Alan Ball was known for his masterful use of music in Six Feet Under. He's lost none of his touch when it comes to his current HBO series, True Blood -- which happens to be set in the Louisiana swamps, not terribly far from Houston.
This column is fairly formulaic. I recap the episode, mention the song, and wed it together with duct tape, booze and sleep deprivation. This week, though, I have to say that True Blood's music selection has reached what is probably its absolute height. Ladies and gentlemen, meet K'naan.
K'naan lived his early life in Mogadishu during the Somali Civil War. His father had made it to America, and would send his family care packages that included hip-hop albums by Nas and Rakim. Eventually he made it to America, where he lived in Toronto and taught himself to rap phonetically.
Now he's big time, and for my money he's the best rapper in the world. He is definitely the best argument for rap as poetry I have ever heard, and he spends his time either making badass records or working with Bono to further social causes in his native land.
"In the Beginning" comes off of 2005's the Dusty Foot Philosopher, which had a lot of great tunes including my favorite "I Was Stabbed by Satan." You've probably heard "In the Beginning" from Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, but here the song speaks so eloquently to a startling new plot twists in True Blood that it's hard to believe the entire show wasn't built around the amazing moment when painful realization cuts to credits and K'naan lays it down.
As I said last week, it surprised absolutely no one when Salome (Valentina Cervi) unleashed Russell Edington (Denis O'Hare) and let him kill the Guardian (Chris Meloni). Now the secret cult among the vampires that believes that God created the first vampire Lilith to rule humanity and seeks to treat mankind as cattle that they also bone and reproduce with is in control.
This leads to a ritual involving drinking what is believed to be the sacred blood of Lilith, collected from her goo pile after the humans tricked her into the sun. Though Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) are initially hesitant to be included since, you know, the greatest vampire terrorist in the world in now dancing around free and with the backing of the Authority. Nonetheless, they go along, and the result is that the entire party reels drunkenly through the streets of New Orleans until they decide to slaughter a wedding.
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With dozens dead, Lilith herself appears in the form of a naked Persian woman with oddly trimmed pubic hair. She silently inspires the vampires to continue to gorge themselves on the few remaining alive guests, but suddenly Eric has a vision of his late maker Godric.
Whether Godric's ghost really talks to Eric Jedi-style or whether he merely represents Eric's better nature I'm not sure. Probably a little of column A and column B. Regardless, he urges Eric to see the wrongness of what he's doing, and for a moment his vision clears Where he previously saw his supposed nude vampire messiah, there is simply nothing.
I think Alan Ball and company are taking off the gloves. I think he's ready to declare the whole of religion to be a bloody farce made of madness and repressed based desires. The Guardian is now a martyr for restraint and logic, and those who have usurped him stand only for irresponsible gratification masquerading as piety.
From there, K'naan speaks up with "In the Beginning." Can any set of verses ever top the succinct way that he sums up the Where's Waldo of institutional spiritual anarchy? He lays out a world where poets fail, and people fall to the reach of greed and the power of lies.
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There's a hope to it, but it's a hope that is only strong because it stares atrocity in the face unflinchingly.
In short, both True Blood and K'naan are not singing about a better world, they are singing about being better in the crappy world we have. They are saying that looking to illusions that feed our lizard brains is not the path to glory, just the path to a belly full of bloody meat.