“Spanish Death Song” by The Builders and the Butchers

I’ve been on a bluegrass kick lately, so the likes of Sarah Jarosz, Alela Diane, and Holly Golightly have been rather exhausted on the Empanada as of late. (My definition of bluegrass — or country for that matter — obviously leans more toward the rock side of the spectrum than the O Brother Where Art Thou side, just to let you know.) Which sort of brings us to the song selection of the evening: The Builders and the Butchers.

I saw them open for Amanda Fucking Palmer (of The Dresden Dolls fame) and immediately went out and bought their debut album of the same name after their set. I cannot quite tell you how quickly the leader singer/guitarist was strumming his guitar, but I was shocked that his fingers didn’t fall off, his strings didn’t break, and his acoustic didn’t burst into flames. Now, I wouldn’t normally describe bluegrassy, rockabilly, lo-fi music as intense, but The Builders and Butchers are just that.

The “Spanish Death Song” is the first off of their album and chosen because I couldn’t find any non-live versions on youtube. Though if you ever do get the chance to see them live, do it, because it’s spectacular. My favorite song is their “Bottom of the Lake” because it brings to mind Faustian pacts (which, to be honest, a lot of things do) and mobsters (which only vaguely make an appearance in my psyche).

It came across the land
Like the Spanish Influenza*
We were brought down to our knees
And we sat amongst the cracks
Where the pennies all were rolling
Falling down a rich man’s sleeve

One of the things I love about this band is their sense of mood and imagery. This song has pennies — which Ancient Greeks would place coins on the eyes of the dead so they could pay Charon to cross Styx, or see: Boondock Saints — cracks reminiscent of fault lines, and bells tolling. Others have red hands, white dresses, stone feet, and running rivers. All of these hold rich symbolism and just steep the album in a dreary, catastrophic timbre. Rarely does an album have such cohesion that an aura comes through the music so vibrantly, but every time I listen to it, I feel as if I could be working in some coal mines back in the late 1800s, hacking up a lung. Which is to say, I love it.

I often have reoccurring images in my own writing — frogs, skeletons, the Macbethian theme of incarnadine seas, David Lynchian flashbacks, and Raskolnikovian orientation of characters — so it’s interesting to see this reflected in another art form.

Not to mention that every time he sings the line “bringing out the dead,” I think of Monty Python.

*Well, I mean something has to relate the Spanish Influenza and vampires together other than Twilight and I plan to be that thing. Just as I plan to relate the Bush song “Mouth” to werewolves so it won’t always be associated with the ghastly An American Werewolf in Paris.


“Symphony n.6 ‘Pathétique:’ Adagio lamentoso” by P. I. Tchaikovsky

A little something different this time, guys.* Just recently have I delved into the world of classical music, and though I don’t think I’ll ever really be able to sit down with a glass of sex on the beach wine, smoke a meerschaum pipe, and expound about the chromatic scale progression in the third movement of Mahler’s sixth symphony and how that, combined with the tonic minor, create an atmosphere of the power of Fate in life and death, but I do like me some purty music.

I love Russian composers. I don’t know what it is about Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky and the like, but I find Russian classical music to be fiery, heart-breaking, and passionate. (The translated name for Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony is Pathétique, from Патетическая, which means passionate, rather than pathetic. Though, given the fact that the fourth movement is possibly the most depressing piece of music I’ve ever heard, the latter makes sense as well. I’ve made a special note for myself to never listen to this song when reading Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, the most depressing book I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. I might go into the bathroom, dab on some eyeliner, and take pictures with my hair in my face and some mood lighting.)

(There is a wonderful book that actually helped inspire me to listen to classical music instead of just dismissing it as a method to torture clarinet players. It’s called Shostakovich and Stalin by Solomon Volkov, and it’s an excellent resource for understanding Shostakovich’s work, but also to re-live the artistic cultural history of Russia during the years under Stalin. I originally had to read pieces of it for a class I took, but read the rest after I graduated because it was just that intriguing.)

