Saturday, June 11, 2011

Brianne's Half-Assed, Semi-Something, Parade of Musical Extravaganza Crap: Gogol Bordello - Sally

About a year ago, I used to run a song-of-the-day type blog for a short time which probably wasn't all that interesting, but did let me write about one of my favourite topics. I think I'm going to start doing that here, even if I know it won't be every day. Most likely, it'll be "Brianne's Half-Assed, Semi-Something, Parade of Musical Extravaganza Crap", which totally has a catchy ring to it.

Whenever anybody asks me to recommend new music, I immediately reply with "Gogol Bordello. They have accordion solos that'll make your head explode." It's true. Or I'm assuming it's true, at least. I'm sure that somewhere, someone has died that way.

I first came across Gogol Bordello at an alarmingly appropriate time in my life -- I had just discovered that my great grandparents were Carpathian Roma probably two weeks prior. Nobody in my family liked to acknowledge this fact. I grew up in a small town that had evolved from a limestone mining camp composed of Sicilian immigrants, so by default, we said we were Italian. (And my mother's mother's family is northern Italian, so it's not an outright lie.) Still, I can recall a few things being said to me as a child whenever my grandfather's back was turned ("You know, your Grandma G____ is a you-know-what."; I did not know what a you-know-what was.) and also a cryptic remark my mother made when I was fourteen or so: "Well, I guess Grandma G____ was really Romanian, but don't tell anybody."

Uncovering my heritage is a whole story in itself, but this is a music post, so I'll leave it for another day. Since I knew absolutely nothing about Romani culture, I really didn't know what to do. There isn't a book out there that's called "So, You're a Gypsy" and it's not like I knew anybody. And my family was (and is) in such deep denial about it. In the end, I figured it was best to just forget about it. That lasted for about two weeks.

Then I came across Gogol Bordello, and my whole life changed.

No, really, it did. It was kind of an accidental thing that I heard them for the first time. I had no idea what I was listening to, and I actually came to the conclusion that it had to be some kind of joke because nobody made music like that. I mean, it was an awesome joke, but there was just no way it could be real. It was my hope that they had a whole joke album, which they did. But it wasn't a joke. It was actually real. And it was a thing called...Gypsy Punk?

So, honestly -- you're taking punk rock and mixing it with...Gypsy music? It's some hybrid thing? The most familiar and most loved thing in the world to me combined with that stuff I was supposed to forget about? Why are you doing this to me? This can't be happening. And what the fuck am I doing? It's three in the afternoon and I've been dancing around my apartment for roughly five hours now. I can't turn this off. It's like every coil of my DNA is buzzing, and I've found the frequency at which my cardiac cells operate. And, wait! What the hell was that word? I know that word! I know I know that word! I haven't heard that word in years but I know I know that word and I know it's a bad word! ...Holy Mother of God. I'm a goddamn Gypsy.

In that moment of realization, I wanted to learn everything I could about my heritage. That was six years ago, and I still feel that way. Roma music is the best music in the world, and that opened up the avenue to explore the rich culture and language behind it. I could just sit here and write three thousand posts about the different types of Roma music and the history thereof and be perfectly happy doing so, but I've gotten so off track as it is.

I've had to retain my sense of humour through it all. Sometimes I don't use words correctly -- it's hard to learn a complicated language with several dialects on one's own. And then there's the outrage. I could go on about that for pages. But then there's stuff that people simply don't understand, so I have to patiently correct them -- if I'm mean about it, I'm not really accomplishing anything. But, yeah -- if I can laugh at little things, it's not so daunting.

At any rate, I love Gogol Bordello. I know they're not traditional Gypsy music, but they're still a great band (even though I hated their latest album). I feel somewhat indebted to them, so they'll always be special to me.

I guess now I don't have the energy to write about the song itself, which is a shame. I love "Sally" because it never gets old. Back when I used to be a punk rock vocalist, I used to use this song as a warm-up.

But the one thing about "Sally" that's so endearing? It's not the violins or the hysteria or the catchiness -- although those elements do help. It's a single line: "AND I SURVIVE EVEN FUCKING RADIATION!"

There's no other song in the world that has a line like that, and no other song in the world where I can yell along to so defiantly. I know why Eugene Hutz wrote it: He survived Chernobyl. I survived cancer. It's not the same thing. But it's the closest thing I've got, and it's fucking awesome.

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