the battle of hampton roads

The Monitor is a concept album so grandly ambitious that I’m a little overwhelmed just trying to talk about it.  That being said, it’s also up there with Hospice as one of my favorite concept albums, ever.  So I will try.  From where I’m sitting, the fundamental premise seems to take the American Civil War as a metaphor for a betrayal, and a break-up. The South seceded from the union, then the North declared war in pursuit of reconquest and restoration.  This is the central conceit that ties the whole thing together.

The Battle of Hampton Roads is both the climactic finale to the story of this relationship, and the literal battle between the Merrimac and the Monitor, two of the very first ironclads, and the first to ever fight each other.  After pounding cannon balls off their respective armor at point-blank range for hours, they both limped home with exhausted, inconclusive sighs.  Can you picture a couple screaming at each other?  Hurting each other?  The futility of it?  It’s complex, carefully crafted, and littered with excellent writing.

These are just broad strokes, there’s so much more here.  Titus Andronicus–named after Shakespeare’s lone amateurish play–somehow mashed together literary intellectualism with a drunken punk rock mentality to produce something awesome in scope and utterly their own.  I cannot stress it enough:  Get this album.  The Monitor is a masterpiece.  I’ll leave you with the quote from Abraham Lincoln upon which it opens:

“From whence shall we expect the approach of danger?  Shall some transatlantic giant step the earth and crush us at a blow?  Never!  All the armies of Europe and Asia could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River, or set a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years.  If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be it’s author and finisher.  As a nation of free men, we will live forever,
or die by suicide.”

Now that’s a metaphor.

The Last Full Measure

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

-Abraham Lincoln; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
November 19, 1863

Once, long ago, we had a poet for president.

the dead march

The American Civil War was described by Shelby Foote as “reciprocal murder.”  This was the first modern war, where the new weapons of precision and efficiency were used on a large scale against walled masses of men.  It was the deadliest per capita conflict in recorded history.  And one night during the 40 days, in the evening after a battle, in the lull before another battle, while the wounded in the thousands lay pleading between camps for water, wounded they weren’t allowed to help, the bands on both sides struck up songs.

First the Union, and I wish, oh how I wish I remembered what it was, and then the Confederates replied.  This tattered band of old men and pubescent boys in grey rags who could play something, anything, and hadn’t yet been forced into service– They played this song, over the countless campfires, over the cries of the wounded, over the men on both sides who would walk into shrapnel and amputation and death with the dawn.

They played this fucking song.  I can’t get the picture out of my head.  This happened.  Like a specter of all we could be, rising angelic and knowing, knowing, to rain down on the coming of blood and screams and bone saws and death.  They were humans.  This happened.  It’s so beautiful I could cry.

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