Okkervil River: Blue Tulip
When it comes to mothers, I am incredibly lucky. My mother is a wonderful woman—she was a great mother to me and my siblings, immediately considered my wife to be another daughter, and has been a great grandmother to my kids and my nieces and nephews. My wife is amazing—she is my best friend, and has been everything I could have hoped for as a mother for our kids. And my mother-in-law is also a remarkable woman who has welcomed me into her family unconditionally and is also a superb grandmother. So, Mother’s Day, earlier this week, was an opportunity for me to celebrate with these three paragons. It was also my birthday, so I got some attention, too.
My mother-in-law is of Dutch descent, and she and my wife both embrace their heritage. I suspect that is why the tulip is my wife’s favorite flower (also, they are beautiful). And no, I wasn’t smart enough to buy her tulips for Mother’s Day, but I did cook a really nice brunch for everyone. Instead, I decided to write about this song, despite the fact that my wife doesn’t know it, will probably not love it once she hears it, and it isn’t about tulips at all. Because it is, we are always told, the thought that counts.
Okkervil River is one of those bands who I like and respect, for their sound and songwriting, but who I admittedly haven’t spent an enormous amount of time thinking about. My guess is that if they existed when I was in college, I would be totally obsessed with them, but now I’m (just) 52, and don’t do that as much anymore. I do, however, own a good chunk of their music. The band was started by some high school friends from New Hampshire who got together after college in Austin. I was hoping, based on the name, that “Okkervil River,” was in Holland, because that really would have tied this up nicely, but it is actually in Russia. The band took its name from a short story by Tatyana Tolstoya, a Russian author who is a distant relative of both Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev (which I mention because I read both of those authors when I was in college, between shifts at the radio station where I obsessed over various bands that did exist at the time).
In 2007, Okkervil River released The Stage Names, an excellent album about pop culture, fame and death. Originally conceived as a double album, the band instead released a second album in 2008, The Stand Ins, containing the unused material, and continuing the theme. A couple of years ago, my colleague Darius posted a piece about these albums and the way that their cover art is related, here. This song clearly explores the issues of celebrity and fame, and does so with music that builds to an intense climax before ending in an electronic drone.
Having listened to it a few times in preparation for this piece, I have to say it is a very good song, by a very good band. I can pretty much guarantee that neither my mother nor mother-in-law will like the song, if they listen to it, and I can’t say that my wife will love it, although I suspect that, at least, she won’t hate it. And sometimes in a relationship, that is good enough. Remember, it is the thought that counts.