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Thursday, August 07, 2008
I WALK BY YOUR HOUSE
Plexus : 1982
Available on: Fields/Aqua Marine
DGC : 1994
FOR SHAME OF DOING WRONG
Richard and Linda Thompson
Pour Down Like Silver
Hannibal : 1975
SHAME, SHAME, SHAME
CES : 1975
Available on: Cult Cargo: Belize City Boil Up
Numero Group: 2006
Chess : 1967
Available on: The Folks From Mother’s Mixer
Funky Delicacies: 2005
IT'S A SHAME
Studio One : c. 1975
Available on: Studio One Funk
Soul Jazz : 2004
Hacktone Records: 2005
I was fifteen and in love with a girl who couldn't have cared less. She offered me a cough drop and I swooned. I folded the wrapper in quarters and kept it for years. We'd been thrown together at my high school for the performing arts: I'd written a one-act play and she'd been chosen to direct it. Which meant hours, weeks, months of stammering torture, of suppressing any evidence of feelings I didn't want to have insofar as they simply weren't cool. I wasn't cool either, though I think I feigned it successfully. If nothing else, I had the best record collection of anyone I knew. This grotesque bit of overcompensation--it was mix-tape heaven, the mother of all audio love letters--was itself embarrassing. Sure, I had some fabulous Bowie bootleg no one else knew existed, but it was always with a vague sense of shame I dropped the needle for my friends, since owning the record in the first place meant I'd spent sweaty-palmed afternoons prowling for vinyl all by myself. Time I might've spent otherwise, had I been socially able. Certain songs, however, mitigated this. I may have been a glam-rock obsessive, may have papered my walls with pictures of Eno and Bowie and the New York Dolls--anodyne androgynes who didn't need to own up to anything, least of all their true sexuality--but when I heard The Individuals' "I Walk By Your House," I recognized a kindred expression immediately. Those flatted harmonies, glottal monologue in the middle ("sneak out the backdoor...run down the block"), that morse-code guitar solo in the middle that says what the singer's too tongue-tied to. I dropped it on a tape, for that girl and later for others. If there's a less cool record in my collection, one that gives cleaner articulation of that particular hopelessness that makes one feel most alive, I'm not sure what it is.
Of course, the older I got, the more I craved records that would out me in just this way. I lost (or at least tempered) my interest in glam and turned to punk rock instead, what was too heated to be cool, and then to soul music, wherein cool was largely beside the point. Sure, there was Wicked Pickett and the thick mantling of titles that lay upon Soul Brother Number One's Atlas-sized shoulders--pop music was never any cooler than that, really--but even these men ended up, sometimes all too literally, on their knees. So maybe rock-n-roll's true function was to encode embarrassment, that feeling I've seen described (in Anatole Broyard's excellent Kafka Was The Rage) as "a radiance that does not know what to do with itself." I don't know much from radiance, but I've spent all too much of my life feeling ashamed of one thing and the next, from the expected stuff--social and sexual ineptitudes--to the very things that have attempted to remedy those conditions: literacy, record collecting, film snobbery (really, why any of these things appeared even for an instant as possible social promotions is beyond me)...it's been one hideous embarrassment after another. Far worse than knowing too little, the pain of knowing too much. Once, the telephone rang and on the other end was a producer from Comedy Central, wanting to know if I'd be willing to audition as a regular for a show they were putting together, which he described in the wooly summer of 2001 as "Iron Chef for trivia enthusiasts...We understand you know quite a bit about music." I winced as he served up the evidence: my high score on the recently-administered Rhino Musical Aptitude Test, that Woodstock for record snobs that used to happen in the parking lot of Tower Records on Sunset. "What's the show called?" I asked him. "Beat the Geek," he said. I hung up the phone on the spot.
Hence a cluster of songs about--or somehow enclosing--shame, that most rock-n-roll emotion, the one I spent my early life avoiding but which I have come (somehow, almost) to seek out actively, since it suggests I am near something worthwhile. Even those old Bowie records (and how I loved the most lunar, the chilliest of them best: Low, and so on) are dear for evoking so thoroughly an adolescent terror. A heterogenous grouping of songs to be sure--gawky Nova Scotian power pop, tropical disco and various stops in between--but I like to think these are all clued in along the same lines: naked we're born and naked we feel, with only a wrapper-sized fig leaf to hide behind. We mightn't need it anyway.
