30 May 2006

if you've looked to your right, you'll notice that i'm reading the magic mountain.

yes, things are going to be heavy around here awhile.

it is the last pillar of 20th century literature that i haven't read--unless someone wants to make a convincing argument in favor of dance to the music of time. i picked it up first as an eleven year-old, but even at the peak of my precocity it proved a bit much. i see why now : back then, i had no concern for the concept of time--and no conception of it either. whereas now--oh, now!

the distractions - "time goes by so slow"(from the north by north west : liverpool & manchester from punk to post-punk and beyond, 1976-1983 lp, released june 19, import available for preorder here.)

i shouldn't mislead the reader; time passes here, w/ increasing rapidity. as hans castorp says, "i've always found it odd, still do, how time seems to go slowly in a strange place at first," for me, that strange place being by myself--but we are quick to grow accustom to the old way of being. rather, this is an opportunity to talk a/b the best single released on factory records not recorded by members of joy division. indeed, maybe you'll think it even stands up to the best of curtis, sumner &c.

apparently, joy division were fans, the distractions frequently opening for that band. apparently, this is also why they were signed by factory b/c the distractions have much more in common w/ the pub-rock than the punk rock. granted, they were a pub-rock band w/ a synth player & a peter saville sleeve.

"time goes by so slow" ululates. it's in the skewed sound of the lead guitar as it hits the final chord in the progression; it's a sound that's almost extramusical, like an electrical signal urging you to grieve rather than fingers positioned just so on a fretboard. the sound is mirrored in singer mike finney's wail, which demonstrates less of a concern for pure musicality than for having his emotional state register accurately to his intended. to be sure, his are words backed by actions, not only by the band, but in his own efforts; in the second verse, he puts up a statue of his girl in albert square, making eddie argos seem like a slacker w/ his simple pop song. it's an improbable claim, but like george bailey's promise to lasso the moon, it resonates.

resonant, too, are hans's cousin's words in the magic mountain. he values the four times a day he must take his temperature for seven minutes, for it truly teaches him what time actually means. perhaps, this is also the reason lovers are so content to do nothing more than lie side-by-side for long periods of time--w/ distractions to be sure, the mingling of hands, the occasional caress, for we are merely human, after all. it is the desire to stand athwart time if only for a moment. anything more, really, and you begin to wonder where the time has all gone to.

that said, it's nearing two months since i last saw x. this second month has gone faster--but how do i mean that? only subjectively, that is, i can't presume to speak for her. what is, as hans asks, the organ or the sense that registers time? our relationship to time is indexical; it can be witnessed indirectly, as the shadow of the gnomon marks the ground, but we cannot see "it" w/ our own eyes. a bit like love, then.

and though it's been nearly two months, w/ what ease, w/ what quickness, can i call her to mind. i know she's still out there; i receive signals, as it were, every so often, but not direct communication. it's like a form of echolocation : i broadcast my voice via this here site and now & again something bounces back at me. it occurs to me now that the guitar lines on "time goes by so slowly" ring out like an s.o.s., and i can understand finney's distress b/c he obviously has received no response. how heartening, then, to receive that response, however indirectly; how wonderful to know that a person like that is still out in the world--even if i cannot see her w/ my own eyes.

24 May 2006

these are new songs that i think a girl i know might really like, if she's reading. who knows, you might like them too.

voxtrot - "soft & warm" (from the mothers, sisters, daughters & wives ep, available for purchase here.)

voxtrot reminds me of jens lekman. i think i'd get on well w/ both and there's probably a lot of overlapping in our respective record collections. also, both artists seem to have everything it takes in order to make a record i'd really really like, so i hang in there, through a lot of shit. jens has given me "black cab"; it's not until the v. last song on their second ep that voxtrot does the trick. i know, i know, voxtrot is like a b&s for tough kids b/c ramesh likes throbbing gristle, but, really, how many times has he wrecked a song w/ a line that would make even stuart murdoch slap him in the mouth? "soft & warm" is like fold your hands, child w/ peachfuzz & guitar fuzz, only unlike that album, this one is good all the way through.

the heavy blinkers - "try telling that to my baby" (from the night & i are still so young lp, available for purchase here.)

another sign, if it was needed, that canada is way ahead of the curve : this record, just released domestically this week, has been out up north since 2004. the heavy blinkers, if you've slept, are somewhere between the high llamas and architecture in helsinki--in other words, between beach boys '66 and beach boys '67, a great distance when you think about it, w/ bachrachian grace and a soupçon of the carpenters, particularly here on "try telling that to my baby." it's nominally a sad song--baby's breakin' my heart, per usual--but you'll feel so much better about everything after hearing it, your baby too.

lucky soul - "my brittle heart" (from the new british invasion lp, import available for purchase here.)

this is one of those songs make life worth living to me. i don't know if it's possible to test this, though we live in a scientific age, but i'm sure that the spring in my step is quantifiably greater when listening to a record like "my brittle heart." you might think "pipettes" on first listen, all spectorian immensity and shoop shoops & honey honeys, but i think lucky soul would rather much be the new saint etienne, which is a fine dream. fine, too, are the dreams lucky soul inspires in my own brittle heart.

islands - "rough gem" (from the return to the sea lp, available for purchase here.)

have you ever gone somewhere and seen a couple having an annoying amount of fun? out in the world but in a world of their own? "rough gem" is what it's like to be in that couple, to be on the inside. i'll tell you, i really hated the unicorns, a feeling which seemed tantamount to me to drawing a line in the sand as to how far i'd get into indie rock. and i really kinda hate most of this album ... oh, but "rough gem" is a brilliant synthesis of the organic & the synthetic! former unicorns, your aggravating self-awareness is wholly otm here! like lucky soul, this song makes me feel giddy & gleeful, only it also makes me conscious that others might be watching.

the lodger - "let her go" (from the let her go 7", import available for purchase here.)

"it's a surprise to get the prize that you don't think that you deserve"--sound like anyone you know? a "friend" maybe? read on.

the lodger are nearing new favorite band forever status, what w/ "let her go," their third tremendous release in a row--and another ace release from angular records. ("you got me wrong" is still the pinnacle, which you can download from their site.) the lodger would have been right at home on c86, sounding like a punchier june brides, but are doing just fine, thank you, as leaders of c06. the trumpet bolstering the chorus melody just does it for me, as trumpets usually do. (vide fariña, belle & sebastian, calexico, love, miles davis, &c.)

danielson - "did i step on your trumpet?" (from the ships lp, available for purchase here.)

... and speaking of trumpets. i know he graduated from the state university of new jersey, but i just don't tend to get on well w/ daniel smith. but here he's brought along some pals, like steve albini, members of serena-maneesh, why?, half-handed cloud, and of course sufjan stevens. (how many times have i mentioned that name this week? how is he ever going to get the fifty states thing done at this rate?) and i'll be damned if this doesn't sound like the greatest bit schoolhouse rock never produced : a big chorus, a cartoonish vocal, a bunch of schoolkids repeating the important parts. names are put on ballots, sonnets are discussed, yes, this is all v. well & good, but what's the underlying lesson? the (artistic) value of having good friends.

23 May 2006

you know, i haven't done a list in a while ...

so, i came across this list from rolling stone, comprising the best songs, one a year, for the forty years that the magazine has been in existence.

it's a good list--imagine w/ what difficulty one would have said that ten years ago. most notably, they seem to be making amends for almost entirely ignoring britpop : oasis, pulp, suede & hefner made the list--a bit of an overcompensation there w/ the last one. there are also the idiosyncratic selections (the monkees, millie jackson, gbv, the rondelles, hefner); and the verging-on-self-conscious selections for other artists (the stones, "dandelion"; lou reed, "crazy feeling"; morrissey, "playboys"; pavement, "debris slide"; nirvana, "sliver"; missy elliott, "weave"; hefner, "we love the city"--if anything from that year, "good fruit").

i made my own list, rather hastily. there may be omissions; the years may be off. a quick glace tells me that i share w/ the rs list "temptation" and "common people," which are arguably the greatest songs of the 80's and 90's, respectively. oh, and we also both have idiosyncratic selections and verging-on-self-conscious selections--but no hefner from me. what do i have? well ...

