Suite: Judy Blue Eyes: A Case Study In The Kuleshov Effect

One of the joys of having a bit of historical context is that one is able to put things in their proper context. Relatively recently a song came out that was credited to rapper Travis Scott (but which featured uncredited vocals from other artists like Drake and Swae Lee) that was a suite, and a great many people thought that the song was the rap equivalent of Bohemian Rhapsody, which is about the only other example of a suite that many of the people knew. As someone who enjoys a wide variety of music, I had heard at least a few suites in different contexts and did not find the song quite so unusual. If suites are not a common way for songs to be organized nowadays, they certainly are by no means entirely unknown. It is unclear what the proper effect would be of knowing enough suites to place a song like “Sicko Mode” into a context, because while there is a loss of thinking that the song is something groundbreaking or unheard of, there is a gain in being able to place it within a context of broadly similar songs that, despite their genre and content differences, nonetheless utilize the form of a suite to present separated vignettes as part of a coherent but composite larger song.

As we have noted in other contexts, a suite is an example of something that utilizes the Kuleshov effect in a different medium. Though the term Kuleshov effect, named after a daring and inventive Russian filmmaker, is typically used to discuss the approach in cinema where a cut scene creates a context between two scenes, this same technique of using cuts to create a context has much wider applicability than films. We have seen in the Bible, specifically in the book of John, that the cut that exists between John 3 and John 4 places these two chapters in a context because one can read them right next to each other and therefore it is to be expected that we will read them in light of each other. The same thing happens when we place two fragments of anything next to each other. Even if such fragments did not originally have anything to do with each other in terms of their creation, the fact that they are placed next to each other places them in a context that they would not otherwise have. This is true both in the (relatively) short form of a single song, like a suite, as well as in the longer form of an album as a whole.

I have noted in the past [1], there are albums I have listened to where my enjoyment of the album was lessened because the songs did not hang together well. Although individually the songs may have been enjoyable to listen to, when listened to as part of the same project, some of the songs contradicted the other in tone or style or approach and there seemed to be no overarching concept that made the songs cohesive. Sometimes the whole is less than the sum of its parts, and if that happens in a suite or in an album, one is not doing something right. Sometimes, though, the whole is a great deal greater than the sum of its parts, and the overarching theme and concept that unites together the various parts makes something a work of considerable genius in achievement for being a set of sketches that reveals a larger narrative rather than simply being a bunch of pointless fragments played one after another without rhyme or reason.

Such is the case with Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, a stunning example of the suite that creates a coherent (if complicated) narrative out of several fragments connected by instrumental bridges. One of the fascinating things about Suite: Judy Blue eyes as a suite is that its context undercuts its expressed sentiments. Let us explore how. From the beginning of the song we recognize the contrast that exists between the illusion of love and devotion and stability in relationships that was promised by the free love movement and the painful reality of loneliness and heartache. The repetition in the first chorus about him being hers and her being his is belied by the fact that she has cut herself free from him, which makes his statements about their love being forever ring all the more hollow. Whether or not the singer is self-aware about the contradiction between the claims for love in the hippie age and afterwards and the sordid reality of casual, temporary, and damaging flings and relationships, the song itself exposes the hollowness of the ideals of love promoted by Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and many of their contemporaries. The aching and melancholy beauty of the song is in the contradiction between the ideals of the progressive left and the reality of their behavior and of their policies when put into practice. It does not seem as if any of the musicians were aware of this contradiction, but it makes for fascinating music, and the suite is well-placed to deal with the scattered flecks of reality trying desperately to pierce through the misplaced belief in the insight on the part of the song’s heartbroken but devoted narrator. Now that is an epic piece of art, if unintentionally so.

[1] See, for example:

Album Review: Shine A Light

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Music History, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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