josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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1 Dec '01 07:17:47 AM

"Here Comes the Sun"

I heard about George Harrison's death on NPR this morning. Because of that I'm not sure what I would have thought, had I just heard it mentioned in passing or something. I was half-asleep and I heard a long story that painted a picture of Harrison as a very down-to-earth, sensible guy who seemed to downplay his role in the Beatles (and thus in popular music for the past 40 years). As far as I'm aware, Paul and Ringo have done the same, but I guess they never seemed quite as believable. I don't think I even thought much about Harrison before today, except that maybe sometimes some of his stuff seemed a little hippy-dippy. But it made me sad anyway, his dying, noticeably sadder than, say, Aaliyah dying, which like most celebrity deaths didn't bother me any.

So I listened to Abbey Road on the way to campus and on the way back today, even though I've never much liked Abbey Road, because I wanted to hear "Here Comes the Sun" again.

Whenever I listen to it, I'm reminded of Jon, just after I had met him. I don't remember exactly what he said. I just remember the spirit of it, and only enough to remember it, not confidently enough to paraphrase it. But it seems to me to have been quintessentially Jon. So I always hear this as a "Jon song".

As much as the album frustrates me, I love this song. I've always found the synths a little unsettling (in a good way), and today I thought this: through just the right combination of a songwriting, performance, and production style that marks the music on the album as belonging to "the past", and a certain ineffable "futureness" that belongs to the Moog, especially in its early use, this song harnesses a sense of wonder (or amplifies one with the help of the wide-eyed lyrics, especially the "sun, sun sun/here it comes" parts). Certainly this sense of "the future" doesn't come just from the Moog, or from this music, but a lot of the other places I hear it (self consciously futuristic eighties pop and rock, old Autechre) seem to get it more wrong: in their hands "the future" seems like a silly attempt at pretending what the future will be like. The synths on "Here Comes the Sun" (and elsewhere on Abbey Road,

Later I realized that, thinking about it explicitly, maybe part of the reason I'm a little sad is that over the past few years I've grown to love Revolver and Rubber Soul, so I recognize somehow that I feel something (it's like a debt or gratefulness, but far more abstract because of the level of removal) for the people who made that music. Yet inside myself I can't find anything of the sort: this thought came to me something like a realization that "this is the sort of thing that might explain my reaction" - different from simply discovering something about myself that had actually made me react in this way.

30 Nov '01 07:21:08 AM

And Louis Hayes plays a real limber drum kit.

30 Nov '01 07:11:00 AM

I think I avoided buying any Cannonball Adderley for a long while for no good reason in particular, other than that I decided 'soul jazz' was sort of repetitive, I didn't like the driving beat, or the way it lent itself to blowing sessions. What the hell was I thinking? Nippon Soul, supposedly the first jazz album recorded in Japan by American artists, is really great. For some reason I'm even enjoying it a lot more than Somethin' Else so far.

"The Weaver", written by Yusef Lateef (who appears on flute, oboe, and tenor on the album) and dedicated to Lee Weaver, has a very typical (to bop at least) "Eastern" sound to it, not just with the Eastern-mode harmony and repetitive opening, but even the hi-hat pattern. It's like that particular variety of song was a bop archetype in some way.

Nat Adderley adds some wicked growl (?) playing on cornet, later on Lateef's Coltrane-dedicated "Brother John" if I remember right (another one in an Easternish style, but this was 1963, so the reference to Coltrane's current music would have been apt).

Zawinul on a nice arrangement (of his own) of "Come Sunday" from "Black, Brown and Beige".

29 Nov '01 08:01:43 AM

And yes I'm aware that right this minute there might be people getting freaky in Uptown - certainly I can't see in their houses when I drive down Lyndale, which is probably what really counts, not whether or not people are sixty-nining in the cafes. Whatever - my question remains.

29 Nov '01 07:47:27 AM

"Rape Me": At the moment, having listened to it a couple of hours ago, all I can remember of the lyrics to this song are "rape me" (making up most of the words anyway, I think), "taste me", and "I'm not the only one". I'm sure the ones I'm not remembering add something, but as I was crossing Snelling tonight to make my transfer home, it occurred to me that even for this simple song, I can't reconstruct or paraphrase the lyrics, the way that Joel tends to be able to do with lots of the music he listens to, just because that's what he does. But how much is such a reconstruction necessary or desirable here (or anywhere, but that's for another time)? I think the idea often with this sort of thing is that by restating or summarizing, you've shown you understand. What's to understand? He's singing "rape me" over and over again, and then fucking screaming, "rape me rape me rape me rape me" over and over again.