Labels: funk, Matthew, power-pop, reggae
posted by Matthew
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Ardent : 1968
I GUESS THINGS HAPPEN THAT WAY
Ardent : 1970
I WALK THE LINE
The Hot Dogs
LOVELY DAY (STROKE IT NOEL)
Alex Chilton/Big Star
Ardent : c. 1974
DON'T WORRY, BABY
Ardent : c. 1974
All available on: Thank You Friends : The Ardent Records Story
Ace : 2008
Moistworks fans - the three or four of you out there - know that we at the Astoria Bureau are big Big Star fans. Needless to say, we were dazed and amuzed when ace reissue label Ace reissued a big bunch of Big Star tracks, only some of which we'd heard on various bootlegs. And hey (hey!): Insofar as anyone has any right to expect much of anything, the other, unheard bands on The Ardent Records Story, are better than you'd have any right to expect.
(Oh, and here's a cover of Femme Fetale:
Alex Chilton & Yo La Tengo
Maxwells : 2007)
In related news, thanks to our friends at the Boogie Woogie Flu for hooking us up with this sweet alternate to the alternate demo of Stroke It Noel -
LOVELY DAY (STROKE IT AGAIN, NOEL)
Alex Chilton/Big Star
Ardent : c. 1974
-which Chilton supposedly rewrote at the last moment, when string-quartetitist Noel Gilbert showed up at the studio. Incidentally, Gilbert's quartet is also all over Al Green's records, recorded more or less around the corner, at Hi Records - which always made us wonder if the double-tracked vocal on Big Star's best record, the barely-there Dream Lover-
- was some sorta fucked-up homage to Al Green?
What do you guys think? Of Alex Chilton/Al Green records/the Afro-Americanization (or lack-thereof) of indie rock? (By "guys" we mean "Cristina," by "think" we mean, "did you ever make it over to the Apple store?" and by "we" I guess we mean, it gets lonely here, at the Astoria Bureau?)
Ardent : c. 1974
Available on: Thank You Friends : The Ardent Records Story
Ace : 2008
Speaking of: does anyone out there know anything about that Big Star reissue thingie Rhino's supposedly putting out? It's the kind of thingie you'd expect us to know about already, but a little something we at Moistworks know a little something about after six, long years on the United State's internets is, (a) we're sleepy and (b) you give us entirely too much credit.
Labels: alex, friends, power-pop
posted by Alex
Thursday, February 28, 2008
YOU WON'T SEE ME
Capitol : 1965
OFF THE HOOK
The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones Now!
Decca : 1964
TELL HIM I'M NOT HOME
I Don't Want to Cry
Wand : 1965
Available on The Very Best of Chuck Jackson 1961-1967
Varese : 1997
BIGGEST FOOL IN TOWN
Stax : 1965
Available on: The Complete Stax/Volt Singles: 1959-1968
Atlantic : 1991
YOUR PHONE'S OFF THE HOOK, BUT YOU'RE NOT
Slash : 1980
HANGING ON THE TELEPHONE
Available on: D.i.Y. Come Out & Play : American Power Pop 1975-1978
Rhino : 1993
Let It Be
Twin-Tone : 1984
I hate the telephone. It's fine for taking care of business or making contact in a more personal mode than e-mail. I doubt that when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone he had any idea the type of misery it could create in personal matters. The telephone is an idiotic and torturous enemy to the lonely or obsessive. These songs all predate cell phones, e-mail and text messaging, which further complicate matters. I don't even have a land line anymore - just a cell phone. I'm always there, whether I want to be or not. Presence can be painful when you want to be absent, and even worse is absence when you want to be present.
