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February 25, 2001

11:54 PM
"Papa Was a Rodeo"

The more I listen to this the more I am confronted by the truth, that I am bored silly by it. If I don't pay enough attention it can get by on being sad-sounding, but if I pay enough attention, then I start to piece together the lyrics, and find that I find them neither interesting nor moving. Add to that the extreme (for this album) length, and, well...

Hmmm. I'm not sure how well I can explain why the lyrics aren't interesting. At first glance they just really just seem genuinely not of interest to me - nothing to identify with, nothing particularly inspiring about the craft that went into them, or the sound of the words. This would seem to not be due to any songwriting deficiency, or anything - I'm talking about the kind of lack of interest that you're just bound to have for some things, through what you bring to them.

On the other hand... first of all, the tone of the lyrics doesn't really mesh with Merritt's voice or diction. Second, the central metaphor feels a little too abstract and strained. So maybe there's a good reason for not finding the thing interesting.

11:35 PM
"Kiss Me Like You Mean It"

The little inconsistencies in this song make much, much more sense when you read it, as per the notes, as being about a B & D relationship. Oh well. Intentional fallacy can't win 'em all.

11:32 PM
"Long-Forgotten Fairytale"

I've been listening to this a lot lately but it took me until just now to realize that there's a 4/4 kickdrum running through the whole song, right from the beginning. It took me until last night, hearing it on different speakers at the studio, to realize that there's what sounds like a ukelele part in the midst of the choruses (though the notes say John plays "classical guitar," so either his guitar sounds funny or that part is still buried deeper in the mix). I think I mumbled something earlier about how, despite their indie-typical production values, many of these songs seem to contain all the important components of full-blown "commercial" production - this thick-arrangement business is part of that.

11:26 PM
"Washington, D.C."

Who would've thought the indie-pop scene would produce such a patriotic song?

4:48 AM
"World Love"

Handler groups this, "Punk Love," and "Experimental Music Love" together as genre exercises, strangely leaving out "Love is Like Jazz," which is a genre exercise if "Punk Love" is. Of all the exercises, this one seems like the most successful, though by saying it's more successful than "Exprimental Music Love" I think I'm really just saying I like "World Love" more.

In September I was curious about what exactly "circular" guitar riffs were supposed to sound like, a la afro-pop and its plunderers. Listening to this song without focusing intently on the guitar part, I feel I understand "circular" completely. When I focus, it falls apart, and the guitar line just gets annoyingly repetitive. Thankfully, I am happy to dissociate while listening - in fact, that's normal for me. So the song remains pleasing rather than annoying.

There is a little tap-tap noise in the song that appears to be intentional but which is oddly placed in the mix, so that if I focus on it, I find it hard to stop hearing it as sticking out.

4:38 AM
"Promises of Eternity"

Again, with the notes: "It worked pretty well if you can tell it's Tom Jones." Yup. Somehow I think the tympani push it over the edge.

4:37 AM
"My Only Friend"

Man, there a bunch of half-assed Billie Holiday pages out there.

It's hard to suss out exactly how much of this can be considered an elegy for Holiday, and how much of it is for the narrator.

4:24 AM
"(Crazy for You But) Not That Crazy"

I find it interesting how much of the record Merritt is willing to give away - interpretively, I mean. Part of his schtick, I suppose. I hate to keep quoting the notes from the box set so much, but they really are quite apt at times.

DH: This song seems to do what you like best, which is to take cliches at their face value. If somebody is crazy for someone, you literalize that until they're actually crazy, but in this case it seems like -- when you say someone's crazy for someone, you're scarcely using a metaphor, as anyone who's been crazy in love can attest. You actually feel like you've lost your mind.

Information on Ganesh.

4:11 AM
"You're My Only Home"

Though it's only 2:16 long I still think of this as one of Merritt's "longer" songs. I think it's because the arrangement is fuller. I also don't make the "FUTURE!" associations with the synth sounds that I do on similar-sounding sounds, not sure why. It may be that I am focusing on the main, bass-part synth, but I'm not sure what difference that makes. It does sound vaguely less FUTURISTIC, I suppose. I probably associate deep bass frequencies with profundity. Which seems eminently reasonable to me.

4:05 AM
"If You Don't Cry"

I have already taken note of the "an hour goes by/she doesn't" lyric, but a little more: it's made better by the fact that the second line is followed by a vocal-less measure of music, before the lyrics resume.

It's used often enough in general that there really ought to be a name for the noise here, on beats 2 and 4, that sounds like a cross between a drum machine and a synth in very bad shape.

I would very much like to disagree with the thought expressed here (the next line of the chorus, after the title line, is "it isn't love"), but when I'm listening, I have trouble doing so.

The notes on this one bring to mind some ancillary things, so I'll quote an extended passage.

DH: Speaking of methods of work, one of the striking things of "If You Don't Cry" is the line "nothing gets done." You have a lot of laziness in your lyrics. What are you doing?

SM: Somebody has written the titles of Fleetwood Mac songs in my notebook. Oh, it was Michael. Sorry, I didn't hear you.

DH: That's all right. In "If You Don't Cry," "nothing gets done" is a striking lyric. You have a lot of laziness in your lyrics, you have a lot of songs about not getting out of bed, things like that--

SM: I never thought of that.

DH:--yet your output as a songwriter would give lie to the laziness theory.

SM: Well, clearly never leaving your room is a major trope in my life. One of the hardest parts of being a songwriter is that people never believe you're working, because you're not physically working, almost never physically working. At least as a novelist, you're near a typewriter.

DH: Yes.

SM: People now only believe you're working if you're sitting at your computer.

