Annihilation Playlist part Deux: The Pit and the Pendulum

The world woke up again this morning, still under the threat of a nuclear war, still with the Ukrainian people and territory coming under huge attack from Russia, still with dangerous rhetoric coming out of Moscow, but you know what, I feel kinda hopeful that Putin is all bark and no bite as far as nuclear war is concered. Perhaps his recent losses will drive him to use more dastardly weapons, perhaps he will slink away with his tail between his legs. Maybe after this crisis is over the world might be ready to talk nuclear disarmament, having come to its senses after reaching the brink of destruction.

Perhaps we are ready to deal with climate change, racial hatred and injustices, animal cruelty, inequality within society. Maybe this blip is the slap round the face we all needed to actually do something to make things better, rather than get bogged down in the quagmire of politics, and the dilemma of the pit and the pendulum. The doomed hero of Poe’s short story is offered a lose/lose situation – either death by the bottomless pit, or the razor sharp pendulum. The finale sees him being given a third choice, another way out: death by burning walls. It is a perfect allegory for our times. Poe is not hopeful for the future of his victim of the Spanish Inquisition. I think my hope just went down the drain too.

Our collective future doesn’t look so rosy. Humans pursued bad knowledge, and then used it on a civilian population in Japan at the end of the last world war. Ask yourself, why did they not use it on a white population? Shoot me down in flames, but I think I know the answer people….because the (white) western world had too much compassion for people who looked like them, but acted like monsters. Japan was done, finished, on its knees and the brink of surrender, and still the ‘good guys’ did a thing that only bad guys would dream of doing. The pit and the pendulum, people…it is a wicked dilemma that drives people to do crazy things. Dropping a nuke is never ok, never justifiable, however easy it might become to dehumanize others and make it feel like it might possibly be ok to annihilate civilians. Not that any of this stopped Putin from shelling nuclear power plants. I am just glad it isn’t me up on the hill trying to work out a way through this mess causing the least amount of death and suffering all around. Whichever way we turn it just looks like destruction and innocent lives lost.

Welcome to the Annihilation Playlist, part two…

1961, Dir Roger Corman

Our popular music artists are our modern poets, and poets have always acted to illuminate life. It is the job of a poet to open people’s eyes, to inspire, to educate, to give hope and succour. Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople fame released his highly underrated album When I’m President in 2012. The eponymous title track details what Ian would do if he actually had any power. He wants to ‘lean on the 1 percent’, stick it to the ‘fat cats’. We all have dreams of the masses actually being able to effect meaningful change, I suppose but as Hunter points out: ‘But something happens to you up on the Hill/There’s business as usual/How do you want to buck the system/Welcome to the pit and the pendulum.’ Ian reckons politicians ‘go in with the right intent,’ but then he always was a dreamer with glitter in his eyes. Power, money, influence, hatred and protectionism seem to provide the motivation for those who reach The Hill. None of them are spotless, just some are more grotesque and damaging than others. It could be worse, we could have the grotesque orange one desperate to press the big red button, I suppose.

Nena’s 99 Red Balloons was a hit for her in 1984, a kafkaesque europop tale of how balloons started a nuclear exchange, first of all being mistaken for UFOs, and then providing an excuse for war. Armageddon bop, destruction dance, endtimes groove, the ending of the song has Nena walking through the smoldering ruins of the world and finding a single red balloon has survived. Hope is a very human emotion, we are primed to think that something will survive. Perhaps that will be our undoing, maybe that feeling that we might be the ones to make it through makes us all less likely to push for nuclear disarmament.

For What It’s Worth is the quintessential war song. I can’t listen to it without thinking of a million Vietnam war movies. In the end those boys on the front line, those hopeful young men who want to have fun and live life, not fight in some old man’s war, making money for the arms dealers, are the ones who have to say no to taking it up arms. Perhaps it is just a hippy dream, but you know one of Nena’s 99 red balloons survived, perhaps one dream can too…..Oh yes, and the song is worth listening to if only for that killer riff, and hook of a chorus. “I think it’s time we stop/Children, what’s that sound?/Everybody look, what’s going down?” Right on, boys….right on….

