Category Archives: Band

Music and Literature: Mumford & Sons ‘The Cave’

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Image Courtesy of FreeImages.com

By Green

I’m the word geek here at That Green Hen, sometimes more focused on lyrics than the music. My favorite songwriters weave literature references into their songs, and knowing their references increases my appreciation of their work. From time to time, the English major in me will work her way out and decide to analyze a song or two on the blog. Please feel free to share you insights.

Today let’s talk about Mumford and Sons.  The best example of literary allusion, to my mind, is their song “The Cave.”

The title references Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which describes the non-thinking society as people in a cave, looking at the shadows on the wall and not realizing a world outside their experience makes those shadows. Plato invited his readers to challenge assumptions and look at the “real life” around them. (Gary Greg has an excellent article on this song.)  Lyrics such as “So come out of your cave walking on your hands / And see the world hanging upside down / You can understand dependence / When you know the maker’s hand” invite the listener to break out of unchallenged thinking and follow the writer’s choice “To live my life as it’s meant to be.”  They also work in a Homeric reference to the Sirens, those sea nymphs who lured unsuspecting sailors to death with their lovely song in The Odyssey (quick side factoid–the film “O Brother Where Art Thou” is also based on the Odyssey). In order to pass through their territory, Odysseus had his crew stop their ears with wax and chain him to the ship’s mast so the ship could not be compelled to head into the Sirens’ grasp. In the song, the lyrics express being true to your personal calling rather than following the temptations of other people’s plans for you.

These are the two most obvious literary references in the song–did I miss any?

Learning The Musician Code

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Image credit: A. Rothman

That Green Hen is a two-person project. The “Hen” half is a music pro, with decades of experience in the world of chords and cords, gigs and rhythm, and the secret language and feelings of those who love music so much they are compelled to make it with their own hands, breath, and voice.

I’m the other half. I like music–a lot! And I’ve played musical instruments. I sing in the car, and have even sung a few times on stage–but rarely on my own, and always in settings that can politely be called “amateur.”  I don’t like crowds, don’t like to stay up at night, and don’t like loud noises. In spite of these handicaps, I’ve decided to broaden my world to include the local music scene (I think that’s the jargon of the music world).

Why? I’m also a small businessperson. I prefer to buy from family-run businesses, from small companies where the business represents the integrity of an individual, or a family. So when I looked at the music I enjoy, I realized too much of it was pre-packaged. Perhaps very well done, but not made by people I could ever know in person.

Then I started stumbling over musicians everywhere. In my business, in my friendships, in conversations–the guy serving my coffee has a band, the girl at work grew up in a musical family, a client is a saxophone player–I have been wandering around in a world full of music I know nothing about. So Green joined Hen, and now we’re adding our words to promoting local music. First in our respective towns (San Diego, CA, and Richmond VA, with Austin thrown in because we both want to visit), and later spreading across the country and hopefully beyond.

I’m learning I’ve slipped down quite the rabbit hole. To learn about music groups quickly, I’m researching online. I start with one group, then search everyone associated with that band. Musicians are an incestuous lot. After a few clicks, I find one name connects to another, and to another, in an ever-widening circle of associates. With Hen right in the thick of things most of the time. I almost think I could pick one local musician and follow the degrees of separation until I find every musician around the world!

I’m also learning some of the trials of the local musician. The money is rarely good, and the wonders of the internet hurt as much as help the local guy playing his heart out. Yes, internet exposure means you can take your music directly to anyone without needing a record deal from some big recording company, but it also means you are probably selling 99 cent downloads of your songs and trying to compete with sites like Pandora and Spotify offering nearly unlimited music for free. You are looking for places to play that too often don’t want to pay you for your time and effort. And you are encountering people like me–who don’t know you and are as likely to think of you as the background music to my dinner as to recognize you pouring your heart into something you love, that I will only miss when it’s gone.

So one of the things I will write about on That Green Hen is how to appreciate local music, for those who do not go out every night to a new place. We’ll also cover information aimed at the local musicians, to help them best share their talents in a world that needs them more than we sometimes realize.