Most of these songs deal with that dynamic in on one form or another. Paul McCartney wrote "You Won't See Me" after having his phone calls ignored by girlfriend Jane Asher. Her line is always "engaged" - the English really have a way with words. Mick Jagger, too, gets only "an engaged tone." He figures it's off the hook or maybe she's ill or sleeping, until he's heading off into paranoia. Why won't she talk to him? He's Mick Jagger for Chrissake! Even The Beatles and Stones are getting dissed.
Chuck Jackson's really got it bad. Every time he calls his girlfriend, someone else answers and he hears her in the background saying "Tell him I'm not home." The telephone has turned Gorgeous George into the biggest fool in town, and he's had enough. And from the sound of things, George doesn't seem like someone you'd wanna fuck with.
"You're Phone's Off The Hook, But You're Not" is a great title and a great line that I once used on a girlfriend when, after a terrible conversation in my apartment, she said the first part ('cause it was) and without missing a beat, I responded "But you're not!" "What did you say?" "Oh, nothing." Jack Lee from the Nerves is "in the phone booth - it's the one across the hall," but guess what? She won't answer and he's hanging on the telephone. He's gonna let it ring off the wall. He can't control himself. It's a common reaction to being ignored.
Finally, Paul Westerberg takes us to the eighties version of no reply: the answering machine. Remember those? No call waiting. No voicemail. A machine and a tape. "How do say goodnight to an answering machine" he asks.
How do you say I love you to an answering Machine?
-by Ted Barron
Labels: indie, power-pop, rock, soul, ted barron
posted by James
Thursday, October 18, 2007
I'M NOT LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE
The Chocolate Watchband
Available on : Melts in Your Brain Not on Your Wrist: The Complete Recordings
Big Beak UK : 2005
I'M JUST LIKE YOU
Available on : What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves (1967-1977)
Rhino : 2006
I BELIEVE I FOUND MYSELF
Available on : Chains and Black Exhaust
Jones : 2002
[Out of Print]
DO UNTO OTHERS
Pee Wee Crayton
Available on : Complete Aladdin and Imperial Recordings
EMI Int'l : 1996
SICK OF MYSELF
Volcano : 1995
LET ME BE MYSELF
Paula : 1971
[Out of Print]
I once had a problematic friend, a writer, who would always tell me how the world was a place of moral drought and psychological dropsy. She talked like that. She was problematic to me not because she was inherently annoying--she was, but she was my friend--but because of a habit she had of saying something preposterous and then turning to me and saying, "You understand what I mean, I'm sure, because you're exactly like me." Later on, I had another friend who did something similar. When someone offended his sensibilities, he would say, "They're not like us." I found this troublesome, as he was a neo-Nazi. No, no. Just kidding. I found this troublesome because he wasn't me. Who wants to be lumped in like that? My individuality, which can't be separated from my separation from others, is one of the few things I really own. I don't mind bonding with other people, but I want it understood that we're different individuals choosing to agree on something temporarily. There are a million ways to disagree, and that's why this temporary agreement is miraculous. If you listen to "I'm Not Like Everybody Else," either the Kinks original or the superb Chocolate Watchband cover, you'll see why identity is such a vexed issue. This whole anxiety reached its nadir a few years ago. I was in line at a Wendy's and there was a little person ahead of me--an actual little person, not just a small guy--and I noticed from the leather tag on the back of his jeans that he wore the same size pants as me. His were cuffed or cut, obviously. I am six feet tall. In the car with my wife, I made a big comic production of being bothered to conceal how deeply bothered I actually was.
All of these traumatic experiences have led me to develop a rule: People aren't just like me and I'm not just like them, unless I'm not looking closely enough. Different strokes for different folks, as Sly Stone said. Though, of course, Sly also said "I'm just like you." The song in which he said it, conveniently titled "Just Like You," was written and produced for a group called 6ix, and it's a skeletal, spooky bit of business built on sparse percussion and Charles Higgins's vocals
Cross the track and take a lookI read it as sarcastic.
