Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The CIA Took My Dog Away

In a fit of nostalgia, I went out and got the new Sonic Youth record Rather Ripped. I have to admit that it's really gorgeous. It's very nostalgic, not at all forward looking or anything like that. It's soft, melancholy, and shockingly melodic. Few of the guitars really "sound" like Sonic Youth. They sound, dry, brittle, but warm, if that's possible, with lots of harmonics. I don't know how or why they decided to go this way. Listening to it, I almost feel like I am back in college (Station), in my shitty apartment wishing that I had a girlfriend.

One of the reasons that I don't write here that much is that no one knows that this blog exists. Well, that is not strictly true. Three people know it exists although I can't be sure that any of those three people have actually seen it. So I write in a vacuum. Which is liberating, I suppose.

I haven't read too many books this year. I typically read at a glacial pace. I get about half way into a book and then give up. A couple that I actually finished: Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soldier and Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up & Start Again: PostPunk 1978-1984. The former was totally crazy, about two vaguely homicidal and licentuous couples in pre-Great War America who, well you just have to read it. The latter was...well-written. I met Simon Reynolds once at some bar in the Lower East Side called Nu-Blu where he showed up to celebrate the release of the book. He was taller than me and looked very young for his age. I think he's in his early 40s. He was also totally drunk. We spoke for maybe half-an-hour in the middle of total cacophony (bad NY-wanna-be-postpunkdisco music of the early 2000s). He was very polite. The music was loud. He said he'd seen the Slits in concert. I thought he said the Smiths. That was sort of how the conversation went. I invited him to be a guest lecturer in my (still-in-gestation) class on the history of rock'n'roll (perhaps in the fall of 2007). He seemed eager. I am intimidated by him because he writes better, knows more about music, and is better looking than me. (And for sure, makes more money). The only defense I had was to revel in my mediocrity. Proud to be average, goddammit.

Thinking of Simon Reynolds and all that post-punk brings me to my topic for today: over-rated musical institutions. Exhibit A: Joy Division. I understand on a cognitive level why Joy Division remains critically unassailable: their music was rather innovative, they communicated a general darkness that was distant yet palatable, their lifetime was short, their music seems to have dated well, and their suicide quotient is at at a full '10.' But I don't understand how a fairly good band has been canonized, a hagiography taken to absurdly doctrinnaire levels. In the music world, especially critics who write about music, it's agreed but never spelled out that Joy Division is unimpeachable. In the scheme of music writing, Joy Division is one of those sacred things, as Jimi Hendrix was/is for baby boomers. You just don't absolutely ever fucking EVER describe the music of Joy Division as anything but revelatory. I listened to Closer the other day. It sounded vaguely tolerable. I always liked that song "Isolation" but everything else sounds so tinny and dated and tuneless. And tuneless in a bad way, not in a Captain Beefheart/early Boredoms/Keiji Haino-like way. Just plain horrible tuneless. The set of random leftovers collected on Substance is actually pretty good. All those singles and compilation tracks were imaginative and inventive. But the band were not really good with the whole album thing. And the ethos that they communicated was done much better by other people (for example, by the brilliant [early] Swans).

And let's face it, Ian Curtis couldn't sing worth shit. He had this tuneless warble that sounded like he was gurgling water. I'm not denigrating the pain he perhaps felt, and yes, the band backed up that pain pretty well, but hardly on a level, say of some nu-metal band fronting adolescent cliches about suicide and death and meaninglessness and helplessness. Joy Division's clinical, cool, detached shtick was just plastic. Their innovative tendencies (both on stage and in the recording studio) were nothing compared to many of their contemporaries such as P.I.L. I'm already getting bored writing about the band. To me, Joy Division were the Alice in Chains of their era. And I say that with the best of intentions. I'm quite fond of Alice in Chains. They're not the greatest but did what they did pretty nicely. Check out their Jar of Flies e.p. Wonderful stuff. Tragic about their lead singer.

OK, on to obscure track of the day. My old favorite band from Philly, Asteroid # 4, used to be this weird whimsical band in the vein of late '60s psychedelia. They put on fantastic shows and put out a great album (Introducing....The Asteroid # 4) in 1998. Around this time, while I was living in Philly, I discovered them when a friend and I showed up at the record release party for Spiritualized's Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, which was held at the Trocadero, the best place to see live music in Philly. They band (Asteroid # 4) were four typical college-looking guys who launched into spasmotic space rock, even introducing a flute player at one point. They had totally ridiculous lyrics and deadpan faces. It was actually pretty funny.

I saw them a few more times but lost track once they veered into a cul-de-sac of imitation; they started getting obssessed with mid-period Byrds, especially the canon of Gram Parsons. It's not that I don't like Parsons' music, but more that it was a tired move for them, and they didn't doo it very well. However, they have a new album out called "An Amazing Dream," and from what I've heard it sounds a lot more fun and creative, harking back to their early days. Go to their myspace page to hear some stuff streaming.

One thing that was lost in the shuffle through their albums was their one-off non-album single from 1995 "The CIA Took My Dog Away" b/w "Mellow Beach," two spectacular tracks that perfectly encapsulate a kind of false nostalgia for never-really-existed late '60s psychedelia. Lots of killer melodies, fake British accents, and Barrett-era weirdness, and throw in some My Bloody Valentine-guitar, and you have these songs. They never did anything quite as good after these couple of songs, which unfortunately remain unreleased on CD. I converted the two songs to mp3s from vinyl (lotta hum) and would post them on this site, except I have no freakin' idea how to post mp3s here (or if indeed one can), so if anyone's interested, I can e-mail the track. That's how lame I am.

