Musical inspiration is a funny thing. I suspect most songwriters would tell you they can’t really pinpoint where it is that they find the music coming from, nor, I imagine, where it ought to be going. We’ve all heard and rehearsed the tired story of Michelangelo, who was apparently fond of saying that the sculptures already existed, and he needed only to clear away the excess marble to find the Ur-figure (but id-figure, or even ego-figure, would be equally appropriate).
I think we love to nurse this myth of the artist as conduit, laboring only to tap into an elemental source of truth and joy that exists just at a tangent to our consciousness. Still, plenty of other artists will tell you it ain’t no secret but a hard slog of self-doubt and fucking hard work. I’d like to think, I guess, that the most successful artists harbor some niggling belief in the truth of both notions.
The coexistence (or even the overlap) of these narratives of creation means that when we hear a note, a song, a phrase that recalls another note, song, phrase of not immediately-remembered provenance, we get a lot of mileage out of whichever narrative we favor, no matter how latent/blatant that favor may be.
So, when you hear a song that recalls another song, what do you do? Do you recoil in disgust, showering the impostor with spittle and vitriol? Do you wince ruefully, and chalk it up to the best of intentions gone sickly and sour? Or do you step back and consider whether two songs are mere glinting scratches on the surface of the same atavistic, artistic edifice? Picture a Kubrickian monolith, or a vast gleaming mountain of purple and electric white. Each hymns to the same fleeting impulse.
This first pairing of songs, I think, is ample evidence for this latter interpretation.
Max Richter, “Andras” (from Memoryhouse)
Ludwig Van Beethoven, “Für Elise”
Not to say that Max Richter is nipping too closely at the heels of old Ludwig Van, but this seems like oblique homage, or even an unconsciously lateral telescoping of the same shock of wistful beauty, all yellowed leaves and guttering candles and receding memory.
Even here, I’m liable to be generous. Frankly, I’ve no clue why each time I hear one of these songs, sometime the following day I find myself with snatches of both pieces jammed together on a maddeningly uninterruptable loop in my head. They’re both pretty decent songs, in fact, and without an in-depth musical analysis, I couldn’t really tell you if they bear any semblance of the other’s structure, or melody, or key.
All I know is, time t+1 from either of these, and over and over and over it goes:
“Cry for Tanelorn! / The obsidian conspiracy is rising!”
Blind Guardian, “Tanelorn (Into The Void)”
Nevermore, “The Obsidian Conspiracy”
The situation here is largely the same. For reasons which remain maddeningly opaque to me, lately any time that I hear either of these songs, I wind up with a bizarre mash-up of the two stuck in my head for days upon teeth-grinding days. The sections in question, for the record, are the last two lines of each verse on The Decemberists’ tune, which then leads straight into the Modest Mouse chorus.
“So far I had known no humiliation /
In front of my friends and close relations /
And we’ll all float on, okay x4”
“I’ll prove to the crowd that I come out stronger /
Though I think I might lie here a little longer /
And we’ll all float on, okay x infinity”
The Decemberists, “The Sporting Life”
Modest Mouse, “Float On”
The work of an errant heel, indeed. I may just take that lovely turn of phrase as the next slogan of this here blog.
Spinal Tapdance: Inscrutable ramblings from an insufferable nincompoop.