While it's not this (although if anyone wants to, er, buy it for me, I'll write a song about you or something) Rob Kapilow's "What Makes It Great" series (which, full disclosure, is put out by my label, but to be honest I wouldn't have heard of it otherwise, much less acquired it) is actually quite good. In it, he goes through pieces of classical music and tries to explicate exactly why it works, so it's a mix of music and spoken-word. The thing I really like is that he doesn't only do things like, "Oh, this is a key change here, which is good," but he actually plays out the choices the composer didn't make, so you see how it could have gone wrong, and thus, how it could have gone right. For instance, I'm currently listening to the "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" edition and he does things with the intro like show how crappy it would sound if everything was playing straight eighths behind the melody, or if there weren't trills, etc.
Also, it's creepily like the choices I make when I orchestrate stuff, but I guess that's just a validation of my love of string quartets. Dude, I need to do some more of that shit...
MEMO TO Q AND NOT U FROM THEIR MANAGER IN AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE WHERE THEY ARE SIGNED TO WARNER BROTHERS AND JUST PLAYED MADISON SQUARE GARDEN WITH CAT POWER
Look. Guys. We have a problem, OK? “Wonderful People” we’ve already released, and it did great. Best single sales in a long time. Lots of radio play. Unsurprising, cause it’s a great song, right? Fantastic fucking song. And that whole beef you’ve got going with Travis Morrison is great publicity, too. Keep that up.
Now, I know that it can be difficult to go and record your highly-anticipated third album after having a hit single, especially if you’re making a stylistic shift. That’s tough. But I had confidence in you. Lots of confidence. Good, go, explore your artistic whoosits.
But look. Guys. Prog? Fucking seriously?
I mean, OK, track one, “Wonderful People,” great. Track two, dancey, great. Track three, punky, great. Then the third track, and…flute? Need I remind you of the band primarily associated with flute? And more flutes a few track later? And then “District Night Prayer,” which is, holy shit, falsetto chorale with hand cymbals! It sounds like that Spinal Tap song “Stonehenge.”
Look. Guys. I think it’s a good album, personally; hell, “Wet Work” will be a killer second single. But it just makes no sense. It’s confusing to listen to. And that flute, yikes. So we gotta make some changes here. Call me. We’ll get a therapist in if we have to. Just lose the flute!
- I am on my first publicity mailing list! Woohoo! AAM is now sending me promos, even when I don't ask for them. Sweet! Of course, I told the person at AAM about this blog, so hopefully she won't read it and be all "your first mailing list? We thought you were a professional writer! No more CDs for you."
- The new Soft Pink Truth album sounds really good--disco covers of 80s punk songs! Awesome. Also, good for Drew to literalize "dance-punk." Also also, never realized how annoying a statement "Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want the Truth?" is until reading the parody title. Of course, I now have the context of rockism being a critical term devised to address new wave in the antithesis, so that casts it in a different light. I was wondering if it had originated earlier, since I saw it in my Britpop book, but that just showcases my ignorance, I suppose. So anyway, I would like to buy this and the DFA comp. Just in case promo people are reading the blog.
- Been listening to the Breeders' Last Splash a lot lately and really, really enjoying it. I want to do a cover of "Flipside" I think. It's such a peppy little instrumental! Wang-a-wang-a-wang-a-wang.
- Related to something else I'm working on, the lyrics to "Take This Waltz" are some of the best ever written. Top 10 maybe. I won't quote anything because I want to quote the whole thing, but the sudden viewpoint shift in the final verse is absolutely wonderful.
Because of this election, I now see that I am wrong about everything. And so while in the past I might have mocked this post for its sheer ridiculousness, now I see that this is the way of the future and paste it in here in hopes that we might learn something divine from it.
