“Blackbird,” a Paul McCartney-only track on The Beatles’ White Album, is one of his best, and the opposite of what came before. McCartney was The Beatles’ true extrovert, famous for making eye contact with every individual member of the audience he could see (John Lennon couldn’t see past the mic without his glasses). Even when he sang about loneliness in Eleanor Rigby, it was with an attention-seizing arrangement (string octet? on Top 40 radio?) and a vocal that rose out of the speakers to meet you. The impresario Beatle, he mastered and redefined the role in introducing the band, then the world, to the concept of Sgt. Pepper in 1967.
In “Blackbird,” he lets us listen to him musing alone with a guitar. Sure, there’s not much difference between it, musically, and “Yesterday,” but the few differences are key. “Yesterday” is about being alone, a show-stopping tune made for the solo spotlight on the solo singer, perfectly simple–theatrically simple, from that first lonely power-plunked low F to the sparse string quartet, the opposite of 1950s orchestral strings, understatement they can see in the back row.
“Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby” are classics, ones I’ve listened to for hours and loved over the decades. They are perfectly formed stories about perfectly formed characters. (Paul still gets my vote as The Beatles’ real genius.)
“Blackbird” isn’t about a lonely man are about loneliness. It’s the song of man who’s alone, singing to himself. A lullaby? Yes. An anthem? That too. A love song? Always. To himself? Yes, and to everyone. Isn’t that how love tends to go?
“Blackbird” is usually read as a metaphor. It has to be. It literally makes no sense. Unlike “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby,” it doesn’t tell a story, not one that I can summarize. But everyone knows what it means, instantly, first time you hear it. You love it, although you might not notice, because it doesn’t demand your attention.
I’ve always admired Beatle Paul, the most popular boy in the whole world, admitting his dread of loneliness in song after song. It’s a public service, admitting vulnerability, reassuring to everyone in the whole worldwide tribe wondering if love will survive. (He wrote “When I’m 64” when he was 16.)
But he didn’t let the listener get a close look at him until “Blackbird.” On that one, Paul lets you listen to him talk to himself. Naturally, being Paul McCartney, he sings to himself. And he plays (clever two-note chords in a strange pattern–the song may sound simpler than “Yesterday,” but unlike the earlier song, its chords ain’t normal) rather than performs.
Summary: It’s personal. Yet universal. “Eleanor Rigby” may console the lonely; “Yesterday,” the romantically bereft. “Blackbird” consoles everyone for everything. “The Beatles” is usually seen as a musical retrenchment following Sgt. Pepper’s experimentation, but “Blackbird” is a step forward for McCartney, the artist.
I’ve got Jed Whedon‘s “Tricks on Me” on endless loop as I write this, which is not confusing at all, because the first time I heard it and ever since, I thought, “This is his White Album Paul McCartney song!” Which I’m not sure sounds like a compliment to everyone else, thus the lengthy explanation above. (It’s even got a bird: “Well, it’s all about you, Dove.”)
Jed‘s voice is quiet, and he doesn’t fight that on this album, he lets us hear him. The quiet somehow expands the dynamic range of the music, since the sound changes from phrase to phrase as his attention turns from one thing to another. Like “Blackbird,” it’s both inscrutably personal and welcomingly universal.
Every house an allegory . . . A little light across your face
I find myself singing along whether it’s playing or not. It’s not a lonely song, but it is the sound of someone alone, at least for a little while.
In dark they’re coming to get me.
The instrumentation sounds simple, but there’s always a lot going on a Jed Whedon track and this one doesn’t wear out its welcome, keeps rewarding another listen. Like, I dunno, “Blackbird,” a song McCartney still sings in concert.
To my ears, “Tricks on Me” is a classic, but it’s not an obvious one. It’s the sound of a man singing alone. A lullaby? Yes. An anthem? That too. A love song? Always. To himself? Yes, I hope so, but to everyone else too.
