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Popular Problems

To me, the only controversial part about the Grammys was ‘Popular Problems’ not being nominated. The album is completely hypnotic, weaving the personal and external, the historical and spiritual, the searching and the losing and rediscovering, the narratives we acknowledge then despise then transcend and back again and again and again, moment to moment.

I had a lot of trouble picking a song to accompany my brief testimony. I love ‘A Street.’ A meditation on the attractive qualities of war through a character simultaneously existing in the prism of post 9/11 New York and the Civil War. I love ‘You Got Me Singing,’ a song that closes the album on a high note while acknowledging that yes, a lot’s fucked up, but let’s survive anyway. I love ‘Samson in New Orleans,’ which acknowledges the impossibility of an individual bridging the gap between cultures torn by centuries hatred, while daydreaming about that possibility all the same, juxtaposed against the reality of that same individual’s relationship falling apart due to some sort of mutual disillusionment. (You said you loved the city. Or did you just pretend?) But you know what? I’ll share ‘Nevermind.’ I’ll share ‘Nevermind’ because it might be Cohen’s reply to Kurt Cobain name-checking him in ‘Pennyroyal Tea.’ I’ll share ‘Nevermind’ because it perfectly illustrates how to write a song behind the guise of a character, while still using personal insights to convey emotion. I’ll share ‘Nevermind’ because its written from the perspective of a vanquished culture commenting on an invading culture, one of the most consistent rhythms of human history. I’ll share ‘Nevermind’ because we’re always living the life we left behind: either through external history looming over our shoulder, like a patient shadow waiting for us to turn and look, or personal history lurking within. And I’ll share ‘Nevermind’ because it has these lines:

“Your victory
Was so complete
Some among you
Thought to keep

A record of
Our little lives
The clothes we wore
Our spoons, our knives

The games of luck
Our soldiers played
The stones we cut
The songs we made

Our law of peace
Which understands
A husband leads
A wife commands

And all of this
Expressions of
The sweet indifference
Some call love

The high indifference
Some call fate
But we had names
More intimate

Names so deep and
Names so true
They’re blood to me
They’re dust to you

There is no need
That this survive
There’s truth that lives
And truth that dies

I live the life
I left behind.”

And as for awards, yeah, sure, nevermind. But still, not even a nomination? Songs like this don’t get written every day.

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