Shasta

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Fred
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Shasta

Postby Fred » Sat Oct 30, 2010 7:06 pm

I like to Google up recent news and blogs about Vienna and her music every now and then to see what others outside the hothouse of the forum are thinking. Often enough I dig up a nice interview or something and post a link here. I've been too busy for that sort of stuff for a while but yesterday I got an opportunity to look around, and found something that took me by surprise, altho maybe it shouldn't have. A commenter on a blog of an anti-abortion web site added Shasta to a list of "pro-life" songs, alongside Seals and Croft's Unborn Child, etc. This got me thinking about not just the topics at hand -- Is "Carrie", the narrator, morally opposed to abortion, or did she just make the decision that was right for her? What if anything does Shasta say about Vienna's own position?--but more generally about the relationships between authors and their narrators as exemplified by Vienna's songs.

I must admit I've never paid that much attention to Shasta. Not because of the lyrics or subject matter; it just didn't have a melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic hook that pulled me in. (Reminding me of Vienna's wonderful You Are the Light blog: even if lyrics are the brains of a song, they are often the last thing you hear. I'm with her on that.) Without too much analysis, it seemed like a song about a woman contemplating an abortion but conflicted about it (who wouldn't be?) who ultimately decides not to have one. The idea that it could be a polemic against abortion hadn't occurred to me. So I re-read the lyrics from that point of view, and found more there than I had seen before. Strong images: "They'll take you in their arms and take out their knives", "ghosts with a negative age", "you don't believe but you have to believe". So maybe the commenter had a point.

It's not easy to catch Vienna staking out an unambiguous position on a political or cultural issue in a song, unless maybe it's about the environment in Watershed. She opens up in "confessional" songs like Kansas, but the topical songs have narrators whose relationships to Vienna's own thoughts are never very clear; perhaps she wants it that way. I would like to think that City Hall is pro-marriage equality because the narrator certainly is, but one never knows. The song is written in first person and we know it's not Vienna's own narrative, so right away it's at second hand, and could be a report rather than support. Like any good author, Vienna wants to know what it feels like to see the world through other eyes. It's hard to imagine that "Walter" in Homecoming, for instance, is also Vienna's alter ego. You can imagine being many people, but how many of them would you *want* to be? The relationship between Vienna and the narrator of Recessional has been discussed so many times I'm not going to bother adding to it. Which brings us back to Carrie. What does she think, and does she speak for Vienna? I don't know; what do you think?
Ain't praying for miracles, I'm just down on my knees
Listening for the song behind everything I think I know
And everything I think I know is just static on the radio.

aaparallel
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Postby aaparallel » Sat Oct 30, 2010 11:25 pm

Here's the first thing I thought: Are you kidding? "Shasta" probably has one of the catchiest instrumental and vocal openings and upbeat rhythms of all VT songs! :D Very pop-like on the surface.

My thoughts on the speaker's perspective vs. VT's perspective: While the fact that she wrote this song implies her perspective on the political issue, I've always heard this song as an exercise in empathy. People argue about abortion even though they're not personally going through it. Choosing to get an abortion is a very strong psychological process. People who actually decide to do so may experience guilt later on. And people who don't go through with it may regret it. Carrie's story is just one way a person might deal with the whole thing. Regardless of the person's political views, making the decision can still be very difficult.

Consistent with psychological theory, Carrie feels better about a decision after making it. It could be that she becomes more committed to keeping the baby after deciding not to get the abortion. She also rationalizes with herself and tries to calm herself down throughout the song. These are psychological processes that just happen - the brain's way to avoid depression.

I just think that since VT is so thoughtful and articulate with her storytelling and lyrics, the song has deeply touched people who struggle with difficult decisions. I think VT speaks for these people, rather than for a particular political stance.
"Drowning my pain in lemonade. . . Singing along to 'feelin' alright'"

Fred
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Postby Fred » Sun Oct 31, 2010 2:36 am

aaparallel wrote:Here's the first thing I thought: Are you kidding? "Shasta" probably has one of the catchiest instrumental and vocal openings and upbeat rhythms of all VT songs! :D Very pop-like on the surface.

