Music for the Apocalypse

Music for the Apocalypse #30: Bad Moon Rising, by Creedence Clearwater Rivival

by Apocalypse Womble

Now, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a song purely for werewolf apocalypse survival – the bad moon rising is an equal opportunities omen. In an interview with Roling Stone, John Fogerty said that ‘It was about the apocalypse that was going to be visited upon us’, presumably meaning the classical vision of apocalypse. It was inspired after Fogerty saw a scene in The Devil and Daniel Webster (a film in which the protagonist makes a deal with the devil for seven years good luck) in which everything is destroyed – crops and houses – all around, but Webster’s property is left untouched. Fogerty was blown away by the scene, and wrote a song inspired by the sense of destruction (although not intended to be directly referential of the film itself).

The resulting song juxtaposes an apocalyptic vision of ‘rage and ruin’ with a remarkably chipper rhythm and tune, ideal for braving out the rising tides and stealing yourself for the coming earthquakes and lightning.

Now, I’d have liked to give you the cover version of this by The Blue Aeroplanes, who produced their version for NME‘s 40 year anniversary album, Ruby Trax, as that’s the version I own and prefer, but I guess it’s a bit obscure for YouTube. I’ve been meaning to start adding links to places where you can buy these awesome tunes for a while now – apologies for my laxness, when we reach 52 tracks I’ll call it Music For the Apocalypse Playlist One and do a post with a YouTube playlist and links for where you can buy them all. In the mean time, I will try and correct my lapseness haphazardly. Links to both the original and Blue Aeroplanes versions are below:

‘Bad Moon Rising’, Creedence Clearwater Revival
‘Bad Moon Rising’, on the Ruby Trax album, by The Blue Aeroplanes

This song has been following me around for the last week – I had a whole bunch of songs I was thinking of putting up for number 30, but after I heard it again in the background of a Dexter scene this evening, it felt like fate. In the course of researching this post, I was reminded that it has also apeared in Supernatural, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s had a fairly regular outing since it was written in 1969 any time a film or TV production team wanted to wryly suggest that bad things were on the horrizon. You gotta give hats off to its longevity.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

Music for the Apocalypse #29: The Final Count Down, by Europe

by Apocalypse Womble

I did try to find an Easter related apocalypse song. In point of fact, I did find a few making the fairly predicatable Zombie Jesus joke, but they just weren’t that good. I did not feel that they would be an adequate apocalypse survival aid.

No, this evening I’m in the mood for something bombastic, and, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get much better than this: ‘The Final Countdown’, by Europe.

I have been told in the past that this is not a ‘good’ song, or that it is a ‘cheesy’ song. To these people, I say: tell me that when you’re heading for Venus and needing something to stir you up and make you stand tall – huh? Huh?

Here’s hoping you all had an awesome Easter, and haven’t suffered too hard today if you’ve been back at work.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

Music for the Apocalypse #28: Run With Us, Lisa Lougheed

by Apocalypse Womble

This one could almost be the theme song for GGSA:

When darkness falls
Leaving shadows in the night
Don’t be afraid
Wipe that fear from your eyes
If a desperate love
Keeps on driving you wrong
Don’t be afraid
You’re not alone

You can run with us
We’ve got everything you need
Run with us
We are free
Come with us
I see passion in your eyes
Run with us

For those who may not recognise this, ‘Run With Us’ is the theme song from The Raccoons, a particularly awesome 80s kids TV show. I adored it as a child. It captures perfectly the free spirit and sense of camaraderie that is necessary for wilderness survival, be it in the Canadian forests, or in the blasted landscape of a post apocalypse setting. The song exudes a sense of escape and freedom from civilisation, and at the same time the feeling of being welcomed into a group, of being told that you are valued and have something to contribute. In other words it is exactly tailored to capture the imagination both of children and apocalypse nerds like thee and me.
And, because I can’t resist, here is also maybe one of the most awesome fanvid mash-ups of all time: the Seventh Doctor and Ace with ‘Run With Us’.

