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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3 May '05 07:33:44 AM

I wonder whether the biggest failure of the legions of Dylan imitators isn't that they somehow never let speech into their singing.

3 May '05 05:24:19 AM

You have no idea how much it pleases me to see Eric Lott say that the title of Love and Theft is a riff on Leslie Fiedler's Love and Death in the American Novel.

2 May '05 05:17:44 AM

Forget April, sometimes it snows in fucking May.

1 May '05 10:01:02 AM

'Be Thankful For What You've Got' - Though I doubt the words are much different, if at all, and I must've played the various Massive Attack remakes over and over, I never noticed until I tracked down one of the William Devaughn versions that despite the message of the song the bulk of its time is spent describing the great time you would be having in your great car if you did have it (which you don't). This version has a Willie Mitchell thing going on - heavy emphasis on the third beat, all those drums at once.

DJ Jazzy Jeff in the House - A mix like this - the first disc alone is so perfectly joyful and alive (in the most beautiful way for music, too, not just because of being 'soulful' or having the right signifiers, but because you can feel the little repetitive cells work magic on you, just as sounds) that I start shivering - makes me regret that most of the bad things we - I - think about old music are probably mostly due to the forgetfulness of history; of the way the present tries to make us forget the past. (There are big questions there; for one thing, the people who want us to forget are different from the ones they want us to forget, and for another thing, we help.)

'I Can't Go On This Way' - Beanie and Freeway, and like lots of the songs on the new album I feel kind of pulled between the MCs. Beanie's verses are forceful and imaginative throughout, and it's easy to hear the difference between him and the younger rappers who are more ready to just put their spin on the usual tropes; but some of the guest verses are so hot that Beanie's slightly more modest ones (modest as creations, I mean) are naturally overshadowed a little. (That Twista verse! which maybe is his best ever, thanks to the beat.) Well. I'm a sucker for Freeway's wheezy emo thing; even if it turned out to be like his first album I would buy a new record from him in a second. So the little 'my life' quote here, well - he sounds a lot closer to unhinged than usual. (I'm always jolted by Beanie's line, too: cuz I still spit gangsta, think Muslim, and act Catholic - mostly because of the compression - what does it mean?! Not knowing what things mean always excites me. Though the puppies/kittens/biscuits section earlier on in Siegel's verse, not so much. Though it's nice.)

Lethal Injection - I just got this, but I haven't yet figured out why so many of the people I've heard say anything about it dump this album in Ice Cube's self-parody period. Maybe I just have a higher tolerance for bitter NOI diatribes like 'Cave Bitch'? (It's funny! Why every time we get famous / You wanna play us like Andy and Amos? / The devil sent you to try and tame us / But you can't tame me with no bitch named Amy - and it's instructive, since the mention of Emmett Till Cube works in made me realize it was a name I didn't recognize that I'd heard in other songs.) And there's plenty else, but check the knife in heart end-of-verse hook from the last song: and they won't / call me a nigga / when I get to heaven. Like always, all kinds of twists from aloof joking to sarcasm to bitter irony to submerged, offscreen despair. (It might be said that I have a weakness for mid-nineties g-funk. But you might also wonder how many people who wish they could like more than their early Public Enemy records wish that Ice Cube never stopped having the Bomb Squad produce his records.)

'Pinky Ring' - An industrious musicology student could easily turn out a study of Bun B's flow. Basic elements: 1) fantastic breath control that lets him spit these long, balanced lines; 2) a preference for regular rhythms, kind of iamby, that he swings a little (in a way not uncommon for a lot of rap from the first half of the nineties especially, at a high enough tempo) in the usual way of English by letting the natural speech rhythms have priority over the iambiness at opportune moments; 3) a kind of dramatic structure of slowly rising intensity, excitement, volume, more rhythmic imbalance, directed toward the end of his verse. This seems to work better for Ridin' Dirty than on his four million more recent guest verses (where he seems extra expected to rap about drink ('cuz that's what we gon do to it') slash lean (...) slash syrup, as its most distinguished representative), but that record is nine years old this year, and his recent verses are a lot closer to speech. (Compare to Mike Jones, though, who sounds like he has no breath control at all. His rhymes aren't very speechy, either - they're very singsongy, which I guess maybe you should expect from someone inclined to make all words with vowels sound that much more like each other whenever he can.)

'Signs' - I don't know who, but it sounds like for once the Neptunes hired some outside talent to sing the chorus on this (apprently Charlie Wilson and Justin Timberlake, upon checking!); I think it helps the 80s revivalism a lot (though the track already goes pretty far) to not have Pharrell's goofy fakiness around. It hardly seems to matter what Snoop says these days at all - it's way too relaxed, usually, to feel like he's rapping - but the one rhyme always brings a grin to my face: we'll see Ve-nus / and Se-re-na / at the Wimbledon / a-re-na.

'Since U Been Gone' - Maybe I'll write more about this later, after I let it in more. It's been out a long time, I suppose, but I stopped watching TV when I moved and so I've only gradually become exposed to it through random encounters in public places (where it fits in on all kinds of different restaurant satellite radio services); and I've been avoiding it, just a little, because it's so visceral. (Yes.) I would feel even lamer than normal to be knocked over and in tears, in public, by a Kelly Clarkson song (or a Gottwald and Sandberg song, whoever they are - apparently Max Martin associates). It hitches every modern rock radio trick from my youth to her voice, which is way more powerful than most of the voices from my youth; listen to how many times she's able to add to another little jump in intensity by singing higher and louder. (This is also, like most of the most commercial product I steal or sometimes buy, way louder than everything else I play on my iPod.) If she couldn't, it seems like the song would have a hard time pulling off its coup, this giant, elegant wave of intensity. It's very designed.

'Tessio' - Someday I will feel ambitious enough to write down the lyrics to see what effect on the meaning is gotten (I mean, you can hear part of it - the places where dropped words change the senses of lines) by the core lyric being imperfectly repeated throughout the track. It occurred to me tonight, too, that even though I think of the vocalist as female at the first vocals, far into the track I think of it as indeterminate, kind of as a group because of the way it sounds, with all the overlays, but not female and not androgynous. I don't know yet what influence that has on what the words mean: some kind of shift from a she-singing-to-you (meaning you-and-me when she sings 'we') to a we-singing-to-you and we-singing-about-us. (I wonder how much 'you' there is later in the track: the first line, 'I guess you turn me on', comes back at least once.) (Here you see a weakness of my way of writing this, here: if I can't make myself sit and think carefully and work, replaying a song multiple times so I can let myself say something real about it, then you, the reader, are quickly surrounded by little modal thises and thats that are themselves subjunctive. Those say something, too, but something attenuated. But: it's a normal thing that I think of all the time, in flashes and glimpses.)

1 May '05 07:05:21 AM

Last night we tried Alary's, on Seventh in downtown Saint Paul. It was more or less not overtly sexual, as bars go, which made the white hot pants the bar girls were wearing (with little pink tank tops?) that much stranger. Devora noted that while two of them walked around quite comfortably, as if not in their underwear in public, one girl obviously felt much safer behind the bar; outside it, she moved in a quick, embarrassed way. I didn't get a lot of time to observe the customers observing the girls, but I didn't have the feeling of being in an especially scopophilic setting. The appearance (at least: it's a matter, of course, as with many other situations involving looking, of not being caught looking too overtly) of 'polite' indifference seemed to prevail. I'm not sure why.

30 Apr '05 08:40:19 AM

I found two twenties holding my place - a place, I don't really remember it - in one of my copies of 'Leaves of Grass'. I hope I haven't been making a habit of that.

28 Apr '05 06:18:36 AM

I would like to say that I gave myself an early birthday present today, because I passed the preliminary written exam for my Ph.D. But that would be to try to make more of it than I actually feel. Better to say that some strange, impersonal non-event happened today, and now I don't know what to do with myself tomorrow. I keep imagining that I have to get up and work, still, on papers that have made my existence more miserable for at least two years. But I don't; I never have to look at them again if I don't want to.

21 Apr '05 08:23:27 AM

I love to read Kogan wax methodological.

21 Apr '05 07:17:38 AM

Those things below were, like, about the only things I had to say about Mike Jones. But I have had them be the only things I had to say about Mike Jones for months, and I just never typed them into my suck-box. So it's simultaneously irritating and gratifying to see that if I had typed them in just four days sooner, I would have beaten the paper of record to saying them. Not that that would have put me like, you know, at all ahead of any sort of game or race. But at least I didn't crack lame about the muggy weather.