DH: Well, you sit at your computer more than a bunch of other songwriters.

SM: Yes, but when I'm working very hard I have a cocktail in my hand, a cigarette in my mouth, and I'm staring off into space, and if I don't want to be interrupted, it's hard to convince people that I'm actually working hard.

DH: And you don't want to drink at home?

SM: Oh no. It's hard to write songs at home. If I look around my apartment, I see the titles of books, and I don't want to write songs with the titles of books. I really don't want to write songs with titles like The Social Construction of Everyday Life. The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Streetcar Suburbs.

So, the first thing that comes to my mind whenever I read this is Goncharov's Oblomov, whose protagonist has a penchant for laying in bed. Come to think of it, so does one of the protagonists of O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds. Clearly, however, this is a theme that needs to be explored more in literature and song. And that doesn't mean solely more Spiritualized songs. Though that's not a half bad idea.

The second thing: Merritt has just about perfectly described the working procedures of both the mathematician and the philosopher, ha. Except that mathematicans are generally not advised to drink while mathematizing. I've not heard similar admonition given to philosophers. Gee, I wonder why.

Interestingly, the focus here is on Merritt's work being songwriting, apparently meaning the business of writing lyrics down. But clearly he does a lot more than that, and while he could certainly write a lot of the music down without literally hearing it, it seems that there would be a bit of work involved with toying with the arrangements, through actually playing with some musical instruments. Whither that work?

Stalled? Stalled?! I'm making good time, Solinger. I don't want to hear any crap out of you, Mr. Top 100 (oops 50) Songs of the Decade.

February 22, 2001

3:58 AM
"No One Will Ever Love You"

One of the charms of this, which is probably one of my favorite songs in the WORLD at the moment (realize, this is quite a privileged distinction): the way the vocal delivery and lyrics thwart expectations so artfully. The first line, "if you don't mind", is a phrase typically followed by a statement of action or intent that the speaker has reason to believe might not be agreeable to the listener. [Bet this is making the song sound really fucking beautiful, right? Sorry, I'm in that mood.] But it's not followed by that, here: the next line, "why don't you mind?", turns the focus of the last sentence back from the expected one (that is, the discourse meaning changes), onto the minding itself.

Also: "no one will ever love you honestly". That's how it's printed in the lyrics, and though you would think the vocal inflection would give enough information to parse the sentence unambiguously (deciding whether "honestly" applies to "love" or whether it's supposed to qualify the previous phrase as a whole - "really, it's hopeless"). But I don't think it does, and for me that makes it better, as if it were something which looked differently when held different ways in the light. See the old entry about traditional Japanese haiku line breaks.

Other things I like: the drumming, the woom-woom-woom that runs through the track, the guitar solos (?). I like lots of things about this one.

This song is also one reason I don't think I would like to listen to this album around other people. I have two reasons for that; I think I can get to the other more topically later on. This one, though, is due to nothing that special about the album itself, aside from the fact that it's good. It's simply that I find the song very affecting, enough that, if I am already sad enough, the song makes me very very sad. I feel terrible (but notice, I am still listening to the song...). I've only really cried listening to music once or twice, and one of those was because I was happy (I think...). I'm not really interested in finding out if I'll do it accidentally in front of other people. This is the extreme end of my reactions, but I care abou the other ones, too. I don't want to find myself looking all dopey-faced or starry-eyed in public, or anything like that - and if you don't know what I mean, watch people's faces at the movie theater next time you're there, during a really "emotional" part of the movie (pick one of the squishy emotions). I probably already do it anyway, though. Luckily I have cultivated the ability to look as if I am staring into the fifth dimension while walking about with my headphones on, so maybe I just look like an acid casualty instead.

I think about this sort of thing from time to time, but in particular this time because last night, to my surprise, the cashier/bean slave at the coffee emporium at which I studied last night played disc 1 of 69 Love Songs. So did I elect to test it out, listen in public? No. To be honest, I was not in the mood for Magnetic Fields. Especially disc 1, which as you might guess from the entries up until now, I have recently spent a lot of time with. A lot of time. In between Outkast songs over my headphones, though, the Magnetic Fields didn't sound all that out of place in the shop. I wonder if anyone else even noticed anything odd. (Why would they? More on that later. Maybe the Gilbert and Sullivan garbage will be good for something, after all.)

2:36 AM
"Grand Canyon"

An interesting note in the book for this song:

DH: [...] [I]t has a sort of similar fussy abstraction of cowboyness that the Magnetic Fields seem to enjoy.

SM: Which is stolen from Laurie Anderson, who probably got it from Benjamin Britten, I suppose. I love Laurie Anderson for being able to write heartbreaking melodies with words that make fun of heartbreaking melodies.

Ooops, he let his secret slip. But actually, it doesn't apply to this song, whose lyrics at least don't detract from the song (not sure if they're any great accomplishment or anything, but, hey - it's the bigness to the sound that's important here - we're talking CANYONS; there's kind of a soaring sensation, maybe?).

2:30 AM
"Very Funny"

I think the string arrangement rips off either Pachelbel's Canon in D, or Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," but I can't remember and can't be bothered with listening to Baroque music right now.

The ways I confuse vocalists on this record is a good sign of what I really think of some of them. I always think Shirley Simms is singing "Sweet Lovin' Man," rather than Claudia; I always think Claudia is singing "No One Will Ever Love You," rather than Shirley. I always think LD is singing "Very Funny," rather than Dudley Klute. But come to think of it, I really only like the songs Dudley sings, which also have more "pop" arrangements.

2:26 AM
"Time Enough for Rocking When We're Old"

He says he'd rather go dancing, but everything about the music betrays him.