You can run with us
We’ve got everything you need
Run with us
We are free…

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

Music for the Apocalypse #26: Battlestar Galactica Theme (2004)

by Apocalypse Womble

I actually thought of this one first, before the 1978 version (track #22), but I had to give the original its dues. This theme is fantastic, though. I pretty much got the BSG soundtrack because I wanted this song. I secretly hoped that there would be a longer version of faux-ancient-alternate-cultures awesomeness. Of course, TV companies aren’t in the habit of creating music they’re not going to use, so I was disappointed, but it’s still fantastic.

A mere 43 seconds long, this has to be the shortest track we’ve chosen for passing the time in the lonely desert wastes, but check out the awesome sanskrit translations on this vid. They prompted me to go research the shit out of this thing, and holy cow is it ever interesting (more below).

The lyrics are taken from the Gayatri Mantra:

oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tát savitúr váreniyaṃ
bhárgo devásya dhīmahi
dhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt

Which is an awesome thing I did not know before researching for this post. It’s based on a verse from a  hymn of the Rig Veda, (iii /62/10), one of the four sacred texts of Hinduism. ‘Gayatri’ apparently refers to the meter, rather than anything connected with the content of the mantra. ‘oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ’ is not a part of the specific mantra itself, but rather a traditional opening to prayer, known as ‘The Great Utterance’ and meaning something like ‘a “call to creation,” that the light of the sun (the light of God) shines on the earth (bhur), in the sky (bhuvah), and in space (svah), and therefore the implication is, “let that light also shine on me.”’ according to the Devasthanam website. They also give the following word for word breakdown of the mantra itself:

tat–that (God)
savitur–of the sun
varenyam–the best
bhargo (bhargas)–light, illumination
dhimahi–let us meditate (a verb)
dhiyo (dhiyah)–thought(s)
yo (yah)–which
nah–of us, our
pracodayat–May it push, inspire (a verb)

And suggest an interpretation as: ‘Let us meditate on the light of the sun which represents God, and may our thoughts be inspired by that divine light.’ (Obviously the maker of the video above has adopted some poetic license, but the spirit seems intact.)

This makes for a really interesting opening to the 2004 Battlestar Galactica, with its rich and complex discussions of faith, monotheism, polytheism, and atheism – to begin with a mantra that invites us to meditate on one of the representations of God, suggesting both multiplicity and singularity. All the more significant when one adds the fact that the personification of the Gayatri Mantra is a five-headed goddess, who embodies the supreme brahman – God as raw energy, as force’. The Final Five as avatars of the One God, anyone?

I was also interested to read that this mantra is traditionally whispered into the ear of a young boy as part of a right or passage. Am I pressing it too far to see Six whispering in Baltar’s ear as an analogy to this?

Well, maybe, maybe not. What is true is that understanding the meaning behind this small part of the rich tapestry of Battlestar Galactica has opened to me a whole wealth of new threads I hadn’t been aware of – and I already thought it was one of the most incredible television shows ever to be produced.

But to tie this back to the apocalypse at the close, meaning was evoked for me in this song long before I had a translation or even knew that the words were from a genuine language. The music, with the qualities of the voice, had already set the tone as one of an ancient culture, and of meditation on immense loss, followed by those powerful and frantic beats that speak palpably of a struggle for survival. Simply breath-taking.

And still only 43 seconds long.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

Music for the Apocalypse #25: Acrobat, by U2

by Apocalypse Womble

U2 are certainly a band that have been kind to the end of the world motif. They like songs about wide open spaces, barren, deserted cities, emotional ends of the world – you can be sure we’ll come back to them again at a later date – but ‘Acrobat’ may not be the most obvious choice. Nothing in the lyrics is obviously apocalyptic, but all the same I think there is something in the roiling, churning, vitriolic anger at both society and the self, in ‘Acrobat’, that speaks to the emotion of apocalypse. Eliot once intimated, chillingly, that the world will end ‘not with a bang, but a whimper’, but most visions of apocalypse predict something more dramatic: societal meltdown, war – even if the cause is slow and undirected (plague, accident) factionalisation seems to ensue – and apocalypse has long been used as a tool for societal critique. Surely part of the attraction of the end of the world is a call to pull down the structures that stifle and inhibit us and either live in anarchic freedom, or build something new in its place. Something in ‘Acrobat’ speaks to this emotion, even as it rails at the formlessness of its realisation in most of us:

Don’t believe what you hear
Don’t believe what you see
If you just close your eyes
You can feel the enemy
When I first met you girl
You had fire in your soul
What happened your face
Of melting in snow

I know you’d hit out
If you only knew who to hit
And I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in

There’s a great tradition of students going on protests because they feel like that’s what students ought to do – they want to be a part of something, regardless of whether the issue truly drives them. Perhaps we’ve seen an about face on this in recent years, as genuine hardship has affected more people after so many years of borrowing and plenty. The Occupy movement, in particular, seems to have captured this formless desire to hit out in the face of the frictionless edifices of government and big business, where there is no one issue to get behind, because there are so many.

