“Why So Serious?” The 2012 Mixtape – TV on the Radio’s “Family Tree”


Length: 6:08
Originally released on: Dear Science (September 23, 2008)
Samples: Tunde Adebimpe – “Unknown Legend” (Neil Young cover, from the Rachel Getting Married soundtrack)

Oh take my hand sweet, complete your release unbury your feet…

I don’t do a year-end movies list, mainly because so many of the year’s best movies come out just in time for Oscar consideration and don’t end up in theatres here in Halifax until sometimes late January. But if I did, I expect Rachel Getting Married would end up pretty high on my list; based on what I’ve seen so far, probably only The Dark Knight would rank higher.

The film’s centrepiece is Anne Hatheway’s fantastic performance, but what lingered with me afterwards wasn’t just the emotionally devastating family drama that drives the film’s narrative; it was the amazingly musical wedding that surrounds it. Rachel, played by Rosemary DeWitt, is marrying a musician named Sidney, played by TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe. As such, the entire wedding is full of live music, with a plethora of Sidney’s friends soundtracking every moment of the exceptional weekend. All of it is captured by director Jonathan Demme’s floating, documentary-style camera, giving a “fly on the wall” feel that leaves one feeling like an honoured guest at this amazing experience.

And yet, for all the mariachi bands and rock outlets that show up in the film, the film’s most gripping musical moment is where Adembimpe performs an acapella version of Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend,” a ballad dedicated to a woman full of life, mystery and wonder. It was so memorable a moment for me that I felt compelled to add it to Why So Serious? as the conclusion of TV on the Radio’s “Family Tree” – perhaps the year’s other notably beautiful musical moment.

Aside from the fact that they share the same vocalist, it makes sense for such a lingering longing to outro the heartbreakingly tragic lyric of “Family Tree.” The lyric is just obtuse enough to be open to interpretation, but whether its use of “gallows’ is metaphorical or literal, its character’s romance is fleeting and forbidden. Hearts are haunted and full of nightmares; blood flows to keep evil young; graves are prepared.

And yet, there is passion beneath the sadness. Love shakes off halos, marriage releases feet from their shackles. It’s not the most original set of ideas in the world, but since when has love ever been unique? It’s the music that sells the poetry, with its haunting, ringing piano riff growing into a full instrumentation that then fades out in echo, with its legend destined to remain unknown to the world. Undoubtedly one of the year’s best tracks.

Download: TV on the Radio – “Dear Science” (Unknown Legends)


2 responses to ““Why So Serious?” The 2012 Mixtape – TV on the Radio’s “Family Tree”

  1. Yeah I’m going to be going back and adding it to all the rest of them too. The issue is that I wasn’t actually *done* the mix until this past weekend, so I wasn’t completely sure of how many tracks there would be and now they would all lay out.

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