By The Landlord
"Storms make trees take deeper roots." – Dolly Parton
"Living is strife and torment, disappointment and love and sacrifice, golden sunsets and black storms." – Laurence Olivier
"I feel more like an environmentalist since I've been up here. There are parts of the Earth that are covered with pollution all the time. I saw weather that was unexpected. Storms bigger than we've seen in the past. This is a human effect. This is not a natural phenomenon." – Scott Kelly (astronaut)
I have a recurring dream. It returned last night. In it, I wake up in my bedroom. All is normal, or so it seems. It is dark, it is night, and it is hard to tell whether I'm actually awake or if it's a dream at all. I climb out of my bed. I go over to window, and peer through the curtain, sensing that something is outside. What do I see? I look up, and a huge wave is right there, hovering, wobbling, quivering like a massive, frothing jelly. I feel the weight of it pulling me. The wave is at that moment just before it will break, building still more and more to an intolerable pressure. Towering high up above, it almost seems to be looking down at me, desperate to be released, waiting for me to trigger it. I suddenly realise that if I keep the curtain open for a second longer it will begin to topple, and crash through to the bedroom and then begin its path of destruction through me and beyond. So I quickly close it, and scamper back between the sheets, in a mild panic. And then I wake up.
Perhaps I'm glimpsing a scene from a future apocalypse, or it was prompted by recent events, or, more likely, my body is just trying to tell me I've drunk too much frothy beer. In any case, there's many more storms a-coming. Recent news, from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey and beyond, going back to many other frightening examples, Katrina and more, to the terrifying Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 and more are building up in our consciousness. Some come from from natural events, but many are exacerbated by human activity. The planet is warming from climate change, and we must do our utmost to arrest that change. More on that later, but with warmer seas, greater evaporation and higher rainfall, and more extreme temperatures, the cycle of bigger and bigger storms will only accelerate.
But how do we think about storms, and how are they captured in songs? How might we handle it, or feel about it? They can act as real events or metaphor. At first, heavy rain can sound like applause, with the occasional thunderclap. So this video might get serve as inspiration. It is labelled as a relaxation and cure for insomnia. I don't know about you but that's not quite how I see it, and others are available, for tropical forest storms, blizzards and a whole lot more. Relaxing volcano and pyroclastic flow video, anyone? Still, it might get the ideas flowing:
Storms in many forms are perceived in all sorts of ways. With fear, apprehension, dread, but also excitement, exhilaration. "For the man sound of body and serene of mind, there is no such thing as bad weather; every day has its beauty, and storms which whip the blood do but make it pulse more vigorously," said George Gissing. I'm not sure about that, but I've seen storms in Italy, France and India that are some of the most thrilling experiences on any travels. They send electricity through the body (ideally not directly).
But along with insecurity and death, there can also come feelings of cosiness and shelter. So in the bar this week we can brew up and hand out storms in teacups, and have a few snow globes on the mantlepiece to shake up, but mainly a host of other forms of entertainment to inspire song choices. In the meantime, pull up a chair by fireside. Here's Bob Dylan to give you some shelter, and in this live video, it looks as if he's worried about getting his hair wet:
Now, with another sample, let's see how storms inspire the passion of Lena Horne:
Despite the risks, adrenaline-fuelled storm chasing remains popular, especially in the US mid-west, and here there are some samples of toe-curling footage. Look out for the comically stupid enthusiast at the end of this clip:
The romance of tornados, perhaps because of their aesthetic value, combining beauty and death, has also been used in feature films, most notably in the at times ridiculous Twister (1996), serving as a conduit for Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton to get entwined in the arms of nature:
But from the ridiculous to the sublime, and still quite possibly in my top three favourite films, comes the tornado in The Wizard of Oz, the metaphor, and vehicle for an entire adventure of musical and childhood fantasy:
Probably one of the most politically significant storms of recent years was of course 2005's Hurricane Katrina, which breached the levees of New Orleans due to serious funding neglect, and of course appalling response by the George W Bush administration, leading to 80% of the city being flooded and 1,464 lives lost. For this topic, however, it has significance because of the culture of the city, perhaps with more music running through its DNA than any other. Channelling that, and the ramifications of that terrible event, one way to explore it, and individuals affected, is through the prism of Treme, the TV dramatisation series by David Simon and Eric Overmyer, who were behind The Wire, set in Baltimore:
Storms and tidal flooding are increasingly common around the world, but nothing compares to the 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, which led to the deaths of up to 280,000 people across 14 countries. Deaths from storms, flooding, earthquakes and more are far more prevalent in Asian or southern American countries. They are generally far more devastating, and are worsened by poverty, but also, conversely, get far less media coverage. Typhoon Haiyan, known as Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines 2013, is a good example, killing 6,300 people.
As ice caps melt, sea levels are rising and the water is coming in, partly rom massive landfall, from which we may be possibly be engulfed by giant tsunamis. What is the bigger picture? One of the most original ways of portraying this is from a more universal perspective, courtesy of the band Villagers:
"When the waves
Cover the coastal plains
The tents and the cars and the trains
And the trace of honeybee cemeteries
Of well insulated dignitaries
All screaming of the memory of a human love
For anything, or anyone …"
The waves are on their way, yet of course, the future is always ignored for the sake of profit, by the likes of Trump, by frackers, or Republican backers and climate change deniers, particularly the Koch brothers, whose wealth is based in oil pipelines and fossil fuels. No surprise then that the truth is cloaked in vested interests, greed, and short-term stupidity. Deliberately missing the point of the extreme effects of climate change, we hear the US president coming out with absurd tweets such as "Global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." That was in 2012, but now again, more recently, during a cold snap prompting this: "Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!"
The expensive hoax is played on the rest of the planet of course. Let's listen to the scientists, not the politicians. Let's listen to David Attenborough: "It's coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It's not just climate change; it's sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now."
And so there is fiddling while Rome burns. And perhaps the absurdity, and gravity of it all, could be summed up in this image of golfers playing in Beacon Rock Golf Course in North Bonneville, Washington, totally ignoring a wildfire behind them:
As temperatures increase globally, wildfires are also on the increase. And if the wind blows, there is also the increased risk of a fire tornado. Now that's apocalyptic ..
There's little you can do about that far bigger firey form of natural disaster, the volcano. Pompeii to St Helens, to Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull have affected thousands of people, but nothing quite compares to the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa, the loudest sound ever heard in modern history equivalent to 200 megatons of TNT (840 PJ) —about 13,000 times the nuclear yield of the Little Boy bomb (13 to 16 kt) that devastated Hiroshima.
So how might we react to volcanic activity in song? One original way is to make it cute. How? Make it cute through Disney of course, and not just a love song, but lava song. Ah, that's nice:
Big love indeed. So where are we going to go when the volcano blows, apart from standing well back? Jimmy Buffett isn't sure either, but he can certainly do a pleasant song about it:
And with that, I hand over proceedings to our director of disaster and professor of pyroclastic flow, this week's perfect playlister ParaMhor! Place your songs about or capturing the qualities of everything from monsoons to cyclones, thunderstorms to extinction events in the box below and to find the perfect ending. In the eye of it all, last orders will be called and puns can commence at 11pm UK time on Monday, before playlists published on Wednesday. Let's play out a storm …
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.