Tchaikovsky had a rough way. He wrote in the late 1800s, in the Romantic era, and despite being successful, was rather anxious and almost always depressed. His repressed homosexuality, disastrous relationships, and misunderstood passion in his music allowed for unimagined creativity, but also may have driven him to suicide by drinking water contaminated by cholera when he was only 53. The Sixth Symphony is his last, and the fourth movement is considered to be a suicide note by some. (I feel like an investigative journalist when I say that. And now I’m imagining having the public go into a fuss about his death like many people have over Michael Jackson. And now I’m giggling like Egon before the attempted trepanning.)

Now, I played the bassoon** in high school, so I know a bit about music, but aside from all of the regularized musicality, the theory behind it all, I know that this song starts me off with melancholy, gives me some hope at about the three minute mark, and then plunges me deeper into depression. Kind of like Great Expectations really, in that all I learned from that book was to aim high, become jaded, and then figure out that your entire life was a lie perpetuated by an Australian criminal.

I put this song on loop whenever I’m killing off anyone important who’s not Nathaniel, because he gets “Another One Bites the Dust,” imagining it’s rather like the end scene from Gladiator. Maybe I should just get a compilation of Lisa Gerrard‘s music and shuffle that into the mix as well.

*I’m still looking for a name to call y’all (all six of you, which might be be a stretch.) Buffy had the Scoobies, Angel retroactively had the Jabberjaws, there are Twihards and Avatards, etc. We can go with the obvious Bunch o’ Sauer Grapes, but that’s a little pedantic.

** Its name was the Nah-zy horn because it was, I kid you not, made in East Germany and had what looked like bullet holes in the side; we used to joke that it was used as a weapon in the Cold War. Yeah, band kids have a funny sense of humor. Drama kids are worse. Luckily I was able to be a part of both. Which has had no sense of lasting impact. Nope. None. At. All.

“Lightning Field” by Sneaker Pimps

The Sneaker Pimps is my favorite band. I have strange memories associated with them, however, because the day I bought their first album — Becoming X with the talented and haunting Kelli Ali singing — I received a phone call from a friend, saying that her sister had just been evacuated out of Columbine after the shootings happened there. Needless to say, we were all shocked and her sister was, thank God, all right.

Chris Corner took over singing for the last two albums and I love him to itty-bitty-serial-killer-bite-sized pieces. He now fronts the amazing IAMX, a second-runner up in my favorite bands (and we all know how much I like second-place, eh?), and is an overall outstanding artist, not just in terms of music, but in presentation, ambience, and stage presence. I saw IAMX in October of 2008 and it remains, to this day, the best concert I’ve ever seen. (Fittingly enough, I was under 21 at that time and had giant, black Xs on my hands. Best game of hand-tic-tac-toe ever with the lovely Miss Ren. This is also a not-so-subtle plea — I’LL SELL MY FIRST-BORN 14TH BORN — to have IAMX tour Denver again.)

“Lightning Field” comes off of their second album, Splinter, my personal favorite. It’s organic trip-hop, electronica that’s soulfully warm, but still distinctly eerie and macabre. (You didn’t think I’d forgotten, did you?) It’s also more complex than anything I’ve posted here before and just so happens to be my song du jour for when I had to choose my favorite song back in high school.

(I was in TOK — Theory of Knowledge — a strange class that dealt with the different areas of enlightenment and how they affected the Human Condition — I kid you not — and when we studied Music, we all got to bring in our favorite songs and listened to the vastly different musical tastes of a bunch of 17-18 year olds. What I learned, though not necessarily connected to the existential complications of society, was that everyone, with the exception of yours truly, knows the words to “I Got Friends in Low Places” and that Michael Jackson’s creepiness could not fend off a good 1/4 of my classmates from loving him to death.* I also got this gem from my teacher: “I thought you’d have picked something classical.” I’ve grown in my appreciation of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich since then, but give me my electronica [or FREEEEEEDOM] and I’m a happy woman.)

Strike me down
Better left it all unknown
Strike me down
Should have held it all alone
Wash the questions off my hands
I’m the fate in no one’s plans
I’ll be everything I’m not

Oh, free will and determinism. Those two like each other as much as Legos and vacuum cleaners. (I just got a funny picture in my head of Legolas made out of Legos fighting a giant vacuum cleaner Transformer. SOMEONE NEEDS TO MAKE THIS A MOVIE, STAT. Not you, Michael Bay. Get lost.)

