A Tribute to Blues: A Closer Look at “Yer Blues”

By Alexandra Fileccia

Lennon used “Yer Blues” to mock British artists who tried to replicate the sound of the blues and failed. However, the Beatles composed this track honoring the genre of blues—rock and roll’s great ancestor. The band released “Yer Blues” in 1968 during the later years of their career. The song comments on the British Blues Boom. The title for the track hints at Lennon’s ridicule with the word “yer,” which means “your” in British slang. Lennon also wrote the song while in India to see if he could, in fact, write a blues song better than the “British Blues” songs that surrounded him, according to Walter Everett in his book The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology (170).

The second track on side two of the first disc of the White Album, “Yer Blues” captures a depressing and raw, emotional sound that makes the track unique. Lennon sings with enormous force, which makes the track stand out on the album and from the Beatles’ discography as a whole. “‘Yer Blues’ takes the frustrations of ‘I’m So Tired’ to an even deeper level,” Everett writes (170). Not every Beatles member recorded in the studio at one time, which accounts for the isolation of instruments and how distant they sound from each other. The space in the “blues lick” allows every band member “to piddle about without sounding busy,” (Riley, 277). The listener can hear each individual instrument very clearly. The separation of instruments creates a hollow sound for the song, which adds to the song’s uniqueness. Most Beatles’ songs sound full and bustling with different instruments, unless the track’s main focus lies in the acoustic guitar and vocals—think “Blackbird,” “Julia” or “I Will;” all acoustically-based songs though the latter actually builds up a little toward the end.

The raw, angsty emotion in Lennon’s voice rules as a major component of the blues track. Typically a blues song implies sadness, yet “Yer Blues” carries immense anger. The listener feels desperate, frustrated, lonely and angry at the same time—they feel the way Lennon feels. After Lennon counts the band in, the songs starts off with Lennon singing the chorus, “Yes I’m lonely, wanna die/Yes I’m lonely, wanna die/If I ain’t dead already/Girl, you know the reason why.” On the second line he holds out the “o” in “lonely” and pushes the “e” in “ evenin’” in the first verse, “In the morning, wanna die/In the evenin’, wanna die.” The blues and swinging blues as genres both play with vowel length in relation to tempo—a way to express individuality. The scratchiness of Lennon’s voice throughout the track displays great heartache and anguish. The song would be totally different if he sang the lyrics in a normal tone without all the wails and cries. The listener wouldn’t be able to feel as connected to the struggle Lennon sings about and goes through on the track. “Yer Blues” embodies a melancholy that only suicide can relieve, as the lyrics suggest.

Lennon references the song “Ballad of a Thin Man” (1965) by Bob Dylan in the second vocal solo in the lyrics, “Feel so suicidal/Just like Dylan’s Mr. Jones,” according to Tell Me Why by Tim Riley (278). In Dylan’s song, he sings to a character named Mr. Jones and Lennon shows a relation to that character. The primary song writer, Lennon, also sneaks in a reference in the third verse of “Yer Blues,” to “Hellhound on My Trail” (1937) by Robert Johnson, one of the most popular blues singers in the 1930s (Everett, 170). In “Hellhound,” Johnson sings, “I got to keep moving, I got to keep moving/Blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail/Mmm, blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail/And the day keeps on remindin’ me, there’s a hellhound on my trail.” Johnson’s lyrics discuss sadness so blue that it keeps hitting him like hail. Lennon’s lyric “Black cloud crossed my mind/blue mist round my soul” uses a similar description of sadness as Johnson’s lyrics. By referencing these great musicians before him, Lennon tips his hat as if saying, “These guys knew how to do blues.”

Read the full post »

Silent Spring: The pioneer of an environmental movement

A book review

By Alexandra Fileccia

Rachel Carson called out public officials and the chemical industry in her 1962 book titled Silent Spring. This book, in addition to her others, [The Sea Around Us (1951), The Edge of the Sea (1955)], inspired the start of an environmental movement, which she did not live to see.

With her main focus on insecticides, herbicides and pesticides, specifically DDT, aldrin and various isomers to these compounds, Carson discusses the harm of exposure to these chemicals for humans and other organisms that come in contact. In the book, she explains levels of toxicity and how chemicals can build up in an organism’s body.