2:22 AM
"When My Boy Walks Down the Street"

We can talk about essentialism and identity politics all you want (no, really, try me), but at the moment I am of the opinion that, at base, love between two people is no different whether the two people are of the same sex, or not. I think that the different social standards and beliefs and stereotypes associated with homosexual love vs. heterosexual love can lead to very real differences in the practice and overall experience of love, but I don't see why this should vitiate the basic impulse involved, which need only be something (don't ask what!) between two people, full stop.

Exhibit A: this song. Doesn't it basically sound like any other typical love song? Have you ever sung along to a love song - a "straight" one - sung by someone of the opposite gender? The same? And had some kind of love-related emotion, not necessarily directed at the singer or whoever they were singing at, but just, had it? Good, that's what I thought. Case closed.

1:59 AM
"Love is Like Jazz"

Not that my difficulty in writing about it is the reason for my brief lull in 69LS-related postings (I've just been very busy), but this song has given me pause. Why?

In a very strong sense I group it mentally with "Punk Love", as a genre song which does not take its genre seriously, or rather treats it ironically in order to comment somehow on it. In "Punk Love", as I said below, I think this worked out badly. "Love is Like Jazz" is a bit more trenchant, though. Which is where the problem comes in. Irony seems to me to be an element of Merritt's music frequently-enough present that it's hard to tell how serious he's being. He obviously enjoys deflating (exploding, subverting, abusing, using sincerely) stereotypes, and often his approach is to do something ironically, like the whole of "Punk Love". Here the stereotypes are two: the stereotypical "coffeehouse" free jazz, and the lyrics, which employ both stereotypes about love, and about jazz. I'm not as concerned with the music - at best it's cutsey to me, at worst it's just incompetent as jazz goes (in that way, it's sort of reminiscent of what happens when bands try to get "funky" when they clearly have no business doing so). Usually, it's at least inoffensive; I like accordions.

So, the lyrics. Cliches about love that we get: love as a thing that is improvised (the idea being, I think, that there's no planning involved - people in love just respond to whatever comes up as it comes up); love as a thing that people don't really understand, but pretend to; love as repetitive variations on a common theme (oh look, another music simile); love as really awesome, and really stupid; love as depressing; love as deceptively favorable or attractive; love as bearable despite its problems.

Cliches about jazz that we get: jazz as a thing that is "made up as you go along" (I know I'm being more literal here, but here I think the stereotype more literally follows the lyrics: that jazz musicians simply make up whatever it is that they play on the spot); jazz as music which flaunts its mistakes, and incorporates them into itself; jazz as repetitive variations on a common theme; jazz as really awesome, and really stupid; jazz as depressing; jazz as "almost entirely window dressing" (which I read to be a comment about the role improvisation plays in jazz, but maybe I'm just being sensitive).

I know I didn't hit everything, but I think these are the main ways that the two subjects of the title simile jump out. Some of the lines don't fit one or the other subject that well, and the '"Strange Fruit" with/and without wind chimes' line just seems to be there for effect (though really I should consider the connection, sometime, to "Strange Fruit"'s lyrics).

The problem I have with understanding the intent behind the lyrics (and yes, I know this is at least the second time I've referred to wanting to figure out the intent behind Merritt lyrics, despite telling you, Fred, that maybe we shouldn't or couldn't for "Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits") is that I find the statements about love far more believable than the ones about jazz. There's some truth to the idea that you "make it up as you go along" in jazz, but definitely not in the sense that people might think, of completely determining each note on-the-spot (and I could talk for quite a while about just that problem, but just go read Derek Bailey's Improvisation for starters). And again, there's some truth to the next idea, that jazz flaunts its mistakes. But in a very real sense, it does not: there are lots of mistakes that can be made in jazz. Those which are "flaunted," taken advantage of for artistic effect, end up not being mistakes, really, but rather, successful improvisation (and note that by saying this I don't mean to imply that this is what improvisation consists in: it's just one thing that can happen when one is improvising). Depending on the idiom of jazz involved, there are some mistakes that just sound like mistakes, and there's not really any capitalizing on them within the idiom: like coming in at the wrong time, and playing a different part than everyone else for a while, or playing out of the changes for too long, or clamming a note that just sounds bad that way. The line about "the same song a million times/in different ways" can be read many ways.

OK, stop. Like I said, this song gives me pause. I change my mind often as to what I think about it. Right at this moment, thinking about the half-truth, half-falsity of the various statements made about jazz, I am of the mind that the statements about love should be understood the same way, as they surely can be. That makes the song much more like "A Pretty Girl is Like...", so, see the entry below for that song.

I'm not going to cover my tracks and delete all the bullshit above, though, because inevitably I will change my mind soon, and I want to keep all this stuff around, should I feel like finishing it - it was enough of a pain to come up with the first time.

This, "Roses," and "Punk Love" are the songs I am most likely to skip out of all three discs - I don't usually skip others when I'm in my long-term-listening-but-still-not-wanting-to-hear-things-I-really-don't-like mode. Oh. And the Gilbert and Sullivan crap on disc 3. But we'll get to that later.

February 18, 2001

3:26 PM

Merritt says he's been waiting to use this "song" for 20 years. Apparently he didn't use any of the intervening time to work on it, you know, polish it up, add some lyrics or a chorus or music or anything.

The echo makes it sound more 20s-ish, or something.

3:41 AM
"The Things We Did and Didn't Do"

I guess this one is supposed to get by on mood?

