Thursday, October 26, 2006

it's all part of the curse

I'm not a nightowl. I'm not a morning person either.

If given a choice, in fact, I'd probably function at the relatively civilized hours between 10 am and 7 pm. Not really that unreasonable, really, and frankly I'm a little lucky that my necessarily evil professional life functions at those hours (somehow). But tonight, for the seventh night in the series of eight, I've got to put on my nightowl hat.

Not such a bad thing. It fits better than the morning hat, certainly. Morning hats are horrible, I mean come on, what those must look like (I bet they're chalky gray and uncomfortable anyway). I admire you folks who can wear such a thing and wear it well, or better yet, would CHOOSE to wear it. But getting up at 5 am or thereabouts on a regular basis would, most likely, tear me in half.

But let's get back to tonight. It's not the being up late that bothers me, not at all. Again, in my natural state I'd probably be up until 1230 or 1 anyway depending on what's happening. But it's the fact I have to GO OUTSIDE and into the world in a couple of hours. Starting my night at such an hour feels unnatural. On a school night no less.

It's going to be fine, and probably even a fair amount of fun, but I'm dreading it. I'm going to have to be kinda on my game here this evening, and I'm just not in a place for it now. If given a choice I'd rather pick up a book (this month being Stanley Elkin's "The Franchiser" which is just moving like cold syrup through me or my under-explored collection of Barthelme short stories). Yes, either of those would do nicely.

Instead there will be coffee, if I'm smart, and some music to get me going. Hopping, even. Whatever it says about me, my musical tastes run toward the introverted (if those of you out there haven't noticed yet). That which evokes images or pictures internally, for the most part, which means the tempos, well, the tempos aren't generally up. By in large, the rock 'n roll I tend to bring is heavier, maybe even slower.

This song, however, is, and on short notice it's going to have to do.

'Four Hours in Washington,' by M. Ward

Ironically enough, I sometimes suffer from insomnia.

As much as I love sleep, love relaxing and love winding down with the unconscious, some nights it eludes me. It hasn't happened lately--thankfully (it always feels like I'm fighting with a dear friend)--but whenever it hits it sounds exactly like this song.

I like M Ward. Saw him in concert a month or so ago and he nailed it. Great guitarist, great singer, and he's definitely got the sort of brooding, wild-haired singersongwriter early-Dylan thing going that fills the stage nicely. He played this song at the Fonda that night and it's just a perfect encapsulation of the frustration, the nervous energy, the twitching anxiety that comes from not being able to sleep. Especially if you need to sleep because something BIG is happening in the morning.

You worry, you feel broken, you twist in bed as your brain pounds this ever-increasing shufflebeat into your head. You try counting backwards from 100, visualizing calm, peaceful places, anything, and it doesn't work. Time goes by fast, fast enough to know you're running out of time to sleep but not fast enough to give you the impression that you've actually GONE to sleep.

Tonight, when i stumble into bed around 2 am tonight, knowing I need to wake up in maybe six more hours, I hope my night doesn't sound like this. I hope yours doesn't either. But if it does, it's nice to know M Ward has been there.

Buy M Ward's 'Transistor Radio' from InSound

Thursday, October 12, 2006

economies of scale

I was recently given an interesting writing challenge: Get as crazy and as vivid with a record as I want but use...only 80 words.

Eighty. Eight-oh. Those of you who for some reason have decided to come back here for more than that Boris MP3 that expired from these pages some six months ago know that I have issues with word limits, or at least prefer to function without them. I tend to go on, is what I'm trying to say.

Eighty words. What is that, three sentences, maybe five? I could drop 80 words on the shirt I'm wearing right now ( 10 years old, you see where I'm going with this). I don't know if this is a good thing or not, but I'm convinced--have always been convinced--that words have power. Curious power.

I'm starting to get better, I think, and the assignment didn't take nearly as long as I thought. The one nice thing about such limits is words become even more precious at that point. Can I drop two words if I find one perfect one? Can I kill this one to save that one at the bottom of the paragraph? It becomes a war, a symantic chess game where you arrange your pieces in as agreeable shape as you can, forming an illusion of forces far larger than what you are able to fight with.

Words are a whole other matter.

