Tuesday, July 17, 2007


... is not only a German word that I've never heard a German actually using [1], but also the title of the new Smashing Pumpkins album. By coincidence, I've been wearing my ancient ZERO shirt last week, so I felt like it was my duty to pick up the CD.

It is an interesting album, but overall very disappointing. To begin with, I never liked Billy Corgan's voice, but if there's no way around it, it definitly goes better with melancholy and infinite sadness than with revolution. I mean, come on, he's composing a song in 2006 titled United States with lyrics saying "fight! I wanna fight! I wanna fight! revolution tonight!" and manages to sing such that it could as well have been about, say, compactification on Calabi Yau manifolds [2].

There are more politically flavored tracks on the album: For God and Country ("it's too late for some, it's too late for everyone") and Doomsday Clock ("it takes an unknown truth to get out, I'm guessing I'm born free, silly me") but the only thing worth mentioning about them is the fact there presently is a market for this. This tells a lot more about the 'Zeitgeist' than the music itself [3].

Most of the tracks on the CD sound extremely similar, drowned in an ever present electric guitar soup and exchangeable melodies. Billy Corgan is at his best with the slower and more thoughtful titles like e.g. Neverlost ("If you think just right, if you'll love you'll find, certain truths left behind").

Favourite tracks from previous albums: Disarm, To Sheila, Bullet with Butterfly Wings, 1979

[1] My husband proudly reports he can testify at least one incident in which one of his uncles, a Prof. for theology and philosophy, successfully used the word.
[2] That's why I call it a science blog.
[3] And while I am at it: the German 'ei' is pronounced like the English 'I' (or the beginning of the word 'aisle') in both places (whereas the German 'i' is pronounced like the English 'ee'). The German 'Z' is pronounced close to 'ts'. That is with 'Tsaitgaist', you'll make yourself understood better than with 'seetgeest'.

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  1. Hi Bee,
    here's another illusion or trick of the light

  2. American zero-goal education, compassion, diversity; Welfare, NASA; Bush the Lesser as tyrant, Homeland Severity. Grant funding of least publishable bits, bad music. The cure for no ability is to subsidize lots of it. Anything afforded sufficient amplitude must be valuable.

    A self-contained sterile egg is still embedded in the outside world. Things go bump in the night. Woe unto those who cannot bump back.

  3. Hi Quasar: yes, these are really puzzling! Here are some more. Best,


  4. Hi Bee, you want Zeitgeist >>>
    The artist previously known as Prince released his album for free in the uk
    That's right we got free copies in the Saily Mail on Sunday
    Earth Dau breaks records for uk paper

    That's what I call the Spirit of the Age.
    And the music ain't bad either, nothing new though, just something purple and something blue.

  5. Personally, I like their "Siamese Dream" album a lot, but did not care too much for the "...infinite sadness" album. Have not heard anything from Zeitgeist yet...


  6. Hi Changcho,

    I too like Siamese Dream the best. Though I always find it depressing if a band's first album remains their best. Mellon Collie is nice and the bullet with butterfly wings one shouldn't miss, but as a total I liked 'Adore' better. Best,


  7. Subconscious at work - pumpkin colored hair leads to Smashing Pumpkins.

  8. Hi Arun :-)

    It was actually the other way round - If my subconsciousness relates pumpkin colored hair with "smashing", I'd rather not know the details. Best,


  9. Bee, Changcho

    The best work of many rock musicians is typically when they're really young (ie. mid-late teens, early 20's). I don't really know why their songwriting quality and/or output goes downhill when they get older, especially once they're over 30.

    A particular musician's first album, is typically the cumulation of many years of songwriting when they were young. Subsequent albums may be the result of having to come up with new material on short notice (ie. a year or two), largely to satisfy the recording contract they signed. Most major record companies are only interest in making money, and very little else.

    Some folks simply get "burned out" after awhile from the cycle of having to come up with new music and going on concert tours every year or so.

  10. Hi Anonymous,

    I think the situation in arts is not so different from science, but the way people understand their job is. It's known that creativity peaks somewhere early to mid twenties. After this, there still can be a long plateau of good work because knowledge and skills increase while creativity decreases. This seems to work fine for scientists since they most often have a solid education in technical skills and keep on learning new stuff essentially all through their academic life. I think that most musicians rely too much on their early success, then try to repeat the same trick over and over again, so quality and originality inevitably drops. There are notable exception to this, e.g. Madonna - she has basically re-invented herself over and over again. Whether or not one likes her music, I find this really impressive.



  11. Hi Bee - actually, 'Gish' is their (SP's) first album.

    I agree with Anonymous' observation that the best work of many rock musicians occurs when they're pretty young, paralleling the quality of output of scientists. Obviously there are many exceptions, though (both in science and in rock music). Cheers,


  12. I've never been a Pumpkins fan. And I really dislike most music that has political themes. That just isn't why I listen to music. If I want politics I'll watch the news or something like that. And I've gotten to that age when most of the newer music just doesn't sound much like music. ;-)

  13. Oh, and I first learned the concept of "Zeitgeist" in some psychology or sociology class in college. Along with "Gestalt" those words were used to quickly express complex ideas that no single English words could say.

  14. Hi RaeAnn,

    I too don't specifically like music that aims to communicate a political opinion. For most cases because I either don't share the opinion, or am not in the mood to hear someone sing about it. There are only very rare exceptions to it, and those that come into my mind are (somewhat unsurprisingly) German (so they won't be of much interest to you). A song that by now is historically interesting is e.g. 'Amerika' from Grönemeyer (around mid eighties I think).

    wenn du gar nicht anders kannst
    oh amerika
    dann prügel, wenn du dich prügeln mußt,
    in deinem eignen land
    du willst in allem immer besser sein
    größer, schneller, weiter, amerika
    ich habe angst vor deiner phantasie
    vor deinem ehrgeiz, amerika

    If it's unavoidable, and you have to beat someone up (oh America)
    Do that in your own country
    You always want to be better,
    Larger, Faster (oh America)
    I am scared by your fantasy, scared by your ambition, America)

    It's interesting, but it doesn't change the fact that he can't sing (fortunately he doesn't even try), and the song isn't exactly one of his best anyhow (he definitly has had better ones).

    Anyway, though I personally don't like it in most cases, I think expressing an opinion or criticism (political, religious or otherwise) through art is one of its main purposes and can be quite effective.



  15. Oh, and regarding the 'Gestalt': Indeed, I have come across this word in the English language repeatedly. Just that I found it repeatedly used in a context that doesn't have much to do with it's German meaning, so it's quite an interesting development. E.g. this website proclaims

    Gestalt is a German word for a complete pattern. To gestalt something is to make it whole - to engage in the act of bringing something to completion.

    Or, on this side you find

    Gestalt means when parts identified individually have different characteristics to the whole (Gestalt means "organised whole")

    (there are more examples like this). None of that makes much sense to me. To begin with the German verb to the noun 'Gestalt' is 'gestalten' (not 'to gestalt'), but it doesn't necessarily involve something like 'completion' as stressed above. The translation the Online Dictionary provides is pretty accurate. It means something like 'arranging' (e.g. furniture in your apartment) 'designing' or also 'creating'.

    The word 'Gestalt' means essentially 'shape' or 'figure' in the broader meaning, I would roughly say with a neglect of details, but doesn't have anything to do with something like an 'organized whole' (as claimed above). In the common language it most often refers to a human. E.g. In the dark you might not really recognize somebody, but you see a human figure, a 'Gestalt'.

    Oops. Sorry, I didn't mean to give a lecture on it ;-)



  16. Hi Bee, thanks for the German view of Gestalt. Interesting! And much of what you said is actually how it was discussed in psychological theory. It was primarily used to describe how people tend to create patterns out of "random" objects, much like creating constellations with the stars in the sky. We didn't really discuss it in great detail, but it was part of our 'history of psychology' class and the section about perception and information processing theories. There's a sketchy wiki article about it:


    I thought it was interesting that these ideas were contemporary with the emergence of more abstract art forms. That one class in particular was one of my favorites because it was very revealing about how certain ideas and "zeitgeist" really do influence most different aspects of society from art to science to culture, etc.

    I guess it would be pretty annoying for your language to be modified and somewhat adulterated like with these words, but it seems German language is in some ways much more descriptive than English and that's why it's used in that way. But I'm definitely no expert on any of that! ;-)

  17. I never really cared for them.


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