3:34 AM
"Sweet-Lovin' Man"

Some of the songs Shirley Simms sings, I think are Claudia songs. And I constantly think that this is a Shirley song, though it is in fact Claudia. And whaddaya know, in the notes we have, from Merritt:

"Sweet Lovin' Man" was originally on The Charm of the Highway Strip but it didn't fit, not being about travelling. This is the fourth version of the song. The original idea, probably obvious, was to write a song with a title that I would never use. So I thought of the least likely title and wrote a song around it. And Claudia's pretty much the least likely singer.

Yet by the end it doesn't sound uncomfortable, which it does a little at first. More uncomfortable in Merritt's corpus than intrinsically so, because ultimately Claudia makes it work.

3:31 AM
"Nothing Matters When We're Dancing"

The reference to North Carolina in "All My Little Words" seemed corny to me, whereas the reference to Lansing (Michigan) in this song seems perfectly natural. Not sure why.

3:24 AM
"My Sentimental Melody"

Despite my biases I like the singing, and LD is (sorry LD, if you read this!) my least favorite singer on the record. It's nothing personal, and his singing is good. I am just predispositioned to dislike his singing the most. It's something to do with my upbringing as a rock listener, where this kind of singing is too emotive, I think. Something like that. I don't have a really good handle on the why, right now.

It's relevant to the album as a whole, though, because I very much felt at first as if all the singing was too... I don't know, singy. Uncomfortably close to both musicals and to all kinds of music I distance myself from.

So, more on this later, no doubt.

2:55 - 3:19 AM
"A Pretty Girl is Like..."

Merritt says "a pretty girl is like a melody" is an insulting thing to say, and that this song is a protest against that. It's hard to tell if it's supposed to be a protest through being ironic or through being humorously truthful. Consider:

A melody is like a pretty girl
who cares if it's
the dumbest in the world

I submit that this is an entirely apt thing to say about both pretty girls and melodies.

To expand: it's not at all about disrespecting women's intelligence, whether they be pretty or not. It's a statement about what it's like to be caught up in the experience of seeing a pretty girl, which is satisfyingly parallel to that of hearing a good melody. Dumb girls and smart girls have exactly the same effect on mere sight, when they're pretty. Just like melodies. They're just... pretty. It's a simple experience, that stops there. Like seeing a sunset or a nice cloud or smelling something good as you walk by a restaurant. The simplicity means that you have no opportunity to exercise your other standards; those come in later.

I haven't explained this very well. Oh well. Letters to the usual address.

2:50 AM
"Boa Constrictor"

One thing I am sure of. Going through the songs like this makes it very clear to me which songs I have been simply unoffended by. This is pleasant, but it's slight and undistinguished.

2:44 AM
"Parades Go By"

It would be interesting to track, by detail, the use of "FUTURE!" synthesizers over time. Because I never really listened to much synthpop, or anything involving old analog synths, for most of my life. But still it seems as if I've got this inborn identification between this synth sound and SCIENCE! TECHNOLOGY!! THE FUTURE!!!

It is something of a sad future, of course, because we will never have it. Unless someday all music is done with that synth sound, so that we fucking get over it already and come up with a new "FUTURE!" sound.

(There's a majestic element involved, too. Sounds more futuristic that way.)

2:33 AM
"Punk Love"

Fuck you, Stephin Merritt. This is not punk, it's sub-We're Only in It for the Money-era Zappa punk parody, and it's not funny. And I like We're Only in It for the Money. And it's also not punk in a meta sense to make a turd of a song that is all punk about the received notion of punk. It's just dumb.

The most charitable thing I can take this song to be is criticism of punk, commentary-in-music. I don't think this is far off base, considering the similarity between "Punk Love" and the other dreg of Merritt's "genre" songs here, "Love is Like Jazz". There he actually comments in the lyrics, which may or may not be ironic, but that's a matter for later.

Anyway. As criticism it also fails. What are we supposed to take from it? That punk is silly or stupid? All I can see is that Merritt's musical values and punk's musical values are pretty different. And I didn't need this thing to tell me that.

Surely Merritt had another unfinished sonnet laying around that he could've slotted in here.

2:28 AM
"The One You Really Love"

The standout thing here for me is not the you-love-a-corpse thing, but rather LD's "ooh-ooh"s between the lyrics after about 1:30. There is a whole class of songs, I think, that do this same thing. Of course I can think of none of them now. But: they add an extra little something just like this during later choruses, which sounds completely natural, so that when you hear the song later, you miss hearing the whatever (like extra "ooh-ooh"s) that is added later. So there's an element of anticipation to this kind of song, sort of unlike lots of other kinds of songs.

2:15 AM
"How Fucking Romantic"

I chalk this up as a failed "experiment" (if it can be called that). The vocal just does nothing for me, and since there's nothing else (well, the snaps, but...), well...

One good point, though. "even though you treat me/like a dancing bear" always reminds me of what was, for some time during high school, my favorite quote:

"Whereas the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars."

- G. Flaubert

Wasn't I deep?

2:06 AM
"Fido, Your Leash is Too Long"

I so cannot think of anything to say about this song. And I like it, too. The synths. The wiggle-squelch-scratchy noise. Hmm.

The lyrics and the bass rhythm combine for something vaguely raunchy, up there with "Underwear", but the line "Fido, you've gone far enough/I must have all of your love" is slightly unsettling.

February 17, 2001

1:31 AM
"The Book of Love"

I think at the moment the most apt thing I could say about this has already been said, by Daniel Handler, in the notes, so:

One of the things I like about this song, that I think is present in all your best writing, is you speak awhile on one thing in the abstract, and then you speak awhile on something personal, and without linking them explicitly they seem connected. The verses are all about the book, the chorus is all about loving somebody.

"Montage," anybody?

