Last Night on Earth

I listened to a podcast of WNYC's show Soundcheck today while I ate lunch.  It was an interview with New York music critic Alex Ross.  One of the threads of the conversation was about the descending chromatic line and its quality of lament in pieces as varied as Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused".  Remember "Shadowman"?  It has a descending chromatic line... well, throughout much of the form, but I think I mentioned it in particular on the lyric "please, if you're coming down to rescue me, now'd be perfect"... in any case, it fits right into the lamenty-descendy pattern. 

Today I learned Green Day's "Last Night On Earth" (another song on the set list for tomorrow night).  Funnily enough, the first couple chords are the same as "The Last Night of the World" from Miss Saigon.  The first five chords are the same as the first five chords of "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret ...and almost the entire A section is harmonically the same as that of "Funny Honey" from Chicago ("Funny Honey" goes to a turnaround at the end of the A; "Last Night.." goes to the tonic).  Now that's a mash-up waiting to happen.  It's a common progression, this time with an ascending line to begin: I; I-augmented, I6 (or vi-in-first-inversion), I7,(and now we descend) IV, iv.  The melody follows a similar contour - ascend, ascend, descend. 

Ascent=hope, light peeking above the horizon: you are the moonlight of my life. Maybe this time.  (funny honey... i refuse to analyze.... sassy?)
Descent=lament.  Rescue me (now'd be perfect).  If I lose everything in a fire.

This doesn't seem to be an unrequited-love song ("if you dare to second-guess, you can rest assured that all my love's for you"), but it's not exactly happy.  They are separated.  Did you get my postcard?  If my house burns down, I'll still have what's important if I have you.  Aww, that's sweet.  But who thinks about their house burning down all the time?  Incidentally, ascending seems to be more prominent in the Saigon song, which goes with its hopeful lyrics (though something about it makes us nervous, knowing what is probably going to happen next).

Bittersweet.  Duality.  Something we humans - especially Westerners, with our boxy, linear thinking, have trouble accepting.  Hope and yearning, loss and lament, ascent, descent - flip sides to the same coin?  Cannot have one without the other.