Lightning strikes are chances of fate — a prevalent theme in this song — and, like love in a Shakespearian play, they touch down quickly before dissipating into the ether. In all monomyths there is an instant of temporary death where the hero undergoes the abyss, either physical or spiritual, in which case a part of him dies in order to be reborn so he may fulfill his mission. (Think Luke Skywalker when he’s eaten by the Death Star and subsequent apotheosis of Obi-Wan.) This may be an instance where the abyss wins, looks into your soul and finds something lacking until the unknown becomes all-encompassing and impenetrable, a hero turned into a fateless lone wolf, unable to continue existence in a world that doesn’t need him. (Think Han Solo(!) as a reluctant hero, at least in A New Hope before the big damn hero saving-bit with the Millenium Falcon.)

Washing hands recalls Pontius Pilate, yet another reluctant hero figure who is just a cog in a machine, playing his role, but ends up being stuck in a moonlit limbo, a liminal space. This song calls attention to all those who have lost their faith in “higher things,” shooting blindly in the dark, trying to recall their positions but never quite reaching the top of their abysses just yet.

A note about the video: I just finished watching the season finale of Legend of the Seeker and thought that someone knows me too well and made this specifically for me. The theme of the song goes better with Cara — a liminal figure in transition between emotionless Mord-Sith into doing a heel face turn, trying to maintain a balance between her love for her friends and pride for her past — but Kahlan’s super hot too. I guess Richard’s pretty good looking as well.

Wheel of Empanada, turn, turn, turn
Show us the song that makes stomachs churn:
Hell” by Squirrel Nut Zippers

I sang this at karaoke once. And only once.

*Too soon?

This one time, when I wanted to start a band…

There are a few things that I’m rather good at, nigh semi-proficient. You know the saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none?” Well, just call me Jack (Jill?), give me a square block of Los Angeles to blow up* and some terrorists to torture, and I’ll save the day yet.

One thing I’m actually not so good at but pretend to be better at than most in order to be somewhat ironic and hipster-y, but not so hipster-y that I stray into the gray area between douche-canoe and git-clog and start popping collars and whitening my teeth, is playing the guitar. I’m proficient, nigh somewhat sonorous, but what I really want to do is have a band just so I can have a cool band name. Yep. It’s like getting a dog just for the sake of naming it Monsieur Rochambeau du Bastille avec Les Sprinkles, nee Foofoo Cuddlypoops (or Megatron)

And while I may be horrible at naming things — novels, children, blogs, the machines at work (which are all named after Star Wars characters, so don’t sue me, George Lucas) — I’m rather fantastic, nigh awesome at naming bands. See, you gotta be somewhat referential to pop culture, but not so much that your band’s name is That’s What She Said (or Megatron), and it has to roll off the tongue easily. Sure, any schmuck can go and name his band The Snogging Penelopes, or The Leafy Manhood of Odysseus, but that’s kind of a mouthful, albeit it feels good in your mouth. And any joe-schmoe can go and name his band Hello, My Name Is… but a band like that is bound to drift off into obscurity after their first indie-pop-rock-hit.

How’s about Ilsa’s Glove, eh? It’s got the pop culture, the Cordelia-approved mouth texture, and follows the traditional Proper Name’s Object format.

Or what about Bruce and the Boomsticks? Sure, technically none of my band members (which, at last count was…me) are boys, but that doesn’t even need to be addressed until the monkeys monies roll. And who doesn’t love a nice, succinct alliteration? Which, of course, spawns Dewey and the Decimals. Yeah, I spent a good portion of my middle-school years volunteering at the local library where I re-shelved books and memorized the Dewey Decimal system. I like to think of that as Useless Talent #34. And to think, there are 33 more before that and maybe a gazillion after that. Yep, Useless Talent #249 is to exaggerate things to the gazillionth degree.

The Juice Boxes is also another one that I really like, though is a little too dreamy shoe-gazer pop for me. There’s also a really hilarious scene in Day Watch where evil Yegor is sipping out of juice box that has “evil” in Russian written on it before trying to suck the life juices out of Svetlana. Now, if you haven’t seen that movie and that rather insane description of it didn’t make you want drop everything you’re doing and bow to the awesomeness that is Konstantin Khabensky, stop reading my blog. I mean, come back! For the love of God, come back! I’m lonely. (There’s also a hot make-out scene between two ladies! Got you back, didn’t I? Male selective-typing FTW.)

