Friday, March 01, 2013

preening and keening; the basic human (and Bono) condition

I'll never forget the day we were watching a live U2 DVD with the rabbi, and said rabbiman exclaimed "Bono's doing a  nigun!"

That was a new word on me, but it was hugely helpful to have some Jewish/religious terminology for what Bono was saying/praying.

I had heard other terms and takes on what Bono's Spiritaneous  lyrical/prayer moments actually are.
The band, of course, famously calls the language Bongolese 
Very often, I believe,  it's actually  glossololalia; even if  it is sometimes "only" scat..

But thanks to Tassoula E. Kokkoris's new interview with Steve Lillywhite (link) I have a new word today:

Kokkoris: Now, is that true? Did Bono's throat really bleed???

Lillywhite: (With sarcasm) Was the Earth made in seven days?? I don't think he bled. Yes, I pushed Bono, but for Bono to be pushed? He's the world's biggest self-pusher. It was a case of us all pushing together. Yes, it sounds great that I pushed Bono, and you know... (pause) maybe I did make his throat bleed! 
Lyric writing certainly didn't come as easy to him in those days as it does now. In those days he would sometimes write a poem and come into the studio and say, "Listen to this! I've got the lyrics!" and he would start reading them out like a poem and I would go, “Yeah, that sounds great Bono, but go and sing them because they're not lyrics to a song until they're joined onto the song."
And of course he would go out and sing this poem that he wrote and they didn't really connect. So he realized then, I think, that he only really writes as he's singing. Things sort of appear in his mind when he loses himself and then he'll go and craft the words out of this sort of altered state that he puts himself in.

Kokkoris: We've seen a little bit of that in some of their videos of him doing what the Irish call “keening” where they yell from their soul until words come out.  link

I am keen on that word "keen."   Check out the Wikipedia (soundtracked by U2):

Keening is a form of vocal lament associated with mourning that is traditional in IrelandScotlandAfricanAfrican-American, and other cultures.

Written sources that refer to the practice in Ireland and Gaelic Scotland reappear from the sixteenth century on. It should be noted however that the principle of improvised vocal lament is in no way reserved to the Gaelic world and that laments are documented from various cultures around the world.

Etymology:"Keen" as a noun or verb comes from the Irish/Scots Gaelic term "caoineadh" (to cry, to weep) and references to it from the seventh, eighth and twelfth centuries are extensive.
The Irish tradition of keening over the body at the burial is distinct from the wake - the practice of watching over the corpse - which took place the night before the burial. The "keen" itself is thought to have been constituted of stock poetic elements (the listing of the genealogy of the deceased, praise for the deceased, emphasis on the woeful condition of those left behind etc.) set to vocal lament. While generally carried out by one or several women, a chorus may have been intoned by all present. Physical movements involving rocking, kneeling or clapping accompanied the keening woman ("bean caoinadh") who was often paid for her services.[1]After consistent opposition from the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland (Synods opposed the practice in 1631, 1748 and 1800) that went so far as to recommend excommunication for offenders, the practice became extinct; the Church's position is however unlikely to have been the sole cause. Although some recordings have been made and the practice has been documented up to recent times, it is generally considered to be extinct.[citation needed]John Millington Synge's one-act play Riders to the Sea features a chorus of women from the Aran Islands mourning the death of their loved ones at sea..

My Googling finds that Bono himself used the word : "If you look at music as emotion, then I think you'll connect us to the ballad tradition, to the wailing and keening of the old music." -- Bono

As has Adam: 
"'Mothers Of The Disappeared' came out of Bono's trip to El Salvador. Larry had a drum loop that Eno put a treatment on which is just so eerie and foreign and scary. I think the Spanish guitar melody came from a song Bono had used in the caps in Ethiopia to teach African children some very basic hygiene. The keening he does in that is kind of prehistoric, it connects with something very primitive. He was inspired by this strange, almost silent protest of the mothers of people who had disappeared without any trace but were assumed to be victims of torture and kidnap and murder. Bono had met with them and understood their cause and really wanted to pay tribute to it." - Adam, U2 By U2, link:
And fans:
"Tomorrow" seems almost too intense and raw to help you through loss.   If I had to put it in words, it's more like keening than catharsis, if that makes any sense (link)

Of course U2 is no stranger to singing via lament/psalms.
In the 90s with a dose of irony..
And with inevitable irony in the fact that the person praying/lamenting is fallen and flawed.

Bono has always been the first to admit paradoxes and fuzzy sets, especially regarding the human condition..especially his.

So i can't help but think he'd enjoy my phrase "keening and preening," and my suggestion that they might be dome simultaneously at times.

  • glossalalia and gallavanting
  • lamenting and laughing
  • pulling a nigun while pulling your arm
  • keening while preening 
Isn't that all of life?

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