Reviews

Read Music / Speak Spanish

Author: Georg Gartlgruber
01/13/2003 | Monochrom.at | www.monochrom.at | Album Review
Some people call Connor Oberst the new Kurt Cobain and praise his "main" band The Bright Eyes as the best thing since sliced bread. Some praise also trickles down to his "other" band Desaparecidos as being a good emo-rock-band in the vein of Jets to Brazil, Jimmy Eat World and you name it. But only very few, and none that I have found but I guess there will be some, have remarked on the strong political themes on "read music speak spanish". This record is all about the hell that is usually called middle class.
The backside of the American Dream, which is also lived and praised in Europe, is not only that there is no help and aid for the poor and the minorities, but also the middle class finds itself trapped in a hell full of TV-commercials, duplex-houses, new cars, shopping malls, rezoning and developing of farmland. In this trap / hell they feel the blandness and blankness of all their property, the meaninglessness of their lives, but are unable to put a finger on it and name it. So they go on living this way and become more and more depressive and abusing. They struggle against the horror of losing a job, of the bank cashing in the mortgage, of having an accident and the medical bills to follow, and so on and so on. Married with children in an US-suburb which was built into farmland only ten years ago with planned streets, parks and shopping malls. The whole record by "the Disappeared" is built around this notion of development and rezoning and Connor Oberst is really good at putting words to all the stupidity, misconceptions and frustrations that come with trying to lead a middle-class-life, the eternal carrot in front of the donkey's nose. On a track aptly called "$$$$" he puts it all in one simple yet effective line: "the bottom line is the dollar sign".

Sadly enough, he offers no solution to this problem. And what could it be? To tell everyone in the middle class to change their lives and start living in order with nature and the community? I don't think it will work and Oberst doesn't think so as well, because in "Hole in One" he admits: "Never mind that shit that I sing about because I'd sell myself to buy a fucking house. Twelve Thousand square foot, four car garage, tennis court and swimming pool in the backyard." Be fair, that is true for most if not all of us. Who wouldn't give a lot for a life that is materially independent, i.e. having enough money to not have to care anymore? In our materialist world this spells liberty, freedom, independence. Moreover, he knows that he is not an independent artist, speaking from an elitist standpoint he made himself. "Well I should talk. I am just the same. You can buy my records down at the corporate chain." and "I tell myself I shouldn't be ashamed but I am."

Shame is an interesting theme on "read music speak spanish" because it pops up in another context in "Happiest place on Earth" in the line "I don't want to be ashamed to be American. But opportunity, no it don't exist." This track is one of the hardest judgements about the USA I have heard ever since I listened to a crust-core-records. As soon as the middle class starts to realize a little how it lives and all the pain and suffering it is responsible for, they will start to feel ashamed. (Those really rich people all know what they are doing, but they don't care. They have effectively gotten rid of any feeling of shame or guilt they have ever had.) And then they will unavoidably start to justify themselves, so they don't have to feel ashamed. I have seen the movie "The Beach" lately and what I learned from it is, that it only needs one American to ruin paradise. And this guy will feel no guilt or bad conscience whatsoever.
There is another interesting sentence hidden in the track "Mall of America" which gives us a little insight on the marketing-pressure Connor Oberst feels himself: "They say it's murder on your folk career to make a rock record with the Dissappeared." Maybe so. But if Connor Oberst has to chose between a career and making the records he wants to make, and he chooses the latter, then he gets respect from me. And not even the praise of life-style-magazines can take that away from him. (Unfortunately, he won't be able to live on that alone.... See the dilemma?)


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