My thoughts on the speaker's perspective vs. VT's perspective: While the fact that she wrote this song implies her perspective on the political issue, I've always heard this song as an exercise in empathy. People argue about abortion even though they're not personally going through it. Choosing to get an abortion is a very strong psychological process. People who actually decide to do so may experience guilt later on. And people who don't go through with it may regret it. Carrie's story is just one way a person might deal with the whole thing. Regardless of the person's political views, making the decision can still be very difficult.

Consistent with psychological theory, Carrie feels better about a decision after making it. It could be that she becomes more committed to keeping the baby after deciding not to get the abortion. She also rationalizes with herself and tries to calm herself down throughout the song. These are psychological processes that just happen - the brain's way to avoid depression.

I just think that since VT is so thoughtful and articulate with her storytelling and lyrics, the song has deeply touched people who struggle with difficult decisions. I think VT speaks for these people, rather than for a particular political stance.


That seems like a reasonable take on it to me, pretty much mirroring my own personal reaction. I just found it interesting that to someone else it could be a "message" song, and that I too could find that message in it if I "wanted" it to be there. As soon as a song leaves the speakers, it belongs to the audience, and it can be many things to many people.

As far as the hooks go, some songs hit me right away, some never do, and some just take a while. I can't really explain it. I was amazed to go back to my Pandora logs and discover that I'd heard and tagged Vienna for the first time maybe a year and a half before downloading her albums, joining the forum, and buying a ticket to a show. It took that long. Shasta's day may come.
Ain't praying for miracles, I'm just down on my knees
Listening for the song behind everything I think I know
And everything I think I know is just static on the radio.

shawn
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Postby shawn » Sun Oct 31, 2010 5:21 pm

I do remember at least once at a show of hers, right before playing Shasta she made a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer of sorts, saying something like, "the opinion expressed in the song is not necessarily that of the songwriter." For what it's worth...

Wonder if there are folks out there with right-of-center views who bought WS because of Shasta, only to have it segue right into a song sung by a woman that expresses romantic feelings towards another woman... (Yeah, it's subtitled "Walter's Song", but one just listening to it for the first time without seeing the liner notes wouldn't necessarily know that!)

Fred
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Postby Fred » Sun Oct 31, 2010 8:59 pm

shawn wrote:I do remember at least once at a show of hers, right before playing Shasta she made a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer of sorts, saying something like, "the opinion expressed in the song is not necessarily that of the songwriter." For what it's worth...

Wonder if there are folks out there with right-of-center views who bought WS because of Shasta, only to have it segue right into a song sung by a woman that expresses romantic feelings towards another woman... (Yeah, it's subtitled "Walter's Song", but one just listening to it for the first time without seeing the liner notes wouldn't necessarily know that!)

Yeah, I don't think Vienna's narrators in her topical songs are generally surrogates for her, and if they sometimes are we can't tell when. It's a very literary approach to writing popular songs, and takes a little adjustment for a listener coming from a folk orientation, where the message rather than the story is very often of first importance. I guess an exception (no narrator, apparently straight from the heart) is the one-world Utopianism of Soon Love Soon.
Ain't praying for miracles, I'm just down on my knees
Listening for the song behind everything I think I know
And everything I think I know is just static on the radio.

micro
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Postby micro » Mon Nov 01, 2010 1:28 am

On the live recordings on archive.org, you can hear Vienna's various comments/stories on this as well as other songs.

Fred
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Postby Fred » Mon Nov 01, 2010 1:57 am

micro wrote:On the live recordings on archive.org, you can hear Vienna's various comments/stories on this as well as other songs.

Thanks. It's something I mean to do, truly. :)
Ain't praying for miracles, I'm just down on my knees
Listening for the song behind everything I think I know
And everything I think I know is just static on the radio.


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