Shawn Fogel, who records alone and with others under the group name Golden Bloom, has been very generous of late, making individual songs from the album Fan the Flames available as free downloads on various Web sites.
For those who prefer one-stop shopping, the entire 10-track Golden Bloom album is due Aug. 18 via the Sleepy West label. The New Jersey-based Fogel – who plays nearly all of the instruments on Fan the Flames — recently took the time to provide a little background on each song.
“When I first wrote the chords and melody to ‘E.H.M.,’ it was a slow piano ballad. I sat on the music for a while before I ended up writing words for it, and once I did, I decided to change the feel and tempo drastically. Confessions of an Economic Hitman, a book written by John Perkins, inspired the lyrics for this song. It’s an unbelievable true story that changed the way I look at the world. Consider it the first installment in the Golden Bloom ‘book of the month’ club!”
* “Doomsday Devices”
“I’ve watched The Atomic Café, the 1982 documentary on the development of the atomic bomb, dozens and dozens of times. The collection of newsreel and army training footage is somehow humorous and horrifying at the same time. If it was fiction, it would be comedy, but the fact that it’s real leaves me with a chill.
“My obsession with this film may be where the initial idea for ‘Doomsday Devices’ came from, but there is also the Bush administration’s insertion of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ into the American lexicon. The surface level meaning of this song can be seen in the music video that was made for it. The President of the United States (who in the video is myself) alludes to his hidden agenda of using Doomsday Devices in the opening line of the song, ‘You think you see me but it’s only what I’m willing to show, you think you understand me but it’s only what I want you to know.’ Most of my songs have been first-person narratives, but this is one of the first songs I’ve ever written in a different voice, where the ‘narrator,’ if you will, is someone other than myself.”
* “Fan the Flames”
“Traveling is a surefire way to get some lyrics written. I probably wrote most of the words on this album while in a car, on a train or airplane. … The lyrics for ‘Fan the Flames’ were written while I was driving around my neighborhood. I had just watched a John McCain/Sarah Palin rally on television, and I was consumed with frustration. How could people be listening to what Palin was saying and cheer? I’d never felt such disconnect with the human race before. It’s no secret that Palin is a polarizing figure. … I wrote ‘Fan the Flames’ to turn my own frustration into optimism and hopefully do the same for others. The very first line in the song sums it up pretty well: ‘Don’t give up on the things you try until you try again, ‘ccause nothing ever comes out of this mess we’re in.’ The line that follows is more of a jab to people in the Palin crowd: ‘Don’t pretend you’re satisfied until you’ve placed the blame, ’cause pages never burn unless you fan the flames.’ ”
* “She Leaves Me Poetry”
“The oldest song by far on this album, ‘She Leaves Me Poetry’ was written back in 2002. I was recently out of my first real long-term relationship and desperately trying to move on despite not being ready to do so. Even though I was unable to follow through with the romance I was pursuing, I did experience something I never had before. Like the song says, ‘She leaves me poetry, on the windshield of my car.’ Photocopied straight from her favorite book of poems, a purely analog text message, tucked securely under the windshield-wiper of my eggplant purple Volvo. This song also alludes to one of the first things Erin and I (the ‘she’ in the song) had in common, our love of Stephen Chbosky‘s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. ‘Last night I felt infinite, like Charlie’s long lost other side’ is a direct reference to this coming of age novel from which I first heard learned of The Smiths — Charlie begins and ends his ‘One Winter’ mix tape with The Smiths’ ‘Asleep.’ ”
* “The Fight at the End of the Tunnel”
“Just like the title says, this is a fight song. It’s the musical equivalent to the scene in Network when Peter Finch‘s character Howard Beale yells ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!’ If the lyrics don’t get you opening your windows, sticking out your head and yelling than I hope the ripping guitar solo at the end does.”
* “Dead Petals”
” ‘Dead Petals’ first appeared on the 2007 One Day in the Desert EP, which I released as Shawn Fogel, pre-Golden Bloom. I wrote it as a futurist f-you to then President Bush. The chorus says it all: ‘Pressed between the pages of the books your gonna burn, are the dead petals of truth because you’re far too proud to learn, to every season turn, you’ll get yours from the voices left unheard.’ The image of burning books stems from the Bush administration’s anti-intellectualism and disregard for science. This image also appears in the song ‘Fan the Flames’ in the line ‘pages never burn unless you fan the flames.’ ”
* “If You Believe”
“[This is] another song I was kicking around for a long time before I got around to recording it. ‘If You Believe’ is just a good old-fashioned love song. I know that Fan the Flames is an album laden with social commentary, but no matter how bad things get, we’ll always need love songs. As long as we’ve got love songs, we’ll always have love.”
* “The Mountainside Says”
“This is another example of a song I wrote while traveling. I was driving through central New York on I-81 North when I passed a mountain with huge orange letters on it that read ‘Christ is the Answer.’ I pulled off at the next rest area and started scribbling lyrics in my notebook. This is one of the rare occasions where the words came before the music. I finally got around to writing the song a week or so later in my manager’s living room in Ferndale, Mich. In the original lyrics, I began each verse with ‘Christ is the answer.’ After a performance one night, our live drummer Michael Azerrad told me that he sensed I was uncomfortable singing that line and that perhaps I should change it. He was right. I was uncomfortable. The last thing I wanted was for anyone to hear the lyric and think we were a Christian band. Not this Jew. So the lyric got changed to ‘I’ve got the answer,’ which leaves a little more to the imagination.”
* “Theme for an Adventure at Sea”
“The first incarnation of this song was an instrumental demo I recorded with a drum machine and guitar back in 2004. For years, I wanted to grow it into a more focused song, and I’m glad I got around to it while working on this album. I decided that I wanted the first half of the song to introduce the second half, which is the ‘theme’ itself. Like the way the song ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ introduces ‘With a Little Help From My Friends,’ the chorus ends with the line ‘I’ll sing for you a theme for an adventure at sea’ as the song transforms into the theme itself.”
* “Your Minute of Fame” (unlisted 10th track)
“I started writing lyrics while I was flying to Chicago for a gig. Unbeknownst to me, I was in Chicago the same weekend that then Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested. I had written the first line, ‘Chicago snow is white and it glistens in the night sky as I look out the window of my plane’ before landing. It wasn’t until I got home that the Blagojevich story unfolded for me, and I immediately knew where the song was headed! There’s no verse, no chorus, no bridge — just a minute-long rant that I’m still waiting for Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert to latch onto.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
Photo by Alicia J. Rose
Golden Bloom on tour (schedule subject to change):
* Aug.12: Southgate House — Newport, Ky.
* Aug. 15: The Lompoc – Bar Harbor, Maine
* Aug. 22: The Elevens – Northampton, Mass.
* Aug. 27: Middle East (upstairs) – Cambridge, Mass.
* Aug. 28: Larry’s – Danbury, Conn.
* Aug. 29: Pianos – New York