This is a technique I wouldn't mind being used more in lyrics. It probably is already, and I just don't know it. But it's easy to fuck up, so maybe I don't want it being used more. Popular music lyricists not being the swiftest people around.

1:11 AM
"I Think I Need a New Heart"

Appropriately enough, it opens with a frozen moment, where not only does the narrator take note of the situation between themself and their partner, but also of the moment's frozenness. For from then on, the song playing in the moment - "while the radio plays/'I Think I Need a New Heart'" - becomes the chorus for the rest of this song. As far as I can tell, that refers only to this song, which means that the song is self-referential. I get a kick out of that, but that's what philosophy does to a person.

12:48 AM
"The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be"

Part of Merritt's formalist bent comes through in songs like this (which I group with "Reno Dakota" in my mind), which, as opposed to the genre "experiment" "throwaways" "Love is Like Jazz," "Punk Love," and "Experimental Music Love," are more like "real" songs, simply cut short or left undeveloped or unexpanded. Can I get some more quote marks, please?

By "undeveloped" (aah, that's better, more quote marks) I mean, these seem sort of like ideas for songs that Merritt had, but either wasn't sure how to extend them by adding extra verses, or maybe just didn't feel like it. I'm not sure if I mean that to say much about these songs. In other respects they're more like "full" songs than the genre experiments (like, melody, music, etc.), but often they're more stripped down than even "Love is Like Jazz" or "Punk Love," which for its dumbness, at least involves a number of sounds.

The rhyme scheme here is like that of the first eight lines of a Shakespearean sonnett.

12:24 AM
"Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits"

Grandly, giddily, sillily, joyfully, carefree (world-be-damned) lust.

12:13 AM
"The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side"

OK, so one thing I don't get, first of all: why does she only want to go for a ride when the weather is nice? Couldn't she walk, then? Wouldn't it be preferable to walk when the weather is nice, and ride in the ugly guy's car when it's raining or something?

Also, he seems kind of disproportionally happy about this, considering how opportunistic his relationship with her apparently is. I mean, have you ever given a ride to someone whose only reason for being in your car was that they wanted a ride?

Still, I guess when you're the ugliest guy on the lower east side, you take what you can get.

So despite the problems, it remains a happy song, in agreement with the bouncy music, because the singer is so overjoyed with what he gets.

And boy, does Dudley Klute nail that last note.

(Hmmm... you might be able to say that, since he "only keeps this heap" for her, he's well aware of what exactly each is getting out of the relationship, for he's playing it for all it's worth.)

February 16, 2001

3:02 AM
"Come Back from San Fransisco"

Two things here sound inappropriate: first, Claudia, perhaps just with this voice but I'd say more generally, the way she sings on the whole album, sounds funny singing 'wild thing'. Some things only make sense when they come with their attendant phrasing and tone and such. One who says 'wild thing' should sound more crass or more arch, I think.

Same goes for the "I've quit smoking," just because it's hard to imagine the singer smoking (read whatever bullshit about fetishization that you want into that, critical theory motherfuckers) - too nice.

Same for 'damn you'. Well, maybe not. It's pronounced carefully, as if the idea of swearing is novel, and not much followed up with practice. Which I suppose is appropriate for my reading of the song's character.

As Daniel Handler notes in the notes, the last line - "I've never stayed up as late as this" - is especially poignant. It's ambiguous, and it hangs maybe in part due to the note it ends on.

2:56 AM
"I Don't Want to Get Over You"

There's something breathless about the end, the way it seems for a big as if Merritt could keep going and going on the simile (part of it's in the phrasing):

or I could make a career of being blue
I could dress in black and read Camus
smoke clove cigarettes and drink vermouth
like I was 17
that would be a scream
but I don't want to get over you

Breathless is maybe not the right word, because his voice is typically measured. It's kind of like watching someone do a stunt. Or like listening to (and I think I've mentioned this before) an improvised solo where the soloist hangs on one note or phrase, repeated - "you wonder what he's going to do," my friend Damon said once.

I wonder if there isn't an awful big intentional-fallacy problem inherent in publishing lyric sheets.

2:54 AM
"Reno Dakota"

A magnificent detail: the very slight tinge of bitterness that slips into Claudia's voice on "and yet you don't call me" and then again on "alas and alack you just don't call back".

1:07 AM
"A Chicken with Its Head Cut Off"

I wouldn't be surprised if this song stood out in some way for Tom, just because of the ever-present chug-chug guitar rhythm underlying the song.

The final aside, "ain't pretty," even sounds authentic, by which I mean that I can't detect the thick layer of irony that I often sense on lots of Merritt's vocals. Maybe he even had a little fun there, eh?

1:03 AM
"All My Little Words"

Compared to lots of the others on the album, this song seems mostly undistinguished to me (not that that in itself is a bad thing). Except, that is, for the one word, "unboyfriendable," which instantly makes the song unique, and worth listening to again and again just to hear the lyric. One word.

"not for all North Carolina" sounds too pat, maybe because its reason for being there in the song (rhyming with "not for all the tea in China") is so apparently the primary reason. It would fit better if there was some sense in the "rustic" connotations it draws. Not that North Carolina isn't full of metropolises, compared to where I live. But still - it's as if suddenly the song should be more "American" because of the reference, in the "Americana" sense.

1:02 AM
"I Don't Believe in the Sun"

He carries on the conceit long enough that it's easy to forget that he started with a metaphor for a state of being - dark, not sunny. Instead it starts sounding like he believes the conclusions he seems to be drawing about the external world. Which maybe is kind of how one starts thinking, in that state.

Like so many of Merritt's songs, all of the elements of a bigger, more "expensive" production already seem to be present here. Key: the organ.

