Monday, January 12, 2015

And I Feel Fine!

Originally featured on Bibliophilia, Please.
I've been fascinated with apocalypse stories for a long time. I don't know why-- I'm not any more misanthropic than the next guy-- I think. I actually genuinely like people, even though I'm a bit of a writerly hermit, too. I don't really want there to be any apocalypses (apocalypti?) but from an "interesting times" perspective, it makes for good story-reading/writing. 

I even bought myself a snowglobe of a ruined apocalyptic cityscape for Christmas this year. It's sitting on my bookshelf with the other snowglobes people have bought me from various cities, skyscrapers in ruins but oddly cute. The swirling snow might just be the detritus of a ruined civilization, or it might be evil robot sentient bats come to kill us all. It also is shiny like glitter, so maybe-- a cutepocalypse? Surely there were My Little Ponies involved in that one. The Four Ponies came riding and the glitter death was awful.....

I'm in the middle of two things right now-- writing a book about the end of the world, as it takes place primarily in New Orleans and I'm also getting back on the "New Year's exercise bandwagon"-- which for me means walking to the Zombies Run app on my phone (which is a great story, in itself, and a really good way to keep me from noticing that I'm exercising, to trick me into thinking I'm just playing in a nifty game/book on tape sort of thing.) 

So I am all about the Songs that Go With the End of the World  and I thought in the spirit of "end of the year" lists I'd share a list of some of my favorites, sort of as an "END ALL THE THINGS!" homage. Some are pretty obvious, but others are less so.  I'm going to post a list of my favorite ten,* here, and then I'll post a Spotify link to the big playlist at the end, also, so you can go listen to them all if you'd like. 

1:  The Man Comes Around is the best, first song for pretty much every reason there is. Johnny Cash was so interested in the more fire and brimstone brands of religion, and he honestly is just right out front when it comes to the Apocalypse.

He's a rock-n-roll prophet, our man in black, and in this song, the walking baseline makes it seem inevitable-- you're just being pushed along with the music, the whole way. Johnny literally quotes from the Bible, specifically the book of Revelation (6:1-2), and mentions the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And at the end, when the vocals sound like a scratchy radio with moderate reception, the voice of the time when all we'll have left are a few maniacal DJs saying "I told you so" and eating canned beans and the last of the Twinkies---- Oh, it just gives me chills it's so brilliant. 

And it's no secret that it's so brilliant for "end of the world" mood-setting; it's been in a dozen or so movie/TV shows as the penultimate vibe for a Christian-based destruction of everything.

2. Uprising by Muse is another great song for both writing about an Apocalypse yet-to-come and, (maybe not?) surprisingly, running from imaginary zombies as exercise. It's a revolutionary anthem of sorts about a future world where economic forces & the "Fat Cats" who have kept a youthful-seeming force of "us" down will finally see their just end in an uprising that changes everything.

When I hear the song, and really listen to the lyrics about a corrupt world government being finally taken back by its people, this one actually feels like not so much fiction but possible. And that both gives me terrified chills as a person and as a writer using it for inspiration makes me laugh with insane glee.  People who argue for radical revolutionary change to economic systems ought to think about what those revolutions would do for us all. It might be great, but it would be messy. Probably for a long, long time.

3. The Devil & Me by the Brad Pitt Light Orchestra is a song I hadn't heard of until I started researching for my apocalypse playlists. I really like it for a lot of reasons, not the least my oddly schoolgirl crush on Brad Pitt. The low, growly chorus in the beginning, and the growly backups to the lead singer's efforts turn it ominous, in spite of the somewhat hopeful ideas of trying to escape from a devil, and being saved by a "holy transfusion".  I'm sitting on my hands to resist putting a picture of Brad Pitt in World War Z in the blog post. It's a sacrifice, but y'all can picture him, right? Go ahead. I'll give you a minute. Mmmmmm.

I think this song is neat because it has a strangely positive vibe, in a way, but ultimately still sounds like we all lose out in the end. That hopefulness just gives way to the driving guitar and an a capella chorus that weaves through the lyrics, and the gentle cowbell (a la Blue Oyster Cult) that rings as a background reminding us all of the inevitable ticking away of time, every second. As it rounds out at the end with a hissing sound like a rattlesnake just got you, you're done. Just-- done.

