On the Eventfulness of Pre-Eventified Incidents

Yeah, I met Lou Reed and Patty Smith

It didn’t make me feel different

Conor Oberst

I visited China a number of years ago with a highly ranked member of my university structure and a flunky. My own participation was last-minute as I was filling in for someone else. I guess in a way I was a flunky too. Certainly it was the big man’s show from start to finish.

We visited a number of schools and also met with a business guy who was working very hard to transact with our group something so complex that I never even began to grasp the shape of it despite sitting in a series of meetings around the matter.

The trip was interesting for a number of reasons. The big man barely spoke to me for the first few days despite spending all day together. The schedule was brutal. I was reading Jung On Art on my phone as I was enrolled in on online course I never finished. Jung On Art is great and spends a lot of time on the surrealist painter Yves Tanguy. Yves Tanguy is totally worth checking out. Finally the big man took a long look at me and said (in Japanese) “you read a lot, don’t you?” I confirmed this, and after that he spoke to me a little more.

The flunky was an archetype of the species. He handled the schedule, made the trains run on time. He did nothing else and deferred to the big man on absolutely every non-schedule related matter. My own strongest contribution to the proceedings was occupying the attention a friend of the business man during an excruciatingly protracted whisky drinking session so that the business guy and the big man could talk turkey. I am not a great whisky drinker for some reason and making sensible small talk for three or four hours over whisky took a truly heroic effort.

The business guy had a kind of a house in a kind of a hotel, it was hard to say. A full staff was on hand to serve us a full course Chinese meal with white and red wine. This was before the whisky. It was a scene, all the way.

Anyway, all of that is context. I want to write about a specific incident that occurred when we visited one school. The principal who received us knew the big man and we were received by a group of about 8 people. We got the school tour. Now, school tours are an occupational hazard in my line of work, and I have trained myself to be a durable recipient. But I don’t really like them. We went through the formalities which predictably took forever. I daydreamed about Yves Tanguy and bed.

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On the Song “Dylan Thomas” and Comments on Ryhme

A few days ago I posted a brief review of the new record from Better Oblivion Community Center in which I wrote a little bit about the song “Dylan Thomas” from their record. In the 50 something hours since then I’ve listened to the song about 100 times, literally, which is a lot. So I thought I might have something more to say about it.

For the uninitiated (which is probably everyone reading this–after I posted my review a friend texted me a funny article from The Onion entitled “Study: No Two People Have Listened To Same Band Since 2003”), Better Oblivion Community Center is Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers. “Dylan Thomas” is the single, or at least the song they just played on Jimmy Kimmel. You still won’t know them.

The reason I want to write a little more about the song is it has a killer structure. The structure is based around a neat rhyme scheme with fabulous use of “near rhymes” and also around a see-saw in the verses between fairly pointed political commentary and apolitical hedonism. As with all interpretation, I can’t be sure that what I hear was intended, but what the hell–communication is what the listener does after all.

Now, a lot of songs, most, rhyme. That’s obvious. But not too many songs really hold up on the page as well, as poetry. I think “Dylan Thomas” does and I’d like to explore why.

Verse I:

It was quite early one morning
Hit me without warning
I went to hear the general speak
I was standing for the anthem
Banners all around him
Confetti made it hard to see

So the first verse clearly alludes to our political moment–it appears politically engaged to some extent. The reference to “the general” is redolent of South American politics (I am reminded of the fabulous Drugstore song “El President”). The rhyme scheme is tricky–it’s AABCC(D), where (d) “see” almost rhymes with “speak” in the delivery although the words don’t actually rhyme, instead being only vaguely alliterative.

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