Nov. 12th, 2015

vambot5: (CBX)
Autumn has long been my favorite season. Here in Oklahoma, it is often a brief affair. Summers here are reluctant to relinquish their grip, and winter is quick to lash its icy tongue on the late-blooming crops and on our surprised bodies. But for those weeks we get of true autumn, I rejoice and walk the streets enamoured with the feeling of change in the air. My musical tastes change, and I find myself craving music of a certain feeling.

Autumn has never been depressing to me. Rather, I find it intriguing, stimulating. I feel energized and excited by the sensation of briskness on the horizon, just beginning to lick the landscape. More than in the spring, I find myself interested in love and relationships. Most of my relationships, historically, started this time of year, when I woke from summer laziness and decided to pursue them. A friend in high school used to joke "You know how I know you're a goth? You get spring fever in the fall." Regardless of his conclusion, his premise was correct--every fall, I was energized, flirty, charming, and interested in romantic entanglement far more than the rest of the year. Whatever the reason, autumn was always my season, and to this day I am excited when it comes.

Autumn is the time for duende. Duende is an inherently enigmatic term, originating from southern Spanish flamenco culture. It is "the spirit of evocation," the darkness that the guitarist has to pull from to pull the full vibrance out of a dancer. Expressing genuine love and hope requires recognition that you are going out on a limb, that there is risk involved. Expressing love without risk is cheesecake, it is novelty. To express the heart of love, the emotional thrill of it, requires duende.

In autumn, I want music with duende. I find myself, seemingly accidentally, looking up Leonard Cohen chord charts. I find myself listening to Orbital's more emotional tracks. I find myself more interested in Marc Maron's comedy than Mitch Hedberg albums. I find myself craving duende.

Nick Cave gave a famous lecture on the subject.

In his brilliant lecture entitled "The Theory and Function of Duende" Frederico Garcia Lorca attempts to shed some light on the eerie and inexplicable sadness that lives in the heart of certain works of art. "All that has dark sound has duende", he says, "that mysterious power that everyone feels but no philosopher can explain." In contemporary rock music, the area in which I operate, music seems less inclined to have its soul, restless and quivering, the sadness that Lorca talks about. Excitement, often; anger, sometimes: but true sadness, rarely, Bob Dylan has always had it. Leonard Cohen deals specifically in it. It pursues Van Morrison like a black dog and though he tries to he cannot escape it. Tom Waits and Neil Young can summon it. It haunts Polly Harvey. Melancholy hates haste and floats in silence. It must be handled with care.
All love songs must contain duende. For the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love without having within in their lines an ache or a sigh are not love songs at all but rather Hate Songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted.

This quote basically hits on the head the emotion that I find permeates autumn. The threat of winter around the corner has long been part of the excitement that autumn brings. It adds depth to hope, and reminds me of the risk necessary in pursuing love. Come autumn, I find myself, often "accidentally," listening to Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Ani Difranco, Emmylou Harris, Townes Van Zandt, Robyn (whom I have written about before), Lyle Lovett, They Might Be Giants. Old Phil Spector songs; Be My Baby is one of the best examples in American pop music history. People who routinely court the duende, the darkness courting love's tail.

On the topic of the love song, I think Nick Cave omitted, possibly intentionally, the American master, Brian Wilson. The Beach Boys' best songs all had duende at the core. Good Vibrations has it, Don't Worry Baby exudes it. Wilson's iconic love song is powerful because it channels duende to the core. God Only Knows bases its effect precisely because it is rooted in the risk of love, and all around the fringes of the song you feel the danger of going out on a limb. It is possibly the most autumnal song ever written. Every instrument on the recording tries to channel warmth, but winter licks around the edges. Basing the melody on a chord change on the harpsichord--a fundamentally cold instrument; being plucked rather than hammered, it lacks a piano's soft, expressive touch--it endeavors to express warmth out of iciness. Lyrically, the song iliterally expresses love by referencing the duende surrounding it. Don't Worry Baby was reportedly an attempt to rewrite Spector's Be My Baby, but with God Only Knows, I think he trumps it all-around.

We don't get many weeks of autumn, here. I recognize that winter is coming, and the wind gets a bit icier with each night's walk. But summer's oppression still feels like it was only yesterday. Literally today, I had to take my suit jacket off during a deposition because it was too hot in the conference room. Tomorrow, perhaps, I will be wearing a topcoat and scarf. I want to get as much autumn in as possible before winter takes hold. I went on a motorcycle ride yesterday, maybe an hour, before I came home because I was sweaty. This evening, I rode the bike on some short errands, and was nearly shivering on the last jaunt home. This is the time. Summer is still gripping, but winter is coming in. The struggle is obvious from stuffy afternoon to chilly evening. Duende has never sounded better.

Brief soundtrack of duende autumn 2015:
--Leonard Cohen - Chelsea Hotel #2
--The Beach Boys - God Only Knows
--They Might Be Giants - Basically all of Lincoln, let's isolate Santa's Beard
--Lyle Lovett - Nobody Knows Me
--The Beach Boys - Don't Worry Baby
--Nick Cave - Into My Arms
--The Ronettes - Be My Baby
--Tom Waits - Blind Love
--Townes Van Zandt - I'll Be Here In The Morning
--Guy Clark - That Old Time Feelin'
--Tom Waits - Downtown Train

Honestly, the playlist got totally derailed by Townes. He embraced the duende in his love songs, but as soon as he embraced it, he blew it up, because he had no filter. He couldn't put any emotional distance between himself and his songs, really. He would start with duende and just let it in until it exploded, going from vaguely darkness-tinged love songs to full-on tragedies in a hurry. Once you get to Townes's song Nothin', you realize that the deep blues have chased the usual duende out of town. Nothin' is a full-on winter blues song, no autumn duende about it. He would court duende on all of his albums, but at some point, he always gives into the wintery darkness and leaves pure duende behind.


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