1967 : nancy sinatra - "you only live twice"
1968 : david ackles - "down river"
1969 : isaac hayes - "by the time i get to phoenix"
1970 : amon düül ii - "archangels thunderbird"
1971 : the rolling stones - "moonlight mile"
1972 : roxy music - "virginia plain"
1973 : aretha franklin - "angel"
1974 : bob dylan - "dirge"
1975 : steve harley & cockney rebel - "make me smile (come up & see me)"
1976 : david ruffin - "walk away from love"
1977 : talking heads - "love --> building on fire"
1978 : blondie - "picture this"
1979 : dan hartman feat. loleatta holloway- "relight my fire / vertigo"
1980 : dexy's midnight runners - "there, there, my dear"
1981 : prince - "controversy"
1982 : new order - "temptation"
1983 : the the - "uncertain smile" (7" version)
1984 : lloyd cole & the commotions - "rattlesnakes"
1985 : felt - "primitive painters"
1986 : madonna - "open your heart"
1987 : the happy mondays - "24 hour party people"
1988 : pet shop boys - "left to my own devices"
1989 : de la soul - "eye know"
1990 : the fall - "bill is dead"
1991 : public enemy - "shut 'em down"
1992 : nick cave & the bad seeds - "straight to you"
1993 : thieves - "unworthy"
1994 : suede - "the wild ones"
1995 : pulp - "common people"
1996 : sleeper - "what do i do now"
1997 : teenage fanclub - "ain't that enough"
1998 : massive attack - "teardrop"
1999 : the magnetic fields - "the luckiest guy on the lower east side"
2000 : outkast - "b.o.b."
2001 : andrew w.k. - "party hard"
2002 : conway - "lisa's got hives"
2003 : ted leo & the pharmacists - "where have all the rude boys gone?"
2004 : girls aloud - "love machine"
2005 : guillemots - "trains to brazil"
2006 : nelly furtado - "maneater"

22 May 2006

this is one of the reasons why i wanted an mp3 weblog. "down river" was one of the first song i posted, but i realize many of you weren't here then. as i said then, if you download one song from this site, this should be it. it's probably the song i've written most about, so tonight i'll try to write about it by writing about something else instead.

david ackles - "down river" (from the david ackles lp, available for purchase here.)

i had a friend, and she & i loved talking about books. we would read our favorite stories to one another or attempt to recite our favorite poems. (reading donald barthelme's "the balloon" to her, i finally understood the story entirely.) i did much of the reading; she did much of the appreciating.

i don't think i ever recommended katherine mansfield to her, which was one of my errors, if not a great one. for all i know, she was a fan--she had an endless capacity to surprise me, after all.

katherine mansfield is a bit like david ackles, outshined by contemporaries, a bit of a cult taste, memory kept alive by a devoted few. virginia woolf said that mansfield's was the only prose style of which she was jealous; she also was convinced that the more people praised mansfield's work, the more woolf was sure that work was terrible. (the "hate the fans" mentality, in the early 20th century, no less!) malcolm cowley was no fan :
one situation recurs constantly in her work. there is a woman : neurotic, arty, hateful, and a good, stupid man whom she constantly torments. ... another situation, which she repeats rather less frequently, is that of the destruction of a woman's individuality by some stronger member of her family.
if you haven't already, you can make up your own mind here and here, two of her story collections having been reprinted on the net.

i wonder what cowley would have made of raymond carver (whom cowley, born in 1898, actually outlived!) carver is a good reference, both b/c of his cachet w/ a certain set and b/c the two of them work a similar groove and have their own pet stylistic devices. for mansfield, this means starting stories w/ a conjunction and favoring ellipses. and like carver, mansfield is best read in small doses as it can get a bit unintendedly self-parodic after awhile. oh, and not to be overlooked, both carver & mansfield died at early ages (50 and 34, respectively, the latter of consumption!), an unhappy end to their lives but only the beginning to their myths.

she was born a decade before hemingway and nearly a decade after joyce, an appropriate positioning as i think she bridges the gap between the two. like joyce, her stories deal in the epiphany, a character discovering truths about others, the world & themselves; like hemingway, she deals w/ scenes, brief encounters, and leaves out a number of details, calling the reader's imagination into play. i was reading her story "a dill pickle" last night--which you can read here--and, when the woman says, "how had she dare to throw away her happiness like this!" i thought of joyce's "a painful case" ... before the ending altered my view. (i had brunch w/ a former professor / good friend in new york last week. he believes "every bond is a bond to sorrow" to be one of the great lines, from a collection he could read endlessly.) i then thought of "down river."

more than any song i know, "down river" reminds me of a short story, a pitch-perfect literary adaptation--not a poem or a novel, mind, but a short story, a brilliant five-page sketch. there is epiphany; there is much missing, particularly rosie's end of the conversation. it's also like a short story in that i don't wish to ruin the ending. w/o doing that, i'll say that both story & song deal w/ the things that happen--or don't happen--to former lovers after time apart (six & three years, respectively); how time can stand still for one individual and move w/ the rush & fury of a deluge for the other. both stories are immensely sad, but to paraphrase tolstoy, unhappy lovers are unhappy in their own way. and, of course, both stories are worth hearing, esp. if you've someone who'll read the short story to you.

21 May 2006

what are you doing here on a sunday?

well, this is for you.

richard hawley - "some candy talking" (from the best of 86/06 cd, available w/ the june issue of q.)

this track, from vs&l's favorite person, was recorded exclusively for a compilation of covers of the "best songs" released between 1986 & 2006, free w/ this month's q.

i wonder what the brothers reid would think of this? richard seems to have reverence for the song qua song, the chords & stuff; he reaches into his gig bag and pulls out a classy solo & a string section. it's excellent stuff, all the more so b/c i don't really care for the jamc version. the voice is on fine display, richard sounding like both his voice & the creases in his forehead have deepened since coles corner. in the moviegoer, binx bolling says of another character, "it would be a pleasure to be red-eyed and rumpled" if one could do it w/ his style--i'd say the same of richard.

the tracklisting for the compilation :

1 franz ferdinand - "what you waiting for?"
2 sugababes - "i bet you look good on the dancefloor"
3 the flaming lips - "can’t get you out of my head"
4 corinne bailey rae - "venus as a boy"
5 elbow - "august and september"
6 richard hawley - "some candy talking"
7 editors - "orange crush"
8 the delays - "the sun always shines on tv"
9 jack johnson - "the 3 r's (the magic number)"
10 paul anka - "wonderwall"
11 jamie cullum - "lover, you should've come over"
12 nick cave - "disco 2000"
13 the magic numbers - "there is a light that never goes out"
14 travis - "... baby one more time"

... oh, and one they didn't have room for on the comp, and b/c i don't have enough enemies :

the divine comedy - "party fears two"
(from the victory for the comic muse lp, released june 19, import available for preorder here.)

yes. this is exactly what you think it is. also, it probably sounds exactly as you think it does. is billy mackenzie in heaven? or is he spinning in his grave? what's more, will you like it? that depends on how you feel about evelyn waugh--and neil hannon, for that matter.

19 May 2006

[edit : i really need to edit. and not just the punctuation & grammar neither.]

decoration - "pine" (from the don't disappoint me now lp, import available for purchase here.)

i heard this wonderful song on a great compilation of what's brewing in the uk underground, called the new british invasion, which also features tracks from vs&l favorites like the rumble strips, the pipettes & the harrisons, along w/ future favorites like lucky soul, keith, the sequins, this et al & the lodger.

"pine" holds its own against any of those mighty groups, sounding for all the world like your older brother's or hip uncle's peel-approved indie ca. 1986 (indeed, decoration did a peel session seven months before the great man passed). for starters, the lead singer sounds like david gedge, only grabbing the song by the balls like martin fry of abc.

what's more, an alternate title for the song might be "chime," 'cause that's what the guitars do, in one of those upward sweeps that takes you & your heart along w/ it. but, no, "pine" works best b/c it's a play on the words. the chorus, paying magnificent attention to detail, goes :
who knows, who knows, i might never have found you, touching your toes / in the alpine section of the garden centre, where anything grows ...
i once asked a friend, "where does anyone find anyone else these days?" the answer has become clear to me : everywhere, and usu. when you're not expecting it.

one might just say the same of decoration & "pine."

