Monday, December 21, 2009

Heartland: Keep the Dog Quiet + Mt. Alpentine

A second part. Wooohahahah.

Keep The Dog Quiet

My body is a cage.
This union is cage about a cage about a cage.
And this, and this town too.
I'll see you once in a while but I can't be seen with you.
There are a few references here and there that I can pick up on, and a lot I can't, but if I don't know my Arcade Fire references then I shouldn't be writing in the first place. Perhaps another paralell: both albums' penultimate track is an energetic, cathartic, wild beautiful mess of a piece with strings by Owen Pallet and drums by Jeremy Gara, and the ultimate track is postmodern strangeness, the opinion on which varies with the listener. But that's neither there nor anywhere.

The subject can't be anything but Lewis' wife. Able to directly talk to her last time, he can only draw a reference to her and his misgivings. Think of Midnight Directives the grandest of all images and directions. It's the grandest of all tottering, delusional, wild images that a man thinks is enough to drive him to a purpose. It's a false image of the utmost grandeur, of resolution in a decision that Lewis doesn't even understand. This quiet address, weak and yet insistent, is Lewis' discussion on the darker and weaker parts of his will.

"The union" seems to be explicitly their marriage, and perhaps implicitly Lewis' ties to anything at all, the ties he's breaking by leaving (but of course, does not have the courage to burn bridges and run away). The 3 cages could be taken literally: Lewis' cage surrounded by his wife's cage surrounded by the requirement of their union, but it doesn't need to be that direct.

More importantly, Lewis is trying to assuage a feeling of personal entrapment in his life by blaming his marriage, and even "this town" and this life. It's not as pretty a lie as in Midnight Directives, but it certainly has its irony. A man leaves his hometown to find god and salvation? Lewis'll have varying feelings about a homeland, but we'll see that his idea of what is intolerable starts from his wife, to his marriage and town, to Spectrum, to the whole fucking world, and eventually to the creator of this world, the god-author Owen.

Back to textual stuff: "I'll see you once in a while but I can't be seen with you" It's fun to play with who Owen is hiding from here, and it's not exactly clear. Perhaps his "clerical life" has consequences of who he's trying to impress? A lot of his thought later in the album is about being public: "voic[ing] our satisfactions," "on the pitch of the Avenroe grasses / I will sing, sing, sing to the masses." But his purpose is between he and god...right? There's not some human authority he's trying to plead. I'd read that more as a desire to be viewed as complete: to have no one be able to say "this man is not symbolically whole." He wants to obey his purpose, and is only able to make secret compromises BECAUSE he has such a purpose, and wants to be seen as whole, unironic, and complete. There's also an element of active vs. passive: "I'll do this, but I can't have this done to me" would be an accurate paraphrase, implying that his future will be all action action action, un-capitulating. This fits with his violent persona.

This place is a narrative mess.
The floor a tangle of bedsheets and battered sundress.
The journey once was consequential,
Now: sequential, sequential, sequential, sequential.
This stanza is key, in that is shows the cracks in reality. I could see two possible meanings to the first line. The first relates to Lewis himself. As the narrator, he (ironically) is our view onto the world; he could be describing the chaos of his own view and his place in it. He could also be mentioning the cracks in his desperate attempt to put meaning into things. But the second interpretation relates to Lewis' dissatisfaction with the whole story itself, created by Owen. He wants to, possibly, escape or entirely reshape the structure of everything in his own image. We'll see that he does just that.

"This place" is exactly what Lewis is distancing himself from, so it's cool to look at what those nouns mean and represent about what he's escaping, and why. The basis of his life, "the floor" consists of tangled sheets and a worn-down sundress...implying sexual activity with his wife is bringing him down, with a slight play on "undress"? Or that fabric, the way we cover ourselves and protect ourselves, is in some way against what he wants to base his life on? (Lewis Takes Off His Shirt becomes an awesome parallel then) A sly and esoteric reference to "Shake, Rattle and Roll" ? His distance from summery femininity? And if there was some sort of inherent conflict in her wearing it, or that there was conflict in their relationship? Sundresses weren't common 1300s fare, and perhaps the point is to put a crack in the chronology of the period to show a breakdown of the whole story (happens so much at later points). Rather then untangle and clean up the stuff on the floor, is Lewis simply running from the more complicated problems and fleeing into his dreams? It's one of the most poetically evocative lines in the entire album, and the possibilities are endless.