In 1962, chemical companies were deeming deadly chemicals safe to the public and public officials backed them up. As long as their wallets were growing, officials didn’t care to look into side effects. “The production of synthetic pesticides in the United States soared from 124, -259,000 pounds in 1947 to 637,666,000 pounds in 1960.” It was normal for planes to drop blankets of “safe” chemicals on hundreds of thousands of acres of vegetated land, and even people.

Most people, especially the government and farmers, were solely concerned with eradicating weeds and insects that pose threats to crop production. However, as Carson points out in the beginning of Silent Spring, there was a major problem with crop overproduction.

Read the full post »

Dam Removal and Wetlands

Earth Day Celebrations on College Campuses

More and more colleges are showing their love of our planet on Earth Day. There is more of a focus on sustainability on college campuses and more events to spread the word!

Benefits of laughing

Published in Atlas Magazine

By Alexandra Fileccia

Before Jordan Perry, president of the comedy troupe Jimmy’s Traveling All-Stars, walks on stage, he takes a deep breath and clears his mind. He gets into the character of his first skit. The audience roars with laughter. Typically when you are laughing, you are reacting to humor or comedy. For Perry, laughter is a way to feel good. Though the purpose of laughter is not to improve your health, there are some side effects that are conducive to your health.

Laughter is a major combatant to stress. When you are stressed, you release hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. Cortisol diverts energy from other functions in the body, such as the immune system, in order to use and conserve it for the stress stimulus. Laughter, which releases endorphins, suppresses stress hormones. When stress hormones are reduced, it allows for an improvement in immune functions because cortisol is no longer deterring the energy that the system needs. Studies have shown that women who are characterized as optimistic see less cancer growth because they are able to laugh and make light of their situation, which in turn optimizes their immune system and creates more antibodies.

When you have a really good, deep laugh, your whole body is involved. Your head may tilt back, arms swing, and stomach muscles contract. Some people laugh until they are rolling around on the ground, some even cry. These are all responses to the hearty, belly laugh. During intense bouts of laughter, your heart rate significantly increases, mirroring what happens during exercise. William F. Fry, humor research pioneer who experimented with heart rate and laughter, noted that one minute of a strong, jovial laughter produced the same heart rate as ten minutes of rowing on an exercise machine. Intense laughter can result in muscle soreness, similar to the sore feeling after a heavy workout. However after laughing, your heart rate returns to a relaxed state faster than it does after exercising. Robert R. Provine, psychology professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, says laughter can be a gentle form of exercise though the calorie cost has not been determined yet.

Laughing also improves your mental health, mostly due to the positive emotions associated with laughter. It serves as a distraction from anything negative in your life. Humor researcher Rod A. Martin says laughter is a coping mechanism. The positive emotions tied to laughter temporarily replace those of anxiety, depression, or anger. This is why people sometimes laugh at inappropriate times or break out in bouts of nervous laughter. It is a way to emotionally deal things that make us uncomfortable—a defense mechanism.

Laughing is contagious; it’s part of human nature. When a person sees laughter, their instinct response is to laugh as well. “The neural mechanism responsible for laugh epidemics replicates behavior that it detects, producing a behavioral chain reaction,” says Provine in his novel Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. The contagiousness is one way laughing strengthens relationships. People who laugh together form a certain connection and comfort. Laughter can diminish stress in social situations, which enhances social interactions. “I like to try and make people laugh,” Perry says, “because I believe laughter brings us together.”

A Hidden Gem

 

In the small town of Well, Limburg in the Netherlands, you will find crystal shop Die Steenen Haeghe with stones from all over the world. Shop owner Frank Hertman and wife pick out each stone in the shop by hand.

Written and produced by Alexandra Fileccia, Courtney Tharp and Jennifer Hannigan

Meat getting a bad rep

By Alexandra Fileccia

As the horse meat scandal continues in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the people’s trust in the meat industry is on the decline. Since January 15, the day that the public of Ireland and surrounding countries was informed of horse DNA found in frozen beef burgers, the public looked for someone to blame leaning toward the major meat manufactures in Ireland and the UK.

