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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Epics & Synaptic Sparks

Hearing the word "epic", what's the first thing that comes to your mind? A Tolstoy novel? A David Lean film? "Guernica"? I'm guessing I'm not alone saying a popular song wouldn't be the first thing. Even to a music geek like yours truly, that seemed a stretch, until recently.


Before deciding to use "The Last Resort" - the song that closes "Hotel California" - as an example of an environmental lyric for one of my music courses, I knew it was a spectacularly well-crafted piece of pop music. Even so, de-constructing the tune in the weeks leading up to my class, my appreciation for it kept intensifying; the word epic seemed unironically apt. Each of the eight stanzas stand alone; there's no need for a refrain or hook of any kind. There is no middle eight - commonly called a bridge - and it's never missed. Until lead singer and co-composer Don Henley begins singing the sixth stanza - starting with "You can leave it all behind … " - in a higher register, only attentive listeners will have detected the subtle and skillful key change that took place seconds before.

In the end, it was the intelligent lyrics that ignited synaptic sparks. Communing with the rapt listeners in my class as "The Last Resort" soared, my brain leapt from passages in "War and Peace" to scenes from "Lawrence of Arabia" to standing at MOMA looking at Picasso's masterpiece. What song has ever similarly transported you?

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