Thursday, January 03, 2008

Time On Earth


This one is a "reunion album."  Back in March 2005, Crowded House drummer Paul Hester committed suicide.  Apparently, that loss was largely responsible for getting the remaining members of Crowded House, along with a new drummer, back together to record the terrific album TIME ON EARTH.  One might think this all sounds pretty morbid.  You might be asking, "Is this some sort of dark depressing album?"  The answer is a resounding, "No."  Instead, as the title suggests, this entire album reminds us in a very lovely and profound manner that we only have a short time on earth.  It's really like a great movie, no not "Talladega Nights," more like "Dead Poets Society," a film that makes you want to live differently, be a better person, follow your passion.

It all seems very fitting really.  Our first treat was in 2006 with the well done, well packaged fantastic live album FAREWELL TO THE WORLD.  That was the very famous  November 24, 1996 final concert for the band at the Sydney Opera House. Why finally release that just one one year after your drummer's death? Why reunite a band and make your first album together in 13 years? Why follow it up with a grand tour?  From this writer's perspective it's just to make their fans' time on earth a heck of a lot more meaningful.  So, yes, the death of a friend/bandmate permeates the album, but it's not in a depressing way.  Rather, as is usually the case with the Crowded House leader and poet Neil Finn, we're reminded that we'd better be busy loving because time is short.

Consider the final line of the delightful song, "Heaven That I'm Making."  Actually, it's a song about surfing. But, much more, maybe it's a song about just living in the moment, enjoying God's creation.  Finn sings:  "And the big wave that I'm taking, it feels like I'm just waking up," and then the closing lines:

"If there is hell on Earth
There must be heaven too
Both in one place
And not a second to lose"

Right here in this moment I can create a heaven or a hell.  The same theme appears in the very popish "She Walked Her Way Down" too:

"And I know what the answer is
And I'm happy to be here tonight
And when you're in the moment
Everything you want is right"

I for one love good pop music and the there's a lot of that on this album.  There's "Don't Stop Now," "Even A Child," "She Called Up," and "Transit Lounge," all songs that musically grabbed me right off the bat; they hooked me with their lovely popish sound.  But even within those, there's the very SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION theme of "get busy living or get busy dying."  Consider the line from "Transit Lounge" here:

"Dream about the things you meant to do before you die
Break him out, the one whose waiting for his moment to shine
All the stupid things I said will haunt you, will linger, I guess"

Back to the first track on the album.  "Nobody Wants To" is such a powerful opening.  It's about people that don't want to get real, people that rather live in pseudo-community than walk through the pain and chaos and talk about reality.  Its narrator has realized that even though "nobody wants to talk about it" life is too short so he's going for broke, he'll head down to the ocean floor, he'll "hold on to a sinking stone, until the worst is known."  Why?  Because then we can really live and because "I found out if we open it up we could work this out."

I honestly could write a post on every song on this album.  I love "Don't Stop Now" which is the follow-up to the aforementioned first track.  In this one his partner has agreed to open it all up and, unfortunately, "Another pleasant day in the countryside has ended up in tears."  Yet, this man wants to take everything his partner has to offer. he pleads:

"But I hang on every word
So don't stop now
Gimme something to write about!"

I can imagine the lines from "English Trees" are meant for Paul Hester. In this contemplative piece Finn sings:

"Like English trees in my garden
Summers missed you my darling
All your crimes are forgiven
All your crimes are forgiven"

Maybe he's letting a friend off the hook for suicide or maybe he's just reminding us listeners that forgiveness is a key ingredient for a live well lived.

In the post Can't Contain Myself I already wrote about hearing and seeing the songs "People Are Like Suns" and "Silent House" at two different live shows.  I cannot properly express the importance of these two TIME ON EARTH songs.

When I first heard that Crowded House was putting "Silient House" on the new album, I was underwhelmed. That's because the Neil Finn/Dixie Chicks song had already appeared on The Dixie Chicks 2006 release TAKING THE LONG WAY HOME.  (By the way, that's an album that, despite Dr. James Dobson's ignorance, deserved all the Grammy awards it received.)  I love the song, but I was like, "Been there, done that."  Then, I saw Crowded House do it live and realized their arrangement was much better!

I previously wrote that the live version was a euphoriant.  It's about Alzheimer's disease and watching a loved one's progressive loss of mental capacity.  I can't say more than the lyrics do:

"It's true
I'm missing you
As I stand alone
In your room
Everything that you made by hand
Everything that you know by heart
I will try to connect 
All the pieces you left
I will cary it on
And let you forget
I'll remember the years
When your mind was still clear
All the flickering lights
Filled up this silent house"

The first time I heard "People Are Like Suns" it was unreleased.   In it we are cautioned that we'd "better take all the love that you got in a single hand."  As Neil sang it, my eyes filled up with tears and my heart filled up with joy, I literally grabbed a cocktail napkin and borrowed a pen from the waitress and started scribbling the poetry down:

"In the fullness of time
People are like suns
They are burning up inside
People are like suns
Breathing into life
All that's good in us
To saints become
And they come and they go"

This past year, in the moments I was wise enough to put this album on, it reminded me that everybody around me, my wife, my kids, my students, everybody, they are like suns, like Paul Hester, they will not always be around.  What will we do with our time on earth then?

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5 Comments:

OpenID baranyandi said...

Thank you for quoting the lyrics of Heaven That I'm Making and She Walked Her Way Down. Finally, somebody who shares my awe at the depth and spiritual value of these two - they have long been my favourites, especially Heaven, the lyrics of which came pretty close to describing 2007 for me.

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