The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #181: How It Ends by DeVotchKa (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #181: How It Ends by DeVotchKa.

This is the post that I have been waiting to write since this whole countdown-thing started! This song, “How It Ends” by DeVotchKa is not a song that is here by fluke…..even if you have never heard of it nor the band before. No, “How It Ends” is a transformational song that has, literally, changed the lives of many who have come across it. It is a song that, like many of you, I had never heard of before encountering it as part of this countdown list. But, when I did listen to it over a year ago, I was transfixed! “How It Ends” is close to being an overtly religious song; not in the sense of it being like a hymn but, more, in the sense of what a song that simulates what The Rapture would sound like. It is a grand and glorious song that you might expect someone like Josh Groban or any of the “Tenor” combos to sing. It is orchestral, in construction. “How It Ends” is about bearing the burdens of Life and doing so with Grace and Love and, in the end, receiving “Eternal Salvation”. It is not surprising that, when the “eternal salvation” portion of the song arrives, its’ score swells and soars. However, the story of how this song got to be considered one of the best of all-time extends beyond the quality and content of the actual song, itself. For, as far as I can tell, “How It Ends” has never achieved any of its’ notoriety because of radio airplay. Instead, those who swear by this song all do because they have encountered it as the soundtrack moment to two climatic scenes from two critically-acclaimed movies (which I shall talk about below) or else, as the soundtrack to a source of music that many of us, as older folk, may not have even thought of as a source of music… games! So, let’s chat about how this song has come to change so many lives, shall we? Here is the story of “How It Ends” by DevotchKa.

“DeVotchKa” is a Ukranian word for, “girl”. That having been said, DeVotchKa are a band out of Denver, Colorado, that is mostly comprised of men. Originally, DeVotchKa served as the back-up band to an entertainer named Dita Von Tesse who, at the time, was attempting to revive the art of Burlesque in the US. While in this role, the band released several albums of original music that, while not selling well commercially, none-the-less, came to the attention of two people named Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. This married couple were movie directors who were assembling the pieces that would, eventually, go into their debut movie called, “Little Miss Sunshine”. “Little Miss Sunshine” starred Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin, a pre-Office Steve Carrell, Paul Dano and Abigail Breslin. The movie ended up being nominated for four Academy Awards; winning two. Dayton and Faris hired DeVotchKa to score the entire movie. The band agreed and used songs from their established albums to do so. This included using their song, “How It Ends” in the final scene in the movie. Now, in order to appreciate the significance of this, it helps to know a bit about the movie, itself. “Little Miss Sunshine” is billed as a comedy but, it is not. It is a movie that uses the plot device of a physical journey (across America in a Volkswagon mini van) to show the personal, emotional and spiritual journeys that each of the characters are in varying stages of completing. Needless to say, the climatic scene resolves their personal journeys, just as the music of “How It Ends” swells and soars. Many who have watched “Little Miss Sunshine” have recognized themselves in the characters on screen. We all have our flaws and, by watching how fictional characters dealt with similar flaws….some well and some not so well….viewers got a version of therapy, vicariously. So, the message at the end of the movie that salvation and redemption are possible has, quite literally, given depressed and suicidal people Hope. There is much power and Life energy in the concept of Hope. How the directors of the movie used DeVotchKa’s song, “How It Ends” goes a long way to giving the audience that sense of Hope to go on and, as such, the song has developed a highly devoted cult following.

The second movie that used “How It Ends” was a movie from 2005 called, “Everything is Illuminated” starring Elijah Wood and directed by first-time director, Liev Schreiber. “Everything Is Illuminated” uses a similar plot device of a physical journey of discovery that leads to a spiritual journey of discovery. In this case, Wood’s character is a writer tasked by his family with preserving his family’s history. Unfortunately, their family story intersects with The Holocaust. In the movie, Wood heads off to the Ukraine in search of a woman who was credited with saving hs Grandfather from a Nazi firing squad during the War. There are actual moments of levity, as Wood travels in a rickety taxi with an “interpreter” who barely speaks English and a driver who believes he is blind. But, in the end, the storyline reaches an emotional conclusion that makes sense. I won’t tell you if the ending is a happy one or a sad one but, it is in keeping with the tone of the movie and is scored by DeVotchKa’s song, “How It Ends” thus, giving the final scene an emotional wallop that, like “Little Miss Sunshine” has helped “Everything is Illuminated” to have a devoted, hardcore following, too.