I've seen a lot of posts lately about the sad state that the music industry
is in. If you're not convinced, just turn on the local pop station and give it a
10 minute listen. In those 10 minutes you'll probably hear between 3 and 5
songs, if they don't cut to commercials. Maybe more. I don't know how many of
you have taken a good look at the Billboard Top 100 currently, but it goes
something like this:
1 Goodies, Ciara Featuring Petey Pablo
2 She Will Be Loved, Maroon5
3 My Boo, Usher And Alicia Keys
4 My Happy Ending, Avril Lavigne
5 Lose My Breath, Destiny's Child
6 Just Lose It, Eminem
7 On The Way Down, Ryan Cabrera
8 Lean Back, Terror Squad
9 Breakaway, Kelly Clarkson
10 Pieces Of Me, Ashlee Simpson
Look at that. Isn't that disgusting?
Now let's analyze why.
First of all, American attention spans have grown shorter by the moment.
Remember Dire Straits - Money for Nothing? If you don't, it was a classic rock
song, a big hit, and had an instrumental using a synthesizer that lasted around
a full minute... and get this... IT WAS IN THE RADIO EDIT TOO!
That song would never make it today. At present day, if a song doesn't grab
the listener by the throat and slam their faces into the radio, they change the
station. I personally have friends who, when hearing a song that has a strange
intro lasting less than 10 seconds, proclaim "What is this shit?! Get this off
the radio!! Why don't you play any GOOD songs?" This leaves me thinking "well
shithead, you heard the first 10 seconds. The fucking song hasn't even started
But patience is something no one today seems to remember anything about. We
live in a world where heating a pop-tart for 10 seconds takes way too long, let
alone reheating a dinner for a whopping 1:45...We have brilliant 9 minute rock
songs reduced to a 3:30 radio edit.
Good point--I look at that list and I can literally feel the vomit rising up my throat. It burns! It burns!
You know how when someone breaks your heart you listen to the radio and all those horrible love song all of a sudden seem really poignant and true? Well, I was listening to "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" and somehow it was exactly what I wanted to hear. Sure, it's the music in part, that soothing guitar part and the sway-back-and-forth melody, but the chorus, that embarassingly bad chorus, was kind of touching--"just like every night has its dawn" etc. And then "Time After Time," too--"sometimes you picture me/I'm walking too far ahead / you're calling to me, I can't hear / what you've said / Then you say--go slow / I fall behind--" God, it's stupid, and I'm not even addresing the fact that the "every cowboy sings a sad, sad song" line also rings true in a weird way in my current state (although, you know, there is a certain poignancy to it in the current context), but it's lovely. I think I might just run through my 2-disc collection of power ballads. I don't even know why I'm in the mood for it.
Also working: Graham Coxon's "Bittersweet Bundle of Misery," which begins: "Now the end is in sight, I'm just tired / Lying awake at night so wired / And fired..." plus, for reasons I really don't understand, "Wichita Lineman." They're working better than Lightning Bolt, which I listened to on the commute this morning, and they're DEFINITELY working better than Radiohead's "Idioteque" which came on in the bar last night around 1 when the bad results were piling up: "Ice age comin, ice age comin, let me hear both sides...this is really happening..." Jesus Thom.
Eesh, and now Grand Funk Railroad's "Some Kind of Wonderful" is working. And I'm quoting bad pop song lyrics like they're meaningful, as if I'm a ninth-grade short-story writer or something! Damnit! Oh well. At least "First We Take Manhattan" is on, but I'm not sure how much Cohen I should be listening to...
...although "Manhattan" is really interesting to hear right now, and it sounds just so good, that particular sense of messianic, quasi-militaristic-but-not-really, righteous determination Cohen's displaying. Where the hell does that song come from, anyway? Sure not the same place that "Marianne" comes from, which doesn't seem often addressed. Is it because he defuses the whole thing later with the lines about "fashion business" and "monkey and the plywood violin" (although I love the violin image) which seem to lighten the mood from the beginning of the song, which posited a kind of Mandela-esque situation of a political dissident oppressed by a totalitarian government ("you see that line that's moving through the station"), so it's seemingly now suddenly a more harmless social critique? I guess the word "boredom" is there right at the beginning, but still, there's simply no denying the power of the shift of "I'm coming, I'm coming now to rewaaaaaard them" into "First we take Manhattan..." And then, of course, there's the omens and portents in the second verse, kind of explicitly Biblical (no surprise from Cohen, I guess). But then there's that little bridge break and we have a whole different tone. It's more of an evil-villain thing. Is it a critique of the beginning or simply another side of it? I dunno.
