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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31 Dec '02 03:31:35 AM

Listening to The Hot Rock, I notice that it falls in kind of a peculiar place. Before just now, I would have guessed that my favorite albums - my most favorite of the favorite - fell roughly into two categories, those where I know what they're about, and those where I don't. (I suppose I would then ignore for the moment the ones that might not be "about" anything, like the Miles Davis, J.S. Bach, or Steve Reich.) I mean "know" fairly liberally, perhaps, but not, I think, unusually: I can't even repeat back the lyrics or themes of a number of the records, or summarize them, but I at least have some idea of what the songs are like (so, for example, I know where to look if I want to put a song of a certain character on a mixtape), and when the songs are playing I can remember these things in greater detail, if not perfectly. (All of this is subject to caveats of interpretation, etc.) Emergency & I, Aquemini, and The Curtain Hits the Cast I would put in the first category. Dots and Loops in the second.

The Hot Rock is strange because I feel as if, on some level, I know what it's about, but from a lyrical point of view that knowledge seems a bit impoverished. Off the top of my head (I don't think thinking about it will improve things any), I can remember three lyrics in some detail, which is pretty good for me: the stuff in the one that refers to Odysseus and the Sirens, the one that starts with the stuff about a bucket of stars being dumped into the universe, and the one about tumors and love and stuff (aka the slow one). (I could quote some of these lyrics, but I'd get them wrong; the point is just that I could at least give it a try if I wanted, whereas, say, the first song, whatever it is, I am blank on.) I also forget the names of these, though sometimes I recall them (though would check before referring to them by the names I am able to recall). Yet, despite knowing these lyrics, I don't have much of a handle on what the songs are about. The one with the Greek stuff is, like, mythic (that's the word I carry around in my head, not just for that song but most of the album, actually), in quality, not just reference. And it maybe has something to do with being rock n roll slash punk rock saviors, or trying to fend off the advances and other unwelcome approaches resulting from or offering commercial success? The one with the stars stuff, I couldn't have said much else about (barring doing so while listening, as per above, though even then it would not be so hot), at least until last month, when I realized that it kind of sounded like a prettied up description of an orgasm. Yes, I did feel proud for figuring that out. Then for hearing it confirmed in passing by Sterl. That's where I stop, though. As for the slow one, it's about uh love and stuff? Yeah. And there are hospitals in it.

I think I've paid particular attention to those three songs, and that perhaps they don't necessarily stick out on the album, aside from the slow one (for being slow). (And I mean "slow" of course, even though it is slow.) That meaning that there is no special reason why I think I should know about them better than the other songs, almost all of which I like a great deal.

I've lost the thread.

We are having a sale on parentheses today. Everything must go.

31 Dec '02 02:32:44 AM

I have, of course, considered the possibility that I have a cruel sense of humor, or one based in schadenfreude, or something to that effect.

I have not considered it at length, though.

31 Dec '02 02:31:08 AM

I think that it's important to why it makes me happy that the monologue - I think of it as a monologue, I just realized, though I'm not sure why - in "Bone Machine" about the preacher trying to molest Black Francis in the parking lot is about a preacher trying to molest Black Francis in the parking lot. However, my ability to mentally create an alternate version of the song with similarly goofy delivery and language ("preachy preach", "kissy kiss", "yup yup YUP", etc.), yet no molesting by religious authorities, is not as well developed as I might hope. So I'm not quite sure why I think it's important that the monologue be about the preacher trying to molest etc. etc.

31 Dec '02 01:53:41 AM

Walter Benjamin was a man after my procrastinating, perfectionist heart. From the 1930 "Program for Literary Criticism" (from Volume 2 of the Selected Writings):

9. The theory of the unrecognized genius should be inserted here.

30 Dec '02 06:07:37 AM

And I know I won't agree with lots of what I said about the Feelies at some point later on, but it's not as if agreeing with my future self is the point or anything.

30 Dec '02 06:04:36 AM

I sure do seem to hear the melody to the title track a lot when I play Whisper Not, but I doubt it comes up more than the two or three times one would expect from straightforward piano trio jazz.

Hear it a lot over the course of listening to the whole record, I mean. This may have something to do with time passing more quickly than I realize.

And the record repeating, I mean.

It sure doesn't seem like it, though.

30 Dec '02 05:52:30 AM

Marjorie Perloff's page at the Electronic Poetry Center. Perloff wrote an excellent book called Wittgenstein's Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary, about which I hope to write more later.

27 Dec '02 07:17:15 PM

I saw O (the Othello remake with Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles, and Josh Hartnett, and yes I know this will send my hits from searches for "Josh Hartnett" back up again after years of decline) last night; they use "Aquemini" in a date rape scene. If I am remembering them all, then every use of popular music in the film was used to generate surprise in some way. Usually at a scene change. "Aquemini" is slightly different, though, because it starts quietly, and there's a loud moment in the middle, timed to come when O looks in the mirror, imagines Mike in his place fucking Desi, and loses it. But knowing the song, I expected there to be some kind of dramatic moment in the middle of the scene, or at the end of the scene (they didn't have to use the whole song). This is different from my usual experience watching a movie, which I suppose people who didn't already know "Aquemini" might have here - where the music used in a movie seems to come out of the movie, derive its motion, its force, from it.

26 Dec '02 01:43:37 AM

I think if I played the Feelies' Crazy Rhythms for a number of people, they would focus on the voice to the exclusion of the other parts of the music, whereas I find myself doing the opposite. When there are vocals (there are long sections with none), they sound mannered - at least that's the nicest way I can put it. Also the most tentative, because I can't tell yet whether they are mannered, whether they're supposed to complement in some way the jittery, "perpetual nervousness" (like in the title of the first song) of the songs, or whether they're just not that good, but well-meaning at least. Less charitably, I might say that they sound like vocals done in the wrong style, regardless of whether or not they are done well so far as they could be in that wrong style. The music is fast, skip-fast back-and-forth, but stretched out over passages that are relatively long compared to the space of one bar of music. I can imagine long, vowel-carried vocal lines working well over such music, and in fact, at one or two places there are backing vocals that sound this way. That's probably in some sense a predictable and thus safe choice, though. My alternative probably is, too, though it's not as pretty: as they are, the vocals occupy an uncomfortable space between singing and talking, but although there are some resemblances to the Talking Heads (whose girly-weak guitar noises resemble the Feelies', too) I haven't yet decided that I think the vocals have an affective purpose similarly related to the lyrics. (I'll probably capitulate once I can understand the lyrics, but, you know.) Given that they're in that uncomfortable space, though, I can see (and wish for) vocals that sound more like talking. Instead, syllables are artlessly held out in what sounds like a mistaken or uninformed notion of what singers are required to do in light of their being, nominally, "singers". But. This has its charms.

None of this, though, explains why I focus in on the band to the (relative, obviously, given the above) exclusion of the vocals. I only meant to note what some people might unduly focus on if they were to do it the other way around.