18 May 2006

here are three songs, each inspired by three different moments from the past week. you get three b/c all i've got is fragments : nothing will reach resolution. or, rather, they all reach the same resolution and, by God, it's a path that even i'm tired of treading by now.

talking heads - "and she was" (from the little creatures lp, available for purchase here.)

i went into new york the other day for the first time in months. on the path train ride over, "and she was" came on, and it was still on when i ascended out of the benighted underground (subway station; not new jersey). i played it over & over and new york was wonderful and it never seemed less like a place i'd spend the rest of my life and i was content w/ that.

b/c who needs new york when such wonders as the girl in "and she was" can emerge from the murky suburbs? she seems to grow & grow, w/o the knowledge that such an ignoble & arid background shouldn't produce someone of her stature, lit & fig--other senses too, probably. lucky the boy who spots her early on and never manages to lose sight of her as she grows & grows.

the synesthete in me loves this song; it was a perfect song for a perfect moment. it's brilliant greens & yellows, always moving. (the picture, for those wondering, isn't yer sharp, plasma, hd image; it's more like a cellphone cam w/ low resolution--but it's more about the object itself than the fidelity of the capture.) it's not unlike the cover to little creatures but it burns as hot as the sun on a cloudless day. stop me if you heard this before, but it's really prelapsarian & maidenly in its newness, like the grass of eden, the perfect bed for the love shared by adam & eve, a "perpetual fountain of domestic sweets."

kirsty maccoll - "days" (from the best of kirsty maccoll lp, import available for purchase here.)

bittersweet, this. let me say these two things first : 1) no, there is no domestically available kirsty maccoll compilation. 2) yes, the "album description" on that page misspells her name.

it's hard to believe that it's been over five years since kirsty maccoll died. days pass so quickly--and then they don't. what are the days for? larkin says : "days are where we live." days are what were given to kirsty by her beau--which reminds me that "and she was," too, is in the past tense. where did kirsty's fellow go? what happened to the girl in the heads song?

and where is kirsty now? a question for doctors & priests says larkin. not remembered well, sadly, if those first two points i made are any clue. she seems to many to be just the girl who sang on those records by the smiths and the pogues. how could such a voice not only be forgotten but silenced? the word "robust" comes to mind. she's a woman who could tell shane mcgowan what's what; she seemed like a woman who could stare down death and say, "keep on moving." (despite similarities in appearance, shane and death are not the same person. and no ever has to wonder what death is up to.)

one thinks of his own misfortunes, for all the days for which he's thankful, but listening to this song again reminds one, i.e. me, to be happy that he has days still to be both given and received.

neil young - "pardon my heart" (from the zuma lp, available for purchase here.)

the reason i could be so sanguine the other day talking about people returning is that a friend, who i hadn't talked to for two years and most recently for three months, did return to say hello. not the person i hoped for--i'm sorry, dear--not the person lurking about the margins, giving me pause. but a person whose friendship i value deeply, whom i can talk to about a lot of things, especially music. she loves neil young and so i meant to post this for her.

this was the song i was speaking of during the rainy spell, which continues on unabated. it's backporch sunset soft, a wonderful song from just about the only album neil did in the 70's that has yet to be "rediscovered." i think sufjan stevens covers it--maybe it's devendra banhart, but i hope not. i don't think he's capable of putting this across; but then i don't think he's capable of much apart from matching his bindi w/ his anklet.

really, i know the title sounds like the putative b-side to kirk van houten's "can i borrow a feeling?" and in others hands the result might be a disaster. but neil keeps a loose grip on the reins, overcome at times by the accusations of the backing vocalists. near song's end, he's earned the right to sing, "pardon my heart if I showed that I cared" b/c he also sings of a broken relationship, in which "one isn't giving and one pretends to receive." you trust that someone who keeps that close of a watch on the dysfunction of the human heart knows the value of emotional directness and is far beyond concern over sounding trite. and, really, what's more trite than "i love you"? and yet what are the words one, i.e. all of us, most longs to hear?

17 May 2006

i'd planned on posting something really chipper & upbeat this evening.

but then i read a tribute to grant mclennan on amg by thom jurek. in itself, it's thoughtful & comprehensive, paying welcome attention to grant's considerable solo career. it's the last detail, though, something i hadn't encountered in all of the write-ups of the day of his death. jurek writes :
And finally, in maybe the greatest irony of all, after so many years of troubled relationships, McLennan had found the partner he had always sought in Emma Pursey. On the evening of the day he passed, he was to propose publicly during his housewarming party.
i have no words, but perhaps the band's foremost american champion, robert christgau, does as he has a go in this week's voice.
art brut - "emily kane" (from the bang bang rock & roll lp, available for purchase here.)

... and no band seems less poised to take a page from the jimmy webb songbook than art brut. w/ a song directed at an ex-lover, though, directly addressed to an ex-lover, art brut recall webb's late 60's cycle of songs i'd written about earlier--and no singer seems less poised to succeed in his entreaty than eddie argos. this, though, is the only similarity between the two; the oneupmanship in giving the subject a last name is more like what we've come to expect from the band.

the scale is tipped in favor of surprise once more, though, when eddie sings what to me is one of the great love lyrics of a decade half over : "i want children on schoolbuses singing your name!" the subject, if troubled by this prospect, has little to worry about since there's as good a chance of this happening as of the band singing "formed a band" or any of their tunes on top of the pops for eight weeks in a row.

if you're not familiar w/ the terrain art brut mine, yes, there is a "real" emily kane, inasmuch as anything they--and by "they" i mean "eddie argos"--say or do is real. we have to take eddie's word for it, that this is neither irony nor rock & roll. (oh, there is irony : while emily kane is her real name, eddie argos isn't his.) as "emily kane" careers to a close, a guitar riff enters and sees the record off, a riff that sounds exactly like andrew w.k.'s "party hard." a transatlantic nod to spiritual kin, maybe? it occurs to me that art brut are like an english andrew w.k. in several regards : 1) the love it or hate it factor; 2) their albums are exhausting, in a good way (well, not the wolf) 3) you want to believe like you want to believe in santa claus, like you want to believe there's an emily kane.

AND THERE IS!! from the nme :
'New Year's Eve Party 1995 was the night I was wooed by Eddie's drunken ranting charms,' said the real life Kane. 'It was the start of a 6 month joy ride of ambling through record stores, strumming guitars, falling through bushes, running from the police, going to weddings and fumbling, most of the time boozed up on strong lager and cheap cider.'

Unfortunately all was not smooth for the young lovers. 'Sadly I grew up and left him in his world of music and cider and actually had no idea he was still there, did I forget to tell him the break was off?'admitted Kane. 'Ten years on I'm afraid I do have another boyfriend, sorry Eddie - I thought after the first 5 years you'd presume I moved on. But now you want kids on buses singing my name, boy do I feel guilty now.'
so guilt and not trouble is the feeling--which is probably a small victory to his mind, and besides i thought he was linked to one of the chalets? also, i thought i remembered reading somewhere that he was going to record a b-side that said he never really meant what he said on the record, a sentiment that definitely has its basis in reality.

16 May 2006

dear reader, you will be rewarded for your patience & indulgence today as i post a song from this calendar year.

i started listening to contemporary music again on may 4th, when i chanced to hear the new pet shop boys album. i returned to the practice in earnest when i purchased the domestic release of art brut's bang bang rock & roll. i reckon that i had stopped listening to anything new in order to hold fast to the music that i knew when x was near me. this, then, is a turning point, i think; time can't help but push us forward, but i think i've finally started moving of my own volition.

but let us not kid : though the time period has changed, the theme remains v. much the same.*

midlake - "branches" (from the trials of van occupanther lp, released june 6, import available for preorder here.)

when i heard that jimmy webb had children and that they had a band, i thought they might be like midlake. while jimmy is certain to be proud of his boys whatever they do, i really kinda hoped they would sound like this. which is why it's wonderful that, quietly, since 2004, midlake have been making records.

midlake is one of those americans bands--not unlike the webb brothers! or webb père, for that matter--who fare far better in the uk than they do in their home country. this may have something to do w/ the fact that they don't play guitar, i mean, really play it. instead, midlake has probably led at least one uninspired uk scribe to call them "Perfect Pop," a form, as evinced by the use of capitals, that carries great weight in those parts. they make lush pop that suggests, not an english idyll, and certainly not the band's north texas home, but john & taupin's imaginary west on tumbleweed connection--or laurel canyon w/ all that that entails.

like jimmy webb, midlake's arrangements are considered, intricate, and meticulous; instruments arise for a moment, play a phrase, and then dissipate. a listing of the musicians involved in "branches" would probably be longer than any posting on this page--and as you know, i've written some long postings! but, the major difference w/ webb, where patrimony becomes questioned, is the subtlety, never jimmy's trademark. the whole effect of the track's orchestration is such that one sees it through a glass darkly or, better still, as if heard through a thicket, the sound muted by the dense growth.

the vocals, sounding like both rufus wainwright and josé gonzález, but w/ the former's timbre and the latter's sangfroid--the vocals, though, sound as if they're right outside your window. another touchstone is the pernice brothers in terms of voice and sound, only less writerly (w/ all that that entails); and let's also say sufjan stevens, to make it sexier. they try their hand at metaphor, singing of branches and girls, before scrapping it and declaring straightforwardly, "we won't get married / 'cos she won't have me." it's like a rehearsal of difficult truths, told to oneself before confronting another. this builds and ascends heavenward before it too is deposited in the bin.

there is another attempt at metaphor, another attempt at frankness, and it is the latter that is opted for--or just can't be confined any longer. these words, the last words i formed last night, repeat to fade : "it's hard for me but i'm trying." soothing in its repetition, it is lastly music made for trying times.

i'd said similar words to x near the end. she said, "don't you think it's hard for me, too?" i hadn't thought that; it just then occurred to me. why? we had two different ways of expressing it, and she expressed it by not expressing it. i keep my expression to a minimum now (really!), although i did email her recently, a month after i'd last seen her. i don't know if she read it. but if she reads this, and she might, i hope she knows i'm trying. i know (i do) that she's trying as well--better, really.


