SHUFFLER 0035: WE RESIST HERE
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – “The Lost Brigade” from Living with the Living (2007 Touch & Go)
I really want to get this right, because I feel I owe it to Ted Leo, someone I’ve never met but who is on the short list of artists for whom I have the utmost respect as people as well as artists (a list that includes Martín Sorrondeguy, David Bazan, Brother Ali, and the late Sarah Kirsch). Leo is an old punk, having played in New York hardcore bands Citizens Arrest and Animal Crackers in the late eighties/early nineties, reinventing himself (but likely just showing another side that was there all along) as a mod in Chisel through most of the nineties. He was in some other projects along the way, before he began to create what turned out to be mostly unlistenable sonic experimentation with the Pharmacists, finally settling into some real Elvis Costello inspired rockers, creating some of the most refreshing and inspiring music of the 2000s. In 2008 when the police response to the protesters at the Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, Ted took to Protools and created the Rapid Response EP, the proceeds of which went to defend the protesters. That EP contained covers of songs by oi band Cock Sparrer and crust metal gods Amebix, proving once and for all what many already knew — the man has an encyclepedic knowledge of songs, and his canon is vast. I once heard him interviewed on the Current challenging a DJ who implied that appreciation of Rod Stewart might indicate bad taste in music. A casual YouTube search will show him covering songs from Tears for Fears to Bruce Springsteen to Lauryn Hill. The guy is a machine. And that voice!
Living with the Living didn’t have as many memorable moments for me as Hearts of Oak or Shake the Sheets, but inasmuch as it was a new Ted Leo album, that automatically put it near the top of the heap for me. “The Lost Brigade” begins with a seventies progressive rock feel and then settles into a kind of dub situation, and finally a reggae-influenced rock song. I’m not sure, but I may have even heard some marimba in the mix. It’s got Leo’s signature vocal delivery, which I could listen to forever, and lyrics about resistance, doing or not doing what one is told, and falling into and out of line:
Walking sticks and screaming bricks
Might leave you winded
But when you vindicate the last
The next is defended
So reckless and directionless
Just get in line and file along
Resolutions live and die
But every memory of mine’s a song
I can think of other Leo songs that would maybe work better as protest anthems, but I don’t think that’s necessarily what he’s going for, especially as the song gives way to repetition and refletction at the end, as “every litte memory has a song” gets repeated over and over. A song about resistance beomes much more about the personal than the political in the end, or maybe the two are always married, but there’s a reassuring wistfulness here, that no matter what kind of opression one might face, they can take neither your memories nor your song.