In “Epitaph Two,” his part was to bolt out the door when Paul and Faith, Ripped and Buffer, stagger in and say Topher collapsed. Yes, I thought, send the one guy skinnier than Topher to carry him. But it works, because this Jed guy can definitely play supportive. His brother asked if he would make him a soundtrack album, and he did, and then his brother asked him it he would make another album, and he did. Supportive, to understate the case. He and his wife work and play together, and his younger brother says no matter how good your relationship is, it ain’t as good as theirs. (And I want to say for the record that when I called them J-Mo it was a brand new expression I coined to reflect the desire to live in an alternate universe where supportive married duos are as big stars as the one they rhyme with in this universe, where one person is on both sides of the dash, and when I started this it was good and pure and nice and I had no idea whatsoever, no inkling, not even a vague suspicion, that my two wacky funny syllables would become contemporary slang for something unpleasant and it is totally not my fault. Sorry guys. It was nice while it lasted. Real nice.)
The rest of the album’s awesome, too, so give a listen or 40 to History of Forgotten Things. This is a voice you want to hear.
Edited to Add: It turns out there are (other) nice definitions of J-Mo, including “to be really cool and smart!” Hip hip, hurray! I am not the bringer meme-onic plague!
Possession, a thriller starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, is out on DVD. I won’t go on and on about her acting supremacy. I want to, but I won’t.
The movie, apart from her, is just good. Well, good-to-excellent. There are no weak spots, but nothing transcendent (apart from the born-to-transcend SMG).
There’s an awesome DVD extra–an alternate ending that looks like it was completely finished– an uninterrupted fully edited, color-timed and scored half hour of movie. It takes the main character on a very different arc, so you get to see Sarah Michelle play the same person making different choices. Not to spoil anything, but the alternate ending is much less predictable and much more shocking. The unpredictability and shock are not unearned–they don’t come out of the blue. (My one problem with the alternate ending is that it doesn’t feel like an ending, just a turning point. The closing shot makes things look more resolved than they could possibly be. I needed a few more minutes of movie tracing out some of the implications.)
The opportunity to watch Ms. Transcendent make both endings utterly, emotionally, powerfully real is one to seek out, fellow Sarah-philes!
Somebody’s putting these interviews (plus a few others) between covers and calling it a book. The title is “Joss Whedon: Conversations,” and the editors are David Lavery and Cynthia Burkhead. The publisher, University Press of Mississippi, puts out a lot of these “Conversations” books, selling clothbound volumes for $50 a pop. Yes, fifty–$50–dollars.
Enjoy reading these interviews free.
Kim Werker Interview, “On Crafts and Craftiness,” crochetme.com
Tasha Robinson interview, The Onion AV Club.
Joss Whedon Answers 100 Questions, SFX Magazine.
Roger Ash interview, Editor of Westfield Comics.
James Longworth interview, from Volume Two of TV Creators: Conversations with America’s Top Producers of Television Drama. (Google Books has a preview on line which features a lot, but not all, of the interview.)
Must-See Metaphysics by Emily Nussbaum, New York Times.
10 Questions for Joss Whedon, New York Times.
Laura Miller Interview, Salon.
Jim Kozak Interview, In Focus.
Thomas Leupp Interview, JoBlo.com.
Daniel Robert Epstein Interview, Suicide Girls.
Mike Russell Interview, CulturePulp.
Joy Press Interview, Salon.
Other Great Purple Conversational Fests You Can Read for Free
Joss Whedon: The Definitive EW Interview, insidetv.ew.com
Tavi Gevinson interview, Rookie
Ken P. Interview, IGN.
Sheerly Avni Interview, Mother Jones.
Her Face Was Nothing But Red, Whedonesque. This list cannot *not* have Joss Whedon on the death of Dua Khalil.
And Another Tasha Robinson interview, The Onion AV Club.
Guardian UK: To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why? “My wife, for not knowing how to live as abundantly as she does.”
Wired interviews Joss about writing. And Dollhouse: “Well the fans, bless their hearts, were all going, ‘We’re sure that it’s good, it’s Joss, we trust him. Maybe we’re missing how it’s good.’ It was very sweet. And it does have fans. In fact, just the other night I saw a clip from it, and I was like, ‘Oh wait a minute, this show meant a lot to me and is meaningful and beautiful.'” But mostly writing. And other neat stuff, such as: “The show was on some level supposed to be a celebration of human perversion, because perversion, like obsession, is the thing that makes people passionate and interesting and worthy. And people who are nothing, like Echo and the other dolls, are learning to be someone. And part of learning to be someone is learning to be someone that nobody else wants to be.”
