Sunday, May 18, 2014

Review - Woodkid: The Golden Age

Our stories are told over and over again, some just on the front porches where old people sit in their rocking chairs and tell of times past. People and places again and again until you remember it as if you were there, reliving the actions of your grandparents, once virile and precocious, and you can still see those twinkles in their eyes. Others have the talent of writing out their memories onto the page. Ink spills and presses and bytes and kilobytes, letters and words, sentences flow out and into the digital airways above our heads, to be read by someone in China or Europe.   It's the way we preserve our lives. It's the way we gain immortality, hoping that someone will read it, remember it, store it upon bookshelves or in their "favorite bookmarks" online, to read when they have a second or two.

Then there are the truly gifted ones, that can take a brush and some color and paint their lives onto canvas. We can experience the water lilies in pixelated wonder, or Turner's English countryside. What truly moves me are those who take their lives and place them on a staff for a piano or guitar.  People's lives turned into song, with the music taking the highs and lows and making them instantly accessible to everyone.

What Woodkid (the stage name for Yoann Lemoine, a French musician, director, videographer, and artist) has done is to take a semi-autographical account of his life and turn it into a book, a CD, a set of videos, concerts, and is even working with a ballet company to turn his work into a dance.  It's called The Golden Age, and I have been thoroughly engrossed in the manifestations of the work.  In each work of literature, or music, or artwork, the artist must understand that the work is the merging of his own life and that of the recipient.  Further, it is the merging of those lives along with the works of all other artists, authors, musicians, that the artist and the recipient has ever encountered.  Every one of us will hear or read or see something different, experience stimuli from within as well as without.  So to review the work, I have to go into what I brought with me into the work itself, as well as those which, I think, he brought with him.  It all merges, like one giant orgy, into The Golden Age, and mixes the music together into broad strokes of emotion.


 I sat in the front seat of my stepdad's ice cream truck in the blazing hot Georgian summer sun.   I was reading, for my 12th grade English class, The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Goethe. It speaks of Werther, who falls in love with a young German girl, Lotte, who is in turn in love with Albert, also a friend of Werther. It is a story of love rejected, of desires gone unheeded, and of mankind's pursuit of emotional peaks which cannot be attained.  I had, sitting in this ice cream truck, one of my "Eureka" moments.  You know, one of those points in your life where the way you think about things changes forever.  There are always small moments like this often, but the big ones only happen a few times in someone's life.  I suddenly understood everything that Mrs. Cook (my 11th grade English teacher) had been trying to convey about the Romantic movement.  There are literary works that will change your life forever, and this was one of them.  It's appropriate that most of my Eureka moments came from the reading and "soaking in" of books.  It's what I've ultimately surrounded my life with, reading, selling, and writing about.

I say this because the feelings  I got from Woodkid's The Golden Age were the same as those in Goethe's semi-autobiographic novel.  Goethe had fallen in love with a poet named Charlotte Buff, but was ultimately rejected. He, nevertheless, bought the wedding rings for Buff and her fiance.

Woodkid's book deals with a love affair with, well, someone.  He is never named.  In fact, it is ultimately unknown whether or not the purity of the lover is not simply a Romantic reflection upon the author's own childhood.  As he grows up, he becomes more separated from the boy he once was, finding in the world things far from the riversides and cherry trees he knew as a child.  The fact that his lover is male is also autobiographic, as Yoann Leomine is gay himself.

The narrator's transition between child and adult is also reminiscent of William Blake's poetry in The Songs of Innocence and Experience.  I have spoken many times about Blake's influence in my thinking.  Blake is best known for the poems "The Lamb" and "The Tyger." Blake's philosophy is that we live in two distinct worlds, that of Innocence, and that of Experience.  In childhood, Innocence is, well, bliss.  It is without fault, beautiful, something that we always yearn for and regret leaving, even as we know it is inevitable that we do.  The downside, and the reason why we leave, is that Innocence is always Impotent.  Someone who chooses to remain in the Innocent realm can never effect the world around him.  The world of Experience is much darker, filled with consequences and ulterior motives.  But with it comes responsibility, power, the ability to change things, both for good and evil.  It is this stage that we must take ourselves, however unwillingly, because there is a need to change things for the better, and we cannot do that if we are impotent.  It was said that Blake had a third realm, that which we attain only after becoming completely enlightened, where the Innocence of the first realm returns with the power of the second.  It is very rare that anyone could attain this level of understanding.  Certainly not Werther, nor the narrator in Woodkid's book.