12:43 AM
"Absolutely Cuckoo"

It's in waltz time, but the tempo is fast enough that the sway I usually associate with the waltz has vanished. Yet it's still "jaunty". The notes note that this was originally going to be a duet between Stephin and Claudia Gonson, which sounds fine to me, but then at the moment any song sung by Claudia Gonson sounds fine to me.

12:41 AM
There are, as the name implies, 69 songs on/in 69 Love Songs. So there will be 69 entries after this, before I make more entries about music not from 69 Love Songs. You get the idea.

12:04 AM
From the booklet to the 3-disc 69 Love Songs set -

DH: And there must be many goth undead songs --

SM: -- but usually not first person. "Bela Lugosi's Dead" is in third person.

DH: Right. Otherwise it would be "I Am Dead".

February 15, 2001

11:48 PM
pre-review musings this week are about polls.

2:22 PM
an hour goes by
she doesn't

4:42 AM
Rule of thumb: I am a sucker for any song that mentions Hindu deities, especially Ganesh. (Cf. the MFs' "(Crazy for You But) Not That Crazy", Slapp Happy's "Me and Parvati")

4:17 AM
Because I've hit a moment where I felt like I could list a bunch, and because one of my readers said they missed it, there is once again a "current favorites" type list of songs on the sidebar. Enjoy the minimal content.

February 14, 2001

10:21 PM
Faust page.

2:56 PM
Faust, "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl" -

It makes me smile.

1:46 AM
From Brandon have I stolen this link to a Joe Zawinul fan site which collects excerpts from the Ken Burns' JAZZ interview transcripts, specifically material pertaining to fusion.

I could go on at length about the stuff here, and perhaps I will, but the standout is one of the first things - Gary Giddens' doubt as to whether "Birdland" is even music.

Now, I only own one Weather Report album, and I don't really like it, though I've not listened to it in a long time. But, there is no doubt in my mind that "Birdland" is music. It's true: I have a very broad definition of what music is; no definition, really. I own and enjoy CDs which most people would take to be equipment malfunction. I have been known to leave my radio tuned to dead stations, just to listen to the static. But all this aside, I think "Birdland" would likely count as music to most anyone you'd care to ask, in the world. I am having a great deal of trouble understanding the kind of confused thinking that might lead one to talk like this. Note that Giddens wasn't even simply meaning the song is not jazz; he had already discounted that possibility, and was expanding his net further outward, to music itself. Maybe he was working with some notion of "true" music, and regards "Birdland" as false music, and thus not really music at all. That's the most pernicious, downright awful way I can think of to respond to something you don't like: deny its very status, try to give it non-existence.

Now you see better, maybe, why jazz fans were so up in arms about this documentary? Look at the kind of thinking that went into it. "But it's good for jazz." Whatever.

Go download "Birdland" and have a listen for yourself. It's not as if we're talking about one of Miles' pre-"retirement" 40-minute masses of seething avant-funk. This song was a fucking hit. It's got, like, a melody and stuff.

The most sensible comments there may actually be Wynton's. Oh, wait. Except for Joshua Redman. But Wynton actually gets something right, when he says that at some point once you change the rhythm enough, it's no longer jazz. Agharta and Pangaea - not jazz. Get Up With It - not jazz. Tribute to Jack Johnson - not jazz. Maybe Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way - not jazz. (It's a tricky question.) I'm with him there. But. It seems asinine to deny that Stan Getz' bossa nova records are jazz. "Afro-Hispanic music" is just a convenient relabeling. I'm sure there's plenty of Afro-Hispanic music that relies on clave beats which isn't so heavily involved in the jazz tradition preceding it. For that music, I'd be sympathetic to his point. But for all kinds of other music, what is gained by this kind of thinking? "Purity"? To what end?

If we're to consider this question at all, rather than simply going and listening to our records (what a nice thought), I think the first thing to go should be the idea that there are some necessary conditions for a music's being jazz. A piece of music is jazz, just as any piece of music is part of any genre, in virtue of its family resemblances to that genre.

See also brother Branford's perceptive (but really it's not hard to make, if you stop for one damn minute and listen to one of the records) comment re Miles' "selling out": "ain't nobody gonna buy that shit." Yes, Wynton, indeed.

February 13, 2001

11:45 PM
Pazz n Jop results. Fucking Christgau.

The albums list is basically totally utterly unsurprising.

5:47 PM
1. There seems to be a paucity of writing about classical music online - about the music itself, much less the experience of listening to it (that is, often you just get stuff about the formal elements, stuff you could get from reading the score).

2. Why is the symphony the priveliged classical musical form? (I have my ideas, but this is just something to note down so that I will look for more exact reasons later.)

4:58 PM
The best moment in the title track to Tortoise's TNT: 2:33 in, when the bass comes in, filling out the final layer in the add-sounds approach to the beginning of the composition.

(Is it presumptuous to think that that was part of the "composition"? I am thinking no.)

And yes, I think I have said this before.

The opening cymbal patterns from "TNT" extend almost a full half a minute into "Swung from the Gutters" in a sooper-dooper long fadeout. Cf. the guitar solo from "Limelight"?

1:15 AM
A defense at of Ken Burns' JAZZ includes the following, where Kamiya explains why it's so great that Burns infused the music with "meaning" -

Paradoxically, this very sublimity is inseparable from the music's secondary role. Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll" becomes the illustration of a certain ineffable sophistication, Bird's "Koko" a metaphor for artistic integrity in the face of personal dissolution, John Coltrane's "Chasin' the Trane" a signifier of sheer, tortured intensity. This is not exactly what we heard when we heard the music in clubs, or on records. Then they were just tunes. Magnificent tunes maybe, major works of art perhaps -- but not meaningful.