One of the book’s editors posted.
I submitted this comment as a reply:
Hi, I’m Pointy on Whedonesque.
Here are my concerns:
1. You’re making money (not “in advance,” but if the bo0k sells) off Joss Whedon’s words–off his witty, thoughtful, insightful comments about his work. Is Joss Whedon going to be making money off these words of his, too?
2. You’re charging for things that I and anyone can read free of charge. Not all of the interviews, but most of them, are available online. Links are available here: . . . Do you think students or libraries should pay for interviews they can access online without charge? Did you pay to read these interviews?
ETA Well, a day has passed, and no answer. Some observations.
This isn’t a review.
I recently looked at my Briar Rose review where I went on and on about how the fairy tale motif had been developed all season long and that the season had a thematically coherent shape and was coming to a logical climax. It was not a matter of predicting plot twists, just a matter of thinking the season did make sense as a unified work. Anyway, I was ticked at the other reviewers for dissing the show based on things they just hadn’t noticed, but I sounded a little “let me explain to you how the world works,” so I leap at this opportunity to say:
I have no clue what’s up with Saunders or Boyd. Or Saunders and Boyd. None. Baffled.
That’s kinda cool.
In part three of my rambling analysis of “Omega,” I will, for a change of pace, actually discuss “Omega.”
Ideally, you would read this after reading the first two parts. Then again, ideally, I would have written this after writing the first two parts. But as the title tells you, the theme is something like suicide, and I avoid the subject, for reasons obvious to you, my dozen readers. Parts one and two focused on Summer Glau to give you the bright overside of spiritual rebirth.
Dark underside time.
Boyd: Topher says it’s like childbirth. I think it’s more like watching someone die.
Topher’s Man-Frenemy is describing the imprinting process to Ballard, but he could be describing two essential aspects of rebirth rituals. One essential aspect is beautiful: the birth of the new self. The other essential aspects is terrifying: the death of the old self. Before you are reborn, the old you must die.
Both elements are in “Little Red Riding Hood.” The little one is eaten by a large carnivore; when that happens outside of a fairy tale, it means death. The little one emerges from someone’s belly after an adult cuts it open; when that happens outside a fairy tale, it’s a Caesarean birth.
To paraphrase Boyd, watching “Little Red Riding Hood” is like watching someone die and be reborn. His description of imprinting reverses the rebirth order of the fairy tale ritual. In the line from “Omega” quoted above, the death image comes *after* the birth image. First we contemplate the active emerging from the chair with a new self, then we contemplate someone getting into the chair and losing a self. The structure of Boyd’s sentence puts the emphasis on the dark side of rebirth — on the death. So, I think, does the dramatic structure of “Omega.”
The desire to begin a new life implies the desire to end an old life. Metaphorically, the desire to end the life you are living is kind of suicidal.
There are two symbolic suicides in “Omega,” plus an aborted one. The two symbolic suicides are Alpha’s and Whiskey’s; both characters are contrasted to Echo.
It was really mind-blowing to me how much “Omega” set us up to dislike Whiskey. Part of the point, I think, was that Tim Minear went for that patented Hitchcockian ambivalence. Hitchcock got you to sympathize with the criminal, to implicate you in the crime, and I thought that the show was trying to get us to kind of understand why Alpha slashed Whiskey’s face. I don’t have to explain how horrifying that is. (It’s Amy Acker, for heaven’s sake!) And I do think that was part of the intention. But then there are two awesome twists that raise things to a tragic level.
But let us begin with hating Whiskey: We’d never met Whiskey-the-Active until this episode (though her existence was hinted at in the previous one, “Briar Rose“). While Echo’s defining characteristic is her desire to ease others’ suffering, Whiskey’s is not, to put it mildly. Alpha the budding serial killer shows more empathy than Whiskey in the flashback to Caroline’s first day in the Dollhouse. When Caroline feels like she’s going to her own execution, Alpha at least notices that she is sad. (This emotional response to someone else’s pain gives him something in common with Echo’s number one defining trait, her desire to ease the suffering of others).
