Pop Apocalypse: Shearwater’s “Rooks”

I’ve always been obsessed with end-of-the-world scenarios, from the original 1968 Planet of the Apes to Cormac McCarthy’s 2007 novel, The Road. I’ve tried to intellectualize my lifelong fascination, even teaching courses on Apocalyptic Literature. But no matter how many fancy words I use in my courses (“a posteriori apocalypticism,” “stigmatized knowledge,” “escalation ladder”), I cannot fully explain why I am drawn to these bleak tales of catastrophe and suffering.

Just yesterday I realized that my obsession with the apocalypse extends beyond literature and film into the realm of music. In fact, I can clearly recall specific periods in my life and the apocalyptic song that was on my life’s soundtrack at the time. Not counting REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” — a predictable contender on any doomsday playlist — here are the songs on my Armageddon song list:

  • In the early nineties it was “The Road to Hell” from Chris Rea’s Road to Hell
  • Later in the nineties it was Leonard Cohen’s “The Future” from the album of the same name (“It’s lonely here / there’s no one left to torture”)
  • In the days and weeks and months after 9/11 it was “The Dead Flag Blues” from Godspeed You! Black Emperor!’s f#a#∞ (“We’re trapped in the belly of this horrible machine / and the machine is bleeding to death”)
  • And now, the song that prompted this reflection, what I’ve been listening to obsessively, is “Rooks” from Shearwater’s Rook

Shearwater's RookWith the song’s haunting arpeggios and singer Jonathan Meiburg’s resonant falsetto, “Rooks” is at once unnerving and beautiful. The lyrics suggests that the End draws nigh, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Or rather, there’s nothing we want to do about it.

It not so much apathy we seek in the face of the disaster, but obliviousness: “The ambulance men said there’s nowhere to flee for your life / so we stayed inside / and we’ll sleep until the world of man is paralyzed”

Listen to “Rooks” by Shearwater:

The Death of a Legend: Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston and the NRAAnyone who knows is me is expecting a flurry of posts about the sad news of Charlton Heston’s death. For a while, back in the late nineties, I was single-handedly trying to forge the field of Heston Studies. My work focused on Heston’s informal sci-fi trilogy from the late sixties and early seventies: Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, and Soylent Green. One of those essays — “There Goes the Neighborhood: The Seventies, the Middle Class, and The Omega Man” — was even published in a collection called Shocking Cinema of the Seventies.

I’ve been thinking for a long time about posting the other essays, and finally, tragically, now seems like an appropriate time to do it. So bear with me as I dig through my files and look over these old fossils, and if they’re not too embarrassing, look for them here in the future…