So I'm having the world's shittiest day, sitting here trying to learn how to configure class-of-service on a Juniper box. It's frustrating so I just end up alt-tabbing around to other, more pressing matters than my professional future, such as advice-animals on Reddit and song lyrics.
This song, Taro by Alt-J, has been playing at work almost every day now, so I figured, might as well check what this indecipherable English fellow is on about. I didn't get my hopes up: the last time I googled their other hit song Fitzpleasure and found out that it's merely unintelligible Gibberish. But 'Taro', surprisingly enough, is a really good historical drama, boiled to one 15 minute bloodletting scene from the battlefield of the Indochina war. A love story of two artists, reunited in their almost identical deaths, 17 years apart.
Eastern Europe. The year is 1933. Endre Friedmann, an aspiring Jewish-Hungarian photographer leaves his home and moves to Paris. He meets a German girl, the lovely Gerta Pohorylle, also of Jewish descent and with a burning passion for photojournalism. Their paths cross, they're heading in the same general direction and they fall madly in love with one another, trying to make it in a strange big city. But he has a very Jewish-sounding last name which is not great for marketing; and she - well, there was no such thing as women photographers back then. So they come up with a fictitious character - "the great American photographer Robert Capa", under which name both of them sell their photos as freelances. Later, Friedmann assumes Capa's identity. Gerda Pohorylle goes by the name Gerda Taro. He calls her 'the little blonde'. They plan on getting married.
They travel far and wide and their cameras capture a few of the greatest historical events of last century. Their work becomes renowned all over the world, they befriend movie stars and famous novelists. Taro covers the war in spain. Capa escorts American troops near Sicily. Capa accompanies John Steinbeck ('Grapes of Wrath'), taking photos of the ruins of Stalingrad. Russia, Israel, Omaha Beach, you name it, they're there. Capa used to say, "if your photos are not good enough, you're not close enough".
1937. The Battle of Brunete, a few miles west of Madrid. Taro hops on a car carrying wounded soldiers, to snap a few pictures. A tank runs over them, completely smashing the vehicle; Taro suffers grave injuries, is taken into a hospital and died the day later. Capa was shocked. But the song isn't really about Taro's death (as the name might indicate), but of Capa's. 17 years later.
1954. Capa retired from the war photojournalism business a few years before that, saying never again, but somehow, his editor talked him into taking one last assignment: escorting the French soldiers fighting over land in the Far East, during the first Indochina War. They reach the place, he then steps off a vehicle (a jeep, according to the song) as they prepare for battle, pulling out his camera, and immediately steps on a landmine.
Sources say the explosion was heard on 2:55 PM, and Alt-J's Capa was presumed dead at 3:10: a total of 15 minutes. Yet, Capa is described to have died a slow, painful death, watching life slip away as if from behind a distorting lense: "All colors and cares glaze to gray, shriveled and stricken to dots". His leg was already blown to pieces and 5 yards away from him, and there was a grave wound in his chest on top of that.
They carried him back to the camp, where he was pronounced DOA (the song quotes one of the French soldiers: "le photographe est mort" - 'the photographer is dead'). Historically speaking, we don't know if the song is accurate and his last words were really of Taro, who died in a similar fashion; if he really screamed her name as he bled next to what was once his limb, as the song suggests. We don't know if he even thought of her - it's been over a decade and a half since her demise, and he was involved with a few other women since (One of them was the movie star Ingrid Bergman). We do know, however, that he was 41 and never married, which is a rather unusual choice among Jews of Eastern-European descent in 1954, or 2014 for that matter. We know that they shared a similar fate in life and in death.
I don't believe in the concept of afterlife, so I won't subscribe to the poetic idea/plot device that death reunited them again. You can believe whatever you want. It's still a damn good story. Personally, I want to think they didn't die in vain: they made us look at things we rather turn our heads away from - because it's happening elsewhere, in some other far-off land, and it's too gory to even contemplate. "To photo, to record meat lumps and war".
FUN FACT: the cello in the fade-out bit in the end isn't real, it's the standard hipster synth.
If anyone knows how to explain Juniper's class-of-service like I'm 5 year old, or what the hell Fitzpleasure is about, speak up. I can't believe you read all of this, by the way.