Everything dies baby that’s a fact

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I was never much of a Bruce Springsteen fan. His music was too much the anthem of the pop-collared frat boys who dominated the social scene of the east coast university where I spent my early ’80s undergrad days.

There was too much … New Jersey … in his fans. Too much Jersey Shore before MTV brought that stereotype to life for the rest of America.

Too much “Born in the USA” chest-pounding from College Republican cadres who hadn’t bothered to listen to the lyrics.  Too much “Bruuuuuuuuuce!” blaring from the windows of the dorms on warm fall days. Too many privileged prep school kids trying to own his working-class outsider vibe.

But … there’s this one song.

It’s hard for me to put in words what I love about this song. The music is spare, but beautiful for that spareness.

It’s dark lyrically. It speaks of broken people reaching for a tattered and tawdry diversion from the grim day-to-day sameness of their lives.

Like “Born to Run” or “Thunder Road,” “Atlantic City” is about escape. But here it’s fleeting.

Put your makeup on fix your hair up pretty, and meet me tonight in Atlantic City.

This is the only Springsteen song I need, Nebraska the only album. The real fans can have the rest.

Happy 67th birthday, Bruce.

Hodor Hodor Hodor!

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Seriously, if you read the title of this post you should have already guessed that spoilers abound. Fair warning.

There was one noble act of self-sacrifice in last night’s Game of Thrones episode, but it wasn’t Hodor.

No, that belonged to Leaf, who took a whole bunch of wights down with her when she detonated her Holy Handgrenade of the Children of the Forest.

No, Hodor was sacrificed all right, but it wasn’t a death he chose for himself.

Nope. Bran killed him, just as sure as if he’d thrust a dagger into the gentle giant’s giant heart. Of course this runs counter to some of the Internet’s prevailing day-after narrative. Take this passage from a piece at The Atlantic:

The episode considered time travel. It considered the machinations of fate. In all that, it considered the circularity of violence: the notion that a violent act cannot be understood as a single event, but rather as something that will reverberate across people and space and time. As something that will, indeed, linger in the air.

The most striking instance of all that was, of course, the straining, clawing, and self-sacrificial death of Hodor.

Or this from Slate:

On Game of Thrones, death is sudden. It is cruel and stupid, brutal and inevitable. But it has never been as heartbreaking as it was at the end of “The Door,” when the taciturn giant, Hodor (Kristin Nairn), gave his life so that Bran and Meera might escape. George R.R. Martin doesn’t traffic in heroism, but if any character’s end qualifies as heroic, this one did.

Even the actors and showrunners themselves put this perspective forward in the after-episode commentary provided by HBO:

Pay attention to what Kristian Nairn, who plays poor doomed Hodor, has to say in the clip. “I like that he sacrifices himself for his friends. It’s very true to Hodor for me.” But he’s wrong. They’re all wrong.

At the moment when Hodor makes that decision, he’s not the one making that decision. Bran is. Hodor had been frozen in terror, useless as the White Walkers and wights were overrunning the cave where Bran, Meera, the Three-Eyed Raven, Leaf, and the other Children of the Forest were hiding.

And then Bran warged into him.

As we learned in earlier episodes, and certainly from the books (for crying out loud, read the books), when Bran wargs into another creature he shares its mind and controls its actions. This is true whether we are talking about Summer, Bran’s doomed dire wolf, or about Hodor himself.

Once Bran enters his mind, Hodor is nothing more than a puppet. A huge, powerful puppet.

This also explains how Wylis becomes Hodor. When time-traveling Bran wargs into the stableboy, he’s already mentally connected to Hodor, and becomes the bridge between past-Wylis and present/future-Hodor, allowing the later’s traumatic, horrific death to shatter the former’s mind.

So Bran is doubly guilty. He’s guilty first of killing Hodor, and second of mentally crippling Wylis’.

Of course this is all completely in keeping with the world of Game of Thrones, in which death is more often ignominious and pointless than it is noble. Ask Ned and Robb Stark, or King Joffrey, or Robert and Renly Baratheon, or Tywin Lannister. Or The Hound. Or Oberyn Martel. Or … take your pick.

It’s also a world in which the powerless die to advance the agendas of the powerful. And so Hodor joins the ranks of countless others, named and unnamed: Old Nan, Osha the Wildling, Shireen, Ollie, the shepherd’s boys, civilians and soldiers and men-at-arms without number.

But at least Slate got it right when they named Bran this week’s “worst person in Westeros.” It’s just not for the right reason.

Music for Easter Sunday

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For those who celebrate the day, here’s a rendition of William Billings’ “Easter Anthem” as sung at the 2012 Ireland Sacred Harp Convention in Cork.

Play it loud …

“I would rather go out for a hotdog than write a song I didn’t like”

prine 2On a cold, gray February Monday, a short documentary on creativity, featurng singer-songwriter John Prine.

Let me say this about Prine and his music. Despite the best efforts of friends and bandmates, it has taken me longer to appreciate Prine’s music than it should have. In part that’s because, to my casual ear, much of it sounds the same. His finger-picking style of guitar work doesn’t vary all that much from song-to-song, and his voice falls into a natural rhythm and intonation that likewise carries over from song to song, and album to album.

But … listen to the lyrics. That’s where Prine’s brilliance shines forth. This documentary, from former Today Show correspondent Mike Leonard, takes a look at creativity and the creative process, with Prine as the chief example. You can read more about this documentary here, and then more about Prine and his ties to Chicago and the Old Town School of Folk Music here.

And finally, take a break from your Monday morning and listen to Prine perform “Paradise,” one of my favorite songs.