Listen to this track by politically minded singer-songwriter with an eye for the ironic Bruce Cockburn. It’s “Call Me Rose”, the second song as taken from his 2011 album Small Source Of Comfort. Being known mainly for a song about reflecting on what would happen to sons of bitches should Cockburn ever procure a rocket launcher, he’s not generally known for writing songs with a sense of levity. Yet, even that is a misconception. This is the guy who covered Eric Idle’s “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” remember, arguably in reaction to his (unearned) reputation for being a bit too earnest. An opening line like “My name was Richard Nixon, only now I’m a girl” might be a bit jarring for many in any case.
On this song, Cockburn really hasn’t strayed from his main songwriting patch which has been about commenting on socio-economic inequity in the world. On this song though, there is a unique shift in perspective that has Cockburn voicing a character, rather than a usual narrative in his own voice. Instead of tales of Nicaraguan villagers making the best of things during a period of political upheaval, or ones about fleeing Guatemalan refugees at the mercy of machine gunners in helicopters (the sons of bitches referred to earlier), we meet a mother called Rose with two little kids living in the projects. The twist is that in a previous life, she had been the aforementioned former President of the United States. How’s that for socio-economic inequity?
But what is Cockburn trying to say here, other than “karma’s a bitch”? Well, I think it has to do with how we as a culture view the idea of power and how it relates to empathy. Read more
Here’s a clip of piano-centric singer-songwriter Tori Amos with a powerful track off of an equally powerful album Under the Pinkreleased in 1994.
I don’t think there is a more delicate, or more quietly smouldering track having to do with religion and masturbation out there. I guess maybe there aren’t many in that particular genre to which it might be compared. But, the point is, Amos is dealing with more than just naughtiness here, and is certainly not indulging in an opportunity to shock. And I think that’s where it succeeds; by taking the issue seriously.
Further, this song is not about female empowerment either, which I think is a common error when interpreting work by any woman who happens to be singing about sex. No. “Icicle” is about empowerment in general, particularly for those in a subculture which frowns upon that sort of thing.
The scene is a bedroom, with a lone female occupant listening to the sounds of a bible study and worship below her, while she conducts a little bit of worship of her own. The meat of the song lies in the contrast between the two solitudes of spirit and the flesh, between ideas of spiritual ecstasy and the very experiential ecstasy to be found in one’s own body. Sure, I guess there is a level of mischief going on here with the centerpiece lines in the song leaving nothing to wonder about:
and when my hand touches myself
I can finally rest my head
and when they say take from his body
I think I’ll take from mine instead
In many religious circles, the body is a thing which is not to be trusted. It is a part of you that is little more than an impediment to your spiritual growth, needing to be reined in at all times, and needing to be denied almost constantly when it comes to matters of carnality. This song is about the secret moments in the life of a member of this kind of subculture, which Amos was at one time. And, it’s about a comparison between one thing and another.
This is the sound of the narrator of the song letting go of herself, even if it is for an instant, and giving in to the forces which predate any ideas of spiritual loftiness, or ideas of spirit at all. And with the act, she gains the perspective she needs on what is occuring downstairs. For her, the ice that keeps her suspended in expectation (“Greeting the monster in our Easter dresses/Father says bow your head like the Good Book says”) is beginning to melt.
To me, this song is an indictment against the nature of denial in many senses of the word. First, it’s against the act of denying one’s self the joy of loving one’s own body. And second, it’s against the kind of denial it takes to reach the point where this first type of denial becomes a way of life. In a few short verses, Amos mines this for all it’s worth. Of course it helps that this music behind the words is so hypnotic, atmospheric, and so full of tension.
Amos has other more prominent tunes, and she’s gone on to create more vivid explorations of the healing power of sex (‘Raspberry Swirl’ from the album From the Choirgirl Hotelis only one example…). But this one is one of her most effective just because it strikes such a sharp contrast from the all-encompassing drive of biology and the ultimate futility of systems which are meant to deny it.
I had a dream.Well, it felt like a nightmare at the time.I don’t know how old I was, but it was when we lived in the apartment in Port Credit on Park Street.So, I must have been 3 years old at most.It wasn’t a terribly eventful dream, but it was one of those dreams where a sense of the mysterious was lurking somewhere behind it, as if in the silence, something was about to happen that would be overwhelming, perhaps frightening.That’s how it felt at the time.But it was a dream that has stayed with me and I wonder now whether it felt so terrifying because I didn’t understand it then as a child. Perhaps I still don’t really understand it.But I remember it, and to me that makes it important.I was standing in the corridor just outside of our apartment, knocking on our door.I was locked out, and no one seemed to hear my knocking.It was dark, and I could only see two things.The grim outline of the door was one.And the other, far away down the corridor, farther away in my dream than the corridor possibly could have been in real life, was a burning point of blue light, keening through the darkness.It was the colour of the sky on a clear day, yet on fire too, an incandescent light like a distant, burning blue sun.There was something mysterious about that light, something ancient and all-encompassing.I knew that I wanted to get inside the safety of the apartment.I wanted to be contained by something, away from the endlessness which I sensed behind that light.I don’t remember anything after that, after the images in my mind made their mark, not even waking up from the dream.
This dream is roughly where my memory starts, and I now like to place it as being the starting gun to my life, which is as scary, mysterious, impenetrable, and important as that dream light was.I wonder about what it all means, if anything at all.I’ve often thought about it, whether that dream was my mind coming to grips with the burden of self-awareness, or whether the light in the dream was the common place of mysterious and spiritual origin from which everyone enters the world – a sort of “beforelife” as opposed to an afterlife – and I was actually remembering something that had actually happened to me.Perhaps it was just a random dream caused by a series of chemical reactions, signifying nothing beyond a scientific exposition of dreaming.I like to think though, that because my memory holds it, it must contain some sort of truth.I believe that it what memories are for in general – signposts to a greater truth.Maybe that truth is held inside every brain, waiting to be unlocked.Maybe it exists out there somewhere.Who can say?But I think over all, it is at least significant as the one of the first, if not the oldest, memory I’ve got.So, whatever else it might be, it’s mine.