Music for the Apocalypse #34: Brave New World, by Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden have been suggested to me several times for this series, and this song in particular. I was waiting until the moment was right, and I feel the time has come. Rock out, ladies!

I did wonder whether ‘Brave New World’ really counted as apocalyptic. The lyrics certainly have an apocalyptic ring:

Dragon kings dying queens, where is salvation now
Lost my life lost my dreams, rip the bones from my flesh
Silent screams laughing here, dying to tell you the truth
You are planned and you are damned in this brave new world

But the book on which the song is based, Brave New World is more dystopic than apocalyptic, and this comes out in the lyrics, too: ‘Dying to tell you the truth / You are planned and you are damned in this brave new world’. This is clearly about trying to get a message of warning (the truth) out about the dangers of the dystopic society – nobody really lives in a world where their lives are ‘planned’ out for them by the state.

Of course, there are a lot of songs in this series that are not strictly apocalyptic in nature, but which we have recommended to you as a good soundtrack for the apocalypse nonetheless. However, it seemed an interesting question to me: just what is the relationship between the dystopic and the apocalyptic. They certainly share key themes. Brave New World is concerned with the apparent dichotomy between civilisation and nature. The old theme that the civilised world corrupts, that technology that seeks to interfere too much with nature risks ‘damning’ us, either because it is seen as an attempt to interfere with God’s plan, or because nature itself is venerated. Apocalyptic fiction, art, and music is similarly concerned with the themes of civilisation and nature. Where dystopia explores this by positing ‘over’-civilised worlds, apocalypse does so by destroying civilisation and forcibly returning us to a state of nature. In this case, however, nature is rarely kind. There is usually some descent in to barbarism as warring tribes battle it out for resources and territory.

And yet, I suspect this dichotomy of apocalypse and dystopia is as artificial as that between nature and civilisation. They idea that anything could become ‘unnatural’ has always puzzled me – after all, human beings are natural creatures; why should their actions in some cases be deemed natural and in others (typically those concerned with creating advances technology or novel political systems) not? Close examination of apocalyptic texts reveals that they are usually more complex and nuanced. In The Stand after the initial outbreak of looting and vandalism, most survivors seem concerned with rebuilding civiliastion – regardless of whether they side with Abagail Freemantle or with Randall Flag. The factionalism arises because of differing ideals of what it is to be civilised. Even in films like Mad Max II and III, which might seem archetypal of the descent into barbarism and ‘state of nature’, the tribes war over possession of gasoline, which is itself a product of and enabler of civilised technologies (chiefly, transportation – so crucial in the barren Australian environment for people unused to surviving in the Outback*).

Equally, in dystopic fiction, the dystopia is often set against the backdrop of a savage outside world, from which the inhabitants are walled off for their own safety. Thus, in Logan’s Run, the world outside the domes is an overgrown wilderness that had been abandoned following some catastrophe. The rigidly stratified world where people are killed once they reach 30 has come into existence in order to deal with the constraints on resources forced by the retreat into the domes. Brave New World similarly suggests a world where a happy, comfortable life is preserved via population control and a rigid caste system, but a ‘savage’ world still persists outside the boundaries of that system. Moreover, a recurring theme of dystopic fiction is a sort of stagnation born of such oppressive societies that might be seen as the end of one sort of world: the death of imagination.

Are dystopic and apocalyptic fiction the same? No, but they are flip-sides of the same coin. Dystopia can arise out of apocalypse and apocalypse can ‘free’ us from dystopia, but in such cases the one hangs in the background of the other, asking questions. Is it really that awesome to be ‘freed’ from responsibility? Is it really so great to be ‘freed’ from civilisation? 

Play this song when you’re feeling sad about the world that has been lost. If you’re stuck in a post-apocalypse world it can be good to blast out a song with an angry beat to remind you that not everything that’s gone was good.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

Music for the Apocalypse – Special Edition: RIP Peter Jones

Peter Jones, the drummer from Crowded House, has died, at just 45 years of age.

Here at The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse, we know the value music has in human survival – pretty much anywhere – and would like to do our bit to honour his passing.

I first came in contact with Crowded House via that apocalypse classic, The Stand. Their song, ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ was part of the superb soundtrack of the 1994 mini-series (the same year Peter Jones joined the band). It is haunting, beautiful, hopeful and sad. Perfect for two survivors to listen to by candlelight, to dream that the world isn’t over just because everyone has died, to contemplate beginning a journey, battling for a new future. Or awkwardly exchanging mixed signals.

I loved this song so much I taped it off the telly. Of course, it wasn’t written for the apocalypse, but the same messages of hope in the face of a difficult world ring true. In playing songs like this, Peter Jones performed true works of art. His presence in the world shifted the balance towards the positive, and that’s the best that any of us can hope for.

Don’t Dream it’s Over is available on Amazon for £0.89.

Rest well. We loved your music, and we will take it with us, to the end of the world, and whatever may happen after.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

Music for the Apocalypse #32: When the Levee Breaks, by Led Zeppelin

by Apocalypse Womble

When you start compiling a list like this, you check out the competition. Sad but true, we at The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse cannot claim to be the first to try and create a music collection for it. It’s one of those things, as Mark Owen said:

Four minute warning,
Everybody wants to know,
What should we do?

Which song or songs do you pick to go out to? It’s a bit like Desert Island Discs, only more frantic. So, yeah, I ran across a few in my travels in search of the very best music to see out the end of the world by, and I was a little surprised to see that ‘When the Levee Breaks’ featured more than once. This guy has measured out songs for your last 51:35 minutes of life, and for points of predicted population loss. ‘When the Levee Breaks’ comes in at T-minus 35:01 and 84,375,000 people left – the point where those on the coast or below sea level will find that the end has come.

