David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 349: St. Vincent (The Power's Out)

May 12, 2024

Birthdays, especially when one is in his 60s, rarely make you feel better about the future.  However, my last one, just two weeks ago, led me to discover some great new music (for me) and to have some hope that a generation younger than mine might save the world.

My sister ordered me St. Vincent's All Born Screaming for my birthday. The CD only got released the day before my birthday, so I felt pretty unique in getting it so soon, not that I knew anything about her.

All Born Screaming was not going to be an easy entrée for a first-time listener of St. Vincent: an aesthetic of all black cover design, save the singer in white shirt and white socks accompanying her black skirt and shoes, sleeves on fire for the cover, the back completely black, not even a listing of songs. The booklet inside the case is not much better, white lyrics on black background with a centerfold of her in red jacket (still white socks and black shoes) peeing against the black background. I have found an interview where she chose the title as evidence that "we are born in protest" (screaming) and that is how we should live our lives. Wow, brick meet head. How's that for an introduction?

Despite all the reasons to not listen, I do, and I continue to. St. Vincent sounds like an even more eccentric Tori Amos, which is quite a statement in itself. The songs seem all over the place musically, so that at times I think I am listening to Amy Winehouse, other times Joan Jett. Based upon what I have now read and seen about St. Vincent, she is probably very happy I hear these other women artists.

"The Power's Out" stands out as my favorite track almost immediately. I often wondered how well I might be able to write about a recent release for this series, and since I am new to the St. Vincent world, I was taking a big risk writing about "The Power's Out." Given that I start this blog a mere nine days after the CD's release, I am pleasantly surprised to find a good bit, including the "official audio" for "The Power's Out" (as linked below) available (for an "official audio," it sure looks like an official video on YouTube, although you need to blink to see the movement.)

Interestingly, type in 'St. Vincent' 'The Power's Out' into Google and one of the first hits is a short video showing the devastation of a power outage on St. Vincent's island. This occurred in 2021, about the same time as St. Vincent released her last album. I hope there was some kind of 'a-ha' moment for the artist when she saw such a headline and went, "damn, now that is inspiration."

Starting with a programmed drum loop that could represent a dying person's electrocardiogram, "The Power's Out" is perfectly sequenced after "Violent Times," where St. Vincent laments "almost los[ing] you in these violent times." That song finishes with a slightly erratic drum, so once we have this slightly erratic heartbeat for "The Power's Out," we are delivered a narrated dystopia.

"The Power's Out" is about as accurate description of the modern world as you can find in 2024: "the power's out across the nation," and, as Yeats described almost exactly a century ago, "mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." A reporter on T.V. is shot, perhaps by a looter, or just a domestic terrorist, while trying to warn his viewers. "No one can save us, no one can blame us now that the power's out," St. Vincent declares. On the subway platform where the masses of humanity are dangerously pressed together, especially "handsome cowboys praying," a "queer" commits suicide, a scene so traumatic that even "blind folks held the police crying."

"The power's out, the power's out, and no one can save us, no one can blame us now that the power's out" repeats St. Vincent, a moment where a chorus, so bleak and so raw, is not wanted. Who can no longer be blamed? Millennials, Generation Z'ers, or just mankind over all? As the song gets powerfully ratcheted up a notch, it momentarily fades for St. Vincent's punch line, either straight-faced or not, depending upon your point of view, "that's why I never came home." Either anarchy has given the narrator a reason not to do what's expected (in my favorite humorous scenario, our narrator has found the perfect cover story for being with his or her lover and not home with his or her wife), or it's taken her to a moment that is past return: why go home when home is destroyed?

After that barely spoken final line, the song finishes with musical flourishes that could be emergency sirens, a perfect backdrop for this apocalyptic movie's ending. All the things I have worried about for my son's generation seem perfectly articulated with "The Power's Out." I don't know if the threat to the nation's power grid, as often predicted in the past, is still true, but the threat to the nation's moral grid remains, the worst full, as Yeats warned of, "passionate intensity."

Go forth, St. Vincent. You have a new worshipper.

St. Vincent. "The Power's Out." All Born Screaming. Total Pleasure Records, 2024. Link here.

Day 348: Sammy Hagar "I Can't Drive 55"

Day 350: Oasis "Whatever"

See complete list here.