The Toe Tags is for an alt-metal, industrial goth band. The Past Participles are for a cerebral, minimalist avant-garde folk band. And let us not forget: Melissa Reads the Phonebook.

Alas, my own musical aspirations will probably never come to fruition, so I’m now giving these away for FREE on the internet as a show of good faith. I expect you to pay me royalties if you become famous. If you don’t, well, don’t let the un-cool kids come to this site. We wouldn’t want the riff-raff coming in, now would we?

*I can never figure out why, with the proliferation of people who have last names ending in -auer, a la Jack Bauer, Matt Lauer, and Eddie Bauer, people insist on still pronouncing my last name as Saywer. As in friend of Huckleberry Finn. Or sewer. As in the thing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live in. There’s also sauerkraut, which I hate, but also serves to correctly pronounce my name, if not be a stinky reminder of Germanic food. Sour. Like, if I were to marry a relative of Jodi Sweetin, I would be Mrs. Sweetin-Sauer. Or if I were to marry someone whose last name is Lemon, I’d be Mrs. Sauer-Lemon. I think people are afraid to say “sour,” so they pawn it off as something that’s even worse than “sour.” Please, for the sake of the children — my future children — buy my books when I publish them so I can become famous and end the dispute once and for all.

“Keep Going West” by Liz Pappademas

I know I said I was going to post a happy/ier song this week, but, surprise! It’s not Monday so that means I get to bend the rules even further. ‘Sides, it’s the Songs to Die By Hour with me, your host, Macabre Melissa.

There is nothing I love more than a lady and a piano. A lady and a guitar are pretty fantastic, but there’s something oh-so-haunting about pianos and their culture, texture, and even symbolism. Marina Tsvetaeva is a Russian poet from the early 20th century and she’s fantastic, but she wrote a prose piece about her early childhood with her mother, a pianist unable to come to fruition, and the struggles between generations fighting amongst music and poetry. Ever since reading “My Mother and Music” — and writing a few papers on it — piano and great poetic heights have been chained together ever since. Well, those two and hippopotamuses, but that’s another story entirely.

Liz Pappademas is both a poet and a songstress. The featured song, “Keep Going West,” off of the album “11 Songs” is just one of the incredible songs that are a simple and touching as a voice, a piano, and the mellifluous words of inspiration.

The horses’ heads hold up the morning,
And the low sky hangs in God’s own noose.
With my lashes long, I dream of the ocean,
And the glow that rang when last I kissed you.
Keep going west, keep going west, keep going west.

This is all about the connections we make with other people and the effects thereafter. As the initiator and survivor of many failed relationships with people, this song sometimes brings tears to my eyes as I think about the way people hurt each other and the resultant flooding emotions. The mantra of “keep going west” could be “keep breathing” or even “keep living.” The Russian propoganda poster symbologist in me wants to link it to posters of Lenin and Stalin looking stalwartly to the west — to the future — to show that the past is over, but this song isn’t as simple as that. The past affects us and seemingly everything around us, like the turbulent storms in Shakespearian plays as the main character is emotionally and internally conflicted.

Independence is important — the shedding of skins as relationships change and morph — and the line that the sky hangs in “God’s own noose” is the extreme extrapolation of this. The Dostoevsky scholar in me wants to link this to the line of “everything is permissable” in The Brothers Karamazov and the implications that if anything can be done, then God is dead and man has haphazardly taken his place like a three-year-old dressing up as a businessman, signing papers in crayons and fingerpaint.

She sings, “I looked back,” after all of the tumultuous events of the stanzas, showing that foundations are built between people, they may crumble and fall, but each failure is sacred, something to be learned and gleaned from, the “glow” of memories will eventually soothe over any angry welts. We cannot allow God to hang in his own noose; we must dream of the ocean, of the ever-changing tide and current that will eventually make the interrupted sand smoothe again.