This is the sort of exercise that could send me on some thematic bender, if I allow it, but there are some songs who's passionate use of words works to their disadvantage (hello, Hold Steady) while others tell you just enough and pack a whole novel into just a handful of passages. This is one of those songs:

"My Mom," by Chocolate Genius

I don't even know how much I want to get into the story of this song, why it just crushes me every time I hear it, or anything like that. But it's vital you listen to it.

Off the formerly known as Marc Anthony Thompson's fantastic debut record as Chocolate Genius, this heart-breaking ballad tells the decidedly un-rock story of his mother's struggle with alzheimers. Fun, huh? You're dying to right-click on that sucker now, aren't you? But seriously, come with me on this.

He pulls it off. Somehow, a five-minute smoky soul ballad manages to completely avoid the songwriting rest stops of Clichetown and Tritopia, even with a chorus that---well, I'm not going to say how the chorus goes because it might dissuade you.

But seriously...if you have any interest in songwriting, storytelling and vivid portrayals of moments and people, give this a shot. It's not just the song that's beautiful, it's the little details he throws in. Describing a tree at his childhood home as a goalpost, and how "Five times she asks me, no more and no less, she says how you been eatin', boy. And I say 'OK, I guess.'"

I don't know exactly how many words he used to fit into the mourning little melody (carried by bigwigs like Marc Ribot, John Medeski and Chris Wood), but I'm pretty sure if he used one more word the structure would've been too intricate, too delicate to hear. One fewer and the whole structure would've collapsed.

Buy 'Black Music' used from Hey, V2 let this little gem go out of print--and it's only eight years old. Thanks, guys! Hope Tower Records saves you a seat!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

broke the furniture

Greetings, dear readers.
Just a brief announcement sharing that, contrary to my earlier ramblings, conventional wisdom and numerous (possibly) better things to do that have been slapping me around for the last few months, it's looking more likely that I'll be pulling the boards off the windows of this shop in the coming weeks.

A drastic redrawing of purpose, is what was needed. Some time to recharge, most definitely. I still haven't figured it all out, particularly when balancing this against a few paying gigs here and there that have demanded my time of late. How many howls in the well are needed? More on that later, perhaps, but suffice to say that the cubicle farm, the bane of my existance, my nemesis and daily distant friend, has somehow, accidentally I'm sure, improved. Just a little. Here and there, you know, not enough to make me send pink-margined love notes to it, but just enough to make me pay attention. This is an improvement.

For now, take this.

"Taut," by PJ Harvey and John Parish

Off the cantankerous and clamoring "Dance Hall at Louse Point" collaboration (my that's a lot of 'c' words), this little novella draws a neat line from PJ Harvey to Tom Waits, I think.

I came late to PJ's party a couple of years ago, I'm afraid. I won't call myself a fan even now, I don't think. The album this is taken from is a little too disjointed and jagged for my tastes, and those of you who have been here awhile know, I love the disjointed, I celebrate the jagged.

But it's taken awhile for me to catch up with Polly Jean. I'd only a heard "Dress" on an SF alt-rock station back in the '90s, but apart from that I just never explored her stuff. Then came "Stories from the Sea," which my wife handed me years ago for a drive across town. One song led to another, then that led to another album, which of course led to seeing a show from her 'Uh Huh Her' tour at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood, a fantastic--no wait, it's not fantastic, it's a dump that is an embarrassment to the New York club. I don't want to get ahead of myself. But that's the trick of music and memory--while Ms Harvey and her band were on stage it WAS a fantastic, cramped, sweaty slice of rock 'n roll revival. The center of the universe. PJ was Chrissie Hynde, Steven Tyler and Robert Plant. In heels. And, when not singing, startlingly polite. Sweet, even.

Anyway, this was one of the songs she performed that night, and it's the opposite of sweet. All choked-voice dramatics, whispered obsession and religious spookery served in a hurried, desperate monologue over a clattering street-repair beat. And just as the song tries to repel you, pretty much make you run back to a retail establishment (had it not closed in the meantime), Harvey snarls, "Even the son of God had to die, my darling," and somehow you're fascinated, hooked even by this violent, disturbing but vivid little portrait. It's the opposite side of a doomed hot-rod romance. It's Robert Mitchum with 'LOVE' and 'HATE' on his knuckles and the young girl who loved him. It's a terrifying, exhilarating, difficult 3:14 that I think needs to be spread out to the world.

See you in a few days, I think.

Buy "Dance Hall at Louse Point"