The last two lines are a bit easier: "My purpose used to matter, and now it's predictable." I see two possible meanings in that. The first, that Lewis thought that by marrying and starting a farm he could create the convenient concept of a life to bear. But the second is more prescient: that the purpose I just declared is placing me in a totally expectable role. I am reacting exactly, totally, and unequivocally as one would expect my archetype to. I am trapped in a story.

When will you silence your hounds?
The eldest sons to the altar of the Eternal Sound.
Their blood is spilled at the dawn.
The earlier analysis focused on Lewis' wife as the subject, but these lines start to make reference to Owen. I'm of the mind that the subject shifts, representing Lewis' total unsureness about what the fuck he's fighting for/against. But in the end: "when will you silence your hounds"; when will the shouting stop, when will the noise stop? There's a possible reference to hounds of hell, but I see mainly in this line (and in the title) a desire to keep things in control, and keep the inevitable out of the way. "Keep the dog quiet"; keep that loyal beast of nature away from my dreaming, keep his bark away from my singing.

Lewis continues his questioning of the higher power with biblical allusions: the last plague of Moses, and the Passover. It's cool that Owen picks out of the old testament, filled with images of a highly anthropomorphic and patriarchal god. It's the power and masculinity that Owen wants in his life, something that he praises in "Psalm 21" in Tryst With Mephisopheles. But here, he thinks on the cruelty of it: they are sacrificed as bidding, not unknowingly like in Egypt, but in a sort of death march toward inevitability. Yeah, Lewis embraces Owen, but that kind of death march is exactly what Lewis does not want with his life, the inevitable "sequen[ce]."

The sun, represented here in the "dawn," is made reference to throughout the work, but it's most relevant against the night of Midnight Directives. If that night was exciting and made for plans and plots, the day is for harsh truth. A cool structural part of the album is that is oscillates over day and night, which gives a sense of (a) the grand cycle of nature eternally at work, and (b) the short time frame Lewis takes to become transformed.

"Eternal Sound" is an interesting turn of phrase, not a reference that I can tell. Owen uses a similar turn of phrase in Tryst with Mephistopheles, in the context of "great white noise," and makes references to "seven inches of echo" in Oh Heartland, Up Yours! Lewis Takes Off His Shirt (thanks Thomas) The theme relates to a musical motif in the album: what is music, what is sound, and what is noise? That in turn ties into what words are, and what they can mean, and what they can pretend to mean. Lewis is mostly comfortable in his sense of Owen (hence, "sound"), and his reverence and vision of him is still of being "eternal" (which changes later); but cracks are starting to appear, urges and views that conflict each other, brought out in the light of the day.
A nation bound to your will, still, the violin plays on.
Plays its devotional song.
Once it was, once it was so essential,
Now: sequential, sequential, sequential, sequential.
This is a bit tricky. But: "music praises you." If music and sound are distinct things, one being the method of the story (In the musical allusions, in the words, in the references to singing and playing, in the whole damn medium of the album; and notice how most of the songs are somewhat upbeat, as if there's a manic clinging to music as expression which peaks at Tryst With Mephistopheles and breaks down at What Do You Think Will Happen Now?), and the other being Owen himself...true and open expression is bound to the more conflicted concept of the author. Music willingly has itself under the authority of God, and Lewis does not like that. Even though Lewis had praised god before, over the course of this song his opinion seems to dwindle to Owen himself being the subject of past essentially, now sequentiality. It's not clear, but I hear Lewis as saying, over the course of this tune "The stuff around me is derivative and trite and controlled, the whole place is derivative and trite and controlled, God and life are derivative and trite and controlled."