On a more personal (and writerly!) note, I listened to this song non-stop while writing an extremely hard part in my novel. I have a character named Nathaniel and he has this love/hate relationship with Gwennie, the heroine. He concurrently loves her and hates himself for loving her and takes this out in many different forms of abuse upon her. One particularly difficult scene deals with his domination over her completely which sparks a change in her thinking about the way she deals with the people around her. This song was sort of a perfect soundtrack for that. Gwennie, after much more crap happens to her — there are some sleepless nights where I’m unable to lay my head down because I feel like I’m a horrible human being for doing these things to her, a fictional character — starts going west, and sometimes she looks back, but one of her many character flaws is that she doesn’t often enough.

On another related note: someone in the comments section of youtube posted: “You broke my heart a little.” I agree, for the first time ever, with a commentator on youtube. What is the world coming to when people actually say smart things on the Internet?

“Into Pieces of Wood” by Chimes & Bells

This week on Songs to Die By:


(Shot of Bruce Willis* jumping at just the right time to avoid that explosion)


(Britney Spears and Lady Gaga are hiding, malnourished and dirty….wait a tic….)


(Cue the droning guitars of this week’s featured song)

The amazing Chimes & Bells is a Danish quartet with a lovely lady singer who has a hypnotic, mezmerizingly deep voice who also happens to play maybe the best instrument on the planet after the bassoon: the cello. (Yeah, I played the bassoon throughout high school and Korovyov, my favorite character in The Master and Margarita has another name that’s the Russian word for bassoon, so it’s like double-love. Like, if Konstantin Khabensky and Kate Beckinsale had a kid who was a half-vampire, half-Hellboy hybrid, aka THE ABOMINATION of Melissa’s Resistance to Love. *crickets* Uh, let’s ignore that little outburst, shall we?)

This song is off of their EP of the same name, and lemme tell you, all four songs are fantastic. Like, you need to buy this EP right now and then tell all of your friends. Like, now. Now. Seriously. Now. I just learned today that that’s called an “embedded command.” It’s where, in advertising, an imperative — like Do! Read! Write! — is used in a friendly manner in order to suggest something to the consumer. Well, technically mine’s not really embedded, because if you don’t do it I’m going to tell mom, you god-damn, shit-sucking vampire.

Now, I can’t find lyrics and I’m horrible at hearing things (unless it’s the fifteen-minute long coffee order of a snobby coffee connoisseur whilst blenders are blending and espresso is grinding, and then I can hear perfectly), so here’s my guess:

I’m gonna go on in these shivering bones
I’m gonna go on in these precious stones
I’m gonna hold on tight while you are gone
I’m gonna shoot them down, these aching bones
And the sound is all we knew
And we try, fall, fall, fall into pieces of wood

There’s the images of bones, which suggests the inner core, the SKELETON if you will. (I like skeletons and use them as symbols a lot in my novel. Skeletons and frogs. And, you know, some coconut crabs, which have become the major contenders for creepiest things ever and rate at least a 6.7 on the wiggins scale.) That and the primordial-ness coming from turning into wood speak to the eternity of things, but of things that can never stay the same. People decay and all that’s left are bones. Trees can die, burn down, but I get a sense of petrification.

The overall feel is one of perseverance through the impossible, wearily dragging along burdens — “precious stones” — like Atlases carrying the world. Bones will ache, but eventually whatever love exists will fall and become something unrecognizable from its true form. This is echoed in the droning, repetitive guitars that sound like a death knoll, a bell tolling for someone or something that may never hear.

The only reference to any pronoun — except I — comes in the ‘chorus’ of “the sound is all we knew” and “we try.” This is a failed love (not unlike last week’s beauty), that was once so overwhelming, so intoxicating in the past, but in the present, because of broken trust (“you better be faithful”), it has turned into a bastardized, corrupt image of what it was. Like wood, it can be carved into many things, but can also be warped — like sound over long distances. Or between snickering, gossiping 12-year-old-girls at a slumber party.

Maybe next week I’ll try something a little more up-beat, eh?

Wheel of Empanada, turn, turn, turn,
Show us a song that may raise concern:
Strangelove” by Depeche Mode. Yeppers. I love me some 80s rock with druggie frontmen. Actually, Depeche Mode is the inspiration for many a band I love and I think my sister let me burn this CD.

*It exists, but I can’t find a picture of a panel from the manga Hellsing, in which Alucard has a dream sequence starring Bruce Willis. It’s hilarious, so I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.

