The Milwaukee Film Festival is my favorite two weeks of the year. It is a two week celebration of art that the entire city participates in. As a radio station we try to choose the best of our genre, and certainly as a weekly column 5 Songs tries its best to curate music of artistic merit regardless of commercial success or popular buzz and the film festival does just that with it’s respective genre. And we support that wholeheartedly. We spent this weekend feasting on films and this week we are eager to see our favorite artists and films on the silver screen. These are 5 Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To at the Milwaukee Film Festival.
Talking Heads- “Heaven (live)”
The screening of the 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary Stop Making Sense was the highlight of my film festival experience last year. As an audience we collectively rejected the idea that the concert was happening on a screen and that we weren’t there in the audience in 1984. When David Byrne ran around the stage during "Life During Wartime" we got out of our seats and ran around the theater, when he shimmied in his big suit we yelled out and cheered him on, and when he sang this song, we clutched our hearts, knowing that we were in heaven. And the band in heaven, they were playing our favorite song, playing it one more time, playing it all night long.
This Saturday, at the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee Wisconsin, we can have heaven on Earth, at the screening of Stop Making Sense.
Talking Head’s album, Stop Making Sense, was realeased in 1984.
Listen if you like: David Byrne, symbolism, alternative ideas of traditional views.
Spinal Tap- “Hell Hole”
When I was 12 years old my Uncle Brian got me two things for my birthday. First, what he said was the most important album of the past 30 years, David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. And the second gift he said was the funniest movie he had ever seen. I opened up the wrapping paper. It looked like a plain black box. I turned it over. And it said This is Spinal Tap.
Since then, I have seen Spinal Tap dozens of times. I’ve seen Spinal Tap in my childhood basement with my brother. I’ve seen Spinal Tap by myself. I’ve seen spinal tap over a sea of pizza boxes with my college roommates. I’ve seen Spinal Tap with the audio commentary on where all the actors comment in character. But I have never seen Spinal Tap in a movie theater.
This is Spinal Tap was released, along with the album, in 1984.
Listen if you like: Heavy metal, prog, comedy.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds- “Into My Arms”
The film that I am most excited to see at the film festival this year is “20,000 Days On Earth,” the quasi-documentary about Nick Cave. Few musicians have lasted as long, with as much critical success as Nick Cave has. The title implies that it will be about those 20,000 days, and living and aging as a career musician.
In the trailer for 20,000 Days On Earth, Nick Cave says, “Memory is what we are. Your soul and your very reason to be alive is tied up in memory.” I think that is one aspect of Nick Cave’s music that has drawn me to the well time and time and time again. His songs are memories. His memories are so vivid, and feelings so strong that when he recalls them, I recall them too. I have lived them too. I feel what he is feeling. And somehow, in the 4 minutes that he is recalling an old memory he is also creating a new one. For him, for me, and for you.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s album, The Boatman’s Call, was released in 1997.
Listen if you like: Piano ballads, touching love songs in a masculine register, beautiful lyrics.
Fela Kuti- “Zombie”
Fela Kuti often said that "Music was the tool." A tool is something that is meant to be used And he used his tool like a hammer. Sometimes being used to tear things down and sometimes to build things up. He tore down western colonialism, capitalist greed, and imperialism. What he built was a true sense of culture, a unique musical genre of his own invention called afrobeat, and African pride. But possibly the tool’s most powerful function was that he shared it with others. Every person who listens to Fela Kuti is given the tool.
After releasing this song, a scathing attack on Nigerian soldiers, Fela’s house was attacked by thousands of those soldiers. They threw his mother out of a window, burned everything he had, and they nearly beat him to death. After this he picked up his tool, he released two songs in response to the incident and he formed his own political party to challenge the Presidency of Nigeria. And now, he’s passing the tool to you.
Fela Kuti’s album, Zombie, was released in 1976. The film Finding Fela is playing at the Milwaukee Film Festival this year.
Listen if you like: Afrobeat, politically charged music, Sound Travels with Marcus Doucette.
The Mekons- “Where Were You?”
Marginal or minimal popular success combined with overwhelming critical acclaim is just about the exact formula for a “cult following.” The Mekons have been making music since 1977. They’ve never had a hit. They were immediately dropped from the one “major” label that they were ever signed with. They are hardly a blip on the musical radar. And yet, legendary rock critic Lester Bangs, The Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn, and possibly the greatest writer of our generation, Jonathan Franzen, include themselves as cult followers of the Mekons. This is author Jonathan Franzen explaining why he loves the Mekons, "They consistently resolved what ought to be despair and rage into humor without losing the despair and without losing the rage. They teach you to be gracious and amusing losers."
This song reflects Franzen’s thoughts. It’s part comic miscommunication and part cry for help.
The Mekons single, “Where were You?” was released in 1978. The Mekons documentary, Revenge of the Mekons, plays at the Milwaukee Film Festival this week.
Listen if you like: Late 70’s punk, Parquet Courts (seriously, this could actually be a Parquet Courts song).