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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23 May '03 11:36:15 AM

I should stress that the songs are not just different on the surface for sounding "eighties". They are different in structure, form, contour, different in the way they exist as masses shifting into and out of motion, different as precise articulations of sounds.

23 May '03 11:34:31 AM

I sort of knew what I was getting into with Hotter Than July but I don't think I had any idea it would sound so fucking eighties. I've never heard the Secret Life of Plants soundtrack, but the next most recent thing, Songs in the Key of Life just four years before July, which came out in 1980, only has touches of the stereotypical eighties style, mostly on "Joy Inside My Tears". So why so much change? Why with so much other music, too, does it sound as if there's an invisible line between the seventies and eighties, so that suddenly everything sounds different? It has to be technological. Sinker, when are you ever going to finish your book?

22 May '03 09:49:20 PM

The CD player only lasted two days (and about three CDs). Maybe it will magically start working in a couple of weeks, like last time.

22 May '03 08:08:18 AM

"and lacked a firm funk aesthetic": I do not know what it means, but I invite you to marvel at this phrase.

21 May '03 10:05:12 AM

This thread, about Stevie Wonder, is one of my favorites on ILM. It reveals a lot. Lots of problems.

My top five (er) seventies Stevie Wonder albums:

1. Talking Book
2. Songs in the Key of Life
3. Fulfillingness' First Finale
4. Innervisions
5. Music of My Mind

The purpose of ranking them now is mostly to mark my realization that Fulfillingness is the best piece of music ever made in the world. Except for the other two.

(I think it's time to break down and buy Hotter Than July.)

The faith expressed in "Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away" has come to really unsettle me, every single time. I'm not religious. But I can certainly appreciate it when something is important to someone else. As significant as anything else significant to anyone is - central to their lives. This sounds like an understatement. I thought I had previously remarked on this, especially on how Stevie's religious songs move me more because they seem distinct from, but of a piece with, all his other songs. This includes the love songs, the non-reggae sex song for the reggae woman, the political songs - everything. I would like to use the word "syncretic" here but I fear I only know it because of reading about Stevie Wonder, and worse, from reading Robert Christgau.

At times like this I remind myself that Bach is held in high esteem, too. Or at least I've heard.

There's a lot more going on in the preachy history lesson slash robot synthesizer showcase on side three of Songs. Including horns. And a vocoder?! Maybe I shouldn't return these headphones for stupider headphones, after all.

And, you know, I don't even really like side three of Songs that much. But it's just so big.

There is something wearying about making it all the way from "Isn't She Lovely" to "Another Star", and though I did just say I don't like side three so much, I don't mean "making it all the way" to sound as critical as it does. I'm just not as into this part of the album, for one thing. But the mood of "Another Star" - it seems to me Stevie was fully aware of the state in which the listener might have come to the last track on the album, having heard at least half of it right before. (Maybe all of it.) On a single LP rock album perhaps that would be the extended-fadeout song, and there would be a feeling of, I don't know, bliss, relaxation, duration (the kind pointing toward going on forever, even though that can't happen on the LP - think of "Blue Line Swinger"), something. But "Another Star" feels too tired for that. Yet it doesn't feel resigned, or really as if it might collapse (though it is very thick and heavy sounding, weighty, for disco).

By the way, it no longer sounds so, er, mooshed.

My much less confidently chosen top five Stevie Wonder songs, with a rule to get me through it: one per album above:

1. "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)"
2. "Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away"
3. "Love's in Need of Love Today"
4. "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing"
5. "I Love Every Little Thing About You"

Interesting, I can't bring myself to list the funk pop songs (though I did consider "Maybe Your Baby", but I only really feel compelled to list it about four or five minutes in, once it's taken hold) even though I think they are pretty much ideal, perfect in that sense where the only thing you'd change is to make it more, more, more somehow, more horns or more funk or longer or louder or something, but of course the inescapable sense of privation is part of their being what they are so there's no getting around it - and so it feels a little more like picking my favorite syllogism, or favorite integral, rather than my favorite friend, or favorite memory, or favorite spot on the bed to sleep. A little more. They are not the same. Of course. But - a little more. And then what's the point? Of course in some sense they should be favored. It's built into them.

I do not think this about the most pop, catchiest, most undeniable songs on my other favorite albums. Nor do I feel tempted to. Yes, I know it's hyperbole. But surely it's significant when I am OK with hyperbole, and when I'm not.

I have a paper due "tomorrow" and I'm afraid I can't finish it. I listened to Stevie a lot today. For example, while walking across the bridge over the Mississippi. What I enjoy most, maybe, about walking about in the beautiful, cool weather with my headphones on, enjoying the music, is when it makes me so happy that I no longer think that I am happy because I am listening to the music, so that I invariably become less happy when I don't like a part of the music as much. I was that happy today, out on the bridge. I will be listening to more Stevie "tomorrow".

20 May '03 08:26:48 AM

"To the Reader

This book was written in good faith, reader. It warns you from the outset that in it I have set myself no goal but a domestic and private one. I have had no thought of serving either you or my own glory. My powers are inadequate for such a purpose. I have dedicated it to the private convenience of my relatives and friends, so that when they have lost me (as soon they must), they may recover here some features of my habits and temperament, and by this means keep the knowledge they have had of me more complete and alive.

If I had written to seek the world's favor, I should have bedecked myself better, and should present myself in a studied posture. I want to be seen here in my simple, natural, ordinary fashion, without straining or artifice; for it is myself that I portray. My defects will here be read to the life, and also my natural form, as far as respect for the public life has allowed. Had I been placed among those nations which are said to live still in the sweet freedom of nature's first laws, I assure you I should very gladly have portrayed myself here entire and wholly naked.

Thus, reader, I am myself the matter of my book; you would be unreasonable to spend your leisure on so frivolous and vain a subject.

So farewell. Montaigne, this first day of March, fifteen hundred and eighty."

18 May '03 09:52:16 PM

Previous entry in the style of a VH1 list blurb:

With my changer up and running again, it looks like I'll be listening to the Notorious B.I.G., Christopher Wallace, until I'm "ready to die".

18 May '03 09:51:16 PM

It works! For now. So as to not switch CDs and chance it not reading the next one, it looks like I will be listening to Biggie only from now on.

I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing.

18 May '03 08:37:03 PM

Something that's been troubling me, though: if you're a critic inclined to socially-grounded (embedded?) criticism, what do you do when some style of music reaches an audience in such a way that it's cut off from its original social context? Example: drum and bass, possibly. To an American indie listener, it can sometimes seem as if the style was simply invented in the mid 90s for car advertisements and sophisticated "home listening" electronic music records. (This is a slight exaggeration, but still.) It seems as if criticism tied to social context loses force when the original context (the one that it helps to have as a point of comparison, especially since otherwise this sort of criticism is left not being able to draw on the social context of transplanted styles like drum and bass, whose context becomes something like "this box of records that Anglophile hipster critics just got off the boat") is taken away. (Made remote.) Then, it has to make the case - push a historical (genetic) argument, try to make that other music, original music, matter to the reader or listener, too. Maybe this is why so much criticism of music like this has a best-thing-you-never-heard-of missionary tone to it. (Note similarities to indie criticism itself, and to the relative social isolation built into indie production and fandom.)