My bud Thea Steele (formerly of the Darksteele Cube over on Star City Games) recently shamed me into updating This Here Blog on multiple social media fronts.
Thea is a big fan of Lana Del Rey and suggested I review her five favorite Lana Del Rey songs.
Aside: Why Review Anything?
I can’t say that I am entirely sure. Any of you have a good idea?
I actually told my friend Mark Young not long ago that I thought reviews (Mark is the keeper of the Movie Klub blog, and hence our resident reviewer) tend not to be value-added.
I think reviews tend to be best when 1) you are going to buy / consume something anyway and just need to know which to buy / read / listen to (product reviews on Amazon, or movie reviews, many times) or 2) you actually just want to share something you love. I don’t know to what degree you would consider my gushing about Locke & Key, Young Justice, or Sons of Anarchy count as “reviews” but dozens of Top 8 Magic listeners have thanked me for recommending these.
This is kind of in diametric opposition to what I once thought I was going to do with my life. At age 23, full of stock options at The Dojo, I assumed I’d be a cash millionaire at 24, and would just kind of spend the rest of my career reviewing comic books (I founded PsyComic, which like The Dojo, was acquired by USA Networks back in 2000); neither of those things ended up being facts, BTW. I learned something from Randy Lander, the great comic reviewer (whom we brought in from Texas)… Randy saw our job as comics reviewers as being in service to comics readers. I mean who else is interested in reading a comics review? Or worse, what if a non-regular comics reader reads a negative review? All we can do by spreading frowns is shrink an industry and art form we ostensibly love.
So our best angels must be to lift up and point out the things that we love… You know, kind of like the top-left hand of this website.
/ end aside.
I. Video Games
This was the first Lana Del Rey song I listened to from Thea’s list. I tend not to like music the first time I listen to it (rare exceptions would be Jill Sobule’s Pink Pearl, Loreena McKennitt Live, [which are the only two albums I've ever bought, while browsing the store, that I had never heard before] or of course “anything” Rilo Kiley [my favorite band, introduced to me by Josh Ravitz]), so I listened to a bunch of these almost obsessively, and in a row, to see how they grew on me.
Which is kind of appropriate, as “Video Games” is itself a song of obsession.
I am not sure I would categorize it as a “love” song as I am not convinced the fella on the other side is particularly in love with Del Rey’s speaker, back.
“Video Games” depicts a character that is perhaps less cheery than Samantha in Samantha’s Perfect Saturday* if you take the reference. The instrumentation combined with Del Rey’s strained, almost monotone, vocals descend together into a kind of quiet 1950s madness. I don’t know about you, but to me church bells = “horror movie”.
Del Rey is certainly successful in creating a particular tone in this. I have a set of songs I listen to when I need to tap into my reservoir of madness. I can see this one fitting in there.
II. Dark Paradise
This was by far my favorite song of Thea’s picks.
I like pretty much everything: instrumental variation, singing, beat, switcheroo near the end.
Well, maybe not the grammar. Lana, you wish you “were” dead, not was.
III. Off to the Races
Two angles on this one:
- As a song “Off to the Races” is pretty listen-to-able. As in, I liked it musically, more or less. I think that Del Rey could probably use an editor on this one (to polish the best bits, but rub out the excesses), but that is kind of a flaccid criticism. Happy to listen to this again, especially the thirteen-year-old me that I hope I never lose. The speaker in this one is baaaaahd. She is a Bad. Girl. She kisses with an open mouth and talks about her bikini and stuff.
- I am both attracted to and repulsed Del Rey-slash-the character-she-is-trying-to-depict here. She is both a bad girl and bad news. I don’t know how many of you have spent your one scarce resource** chasing after girls (or whoever) that were just going to drive you nutso. I have. Cried. Wrote innumerable teenage (nineteen is still a teenager) journal entries about this kind of stuff. I mean none of those chicks has ever gotten me a knife in the gut, though. Attracted. Repulsed. More attracted than repulsed. Knife in the gut
The Top 10 Assorted Things That Occurred to Me Watching the Official Music Video for “Ride”
- I am in the bubble.
- Shut up, you are not in the bubble. “The bubble” is for beautiful women who think that a handsome older man will appear to buy them a steak dinner if they somehow run out of Jimmy Choo money.
- On second thought… Definitely in the bubble on this one. Some kind of bubble for sheltered [honorary] White males, even those not as good looking as Jon Hamm.
- I think I know what Lana is going for at this point. Is she actively trying to drive me miserable? I HAVE VERY GOOD EMOTIONAL CONTROL YOU KNOW.
- Nope. Miserable. Full-on life tilt by her high note “fucking crazy” at 7:04.
- Pretty good high note, that one. Would listen again.
- Since I started watching Sons of Anarchy I have stopped being afraid of / actively avoiding bikers. For instance last year I was in a club in Cali and started chatting up this huge, silent biker bouncer. Is it super fun working here?
