k.d. lang & Jim Morrison: Oompah Aficionados?

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Since I am pretty much famous for “putting myself out there”, I’ll just go ahead and say it: “I like oompah music”.  It’s true. (Was that a closet door I just heard slam?). I think that deep down, it resonates with all of us and it’s a tad disheartening that admitting you like it seems to also mean you spend Friday nights ironing your lederhosen!  But there we are.     [ Wait…did I turn the iron off?…]

You may be thinking that oompah music only sounds good after a few pints at a local Oktoberfest. And for myriads of people globally, this may be true. But as usual, I would like to suggest that oompah music, or at least elements of it, are used successfully in popular music. One of these examples  is Jim Morrison and The Doors Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar). This is actually a cover of a song written around 1925 by Brecht.  I use Morrison’s cover because it is one probably most people know. The other one is k.d. lang’s Season Of Hollow Soul.

In the first song, there is an ode to materialism and the throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude towards life because it’s all going to end soon. In the second, there is an appeal to remain grounded through difficult times because the purpose will be revealed to us. I want to suggest that both of these songs are ultimately about impermanence, albeit from a different point of view. And I want to go further and suggest that the oompah beat is an analogy for our own heart beat. Listen in your head for a moment: hear the oompah beat (om pah om pah). Now, hear the sound of a heart beat (lub dub lub dub). Finally, overlay the “lub dub” beat over the “om pah” one. [om pah lub dub/ om pah lub  dub]. For this reason, the oompah style used in both this songs rings true at a deeper level than we may know or care to admit.

The Alabama Song is heavy on the oompah beat. It’s incessant. From the first beat to the final one, the syncopated oom  pahs  bleat on. There is no respite.  I want to argue that the reason for this is because the message of this song is more urgent. Death is coming…soon. So party on, live hard, and don’t worry too much about any mess you may leave behind. Don’t ask why because you already know why. It’s all gonna end. As long as one is inebriated, life continues. Or so is the analogy here. But like everything, sobriety will overcome and “life” will be over. Thus, the oompah  beat persists throughout this song to the extent that the message is desperate.

k.d. lang uses this same oompah beat, but only at precisely chosen times in her song Season of Hollow Soul.  Instead of bursting onto the scene with the oompah beat as Morrison does, k.d. sneaks up on it. She announces a few facts about herself, almost non-nonchalantly. From a musical notation standpoint, there is not a lot of movement up and down the staff at first. It’s almost like the calm before the storm of the oompah that will kick in later. As the song progresses, the heart beat of the oompah gets more intense, as does the message; the shocking awareness that we, in some way, are responsible for our feeling of suffering. But with this awareness, is the relief of impermanence; the “season” that will indeed end. k.d. uses the oompah only to drive home the most critical message; not the message about her per se, but the overall message about being human, about impermanence.

So, that’s my bit about how the oompah beat can be so compelling in popular music. In some odd way, besides being a great beat to drink to, it drives home those “bigger than life” understandings of life and its living. If you have time, listen to these two tunes and see if you hear what I hear. Even if you don’t, they’re both great songs!

Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)

Well, show me the way
To the next whiskey bar
Oh, don’t ask why
Oh, don’t ask why

Show me the way
To the next whiskey bar
Oh, don’t ask why
Oh, don’t ask why

For if we don’t find the next whiskey bar
Tell you we must die
Tell you we must die
Tell you, tell you, tell you we must die

Oh, moon of Alabama
We now must say goodbye
We’ve lost our dear old mama
And must have whiskey, oh, you know why

Oh, moon of Alabama
We now must say goodbye
We’ve lost our good old mama
And must have whiskey, oh, you know why

Songwriters
WEILL, KURT/BRECHT, EUGEN BERTHOLD

Published by
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Read more: The Doors – Alabama Song (whiskey Bar) Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Season of Hollow Soul

Keen to the shifting wind
I bend to it blind
To rid these kisses of sin
That must stay behind

Sour the fruit of neglect
The core of my doubt
Deprived are my veins you infect
With or without

Fate must have a reason
Why else endure the season
Of hollow soul

The ground on which we leave on
How strangely fuels the season
Of hollow soul, hollow soul

Seeds of uprooted chance
Are grains of goodbye
Waving boughs so slowly dance
Questioning why

Fate must have a reason
Why else endure the season
Of hollow soul

The ground on which we leave on
How strangely fuels the season
Of hollow soul

Fate must have a reason
Why else endure the season
Of hollow soul, hollow soul

Fate must have a reason
Why else endure the season
Of hollow soul

The ground on which we leave on
How strangely fuels the season
Of hollow soul, of hollow soul

Fate must have a reason
Why else endure the season
Of hollow soul, hollow soul

Fate must have a reason
Why else endure the season
Of hollow soul, hollow soul

Songwriters
LANG, K. D. / MINK, BEN

Published by
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

Read more: K. D. Lang – Season Of Hollow Soul Lyrics | MetroLyrics

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Jim Morrison got under my skin–k.d. gets all the way deep within. Hollow Soul, indeed; so many times of hollow soul..always Homesick..but where is Home? Impermanence so obvious and so hard to deal with. This is one of the things that are so easy to see and so hard to admit to oneself. This one hits hard and I thank you for it, even if it isn’t something I really want to think about. But those are the important one, aren’t they?

    Like

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