So what am I saying? I'm saying that these fantasies persist, and they're maybe useful. Imaginary armies are as powerful as real ones sometimes. But a lot of the time, they're not. What's appealing right now is both the reassuringly righteous, destined-for-victory tone of the first part of the song and the ambiguity of the second half, which asserts no victory, and which admits the way such a stance poisons everything you do. Again, I just want to say "I dunno" but that doesn't help.
Election day impressions (to be updated as the day goes on...)
- There was a line half a block out the door of voters at the 14th street Y at 10am this morning.
- The president of our company is wearing a "Vote Or Die" t-shirt and it mainly comes off as cute.
- A discussion in the hallway reminded me that one of my co-workers is this guy's son, and another also has some sort of connection along these lines that I'm missing, somehow.
- Miss Clap was walking to her polling place and stopped to get a light from some guys who were smoking pot. They said, "Hey, are you voting today?" She said yes. "And you're voting for Kerry, right?" She said yes. She was very encouraged by this. I think I am too.
- Got an e-mail from Atlantic Records, oddly enough, asking me to vote. Also got an e-mail from Carla Bozulich briefly mentioning the voting thing, but more focusing on what she's been up to, viz:
"The new music rocks and then is delicate and has explosions and tons of wordsand voice. The music is soaring. Not a country project. Not for those adverse tosadness or hilarity."
It was a lovely day here in New York on Sunday, suddenly warm and quite clear, in contrast to Saturday's fog which covered pretty much everything about the seventh story. I took a walk to the park that runs between Amsterdam and whatever the hell the road is that goes along the river, stretching from the weird tower thing at the back of the rec center on 174th-ish to the cross-Manhattan xpressway at 178th. (This is vague, but I am lazy.)
Once there, I walked past the basketball courts where some were playing basketball and others were hitting tennis balls with a stick and to the odd pile of rocks that lies at the park's northern edge, which you can climb and look out over pretty much everything that isn't blocked by building, which includes I-95, the bridge buildings, the river, and the Bronx.
The story we tell in the city ("we" being "people I know"--lord knows I don't want to speak for anyone) is that you can barely even tell it's fall because you don't see the leaves change color, this being particularly striking if, like me, you come from somewhere in the vicinity of leaf-peeping country and are used to a real natureboy rave-up of tones just from walking to school. But there are trees, and the leaves do change color, if you're able to look for them, if you're able to see them; the problem, it seems, is that the trees are scattered so much that you just don't notice.
But here, standing on this outcropping of rock once near a British fort and once blasted and sheered to a miniature cliff face, I see the opposite bank in the fading light and there is the aforementioned color-based rave-up, trees springing forth from the buildings and the roads to bloom into orange and yellow and something I can't quite place. Fall. It is very pretty, as is the light as it glints off the windows of housing projects, as are the cars winding their way below.
In the city, it seems to me, we lack or intentionally avoid the big picture; faced with so incredibly many people and so mind-bogglingly many places, we narrow our gaze and focus on what is right in front of us or what is brought to our intention. This is not a bad thing, really, and it is certainly necessary to get through your day without stopping short every few steps, as is the practice of common routes to and from common places, the same steps taken day after day to the places where we've settled in to one degree or another. But at the same time we don't even really have the opportunity to take in the sweep of our particular place that you do from, say, a car; perhaps if you're taking the D train in from Brooklyn or the R from Queens, you go over a bridge and get a brief glimpse of one particular small arc of the city's strangely huge horizon. But even here, or from the FDR or Riverside Drive, because of the particular shape of Manhattan, you don't get the view you do when driving into Chicago, say, or Cleveland, or Washington, or Los Angeles, I'd imagine. You do get it if you drive in along I-95 from Jersey, but then again, in Jersey they get to see the leaves change.
And then I opened up my copy of the Sunday Times and saw, well, this.
It stopped me short, it did. It was a bit like opening Newsweek and finding an article about the inside joke you and your friends share. "Rockism"? In the Times? Yikes. I guess this is simply a reflection of the fact that our particular wee li'l subculture (and I am actually a part of it? Well, let's pretend like I am) is so very isolated, so very focused on minutae, that it felt a bit like someone opening a door on activities meant to fumblingly take place in the dark, like a report issued on something you had quite consciously created just for yourself.