As Walter Davis said on "Pretty much counts him out in my book." Because, of course, music doesn't mean anything (or is it just jazz, then? hard to tell what he means) until we can slap a coupla METAPHORS on it, eh? Relate it to some biographical data?

February 12, 2001

9:13 PM
Gareth, a link to a Boards of Canada interview.

The musicians' own comments on their music, regarding the appropriately-short songs (indeed, I always find myself longing to hear "Roygbiv" extended, but no doubt it wouldn't have quite the same impact if it was longer; kind of like catching sight of a beautiful person walking past on the sidewalk), are a lot more interesting than the interviewer's junk about Sgt. Pepper's tunefulness, songcraft, and deep something-or-other. Why is it always the "great" classics that bear the brunt of these comparisons? It gives the illusion, I think, that they are more special than they actually are. I am just as confused by how much I like "Norwegian Wood" (and yes I know that's not on Sgt. Pepper's) as I am by how much I like "Sixtyten," or Coltrane's "Wise One," or Wire's "Three Girl Rhumba".

If music writing is to slip into mysticism and metaphysical hoo-haa, then I would rather that all music receive that layer of obfuscation (though, I would rather that it be lifted entirely, all other things equal).

8:32 PM
The number one thing I would like to know, at the moment, is who KENDRA is.

8:23 PM
"Is this Brian from Placebo? He looks pretty."

4:31 PM
At the moment my favorite love song is also, to me, one of the most paradoxical love songs I know, Lamb's "Cotton Wool". The lyrics are about safety and protection, which on the face seems tough to reconcile with the violent drum beats and even upright bass lines. Many parts of the arrangement play percussive roles - the drums, of course, but also the bass, which tends to play brief figures which are left to hang in the air, rather than be continued in a repeating part, and also the massed chords (what is that playing them? maybe it's not a "real" instrument, who knows) that underlie the biggest hits. The beats become jackhammers. Most everything in the track seems designed to bludgeon the listener. But still, it's a love song.

4:22 PM
The final track on Coltrane's Crescent, the other album he cut during 1964, the year of A Love Supreme, is called only "The Drum Thing" because the bulk of it is given to an Elvin Jones drum solo. So the title seems a bit inadequate, because the solo is bookended by sections that seem very unusual for Coltrane - distinctive enough that they set the character of the piece far more than the drum solo does. Garrison sets up a typical ostinato, punctuated occasionally by some barely-audible grunts, and there's a sinuous kind of weaving pattern between Coltrane, playing low, and Jones, who sticks mostly to the toms. In these parts the quartet sounds more like a contemporary group like Masada than much of the other Coltrane work of the 60s; perhaps this is because of the Eastern-ish mode, and the collective playing (Coltrane not really sounding like a soloist here).

3:56 PM
Exception to the foregoing: if Jeff Mangum fucked a girl you liked and then dumped her and possibly wrote a couple songs about it, that's OK, we can still be friends.

February 11, 2001

4:21 PM
If you don't like Neutral Milk Hotel then you are a bad person and you cannot be my friend.

1:07 AM
Tonight a young woman came in to the studio during my show, looking to hear a song. She seemed sort of sad, and the request seemed important because of that. She was black, with an ordinary face but impressive decolletage; she wore some old formal-looking dress and a small tiara. At first she sang me a song, with maybe a hint of embarassment in her voice. She had a pretty voice, though. I asked when the song was from, and she said she didn't know. When we settled on the 80s maybe, I said that I wasn't so good with 80s music. So she asked for a Macy Gray song, actually asking for Macy someone else, but I corrected her. But I had to say that I didn't think we had that. I think I was being honest, mostly (OK, maybe in the Urban Contemporary vinyl, totally unalphabetized), but even though it was Macy Gray I would've played it for her. Now I think I should've tried harder to find it, or just to talk to her and play anything that made her happier.

February 8, 2001

1:25 PM
I dunno, she sounds kind of bored to me.

3:22 AM
There was an ice storm today. Listening to music while walking in it turned out to be imprudent. Earlier, with Outkast, I simply started walking too fast. Later at night with Yo La Tengo, I just couldn't hear the sound of my own footfalls (and foot-slides), which it turned out were very helpful for figuring out whether or not I was going to fall on my ass.

That's OK, though, because a city coated with ice makes a nice sound all its own.

February 6, 2001

2:37 AM
A nice quote via Karen.

"... Civilized love needs soft music. So stow away those gloomy cantos -- Sing what every girl wants to hear ..."

-- Propertius [Book 1 (9)]

February 3, 2001

9:27 PM
Listening to Pink Flag. The songs don't seem nearly as short or abruptly ended as I expected, from reading about Wire.

Hearing "Three Girl Rhumba" is an odd experience because I kept expecting to hear Elastica's "Connection" instead.

9:19 PM
So I was just in a coffeeshop, hoping to eat a piece of cheesecake while I read some Locke. And they're playing fucking Michael Bolton. Now, certainly the music tastes of coffeehouses, or at least coffeehouse employees, are not above reproach. I don't understand the constant decisions to subject patrons to substandard (?) world-beat lite, and though I like jazz and wouldn't complain if they played good jazz, there isn't a law that one has to play jazz in a coffeeshop, or anything.

But, Michael Fucking Bolton. That's a different matter entirely. And they weren't just playing one song. The Greatest Motherfucking Hits, apparently. I wanted to get up and scream. Could it be ironic? Oh no. They were serious - it seemed one or both of the employees really, really dug the music. It's with music like this that I'm at my most impotent. I want to grasp at lame critical tropes - talk about the music being spiritually empty, schlocky over-slick garbage for the emotionally-stunted waking dead. Not surprisingly, this mirrors what happens to me at the other extremes of my critical responses, only those sound better.

