Monday, November 03, 2008

How Fleet Foxes Saved Me From the Presidential Campaign

When the presidential election season began in earnest with the first caucuses and primaries in January, I was filled with an enthusiasm that I hadn’t felt for years. I kept telling my kids, “pay close attention, because a presidential election is never going to get more interesting than the one playing itself out in 2008.” You had contested and interesting races in both parties, you had memorable candidates, you had historic candidates, and you had the prospect of an exciting campaign that would go right down to the wire.

Well, here we are just one day before the election, and I’m so sick of the whole thing that, more than anything else, I just want it to be over. Na├»ve though my hope may have been, I nonetheless hoped that this year we might be able to witness some real civil discourse and debate about the issues. That was not to be; instead, we got treated to a never-ending game of “gotcha” that had little or nothing to do with substance. And even when substantial issues were the subject, the tone of the attacks – the tone of the discussion – was so vicious and out of proportion to anything resembling reality that it just made my blood boil.

Now that most signs point to an Obama victory, the vitriol is really coming to the fore from the conservative side. Before I go any further, I should say that I have equal distaste for the vitriol coming from a substantial portion of the far left about this election. But this is what I’ve been reading today, and what has me angry enough to stick my head through a wall. And I think what bothers me most is the assumption underlying the thoughts of these authors is that they represent the mainstream of America’s thinking. Some samples:

“I understand that larger and larger swaths of America are turning purple if not blue as affluence coupled with tertiary education and cultural relativism transform more and more people into latte-drinking, NPR-listening, global-warming hysterics who regard Karl Rove as an evil genius and Sarah Palin as an anencephaltic breeding machine on skis.” • Roger Kimball, Pajamas Media

There truly are no gray areas in a mind like Roger Kimball’s. What really bugs me is the certainty with which Kimball writes of these “larger and larger swaths” of America. He clearly knows what is going on in the minds of every single Obama voter. He knows of their lives, their educations, their values, simply by the fact that they’re voting for Obama.

"...If he were telling the truth, I’d applaud him — and the Left would condemn him as a jack-booted racist.

But he’s lying — and all his cultists knows it.

In 2006, Obama marched shoulder-to-shoulder with illegal alien shamnesty activists in Chicago. He supports driver’s licenses for illegal aliens..."

• Michelle Malkin, from a column on her blog about Obama and his aunt.

I'm not going to link to this, but Malkin is easy enough to find if you want to read the entire column. This snippet is just one example of the hatred and the certainty that drive her world, one in which Obama supporters become “cultists.” Frankly, her work sickens me.

And then, over at Dr. Helen’s blog, which is one that I do link to (you can find it under “More Good Stuff” on the left), you have an entire recent discussion about how people should “pull a John Galt” and begin to withdraw from society, and withdraw from the economy to demonstrate their displeasure over Obama’s economic policies, should he be elected President. When I hear stuff like this, I think “what the hell is wrong with you people?” That kind of thinking strikes me as inherently more dangerous – and frankly more elitist – than anything that is coming from the center or the left.

Which is why Michele Catalano’s post from last week, “The Politics of Friendship,” came as such a breath of fresh air. Because this Michele gets it – she understands that there is more to a person than just their most deeply held political beliefs. You can be close friends with someone with whom you have widely disparate political views. But for whatever reason, in the current poisonous atmosphere – to which both left and right have contributed – the possibility of such a rational friendship and discussion is becoming less and less likely.

For me, this was the key portion of Catalano’s piece:

"...It saddens me that the political discourse in this country has become so volatile, so divisive that people are afraid to say who they are voting for. It saddens me that there are an awful lot of stories like mine out there, too many people who have felt a loss over politics. It happens with friends, at work, within families and it saddens me to know that there are way too many people out there who believe that anyone who doesn’t think exactly like they do are idiots. There are no shades of gray with these people. There is no room for differences. There is just this line they draw and if you cross over it, you must be a complete idiot with no redeeming qualities whatsoever..."

That just about says it all. There really is no gray area for these people, and they really are adding nothing to the discourse. They’re just making it harder to find real solutions to some very real problems.

So what, you may ask, does any of this have to do with Fleet Foxes? Well, more than any other single piece of music I’ve listened to in the past month, Fleet Foxes has provided an avenue for escape from the insanity of this campaign. Based in Seattle, the band is probably about to hit it big, because if Rolling Stone writes a feature on you, that usually means something. The band describes its music as “baroque harmonic pop jams,” and that description is as apt as anything that I could come up with. From the first strains of “Sun It Rises,” which sound like something straight out of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, to the end of “Oliver James,” the album is a perfectly realized piece of music, from a band that sounds as if it has been recording for twenty years, rather than just the few that it has been together.

In the Rolling Stone article, band leader Robin Pecknold makes reference to The Beach Boys and Pet Sounds, and you can hear some of that influence on Fleet Foxes, particularly in the harmonies and the falsetto singing. On some songs, particularly “White Winter Hymnal” and “He Doesn’t Know Why,” the only way to do the vocals justice is to call them breathtakingly beautiful. Interestingly, although the band is American, the record makes me think of some British artists of long (and even longer) ago: Aztec Camera, Big Country, and even Nick Drake.

The musicianship is also extraordinary, although it may be too laid back for some – think of a tight as a drum Grateful Dead, and you get the idea. There is nary a note out of place, and that might be off-putting for some. But when you’re looking to escape a poisonous atmosphere like the one surrounding the presidential campaign, I can’t think of a better alternative. The middle section of the album – “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” through “He Doesn’t Know Why” – is probably its strongest, though right now my favorite song would have to be “Blue Ridge Mountains.”

Where the album will stand in my top ten at year’s end is difficult to say, but it will definitely fall in there somewhere. But more than anything else, I thank the band for helping me survive this political season.


Nicole said...

Good post; I'm glad I stopped by. I clicked on your link from The Lives and Times blog carnival.

Jeff said...

Thank you!