15 May 2006

it's been raining for days here. of a song i nearly posted the other night, i wrote, "it's not great to be miserable in nice weather--although people in san diego seem generally better adjusted than those in seattle--but it does occur to you, 'well, at least it's not cold.'" mid-day, i had recourse to my car's heater. let's get happy, shall we?

dexy's midnight runners - "this is what she's like" (from the don't stand me down lp, import available for purchase here.)

colpo di fulmine.

the italian word for "thunderbolt," that is. (to be pedantic, it translates literally as "bolt of lightning." i don't speak italian myself, but i knew a man who did.) it means to be suddenly and unexpectedly struck by love at first sight. stendhal writes, "i noticed tonight that there are exact words in italian for hundreds of particular situations in the affairs of love which it would require the most laborious periphrases to describe in french"--english, too, for that matter. why i bring this all up will make more sense 10:06 into "this is what she's like."

what may not be any clearer, though, after twelve minutes or so, is what she's like. this may v. well be the point, that the limbic resonance between two specific people is impossible for any other two people to understand. so while i don't know what she's like, i do know what it's like : when kevin speaks, i feel like we're two old war buddies down at the bar at the american legion hall.

it's rare that i remember the first moment i met someone, unless i had been anticipating that meeting. in one of my valentine's day offerings, billy bragg sings of how he wishes that he could remember the first time he met his beloved. ah, i've got you there, billy (but you've got the girl still, don't you? last laugh). it was christmas time--or to annoy the ultra-cons, the holiday season, and me wanting nothing so much as to get out of there--until seeing the figure standing on line, in need of help, just past the computer, and wanting nothing so much as that. i stayed a little later, helped her out, and was glad out of all proportion to the extra fifteen minutes of pay i received that day. she was all i could tell anyone about. but what did i tell them? (and "what's he like?" she might have wondered. why, the sort who thinks dexy's never made a bad record and he'd know, owning all of them.)

i, too, was left to periphrasis, "indirect and circumlocutory speech," says the noad. it's the thing that "this is what she's like" is made of, from the opening as billy asks kevin what they'd been talking about before he entered, kevin hemming and hawing; to kevin taking the long way around, talking about what she's not, and launching broadsides against everything he hates most in the world (at which point you're surprised it's only twelve minutes long); to kevin's dilatory practices during the song proper--if "this is what she's like" can even be described as a "song proper."

no, i think "this is what she's like" aspires to a classical piece, a hopeless and happy failure, w/ movements and sections. or it's kevin's approximation of the "broadway melody" sequence from singin' in the rain, all colors, tempos, and heat, a sequence too demanding for the film's diegesis, just as "this is what she's like" seems too big for one's stereo equipment (or "hi-fi"). or it's the spring of 1970 and you're changing the am dial every three minutes or so, sometimes even stopping for commercials. or it's kevin turning to song--choking on his words like otis redding, sighing like julie london, sha-la-la-ing like tom waits--in the way that i've turned to literature, looking for answers, while freely quoting from the songbook and adding his own commentary. he runs out of words eventually, noting that the italians have a word for it, and saying lastly, "that's my story, the strongest thing i've ever seen."

and then something unusual happens, in a song bursting w/ unusual things : the music continues to play. in pretty much every song i've ever heard that's over ten minutes in length, the song comes to a full stop, the ship pulling into port after a long voyage. "this is what she's like" fades--it might still be playing right now if not for human intervention. (while the song may be all about periphrasis, what it does not welcome is paraphrase, in the form of a murderous single edit or, i should note, in the form of this attempt to capture its force.) knowing how deliberate kevin is, one feels compelled to search for the meaning. where language ends, music picks up and that this is why kevin prefers to translate "fulmine" as thunder (for sound)? that there are no words? or perhaps that, twenty years later now, had the music kept playing, one would be no nearer to understanding the mystery.

i'm no nearer to understanding the mystery of what passed between her & i that day. early on in our exchanges, she asked me what my favorite song was and i said, w/ more than a little ulterior motive involved, hinting at just what she'd done, that it was this. she said that it was a song v. worthy of being one's favorite. but i've had no word from her in nearly a month now; i'd v. much like lightning to strike the same spot twice. else, i'll have to hope for another featureless day to be rent, w/ the concussive force of kevin singing the opening line to this song, by a bolt from out of the blue.

14 May 2006

judy collins - "amazing grace" (from the very best of judy collins, available for purchase here.)

whenever anyone asks about my relationship w/ my mother, i describe it as being healthier than that between norman bates & norma, but less healthy than the relationship between paul morel & gertrude.

i am at a loss to explain why this is so. my mother & i are not best friends; i tell her v. little a/b what goes on in my life; i don't often inquire as to what's happening in hers. when i've lived away from home, i didn't call her every day--indeed, she would often have to call me. despite a capacity for self-expression, i buy my mother hallmark cards for her birthday and mother's day. a written "love, fred" aside, i rarely ever say to her, "i love you, mom." i can tell you the last time it happened : it was august.

it all must of happened in a silent way, in those too early days from which i can extract v. few memories. my sisters have always let me know that my mother spoiled, that she loves me out of all proportion, that there's no question as to whose unhappiness brings her the greatest grief.

you see, even as i reflect on this, my face begins to crumple up and my eyes begin to glaze over, recalling many dear memories, fearing how it all will end, knowing that it must. it is, as freud said, a "foretaste of mourning for the deceased"--and i've been doing it since i was 11. my paternal grandmother had died not too long before then; i had terrible nightmares a/b all of my family members dying. my mother came in one evening and reassured me that she'd be around for a long time, she was a tough old broad that came from good stock. as i write this, she's visting her mother, who's now eighty-seven and still living on her own.

if mother is like daughter, i've a minimum of twenty-six years before i have to worry about burying my mother. but, in many ways, daughter is not like mother : i've always thought my mother's mother was reserved, icy, severe--w/o ever questioning her love for her family. two strokes have only forced her to become further withdrawn, her speech all but indecipherable. (still, she calls her daughter every day, six o'clock on the dot.) of her eight siblings, my mother is second in terms of birth order--or so i always thought. my grandmother's second child was her first son, named after his father. he died, of what was called "crib death" at the time, but what we'd probably call s.i.d.s. today. my grandfather seriously wondered if there was a way back for her from her grief. there was : she'd have seven more children--my mother next--but at a significant cost.

some sixty years later, she still weeps for him on his birthday; some thirty years later, my mother gave birth to her first son. like daughter, like mother, her son too fell ill; once again, doctors told her there was nothing wrong, but she knew something was. found having difficulty breathing in his crib, the child was rushed to the hospital by his parents where he was diagnosed w/ the croup. this boy, though, lived; this boy was me.

besides saving the life she gave to me in the first place, my mother's most notable contributions to me are her sentimentality and her eyes, both so blue as to be thought unnatural. this may explain why so many of the interactions that one enjoys w/ their mother have been limited in my case, b/c they mean too much. the last time, apropos of nothing, i told her i loved her, her face crumpled up and her eyes glazed over. i have tried, then, to define myself by being as different from her as possible, by looking for women who are as different from her as possible--and, for all that, i've tried to behave in such a way that she would not be ashamed and the last girl i loved turned out to have much in common w/ her.

i see my mother and her life and sometimes i don't know who she is, or else i fear i know just who she is, that there's no mystery to it at all. she has a charm bracelet and each year my sisters give her something new to add to it. often i feel that that would be the only thing one would need to understand her completely. she loves elvis, las vegas, american idol, ladybugs, God, her family, nora roberts romances, slot machines, stuffed animals, the beach, old country music, christmas. she is who and what she loves; but she loves so wholeheartedly and genuinely. she is as happy as anyone i know.

at times, she still surprises, though; what i don't know about my parents would make a fascinating book, far more fascinating than my own life story (but maybe i'll have a child who'll someday say the same of me). when she was sixteen, she was as i mentioned the second oldest in a family of eight children, a number of whom she raised as if they were her own; it was a family that was always moving around, from one small house to a seemingly smaller house. she belonged to the last generation whom could honestly say that they walked to school five miles in a blizzard in shoes w/ holes in them that once belonged to her older sister. she had dreams--and i wonder how many of us think a/b the dreams our parents had that didn't involve us. she'd hear the whistle of the train headed for new york city each morning; she wanted nothing more than to get a job in the city and commute there every day.

it never happened. not long after graduation she was married and pregnant w/ her first child. the man likely loved her at some point but eventually he did little more than beat her. my (half) sister, once she heard the fighting begin, would calmly go to her dresser and methodically place her belongings in brown shopping bags, knowing that they were bound once more for her grandmother's. one day, that move became permanent. my mother was a divorced single mother in her early 20's in the late 60's. her parents were regulars at my father's bar; my mother would go there dancing w/ her husband. she caught my father's eye; he found out she was "shorty's daughter." a few years later, she went there alone--and that was the last time she was alone.

her story reminded me of a picture i had seen several years earlier. my parents were in arkansas, building a house for my father's best friend. in the picture, she's inside the frame of the house, looking out of what would be the window of the master bedroom. she was my age now. it was the first picture i'd ever seen of my mother w/o her being surrounded by someone i knew in a place i was familiar w/. in five years, she'd give birth to me, but if the eyes of the woman in that picture could look out at the person looking back at her, i wonder--a strong resemblance, esp. around the eyes, notwithstanding--if she'd recognize me.

i think she would, i think there would be some sort of tacit understanding, just as how when i was an infant i somehow transmitted to her, enough so that she could intuit, the fact that i was ill when no doctor thought there was anything wrong w/ me. kierkegaard opens works of love by writing
if it were true--as conceit shrewdness, proud of not being deceived, thinks--that one should believe nothing which he cannot see by means of his physical eyes, then first and foremost one ought to give up believing in love.
my mother doesn't know kierkegaard from adam but she knows of what he speaks. by writing today on a website she has never laid eyes on, to the strains of her favorite song, "amazing grace" (which always makes her cry, for reasons unknown to me), i let my mother know that i love her. and though blind to what i’ve written here, i’ve no doubt that she sees.

happy mother's day, mom.