I finished my chapter and left in disgust. Now I am not planning on going back in there.

The cheesecake was good, though.

4:30 AM
And so, the haul was:

Dave Douglas, A Thousand Evenings
Faust, Faust/So Far twofer reissue
Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Helikopter Streichquartett"
Charlie Haden - Liberation Music Orchestra
Matthew Shipp's New Orbit
Wire - Pink Flag, 154, Chairs Missing
The Slits - In the Beginning, Cut
Pere Ubu - Dub Housing
Vandermark 5 - Simpatico

More on these once I get a chance to hear them. So far the Dave Douglas and Charlie Haden are quite nice; the former is reminiscent of Zorn's Circle Maker album of string trio performances of Masada songs, except that Douglas is still playing here, and there's an accordion which lends it an odd little charm. The latter fits in nicely in Impulse!'s catalog next to Mingus' The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, perhaps that record's free-jazz second cousin or something.

3:53 AM
Biographical information and an interview with
Charlie Haden.

February 2, 2001

3:29 AM
Tom reminded me that the "revolution of everyday life" phrase is due to
Vaneigem, not Bey. I think both of them might have something to do with my experiment, though. (More on that later.)

February 1, 2001

2:12 AM
Link courtesy of
Mr. Daddino to this story, yet another criticism of "Ken Burns' Jazz" (I think I am required by law or something to make sure the title includes his name).

Well, not just a criticism. The article mentions the TOTALLY AWFUL (in my healthily biased view) move of devoting twice as much time in the series to four years of history, as to the forty years since 1960. But it offers the idea that this is more due to the fact that the course (even the word implies singularity, which is the wrong picture to keep in mind) jazz has taken since 1960 has been too complicated to fit into Burns' historical narrative about jazz and race and AMERICA (trumpets blare, playing some Louis Armstrong, Ken Burns stands astride a windswept peak, hair blowing, while somewhere down below Wynton Marsalis' voice can be heard, good-naturedly explaining what exactly it MEANS when we see Ken Burns astride aforementioned windsweapt peak, oh wait, no actually he can be heard quite clearly, and it's actually kind of hard to make out what Louis is playing, but hey it's probably actually a recording of Wynton playing anyway...). So he conveniently ignored it. Kind of the same way that college students conveniently ignore the reasons that the arguments in their papers don't make sense, even though it's clear to anyone that they don't. The article above says, hey wait, look at this bunch of people engaged with the racial aspects of jazz, only some of them are white, not black, though some are black too, and hey some are even JEWS and other things which complicate the picture - and to make matters worse, they're striving to be innovative and still keep ties to the jazz tradition. Sort of throws a monkey wrench into the neoconservative viewpoint espoused in the film.

Note the interesting comment on "animistic talent". I think he's right - especially in Coltrane's case, the spiritual is only part of the story. He practiced obsessively, methodically, and that practice is what helped him be so fluent and "spiritual" on his instrument. (Try picking up a saxophone sometime and, uh, expressing your spirit through it, however that works. Without some practice I don't think you'll be able to get very far.) Of course, it would be very convenient to ignore this aspect of Coltrane's music, if you were pushing a story like Burns'.

Most importantly, though, the author says - these people are making good music, so at least listen to them because of that.

I must say I am slightly miffed by the reader comment, at the end, about Zorn being the Flock of Seagulls of jazz. If Zorn is only a historical foodnote or aside or something, it's because of the way mainstream jazz has been dominated by a) pap and b) dogmatic neoconservative rhetoric (these need not be mutually exclusive, note) since jazz "died" - it's not because the music itself is not vibrant, interesting, and worthwhile.

1:43 AM
Often when I'm walking around wearing my headphones, I see other people also wearing headphones, and of course I wonder what they're listening to. Today I had a very strong urge to start a new project, or maybe not even anything that well defined - just, to start behaving in a different way. I would like to walk up to all these strangers and offer to switch headphone jacks for a minute or two, the idea being that each of us would suddenly know a lot more about the other past what they look like, which is all you can really know about a stranger when you meet them (aside from maybe cues you get about where you see them at, and inferences based on how they're dressed, etc., but those are only generalizations at best, and stereotypes at worst).

The downsides are legion, of course. First of all, I'm just not inclined to talk to strangers in the first place. Having something like this where it's a weird kind of talking to strangers makes it even more difficult. There is a very real possibility of coming off as deranged, after all.

Also - this may sort of uncomfortably foreground critical reactions to music. If someone walks up to you out of the blue and asks to listen to your music, aren't you going to want to know what they think, even just briefly? I don't think I'd be especially bothered by anything anyone would think about whatever they heard playing on my CD player, but I shouldn't assume that all music listeners are like me. What happens when I get an anti-rap person who is assaulted by "Bombs Over Baghdad" at volume 10?

Still, it's something to think about. I'm not sure if I will follow through with my urge or not. If I do, it must of course be done relentlessly.

I've not really read any Bey at all, but I wonder if there could be a little "revolution of everyday life" in this if done properly.

to January 2001
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in my head

Faust, "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl," "Mamie is Blue," John Coltrane, "Wise One," Tortoise, "TNT," Wire, "Three Girl Rhumba," Magnetic Fields, "No One Will Ever Love You," "If You Don't Cry," "You're My Only Home," "Long-Forgotten Fairytale," "World Love," Slapp Happy, "Casablanca Moon," "Half Way There," "Dawn," Claude Debussy, String Quartet in G Minor (Op. 10)