Thursday, December 20, 2012

36 Songs, 36 Days (2012 Edition), Day Thirty Four: Down By The Water by The Decemberists

The umbrella Colin Meloy holds up doesn't exist...and
that's the best metaphor I can think of for The Decemberists'

Given where we are in the year, this is a pretty appropriate band to be talking about, huh?

And one of the reasons I love The Decemberists is because, in their way, they are carrying on the tradition of one of my heroes, the late Warren Zevon.  Colin Meloy and his crew are storytellers first and foremost, their songs weaving elements of history and folklore to create a mystic soundscape where reality and unreality dance about in dark capers.  Even though the band's feel is more folkie than rockist, the gothic nature of much of their subject matter makes them perfect compliments to Zevon's criminals, junkies and losers.  One could easily see the likes of the Crane Wife co-existing in the same world as The Excitable Boy; The Decemberists' creations just live in the rural areas outside of Zevon City.

Of course, this song (taken from the band's album The King Is Dead) may owe more to Springsteen than to Zevon.  The lyrics seem to hit all the beats of a classic Springsteen 'I feel trapped by this town' song--the restlessness, the looking outward from the small town our POV character presumably dwells, the references to misdeeds. Although I don't recall Bruce ever making references to Leda, the woman who was seduced by Zeus who, in typical Zeus fashion, took the appearance of a swan (yep, Zeus was a kinky lil' god, he was) in Greek mythology.  But then, myths and history are Meloy's thing, and that's what makes the Decemberists so unique.

Given the Leda reference, where Meloy ties that figure to 'pier nineteen,' I wonder if what Meloy is talking about isn't a person's desire to get out of his town, but a nostalgia for a past way of life--namely, Portland's position in the 19th Century as a major port.  Leda's family in certain interpretations of the myth never quite got over her rape by, ummm, a swan, and maybe what Meloy is talking about is the way Pier Nineteen's transformation over the years from being a vital port to a recreational tourist spot--it's apparently, among other things, a skatepark according to reports I uncovered with a little Google-mining--reflects Portland's changing face over the decades.  And maybe what Meloy is yearning for when he sings these lyrics isn't an escape from his town, but an escape into the past where his hometown mattered.

The Decemberists are still out there making their brand of cerebral, intellectual indie rock right now.  And the world is better for it.

Here is a video from a 2011 performance of the song....

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