Such praise to God, Lewis asks, is it worth it? Why must one praise God? Although Lewis' purpose was immediately "clerical," the next few tunes drag him back to a heightened sense of reality. He refuses to ask the question of God, because such a vision is contradictory (containing the destruction of the masculine ideal in the "first borns," or being labeled as "sound"). So he pushes it all away, and leaves all the forshadowing and contradictions behind in this dark and frightening tune. A string crescendo, perhaps mirroring Lewis' mental progression, builds, halts as if taking a breath, and then:

Mt. Alpentine
Lead on, oh horse of mine, we will climb the side of Alpentine.
Lead on, oh horse of mine, we will voice our satisfactions.
Karma is the concatenation of your actions.

The most important bit of analysis in this song is that it is short, shouted, and ANGRY AND WILD AND MINOR AS FUCKALL. It's a clusterfuck of a lot of strings, vocals which barely manage to get out, and some synthy thing echoing in the background. It's practically noise, interesting if we accept music vs. sound vs. noise as a theme (it's kind of a weak point, but I think if it's an album about stories, it can be a story about an album): to escape the consequences of Keep the Dog Quiet, Lewis shrouds himself in pure noise and purpose, putting one goal in front of him: climbing a hill.

The climb has other implications to it. The choice of "Alpentine" is a funny thing; it's a very derivative name for a mountain, derived from the adjective "alpine." Certain aspects of Spectrum, especially the place names (as manifest in Flare Gun) are deliberately derivative; Owen makes deliberate cliches in order to enforce his commentary on the nature of stories and of fantasy.

The horse comes back a few times in the album, and is called Blue Imelda in Lewis Takes Action. I'm not very well acquainted with Spectrum, 14th Century, and what's more it is not contained in the scope of the album; but neither are all the allusions, and in the grander depiction of spectrum, it helps to grab from varied sources. So, an abbreviated run to Blue Imelda off of Spectrum:

Blue Imelda, She's the saddest bitch in all of Spectrum
She can't rely on business to keep herself satisfied
For we are only farmers, and the love of a farmer
Has one hand on the headboard and the other hand in the soil

Oh Lord, I'm yours forever, I will never take a lover
I'll keep myself as pious as my body will allow
For I am just a farmer, and the body of a farmer
Has one eye on the pussy and the other on the plough

I bow, I bend deeply
I'm sheepish and barely
Able to say it from beginning to the end
(Your shirt is torn to ribbons)
Woman, can I take you as a friend?
Sex and animals. Farmers don't care about the women but they care about the sex, farmers have natural urges and natures. But Lewis is leaving his farmership, right? (as suggested earlier, and articulated in Red Sun No. 5) He's a friend and a partner, I guess. Point is: Lewis can't get as far away from femininity as he'd like, or as he claimed he wanted to do. He'll have this horse. Yeah. Enough of that.

In the context of Mt. Alpentine, Imelda matters little, only as an echo of a subverting femininity on Lewis that he can't even recognize. Instead, Lewis focuses on a direct and concrete task, and then applies another value to it: "we will voice our satisfactions." What matter they? But the way that Lewis speeds down and attacks in Lewis Takes Action, Lewis is finding a way to exact his influence, to shape his world. If voicing his desires means making an ultimatum at the entirety of Spectrum, it would be a way for him to control. "Satisfaction" shows up in Red Sun No. 5 too, so it's important to look at what it means and implies: Lewis wants to declare what is enough for him, what make sense and is complete for him. Farmership can't, and apparently god can't but Lewis doesn't want to totally recognize that. So, just like through violence, Lewis is finding a way to make things definite. And so he climbs the mountain because he is insecure.

"Concatenation" is a programming term meaning to link two string variables together, and general word for connecting ideas. Lewis sees karma as a connecting force in his life, a grander order and sense, the assumption that what he is doing will be generally repayed, in some way, in some lifetime. Lewis is praying to some grander sense of justification, because his actions don't make sense to him. Maybe. But it's "your actions." Whose? That pronoun gets thrown about in life. Maybe it's the audience, and the phrase is a cry to us to try and see the order in our lives, as we're watching Lewis' crumble away. Or it could be Owen. Owen's storytold reality must have order to it, right? We hope? So if I Take Action, or climb Alpentine, it'll be ok? Right? Right?

1 comment:

  1. Seven Inches of Echo is in Lewis / Shirt, not Oh Heartland.

    ;) I love these posts. please continue.