11 May 2006

i received reader mail this morning from a friend to this site. i hope in discussing her case that i keep on the right side of propriety--and that she'll email me asking for an edit if she finds anything to her disliking.

she's going through a situation not unfamiliar to your correspondent, having to let go of someone she cares about. like me--like so many of us for whom music is a constant companion, she's making him a mix, one w/ what i think is a lovely conceit. she came to me seeking a song that begins w/ the letter "y." (why? i won't tell!) she wasn't necessarily looking for a love song, but she weren't agin it.

in love, "y" is the most loaded letter in the alphabet as so many of the song titles begin w/ "you." (i eagerly await the stephin merritt concept album. after all he already has "you, you, you, you, you.") it's multi-purpose : it allows one a place to hide (like poor, haunted julie london); it commands ("you need love"); it informs ("you are my sunshine"); it accuses ("you tore me down"); it bears malice ("you'll never find another love like mine"). above all, though, and in direct opposition to "i," it apostrophizes, it calls out to an absent figure. it's not surprising that my dear reader needed someone else to suggest a song for this letter.

i treaded lightly while making suggestions, adding what i thought of each in relation to her situation in parentheticals. this might not have been necessary, only she could say really, but i think the mixmaking process is such a fantastic shield against the future; that it's something one really indulges in, its construction allowing--or even requiring its maker to engage in reverie, to call up songs inextricably wedded to moments. and so as i was generating suggestions, and as she was throwing out ideas, i too was taken back (and aback).

... and after while of that, i've had enough, and it occurs to me to just recommend "young americans."

ah, but we persist! b/c we have no other viable choice. and so tonight i post :

dean martin - "you belong to me" (from the dino : the essential dean martin lp, available for purchase here.)

it's 1952. "you belong to me" is the latest work from songwriter pee wee king, best known for 1947's "tennessee waltz." within weeks of each other, sue thompson, joni james, patti page, jo stafford, and dean martin recorded versions of the record, w/ stafford's version coming out on top, #1 on both the u.s. & u.k. charts, becoming the first song by a female singer to top the latter.

dino's version defamiliarizes b/c it inverts the song's v. familiar opening lines. perhaps this is why his version only went to #12; perhaps the audience identified this as a "female" song, much as they did w/ "tennessee waltz" (even though both songs were written by men!). how could a woman in the 50's be doing the extensive traveling that the object of the song is doing? and why wouldn't dino be at her side? also, there's the "these boots are made for walkin'" factor. lee hazlewood sang the song before nancy, but she had the hit : such words were less threatening and more palatable coming out of female's mouth. (unless, of course, the female is jessica simpson and the male is nick lachey. now that we know who wore the boots in that relationship, it just seems cruel.)

but that's oversimplifying things, turning a deaf ear to the tenuousness of dino's claim, to the unsung "... please?" that implicitly follows the titular command, to his need to remind her to remember. if she belongs to him, it's only by her leave, but she's happy to let him think he has a great claim on her, esp. if it'll keep him from worrying too much as he tries to calculate what time it is where she is now. it might have been this sensitivity, then, that doomed his version. maybe women weren't ready for such vulnerability from dean martin. from frank, yes, but from dino?

and maybe it's not the boldness of the claim, but the vulnerability that it hints at that scuppers this as a mixtape selection. (i'm sorry!) there is a silver lining, i think. though you and s/he may not be in the same city, state, or area code, wherever you are--however remote--is still a destination; and there's always, as "you belong to me" demonstrates, a silver plane that knows the way back. people have a heartening habit of returning when you need them most, i believe that. the best you can do for now is let them know they'll be welcome when they do.

10 May 2006

the stone roses - "sally cinnamon" (from the complete stone roses lp, available for purchase here.)

this band never should have become famous.

not to say that they didn't deserve it; not to say that, w/ ian brown's star power, john squire's tunes, and their timing, it wasn't inevitable. but there's something about "sally cinnamon," their second single, that one doesn't find in their later work, cf. the cynical & bloated second coming. "sally cinnamon" sounds like one of orange juice's postcard singles, charming and shambolic, everything off just a hair, nothing like the virtuosos they'd become. except where oj would be clever, the roses, embodied by ian, are naive. naive. i suppose it's hard to be naive after you've conquered the world, or at least england.

naive is a line like "i pop pop pop blow blow bubble gum / you taste of cherryade." i always thought the first part was gibberish, ian tongue-tied--or speaking in tongues?--in the face of love, a man speaking a language unknown to him, paradoxically expressing great fluency through dysphasia.

i like it ian's way better.

sally cinnamon--the composite of every boy's first love, likely the name of charlie brown's little red-haired girl. she is, to borrow a term, "sense-luscious" : the sound of gum popping; the taste of cherryade and sugar; the taste & smell of cinnamon and spice; the feel of her eyes staring at you from every glass, the v. sibilance of her name. she is all presence, an incredibly salutary presence, heavensent & a chaser of stormclouds; she is most notable, though, for her absence.

did i say they weren't clever? apart from being one of the only songs i know to use the verb "allay," ian also manages a little trick in the final verse. perhaps i didn't think it clever b/c it went right over my head : it wasn't until today that i realized that the foregoing was a letter, a love letter. the love letter, barthes writes, "waits for an answer; it implicitly enjoins the other to reply." he cites a letter from freud to his fiancée :
yet i don't want my letters to keep remaining unanswered, and i shall stop writing you altogether if you don't write back. perpetual monologues apropos of a loved being, which are neither corrected nor nourished by that being, lead to erroneous notions concerning mutual relations.
but i don't think it gets to this point for ian. like the rest of the song, this, too, might be (blessedly) a little off--or maybe i just am--i plead guilty to that charge. as i see it, though, it's a letter never sent; the pronoun change ruefully acknowledges that another guy will be "her world." still, he keeps it w/ him, a reminder of an earth-shaking love.

it's at this point that one is reminded why she's sally cinnamon and not, say, sally sugarcane : "nothing is more memorable than smell," diane ackerman writes
smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines, hidden under the weedy mass of many years and experiences. hit a tripwire of smell, and memories explode all at once. a complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth.
a pungent scent, but cinnamon is also a spice and it leaves a more complicated taste in one's mouth. like love itself, it is something that, once one has a taste for it, is hard to quit; it is something one always wants to keep about one's person.
don't interrupt the sorrow, you say! (where "you," as w/ julie london, = "i"--or joni mitchell). well, fear not fans of the forlorn, i'll just put the brakes on momentarily to alert you to the fact that the pipettes are streaming their new single, "pull shapes," on their myspace page. beware : it might make you happy.

it's definitely the busiest production of theirs to date. it's also the first one that made me think "spice girls," which is not a bad thing at all, esp. as the pipettes as a whole, unlike the personality-driven spices, are far greater than the sum of their parts.
julie london - "the end of a love affair" (from the essential lp, available for purchase here.)

first, if you like chet baker at all, you should own a julie london album. julie is the female chet, and vice versa : neither has a "great" voice--julie described her own as "only a thimbleful of a voice"--but they know what they do have, and so they know what songs to sing and they do them v. well. julie, though, didn't play the trumpet, but that's okay b/c

plus she married


which means she's into a guy's personality. which warms this average-looking guy's ever-loving heart.

"the end of a love affair," title aside, does the same. the arrangement is gorgeous, by pete king, best known for his work on the dean martin-judy holliday film bells are ringing (if known at all). something about the combination of bass, bells, and strings made me open the window next to the computer. so as the breeze brings out the gooseflesh on my arm, i find i'm in the right mind to listen to this record, a warm song, a confession of almost being over someone; though the chill wind of the orchestration gives the lie to the pose, reminding one just how far s/he still has to go.

if you've never heard julie before, she sounds just as you'd imagine she would based on the above photo. her voice is so that you'd be worried a/b the effects of secondhand smoke if you weren't so taken in. julie is, according to the lyric, just doing everything too much, a classic barthesian dark glasses situation : "i want to keep the moral advantage of stoicism, of 'dignity' ... and at the same time, contradictorily, i want to provoke the tender question ('but what's the matter with you?')."

what's the matter w/ julie? she's lonely and low as can be. another problem w/ julie is that there is no "you" in this song; there are "they"s and "him," and on the chorus she speaks of herself as "you," but that's not the kind of "you" one can, or should, have a conversation w/, only discourse. w/o the actual you--that is, w/o the other--there's no one to ask her the tender question. so she intensifies the pace, she smokes a little more, drives a little faster. "what else can you do"--though she is really asking, "what else can i do"--"at the end of a love affair?" if you're julie, you let the arrangement, a wondrous salve, play out and plot your next move, even if it's nothing more than closing a window or requesting a favorite song.

09 May 2006

the ronettes - "i wish i never saw the sunshine" (from phil spector : back to mono (1958-1969), available for purchase here.)

in "the crack-up," f. scott fitzgerald, reflecting on a doomed love, writes, "one day the girl closed it out on the basis of common sense. during a long summer of despair i wrote a novel instead of letters." maybe i'll get around to doing something that productive. for now, when i'm gripped by an urge to write a letter or email, i sublimate that desire, writing about a song on a similar theme instead.

add this, then, to the list of uncoverable songs. which didn't stop beth orton. she had the standard idea, though : the way to cover a spector production is to strip it down entirely (this, after all, was spector's reaction to his own productions in the early 70s, or at least on his work w/ lennon). one tries to convince the listener that he or she is covering the song and not the performance. based on her performance, though, i'm not sure i'd find "i wish i never saw the sunshine" prime cover material.

sonically, "sunshine" inhabits the same sun-starved ground as "the night we called it a day" does lyrically. "the moon went down, the stars were gone / but the sun didn't rise with the dawn." these sentiments are set to "repeat" in the opening orchestration of "sunshine," in which the cloud cover provided by a french horn keeps the swirling stars of the string section at bay. set above all of this is ronnie spector's voice, sounding like a ship lost at sea, the greek chorus of backing vocalists like the wingless prayers of its bereft crew.

bleak, right? yeah. fitzgerald writes, "now the standard cure for one who is sunk is to consider those in actual destitution or physical suffering." this isn't difficult to do considering all that's going in the world; and then i remember poor grant mclennan. you know what happens? i feel worse; i'm able to feel bad for myself and for all of them, despite how trivial my own concerns are. b/c "at three o'clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence, and the cure doesn't work--and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day."

where ronnie spector lives, the clocks all read 3 a.m. and, by the sound of it, have for some time now. those crashing symbols on the chorus? top of the hour, 3 a.m. all over again. wasn't always that way, but one day her lighthouse packed up and left the littoral; if not for the cloud that followed her, she'd be totally alone. i wasn't aware that a cloud followed--indeed, i'd gotten quite used to the shade it provided (perhaps this is why everyone all of a sudden noticed how "washed-out" and pale i look). one thing's for certain : before x came around, i never got burned.

it turned out to be worth the risk, though. after all, the burn fades away eventually. other things, too, will fade away, or will at least go quiescent. but it takes so little to undo all of the advances you've made, a remembered fragment of conversation, an occasion, like the insinuation of sunlight through a crack in the blind. once you've heard it or seen it, it takes some doing to forget, days followed by more days, intractable as a watched clock, its hands never seeming to pass 3 a.m.

07 May 2006

God fucking damn it.

now i know why people resort to all caps & peculiar typography : it disorients, it shocks, it disrupts one's processing of information. it defamiliarizes, as victor shklovsky would say, it increases the difficulty and length of peception. and it feels cold right now to be even mentioning russian formalism. but what else to do? i could generate a list of imprecations the length of the human genome and you'd be no nearer to knowing how i feel--unless the next sentence means anything to you.

grant mclennan is dead.

i have no means to communicate the powerlessness i feel right now in the face of death; in the face, too, of public indifference, since any number of you might be asking who he is--"the better half of the best songwriting team of the '80s," said robert christgau. had i said "john lennon," you'd totally understand; you wouldn't merely feel bad for his family and friends, and for me b/c one of my favorite "cult" musicians has died, but you'd also feel bad for yourself, and for mankind generally. i cannot make his death resonate through this medium; the limbic data missing, such as tone of voice and facial expression, makes this near impossible. (never do anything important through a chat; always call the person--or, if they'll allow, see them face-to-face). perhaps i can through a different medium, in which grant himself will show you just what the world has lost. for now, resist the urge to scroll.

i haven't been this near tears since ... well--and so i'm susceptible. (incidentally, a sudden death is always a reminder that if you've got something you want to say to someone, say it today, lest tomorrow you be an outcast from life's feast. live your life so you'll only regret the things you've done, not the things you never did, and to hell w/ both pride & obstinancy. hi, you.)

i've never had a leader of one of my favorite bands die, at least not when that band was still vital. readers of this page will know that the last go-betweens album, oceans apart, was my fifth favorite record of 2005. when i used "last" there, i meant "most recent." now it occurs to me that "last," too, means "final." in 1989, fans were probably really upset to hear that 16 lovers lane might be their last album. but even though they broke up, there was still the chance they could get together. it's the finality of it all that now shocks; and the shock is compounded b/c, not only was the band at its peak, but grant's death is a complete shock, totally out of the blue. no rumors of illness; when i saw them several years ago, he was the picture of health; their last show was less than four months ago. so i feel anger and grief, but for selfish reasons also b/c i know i'll never hear another new grant mclennan song, grant, whose "statue" from that final record, got me through many a melancholy night.

("cattle & cane," voted one of the ten greatest australian songs ever, is playing in the background. it is a song of his boyhood and one of the most beautiful songs ever. that life is over. that life is over.)

grant died in his sleep, which seems somehow appropriate, inasmuch as dying at 48--only a handful of years older than my older sister!--can be appropriate. grant, the quiet heart of the band, whose voice rarely rose above that of a whisper, if only out of fear of disturbing the fragile beauty of his songwriting. grant was one of those people who never needed to do more than whisper, though : his talent drew you in, made you lean in closer to hear what he said, knowing that it'd be more than worth it. of course, i didn't know grant; stuart murdoch did, and in the belle & sebastian song "shoot the sexual athlete," of grant, he sings, "of all the stars / and all the would-be stars / i'd take him home, to my mum and dad / yeah, he's charming / but he's a trouble-maker too / he amuses me greatly"--which is exactly how i think he'd be and hope he'd be.

i did, though, spend time w/ him in a small room w/ a bunch of go-betweens fans at their first show in new york after they reunited. how wonderful that i got a chance to see them live! how wonderful that he & robert set aside differences and added to their legacy three wonderful albums while they could! how envious i am of you if you've the chance to hear his music for the first time!

what to post in his honor? i'd like to put up everything, but then you'd never buy the records and his family would never see the royalties (his mother outlived her child!). "cattle & cane" hurts too much right now; "dusty in here" is far too sad, the same w/ "the wrong road," even though it was the first go-betweens song i ever heard. i'll put up two songs : "bye bye pride," since i mentioned it earlier, whose message of setting aside one's pride dovetails nicely w/ an above parenthetical; and "haven't i been a fool," the jewel of his solo career, offered here in a version recorded for german radio w/ robert forster, 1) b/c the line "tell the funeral man i don't like powder on my face" is sung by robert, 2) b/c it's the arrangement he used at the show i saw and it brings back fond memories, and 3) b/c the two of them were always better together, esp. on the choruses, even when singing each other's solo material (and i hope robert gets on just as well on his own, personally & professionally). if you have go-betweens albums, keep them close tonight, and keep grant, his friends, and his family close to your thoughts. requiescat in pace.

the go-betweens - "bye bye pride" (from the talullah lp, available for purchase here.)
grant mclennan - "haven't i been a fool" (from the watershed lp, import available for purchase here.)
(edit : robert forster speaks in two articles in the australian. "the go-betweens have made their final album. they have played their final show. we let it rest at that, being very proud of what we have done.")

... and if the news, and the songs, haven't broken your heart yet, there's this, some context for his death :
THE death on Saturday of Grant McLennan, one half of the songwriting duo from the veteran Australian group the Go-Betweens, came as McLennan was, according to a former band mate, Lindy Morrison, "peaking" professionally and personally. ... An international tour last year had culminated in a specially commissioned show as part of the Sydney Festival. And last month the band's new record company, EMI, had bought the entire back catalogue of the Go-Betweens, McLennan and Robert Forster, providing a rare moment of financial security.

Amidst this good news, an exuberant McLennan was highly active last week in Brisbane, attending gigs and film screenings, and a large party (
edit : a housewarming party) was planned for Saturday night. However, during the afternoon, while preparing for the party, McLennan complained of feeling unwell and went to lie down.

He was found some time later, having apparently died in his sleep, aged 48.
you know, morrissey, whom i love, but who, let's be fair, complains a whole hell of a lot when his lot in life comparatively speaking has been so much better, will probably live into his 90s.

here is the tribute thread to grant on the band's official website. a cursory glance shows friends & fans like norman blake of teenage fanclub, duglas t. stewart of bmx bandits, tobi vail of bikini kill, and bill inglot, who has probably mastered all of your favorite records, expressing their grief & condolences.

06 May 2006

otis redding - "try a little tenderness" (from the very best of otis redding, vol. 1 lp, available for purchase here.)

"what is this thing called love?" asks the title of, after "night and day," cole porter's most recorded song. telling detail : the majority of these recordings are instrumental jazz versions; but who could blame them for avoiding such weighty questions, especially when an inspired soloist is as voluble & profound as any lyric?

even more revealing, though, is that the thirty-bar refrain is composed of five questions. in my favorite version of the song, found on in the wee small hours, frank sinatra is set against a teasing & seductive clarinet line; he begins the refrain w/ the word "what"--reminding one that most pronunciation keys put it as "hwut"--and the emphasis he places on the word indicates just how hard he is trying to wrap his mind around the notion of love and just how indignant he feels, as if asking how love could have the effrontery to confound his attempt at understanding, not to mention the gall to make a fool of him. the final component of the refrain is a brief sketch that captures, terms of both pitch and emotion, the highs & lows of the love affair : i saw you there one wonderful day. you took my heart and threw it away. further questions? (how about : where is the perfect place to start one's investigation into love? songs for young lovers, in the wee small hours, songs for swingin' lovers, where are you?, sings for only the lonely, and no one cares.)

i too have been trying to get an answer to this question over the last several weeks. right now, i feel as if verbal expression is out of the question--though i'm sure i could draw you a picture of it (and i'm sure i have). i just started a recent book called a general theory of love, written by three psychiatrists, which takes a syncretic approach, combining elements of "neurodevelopment, evolutionary theory, psychopharmacology, neonatology, experimental psychology, and computer science," while comparing that research against "the emotional experience of [their] patients, [their] families, and [themselves]." it is anything but, pace stephin merritt, long & boring.

what have i learned from my readings so far, from my "vertical search" into love, as binx bolling would put it? love is, according to kierkegaard, that which "binds the temporal and the eternal," that which "is before everything else and remains when all else is past." love, st. paul tells the corinthians, "is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. it does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. love never ends." more compactly, stendhal writes, "love is civilization's miracle." love is, says roland barthes. besides that, what do we know?
i'd be glad to know what it is, but being inside, i see it in existence, not in essence. what i want to know (love) is the very substance i employ in order to speak (the lover's discourse). reflection is certain permitted, but since this reflection is immediately absorbed in the mulling over of images, it never turns into reflexivity : excluded from logic (which supposes languages exterior to each other), i cannot claim to think properly. hence, discourse on love though i may for years at a time, i cannot hope to seize the concept of it except "by the tail" : by flashes, formulas, surprises of expression, scattered through the great stream of the image-repertoire; i am in love's wrong place, which is its dazzling place : "the darkest place, according to chinese proverb, is always underneath the lamp."
so. i was dining this evening and otis redding's "try a little tenderness" came on, a song that will alway have a spot in my five favorite records ever. like sinatra's take on "what is this thing called love?" the horns that begin "try a little tenderness" seem to taunt, a little nanny-nanny boo-boo, but otis is nobody's fool, perhaps b/c he comes to not seeking to understand love, but rather to sing its praises.

as the last minute of the song commenced, otis in transports of love, i recalled one of my favorite lines from stendhal : "a man who is really in love ... speaks in a language unknown to him." in other words, glossolalia. in still other words, the authors of a general theory of love write :
the verbal rendition of emotional material thus demands a difficult transmutation of emotional material thuse demands a difficult transmutation. and so people must strain to force a strong feeling into the straitjacket of verbal expression. often, as emotionality rises, so do sputtering, gesticulation, and mute frustration.
but forget words, which seems to me right now the soundest advice you'll find in these pages, particularly when one could be listening to "try a little tenderness."

05 May 2006

glen campbell - "still within the sound of my voice" (from the reunited with jimmy webb lp, available for purchase here.)

oh, i feel positively stendhalian today!

just as he published extracts from his friends visconti and salviati in de l'amour, i've now been asked to do the same here, perhaps b/c he knows i can relate.

a friend of mine, shannon m—, is having girl problems, or a girl problem, singular : his problem is that his girl, ashley v— b—, just won't talk to him. they parted amicably for reasons he doesn't want to get into; they tried to just be friends, but it wasn't working; she wanted to call off all communications. well, he wasn't doing so well w/ that, but when she asked him to please stop contacting her, he had no choice but to obey. (oh, i guess he had a choice, but he's a decent individual.)

here's the rub, though! we have here a v. 21st century problem. you see, she keeps showing up in his website's statistics after announcing that she wouldn't. he wonders what her intent is, but of course he's handcuffed. he's unsure of what to do, and he's loath to take it up on his own site and i can't say i blame him.

thus, a little indirection. knowing that ashley is a rather regular visitor to this here site, he requested that i upload glen campbell's "still within the sound of my voice," a canny selection. i mentioned earlier how webb used his position as star songwriter to address women that he loved; this one is no different, except no names are used. in "sound of my voice," he adds another layer : he codifies the indirection. the singer is only able to contact the woman that he still loves through his song getting played on the radio; lucky for campbell, then, that his was a top five country hit.

so this is the chain of communication, for those confused :

jimmy webb-->glen campbell-->the radio / video / cd-->shannon-->me-->the internet-->ashley.

i feel like casey kasem doing a long-distance dedication. cut, paste, et voila, shannon writes :
Ashley, if you're reading this, I know this might be a cheat. I know you said stop contacting you. And technically, I have. What I wonder, though, is why you continue to visit my site? It seems unfair that you should have access to my thoughts when I'm left totally clueless. But I don't want you to stop visiting because I feel as if it means something, that something might still be there, if only friendship. Though I might be totally off, because again I have no access to your thoughts. It's been awhile now, hasn't it? Can we talk? Or at least try? I can't take the first step because I'm bound by my promise; there is no shame in you contacting me--or giving me leave to contact you. If you're still within the sound of my voice, or the range of the internet, would you please contact me? You know where I can be found.
ashley, this one is for you ...

03 May 2006

the tommy dorsey orchestra ft. frank sinatra & the pied pipers - "let's get away from it all" (from the popular frank sinatra, vol. 2, available for purchase here.)

my parents are going to atlantic city for the weekend. my sister, just back from an extensive cruise, is already planning her next jaunt. my nephew, if he gets the part in the commercial he's up for, will be going to china. me? i find the $42 i just spent to fill my gas tank prohibitive. (edit : not to mention the $200 it'll cost to have my computer fixed. edit edit : $200 & it's still not working!)

cost aside, in "self-reliance," emerson speaks out against my traveling :
i have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. he who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. in thebes, in oalmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. he carries ruins to ruins.

travelling is a fool's paradise. our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. at home i dream that at naples, at rome, i can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. i pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that i fled from. i seek the vatican, and the palaces. i affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but i am not intoxicated. my giant goes with me wherever i go.
stendhal, too, in de l'amour, doesn't think it's such a hot idea :
if travel isolates it is no cure, and indeed nothing is more tenderly reminiscent of the beloved than changes of scene. it is in brilliant paris salons, among the reputedly most charming women, that i have felt the greatest love for my own poor mistress, solitary and sad in her little lodging in the depths of romagna.

an exile in a splendid salon, i used to watch the magnificent clock for the exact moment when she would be leaving her lodging on foot, even in the rain, to visit her friend. in seeking to forget her i discovered that changes of scene provided memories, less vivid but far more sublime than those evoked in places where we had once met.
but frank & the pied pipers really make a strong argument. it is, literally & figuratively, a trip, to another time & place, a time when : frank sinatra got second billing; the band played for eighty seconds before a voice interrupted it; a song went on for twice that length before sinatra could interject; recorded ten months before pearl harbor, escapism was still an option and europe working out its own internal squabbles a possibility. "let's get away from it all" is a charming picture postcard from an irretrievable time; it makes me want to break out my aaa guidebook (do they still print that?) and see all of the 48, another nod to the time period, as i'd planned on doing two years ago, when oil was less dear, before my car nixed the idea. oh, and the give & take between sinatra & the girl over his procuring a "muchacha" never fails to crack me up.

a compromise, then : i'll rent a foreign film this weekend.

02 May 2006

"he remembered her reciting from memory for him, unostentatiously and in flawless middle english, the prologue to the canterbury tales and, too, the surprising antique locutions she'd picked up from her starchy father, things like 'we must be at pains to understand this' and 'it is not going too far to say,' which could have made him fall for her even without that first glimpse of her ... 'why do you laugh sometimes at what i say,' she asked him the second time he took her to dinner, 'why do you laugh when i'm being perfectly serious?' 'because you charm me so, and you're unaware of your charm.'"

--from philip roth's everyman.
(there is much to be said for the turn of phrase or the turn of one's head toward her shoulder, especially about its ability to turn your own head right round.)
morrissey - "the edges are no longer parallel" (from the roy's keen single, out of print.)

how, you may ask, could it have taken me so long to post a song by morrissey, patron saint of the pasty & sensitive? (particularly when i had worn a morrissey shirt during my last meeting w/ x. she owned two : we were clearly of the same tribe.) simple : morrissey, more so as a solo act, has v. little to offer someone whose love is not unrequited. he's the perfect salve for the rejected, but in this situation, i can't v. well ask, "dear morrissey, did this kind of thing happen to you?"

"edges" gets to the root of the problem of all morrissey fans, which is why it's so shameful that it's a b-side--a b-side in the era when many people had given up on him--and an uncompiled b-side at that (quick: hum "roy's keen" for me!). he finally gets around, after, lo! these many years, to admitting what his only weakness is, and for that alone it's worth hearing. the admission really should really be on the man's grave, whenever that dreaded sunny day arrives :
my only mistake is i'm hoping.
or as it'd likely appear on the lyric sheet :
morrissey fans, we're all of us cynical sorts, hard outer shells, &c., who expect the worst of mankind--and, oh, how disappointed we'd be if the world failed to meet our expectations. but sometimes, just sometimes ... you get a foolish idea in your head and somehow manage to convince yourself of its validity & feasibility. it never works out; the end is in the beginning and yet you go on.

apart from that line, there's not a whole lot else happening in the song lyrically. the title is intoned a number of times, but, unless it's some english slang i've never come across, i don't get it. wouldn't one want the edges no longer to be parallel? that way, they'll have to intersect, and they could intersect tomorrow--or they could go on forever, meeting only at infinity. (and, hey, from the sound of it, morrissey is enjoying bodies intersecting, heh heh, on his new album!) then, things that are meaningful become meaningless--you see what he did there? maybe it's not surprising that it's a b-side.

but musically! magisterial. truly epic. the band manages to make the whole track seem meaningful, from the kinetic guitar to the white album bassline. (again : given his disinterest in "experimentation," maybe it's not surprising that it's a b-side.) truly, it's right up there w/ "speedway" and "disappointed"--and it's a non-album track! oh, but wait, so was "disappointed." and "jack the ripper." and "lost." and "boxers." and "interlude." and "picadilly palare." it seems the main difference between morrissey solo and the smiths, apart from the latter having more musically meaningful tracks, is the former's inability to tell wheat from chaff, which is poison when one's career is judged by albums (and thereby made to look markedly inferior to one's earlier work, when that isn't necessarily so). perhaps he has two weaknesses, after all. luckily for him, i have my weaknesses as well.
the pogues - "a rainy night in soho" (from the hell's ditch lp, available for purchase here.)

several years ago, nick cave delivered a lecture called "the secret life of the love song" for bbc radio 3. in it, he asserted that every song is a love song. i'll buy that. he loses me, though, when he says that every love song worthy of the name is a sad song--al green's "l.o.v.e. (love)" came immediately to mind as refutation; soon after, so did "breathless" from ... the last nick cave album.

i understand what he's saying. love is temporal, rooted to the earth; like all things w/ roots in the earth, it must die. in other words, "every bond," as a character says in joyce's "a painful case," "is a bond to sorrow." (these words were quoted to me by x upon our parting; i didn't remember their provenance until later, when it was too late for her & i to discuss them.) on the other side of this argument, w/ a temperament arguably as dour as cave's own, is søren kierkegaard. he too has an art of love, put forth in works of love : "when two people will not love one another for ever, their love is not worth talking about, even less worthy of artistic celebration."

the love in shane macgowan's "a rainy night in soho" would be worthy of artistic celebration by kierkegaard's standard--and somehow also worthy of being covered by nick cave, go figure. "i've been loving you a long time," shane sings, "down all the years, down all the days," a love that began before this song was written, a love that will continue long after the fade, even if we "never find out what it means." normally, i'm not much of a pogues guy, but when shane works in this vein, instead of working heroin into his veins, i find the band irresistible. it's like a paradox that kierkegaard speaks of : the law seems to restrain freedom, but w/o the law there can be no freedom; w/o the beery, brawling bravado of much of the pogues catalog, i'd be unable to find the charm in songs like these.

shane's love defies temporality and struggles for the "blessed independence" of kierkegaard's eternal : "i'm not singing for the future / i'm not dreaming of the past / i'm not talking of the first time / i never think about the last." kierkegaard describes independence in love thusly :
if when another says, "i cannot love you any longer," one proudly answers, "then i can also get along without loving you."--is this independence? alas, it is dependence, for whether he shall continue to love or not is dependent on whether the other will love. but he who answers, "then i will still continue to love nevertheless"--his love is made eternally free in blessed independence.
that there has been a "last time" to be thought about suggests to me an ending, but shane continues to humbly carry a torch for his love. "still, there's a light i hold before me," he sings, "you're the measure of my dreams, the measure of my dreams."

"a rainy night in soho" is just the kind of song that makes you want to take a walk in the rain, safe in the knowledge that neither a monsoon nor the strongest gale could snuff out the light you hold before you. it emits a faint, warm glow, like streetlights reflecting on snow on a cloudy winter night, or like the dying embers of the family hearth when you've been gone a long time."when it is impossible to possess the beloved in time," in kierkegaard's words, "a rainy night in soho" is like the voice of the eternal, reminding you that you shall love, you cannot give in to despair, even if for now you must, as barthes says, imprison those words behind your lips. for there will be another time.

01 May 2006

howard tate - "either side of the same town" (from the rediscovered lp, available for purchase here.)
(bonus : howard tate - "girl from the north country" (from the howard tate lp, available for purchase here.)

in one of the first comments i ever received on this site, an individual praised my song selection and noted that his favorite part of was the "in brief" write-up. i'm so sorry, friend; this is for you, then : "either side of the same town" is the best song to come from the recent renaissance of 60's soul acts.

one of the contingencies i haven't a plan for is what to do should x & i meet. it's not like big city love : new york's sheer size made such chance meetings unlikely, esp. as one tended to keep to his or her own neighborhood, infrequently making trips that required public transportation into city centers. out here in the suburbs, the car is king and bridges distances, particularly when such distances are small to begin w/. there are opportunities : i work in the nearest mall, for one; the closest coffeehouse w/ the latest closing time is perilously close to x (not to mention the closest kfc, the closest 24-hour markets, &c.)

i'm afraid "either side of the same town," a deep-soul ballad written for tate by elvis costello, a crossroads between "the dark end of the street" and "tracks of my tears," offers no answers. i don't think any song could. but it consoles if only by making the listener aware that others, too, are looking for answers. tate tries to take the high road, counseling his girl / ex-girl to look surprised if they should meet and if she can't, to just keep going, ah, but he can't resist falling into familiar ways, saying he might brush her sleeve in passing.

he hits the first line of the chorus and the song elevates as dramatically as a skyscraper. i remember being disappointed, as such a fan of his 60's work, that he went to falsetto for the next line, until it occurred to me that this wasn't a Big Song; that this was a small, private affair, one of the eight million stories in an aching city--or suburb, b/c we too have our stories, just as unbelievable if not as numerous. tate's voice handles it magnificently : it remains pliant & forgiving, able to move from despair to resignation, from a scream to a sigh, within the same refrain.

another reason to be happy tate received this song is his power of clarification. the third verse shows costello's writing straining for significance, just as his own voice would have strained on the chorus, by making appeals to tropes like, "somewhere, there's a light." is this morrissey's light? maurice gibb's light? neither. tate makes me painfully aware of just what he means, whether it's what costello means or not. as i leave the coffehouse, i can just about make out the light coming from her room; i understand tate and i struggle to resist just as he does. i do the right thing : i enter her side of town and i leave no trace of my presence. no stolen glances or sleeves subtly brushed, just taillights receding and eyes trying not to look in the rearview.

(the bonus is a stomping version of "girl from the north country" from his prime, one of the best covers of a dylan song i've heard. he has definite opinions on how she looked best. he's particularly adamant that she wear her hair down. i'd also encourage her to keep it curly : that's the way i remember her best.)