Beyond this emotional recognition of anti-establishment zeitgeist, however, there is a direct apocalypse link. Regardless of whether U2 intended it thus, the verse:

And you can swallow
Or you can spit
You can throw it up
Or choke on it
And you can dream
So dream out loud
You know that your time is coming ’round
So don’t let the bastards grind you down

is strikingly reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, for me, anyway. Margaret Atwood’s seminal novel depicts a world after some sort of disaster that has rendered most women infertile. Society shifts, creepingly, but with disconcerting swiftness, towards the marginalisation of women into reproductive and sexual activities. Fertile women are forced into servitude of rich men, becoming ‘handmaids’ – live-in reproductive slaves with whom they sleep (in the presence of their wives) in the hopes of producing children. In one, striking moment, the protagonist find a scratched message from her predecessor – a message of mixed hope and bitter anger, written in Latin: ‘nolite te bastardes carborundorum/Don’t let the bastards grind you down’. This line ends both the above verse – charged with sexual metaphor ‘you can swallow/Or you can spit’ – and the song as a whole, and seems perfectly to capture the anger and frustration of the hopeless oppressed as they rage against the machine.

Whatever your apocalypse, ladies, be it personal or global, fight the good fight: don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Music for the Apocalypse #24: 99 Luftballons/99 Red Balloons, by Nena

by Apocalypse Womble

’99 Luftballons’ was originally a German song (above), written after Carlo Karges saw red balloons being released into the sky at a concert in West Berlin, and wondered what would happen if they were to float over the Berlin Wall. The song supposes children innocently buying balloons and releasing them accidentally triggering nuclear war, as the balloons are mistaken for weapons. The success of the song saw it translated into English(below), becoming a major hit in translation as well.

For many years I never listened properly to the lyrics, and so didn’t realise what this song was about. It is one of the more gloriously cheerful songs about nuclear war, and all the more poignant for it when you realise what it’s actually saying. And it’s a complex imagery the red balloons could signify weapons used carelessly, but the balloon itself is such a symbol of harmless innocence – of carefree, floating play. It’s a hopeful symbol cut through with a childhood nostalgia that must always be bitter sweet – appropriate for a loss of innocence motif. And the colour – red – is surely symbolic. It’s highly evocative of poppies, and though the coincidence in English of ‘balloon’ and ‘bloom’ is presumably not intentional, a balloon is, in and of itself, like a flower – the red head on the slender string must seem like a bloom on top of a stalk. From one symbol of senseless loss of life to another.

And yet the simply joy and childish delight of a balloon cannot be done away with. The single balloon released in remembrance at the end is sad, to that extent, but cannot but be also a symbol of hope. A nice mix for the post-apocalypse campfire, methinks.

And the English version:

Music for the Apocalypse #23: I Can’t decide, The Scissor Sisters

 by Apocalypse Womble

Party down with the Master, flying high above the ruins of New York and the radiation pits of Europe:

This tune is famous for its use in the above scene from ‘Last of the Time Lords‘, the finale of series three of the new Doctor Who, but you don’t have to be lost in a Whovian apocalypse of paradoxes, Time Lords, and Toclafane to enjoy this one. Found one of your friends trying to conceal a zombie bite? Well, you really ought to kill them before they change, but that’s a hard choice to make. Why not slap on ‘I can’t decide’ to set the mood?Looks like I’m not the only one who’s thought of this:

Incidentally, this video has a random two minutes of black silence stuck on the end. No idea why, but NotEvenYours appears to be the only person on the Internet who thought of combining ‘I can’t decide’ with The Night of the Living Dead, so they win the pize of our attention for the effort, anyway.

