Tag Archive: dubstep

Though it’s not one my top 10, a movie I greatly admire is Dead Poets Society. It was released when I was pretty young, but I was aware of it because my older sister loved the artistic passion it portrayed and the lightly angsty atmosphere it had floating above it. And that it had a bunch of hunky young guys in it probably helped her along. However, it stars a rather un-hunky guy, Robin Williams. He plays an English teacher at an expensive prep school who ignites his students’ passions to create and be bigger than they currently are, which motivate them to seize life and take some fantastic chances. Unfortunately for one of them, this also meant not knowing where to go when everything was pulled out from under him.

Williams’ character gives a speech to his students, the highlight of which is this: “We are food for worms, lads. Believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold and die.” A pretty morbid statement on the face of it, but he was explaining the Robert Herrick poem To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time. The Latin language can sum up that whole poem with two words: carpe diem.

That Latin phrase means “seize the day,” but if you didn’t already know that… well, nevermind. The sentiment means living life to its fullest each day, and never letting an opportunity pass you by. On the one hand, I see this as foolish. There is no better way to set yourself up for failure than to set unachievable goals for yourself, and carpe diem, in its most literal form, is impossible. One simply cannot take advantage of every opportunity because opportunities are split into two; for every road you go down, you sacrifice going down another. If you take the left fork, you’ll never know what’s down the right one.

On the other hand, that, I think, is not what carpe diem is supposed to mean. It’s not meant to be treated like a goal, but a platitude. In Dead Poets Society, the correct usage of carpe diem is summed up in a scene in which Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles) is at a party, a few drinks in him, when he sees the girl he’s madly in love with passed out on a couch. The room is filled with drunk people, she’s asleep and not gonna remember this anyway, so what’s the harm in giving her a little kiss? Big harm, apparently, because her burly quarterback of a boyfriend catches him in the act, thinks he’s doing a lot more than giving her a kiss on the forehead, and punches his lights out. But he DID kiss her, and set in motion a chain of events that ended with the girl dumping her boyfriend for Knox. Score!

you tell ’em, Mr. President!

Carpe diem is translated far and wide as “seize the day,” but that’s just a more poetic and less useful way of saying “don’t waste your time.” Pink Floyd understood this concept, and they fully explore it with “On the Run” and “Time.” “On the Run,” like “Speak to Me,” is not really a song. It’s just a collection of sound effects and a little dialog set over a frantic bass line. It might also be the first dubstep song. That bass line is made out of four notes being played on the keyboard of a synthesizer, sped up to about 50x speed, and then looped. It’s so fast that it doesn’t even sound like notes anymore.

But if one shifts their understanding and doesn’t think of it as a song, it becomes clear that it’s about hurrying. When we speed through life without even an occasional pause, we miss out on what could be most important. The frenetic pace of running at such a speed can only have one result, as the explosion that ends the piece makes clear.

After the explosion and long fade-out that ends “On the Run,” “Time” starts with just the quiet sounds of ticking clocks. They tick for a few seconds, then all chime the hour at the same time in a cacophonous flurry of noise that makes you cover your ears. The first time I listened to it, I was incredibly frustrated with Pink Floyd; we were 8 and a half minutes into the record, and they had only given me 2 minutes and 45 seconds of actual music! And this is one of the greatest albums ever made? It’s just frickin’ sound effects! I’m getting my money back…

But then about a minute into “Time,” a powerful note strikes, followed by its minor 3rd (I guess those music theory classes were worth something) and my ears prick up. This is slow, doomy, and standard Floyd. Then comes the first verse and chorus, delivered with much more oomph than Floyd listeners at the time were used to.

“Time” relates to the concept of Dark Side as the first idea that’s explored in this series of about Why People Go Nuts. “On the Run” communicates what happens when we go too fast, and here we have the opposite. Enjoying life’s little moments can become inactivity, and that’s taking it too far. All too often we realize too late that we haven’t actually lived, even though so much time has passed. Before you know it, as the movie Inception says, you’re “an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone.”

The guitar solo of “Time” simply blows me away, particularly with its volume and intensity. A prerequisite for a great guitar solo seems to be that the faster the notes come the better, but this one’s different. It’s not the number of notes that are packed into that tiny space, because “Time” doesn’t have a lot of speed to it. What matters are the sound and the force of the solo. David Gilmour is like Jimi Hendrix slowed way down; he plays with the same intensity, but he’s not in any hurry.

