Mourning the loss of nuance and complexity

The opening of the song is nearly two minutes of piano and guitar. No lyric until just about the two minute mark, at a time when pop songs on American FM were expected to be no longer than three minutes and following a simple structure of verse, chorus, bridge, hook, and refrain. At  eight minutes and 10 seconds, the song “Bat out of Hell” follows none of these conventions.

It is one of the greatest rock songs of all time.

It’s greatness lies in its power and complexity. It has nuance and depth. It can be sung with anger and triumph or it can be screamed down the highway with an unshakable sense of loss.

Cutting it down to fit FM airplay rules is a hack job.

The same is true for “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” Any trimming simply reduces the narrative, and the basic conflict. It would turn it in to pablum. Ten minutes is just about the perfect length for this song.

These songs are great and the album on which they appear “Bat out of Hell” is currently the fifth best-selling of all time, according to the Wiki-god.

Reducing them would be absurd.

At the other end of the spectrum, “Escape” aka “Escape (the pina colada song)” is much shorter. Kind of cute and maudlin and you really only the need the chorus to feel happy. The narrative exists only to justify the chorus. On the other hand, the chorus is unnecessary without the narrative.

So, let’s also look at “Hooked on a Feeling” which is just under three minutes and just as close as one can get to lyrically-based musical wallpaper. It’s a nice little song, but it is not one that washes away or recalls teenage angst.

Let’s just think about how this is like data or policy information.

“Just give me what I need to make a decision.”

“That’s what I am trying to do. You need to know these things to both make your decision, understand the risks, and more importantly, understand why you are making this decision.”

“No. I don’t have that kind of time. Neither does our audience.”

“Right, you want “Hooked on a Feeling” and I am trying to give you “Bat out of Hell.”

One of these will stand the test of time.

We are in a time when nuance and complexity seem to be rarely appreciated. Consultants shout, “Spare change! Spare Change!” and all the executives hear “Change! Change!” (credit to Scott Adams for this.) Consultants tell us fewer measures are better, simpler measures are better. We end up with a college scorecard that demands understanding, demands nuance, but little is provided.

I believe understanding comes with effort, with work. Good decision-making comes from understanding, otherwise it is luck or privilege. I am a violently cynical idealist that keeps hoping for the tide to turn, but expecting to wait a long damn time.

And when you say Dylan, he thinks you are talking about Dylan Thomas, whoever he was.

And he was:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

–Dylan Thomas

Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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