I asked Marie Lynn, as big a Conor Oberst fanatic as I am, what her favorite Bright Eyes songs were. She went with “Easy, Lucky, Free”, “Something Vague” and “Let’s Not Shit Ourselves (To Live And Be Loved)”. I’ll give her the latter, a three part master class on subjective songwriting about how love might not save us in the end.
We haven’t heard from Bright Eyes since 2007 so why right more about the guiding light Conor Oberst -who we have heard from and whom I write about at every opportunity?
I’ll explain by giving an example. Tom Stoppard wrote a play called “Arcadia” and it tells the story of a young girl in the 1800s who filled pages and pages and pages of math equations and it also tells the story of a mathematician in the present time trying to figure out what they mean. We discover they are the iteration of formula for a bluebell “if you can write the formula for a bell, why not a bluebell”. The young girl was doing this before computers but the hope is that with a pc you can iterate it for so many times the formula becomes the shape of blue bell. I screwed that up because I gave my copy of the play away but it’s something like that.
Anyway, that’s what blogging is like, if you write long enough about a subject your blog resembles your subject. And so I return to musicians I like and I worship Conor Oberst and since I think it’ll be a year before a new Bright Eyes album I am gonna review a handful of BE songs I happened to have on a mix.
So let’s Iterate Bright Eyes a little more:
June On The West Coast
From Letting Off The Happiness
Conor was eighteen when he wrote this great song. It is just him on acoustic guitar here and when people say he isn’t the same I can point to this song and say, well, you’re right and you’re wrong. Conor has had his heart “badly” broken and is slowly recovering but he is having problems and his explanation is so brilliant it sounds like an axiom and something you’ve heard before, something your parents might of warned you about: “Sorrow get’s too heavy and joy it tends to hold you, the fear it will eventually depart”. When I try to explain why Cobain was an otherworldly great songwriter I don’t turn to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” but rather “Heart Shape Box” -it’s a smaller song but a perfect expression of love. And I don’t turn to “Lua” but to this song for Oberst. Conor is almost ruminating but it isn’t a trip of the mind, there is physical movement and a physical push to recover: you can watch his wounds heel as he sings and the stop-start structure is the jump of recovery. Oh, a great melody as well -a double tracked acoustic guitar, one strummed the other finger picked and Mike Mogis plays with the two guitars, keeping the strummed in the foreground until they battle it out at the end.
Make War (Long Version)
From Motion Sickness
Now I remember one reason I made this mix, there is this girl -married now, I wanted to sing both songs too. “Make War,” especially on this live version, is a country rock jaunt based around a slide guitar about how when you break with a girl her next lover removes your memory from her life.
Nothing Gets Crossed Out
From Lifted Or the Story Is In the Soil Keep Your Ears To the Ground
Oddly enough it is Jiha Lee’s harmonies that make this such a perfect album as a stunted Conor (“I keep writing this to do list but nothing gets crossed out”) can’t get himself together in this slacker’s parable.
Soon You WIll Be Leaving Your Man
From Noise Floors (Rarities 1998 – 2005)
Written and released in 2000 as a 7″ before finding its audiences on the rarities compellation this is one helluva come on: Conor is awful close to a complete arrogance here; just guitar, piano and a brush stroke it isn’t even a question of seduction when he whispers “Come with me now, come”
A Perfect Sonnet
Every day And Every Night EP
A “Cassadega” out take that didn’t make the cut because? Well, the lyric is a rewrite of .an old Khalil Gibran sonnet and it effects impressionable teenagers right in the solar plex, 275 of them on songmeanings and all of whom did a wonderful job of explaining what Conor’s dramatic pain and loss means to them. It is really strange how far this song digs into the sense of emotional abandonment (parental abandonment even) at the heart of youth. It appears to be about the loss of love and the disbelief or lost belief but it is secretly about the loss of youth, the loss of family and the unit that protected you when you were a child and promised to always be there to cocoon and can you safe but it was just a dream and these teens and twenty somethings and shocked and hurt by being, finally alone just as they suspected they always were. Conor’s scrawny voice and yelp embodies this loss.
Train Under Water
From I’m Wide Wake, It’s Morning
People don’t know they mean this song but when they say Conor reminds them of Dylan they mean this song because it’s not it’s off key voice and it’s not his politics, but it’s Conor’s callow romantic that is most like Dylan when they were the same age. Conor might claim “God damn make me cry” but he doesn’t show up because he doesn’t want to and if this upsets the girl she should go to sleep and she’ll feel better in the morning. Conor is better at expressing this sexual confusion then even Dylan -drugging at partying in the Village he misses a date in Brooklyn and she has given up on him. Naturally enough, Conor doesn’t like this and so he tries to convince her not to believe her eyes but to believe her heart. After all, he gets lost when he leaves the Village. It is Conor’s gift to be the biggest asshole in the world but do it so melodicly and poetically everybody forgives him.
Four Winds EP
You know how I said the best songs were the smaller ones? This is a reversal of his reversal of “One Of My Kind”. Another Omaha song, another price of fame and another signpost to the country rock that’ll be with us a year late; it kinda ululates with a sense of displacement r. Also the best first verse any one has ever written ever: “It’s not the road we used to know, they tore some buildings down the traffic’s like a pack of dogs. There’s fewer trees, windows, fleas , there’s concrete on the lawn …
There’s people here but you are gone
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – April 1983 (Volume 14, Number 11)
the final issue edited by Susan Whitall
hard rock meets classic rock meets Americana
Chuck D is at the Grammy Museum
On The Red Carpet For The Screening Of “The Beast Inside” At The Angelica Cinema, Sunday, January 29th, 2023: pictures by Billy Hess
a powerhouse performance by Sadie Katz and SohoJohnny as you never thought you’d see him
that SNL gig was excellent
Miley rises to top of the celebrity food chain
captivating, hooklined, country pop songs
it’s a bit different because it’s smaller