Something happens in the mind when music washes over us, replete with that familiar sense of a life lived — of politics, of being a human, a lover, part of a family — balanced with the urge to dance and lose ourselves, if only for a moment. It feels like something real and honest, yet still somehow something almost frivolous.
I am reminded well of something Hozier’s music has long done — it treads the tenuous line between the sacred and the profane. The crowd singing along, and if I close my eyes, I can smell the scent of incense, see the stained-glass smiles of saints. Is this so different? Are the people on the rails not worthy of sainthood? Aren’t we all, in our ways, very nearly worthy? At the very least, do the sacrifices demanded of so many not reach into martyrdom? Not so much in the theistic sense, but the realistic one.
Hozier is a living revelation, a horseman not-of-the-Apocalypse, but a harbinger of the importance of good love in the face of the world’s ending. This is, ultimately, the central theme of Wasteland Baby!, backed by massive chorus, its refrains readied for the theater pews and club floors, sticky with passion. I’ve written plenty about Hozier’s music before, his songs and their qualities, so please let me shift my focus slightly — still with Hozier, of course, and not forgetting the show — to the inescapable messages of his music.
Hozier grew into music through a love of soul and gospel, rhythm and blues, choral singing, the blues, and more than a bit of literature. That Cohen and Joyce likely influenced his songs as much as Simone and Staples is undoubtedly true. That love of literature fused with a love of old soul and gospel positioned Hozier well to identify one of modern life’s ineffable truths: one does not exist outside of politics. He has embraced this reality since his first major hit, the (still) transcendent “Take Me to Church,” allowing every song to steep in human themes and the politics of existence.
At The Anthem on a temperate, rainy night on Nov. 18, Hozier used his voice loudly and directly, addressing what’s going on in the world. As with the songs, he doesn’t shy away from controversy, even courting it. He talked about Guthrie, about the Hong Kong protests and the importance of democracy, calling to tear down fascists. When an audience member yelled, “Fuck fascists,“ he responded, “Oh, yeah, absolutely, fuck fascists,” adding that we all need to be aware that fascism continues to be real and isn’t just something historical.
When Hozier introduced a new song called “Jackboot Jump,” he talked about how all of life is political and that sometimes songs try to be subtle. He added, though, “Fuck subtlety. Especially when you have such powerful regimes and powerful people in the world who would really see Orwell’s vision of the world come to fruition. Which is — if you want to imagine a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face. It’s a chilling, chilling image […] and so I thought to hell with subtlety.”
In “Jackboot Jump,” Hozier references Standing Rock and the ongoing crimes perpetrated against the Native Americans. He decries corporate greed and its apparent importance over cultures and the lives of the world’s people. He sings of the Russian refusal to allow opposition members to run in an election, as well as the Hong Kong protests and the increasing risk of lost democracy. He uses the metaphor of the jackboot — traditionally an authoritarian symbol — to articulate the idea that, even though the boot may be trying to smash all opposition, that it’s active at all is a positive sign, a proof that change can come.
Stream Wasteland, Baby! by Hozier on Spotify:
Hozier kept that attitude going, tempering it well with flashes of hope, especially on the song “No Plan.” Before sliding into the song, he spoke about Dr. Katie Mack, an astrophysicist and professor of theoretical cosmology, and an upcoming book about the end of everything, or more specifically, describing the most likely ways our world will come to an end. The likeliest, according to Dr. Mack, is a heat death, or the sun burning itself out. Hozier then reminded us we’re living in our world’s springtime and that we will eventually move into winter, but that’s not now.
He said that “No Plan” is trying to articulate the idea that we should not “sweat the small things and of all things that are yet to reach us and yet to happen, there are far, far more magnificently worse things.”
This idea encapsulates Hozier; there is an implied notion that we, as a species and maybe even a world, are in a state of apocalypse. But we should dance anyway.
We should dance anyway.
And so we did, along with Hozier and his beautiful band. We danced the floors sticky with swear, beer, tears.
And then we all returned to the daily apocalypse.
Here are some more photos from the performance by Hozier at The Anthem on Nov. 18, 2019, all courtesy and copyright of Matt Ruppert.