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Call me Nostradamus 

10 signs of the apocalypse

Thursday, Dec 23 2004
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Until further notice, I’ve stopped getting my news from traditional media. I was turned off by newspaper and television coverage of Iraq, Ohio, and N.J. Governor Jim McGreevey’s "I am a gay American" speech. Celebrity gossip, blogs and online porn lost their allure in one fell swoop after photos of Tara Reid’s red carpet, post-op nipple slip appeared. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show seemed like a good substitute, until I rediscovered the wit and wisdom of 16th-century prophet Nostradamus, truly a man for our times, or, as I like to call them, end times. His contemporary relevance is threefold. First off, he was plump, shady and much admired by Catherine de’ Medici and others in positions of power, which gives him a kind of Dick Cheney/Karl Rove appeal. Second, he had questionable problem-solving abilities. Much like the Bush administration, which believes tax cuts can heal a budget deficit, Nostradamus prescribed a "rose pill" of his own invention — basically a big-ass dose of vitamin C — as a cure for the plague. Finally, he was always predicting the apocalypse in song. Well okay, maybe not song, but quatrains. It was a prescient technique, as revealed by this lost set of predictions, which appear alongside concordances from this year’s music news — events you never thought would happen, until they did.

1. When obscurities revisit the long road/Blood will shed if their power is seen to increase. In April, the Pixies commenced upon the single most unexpected reunion tour of all time — that is, until post-rock originators Slint and U.K. power trio Cream both announced plans to play out in 2005.

2. The song of the fishermen will cease/As a harp rings out in the light of day. Phish played their last show in August, dealing the jam-band scene a death blow. Almost simultaneously, artists like Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom and Animal Collective kick-started a subgenre that’s since been labeled freak folk, producing the year’s best and strangest records. The artists involved sing shirtless and resemble Cat Stevens (Banhart), play harp while wearing ol’ timey dresses (Newsom), and encourage people to drop out of the rat race (Animal Collective). Overnight, being a hippie was cool again.

3. As the land of ice advances on Oceania/It makes a bold claim: "Every boy is a snake is a lily." Björk’s performance of "Oceania" at the Olympics’ opening ceremony included the mysterious lyric first cited by Nostradamus. To those of us who had consulted his prophecies, it was no surprise what happened during the games’ quintessential event, the marathon. A defrocked Irish priest named Cornelius Horan (a.k.a. the snake) accidentally tackled Vanderlei de Lima (a.k.a. the lily), an unheralded competitor who led the race into its 23rd mile. As Horan later explained, he was merely trying to announce the second coming of Jesus.

4. Watch the old man of sand’s archive/For his teenage symphonies to god will finally arrive. Brian Wilson finally got around to releasing his masterpiece, Smile, 40 years after he started work on it.

5. Crooked tears will spill from the pissoir/As the gangster refutes tales of his own demise. A half-dozen dates into the "Best of Both Worlds" tour, golden shower advocate R. Kelly was publicly humiliated when a member of Jay-Z’s posse pepper-sprayed him backstage. Kelly was subsequently booted off the remaining dates, yet Jay-Z soldiered on, ignoring the fact that Fade to Black, a documentary film about his 2003 retirement concert, had just been released to theaters.

6. When two lone stars rise from the south /A third will seize the mid-western states. In September, mentally ill Austin musician Daniel Johnston released his most accessible record to date, Discovered Covered, which matched original versions of his songs with covers by artists like Bright Eyes, TV on the Radio and Tom Waits. In October, Jandek, a mysterious Houston artist who released 38 desolate records over the past quarter century, with nary a photo, interview or Web site to explain them, made his first live appearance at an avant-garde music festival in Scotland. Weeks later, a third inscrutable Texan was -re-elected president.

7. A thin man approaches Venice decked in lace/He will dance on the boulevard of dreams. This explains Bob Dylan’s prolonged case of WTF syndrome. In April, he made a leering cameo in a Victoria’s Secret ad. Though some say he was merely playing out the lyrics to "Ballad of a Thin Man." ("You walk into the room/With your pencil in your hand/You see somebody naked/And you say, ‘Who is that man?’ "), it was actually a portent that the bard had decided to cash in big time. This fall he published Chronicles, the first in a series of incidental memoirs, and 60 Minutes broadcast his first television interview in 19 years just in time to remind holiday shoppers. If you thought it couldn’t get any lamer, a few weeks back, a casting call went out for choreographer Twyla Tharp’s follow-up to her Billy Joel–themed musical, Movin’ Out. It will feature songs from Dylan’s early years.

8. Foresworn by all for his sky of diamonds/The captain charges the citadel with his prize. William Shatner released Has Been, his collaboration with musician Ben Folds, only days after winning an Emmy for his supporting role on The Practice. Many critics agreed Shatner is now producing works of subtle humor and artistic merit.

9. The twins claim the dark man’s pledge/Silencing the hopes of two pale men. Bruce Springsteen’s pro-Kerry Vote for Change tour ended decades of strenuously maintained political neutrality; Eminem’s "Mosh" video was a last-minute attempt to sway the electorate against Bush; but both were trumped in the battle for celebrity endorsements when gossip spread that OutKast’s Andre 3000 would perform at the Republican National Convention. It horrified most of their fan base, and the rumors turned out to be false, but that didn’t stop Jenna and Barbara Bush from harnessing the buzz for their dad by quoting "Hey Ya" in their convention speech.

10. A man of science chooses a stout consort/And a strange chorus will ensure their fierce plans. The cultlike Dallas rock collective the Polyphonic Spree followed up their high-profile appearance on the MTV Music Video awards in Miami with a brief two-song set at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway, an event hosted by Oprah Winfrey and noted Scientologist Tom Cruise. It will air, after press time, on the E! channel, two days before Xmas. I fear that none of us may survive.

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Reach the writer at alecbemis@brassland.org

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