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Conducting a cursory Google search of the words “Where I Lived, and What I lived For,” I was pleased to discover that an indie-rock/folk album had recently been released under the same title. I was further pleased to learn that the album belongs to a fellow Hamiltonian named Scott Orr.

Orr has recorded three full-length albums and two EPs. He is the Head of Artist Development at Other Songs Music Co., which won ‘Music Label of the Year’ at the 2011 Hamilton Music Industry Awards.

Released in February of 2011, Orr’s Where I Lived, and What I Lived For is a softly-sung and economically written album with a minimalist feel that achieves melodies both calming and haunting. Orr’s aesthetic is, I think, in keeping with Thoreau’s own philosophies and the themes of Walden. I mean it as the highest praise to say that Orr’s songs are simple: honest, unpretentious, and expert – da Vinci said simplicity is the hallmark of sophistication.

The entire album may be listened to, as well as purchased, here: http://shop.othersongsmusic.com/album/where-i-lived-and-what-i-lived-for

He also has a terrific website: http://scottorrmusic.tumblr.com/

 

It’s a nice reminder that Thoreau and his ideas remain relevant.

There is, I think, a trend spanning art of all genres and media in recent years that summons the philosophies of Walden with a sense of nostalgia. I’m thinking of a number of things: in the culinary arts, slow and local food is in fashion right now, as is urban farming. Buffalo plaid is once again popular, with all its allusions to frontier life and self-sufficiency, recalling the likes of such American folk heroes as Paul Bunyan. In music, such as with Orr, I think of artists like Sufjan Stevens and Fleet Foxes, as well as The Be Good Tanyas, Josh Ritter, and Sarah Harmer (another Hamiltonian). I wonder if traces of Thoreau live on in these ways. Is Walden alive in musical traditions like bluegrass and folk and alt-country?

Of course, almost everything is vulnerable to corruption or, at the very least, use in a way that emphasizes its ambivalence. In recent years, the Levi’s Denim company capitalized on what I would call certain Thoreauvian aesthetics, the suggestion of his philosophes. In commercials directed by Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre and Jayne Eyre) and John Hillcoat (The Road and, forthcoming, The Wettest County in the World), Levi’s summons the great themes of American Exceptionalism, of Manifest Destiny, of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, of living, as Thoreau says, deliberately. Fukunaga’s commercial features a narration using Whitman, who we shall soon read.

The commercials are beautifully rendered, but not unproblematic. Indeed, they are largely problematic. The use of Wagner’s beautiful and ever-ascending Das Rheinegold is particularly effective in achieving a sense that the way of life Thoreau advocates is within our grasp, if only we seize it. Well, it is and it isn’t. Regardless. Judge the ads for yourself:

 

Relatedly, we sadly will not cover Resistance to Civil Government in lecture. But don’t discount reading it. It is particularly important right now, as the Occupy Wall Street movement that spanned the globe is subject to reassessment, camps having been torn down by dispassionate police wielding pepper spray, obeying orders (however Eichmannesque) while activists remain no less passionate or justified. Indeed, the methods of protestors is not perfect, it is certainly a sort of mishmash movement, but that doesn’t discredit real fear of what Chomsky calls the Corporate-State complex and what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex (among many, many other “state complex” permutations). Ours is fast becoming a frightening and unsustainable way of life. Civil resistance to government is required for democracy to remain democratic. And American writers, in the tradition of Thoreau, are lending their support to this most recent phenomenon of democratic disobedience. Check out the online petition in support of OWS that many notable writers have signed and contributed insightful pieces. Among them: Lemony Snicket, Judith Butler, David Bezmozgis, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Jonathon Lethem: http://occupywriters.com/

–          Joe

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