OK, so, yeah, water can kill, but is it really apocalyptic? ‘When the Levee Breaks’ is just about a flood, right? I wanted to put it in because I loved Led Zeppelin, but did it really count? Well, those who live in the UK or who follow people in the UK may have had reason to contemplate such matters this week. Very, very shortly after the dreaded hose-pipe ban was declared the heavens opened and the UK Twittersphere began to mutter about collecting the animals two-by-two. At the time of posting, there are 31 flood warnings in effect.

A still from Waterworld.
I liked this film. So there.

It got me thinking, and I think perhaps floods do come under the umbrella (sorry) of traditional apocalypse after all. I mean, wiping out everything except Noah and his menagerie is pretty extreme. And although it’s really about polar ice-caps melting, you can’t deny that Waterworld has a place in the apocalypse-o-sphere, and focuses similarly on the consequences of excess of water.

And then I began to look into the song, and, as is so often the case, reality can come up with more terrifying things than the imagination. The Led Zeppelin version is a cover. The original was first recorded in 1929 by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, based on the events of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. That alone is interesting. Sure, rock bands reworked old blues songs all the time in the sixties and seventies, but why did this one have such longevity? What drew Led Zep to it for the close of their fourth album, joining immortal tracks like ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in what is widely regarded as their best work?

The answer is that the song achingly depicts a truly catastrophic event at least as worthy of being called a historical apocalypse as the eruption at Pompeii. On Good Friday of that year 15 inches of rain fell in just 18 hours, and the rain just kept on coming. Until June. Levees were built and raised: ‘from two feet to 7.5 feet to as much as 38 feet’ and they could not contain the water. 13 levees broke, flooding 26,000 square miles. Figures vary from 246 deaths to over a thousand, but seem to agree that somewhere between 700,000 and 1 million people were displaced. The black community was hit particularly hard, as whites were rescued as a priority and given higher standards of aid. This account describes ‘concentration camps’ where refugees were held in squalid conditions. At Greenville the refugees were put to work to reinforce the levees, and were caught as water ‘more than double the amount of Niagara Falls’ poured through it. Shockingly, in the panic, one man reportedly suggested cutting free an entire boat full of black people.

The Wikipedia article on the flood cites it as a spark-point for the Great Migration of African-Americans away from Southern States like Mississippi towards more northerly cities, although the article on the migration itself suggests a more disparate number of sources. What is certainly true is that there was a large migration of poverty stricken refugees (especially African-Americans) away from the desolate landscape that had once been farmland and towards the cities, and, as the song records, Chicago in particular.

And so. I have a new found respect for this song, and the pain it depicts. Global destruction, in an objective sense? No. But for those people whose lives were lost, or irrevocably ruined, who were cast forth as destitutes upon a world that had little sympathy for them or aid to offer them. ‘Apocalypse’ almost feels like a small, tawdry word.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

Music for the Apocalypse #31: Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Theme), by Brad Fiedel

by Apocalypse Womble

Please go view the original footage here – it’s just too awesome, but they don’t allow embedding with that video, so I used the above.

Anyway, this may be the very greatest music ever to have been written for the apocalypse. Terminator 2: Judgement Day is my very favourite film, and this music is a significant part of the rich tapestry that forms one of the most evocative apocalypse movies ever to have been created.

It is, simply put, a masterpiece. It starts out with the distinctive drums. Big and martial and regular, and combined with the visual on a slow zoom in, first to the fire of apocalypse itself, and then to the name of the film, rendered in cold steal – the approach of war, the approach of the end. And that drum beat combining with the harsh metallic clang that forms the palpable presence of a Terminator within the theme – its regular beat underscores the martial human drums with something more relentless. We hear the measured pace of a killing machine in that sound, recalling the terminator’s relentless pursuit of Sarah Connor from the first movie, as well as Kyle Reese’s relentless, beat-driven warning:

It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

 Yet, even as these beats tell us of the approaching war, of the terminators, of Judgement Day, this incredible, melancholy swell of hope rolls out along with the fire. Because this is not just about the killer robots that are coming to get you, it is also about John Connor – the boy Skynet is trying to kill, the boy who may one day be the man who will be our hope, who will form a rallying point for the resistance. And more than that, because in this film the question is also raised of stopping the war before it even begins – of defying Skynet and avoiding that bleak future altogether.

This whole film is written on the edge of a knife – on the edge of night – on the edge of possibility. The main lighting state is one of eternal sunset, echoing and reinforcing these two notes in the theme: of the hope and fear that an unfated life, a self-directed life, may take. A life of responsibilities – those of the whole world, in the case of John Connor, and the woman whose responsibility is to raise him and hone him into the weapon he must be; and also for Miles Dyson, too, who must face his own responsibility in helping to create that terrible future. The weight of responsibility is there in those heavy beats as well, and in the minor notes of the (synthesised?) strings that form the hopeful swell and fall back down into sad, laden, low notes again.

This film is called ‘Judgement Day’ and so it opens with the judgement itself – the flames of thermonuclear war – and in the slow-motion pan over burning play equipment the weight of responsibility could not be more palpable. It also puts up front the relationship that is at the centre of this movie: that of a mother to her child, and that same mother to all other children. She is haunted by visions of children who ‘look like burnt paper’ as they are torn apart by the coming apocalypse. As a mother herself, the vision is unbearable, and yet to stop it she has robbed her own son of a true childhood, burdening him with truths few adults could sanely believe. The music combines with these images of burnt innocence to form our opening impression of both a great and terrible moment approaching – a tipping point, where the world will be lost, or saved – and the terror and wonder that must face the people at the centre of that storm.

So, yeah, I think it’s pretty good. If ever I’m travelling down a black-top highway towards the unknown, this is the music I want playing.

The Terminator 2 soundtrack is available from Amazon.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

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: