I’ve recently begun examining Chris’s ‘ties’ to Albert Camus’s The Rebel. In a NY Times interview, “Whitley points to French philosopher Albert Camus’ 1951 essay ‘The Rebel’ and suggests, ‘It’s not idealisms and this and that. It can be existential frustrations. We overlook that. You turn on the TV and if it’s guys burning American flags or if it’s Bush people, they all seem like frustrated men. Something that they need to get out but they don’t know what it is.’” So we know that he read Camus.
What grabs me in the lyrics of Fireroad are these lines: “Along fallen aisles, arsenal lanes/ the rebel reveals only love remains.” My initial take is that ‘fallen aisles’ = the decline of religion (Camus – and possibly Chris? – was not a believer), ‘arsenal lanes” = our aggressive nature epitomized in war, and ‘the rebel’ = Camus’ Rebel, which does ultimately prescribe love and solidarity as a kind of balm against the absurdity of life, which often seems meaningless. Perhaps a simplistic reading, but a feasible one nonetheless???
Ran across this quotation from Camus’s The Rebel: “When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken the light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of the winter, I finally learned within me there lay an invincible summer.”
Hmmm …. “Illuminate me, Illuminate you” – perhaps Chris’s ‘awaken[ing] the light on the faces surrounding him’?
Contrary to what many – including myself – may have thought, War Crime Blues doesn’t refer to the Iraq mess but to the American bombing of Dresden in World War II: “One track, Invisible Day, was recorded under a bridge, complete with ambient park sounds. “I just wanted to do it on the Elbe River,” Whitley explained. “Purely sentimental.” The overpass over the Elbe was, according to the 43-year-old musician, the one bridge not destroyed in the Dresden bombings of the Second World War. Those bombings, a brutal Allied campaign against a city of no military importance, are the offenses of War Crime Blues. Mistakenly, the album’s title has been interpreted as a reference to much more recent misdeeds.” https://www.theglobeandmail.com/…/a-blu…/article4124439/
Chris had read Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (which deals with the bombing), so I can’t help but think that the bird sounds in Invisible Day were apropos this passage: “There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “‘Poo-tee-weet?’”
I’m also sharing it because, in the midst of this 9-minute mess (which begins with Chris lamenting “War Crimes!” and a lot of words I can’t make out but something about writing the song for Mel Gibson’s film We Were Soldiers???), Chris says that he stole the phrase “the still invisible day of victory” from Camus. I’ve posted before about Chris and Camus, that Chris was reading The Rebel contemporaneously with his recording War Crime Blues. Obviously, he was reading The Rebel earlier; Invisible Day first appears on the Fargo Records Rocket House bonus CD released in 2001.
I tracked down Camus’s use of that phrase in The Rebel: “The accession to power of the possessed had to take place so that it could be said, once and for all, that the revolution, in itself, was more important than the people it wanted to save, and that friendship, which until then had transformed defeats into the semblance of victories, must be sacrificed and postponed until the still invisible day of victory.”
AP: Tell me about the messages behind War Crime Blues.
CW: I feel like all of my records have a little conceptual value. Every record I’ve made has a landscape, atmosphere, place, or specific melancholic feeling I’m trying to relate. I always have a slant and on this one it’s the personal as political. I started War Crime Blues about a year after September 11th. I actually flew into New York City on September 13th that year. I saw a negative grace develop out of the attacks that’s mostly related to fear and
ignorance because we had no previous reference point to someone hating us that physically.
The record came out of me wanting to respond honestly
to the situation, rather than having a big message. It all goes back to Albert Camus and his book The Rebel. There are much deeper issues at work here. War just never fucking ends. Is it something about us Americans? Well, who made America? All of those European motivations.
Living in Dresden, Germany as I do, I can tell you that war crimes are still something people don’t want to admit to. They don’t want to admit that with Nazism, civilians were involved in perpetrating these crimes. They don’t want to admit that people were machine-gunned down while running through the streets. The Germans are completely ashamed of Nazism but don’t want to remember that it was a crime. That’s just my own feeling. The U.S. is also guilty of a lot of shit we never talk about, namely the wiping out of Native Americans and the extinction of thousands of their languages. That’s genocide and it was only 200 years ago.
War Crime Blues also relates to my feelings of becoming aware of my own apathy and ignorance as an American. It’s not that Americans have things so cushy. The fact is people are working so fucking hard in America. But it’s sort of like Nazi Germany in that people let themselves be led around by whatever the fuck they’re told, just because they’re so tired. There’s a level of ignorance and naïveté that’s just so apparent. Opinions are mostly being formed by a drugged culture created by capitalism and money-driven media. How can those forces ever want to positively affect things like peace or balance in the world?
I don’t hear anyone talking about love much these days. We must be in a really frustrated culture if we’re only thinking about money and protecting ourselves. Some huge existential point is being completely missed. It’s the sort of thing presidential candidates don’t give a shit about. In our rebellious arrogance, we want to blame someone else for what’s going on, but we can’t. We’re so egocentric and ignorant. It’s all about drawing your borders, fear, separatism, and xenophobia. But the most beautiful thing about the United States are people like the Indians and Pakistanis. If you stay in a hotel in middle America, chances are Indian women own the place. It’s like that across the country. It disappoints me that people don’t take that diversity more seriously. The reason it’s not taken seriously is because it takes too much time to consider that—time that could be spent making shitloads of money.