“Maybe the amplification of sentiment in public life is like an addiction to high-fructose corn syrup sodas. Drink too many—consume too much fast food of sentiment—and eventually you get diabetes of the soul.” — Pamela Haag, “Death by Treacle,” The American Scholar (2010-03-01)
The body language tells me he is trying to connect with the too-young-for-me brunette. I avoid having to join the conversation. I steer clear of the bar, of the show featuring his contrarian ideas, of his serial puns. The obviousness of his intentions making me want to groan. I am told it is his mischievous smile, the sparkle in his eye, that makes it work. I wonder how long it takes them to realize that he has dimorphic eyes, the inner aureole of his right iris a lighter shade of brown, honey coloured.
“Texas Radio and the Big Beat”
A singer with a story.
A gravesite with a story. Ten years until it got a headstone. Ten years of vandalism then a new headstone from the father.
Songs with backstories that when documented come with ignored disclaimers: rumoured, claimed, some say, believed, thought.
I collect musical facts because I am not musical enough, because I do not know how to talk about the music itself. I am unlikely to remark on the driving drum beat being front and center but I know they had only one microphone for the drum kit.
Riding around Miami in a white Le Mans coupé, I learn that a joint allows me to isolate the different instruments. Musical meditation. Untangling the three guitars in Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s live performance of Free Bird. Listening to John Cale on the left speaker and Lou Reed on the right one. Parked on the beach, star gazing set to The Dark Side of the Moon.
I knew of Pink Floyd before knowing their music. I was 11 or 12, the guidance counselor had a poster on his wall. I must have said something about it being a funny name. He explained it was an homage to two bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Funny name for a bluesman.
He is the only practicing hippie I can remember knowing. It was the early 70’s and he would complain about how his was one of the last remaining communal houses. One of those friendly bear types, a cross between Jerry Garcia and Jim Morrison during his beard period.
“’ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER’. Not always. Sometimes one thing leads to the same thing. Ask an addict.” — George Carlin, Brain Droppings
Inspired by, or, more precisely, a very loose adaptation. An outline borrowed.
I make up the rules (rules? guidelines!) as I go along.
• I read one chapter at the time.
• I do my adaptation before reading the next chapter.
• The adaptation will mirror the structure and length of the original.
• The adaptation is not a rewrite of the original.
• The original is only alluded to occasionally.
• I don’t say what I’m up to.
There are enough rules to keep me writing. The reading one chapter at the time makes it an adventure. The mirroring is a challenge. I am extending plot lines after revealing the epiphany, after channeling the character to the point of discomfort, after I have caricatured myself to the limits of the believable.
Unbelievable? It is believable. Too close for comfort. Close enough that it could become true. I’m worried that I’ll end up like the method actor that struggles to step out of a role.
Why am I borrowing an excuse I see as an exaggeration used for absolution? It’s a juvenile excuse for a an effort that resembles an essay, written for a high school English class, about having nothing to write about.
This is where I was going to apologize for a cheap trick and say I am allowed one exception to the no saying what I’m up to rule. I thought I knew the answers to my own questions.
The contrarian shows up. “Garage rock?”
I straighten up (an expert has to be serious) and, imitating a documentary voice-over, I get factual. “Rockabilly. 1958 from Texas. Ronnie Dee. A Jack Rhodes song. First recorded by Johnny Dollar but never released.” I relax. “But you’re right. I like it because it is proto-garage.”
“Proto-garage. A classification I invented to make fun of the proto-punk label given to garage. Garage before garage existed as a style.”
“A DIY sound, like it was recorded in a garage?” I like it when he is in learning mode. Much more agreeable than the rebellious student image he likes to affect.
“That is the sound they were going for. Though a lot of it was professionally produced.” I get formal again. “Jack Rhodes, who wrote the song we were listening to before, is in two music hall of fames. The Velvet Underground had Andy Warhol and Tom Wilson as their producer, The Sex Pistols had Malcolm McLaren. A lot of fans romanticise it all. There was some DIY but that isn’t the whole picture.”
Look who’s being the contrarian now.
Even when the story is that there is no story, that is the story, a mystery even. Good old human nature. Everything needs an explanation. And nothing grabs our attention like a hero’s journey. A good narrative. And just like when the contrarian tells me about the time he …, I know the story has been adjusted for the telling.
It starts with a song. One that jumps out from the background. And it has to survive the second listen. The listen where I check that it is more than a sexy bass line.
Next comes the research. There is no shortage of rabbit holes each with its own soundscape. For newer acts it can be a famous member, an influence cited, a rival band, or …. The story about The Dandy Warhol‘s relationship to the Brian Jonestown Massacre entertained me for most of a Sunday.
I build a sequential timeline. Rockabilly to Garage to Punk to Grunge. What’s next? According to this we are overdue for new style. Maybe it will come out of the Lo-Fi movement.
“Part of my procrastination was down to leaving things to the last moment in case of a civilisation-spinning idea popping up after I’d started work. Of course, this envisaged procrastination might be hard to spot in my monumental laziness, like a fish’s tears in an ocean.” — Tibor Fischer, The Thought Gang
“A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man.” — Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman