Release Date: 24 July 2007 (Barsuk)
Emerald City is named for the Green Zone in Baghdad. Like Vanderslice’s previous albums, the songs on this release are character driven. However, each portrait refers back to images of the attack on the Twin Towers, the War On Terrorism, and Iraq conflict. Vanderslice does not attempt to give an editorialized expose into the Iraq War. Instead he emphasizes how this political issue haunts the psyche of America. His song writing is well crafted and laced with subtle nuances of shrewdness.
Cynthia Robinson from Channel 11 is driving in her yellow convertible. The windows and roof are down because her on-air event was done for the day and her hair could take the abuse of the wind. She had just completed the footage of the local army reserve unit returning from Iraq. Since this was a planned event, she had driven separately from the rest of the crew. The producer and cameraman are heading back to the station to edit the piece. Cynthia is going to get a late lunch before heading back to work. She is going out of her way to her favorite Italian restaurant. Driving her convertible stereo, she is listening to John Vanderslice’s Emerald City.
The opening track is “Kookaburra.” This track sums up the major themes of the album. It juxtaposes opposing ideas of the same event. It begins with an acoustic guitar and the optimistic opinion that “Lightning shot from the sky/ It breathed life into every living thing.” Then the mood of the song shifts and the darker electric guitar chords tap out the rhythm. The lyrics change to say, “It can’t be stopped,” “We can’t be saved,” and “Lightning shot from the sky/ It gives it takes away from/ Every living thing.” The song shifts back and forth, much like the album does. It does not tell the listener what impression to create. It notates the different views. It chronicles the varying opinions.
Cynthia Robinson from Channel 11 is listening to Emerald City for this precise reason. As a field reporter, she is not supposed to tell the viewers what opinions to create. She reports the news. Sure, she can influence things a little by interviewing the right witnesses or phrasing her questions to generate specific answers. But ultimately she is supposed to give the viewing audience the facts, not editorialize with her judgments.
She has been with Channel 11 for 8 years now. It took her 7 years to become a field reporter. Cynthia started out doing the fluff features. She covered the local fair, some random foot eating contest, and anything unusual involving animals. The animal stories were the worst. They increased the risk of a wardrobe malfunction. She learned early on to always bring a change of clothes.
After a few years she started to also cover news features. These were still not specifically news stories. They were the back stories for the newsworthy headlines. If there was a plane crash, she would be sent to the airport to determine the reaction from the day’s travelers.
Now she was almost entirely a field reporter. If an airplane crashed, she would have been sent to the scene of the incident. Unfortunately, a plane hadn’t gone down in the area in about 9 years.
The song “White Dove” plays through the speakers in her convertible. The song is constructed with distorted, clipped electric guitars and a drum line pulsing with the heartbeats of thumping toms and a cracking snare. It tells the story of how the narrator learns that a new neighbor’s eight-year-old daughter had been kidnapped and “found garroted and bound.” The song tells the story and how a “Sword of vengeance/ Occupies my mind/ Who could do such a horrible crime?” Before the lyrics end, the image cuts to Iraq. “Across the Qaddas/ They’re killing off our side/ Walking bombs they don’t/ Wear camouflage”
This reminds Cynthia of one of her first lead interviews. She was sent to interview the mother of a child who had been shot by police. The cops thought the boy had a gun, but he was unarmed. The reporter was put into the difficult position of giving the viewing public the story, the facts, but still maintaining that the police officers may have followed procedure. Because these were public servants of safety and law enforcement, she had to stress the officers’ innocence until the internal investigation was complete. She had to put her personal opinions aside and try to give both a fair interview and a balanced news story. While it was an emotional story that she will always remember, it was also the story that proved to the executives at Channel 11 that Cynthia was capable of reporting hard pressing stories with professionalism and expertise.
Now she covers the more important field stories for the network. Cynthia Robinson will be the one on the evening news reporting on the return of the local soldiers from Iraq. This is a great piece for her. Since it was the rare mix of a feel good story with an Iraq background, it will be played on the 6 o’clock news and a shorter version would be reaired during the 11 o’clock broadcast.
Her 8 years of reporting have given her impeccable skills. She has honed her coverage to gather information from the most important individuals. And she has the ability to immediately assess the scene for the people who would give her the most unique descriptions.
For this story, she interviewed a dozen soldiers. She got the good looking one, the one who had a few small scars, the one who was holding his daughter in his arms. She talked to soldiers from different backgrounds. She heard catch phrases about being glad to be home and proud to have served their country. She also interviewed a soldier who was crying. He wouldn’t look at the camera. He was obviously traumatized by his experiences in war.
She never has the final say in how the story would be edited and aired. The producer shapes the story to tell the story needed. She is sent out to cover the story and get as much footage of the event as possible. She always makes a point of trying to get differing views and opinions. This gives the producers more to work with and pleases the executives. At the end of the day, however, the producers rarely use varying viewpoints.
“The Minarets” is drawing to an end as Cynthia parks her car at Luigi’s. Beginning with a piano striking a countermelody with a drum machine style backbeat, the song tells of modern day war stories. It claims “They all see how we’ve changed/ All the rules of the game.” The song builds to the revelation of “I can see both sides/ And it paralyzes me inside.”
The waitress comes to get a drink order. “I recognize you from the news. What station are you with?”
“Cynthia Robinson,” she says. She sticks out her hand. Cocking her head away from the menu to make eye contact with her server, she completes her introduction. “Channel 11.”
"Time To Go" video:
A couple of months ago, Vanderslice and his band played the songs from Emerald City live at his studio, Tiny Telephone. A crew film it. The footage was on a “blog tour” with Vanderslice’s favorite blogs exclusively debuting each video. Here's a list of the different videos:
Kookaburra live at Stereogum
Time To Go at My Old Kentucky Blog
The Parade live at You Ain’t No Picasso
White Dove live at Gorilla vs Bear
Tablespoon Of Codeine live at Aquarium Drunkard
The Tower live at BrooklynVegan
The Minaret at Chromewaves
Numbered Lithograph live at SixEyes
Central Booking live at Catbirdseat
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