CNN on mute

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Friday, July 25, 2014

NO more news, this has been the resolve. After days of monitoring the sordid events in Ukraine and Gaza add to this the destruction made by Typhoon Glenda along her path, I have reached my saturation point. And it seems I am not the only one who has had enough of urgent heartbreaking news half a world away one can do so little about.

A close friend posted as a status message the following: “News worldwide has been extremely depressing. Not denying reality, but just to help soften this deep malaise, let me ask this -- what is the most positive thing that happened to you this week?”

He was swamped with heartwarming stories of family events, reunions, and great films. Life indeed goes on for the rest of us who have been dealt with kinder fates (for now). But I cannot help but observe that most of us retreat to our private lives in times like these, perhaps an indication of the hopelessness of politics both global and local.


Hard-pressed to think about something positive for my week in between a failing car battery, humid then crazy weather, and lecturing in classes for hours, one thing has kept me up and about. It has been my antidote when the doldrums come around. There is something about excellent music that do not necessarily lift my spirits up but communicate something to me that, like magic, gently take me away from the sense of ennui that I have trapped myself in.

Over the weekend, I was scouring my stash of digital audio files for another week of the Misor to Lanao express daily playlist. And as usual there had been a number of happy rediscoveries.

I have always been a firm believer in the lost art of the music album. I know that artists still produce the 50-minute collection of songs but in the age of Youtube and Spotify both of which function as an online by-demand radio service nowadays, the album has been replaced by the hit single or hit singles if you are Katy Perry.

But there was a time when pressing the play button meant respecting the track order meticulously put together by the band or artists. You know from Jingle magazine stories that bands have been dissolved, singer and guitarist come into blows, in defense of artistic integrity as enshrined in the order of the track listing.

Thou shall not press skip or forward lest you pass over the undulations of mood between tracks or miss that in-between track instrumental which serves as a breather or foreshadowing of the next half of the album. If the radio hit single is buried deep in the 6th or 7th track, then it is your duty to wait for the song to come on even if everything prior and after is pure dirge or drivel.

I am however glad that I was born at that time when music production and consumption still allowed a modicum of respect for the album as an art form. And I am glad to rediscover a few triumphs of human achievement in this regard which make my daily 100 kilometer commute bearable.

There used to be a band in the 80s led by frontman Matt Johnson. His music has been described by some smart music journo as existential blues and the description fits if you are into Camus. The, yes my friends that is not a typo but a name of a band, released an album in the late 80s with legendary guitarist Johnny Marr fresh from his break-up with Morrissey and the rest of The Smiths. Mind Bomb is literally a mind bomb from start to finish. Proof that the problems of Gaza, the social malaise of the present, and the over-all Sisyphean struggle of humanity to achieve humanity for itself can be the stuff of good music in the hands of a genius like Matt Johnson.

But another happy rediscovery during these times are the twin albums of Radiohead “Ok Computer” and “Kid A.” The story of Radiohead as a band can be put together in these two great works: first in “OK Computer,” as a melodic guitar-based band battling with itself whether to use major anthemic chords or minor keys in complex mournful yet at once angry songs that have more than one act.

“Kid A,” is the band going over to the dark side representing not just the victory of sadness, but the sound of our collective disarray and hurt. No, this is not just the personal despondency of “No Suprises” but the disemboweled voices of discarded humanity as they fall from the sky or pounded by bombs on the ground by the powerful and the heartless.

Some say that pop music and its consumption represent effective forms of social escapism. In this instance, I beg to disagree. Try listening to Thom Yorke yelp “who's in bunker?... women and children first… this is not really happening” in the song “Idioteque” with CNN on mute while flashing images of the dead children of Gaza, you will know what I mean. The marriage of music and reality here convey a far more profound lesson about what we must do after we press the stop button or switch channels.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on July 25, 2014.


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