The Golden Age is almost split in half by his time in the idyllic world of his childhood and the urban, war filled, chemically enhanced world of his adult life.  There is a certain obvious parallel to the lover on the ship in the first half with "The Lamb," and his acquaintance partner in the second half with "The Tyger."  While reading the book (which only comes in the deluxe edition, found here), these are the books and ideas I brought with me, ones in which I could easily see floating throughout the words.  The passages are lyrical, poignant, with sentences popping off of the page as revelations about life.  However, the ending is more along the lines of someone trying to write while experiencing a drugged state  (which would not surprise me, see Samuel Taylor Coleridge from the Romantic movement).  Also in the book are the lyrics to the 12 track CD, which is very helpful, as it's a French singer trying to sing English words.


The music... now here's where we get to the glory of this work.  Yoann merges classical music with the beats he associates with the current hip-hop music, although what is produced is certainly universal in genre.  Listening to track 2 (my favorite) "Run Boy Run" in the car, coming up over the Parker Road bridge, the pounding of the Tympani drums and the snares and the violins and trumpets, a glorious resounding charge into war, I felt my lungs tightened as if raw emotions were billowing up, ready to charge over that hill.  Fortunately, since Yoann is a masterful music video director, he has created music videos to the best tracks, which I will embed here.  "Run Boy Run" reminds me so much of Where the Wild Things Are for very obvious reasons.

Track 5, "I Love You" has literary connotations as well.  Even before I was aware of Yoann's sexuality, the lyrics of the song brought to mind Death in Venice by Thomas Mann.  Aschenbach was a famous author who travels to Venice to heal from diseases gotten in the cold climates of Europe.  While along the shoreline of the Italian city, he sees Tadzio, and is immediately struck by his beauty and purity.  It is impossible that Yoann could not have read the book, or at least seen the movie, and had it influence his life, so closely does this track, and the following one, "The Shore," resemble the themes of the book.  Ironically, Death In Venice was the novel that was assigned to us right after The Sorrows of Young Werther in that 12th grade class.  The music video of this song becomes much more clear after reading the book.  While the drowning of the character in the video might look like a suicide (which would work, with the evidence of the books talked about above), it was more a reference in the book about his lover drowning as well as ships sinking (which could be the Lusitania or the Titanic).

I bring up "The Shore," as interesting because the opening notes reminded me a lot of Billy Joel's "Vienna Waits for You," which, as Joel said in a recording from a box set, dealt with Vienna as a metaphor for life.  He also talked about the style of piano playing at the beginning and end of the song, which he was imitating Kurt Weill, as well as the Cabaret atmosphere of Germany and Europe, something that Yoann, a gay musician growing up in Germany, would be familiar with.  It also becomes clear in the later parts of the book that the bars and nightclubs he attended would have had that music in them as well.  That the narrator would see this lifestyle as "war," and equate those days with the actual wars his relatives fought (WWII, no doubt), is interesting.  I find that often homosexual characters in movies and books often meet tragic ends, even those stories written by someone who is gay, very few of the stories end happily.  There is no balance here, as Aschenbach himself talked about, the balance between Apollo (reason) and Dionysus (emotion) is often askew, so that, in that novel, he stays in Venice even after being warned about a contagion in the city (which would be deadly to someone in his weakened condition) to watch the puerile figure playing on the beach.

I also bring up Billy Joel's song to illustrate what I have talked about before, about musician's abilities to use their own lives in song, thus preserving their memories as someone writing a story would, or the elders in the rocking chairs passing on memories to their children.


If nothing else, get the MP3s and find the lyrics online, as the book version costs around $50.00.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the music, and hope that he will create similar works in the future.  It is refreshing to find songs that actually mean something now, that dip into the mankind's past and combine literature and music, video motion, all the media that we use now.  So far gone are the days when an artist can just put out an album and expect people to buy the album.  We now drop over to itunes and pick up the single and that's it.  But what Woodkid has done is create a masterpiece that, to experience the whole thing, the album must be bought, and in the deluxe edition no less, along with watching the videos, and probably going to the concerts themselves (which are mostly in Germany, not here, alas).  I found myself one day imagining the songs arranged for a marching band, with the flag bearers using the crossed keys waving about on the field, with the trumpets and the percussion on fire as they marched on the field.  It would work so well.  I say this because the music reminds me a bunch of Steven Reineke's works, and those are easily adaptable for orchestras and concert bands.  It is the kind of music we need nowadays.  Something to make us feel alive, inspire us to go forth, raise our swords high upon the hilltops, and use our time on this Earth to fight the foes we have chosen.  Love and War go hand in hand, life and destruction.  Let's make sure we fight for the right causes.

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