Monday, August 07, 2006

i don't know why i feel so tongue-tied

Funny thing about vacations: They end.

That's why they're called vacations, after all. Otherwise rolling around the countryside doing whatever and answering to no one would just be "Life." Perhaps your vacation would include volunteering at an animal shelter, or maybe distributing some sort of incendiary leaflet around a place it needs to be seen. It's not that much to ask, I don't think.

Tough goings moving on after a great string of days off like this past week. I can already tell it's going to be a difficult comeback. Today, yes, will be A Long Day. I'm not ready for flourescences, the beiges, the monetizing, the reality of it all. Give me back the trees and the air. Let me have my sandals, after all, can I at least bring those? No? Probably for the best.

A few notable things I learned/relearned over the last 7-10 days:

1) Jon Brion is a genius. Seriously, anyone who saw his weekly residency at Largo knows exactly what I'm talking about. His was a bizarre kind of Jiffy Pop musical alchemy, where "Purple Rain" became a Hank Williams tune, where "Tomorrow Never Knows" becomes a shoegazer anthem, all on the fly--and these are just the things I saw firsthand.

Brion was a one man band in the truest sense, looping himself on keys, drums, guitar, etc until a whole song was built before your eyes...and now it's OVER. Wha? Pllawufh?

At least for now, apparently, courtesy of tendonitus. How there wasn't a parade and/or a free concert in Griffith Park--much less a PARAGRAPH in one of our local rags--to commemorate this event back in April I'll never know. For now, at least, you can get a hint of the wonder of all that is Jon Brion--producer, visionary, maniac--in his interview on Sound Opinions with Jim DeRogotis and Greg Kot (also on iTunes). He doesn't play much, but hearing him crack open his mind with those guys is still a pleasure. I liked best his explanation of the difference between 'performance pieces' and 'songs,' with no judgement. Get well soon, Jon. Please.

2) I can spend upwards of an hour in any given used bookstore, most recently this one. This is not new, but fun to remember. I love the smell of them, the limitless possibilities on all of their shelves, the things I want to read, should read, don't even know I need to read, even each shop's individual quirks. This bookshop, for instance, features used magazine and an entire shelf devoted to the biography of Phish. It is, after all, Flagstaff.

My acquisitions? I was somewhat restrained, this time--"Death and the Penguin" by Andrey Kurkov, "Among the Missing" by Dan Chaon and the CDs of "The Pleasure of My Company" by Steve Martin (for the drive home). Thusfar "Penguin" has grabbed me nicely, as a book with a depressive penguin owned by a Russian obituary writer should, and "Company" ate up the miles and I thought was warmer and better than "Shopgirl." Thoughts?

Also, the worst part about goin to a bookstore is I can't justify going to one for at least a few weeks. Buying cat food right next door to Counterpoint on Franklin yesterday and NOT stopping in to browse went against every part of my collectivist nature, like trying to swim through woodchips. It stung.

3) Camping out in the woods in the middle of the night in a mountain town introduces you to a new kind of silence. Somewhere around midnight I found myself unable to sleep, staring at a canopy of stars in a sky so dense it looked as if there were shapes and mythic figures of darkness forming around the pinholes of light rather than the other way around. Soon the ambient noise that fills the cavern of your head like tinnitus fades and you're left with the sound of nothing all around you, a nothing that makes a moth sound like a helicopter, a pack of coyotes like a car alarm orchestra and your thoughts like megaphone announcements. Beautiful, and a much needed slice of serenity.

Plus, despite all the wonders of crawling inside nature and all its powerful meditative qualities there is no better feeling than a shower and a night's sleep in a crap Motel 6. Is that wrong?

4) Radiohead is our Beatles. Or our Pink Floyd. Or our Creedence. Or whatever band it is that you look at your parents and stare at them with wild-eyed amazement that they were alive at the time that music was created, hearing it for the first time or even--can it be?--seen them in concert. That's who Radiohead is, or will be. Just wait, don't argue with me.

I'm not even going to get into the whys or deconstruct their incredible five-album run of groundbreaking, completely unique music, or even how mindboggling some of that live stuff on YouTube is. I won't even get into the beauty and care that goes into their album packaging and the vein of social consciousness and outrage that is under almost all of their songs these days. I'll just ask that you listen to them talk about what they do, and maybe play a bit--yes, here, again (hey, it's a seven hour drive). If you're a real geek like me go to iTunes and grab the full, hour and a half interview. Drink it all up, they're not going to be around forever.

5) Coffee is better in mountain towns. Why is it LA, for all it's wonders and many joys cannot. figure. out. a. good. cup. of. coffee. Much less a good coffee house. Maybe I'm wrong in my eastsider lifestyle but closest I've come so far is Peet's, and that doesn't count because it's a chain (albeit a smaller one). I think it's because the weather's too good too often. If it rains a lot and/or freezes, coffee becomes that much more of a priority. This is one possible benefit to climate change for our area.

That said, I'll make my own coffee and accept the tradeoff of 78 degrees, sunny and ridiculous in August. You can't have everything.

And now, here comes the music:

'Paranoid Android,' by Brad Mehldau (produced by Jon Brion)

Yes, I'm somewhat lame and don't have Brion's lone solo release, partly because it doesn't come close to capturing what he does live (though it is a nice approximation of Beatleesque pop). This song, although he only is credited as playing 'prepared piano percussion,' sort of does, from Mehldau's strange and wonderful "Largo" (buy it!), which also features guests like Jim Keltner and Critters Buggin's percussion wizard Matt Chamberlain. It doesn't resemble any of Mehldau's other releases thanks to Brion's touch, and that's not a bad thing. Oh yeah, and by the way, don't forget to notice how this pretty much exposes Christopher O'Reilly as the bland, bloodless tribute act that he is.

Speaking of Brion's "touch," when I saw this ensemble play at the Knitting Factory back in 2002 that touch consisted of Brion beating the holy living hell out of the backside of an upright piano. It's a fun thing to picture during this song.

"Cuttooth" by Radiohead

Everything that could be said about Radiohead has pretty much already been said--particularly in the wilds of this medium--but I still had to reach for something isn't all over the place right now for an example, this B-Side from the Knives Out single way back when. You can hear a little bit of "Myxomatosis" in the lyrics here (I think), which is a nice treat, but mostly this is Radiohead doing what they do. An insistent piano line drives the train as the song seems to build and build and build with no real release.

The tanks are rolling into town


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