Some would read this as a criticism, that it's precisely the problem with what we do: it's dealing with something broad-based and maximal in very self-contained ways, trying to Leninist vanguard the pop-culture proletariat--and, worse, that this particular refusal to address the big picture, to climb the rocks and look out at the opposite shore for what we hadn't been seeing before, is horrendously limiting.
But no. This is how we're doing it. This is how people experience pop culture, and this is how people experience their lives, moment to moment, banally, with a tangental but distant relation between their own existance and the "big picture," the huge events that are happening elsewhere, always elsewhere, even when they are ostensibly happening to you, and this is precisely what makes it important, not the things themselves, which are generally pretty meaningless, but the way you experience them. It is in the day-to-day progression of narrative and controversy, in the moment-to-moment slippage of influence anxieties that we find not only comfort but understanding and structure, something to make sense of, not the broad view. It is in this way that small groups of people willfully misinterpreting what already exists can change what is about to happen. It is in this way that not only meaning is made but things are made to happen.
It is the banal and everyday that ultimately matters, and I think we don't want to accept that, but even in our striving and Nietzschean urges to overcome, our need to do the dishes or go out and buy the things you need to create 'n' stuff is ultimately paramount, the cockblocker in the mix that we end up focusing on, not only because we have to, but because it's significant. We place little importance on this for reasons I don't entirely grasp; maybe it's simply an acknowledgement of the weight they already carry. But it is the little and pointless, the stupid and everyday, that ultimately rule our lives, and that's for the good. Therein lies endless possibility and infinite power; it is in these little nooks and crannies that our lives are lived. And I like that. And I'm interested to see where it goes.
From a NYT article on the proliferation of chain stores in Britain:
"In the case of Britain, and especially England, there is a huge sense of
identity investment in the image of towns and cities, and the notion that this
sort of bland, gradual effacement of character is taking place has taxed people
at a deep level," said Andrew Simms, policy director for the New Economic
Foundation, an independent economic research organization that published a
report in August called "Clone Town Britain."
"It makes life boring," Mr. Simms added. "It makes our communities boring
places to be. That is one thing that has touched people deeply. People don't
want to live in towns that look all the same. It's dull."
Chain stores make life boring in small towns--say what? Did I miss something, or have towns--of whatever size, really, unless they're New York / London / Tokyo--traditionally been regarded as pretty damn boring anyway? I don't think the sudden presence of one HMV on the high street exactly created this reality. I mean, there are whole swaths of culture pretty much devoted to dealing with this fact. Now, we can have a discussion about whether or not said swaths of culture, which mainly lie within the realms of popular and specifically youth culture, cater to or simply created that fact. If we did, though, I would point out that popular culture was pretty studiously avoiding this idea for a while until some developments I think it's hard to regard as anything other than bottom-up brought this to the fore. There's no denying, c.f. Frank's Conquest of Cool, that this impulse has been commodified, repackaged, etc., but that this not only did happen but is still actively happening is if anything a testament to just how powerful this idea is. This is a real idea that would really occur to people whether Kiss and/or Starbucks were there or not.
I think that if you want to ascribe these phenomenoms--both the spread of chain stores and the prevelence of the my-town-sucks impulse--to anything, it would be the massively increased mobility we now enjoy, which we just simply didn't until very recently. You don't have a desire to drink Starbucks until you have the opportunity to go to where there is a Starbucks. Stores don't have any impetus to improve if people don't know there's anything better. The fact remains that in a non-control economy, local difference is preserved only to the degree that it is, in fact, geographically isolated. As soon as those borders significantly open, as we both see ourselves as less isolated and see what else is out there, local impact becomes less significant. So that's why I think this is not exactly a surprising thing, and why I think restricting the things that cause chain stores to spread would have far more negative effects than the chain stores themselves.
