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"He finds a place he can afford and calls it home. He brings a suitcase full of clothes and a house plant. He brings a box of books he's been hoping to read, a small collection of CDs and records, and a set of speakers...He brings earplugs. He brings ramen, he brings instant soup....He brings a desk he found on a curb, a dresser he found on a curb, a chair. He brings bedbugs."
After letting him (and the reader) settle, she throws the story's punch:
"...They open a coffee shop down the block. They open ground for a new luxury condo. They open fire on a teenager. They open the bulletproof window at the Chinese restaurant. They open houses to prospective buyers. They open wallets and drain them dry."
It is difficult to decide whether the lyrics or her essays, which accompany each song, are more poetic. Rohe writes with purpose. When asked about the challenge of writing, she said that the difficult work is "to find exactly the right way to say exactly that thing that needs to be said at exactly the right time!" It is a skill, it seems, this singer/songwriter perseveres to hone, merging the timely with the timeless.
Accessible but quietly cerebral best defines first impressions of Rohe. These are characteristics both of her as a person and as a songwriter. As a poet and lyricist, Jean Rohe is an independent thinker with a will for interdependence. She exhibits a keen eye for the particular and an equally clear appreciation of the general picture. In choosing words and concept, the songwriter frames specific moments and thoughts that are universally relatable, but then forges a detour when the edge of predictability has been reached.
She frequently tugs on the muslin of conventional belief, and in the process exposes just enough to render the illusion of reality lost, though not altogether obsolete. It is this fabric of interwoven realism and imagination that makes Jean Rohe & The End of the World Show particularly interesting.
It questions such god's wisdom in punishing a world that was accustomed to parched air and droughts, imagining the glee of children and adults alike as they all rush to bask in the refreshing drops that have long been absent, arms uplifted to heaven for finally sending relief, a heaven that is committed to drowning them instead.
So perhaps Noah was not the only savior an omniscient, loving god would have sent. Jean Rohe reimagines the story with all being saved by an umbrella vendor. In her song's version of the tale, the rest of humanity floats on upside down brollies. Now, that's an ending even a child can understand.
The Music of Thought
Umbrella for instance, poses the questions that children (and idealists) often ask about the story of Noah. If a devastating flood had indeed deluged the earth, what happened to the rest who had not made it to the ark? How could Noah, who was saved because of his goodness, have turned his back on the scores of neighbors drowning around him? And for that matter, how could his omnipotent god will it, the god that is supposed to be the source of all that's good?