Thursday, January 20, 2011

Please Forgive Us / Hateful Hate / Tolerance

Please Forgive Us (from the 10,000 Maniacs album Blind Man's Zoo)

"Mercy, mercy," why didn't we hear it?
"mercy, mercy," why did we read it
buried on the last page of our morning papers?

The plan was drafted, drafted in secret
gunboats met the red tide
driven to the rum trade
for the army that they created
but the bullets were bought by us
it was dollars that paid them

Please forgive us
we don't know what was done
in our name

There'll be more trials like this in mercenary heydays
when they're so apt to wrap themselves up
in the stripes and stars and find that they are able
to call themselves heroes
to justify murder
by their fighters for freedom

Please forgive us
we don't know what was done
please forgive us, we didn't know

Could you ever forgive us?
I don't know how you could

I know this is no consolation...

Please forgive us
we didn't know

Could you ever believe that
we didn't know?

Please forgive us
we didn't know

I wouldn't blame you
if you never could


Hateful Hate (from the 10,000 Maniacs album Blind Man's Zoo)

In the dark night a giant slumbered
untouched for centuries
'til awakened by a white man's cry
"this is the Eden I was to find"

There were lands to be charted
and to be claimed for a crown
when a hero was made
by the length he could stay
in this dangerous land of hateful hate

Curiosity filled the heads of these
there was an upper room they had to see

Curiosity killed the best of these
for a hero's hometown welcoming

Still they moved on and on...

Who came building missions?
unswerving men of the cloth
who gave their lives in numbers untold
so that black sheep entered the fold

Captured like human livestock destined for slavery
naked, walked to the shore where great ships moored
for the hell bound journeys
bought and sold with a hateful hate

Curiosity filled the breasts of these
with some strange ecstasy

Curiosity killed the best of these
by robbing their lives of dignity

Still they moved on and on...

Calling men of adventure
for a jungle bush safari
come conquer the beast
his claws and teeth
see death in his eyes to know you're alive

European homesteads grew up in the colonies
with civilized plans for wild hinterlands
their guns and God willing
such a hateful hate

Curiosity spilled the blood of these
for their spotted skins and ivory

Curiosity filled the heads of these
madmen with the lies of destiny

Curiosity spilled the blood of these
then blotted their lives from history

Curiosity filled the heads of these
one man claimed all that he could see

Curiosity still entices these
madmen with a lusting and a greed

Their legacy, legacy, legacy…


Tolerance (from the 10,000 Maniacs album Our Time In Eden)

the still and silence is torn with violence
a loud breaking sound in the night is made
hear it grow, hear it fade
the sound you're hearing
the sound you're fearing
is the hate that parades up and down our streets
coming within bounds and within reach

now, inside the place we hide away
we hear it near and hope it turns away
turn away

there's something seething
in the air we're breathing
we learn slash and burn is the method to use
set a flame, burn it new
we're overpowered
we kneel, we cower, we cover our heads
feel the threat of blows that will come
and the damage that will be done in its wake

now, inside this place we hide away
we hear it near although it's miles away
we hear it near and hope it turns away
turn away

this house divided, we live inside it
hate's dwelling place is behind our doors in fitful nights
hear it walk the floor and hear it rave as it
moans and drags along its ball and chain
as it moves through this house it can't escape

now inside this place we hide away
we hear it near and hope it turns away
turn away

When I was younger, I carefully avoided reading reviews of any kind, especially movie reviews. I was afraid that I was too impressionable, that whatever I read would sway my opinion, usually in a negative direction. But as time went by and I realized that I had seen far too many terrible movies in my brief time on this earth, I decided I might need to change my ways.

Nowadays when I read reviews, whether for movies or albums or books, there is a particular kind of pattern that I'm always drawn to. I love when people are strongly divided in their opinions of a particular work. There is nothing more intriguing to me than reading a bunch of reviews that say, "This album was the greatest album I've listened to in ten years and now my life is worth living again" next to a bunch of reviews that say, "This album was bloody awful and I will kill myself if I ever have to hear it again." I always figure anything that can generate that kind of passion must be worth my time. I have no idea whose side of the fence I'll be on, but I figure it's very likely that one thing will happen for sure - I will feel something. Be it overwhelming love or passionate hate, I will have an emotion when all is said and done. It's so much better to feel even a negative emotion than to feel apathy. For me, saying "It was okay" is the worst possible outcome.

