Thursday, October 3, 2013

Song #375 of 9999 - Après Moi by Regina Spektor

Tonight, I get to catch up on TV and let yet another one of my brilliant friends do the heavy lifting. Denise Hudson is a self-described Singer/Song~Writer/Troublemaker with a music degree from the University of Texas at Austin, where she resides. She records music under the artist name DJ Ranger Den. Check her out on YouTube. Thanks Denise!

Song #375 of 9999

Title: Après Moi
Artist: Regina Spektor
Year: 2006
Album: Begin to Hope

                                   (studio version)                               (live on Austin City Limits)

I first heard Regina Spektor's "Après Moi" during an informal screening of Begin to Hope sometime in 2006 when it was released. This was a time when I was emerging from a rather insular period of my life. 2006 was a pivot year for me – a turning point, which is why I picked it [as the featured year in which to be the guest blogger]. For a while I had restricted my music consumption. I’d experienced a series of disappointments in my professional life and was a little overwhelmed and in a state of weird indecision.

If you’re listening to this whole album, "Après Moi" is a sudden surprise contrast to "Hotel Song." Things are misty and happy-sad modern and all of a sudden the sweeping red velvet curtain drops.

"Après Moi" has an old-world feel, probably because of the way Spektor voices her chords. A lot of piano players that come out of the music schools navigate the keyboard in this way. The cynical part of me thinks of these songs as Musically Manipulative; that they are very beautiful but they lull you into a dream state and use Excessive Tonality to satisfy and accomplish an emotional task. This makes me sad, because I would rather be writing beautiful salon pieces because I like to listen to nice things. It’s just as bad perhaps to plant deliberate weirdness.

I actually do aesthetically approve of this lush sonic brocade and adore D Minor, which as we know is the key of desperation, conspiracies, vigilantes, pirate romances, and Dracula. It arrives with Authority. It makes the song so Anthemic. Yes, I use D Minor. LIB-ER-A-LL-YYYY.

At times in her work, despite a firm left hand, Spector’s vocally percussive choices can get a bit distracting from having a smooth clean line. At other times they’re surprising and delightful. This is a personal signature of hers though, and has grown and fluctuated with her as an artist.

In both recordings of this song, her “I (OOOPf), must go on standing …” could arguably be considered in-the-way. What are these noises she's making? Are they necessary?

I found the noises more palatable as an instrumental device in the studio recording. They led up nicely to the overall fanfare at the end. Spector’s self professed devotion to plot in lyric writing (which I agree with, because there are song faeries and they tell us what to do); it justifies a marching snare, stick tapping, and arm pumping. Her bodily Foley art complements this, and mighty fine is the bravura of those vocal embellishments! All the good ticker-tape trappings of a dandy protest march.

The little phrase après moi le déluge ("after me, the flood") that the title comes from was in fashion at various times – including those of Louis XV. Most famously attributed to his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, it may have been her attempt to calm him when he learned of the defeat of Rossbach in 1757. She told him not to worry because … he would become ill, and that after them, the flood would come. Historically this saying often held a tang of indifference and social irresponsibility.

If usage of it in the song was meant to be callously aristocratic, I can only assume Spector was going for sarcasm. But right after the passages which are reminiscent of beatitudes (“don’t be afraid...inherit…”), she sounds like she’s steeling herself to a revolutionary’s task – with a difficult inner monologue. She's having a stream-of-consciousness moment of truth, fueling her resolve with these repeating litanies. Maybe the mystery of the chorus hook is that she will bring about another sort of rising tide, somehow changing things.

So my imagination wonders if this could be broader, more abstract. On the stage in my mind, characters sit on opposite shoulders; it’s Angel vs. Devil talk. Maybe this is me – needing to pick up a banner and have my own march myself. It’s a … romantic … notion. :)

The revolutionary with a burning heart is choiceless in such matters. But the poet in her, the artist who is a slave to the impermanence of the seasons gets the concept of mourning. This is why the Russian verse is heartbreaking and brave. And it’s the genius of the song; where its heart lies, in my opinion. Really, Spektor is a storyteller, a cataloger of influences into cohesion.

I tried to line up the word meanings so that you could hear the impact of the language if you wanted. I recommend listening to the live performance because the way the words fit with the melody (at 3:05), you get where the coldness of the syllables fall.

"fevRAl'. dasTAt' cherNIl i pLAkat'!
February. Get ink and weep

piSAt' a fevraLE navzRYd,
Write of February sob-loudly

paKA graHOchooshaya sLYAkat'
While rattling slush

visNOyu CHYOrnayu gaRIt
Spring black(ness?) burns"
As the year went on I ultimately had to face my fears. It will always be hard for me to say what needs to be said, to be confrontational. Perhaps it is delusional to want to stick to one’s own calling and to feel resolve like a fire. But Pasternak also wrote:
“And never for a single moment,Betray your credo or pretend,But be alive – this only matters –Alive and burning to the end.”
-Boris Pasternak – It Is Not Seemly To Be Famous ( Lydia Pasternak Slater)

ps. On an unrelated note, a cover of Regina Spektor’s "Après Moi" will appear on Peter Gabriel's And I’ll Scratch Yours, a compilation to be released on October 23rd. Spektor contributed to part one of this project You Scratch My Back, covering Gabriel's "Blood of Eden."

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