“Werewolf” by Cat Power

Welcome to Songs to Die By on Radio Sunlight ‘n Silver. I’m your host, Macabre Melissa and tonight we’re going to be exploring the depressing world of ladies ‘n guitars, with some Eddie Vedder thrown in because, let’s face it, Pearl Jam’s latest is a wee bit, well, disheartening. My mother heard them on the local adult-alternative station the other day and said, “Ooh, I like them.” That’s sort of my standard for whether or not it’s acceptable for me listen to music. If my mother can hear it on the station that regularly rotates the BeeGees, Elton John, and Chicago, then that band has delved into the misty Brigadoon-like nexus of faded glory and/or soft-rock.* (Though Mr. Vedder doesn’t lend his vocals to this song particularly, he does for “Good Woman,” another song on the same album named “You Are Free.”)

(At my place of employment, sometimes we pop on the ol’ iPod and my coworker calls my selection of music the Songs to Die By Hour. The Macabre Melissa part I made up meself. I also call my iPod the Empanada, because I replaced the i with an M, and M-pod naturally translated into a stuffed bread pastry from Spain.)

I randomly become obsessed with songs for no good reason other than the reason that the songs themselves are good. This week it’s “Werewolf” by Cat Power. I know, I know, it’s ironic that I’m rather beset with vampires and my first song post is about werewolves, but I can’t pick and choose my infatuations at will. If I could, I wouldn’t be obsessed with making the toilet water turn blue by placing one of those automatic cleaner thingies in the tank, now would I?

The song is haunting with just the slightly distorted vocals of Ms. Power, a softly strumming guitar, and a mournful violin. She croons,

I saw the werewolf, and the werewolf was crying,
Crying nobody know, nobody knows, body knows,
How I loved the man, as I teared off his clothes…
All through the night, until the light of day, and we are doomed to play.
For the werewolf, for the werewolf, has sympathy.

This is a perfect discussion for my own relationships. I’m really not lying because I’m a man-eater. The transformation of man into beast is symbolic of the losing of the self when a connection is made between two people. Do I change myself so he’ll like me more? Is he changing himself for the same reason? Any relationship will obviously incur some sacrifice upon one or both parties, and the imagery of the consumption relates this. Also, the clothes are images for all of the somewhat ridiculous beautification rituals we go through on first dates and the masks we wear in order to seduce said partner into thinking we’re something we most certainly aren’t.

Is love nothing more than a play upon which our hero-werewolf struts and frets his hour upon the stage? The idea that we act out our roles as we think they should be dooms us to mere actors in life, instead of originators; we become molds for our own selves and think the mold to be real life and reality to be a dream. The night casts its shadows and we are too enthralled to care, squinting as daylight approaches and we fear, lest our carriage turn back into a pumpkin.

Let’s not forget the allusion to “Sympathy for the Devil,” which is quite possibly the best song ever. (It’s loosely based on The Master and Margarita, so there’s a giant soft spot in my heart for it.) The sympathetic werewolf is a stand-in for a so-called “Fatal Man,” which was a figure in the Romantic Era of literature of a character who destroyed everything he loved. This was a time when evil became glamorous because of its assumed rebellion against God, as man at this time was defying established ideas of propriety and thought. The Devil became an ethos to pity through the recognition of his role as a scapegoat.

So I’m a little bitter about love at this point in my life. It doesn’t really show, does it?

But it’s really no fun to just give you the songs I love, so each week I’ll also put out a song that’s randomly derived from Empanada. I won’t cheat by skipping over embarrassing songs, and this way, you’ll get to know the recesses of my mind…if you dare venture where no man has boldly gone before.

Wheel of Empanada, turn, turn turn,
Show me the song that I should burn (literally):
Hey! It’s “Geek USA” by the Smashing Pumpkins.

*Though, to give credit where it’s due, I once saw Neko Case live in Denver. There, a rather loud — and most likely inebriated — heckler cried, “YOU ROCK,” and Ms. Case replied, “Yeah, we’re going to soft-rock your balls off.” This may or may not have ripped a hole in the space-time continuum. Well, either that or Anton Yelchin, but that’s a post for next week.