Next: the best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees… or some crap like that.


Led Zeppelin III

With I and II, Led Zeppelin were taking a well-established formula (the blues) and transforming it into something new. Songs like “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “The Lemon Song” have roots in American blues, but they’re nigh unrecognizable after Led Zep got a hold of them. With III, they started taking a different formula and morphing it, though it’s not as well-established; that formula is Led Zeppelin itself.

It might be the reason III wasn’t well-received when it first came out. They had carved out a niche for themselves with the first 2 albums, but they shifted directions a little too swiftly; there’s less than two years between I and III. Maybe that blues-update thing had gotten boring for them. It must have still held some appeal since there are awesome songs like “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “Hey Hey What Can I Do.” But change was happening, marked by the presence of “Tangerine” and “Gallows Pole” which had a folk and country vibe to them. Led Zeppelin was playing around with the very definition of itself.

Even so, it’s weird to me. I’ve seen other bands do similar things, and much more radical than that. No one was expecting Smashing Pumpkins to follow the gigantic smash hit of Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness with the morose and techno-ish Adore. Bruce Springsteen suddenly changed gears for an album and turned into a mellow singer-songwriter with Nebraska. And I hear Muse is going from Queen impersonators to dubstep. So what’s the big deal?

Detractors of Led Zeppelin’s evolution might have been many for III, but they all changed their tunes when IV hit the streets. Every critic you turned to had nothing but praises for Led Zep after that. All they had to do was not put their name on an album.

I’m just being cynical, a rare thing for me. I think what truly made IV receive critical acclaim is that it was good, really good. In my opinion, there are only 2 albums better than this one. I’ll cover them when I get to them in history.

IV starts out on an intense note with “Black Dog,” a full-on metal stomper. Some of Led Zep’s stuff has deep meanings or esoteric references, but some of it is just “let’s-do-it-in-the-bath” material. The lyrics to “Black Dog” don’t have much behind them other that desperate sexual desire and king-sized libido. The music, however, is incredibly interesting/frustrating. John Paul Jones, who wrote the main riff, wanted something you couldn’t dance to. That’s pretty easy to do, but what’s not easy is not having it be craptastically awful. “Black Dog” has ringing success on both counts. It has an unresolved quality, which always keeps you a little off-balance. I still don’t know what the rhythm is supposed to be. Every time I listen to it I’m aware that I’ve almost got it figured out. I know, I know, something about horseshoes and hand grenades…

“Rock and Roll” continues the force and intensity that “Black Dog” hinted at, but ups it by a factor of 10. And as much as John Paul Jones didn’t want you to be able to groove to “Black Dog,” the groove on “Rock and Roll” is undeniable. Your great-grandmother will be banging her head in her grave, if you play it loud enough. The musical pattern is nothing more complicated or less effective than a simple blues: I-I-IV-I and then V-IV-I-I. Lather, rinse, repeat.

While I think “Rock and Roll” is one of the best songs ever recorded, it really points to the fact that the blues is one of the best musical forms ever created. But more than that, it’s a token of that incredible talent Led Zeppelin had, to take something already existing and reformulate it into a completely new thing. That new thing Led Zeppelin created is something rock bands have consistently been trying to copy since then, and they’ve had little success. Success is not the point, though; it’s pretty fun just trying.

After that, it slows down and takes a turn for the strange and uncharted. I’m not even sure of where to begin with “The Battle of Evermore.” The first adjective that pops to mind is “Beowulfish,” which isn’t even a real word. It calls to mind a land so wild and ancient it doesn’t even seem like Earth.

Besides the Saxon/Celtic vibe, there are several notable firsts documented on “Battle.” It marks the first time Led Zep have had a guest vocalist. This honor belongs to Sandy Denny, singer for the folk outfit Fairport Convention. She got her own symbol on the album, much like the symbols for the other four. It also features Jimmy Page’s first time ever picking up a mandolin. He simply got curious about the mandolin John Paul Jones owned, started messing around with it, and recorded the instrumental track for “Battle” that day. Robert Plant then added his own contributions with the lyrics, which he recorded in two takes.

The lyrics are said to contain at least 4 references to Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, including “Dark Lord” and “Ringwraiths.” It also speaks of Avalon, the Queen of Light (possibly Galadriel) and the Prince of Peace (possibly Aragorn, but more likely Jesus Christ).

Next up: the second side of IV and the descent of Led Zeppelin.