The times seem to be changing at Crotchety Mansions. Recently, I added another couple of blogs to my list of followed sites. As if to balance those beginnings the first music blog I followed since starting this one, Vinyl Connection, has just ceased publication and this week The Maccabees announced they are disbanding. It’s sad when good things come to an end but if there were no endings it would be impossible for new beginnings to germinate, grow and bear fruit.
The Maccabees featured on the Crotchety Man blog in September of last year when I chose the title track from their latest and (presumably) last album, Marks To Prove It, as my track of the week. Now, to commemorate their music, I’ve chosen another track from that album, River Song.
As I said last September, most of the songs on Marks To Prove It are “quieter, slower, more nuanced and more ‘alternative’” than the title track. River Song is one of those hard to define works that I lumped under the heading of ‘alternative’ because it doesn’t fit any other category – and filing it under ‘miscellaneous’ would be unforgivably insulting. It starts with the soulful wailing of a saxophone blended with echoing wordless voices. The Maccabees may have been an indie rock band but that’s not indie rock; in fact, it’s not rock at all. Nor is it jazz or soul. It’s … something else.
A disconsolate trudging beat plods along under the sax and when the vocals come in the waltz-time rhythm threatens to wash us away. This river is deep and wide, its muddy waters flowing relentlessly toward the sea. The lyrics tell of a man who regrets mistreating his girl and the river’s lugubrious song reflects his sorrow and sadness. He wishes he could change but knows that, like the river, he will continue passing under life’s bridges the same as always.
Like the river waters the song rolls ever on, never deviating from its course, with the sad, soulful theme repeating in the reeds of the sax, the banks of the keyboards and the mouth of the singer. No islands interrupt the current, no rapids disturb the smooth surface, no variation brings relief as the same mournful message echoes across the instruments. And yet, River Song is a captivating refrain that infects the mind and blithely haunts the spirit.
There’s another River Song that I’m fond of, too. She is a character from the British TV science-fiction series, Doctor Who. I watched Doctor Who as a kid and the Crotchety Couple still watch every episode. The Doctor travels through time and space in the TARDIS, a box the size of a 1960s telephone booth that is bigger – much, much bigger – on the inside than it is on the outside. Isn’t that wonderful? The Doctor always travels with a companion or two. Most of his companions are female, many are quite attractive to the Crotchety Male and a few are downright sexy. But even the beautiful, sexy ones play an essential part in the stories; they are not just eye candy.
In the TV series, River Song is played by the English actress Alex Kingston. She is neither the most beautiful nor the sexiest of women but River is probably the strongest character of all the Doctor’s companions – stronger even than the Doctor at times. For much of their several regenerations River and the Doctor travel independently, their timelines crossing at storyline junctures. But, because time travel isn’t linear, the Doctor and River experience each meeting at a different point in their lives. Their first encounter for the Doctor is their last for River and, roughly speaking, as the Doctor gets to know River so she knows him less and less. It’s a fascinating twist to an enduring story.
Like The Maccabees, River Song‘s timeline has ended and, here at Crotchety Mansions, it seems the times they are a-changing.