A lot of pressure has been put on big food regulation organizations, as well, to control the horse meat outbreak and find a solution. “We have been working with the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with its investigations,” says Jane Ryder, press officer for the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. “At the request of the European Commission, we, like all Member States of the EU, have commenced a testing program of 50 samples of beef products for horse meat and will report back to the European Commission by 15th April.”

Though horse meat is safe to eat, according to the Food Standard Agency in the UK, if there is little trace of phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory commonly used in animals, are found, the majority of the population thinks that eating horse is wrong and seen as a taboo in most countries. In a survey mentioned in the article “Horse Meat Survey Reveals How Many Americans Think Scandal Should Be Handled: Give To Poor” by The Huffington Post, most people would rather eat alligator meat than horse meat. The survey showed that people would only eat horse meat over dog meat, which makes sense since both of these animals are commonly domesticated and people view eating them as eating their own pets.

With all of the tests being conducted on DNA in beef burgers, it came to light that many of the patties contain not only horse meat but pork as well. The horse meat scandal exposed the cut corners made by the meat companies. It was found that a French meat processing company, Á la Table de Spanghero, knowingly sold horse meat as beef, which was bought from Romania and relabeled by the French company.

“When we carried out our survey we were looking at beef burger products on sale in Ireland,” says Ryder. “We had no idea that what we uncovered would lead to a much greater issue of fraud throughout Europe.”

By relabeling the packaged horse meat as beef, meat producers knowingly lied to its consumers. “People don’t like to be deceived. The idea of getting what you pay for and not something else is fairly fundamental,” says Maureen O’Sullivan, chairperson for the Vegetarian Society of Ireland.

Reports have shown that vegetarian alternatives meat products have increased in sales due to the horse meat scandal, and meat products sharply decreasing, according to The Guardian. What does this mean for the future of the meat industry in the UK and across the globe? At the rate that sales are going, it seems that majority of the population will shift away from meat consumption. “The numbers of vegetarians increased during the BSE or ‘mad cow disease’ scandal some years ago,” says O’Sullivan. She says the number of vegetarians will most likely rise because of this scandal as it has in the past.

Though this incident directly affected Ireland and the UK, it will have an impact on the entire world and change the way people think about eating meat. “The meat industry is a very cruel one,” says O’Sullivan, “so I wish that, in the words of Paola Cavaliere, that meat eating would become taboo in the same way in which we don’t eat humans.”

 

The man behind the counter

By Alexandra Fileccia

 In the Prague 1 Municipal District, across the Legion Bridge, there is a quaint shop with a goat sculpture that sits on the nearest right side corner under the blue, green and red letters of the store name, Zdravíček. A young man stands idly inside, hidden by the windowless entrance. From the outside, it doesn’t look like anything more than a place to eat; the chalkboard above the goat advertises soup and sandwiches. Once inside though, the little eatery unfolds into a colorful farmer’s market.

 Jakub Holzer, 27, stocks a shelf of local, homemade desserts. Occasionally, he knocks some over and rights them again. He walks back to the cash register and hovers for a few seconds. When he sees that no one is ready to pay yet, Holzer retreats into the back room where his colleagues are gathered in conversation. When he hears the door open, he peers his dirty blonde haired head into the room and returns to his post greeting incoming customers with a smile and a timid head nod.

Holzer speaks perfect Czech, having grown up in Nová Ves nad Lužnicí, Czech Republic. To foreigners, he speaks broken English, hesitating before each word. From his backpack he pulls out bilingual a copy of Don Quixote, one page in Czech and the opposite page translated in English. “I have taken four years [of English] in school, but without active speaking, it is poor,” says Holzer as he flips through the pages of the book. He says that reading literature with English text along side Czech text is how he keeps the Anglo-Saxon language in his head. As a customer approaches the checkout counter, he slides the book back into his backpack and rings up the fresh vegetables grown organically on local Czech farms; an involuntary action after the years spent as a cashier. Though his smile hides his annoyance with such a simple task, it is clear that the young man is capable of much more.

Being a cashier at Zdravíček is only a part-time job for Holzer, a way to make some extra cash as he says. Though he studied design in school, he is a paid journalist for Nový Prostor, a magazine sold by the homeless and those in social distress. The title translates to New Space in English. “Writing was always my hobby,” says Holzer, who says he got this job by chance. The magazine focuses on social issues and alternative culture. He has written about a variety of topics ranging from squatters in Prague to theatre technique to esotericism in Czech.