But are the chain stores actually bad? Are they somehow worse for towns than small, locally-owned shops? Well, aesthetically--which is the only case really being made here--I quite simply don't think they are. For some sort of indie-related reason, you might dislike the fact that the coffee shop here is the same as the coffee shop there, but was there really a huge difference between coffeeshops before, or did they actually kinda all look the same anyway? For instance, is there really a culturally significant difference between the monadic, non-chain Chinese food places everywhere and McDonald's? Not really. The only difference is that the non-chains were older, and hey, wait a few years and they'll be just as old, won't they? It's a silly differential for a whole host of reasons, from the fact that we haven't been a bunch of culturally isolated villages for a long time and there have been chains of one kind or another since the industrial revolution, to the fact that this really only has an impact on the high streets or business districts and leaves everything else in the town more or less alone. Plus the point I've made before that it seems odd to make an anti-consumerist argument that's basically "you should be buying stuff from this profit-centered institution rather than that one," but no need to get into that again.
I dunno. Small towns are boring all of a sudden? Were they really, like, exciting before? The boringness of a town seems the whole point--it's precisely that regularity, that continuity, that we desire, that causes us to stay in a place for a period of time. But the settledness of the buildings seems less important than the people or the shape of the overall thing itself. Changing real estate doesn't make a place any less a place any more than it being a town in England, just like all the other towns in England, did. As long as there are spaces between them, they will still exist.
While I obviously would like to comment on Salon's political viewpoints of TV shows article (and maybe I will, eventually), I've got other stuff I'd prefer to finish up right now, so I will instead point you to Rob's and Hillary's respective coverages of it, focusing on Gilmore Girls and King of Queens respectively. I've commented at each, whee.
Went to see the Furnaces last night in the Hoboken. Pretty much the same set as theothershows on this tour, but because it was a) the last show and b) according to them, not a very good show, they did an old-skool Matt & Eleanor quiet-songs 2nd encore: "Evergreen" with Matt on Rhodes (after both playing it in the regular set, and trying it briefly on solo guitar before scrapping that), "We Got Back the Plague" the way they'd been doing it in later shows on the last tour with Matt playing keyboards and singing the verses and Eleanor taking the choruses, and "Rub Alcohol Blues" like it usually is with Matt on guitar and Eleanor singing.
"Plague" was especially good because they hadn't played it in a while and it had only slowly dawned on me that it's an anti-Bush song. They did a brief intro, which as Eleanor said wasn't something they ever did, basically saying "go vote," and all of a sudden the tagline of the chorus--"Early November we got back the plague"--actually made sense. It's really a wonderful song, an absolute mastery of political songwriting, because it blends in perfectly with everything else on Gallowsbird's, and so it sort of just slides by you as a song with a good melody and a good hook, but then you listen to it more and more and the seemingly-obscure or purely referential lyrics are actually very specific and i.e. about Bush. Would that more anti-Bush songs were even half as good, and as subtle, as that.
It was interesting that although this is the last stop on the Blueberry Boat tour, and the buzz on the band has been, if anything, building more and more as time goes on, people were no more into the hardcore medley that leads off the set than they were at the Bowery show. It struck me this time that it's sort of a slow emergence of melody over the course of the show, but at the same time Matthew and I both agree that it's time for something else, probably.
We were right up front, and as the Maxwell's stage is short, I was able to get a look at the equipment setup. Matthew was playing a Rhodes with a Roland Juno 60 on top, both going direct into what was probably a Roland cube amp. He didn't seem to mess with the settings on the Juno at all aside from occasionally turning up the LFO. The guitar setup was a Telecaster into a small-label Fuzztone pedal of some sort, a Boss Bass Synth pedal, and a Whammy pedal that he switched between a wah function and an octave pitch-shift. The Whammy pedal I'd suspected on the basis of a radio session I heard where Matt seemed to have the octave pitch shift on the entire time (to, er, somewhat annoying effect), but the bass synth pedal was very interesting to see in action--there were times when Matt was using it and Tosh wasn't playing anything at all, so that particular synth sound is actually guitar-based. Tosh was playing what I'm blindly guessing is a Moog or some other bulky, short-keyboard analoge synth. The bass was run through a tuner and a Moogerfooger ring mod with expression pedal that he used to make various cool noises.