 – Apocalypse Womble out

Music for the Apocalypse #22: Battlestar Galactica Theme (1978)

by Apocalypse Womble

Get your geek on, ladies, this is the the good shit. Don’t get me wrong, I love the hell out of the BSG reboot, but I will always have a special place in my heart for the original. The fundamental idea was the same, and it was new and staggering: the nigh on total annihilation of the human race – a human race itself more advanced than our present culture, but still completely and utterly out-gunned by the thoroughly alien and other cylons. For of course, in the original, cylons were not created by human beings – their mechanical life evolved on its own.

Maybe the science was ropey, maybe the plots petered out, maybe the final resolution was bizarre, but the imagination here is captivating. This was an apocalypse that brought an end to twelve worlds at once. At the same time it challenged ideas about gender and attitudes towards sex. Maybe it didn’t have the same kind of gutsy message to it as the remake’s Starbuck and President Roslin, but the women forced the menfolk to accept them as viper pilots, and the character Cassiopeia foreshadows the likes of Inara as a woman in calm possession of her own sexuality. And, well, I defy you not to be stirred by this:

There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who even now fight to survive somewhere beyond the heavens…

Well, yeah, OK, we could do with a mention of the sisters out there fighting for survival, too, but I still say that it’s stirring stuff:

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

Music for the Apocalypse #21: Silent Running, Joan Baez

by Apocalypse Womble

So, this is the second glorious song recorded by Joan Baez for the Silent Running soundtrack – you can see the first, along with a synopsis of the film, here.

I get tingles every time I hear it. It starts out as a simple, hippytastic song about waiting for you man to come home with flowers in your hair and earth between your toes. Not an obvious choice for competent, self-reliant ladies to listen to in the post-apocalypse landscape, where survival is the first port of call. But as the song goes on the tone of regret and sadness seeps in. He’s not coming home; there are no flowers or happy endings anymore: ‘Tears of sorrow running deep/Running silent in my sleep’. It is a dream of past hopes that will never come true, innocent in their simplicity. This lady is on her own now.

Of course, in the film it’s from his perspective – a fantasy woman waiting for him at home that he will never go back to. By this point Lowell has taken the last forests of planet Earth and hidden them out of radio contact behind Saturn. He’s never going home; all he can hope for is that some day someone else will come out and find these habitats and restore the Earth. But we don’t have to take the male narratives as they are given. It’s a woman who’s singing, singing of her life, after goodness and love has left the world.

It can’t all be power chords. Sometimes you need to sit down and connect with your emotions. Sit together around your fire on a post-apocalypse evening and share memories of all that has been lost – sing a bit of Joan Baez.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

Music for the Apocalypse #20: Rejoice in the Sun, by Joan Baez

by Apocalypse Womble

Zombies, plague, robots – we all know the traditional ones, but you better fear when the hippies bring apocalypse to the table. ‘Rejoice in the Sun’ is the opening theme to Silent Running, one of the most haunting and visually stunning apocalypse movies, and one that made a very big impression on my four year old mind as I sat completely not getting that the main character is a few chips short in the casino of the mind. He’s a peculiar kind of anti-hero. He’s not witty or rakishly handsome, he’s just so zealously in the right that nobody likes him except some broken down robots he programs to be his friends after he kills everyone else. Ummm.

Basically, Silent Running is the ultimate environmentalist apocalypse movie. Waterworld eat your heart out. The premise of the movie is that we fucked the world so royally that no plants can exist on Earth anymore. We put the ones we had left into biodomes and sent them into space. Then we decided that even having forests in space was an extravagant expense and told the men who had spent their lives protecting and caring for the forests to destroy them and come home. Lowell doesn’t like that, and that’s where it all starts going a bit wrong…

Anyway, there’s nothing quite like singing in the end of the world with the clear, resonating voice of Joan Baez:

This song features the lyric: ‘Gather your children to your side… Tell them all they love will die’ but carries on cheerfully to recommend Grow Your Own as a solution:

Tell them it’s not too late
Cultivate, one by one
Tell them to harvest and rejoice
In the sun

Let’s just say: it’s a song after my own heart. Even if you’re in space, you still have to dig for when the canned goods run out.

 – Apocalypse Womble out