But, as much as these two movies have used “How It Ends” to great success and acclaim, it is really how the song was used in a video game called, “Gears of War” that really shot this song into the stratosphere. As you may recall, from a much earlier post about a song called, “Black Sheep” by Metric, from a movie called, “Scott Pilgrim versus The World”, the world of storytelling in this age of technology is much different for younger people than it is for we, older folks. Many movies now have “alternate universes” created around them that help viewers have a deeper, more immersive experience. These “alternate universes” deal with origin stories of main characters, sequels, prequels, etc. and can take the form of graphic novels, TV series, regular book and movie formats and, quiet often, in the format of video games. Video games have evolved a great deal from the early days when I bought an Atari system to play “Pong” on my TV. I thought I was such a rock star to be able to do that. Well, in today’s world, video games are highly-sophisticated and slickly-produced. They play like movies that allow the gamer or player to interact with the characters onscreen and explore their world. For some gamers, the interactivity inherent in today’s video games makes them more satisfying to experience that the passive act of watching a movie in a theatre or from your couch at home. Part of what makes today’s video games so vibrant is that you are allowed to join in the dramatic scenarios that unfold onscreen and, as such, you can become emotionally invested in the storyline of the game and in the fate of the characters you are playing alongside. This is the case of what happened in “Gears of War”. As you may imagine, “Gears of War” has a survivalist element to it, as Good battles Evil. As the action unfolds and, as you become familiar with the onscreen characters and develop attachments to them, the song, “How It Ends” begins to play, as one of the main characters wrestles with a decision that may end up costing him his life. Needless to say, “How It Ends” dovetails neatly with the emotions of the moment and helps to elevate this particular scene above the ranks of those that usually unfold in the gaming world. The “Gears of War” scene was captured and released as a trailer to help sell the game and, as such, it came to the attention of an entire sub-class of consumers in the gaming world who, in turn, helped boost the reach of this song…in the online world….to staggering levels. Because of this exposure, DeVotchKa, was invited to play at the Bonneroo Music Festival, which is primarily a festival for young folks and, which usually features only acts on the charts as of that moment. DeVotchKa have never been a mainstream act but, they have a vast and varied following that rivals anything enjoyed by the likes of a Bon Jovi or an Aerosmith, for example. And yet, they exist in a world that you and I are hardly aware of. That fact, alone, makes their success completely amazing to me!

“How It Ends” is, arguably, the most overtly religious song in this entire countdown! It has sold millions of downloads despite never appearing on mainstream radio. It has helped to save lives based upon the movies it has appeared in and it has been granted a position of honour in the thriving, growing Gaming world by gamers worldwide. In order for you to experience this song, I will give you a live performance video below. I will, also, add the trailers for “Little Miss Sunshine”, “Everything Is Illuminated”, as well as, “Gears of War”. If you never thought that “eternal salvation” would make a good topic for a song then, get ready to be surprised because here is one of the most beloved songs of all-time….a song you have likely never heard of until today….”How It Ends” by DeVotchKa. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “How It Ends” by DeVotchKa, can be found here.

The link to the video for “How It Ends”, as seen in the movie, “Little Miss Sunshine”, can be found here. ***SPOILER ALERT: This scene depicts how the movie ends. Just so ya know.

The link to the video for the song, “How It Ends”, as used in the movie, “Everything is Illuminated”, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “How It Ends”, as used in the video game, “Gears of War 2”, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “How It Ends”, as seen at the Bonnaroo Music Festival, can be found here. ***This performance feels like a church revival meeting.

The link to the official website for DeVotchKa, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting good music in all formats that it is found today. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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