Though he currently spends his time among organic cabbage and potatoes, and shelves of locally jarred honey and jams in the Czech Republic, Holzer has traveled to Spain, Italy, Albania, France, Germany, and Romania. He says he enjoys traveling, even within his own country. “With every article,” says Holzer, “I meet new people and visit new places.” This is one of his favorite things about his career in journalism. At times he says writing for the paper is stressful, but says it is as close to a dream job as he can imagine.

Though he has done quite a bit of traveling, he plans to stay immersed in the history of his home country. “I love the nature here,” says Holzer as he hunches over the checkout counter, “and the Czech people.” He says that Czech people have a certain ironic humor he couldn’t live without. He makes a motion of opening a book and says that by picking up almost any Czech book, you would be able to pick out the humor—that it’s hard to explain. He would miss his culture too much to move away. “I feel like I belong to the Czech Republic,” Holzer says and stiffens his posture. He looks around the store for something to keep him busy, lingering around his post. With no customers around, he rejoins his coworkers in the backroom.

My new food blog

My new food blog

I started a food blog for my eating adventures throughout Europe while I’m studying abroad through Emerson College’s Kasteel Well program. Follow it for my weekend eats and reviews!

Crystal Castles (III)

Published in Five Cent Sound magazine (formerly Chaos magazine).

By Alexandra Fileccia

The Canadian electronic duo Crystal Castles released their third studio album (III) on November 12. They’ve scrapped their old synthesizers and completely took out computers for this album, says producer and band member Ethan Kath—so what you get is a more refined sound. (III), which was recorded mostly in Warsaw, was released under the Universal Music Group label.

“Oppression is a theme, in general,” said vocalist Alice Glass at the Reading Festival in Reading England this past August. “A lot of bad things have happened to people close to me since (II)… I didn’t think I could lose faith in humanity any more than I already had, but after witnessing some things, it feels like the world is a dystopia where victims don’t get justice and corruption prevails.”

Just by looking at the album cover, you can tell it has a more serious feel to it than (I) or (II). The photograph, taken by Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda, depicts Fatima al-Qaws cradling her tear-gassed son Zayed after a demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen. With such a powerful cover image, it only makes sense that the tracks on the album are laced with hidden political themes of oppression.

“Plague” starts out with Glass’ cyborg whisper over a steady synth. It then uses the pounding drumbeat to build up to a chaotic chorus of soft screams. “Infants in infantry/ Rewrite their history/ Uproot their colony/ You’re ripe for harvesting,” she shrieks and ends the chorus by shouting, “I am the plague.”

“Kerosene” doesn’t stand out from the rest of the tracks on first listen, but if you take a closer look at the lyrics the song becomes very chilling. “I can clean impurity/ Wash away with kerosene,” sings Glass in a breathy burst. “I’ll protect you from all the things I’ve seen/ And I’ll clean your wounds/ Rinse them with saline/ Kerosene.” Her haunting vocals end on the lyric “I’ll protect you from all the things I’ve seen,” which becomes more clearly audible throughout the song.

The only track off (III) that resembles Crystal Castles’ old sound is “Insulin” with a playtime of 1:47. Its start and stop choppy style sounds almost as if your headphone jack is shaky. It has the most distortion on the whole album, however not nearly as much as “Fainting Spells” off of (II).

The album signs off with “Child I Will Hurt You,” a trance-inducing track with an airy feel contrary to what the title may imply. Glass sings in a dreamy haze, “Mercy we abstain/ Hope you’re entertained/ Snow covers the stain/ Forray forever.” The song transports you into another dimension and leaves you there to float on Glass’ melodies and reflect on the violence in our world. The phrase “forray forever” implies that our world will eternally be filled with attacks and tragedy.

The album is more polished and has a smoother flow than previous albums. It is one cohesive work of art rather than various experimental tracks thrown together—you are no longer being attacked by the video game rage of (I) and (II). Crystal Castles have matured as musicians producing songs with more meaning than “Courtship Dating” from their debut album. (III) is more then just an album, it is a wake up call for society to notice more than their morning coffee and daily commute.