Whiskey responds, “Dr. Saunders is nice.” He is, and not just because he gave her a lollipop. We know, retrospectively, that Whiskey will be in most ways nice once she is imprinted with the doctor’s personality. But without the imprint, she just isn’t. She’s utterly indifferent to the suffering of others.
Imprinted for the Mickey-and-Mallory engagement seen toward the beginning of the episode, Whiskey dances while Alpha tortures the client/victim, then joins in the tormenting. (The client may actually have hired the Dollhouse to fulfill a sado-masochistic fantasy, but the pain Alpha has inflicted on him goes beyond the kind he finds pleasurable. He appears to be terrified and hysterical.) The client’s emotional turmoil, like Caroline’s, is something Whiskey just doesn’t notice. When the handlers arrive to abort the engagement, Whiskey’s parting words to the client are: “Thanks for the ride.” It stopped being a ride for the client long ago, as the final shot of him confirms.
Throughout season one, Whiskey-as-Dr.-Saunders had never shown indifference to the suffering of the actives, but when Victor, disfigured by Alpha’s knife, expresses a childlike need for reassurance, she responds with some of the callous indifference that we’ve seen in the Whiskey flashbacks. And something worse. Slowly realizing that she, too, is a damaged doll, Whiskey takes her self-loathing out on someone else .
Victor: I’m not my best anymore.
Dr. Saunders says nothing.
Victor: I want to be my best.
Dr. Saunders: I know you do.
Victor: How can I be my best now?
Dr. Saunders says nothing.
Victor: Dr. Saunders? How can I be my best, please?
Dr. Saunders: You can’t, Victor. You can’t be your best. Your best is past. A past you can’t even remember. You’re ugly now. You’re disgusting. All you can hope for now is pity. And for that, you’re going to have to look somewhere else.
It’s the episode’s most emotionally brutal moment. Other characters do worse things, but not to (1) someone with the personality of a child (2) who has been entrusted to their care.
So we get a good, bad look at Whiskey. I think in this moment, so out of character for Doc Saunders, Whiskey gets a good look at herself.
In the end, when Topher asks Whiskey why she didn’t look up her real identity on the computer when she could, her response, “I know who I am,” can be taken more than one way. In “Vows,” the opener of season two, we’ll hear her say that she is afraid of “dying” as Dr. Saunders. You can interpret both statements as expressing either Dr. Saunders’ sense of self-preservation or Whiskey’s sense of self-loathing. She may realize that if she sees who she really is, she may not like her any more than we do.
Whiskey may suspect that the best in her — the decent, caring, concerned person that she is as the Dollhouse doctor — is a download. Without it, she may be as indifferent to the well-being of the actives as she was to Victor’s suffering. She may be the kind of person who doesn’t care about the actives — the kind of person she sees and hates Topher as. She may not want to see the ugliness she suspects — the ugliness we’ve seen — confirmed in her computer file. When she offers Victor a lollipop at the end — not as a habit or a reflex, but as a conscious decision — she’s choosing to be Dr. Saunders. I like the way she hugs the candy jar afterwards, like she’s holding onto her self. It’s really poignant and heartbreaking and when will Amy Acker return? (So good.)
Is Whiskey saving herself here or committing suicide? You can make a convincing case for both answers. I’m betting the Doc Saunders that Topher stitched together in Frankensteinian fashion is a better human being than whoever Whiskey was before she became an active — and certainly better than the Whiskey we see in the flashbacks. The desire to be one’s best is not just something Actives are programmed with; even stronger is the desire *not* to be one’s worst. Whiskey/Saunders’ “I know who I am” sounds to me like “I know who I refuse to be.”
At their best, rebirth rituals — including the storytelling ritual — give us something constructive to do with our self-destructive impulses, a way to turn self-loathing into self-love, a way to deal with the unwanted, unavoidable knowledge that there are aspects to ourselves that we simply cannot accept.
At their worst . . . next up: Alpha in “Omega”
* * *
Post Script: Since blog-wide tradition dictates that an analysis of “Omega” should analyze something or someone else entirely, let’s jump ahead to one of the latest episodes, “Meet Jane Doe,” in which Echo’s attitude toward Caroline gains something in common with Whiskey/Saunders’ attitude toward her pre-imprint self.
