year, with the estranged-twin election campaigns going on in Canada and in that country not so many miles from Vancouver, Hille's already won because today (Tuesday), she celebrated the arrival of her first child, Anders, with her husband Justin (of Vancouver rhythm'n'indie band No Kids, incidentally) and stepdaughter Saoirse - a healthy six-and-a-half-pound addition to the mass of this riot life, born on the birthdays of both Bruce Springsteen and John Coltrane (!), crashing in blind, squawling and o so lucky.

So think of that $5,000 as a baby bonus, and go cast your vote for a song that votes for you right back - a small act of mutual, crazy, improbable but necessary faith.

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, September 24 at 1:46 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

COMMENTS

What he said.

Posted by barclay on September 24, 2008 10:16 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson