Thursday, June 14, 2012

Was a false start. Now it's real. Follow Here

Wednesday, January 04, 2012


Without explaining myself, and for reasons I myself cannot even comprehend, I am going to begin this whole experience of writing about music again. It has been quite some time and I’m not sure how I’ll do it, I just know I want to.

I don’t think I’ll do any of that second-rate historical style, which is how I began this blog. And I can’t imagine I will use the same tone about things I don’t particularly care for.

Two thanksgivings ago me and a friend got drunk and fought about music. We almost came to blows over whether or not “Losing My Religion” sucked or not. I thought it did, he thought I was being an ass; and he was right.

I have for too long believed that if something was popular or well-regarded that meant I could hate it and say the most vile things about it and the people who created it; and perhaps even more insanely, I thought somehow that made me a more interesting person.

I bought a record for the first time in a long time.

I will post something about it on Sunday.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Untangling “Perfect Day"

I have always found the narrative to this song strange. It is called “Perfect Day,” and it describes what would be a very small, almost homely day in which the narrator—obviously out of place in such a situation—sees as a transcendent experience.

Instrumentally though, the song is bluish and melancholy with its minor-chord piano, its strings, and its horns. Similarly, the last lines of the chorus and the coda are odd, throwing the song into a kind of bizarre and schizophrenic confusion. This uncanny element though, is what elevates it beyond its purported humble and quotidian leanings.

Take the first verse—"Just a perfect day, drink sangria in the park. And then later, when it gets dark, we go home. Just a perfect day, feed animals in the zoo. Then later a movie too, and then home."

These are very small moments—very romantic, and in the urban sense, naturalistic. The green space of the park mixed with the “animals in the zoo.” It’s an obvious bucolic veneration of nature above unnatural urban space. Again, this is a very romantic conceit—I would love to have someone to drink sangria in the park with. And then the evening is capped off in the most conventional of ways, with a “movie…and then home.”

Then the chorus tells us that the perfection of such an experience is necessarily connected to the presence of a certain individual, something I think we all have felt: "Oh it's such a perfect day, I'm glad I spent it with you. Oh such a perfect day." But then the confusion sets in—"You just keep me hanging on, you just keep me hanging on." These last lines are where the confusion really commences.

Why, after such a perfect day is the narrator felt to be kept hanging on? And why is the song delivered in the present tense, when obviously this transgression at the end of the chorus would lead us to believe that the perfect day ought to be in the past?

Obviously, the transcendence of such a day is intimately entwined with the person who it is spent with. But to end the chorus with the lament: "You just keep me hanging on," intimates that something melancholy is afoot.

That the perfection of the day stems from its difference from what is the normal experience of the narrator is key—he sings "You make me forget myself, I thought I was someone else, someone good." That he is experiencing the perfect is obvious in the fleeting character of it, which has passed. In this way, it seems as if—tense aside—it is a song written from the point of view of the past. Though he sings it in the present tense, it is really meant to represent what has passed, and that the shock and trauma of the now is present in what has passed.

This song would be easy to unlock and boring if it was written in the past tense. If we transform the first verse from the present to the past tense, see how morose it becomes: "It was just a perfect day, we drank sangria in the park. And then later, when it got dark, we went home. It was just a perfect day, fed animals in the zoo. Then later we saw a movie too, and then went home."

Obviously it loses the poetry, but gains infinitely in melancholy. There is no mystery why. The past tense is the tense of loss, of death, of what has passed and cannot be reclaimed. The interesting part is that the song was written in the present tense but mixed with the strange menace of the coda: "You’re gonna reap just what you sow" four times.

Why this threatening coda? I think the more obvious question is why would such a melancholy minor-chord song—it has, I think, an am, dm, c#m, and f#m in it—be called “Perfect Day?” It is an obviously sad song, written in the elegiac style of a lament.

The answer I think is in this blurring of time, the idea that the song as it is narrated actually takes place in, whether it is real or imagined, the past. The coda is the present—"You’re gonna reap just what you sow." This statement comes only from the lips and pens of those who are wronged. One does not reap the good from what goodness they sowed; it is the voice of vengeance.

What is fascinating about this song then, is that it drags the past into the present, and the present into the past—which is, I think, the way most of us think, for the past is always with us. How else do we account for the strange temporal slippage of the chorus: "It's just a perfect day, I'm glad I spent it with you?" The present is obviously much more wide ranging and important in most of our minds, it is the heavier of the two. But the past is the deep source of melancholia that we all draw from which informs the present.

Why the song is so affecting though, is how quick, and with such hidden violence, it moves from transcendence to vengeance. From “you made me forget myself,” to “you’re gonna reap just what you sow.” There is no transitory reason for such a shift, it just moves, like life, from love to hate, from necessity to vengeance. It is irrational, melancholy, and sadly, true.

Beyond all this though, is another, more depressing reading. And that is the one that shows the confusion that is always with us when we are in the presence of a barely-known other. Those moments when we think we have embarked upon something together, and are in some sense deeply communicative. But really we are leagues away from each other. That terrible moment of misunderstanding can account for the slippage that is represented in this song. There is that terribly embarrassing moment when we believe an experience to be one thing, but to the other it is nothing. Between where one finds the sublime and the other the quotidian, may be the most melancholy space of all.


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Friday, May 07, 2010

(The Ressurection of) Notes From Underground

I'm going to try this again...

“Piazza, New York Catcher,” Belle and Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress, 2003

I was planning on writing a long piece about this song, but it’s on hold because it just wasn’t going well. I used to think it was kind of a throwaway song, but I’ve grown quite fond of it. It reminds me of San Francisco, and it’s tangentially about baseball—my favorite diversion behind rock and roll. I can’t imagine writing a song with the refrain, “Rooney, Man U striker are you straight or are you gay,” but perhaps Stuart Murdoch likes baseball much more than I like soccer. I can’t think of another band titling a song similarly besides perhaps the Television Personalities. The lyrics are actually quite hard to untangle, the bit about “I will be your Ferdinand, and you my wayward girl,” is very strange, conjuring up images of the fifteenth century king of Spain and his daughter Joanna the Mad. It’s a very sweet song though, and if you, like me, ever become homesick or nostalgic for San Francisco’s filthy streets, it’s a nice melancholy complement.

“Lights are Changing,” The Bevis Frond, Triptych, 1988.

What a great fucking song. Although I try not to use these kinds of tropes, the Bevis Frond does close the circle between the Byrds and Guided by Voices, it’s not really a surprise that this song ended up being collected on the Children of Nuggets box set. It has the same cadence as the Byrds version of Dylan’s “My Back Pages,” but there’s none of that lacy twelve-string delicateness. It’s not exquisite or baroque, it’s just got more muscle than that. Mary Lou Lord does a preposterous cover that should be run from at all costs.

“Possession,” Elvis Costello, Get Happy, 1980

Oh, Declan…I can’t think of a larger figure who is more underrated than Elvis Costello. No one would say Dylan is underrated—if anything, he’s overrated—no one would say that Lou Reed, or Leonard Cohen, or the Stones, or the Beatles, or Michael Jackson, or the Who, or the Kinks, or any of that kind of shit is underrated. But Elvis Costello is huge, I know this because I remember my dad having an Elvis Costello tape (My Aim is True) when I was a kid, and if my dad had it, it was huge. He’s most likely a better songwriter than all those mentioned above, for his articulation of all the intense and terrible emotions that we go through in trying and failing at falling in love is surpassed by no one. If you have any doubts, listen to “Indoor Fireworks,” and “I Want You.” “Possession,” from 1980’s Get Happy, a kind of Stax-influenced record is not even the best track on it, that would be “New Amsterdam.” But with its relentless piano/organ hook, it’s impossible to put away. Plus Get Happy has twenty tracks on it—more bang for your buck than practically any other record.

“I Don’t Want Nobody, I Want You,” The Boyfriends, I’m in Love Today 7”, 1978

I actually just heard this song today, and this band is a bit of a mystery. I was trolling through youtube and came across it. From what I was able to gather, the Boyfriends—not to be confused with the American Boyfriends (more on that below)—was a band started by Pat Collier, the bassist of the Vibrators. They produced three singles and then disbanded. To me, that’s kind of the perfect story for a band, only singles, only a handful, and then disappear. “I Don’t Want Nobody, I Want You,” is not nearly as slick sounding as the Vibrators. It’s not as filthy or loose as the New York Dolls, but it is totally imprecise in the same kind of way. It does have these cute, touching lyrics enfolded into a kind of tough-sounding percussive punk song, and I’m not sure what I’ll think about it tomorrow, but I love it today.

P.S.: I got my information from here:

“Jealousy,” The Poppees, Jealousy/She’s Got It, I don’t know 1976

This song is insanely good. This is as good as power pop gets in its total revivalist phase, by which I mean not Big Star or the other bands who tried updating sixties pop into new and present forms, but those who just re-did the sixties. I don’t want that to sound insulting, because it’s just a straight fucking pop masterpiece. I first heard this band on a Bomp comp. The song was “If She Cries,” which is another hit, a song that is up there with the Records’ “Starry Eyes,” or the less corny moments of the Raspberries. But “Jealousy” is something different altogether. It’s big, from the floor tom intro to the hand claps. It’s definitely a better Beatles rip than anything done by either the Rutles, the Knickerbockers, or Barry and the Remains. I could listen to this song on repeat forever. Oh, and they shared members with a U.S. band called the Boyfriends, not the U.K. band mentioned above.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thoughts Upon the Death of Alex Chilton

I have been thinking—of course—of Alex Chilton lately. Death is a terribly unfortunate thing, particularly for the deceased. But for us, the ones left behind in their wake, it’s still an awful thing to grapple with. I never met Alex Chilton. I only idolized him. I wasn’t kin or friend, in that I have no true right to mourn, and I’m sure I am not mourning in the same type of way, for my mourning is for a time, a time that has passed.

Alex Chilton’s death makes me mourn for myself, or more to the point, for my former self, the self that could invest so much time and emotion, so much feeling in a figure I could never possibly know. I had only child-like love for a batch of strange forlorn ballads, some of which spoke to me in a lyrical way, others, in a kind of misfit language; a silly piglatin-like language that was ugly and brutal in its insistence on being unaccepted.

For the dislocated, Alex Chilton’s music—post-Big Star—was like a series of prideful anthems, unfinished, unadulterated, rough, and completely distant. There was no genius to Alex Chilton, no brilliance, save for his complete disregard for genius and brilliance. And that ethic stood against failure. To listen to Alex Chilton is not to regard expression as success or failure, but only expression. Was it pure? I have no idea. Did he give his all? I doubt it. But in those vibrations, those distorted moments between what is inside and how to represent it, he created ages, epochs of uncontrollable bliss for me and my kind who hate the expected and the boring gloss of rock and roll’s dumb course.

Big Star was different. In the Alex/Chris iteration of Big Star there was what most people see as a shimmering beauty to that music; and they’re not wrong, it did shimmer, it was beautiful. I don’t want to tie all that beauty up with the third Big Star album and what he did after. It’s just not fair to Alex Chilton or to Chris Bell, Andy Hummel, and Jody Stephens (I could care less for this new version of the band).

When I heard the third record I never knew guitar music could be that way. I didn’t know a voice could move so much freight, I didn’t know you could use the term “Holocaust” in such a way. I can’t listen to that song now without weeping. But for who? For Alex? For who he must have been weeping for when he wrote that wreckage of a ballad? Or for myself? Who, as a young man fell full-force in love with that song. Now I am older and I might be that thing to weep over.

I wrote about this album as a younger man and used certain adjectives that I now shrink from: "harrowing" first among them. No adjective can capture “you’re a wasted face, you’re a sad-eyed lie, you’re a holocaust.” There’s just no word to do that song justice. It needs no words, no criticism, it’s analysis is inborn, and it creeps into your own bones, and the words are like lead in your veins as you realize that he’s speaking to you.

I only saw Alex Chilton perform once. It was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in, perhaps 2001. He was small and very thin with black trousers and a brown coat. He played, what seemed to me—and I know a little about guitars but very little—a Gibson ES-150, the same as Charlie Christian. I don’t think it had that dramatic cut-away, but I can’t really recall. It had “jazz” written all over it. It was big, hollow-bodied and beautiful. I wanted it. I was shocked because I only imagined him playing fenders for some reason, but time had passed. He drank cola from a pint glass with a black straw, I couldn’t tell if there was something stronger in it, but to me he seemed sobered.

He played two Big Star songs: “Don’t Lie To Me,” and “In the Street,” neither of which I really cared for. He was touring for, I believe, a record called—in the U.K. at any rate—Loose Shoes and Tight Pussy—a very strange but alluring title, but alas, kind of silly. He was great, but of course he was, he was Alex Chilton, the one man besides my father who I told myself I would mourn in death.

I once recorded a version of “Blue Moon” from the third album. I always loved that song. Now I barely record music. I do here and there, but I don’t like I used to, not when I was obsessed. I tried my hand at Holocaust, but I couldn’t do the walk from C to Am or something like that, but “Blue Moon” was easy and I absolutely loved trying my hand at meeting Alex Chilton in his misery, but of course I was a miserable failure at it.

I, and I may be alone in this, always loved “O, Dana,” why, I only sort of know. It opened in a kind of chaos of guitar strings, trembling highs bleating from a place of normality—in fact the song is quite normal. But it always captured a kind of truth about men and their relationships with each other, even if in throwaway.