Part of the problem is the rest of the world is, perhaps rightly, fucking afraid of Americans. This might be a good thing, might be a bad thing. Probably unavoidable. I am not a good enough person to want to reach out to Russian ordinary people and help them not be afraid of us, despite the propaganda being poured into their psyches by Putin’s agitprop machine. Bowie can’t help being afraid of Americans, or the world, but hey Bowie was brave in his own way, pushing gender boundaries. Fear makes animals out of all of us, me included. It is not our fault, but the fault of the leaders who pit us against each other, despite the fact that most of us just want to live a quiet life. “Johnny wants to suck on a coke….God is an American..” sings Bowie. He never was scared of pissing people off in order to make us all wake up and smell the gunpowder and fear in the morning….

Fear of Americans, fuelled by Russian propaganda specialists can’t go anywhere good for this beautiful, if troubled land and people. Cohen’s vision of the future was about as dark as his vision of his own life and loves. He asked in his last album if we ‘want it darker?’ Cohen gave it to us dark whether we wanted it or not. “Im guided by the beauty of our weapons…first we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin” Cohen sings in a second world war holocaust infused nightmare. Sung from the fantasy future point of view of an invader, an agent of conquering, Cohen lays open the door to the darker side of human nature: revenge. “I don’t like what happened to my sister” Leonard intones solemnly. After all, after being annihilated, driven out to the brink of destruction, is it so bad to want a little payback? You can’t beat a people, murder and destroy without revenge looking mighty sweet. Giving into that dark side is so seductive, “Remember me I used to live for music, remember me I used to bring your groceries in. It’s father’s day and everybody’s wounded…First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.” Even the most creative and artistic soul can be driven to pure bloody revenge when ‘everybody’s wounded.” Turning the other cheek is not something we can ask of a people time and time again. Eye for an eye, baby…..tooth for a tooth…But where does that leave us? With one of the best songs in Cohen’s backpages, that’s where….

Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers demanded why Alice Don’t Come Around Here No More, and then insisted that the curious girl didn’t in fact didn’t come around no more. The Mad Hatter, driven to insanity just wanted his solitude in this catchy 1985 hit. “Give it up! Stop! Don’t come around here no more!” is wise advice to any invader having been driven out of sovereign territory. It might be good advice for the Russian Bear.

Of course asking nicely for invaders to leave doesn’t seem to work. Plenty of work for the black angel to do on the battlefield. The Velvet Underground’s Black Angel’s Death Song, is an exercise in noise and claustrophobic drone and a battle within itself. If death has a noise, I think it would sound something like this: just beyond sense, just past musicality, a little left of center and in the end left with a terrifying nihilism, but also satisfaction that we can ‘chose to chose, chose to go.’

Roger Waters, an intensely political man, has been curiously silent about Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. In a 2018 interview with Izvestia, a Russian daily newspaper, Waters defended Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, saying that “many agreements and other papers” prove Russia has a legal claim to Sevastopol, a major military port in Crimea. If that was not digging the hole deep enough, he continued to say that Russia was “provoked” by Ukraine’s former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych being ousted by street protests in 2014. I feel dirty just typing that out. For a man who lost his own father in WW2, and has spent a life writing the most beautiful and intelligent songs about the human condition, the futility of war, and mankind’s cruelty to each other, he sure is a boneheaded compassionless bozo at times. I watched Nick Mason interview Waters, and he asked him if he had any regrets. Roger said he had none. I don’t think Roger is a man who can admit that he is wrong, and that is never a good sign.

Anyway, The Wall remains an anti-war beacon, reminding us of what happens when the nazis take over. Some of the tracks, however sarcastically tongue in cheek they might be, don’t sit well after Roger’s continued (apparent and alleged) anti-semitism and now defence of Russia, and that makes me sad, because as an artist I admire Waters greatly. I’ll let Waters defend himself….If the totenkopf cap fits, Rog…Mebbe that In The Flesh act ain’t quite an act….dig…

A civilian population can fight back, and though Strummer is talking about civil disobedience, I can’t help but wonder if the civilian population of the Bay Area would fight back hard. I suspect the invaders would have one heck of a shock.

No mercy? Led Zep sing about ‘no quarter’ given or wanted. What is the bloody point in that then? I am no Christian, but the mercy you show will be the mercy you receive and all that jazz….As usual the Zep are on musical fire here, with Plant’s operatic vocal gymnastics and Page’s virtuoso performance.

I suppose it would not be an annihilation playlist without a little balls out rock and you can trust Black Sabbath to satisfy that rock and roll itch. Depose the War Pigs, who peddle the ‘war machine’ and ‘death and hatred to mankind!’

Hendrix’s machine gun stratocaster stutter in Killing Floor, with that psychedelic blues strut and swagger is like Beethoven for the Vietnam War generation. Give our boys guitars not guns! Hendrix remains a shining light, a hope for mankind that we can rise above these primal urges to raise Cain and end up suffering on the killing floor. Check out Hendrix’s drip – pure hippy perfection. A minor distraction, David Gilmour purchased and uses Hendrix’s guitar strap, but he ain’t no Hendrix….

The Killing Floor can only lead to ‘knockin’ on heaven’s door’….

The Sisters of Mercy are from Leeds, UK, but sound pure Eastern block Eurotrash goth-rock. Lucretia My Reflection, “dum dum bullets and shoot to kill..empire down…” might be darkling posturing but it always sends a shiver down my spine. Pure cold war vibes, and hostile ‘hot metal and methadrine’ action.

Taking it down a notch is Neil Young and his hauntingly beautiful song, Cortez the Killer. Zuma is a stunning album, and as usual Young deals in America’s genocidal past treatment of native peoples, reminding us that as much as thing change, the worst of human nature stays the same. Surely we can all start to do better?

Dylan calling out the ‘masters of war who build the big guns’ for me remains one of the high points in his short lived career as a protest song singer. The young Dylan posturing that he will ‘stand over their graves’ till he is sure that they are dead is at odds with his baby face and Woody Guthrie act back in 1963. He surely inspired legions of young people to question the wars that they were sent out to fight. Vitriolic, righteous, compassionate and brave, this is Dylan at his best.

There might be masters of war, but as Dylan acolyte Patti Smith points out, ‘people have the power.’ This is a call to arms I can get behind:

“That the people have the power
To redeem the work of fools
Upon the meek the graces shower
It’s decreed the people rule”

If I could I would blast this song out over the world instead of bombs. If we all realized that we have the power and simply refuse to play these games of power and countries and giant failing economies, think of how much better it could all be! I guess I am a dreamer….

I have been skirting around the inevitable Book of Revelations ramblings that are so seductive in these uncertain and violent times. Cash takes on the brutal and esoteric final book of the Christian Bible and the endtimes rhetoric and rapture desires of the Christian fundies. I suspect some of those people welcome the death and destruction, thinking it will herald some religious satisfaction of prophecy. I say fuck that, my friends….fuck that. Still, it is a good song. Cash’s last album, recorded when he was facing his own personal end, is a testament to Cash’s humanity, and a thing of great beauty. I have no need to hear a hundred million angels singing. Heck, just the Black Angel’s Death Song is enough for me.

So, that is the Annihilation playlist….and we are all still here….at least for now. All we have to worry about is Major Kong, Dr Strangelove and the fact that a wounded animal is a dangerous animal. I like to think that we will all step back from the brink, my friends, and take these terrifying events as a wake up call. Humanity needs to let those who love life and people and equality and decency run things. We need to make the world safer and better. Concentrating on fixing the environment that we have fucked up, instead of killing each other, and destroying everything in what? A fit of pique?

Stay safe, and ‘love one another….right now….’ These ‘territorial pissings’ are going to be the death of us all. Just like Kurt said, ‘we gotta find a way, a better way….’ I always did think Kurt was a dirty secular messiah, and let’s face it, this message is as good an edict, and fine a warning as any.

The best way to defeat evil, is to laugh at it….

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