Bennett gave Echo a touch of self-loathing by imprinting her with the memory of Caroline abandoning her friend when she was trapped under a pillar, crippled, terrified and begging her not to leave. Echo cannot accept this.
She can’t even say it. She keeps trailing off whenever she tries to describe it.
Paul: You said Bennett gave you her own memory.
Echo: Of Caroline. And it wasn’t … I didn’t like it.
Echo: But the idea that Caroline might not be … I’ve been saving this body for her. But I’m not her.
Paul: You don’t know that.
Paul notes, correctly, that before Alpha did anything to her Echo was resisting the mind-wipes and displaying her own character traits.
Echo: I’m not her. My name is Echo.
Echo emphatically does not want to believe that there is Caroline in her. Which is understandable.
But the way Echo acted in Act I of “Meet Jane Doe” is very reminiscent of the Caroline we caught a few glimpses of in season one’s “Echoes.” Yes, she is genuinely moved by the suffering of others (in this case, Galena, who’s hungry, but the grocery store won’t accept her food stamps) but Echo’s attempt to make things better just makes things worse–it doesn’t solve the problem, it compounds it. Her actions are simple-minded, illegal, unethical and end up hurting someone more than they help anyone. So, yeah, Echo, you are Caroline, for better and for worse.
But this rejection of herself is a key part of her self-creation. From Echo’s perspective, she’s evolved *because* she got a glimpse of Caroline that she did not like. This is a lot like a rebirth ritual. Instead of hanging onto her old self uncritically (like a person who’s unwilling to see faults in his past behavior and therefore unwilling to change), Echo is now consciously and deliberately rejecting her past self (something that’s explicitly or implicitly part of rebirth rituals) and bringing into being a new and better self. Partly this rebirth is something she is choosing, and partly it is something that she is allowing to happen to her. (The way it is for a person choosing to be baptized or a person listening to a fairy tale being read.)
The change isn’t as big as Echo conceives it — she has a lot more in common with Caroline than she’s willing to admit. (Rebirth rituals usually assert a cleaner break with the past than most of us are able to pull off). But Echo *is* really changing — becoming better. Self-rejection and self-creation are very complexly interwoven for her. The two concepts sound like opposites, but their relationship is paradoxical–seemingly contradictory, but really not.
Would anyone cheer louder for Echo’s successful rescue of Galena than Caroline? In her wildest dreams . . .
(BTW, we don’t know what Caroline did three months after Bennett was pinned beneath that pillar.)
But I digress. :D
Jerrod Balzer, husband of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 8 guest star Robin Balzer, has just published Fear the Woods: Book One: How to Make a Vampire.
I started reading it after midnight Halloween and could not stop until I finished the last word.
Balzer understands that the key to making horror real is to anchor the arcane in the mundane, and he does it beautifully and hilariously with the characters of Bob, who is “comfortably poor,” and Jeezy, whose real name is too difficult to mention and who therefore goes by variations on his middle initials, some less nice than others (“Cheesy” and “Sleazy” are too high school brands). When they were introduced in the second chapter of Fear the Woods, I wanted to watch a series of Bob and Jeezy movies. I think Shaun of the Dead was shooting for this kind of gut-punching hilarity.
I’m tempted to write something serious like: “Balzer’s portrait of Tapperville’s dire socio-economic life is bleak and unsentimental, yet leavened with humor” It is. It’s also &%@$ing funny and dead on.
Enjoy Fear the Woods.
You’re not gonna believe this.
I misplaced Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment.
You see, you do not believe it. I was all set to write my The Real Reason Eliza Dushku Doesn’t Get Her Proper Props post, and I needed a bit of BB to drive the point home.
I haven’t been writing this post because it just makes me too angry. Actually, I’ve started writing it several times, then I got too angry. See, The Reason is the same one that deprived my mom of proper props, too. And it just makes too furious to think about it. But I thought I should, because this is the anniversary of my mom’s death (19 years ago) as well as my wife’s, and I thought it was something I could d0 — just point out, really — for a fellow sufferer.
It’s around here somewhere. Gotta be.