Tuesday, June 10, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 161): "BIG WHITE CLOUD" (1970) John Cale



Today’s song is just because. Because I’m by the ocean and this is one of my favorite “ocean songs.” It doesn’t really describe the ocean or being at the shore, but that’s the feeling I get from it. The opening, “when I stand with my back to the sea / A big white cloud looking right down on me,” is enough. The entirety of the song strikes me as one of those “lost in the grandeur of nature” paeans. I can’t stress enough—if you’re the kind of person who believes the lyrics you find online—that Cale sings “Oh I love it / Yes I love it / Oh how I love it so.” Not “love you.” This is not a love song in the sense of someone having to articulate their emotion about someone else to that someone. It’s an enunciation of the great thrill of just, y’know, being there.

“Looking for signs / And then the rain.” That kind of brevity is striking too. What is he really talking about? You either have experiences you can slot into this kind of state of admiration for how a day feels, how rain comes, how light and sun and air make their impressions on you, or you’ll never get it. It’s poetry, one of the most poetic songs I know, in its sound, in how Cale and company create a textured soundscape that mimics the kind of landscape he has in mind. To me, it’s pearly, misty, full of that elation that I experienced just yesterday when walking by the sea and having a spray-filled mist blowing steadily at me as I walked about twenty blocks, skimming through the wash of waves. “Oh I love it so,” indeed.

Hear that swelling intro, the strings, the tinkling piano, the drums that kick with a feel of climbing—“everything’s clear, everything’s bright.” It sounds like the sun coming through, a clearing. And you know what that’s like. No, scratch that. It’s not “like” anything. It is, when it is. And when you’re there, you’re aware of you, there. See?

Then there’s this: “After all is said and done / Everything is just like it began / Days that came, years again / Came and went, once again.” The sound here is so watery, conjuring days of mist, full of moisture—it’s in the strings that sound filtered somehow, brought to a pitch of liquid light. And the sentiment stays with me. When you get right down to it, nothing has changed. You’re still you, in moments like this. The one you were when your body/mind/spirit first conceded that you/it are conscious. And all the time that has passed since that moment first occurred are as nothing because that presence—being, it’s called, or simply life—is all you know of existence and all you will ever know, and knowing this, in the state of mind this song evokes, is to feel . . . bliss.

That’s what this song is about. And when I first heard it I knew that. And all subsequent listenings, to some extent, make me relive that. I remember particularly a rainy afternoon in July, 1979, and the light and this song on a great stereo and, as Eliot says, “you are the music / While the music lasts.”

Time to kill / On the hill



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