Perhaps it’s a good idea to stay away from anything with a subversive label such as anti-folk, but you might want to make an exception with “All the Rowboats” by Regina Spektor. The song carries all the musical seriousness of folk music, but with a lighthearted, even sarcastic message. Spektor, a Russian-born pianist, might be referring to works by the American realist artist Winslow Homer, at least according to the online literary journal Legomenon. Although the rowboats in his oil paintings are featured prominently in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Spektor describes them as trying to escape.
“All the rowboats in the paintings, they keep trying to row away. And the captains’ worried faces stay contorted and staring at the waves. They’ll keep hanging in their gold frames for forever, forever and a day. All the rowboats in the oil paintings, they keep trying to row away.”
I see a spiritual message. In Judaism, Christianity and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the name “Israel” means “to struggle,” and likewise for “Jihad” in Islam. I think of Spektor’s rowboats in the same manner. And in much of the Old Testament as well as other spiritual literature, the sea is something that opposes. So perhaps the rowboats are the human spirit, struggling for God, but imprisoned and opposed by the world around them. Spektor admonishes the spiritual person to push onward beyond the world. The danger is not physical death, but a spiritual death.
“All the galleries, the museums, here’s your ticket, welcome to the tombs. They’re just public mausoleums. The living dead fill every room.”
So if you’re looking for something deeper than popular religious music, perhaps you could try Regina Spektor and anti-folk.
Bruce Meyer writes about the relationship between the physical universe and the pursuit of spirituality.