Song #8: “Mercy Street”

I got into peter gabriel (lower case peter gabriel) from my brother. My brother got into peter gabriel through early Genesis, which I never caught onto. Then Peter Gabriel put out So and became a big time pop star with songs like “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time.” But on the same album was a song called “Mercy Street (for Anne Sexton).”

Peter Gabriel could really dig deep into these soundscape songs. (Curtains is another one.) Great with headphones in the middle of the night. I’ve lost interest in most of what he does these days, but if I have to listen to non-blues-influenced pop music, PG’s the man.

Thoughts on Kate Bush

I first heard of Kate Bush after she sang with Peter Gabriel on his song, “Don’t Give Up,” in 1986, something like that. I don’t much listen to Peter Gabriel anymore, though I still think his instrumental Passion album holds up better than anything he’s done. I’d probably still listen to him if he continued to put out albums in that vein instead of, well, whatever version of pop music is does these days. Anyway, I thought highly of Kate Bush because I thought highly of Peter Gabriel. But then I read a review in Rolling Stone where her voice was described as a mixture of Patti Smith and a Hoover vacuum cleaner. I don’t know a thing about Patti Smith, but the vacuum cleaner quality of her voice made sense to me somehow, and I gradually came to feel like her voice was full of hot air and helium. Silly overly dramatic singing. Whatever appreciation I had for Kate Bush’s voice and her artistry disappeared. The one song of hers that kind of worked for me was called “Deeper Understanding,” a song about technology cutting a person off from the world. So I was mildly interested recently when I heard that she re-recorded the song on her latest album, supposedly transforming it, along with some other older songs, into a more mature and purer take on what she originally intended. Or something. So I thought, okay, maybe she’s grown out of the melodrama I couldn’t stand in her music before, and if she sings like a normal person, maybe it’s not that bad. So I gave it a whirl…

…and brother was I wrong. What the hell’s going on here, Bob? Conceptually, I see what she’s going for, and it almost works. But I don’t know man… Autotune kills it for me. Maybe I need to listen more carefully. I do like the harmonica part near the end, though. She be jammin’.

Some rumblings about Birdy by William Wharton

I’ve been re-reading some William Wharton novels since he died a little over a month ago. It’s been slow going because I’ve been busy, but the first title up was Birdy. It’s about two guys, Birdy and Al, who becomes friends in school and raise pigeons together. Birdy has such a love for birds, he eventually begins to dream he’s a bird. Then they’re drafted into the army to fight in WWII. After the war, Birdy ends up in a mental hospital and Al, having gone through some traumatic experiences too, tries to talk Birdy back to reality. The novel switches between the two of them narrating: Al talking about some of the things they did as kids; Birdy recalling (and reverting back to) his dream life, which may be the most compelling aspect of the novel.

I first read Birdy when I was 17, around the same age as the characters in the book. I read it over a long weekend by myself and became completely immersed in its reality. It is easily the most influential book I read during my formative years. I even began to breed finches a couple years later and used the book as a guide. I didn’t dream I was a bird or any of that, but it was certainly a rewarding experience. I loved it. I’d get back into having finches again, but my lifestyle can’t accommodate it (having 2 cats doesn’t help).

Birdy the film, directed by Allan Parker, with its excellent (though somewhat dated) soundtrack by Peter Gabriel, isn’t a bad film, but I can think of more than a few things I would have done differently. The best parts are the flashbacks showing Birdy and Al meeting each other and becoming friends. Birdy’s internal life from the novel, however, is virtually absent and WWII becomes Vietnam. I’m glad I saw the film because it led me to read William Wharton, but I’ll take the novel over the film any day of the week.

I don’t think I’m capable of being objective about the novel, or about the experience of getting to know William Wharton over the years from reading the rest of his books. That’s how it seemed sometimes anyway, especially with his later books where he does little to hide himself from the reader. The more I got to know him, the more I wanted to know him. He wrote under a pseudonym and lived in a houseboat in France as a painter with his wife. That’s a pretty damn cool life.

Here are two quotes from Birdy that may or may not have anything do with whatever the hell I’m going on about.

“Birds, like people, have been living in cages so long they’ve forgotten many things they should do naturally.”

— Birdy (p. 119)

“Before you know it, if you’re not too careful, you can get to feeling sorry for everybody and there’s nobody left to hate.”

— Al (p. 216)

Related posts:
Where is William Wharton?
William Wharton, 1925-2008