4. Supernaturally by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds starts off with the lyrics:
Through the windswept coastal trees
Where the dead come rising from the sea
With a teddy-bear clamped between her knees, where can my loverman be?
It has that same kind of insistent guitar of the Cash songs mixed with an almost Flamenco vibe-- all to note that feeling of being driven along to the inevitable end of everything. And I love the vibrato of violin that swirls throughout; it reminds me a lot of the lead-in to Joss Whedon's series Firefly. (Which ultimately does read a lot like a post-apocalyptic story). And it just sounds cool. This song, of course, is some kind of lover-betrayal supernatural apocalypse.

The cover art and video feature teddy bears rising up to take us all down. Hey, they only look cuddly-- they are, after it's all said and done-- still bears. And supernaturally cursed bears? Oh yes. The cuddlepocalypse, here today.

5. Survivalism by Nine Inch Nails kills it. Like, really. At the beginning of the song, Trent Reznor gasps for breath and you can just see him running from the zombies at his back.... and he's clearly not a runner, and they're gonna get him.

Like earlier songs on this list, the song (and its video) both refer to the book of Revelations (boy that book gets into all the good Apocalypti).  Like Muse's anthem, this one criticizes a corrupt, bloated city-state (a Babylon) of savage economic and status inequalities, and predicts an inevitable ending based on an out of control push to destruction.

It's truly a great song for listening during your aerobics walk because it makes you feel like you're being chased and you're definitely not gonna make it if you don't move your butt. And while the extra pounds might help when food goes scarce and I finally burn my way back to a size 8, for now, I'll just try to focus on being ready to run as fast as I can away from whatever it could be chasing me. They can have Trent, but I'm getting away.

6. Burn it Down by AWOLNATION starts off with a  kind of bouncy Little Richard style R&B sounding guitar vibe, and lots of funky falsetto "WOOO"s, but as lead singer Aaron Bruno urges us over and over again to burn it down you don't know whether he's talking about the whole world or something less sinister, but it just sounds like whatever it is, there will be dancing. Bruno's singing is a cross between the aforementioned Little Richard, Sid Vicious, and the late great Sam Kinison

In the video, there's a lot of lightning and costume changes, and then we all dance to death because what else would happen?

7.  Oh Death by Noah Gunderson. I know I promised a top ten but this one needs to end it all, as it would in real life. Continuing the trend of mournful violin which I really love, backed up by a walking bass line, this one has the sweetly soft sadness of Gunderson's breathy lead asking "will you call out?" 
when death finally comes.   And dust you shall become.  In the end. From dust and ashes I have called you....

I guess that's why the list actually has to end here. The real reason we're fascinated by Apocalypse stories is that it's a way of looking at our own endings and imagining that without us, personally, the world won't go on. Surely the ending of my timeline has to mean no one can live without me, right? It's both the ultimate end and the ultimate ego-trip to think about the end of the world.

But we also like to think of endings as beginnings. No one ever really thinks the Apocalypse will be THE FOR REALSIES End. Every Apocalypse story has survivors (even when almost everyone has been eaten by zombies in Georgia and someone keeps the grass nicely mowed and the women keep shaving their pits anyway).

So on this first week of January, named after the god who looks both forward to the new and back into the old, I'll use this list, which could come out depressing, to say that we all made it through another year, another apocalypse-- the ending of 2014. As for me, with the year I had, I am glad to see it go. New, fresh starts, health, and happiness are all on my list of things to come. 

In my neck of the woods, 2014 ended with the somewhat disconcerting loud bangs of neighbors setting off ridiculously strong fireworks & scaring my cat, a sweet Jameson's based Old Fashioned with three cherries, and bedtime at 11. I just was too tired to stay up that last hour. 

Let the year go... I've had about enough of it. 

Here's the rest of my "Hoodoopocalypse" list of New Orleans based end of the world, should you feel like thinking what might happen in that lovely Big Easy city in the end. In my version, there are floods, fire, plagues, and magic. But it's still a big old party. Laissez the End Times Roulez!

*okay, so I lied. It's only 7. I am terrible at math. 

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