Like every song on that album, it sounds as if it was recorded surreptitiously by drunk fellows on stolen equipment with no lights, but in an intense, terrible moonlight. There is a lot of hard to follow mush-mouth lyrics, but he definitely begins with the bizarre, “I’d rather shoot a woman than a man.” And the second verse begins with the “I’m forevermore fighting with Steven, we do our (something like) goo, goo, koos.” But as I fought tooth and nail with every masculine friend I’ve had, I always thought in terms of this song—always wondering how Alex dealt with Chris Bell’s absence. Wondering if he cared, and particularly, if I should care.

But now I so selfishly, and so unsympathetically weep for myself, not for Alex. I hear “Feel” and I can only weep for that boy laying in a small bed with a disc forever playing—it wasn’t a record that night—and as it revolved, “Feel” came back on, awoke me like an alarm that said “here you are in a moment that you will never get back, a moment that like an origin you will remember, but you will never feel again.” I lay there crushed against someone else, never even thinking about the future, but the future is our burden, always sneaking up on us, fooling us, killing us.

I am guilty because I don’t mourn Alex Chilton, I only mourn my tiny self awaiting records that used to come in the mail, always brown and choked with smoke. Now, I await no records, and I listen and only think about those painful places in the past when I intensely cared for something so small as records coming in the mail, playing on the small stereo throughout the night, when I had something like currency greener than money—to talk of records with authority.

Now I can only remember what it felt like, and that remembrance brings tears, but they’re not for Alex, they’re for myself. But I wish he didn’t die and I didn’t have to weep over “Give me Another Chance.”

Still, and I mean this, Rest in Peace Alex Chilton. I wouldn’t have known myself without you.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Wedding Present in Germany

"Dare" Live - it is after "Dalliance."

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Pastels, Orange Juice, The Wipers, Galaxie 500, and: Will I Ever Write Again

It has been rather a long time. I would love to do the podcast again, but I have moved away and have no microphone. I have been listening to music but not at all writing about it.

Perhaps no one will ever read this.

I have been listening to many things, but I don’t want to print what I wrote about The Wedding Present.

I have been very heavily into The Pastels, The Wipers, Galaxie 500 and Orange Juice. I have also recently discovered Sonic Youth’s Rather Ripped, which I think is basically winning and fun, and totally undifficult. I may write more about that album in the future, if I ever write about music again.

I will take them in order. The Pastels. I remember getting hold of a few Pastels records many years ago and liking them quite a lot. I fear that I am regressing in some strange way, retreating into nostalgia; and it is not much of a stretch when you consider the simplicity and the immediacy of a group like the Pastels. There is an obvious childishness that peeks out, but they are also a bit like how you envisioned the Ramones or the Lurkers—neanderthal, poppy, and fuzzed out, but the Pastels seem to pull that aesthetic off while the Ramones in some strange way disappoint. Too punk I imagine, they buzz and punch like a fist, but the Pastels shake in a way that is much more uncontrolled. I have been listening to Sittin’ Pretty and Truckload of Trouble (a collection of singles). My favorites: “Holy Moly,” and “Million Tears.”

The Wipers came from almost nowhere for me. I have read about them and when I first listened to them they seemed overwrought—if you can believe it, I like my punk subtle. But in the end, I found most of Over the Edge and Is This Real to be infectious. It wasn’t anything like anger or rage that came over the speaker, nothing as childish as that, but there was a kind of hyper-fury and intensity that when streamlined into a really angular style pop music the hair was made to stand on end.

I have recently moved into a kind of monastic cell. It is quite small and I don’t have a lot of things. I don’t have my records, but I have been listening to music. I find that I don’t listen to music close anymore. I am, like many people, a prisoner to melody and the speed by which a group can burrow its sound into your brain. Galaxie 500 though, weighed down by Dean Wareham’s lugubrious and small voice still manages, by the magic of simplistic guitar wizardry, a pop music heaven. They of course take the third Velvets album as a template, further drown it in reverb and sorrow, and record everything with a sense of overly romanticized distance. Along with My Bloody Valentine, they are perhaps the consistently best-produced band of their era. For one who has tried recording music, the simplicity of their strategy makes you weep. “Parking Lot” from the album Today is brilliant, and so is a song called “Walking Song.”

And on to Orange Juice, an admittedly foolish name. I took a long time in warming up to this group. A few songs helped to turn me. One was “Rip It Up,” a completely silly disco-esque track that is a kind of bastard that shares the blood of the Buzzcocks and Blondie. The song though that totally sold me was “Blue Boy,” an early single of theirs on Postcard. It is a brilliant pitch, somewhere between twee and post-punk, but taking neither seriously. They are not for the serious-minded. Orange Juice is fun when rhythmic and simple, beyond that I can not vouch for them.

I would love to come back with some great story.

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