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First track off Vancouver singer-songwriter(-accordionist) Geoff Berner's 2003 album We Shall Not Flag Or Fail, We Shall Go On To The End, the 3:59 song can easily come across at first listening as "a haunting theological treatise on divine mercy" -- but that reviewer wasn't as well-read as I am (ahem), failing to recognize the glaring Adam Smith references in the second verse. Of course, after his song Public Relations ("put a positive spin on global annihilation") I know Berner well enough to specifically seek out and look for subtle political subtext. (The fact that he just came back to Vancouver after touring in support of Billy Bragg don't hurt none either.)

My enlightened reading of the lyrics instead peers at the seemingly unstoppable and inevitable (military-industrial-)corporate consumerist forces that have flooded in to replace the religious fatalism instilled by other Gods of ages past, seeing the mournful words as a scathing denouncement of the ostensible value-neutrality of late-stage capitalism and the seemingly arbitrary and irrational market forces that drive companies, corporations and states whose citizens, workers and stockholders are presumably somewhat moral and ethical people to pursue horrifying and inhuman ends towards the savings of a handful of bloody dollars or slightly increased first-quarter returns. (After all -- if someone is going to be getting rich investing in, say, arms manufacturing, it might as well be me. And who am I to turn down a job at a defense contractor? If I turn up my nose at the position, someone with fewer scruples will assume the post instead.)

Where does the title come in? Imagine the threatening, magmananimous rumblings of a South Seas atoll overshadowed by a largely-dormant but still-smoking, lava-filled volcano. The natives throw a frantic funereal feast, secure in the supposed knowledge that when the chief's beautiful virgin daughter, bedecked with fluttering leis, is thrown into the smouldering crater in the morning... the anger of the volcano god will again be placated for the time being, eruption staved off, and the village saved. Only we, of course, know that that's totally bunk. Geoff is asking us why we have not yet awoken to the realisation that the demands capitalism asks of us - each of us burning away our youth and gradually made martyrs for lives better lived than lost - are equally bogus. We know better -- so why do we persist in pretending otherwise?

The melody, a slow, mournful dirge, is credited as an arrangement of a traditional Jewish tune; I asked an actual Jew what the name of the tune was and after I hummed it she responded with something that phonetically resembled "shalom aleinu" -- I asked her how it was spelled and she spat back a bewildering series of Hebrew letter-names at me, so unless someone here can clarify further that'll have to be as close to the actual state of affairs as we get here. (Aha! -- update: Oseh Shalom, as in Oseh shalom bi'mrumav / Hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu / Ve al kol yisrael / V'imru amen) For completists, know that the ineffable Carmaig de Forest also chips in here on violin solos that simply ache.

    Every song is a kind of prayer,
    every prayer is a kind of advertising jingle,
    every jingle is a kind of epitaph;
    Song-prayer to the Volcano God.

    They say He has an Invisible Hand
    that builds up the wealth of nations,
    but the hand that I see every day
    takes away, 'til nothing good remains.

      Volcano God, Volcano God,
      Which one of my treasures will you take from me today?
      Volcano God, Volcano God,
      Praise you with my screams as I watch them fall away.

    And when Spartacus was up on the cross,
    Betcha that he had no illusions
    What he was an advertisement for,
    As he sang his last song-prayer.

      Volcano God, Volcano God,
      Which one of my treasures will you take from me today?
      Volcano God, Volcano God,
      Praise you with my screams as I watch them fall away.

      Volcano God, Volcano God,
      Your appetite grows stronger with each morsel that you're fed,
      Volcano God, Volcano God,
      Praise you with my screams 'til you decide to make me dead.

    V'imru amen.
An official 3.7 meg MP3 of the song can be downloaded for free off Berner's site at http://www.geoffberner.com/volcano.mp3
And I am pleased to note that this is the first EVER lyric-transcription where I have not had to amend the liner-notes text and add relevant semicolons myself. Brother in politics and punctuation, I lay down my own accordion in your eternal service.

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