One thing that could be understood: how it is that simple words have an effect, or even what exactly effect it is they have. There's something else I want to say about that right now but I can't get it out. I think it has something to do with this kind of thing being a lot more difficult (perhaps because subtle) than making sense of songs with more "meaning" material (this is vague: I mean something like narrative structure, verse-chorus structure with more than three or four phrases like this song, dramatic elements like a he-said-she-said kind of deal, just more intentional content than "rape me" either in terms of amount or content). This is troubling, because it means critics gravitate toward that other kind of song - easier to explain, perhaps thus also seems like it's better - or that this kind of song is explained or talked about in terms of emotional response, which obscures important complexities of meaning. And it seems to me that an awful lot of popular music relies on lyrics that are on the surface "meaning impoverished" (even though as listeners we think they are clearly not - "on the surface" means maybe "as flat words on a paper", cf. Wittgenstein on "language from the outside").

29 Nov '01 07:32:41 AM

I suppose "Directions" (as "Directions I" and "Directions II" in the Silent Way box) has been available for a while elsewhere - I probably even have some version of it on a pre-retirement live album, though that means it's radically different by then - but hearing the version(s) surrounding the Silent Way sessions is especially illuminating because a) it makes so much contextually: the music is somewhat in the Second Quintet mode, fast and crackly, but more comfortably using rock rhythms and other elements, without being extremely heavy or more groove-locked (if that makes any sense - it doesn't to me, though I know what I mean) like the later Bitches Brew material, and anything else where the funk started creeping in, and b) there is no (b).

The pre-edit versions of the Silent Way tracks have a strange quality to them. It's something like hearing a jazz group play another group's song, or even one of their own in a different way than previously done. But a lot of the parts edited out seem to me at the moment (not very familiar with the "new" (old) versions, still) to be a lot more ambiguous and peripatetic, while the other parts are generally ones that show up, verbatim, in the edited versions. So rather than the songs sounding like paraphrased or translated versions of other things, they're like dreams of them: dreams with long stretches of perfect clarity.

29 Nov '01 07:09:07 AM

Of course, even that has major problems: what happens when you get to two albums that you don't know how to compare? Having a giant round-robin tournament between all your favorite records only works if you can actually pick winners. If you can't, then even this model (which is supposed to take the trouble out of it since one album vs. one album is supposed to be an easier choice to make than any other one involved in making a list) fails. For instance, I put on In Utero today. Now, I love that record, but I don't listen to it that often now. I certainly have listened to it less in the past 3 years than Protection. If I weren't thinking this would make me choose the Massive Attack over the Nirvana. But since I love In Utero, I'm more careful to notice that it wasn't any particular dislike that caused me to listen less to it, and that if my reaction to it now is somehow less strong than to Protection, it feels like it has something to do with familiarity (in the recent sense, since I've definitely listened to In Utero more overall). Once that doubt creeps in, the skeptic in me takes over and I can't make the decision.

This is why the last time I made a big top-whatever list for myself, I could only really get 3 things on it. At the moment, for instance, I can guess that I would say I prefer The Curtain Hits the Cast, Kind of Blue, Bitches Brew, Emergency & I, and (now!) Change to most any other record I own. But that's because my reactions to those, my affinities for them, are so overwhelmingly strong that it seems self-evident (self-evidency, what a load of crap, don't let anyone sell you something with that kind of talk); it's automatic, I like them more. But then ask me to compare them to each other.

29 Nov '01 12:56:05 AM

I must not have listened to Second Edition more than even ten times all the way through since I bought it. The first time I thought it was annoying and relentlessly tiresome. Then it suddenly got better. I haven't listened to it in a long time, before today, and I never picked up much from listening to it the other times, I think, although I enjoyed it, but today it sounded especially great. Relentlessly interesting and catchy, like the bassline in "Poptones". ("Burbling"?) What changed?

28 Nov '01 09:49:57 AM

I always hate making ranked lists like Jess's, because I have so much trouble deciding after the first few, if I can even decide those. But I'm still very interested in trying them, just because it forces me to think differently about valuing things in ways that I suspect are wrong wrong wrong (no offense Jess, ha ha). But I think next time I do this (and I want to soon, because Jess has me thinking), I'll do it more "scientifically" so that I don't have to think as much about how to rank the entries, which usually makes me not rank them at all: I'll just get together a big list of albums, and do something so that I compare every single pair of them in combination, and and score them so that every time an album wins in a pair, it gets a point - and then score them by total points. Sure, it sounds like overkill, and it may not accurately represent what I think about them considered as a group, but I want to find out what happens when I do it. (Of course, to do it I'll write a computer program. The things I do for experimental aesthetics...)