- (it’s pretty fun, apparently)
- On the subject of bikers, Clark has this Amelie-esque project to take home the class stuffed animal, and take pictures of him doing interesting stuff.
- This is by far the coolest one we took today:
Even though I am not-scared-of-bikers enough to chat one up in a strip club, I still was really nervous on this and made Katherine hustle up with the pic already. I also told Clark that if we got caught, the Harley owner would probably beat him up and steal his girlfriend. Well I would have if Katherine hadn’t stopped me.
V. Body Electric
One of my favorite ideas in all of literature is from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, where a skilled wizard learns to distill madness into a tincture that he can take a dropper of, every now and again, to connect to his crazy-style on demand. I admire that because, as a writer, there are certainly times when being able to turn the crazy on might be advantageous.
My crazy is different than Lana Del Rey’s crazy though. My crazy is like a million exploding shades of orange. It’s kinetic and moves at the speed of a car crash. Sometimes it’s fun. Things might break, but — maybe because of that handy bubble — there is little sense that they can’t be fixed. Here is one of my favorite bits of writing, from an old Planar Chaos set review:
My two-year-old daughter has a crazy hat. It is a knit cap woven out of multicolored orange, red, and yellow yarn. She gets this glint in her eye and will pull it on and suddenly go berserk. She will run in a five-foot circle until she falls down, or failing that, up and down the hallway, arms in the air. She screams and tumbles and does I don’t know what else. I’d try to describe it further but she is still bound by the physical laws that affect two-year-old girls and I wouldn’t be able to convey the manic energy that comes over her, Bruce Banner-like, when she puts on the hat, anyway. Just this morning I surprised her and pulled it down over her ears when she came up to me in the kitchen, just to see what would happen. I wish I had my video camera. My wife says she’s like a pinball, but you know, less metallic and shiny… which is ironic, because pulling on the crazy hat is like Bella’s Autobot Matrix of Leadership, transforming her into something pumped full of energon and impossible to injure.
Mire Boa is my crazy hat. When I look at it I just want to punch the screen to pieces and then drown my enemies in the blood running down my slashed knuckles. I want to hurl my arms into the air and cry to the moon… but I remember that I’m not physically very imposing and that I wouldn’t be scaring anyone. This card is just so exciting to me and you know why. It’s a bare half-degree off of my favorite two-drop ever. I played its predecessor over Wild Mongrel in U/G in Extended and won $250. Sol Malka used to play the River-style slitherer in The Rock, or The Rock’s great grandfather, whatever. I can’t wait to drop a Mire Boa on turn 2. I love a crazy hat. I hate Crovax even more than I want to play him.
Staring at YouTube videos and listening to Lana Del Rey nonstop over the past three or so hours, over and over again to try to understand what makes Thea like this music so much, I come away, more than anything else, with a sense of deep respect for this artist. On the one hand she has this veneer of “a painted porn star is singing this song to you” which I think is fairly intentional. My recession, thoughts of bubble-in-ness, even revulsion at the idea of a beautiful woman assaulting me with that aesthetic come down to essentially a sense of discomfort. One of my colleagues in my other life likes to remind me that all good advertising makes you uncomfortable.
I didn’t actually do any research into Lana Del Rey’s background before I listened to any of these, or started writing this up. Maybe some of you who are devotees of her oeuvre will see this as a critical weakness, but I come from a school that tries to analyze the content, experience, and tone of a work itself, rather than its relationship to its creator. But my experience of these songs leads me to feel that the work is more the snowball-character that the songs, linked to one another by their singer and collections, as much as the music, lyrics, and individual performances.
And my conclusion is this: Lana Del Rey has a tincture of madness in her pocket.
Not only does she have a tincture of madness, she has a special madness that she can wield like a can of mace. Del Rey can force her crazy hat onto listeners and pull it over their ears and eyes, even without the help of willow wands, sacred circles, or rings of power. Lana’s particular madness is a very different madness than a pinball Bella at age two. Her madness is the madness of isolation, neglect, abandon, despair, disuse… perhaps excess. It is a last gasp, exhaled four minutes at a time.
And for other people — probably other young women especially — who feel put through life’s wringer by lost love, substance abuse, or living on the wrong side of the law; I get it, she can create a connection, and a crystal route to a specific emotional response.
But did I like the songs?
Some. I liked “Dark Paradise” and “Off to the Races” the most; “Body Electric” the least among these five. But even that one I listened to twenty times or so trying to figure out what I felt about it. At this point, I don’t see Lana Del Rey as go-to playlist stuff for me (I became a Taylor Swift convert in essentially one sitting about two months ago on the other hand), but I can certainly see revisiting this position with future listens.
* “Samantha’s Perfect Saturday” is a bonus track on The Official Miser’s Guide, my 30-day audio course at Star City Games. It is an example of how to target a specific audience; as stated above, the character in “Samantha’s Perfect Saturday” resembles a less depressing version of some of Lana’s songs’ speakers.