There is an old interview with the band here.
And a vide of the band:

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Pushed It Over The End

I recently attended a wedding where I was a groomsman. I had to wear a tuxedo and stand up straight and pretend to have good posture. Like all weddings I've been to in recent times, this was sartorial and spiritual mashup. People had integrated two different cultures (Hinduism & Christianity) into a seamless, smart, postmodern version where everything made sense precisely because nothing did. It was a white wedding with saris, a secular wedding with prayers, and a sensible wedding that made no sense. I wish the wedded well. The groom is one of the funniest people I have met in my life. He has good Halloween parties.

In any case, as a mark of his gratitude, the groom gave me a gift, the insanely rare and expensive box set 1970: The Complete Funhouse Sessions by the Stooges. What this was, was 7 hours and 52 minutes of every note recorded in May 1970 by the Stooges while they were recording their second album, Fun House. I won't go into the magnificient supernova that is Fun House--I am consigning that description to my still-in-gestation coming-to-America-history-of-punk-rock memoir. Either you know Fun House or you don't. Fun House da motherfucking shit. Well, at least it used to be when I first heard it, which seems like a long time ago, maybe almost ten years ago. In any case, because I am a completist and because I continue to think that Fun House is crazyassgenius, it never occurred to me that actually listening to 142 tracks spread over 7 CDs, including, for example, 28 consecutive takes of "Loose," would be certifiably insane. That it would drive any normal human being insane. No, not me. I was fully prepared to do it.

Well, the thing is that I have not done it yet. It's been a coupla weeks since I got the box set. I have fondled it. I have treated it like an object of fetish, perfectly suitable in these hyper-object-iPod-gadget-ebay-instant-fetish times. And so, I have now convinced myself that it is more important to own it than to listen to it.

I am like this not only about CDs, but also about books too. I love to own books, to touch them, to flip through them, to read the back cover, to read the "about the author" blurb, but that is enough. How satisfying it is to know that I own Don Dellilo's White Noise, half of which I read when I was younger and thoroughly enjoyed and didn't finish, no doubt because I got too depressed to read because I was lonely or something like that. I started to re-read White Noise recently again. It's quite brilliant. I deeply empathized with the main character (and narrator) Jack Gladney, a professor of "Hitler Studies" at a small liberal arts college who knows no German. Dellilo writes:

My struggle with the German tongue began in mid-October and lasted nearly the full academic year. As the most prominent figure in Hitler studies in North America, I had long tried to conceal the fact that I did not know German. I could not speak or read it, could not understand the spoken word or begin to put the simplest sentence to paper. The least of my Hitler colleagues knew some German; others were either fluent in the language or reasonably conversant. No one could major in Hitler studies at the College-on-the-Hill without a minimum of one year of German. I was living, in short, on the edge of a landscape of vast shame.

This touched a nerve partly because it says something about the ways in which we put ourselves in positions that we are less than skilled to deal with---yet we continue with the charade that "everything's cool." There was a more literal reason why it appealed to me: I am in Russian history and my Russian proficiency can be best described as a skill that is almost totally lacking, but one that is wrapped in the public pretense of fluency.

In any case, in terms of the goal of this blog, having conceded that it is completely self-serving and sickeningly narcissistic to even maintain it--I like the idea of dedicating it to two topics:

1. Officially unreleased songs by musicians; or
2. Strange and/or obscure songs by mainstream musicians.

First song: Neil Young's "Pushed It Over the End," a strangely beautiful and oddly structured song, nearly 8 minutes long that is also (apparently) known as "Citizen Kane Jr. Blues." He played it in a band live version in 1974 and then, I guess, abandoned it. His guitar playing is pretty, understated, but incredibly communicative. You hear it, you almost feel like you're teetering on the edge of something, and then you tip over and make the long deep fall, all the way down. That's exactly how I felt hearing the song before I even knew the title of the song. Think of "Broken Arrow" but a little more loose and electric. Where can you get it? It's on the 5-CD set Archives Be Damned, a collection of 82 songs that Neil Young recorded but never officially released, from the early 1960s to the late 1990s.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

100% of all music that I hear is boring. Everything bores me. This is especially true when I'm not listening to music. It's hard for me to get excited about music when I'm not listening to music. This may seem strange since I have been obsessed with music for most of my life. I have gajillions of records, tapes, CDs, and mp3s. But basically, all of it sucks. All of it is boring. It's a pain to even think about listening to music.

The question is which music sucks more. Old music or new music. And by old music, I mean everything recorded/put out before, say, 2000. That's a tough one. I have a distinct sense that new music is all derivative. But derivative doesn't necessary imply boring (or sucking). I would hazard a guess that both old and new music is boring and sucks.

What was the last piece of music I listened to that wasn't boring? That's such a boring question, I'm not going to dignify it with an answer.

Monday, April 24, 2006

First Contact

Umm. This is the first entry of my blog. I have nothing to say. Nothing interesting anyway. The other day, I bought a pencil. That was pretty cool. But then, I dropped the pencil under the dresser. It took me a long time to find it. Weird. But by that time, I forgot why I bought the pencil.