When I first started this blog, all I was thinking about was the myriad of songs I couldn't wait to talk about. Songs that I loved. Even songs that I didn't love so much, but had something to say about. But I gave little thought to what would happen when I had to talk about songs that fell in between those two emotions. I thought for a while that maybe I would just skip those songs, but that seemed unfair for two reasons: 1) I said from the outset of this project that I would cover all original Natalie/Maniacs material and I don't want to be wishy washy. 2) I want to be respectful of the fact that some of the songs that I may feel dispassionate about may be songs that some of my readers dearly love.

And that brings me to this week's songs. None of the songs on this week's post are songs that I dislike. But none are songs I have strong love for either. I was worried that I wouldn't have much to say, but then I remembered that I'm not really the star of this show anyways, am I? So before I share my two cents (and this time it will actually be two cents, as opposed to my usual two hundred) I'd like to give the floor to the person you really want to hear from.

Let's start with Natalie's thoughts on Please Forgive Us, a song about the 1986 Iran-contra scandal:

"I don't want people to put too much weight on the political side of that song. Mostly it's just a way to communicate to people down there (Central America) that there are people here who don't agree with what our government does. I wanted them to know that there are people here who are not responsible for it. I know that no matter how much money I give to send medical aid, I can't bring back people who have died or been hurt by these actions." - St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1989

What about Hateful Hate?

"That's one of the most powerful songs we've ever done, but the topic is just as grave. It's about slaughter for money, for ivory, and the slaughter is as much the fault of people on Fifth Avenue who buy the ivory as it is the hunters themselves." - Toronto Star, 1989

"Hateful Hate is about the situation in Africa and its historical context - what led up to what's happening there today. There's this intolerance of the differences between races and cultures that the colonial Europeans express towards Africans - that they were primitive and savage." - Spin, 1989

A lot of the press Natalie did for Blind Man's Zoo focused on the band's intention to make the album dark, somber, serious. It's a goal they reached musically for most of the album and lyrically for pretty much the entire thing. The result is that some songs on the album are dark but haunting and powerful and others are dark but a bit on the joyless side. That's how I feel about these two songs. Musically, I love Hateful Hate. Please Forgive Me less so. But the lyrics to both of these songs don't really move me the way that they perhaps should. (And truthfully, I think the title Hateful Hate is just awful. Couldn't it have just been called Hate? Did we need to have the type of hate identified? "I don't understand, is it the irritated kind of hate or the playful type of hate or...Oh it. It's the hateful type. Okay, I'm good now, thanks.")

Of the three songs in this week's post, I like Tolerance the most, both musically and lyrically. I couldn't find a lot of quotes from Natalie specific to the song, but I have heard that it was inspired by the L.A. riots of the early 90s (maybe the song could've been called Racist Racism.) This may or may not be true, but one way or another, I think the song's general description of fear of violence is more powerful than having the song filled with references to Rodney King or Reginald Denny.

I think that Natalie's motivation for writing songs of this nature can best be summed up by this quote:

"I don't think music should be escapism, I don't think music should be just another form of entertainment like watching situation comedies on television. People should have to look at music as such a powerful form of communication that it just shouldn't be ignored. It should be used." - Pulse!, 1989

I would be more than a bit surprised if Natalie expressed that exact same sentiment now, twenty years later. Some of the music she's made in the more recent part of her career, particularly on her most recent album, would seem to suggest that she's embraced the more playful, and dare I say escapist, side of music, and I for one am quite thankful for the balance this has brought to her musical catalogue. But I still appreciate the motivations of the youthful and passionate little firebrand who made the statement above.

I'll leave you with one last quote, my favorite for this week:

"A lot of my contributions to the Maniacs were dark and provocative. And sometimes I failed miserably in what I was trying to do. Songs like Hateful Hate and Tolerance - I cringe now. I've never thought of myself as an overtly political writer. I've always tried to write more social than political commentary. There are times when I've veered off that path, and I've had horrible collisions, grave disasters. So I get back on my path, which is to write about people." - Rolling Stone, 1995

That's all for this week. But I would like to know what you think about these songs. Did I get it right? Or do you think I missed the boat completely? Please feel free to share your thoughts via e-mail or the comments section. See you next week!

Click here to download Please Forgive Us from Itunes - Please Forgive Us - Blind Man's Zoo

Click here to download Hateful Hate from Itunes - Hateful Hate - Blind Man's Zoo

Click here to download Tolerance from Itunes - Tolerance - Our Time In Eden

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