Bowerbirds » Doug Paisley
No One But You
I've had my eye on bowerbirds for a long time, the actual birds that is. It may have actually been this David Attenborough piece (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPbWJPsBPdA which Google just led me to again) that I had seen years ago to first pique my interest maybe? Anyway, when I first heard about them and the elaborate bowers and towers they build which serve no purpose other than to attract a mate, which they'll build with single minded obsessive purposefulness even at their own peril...one can't help but draw all the parallels with the human condition. There was the blinkered side of it, and that sort of Sisyphusian element, but also the earnest fight against aloneness and on the more sanguine side maybe also an inherent hopefulness, that they could move beyond the particulars of their birth and genetic hand-me-downs to make their own destiny, so maybe a bit of Great Expectations in there too. Obviously I maybe did a bit too much projecting onto the stick collecting habits of some Australian birds, but the analogies were just too good and simplify-inly edifying about ourselves in the way nature can be. So when I first heard a band had taken up the moniker I remember feeling a bit guarded, even protective about the name as if I had some stake in it, and then relieved when I first heard them, won over almost immediately when that delicate ethereal thing happens as the sound waves from Phil and Beth's voices intersect and overlap to not just point towards, but actually reach up and touch those moments that so many try to capture with musical notes. In a similar way, I felt immediately won over by Canadian Doug Paisley's lyrics on this as soon as I first heard them, "I've seen you brought down, feathers and all."
And something else here too as I was watching this back just now, when Phil says they brought that song home and listened to it every day for a month, that's the kind of thing that always strikes a chord with me, maybe it does with everyone who loves music, maybe that's something we all know about; that feeling of finding a gem out there in the ether and taking it in as our own, relishing it, maybe even a bit obsessively (Australian bowerbirds sure do). It made think of something I heard Stephen Fry mention in a video clip about his heroes, and the kinship he feels with people who are unabashed in actually having heroes, something that our too hip and snarky culture these days would so often encourage us to play off as a practice of the naive and unsophisticated. I found a slightly different version of him on the subject just now where he says "all the people I admire are themselves people who admire others....I have very little time for people who don't have heroes" (and then goes on to compare the unselfconscious to tree frogs ha, it's pretty brilliant actually http://www.videojug.com/interview/stephen-fry-heroes).
So this is the part where I would talk about how the lyrics are transformed in their selection here in the context of a project where we work with child soldiers abducted and made to fight, and now with human rights issues in places like Russia and Afghanistan, and lyrics like "who would be so cruel to someone like you" are especially tempting to go to that place when talking about child soldiers or those who have had their human rights trampled on, but there's more there on this one when they answer that question with "no one but you," and go on "who would make the rules for the things that you do? No one but you" It's more their original context that got me thinking not just of the self-punishment the lyrics refer to, but the complex issues that makes the difference between guilt and innocence often blurry and difficult line, and then taking that to the context of something like the LRA conflict, where in fact it's not a line there, it's nothing that easily drawn when you have children abducted and forced to fight, both mandated and seduced, both following and sometimes making the rules, always a victim in the broad sense but sometimes also the perpetrator, and knowing that many who return have to face in themselves what they did and the choices they made within that impossible situation. Like Ellison's Jim Trueblood caught in the impossible situation of having to move without movin', blame and harshness to oneself can come easily after, later, and often does in the form of PTSD with returnees. Shame, self harm, I've felt that in myself as I suppose we all have on a different scale, but felt it and acted on it nonetheless. But someone said something to me once that stuck, that "being so hard on yourself, it's a form of cruelty towards a person, it just happens to be you." I think with injustice and cruelty out there in the world, whether it's the atrocities committed by the children of war or the state trampling on the rights of the disenfranchised and those they try to dis-empower, it is important for us to recognize what role we play ourselves in that, either through activity or passivity, but it's also important for us to practice compassion, and that compassion needs to extend to children coming out of the bush, to those who express views different from our own, and importantly, to ourselves. You often here the words compassion and understanding together, and often in that order, but I think they're better the other way; that it's the understanding that comes first, or even the attempt to understand. Something else said to me once that stuck was "be nice to people, realize that everyone out there is fighting their own fight." I believe good things come from something as simple as when we think of others as we do ourselves in some ways. We focus so much on diversity in our world but differences can so often be so obvious, it seems like commonality is the important thing to uncover, and when you think of others as somewhat like you but faced with a different set of circumstances, you can get to a place of trying to understand how they've been, who they've become. There's a great quote from Rumi that I love, "there's a field out beyond right and wrong. I will meet you there." This song and this performance made me think of that place, and reminded me to spend more time there.
Thanks to Bowerbirds and to director Tyler Kohlhoff for this episode. — Hunter