Turn the page and finish the book
Yeah I know that scares you too
I know how you feel I'm just like you
Now, of course, there is a conspicuous exception to my rule, and that's romance, or more specifically the first phase of romance. You don't have to be like everybody else, but everybody needs somebody to love, right? And sometimes you can get off by recognizing how different you are from the woman or man you're dating, but just as often, you get off on the similarity. It might be narcissism (on Seinfeld, didn't Jerry marry a woman who was exactly like him?) and it's certainly not true, but the draw is powerful. People are always telling their lovers that they were lost without love, that without love they were nothing, that love helped them find themselves. One of those people is Sir Stanley. Actually, to be honest, I'm not sure if Sir Stanley is the name of the singer or the band, but either way, the song remains scorching:
The woman that I gotBetween friendship and romance, there's a third category: friendship between men and women. I have written about this before, particularly about the way that romance (call it sex if you want) grows through the cracks in the pavement. You can stamp it down, of course. You can call for the city to come out and fix the sidewalk. You probably should. But while you're waiting for the crew to arrive, it's worth thinking about exactly what it is that's sprouting up. Years ago, I had a female friend who passed through a period of extended romantic misery. As I was not the cause of her misery--and as I was in the kind of stable relationship that she envied, or at least thought she envied--I got to hear all about her sadness. I listened with the right mix of sympathy and amusement, gave some advice, withheld other advice. Then one Friday night she was going off on a date she assumed would be another terrible date. It seemed so: the guy was a neo-Nazi. (Again, kidding.) But I didn't hear from her Saturday, didn't hear from her Sunday, and finally ran into her Monday on the way to work. The date had gone well: seventy-two-hours well. Her hair was a mess. I told her I was happy to hear it. She said she was glad to see me. We were both lying.
She fulfills my ever hour
I believe that I have all I need
To live my life just as I please
I went to work feeling terrible. I went home and fought with my wife. Here's a good question: why? Some would speculate that I had feelings for that friend, and that I was feeling jealousy that stemmed from the thought of (as opposed to the fact of) her seventy-two hours of continuous screwing. When you imagine a carpentry job, it's never with someone else's hammer. But I think it's even simpler than that. I think I missed her and worried she wouldn't return the friendship intact. When you get especially close to someone else, when that person permits you to see his or her fears, lusts, and hopes, you start to take ownership of that person, and that person of you. Leakage occurs. That's an exhilarating feeling. I think they call it intimacy. But it's also a terrible feeling, because it's nonsense, or at the very least unsustainable. It's a high and it's illusory. It's like standing on a cloud.
This is something you learn in marriage, which may start as an exercise in this ecstatic leakage but usually becomes a push and pull of drawing your partner close and pushing your partner away. It's not, however, something you learn (at least not efficiently) from close friendships with people of the opposite sex. Those people remain, in many ways, idealized, which is to say that they become solipsized. Many experts believe that you should treat other people as you want to be treated. Pee Wee Crayton, a blues singer who grew up in Texas and then moved out to California, applied the golden rule in "Do Unto Others," which was written and produced by Dave Bartholomew and has a somewhat familiar guitar solo. (Easiest question in rock history: Can you guess what song later lifted it?) But the golden rule has a flaw. It doesn't account for self-annihilating impulses. What if you're lonely and you want someone else to absorb you, envelop you, or numb you? In that case, you can end up with a friendship that's more properly curative, that takes what's wrong and makes it right. That's better, but it's worse, because it collapses the boundaries between people. I direct you to Matthew Sweet, the poet laureate of self-loathing:
You don't know how you move meIn my case, I had come to depend upon my friend to see myself and I was deeply disappointed when the mirror turned away. Except that, of course, she wasn't a mirror at all. She was another person--translucent, flawed, needy of love and approval, willing to trade up for a better deal, horny, lonely, alternately circumspect and short-sighted, with a body that could please or fail and had hairs in errant places. I guess in that sense, she was a mirror. See how this gets confusing?
Deconstruct me and consume me
I'm all used up--I'm out of luck--I am starstruck
By something in your eyes that is keeping my hope alive
But I'm sick of myself when I look at you
Something is beautiful and true
In a world that's ugly and a lie
It's hard to even want to try
And I'm beginning to think baby you don't know
Questions of this nature are often most productively settled by obscure soul singers from Alabama--Roscoe Robinson, for example, whose short career was revived by Northern Soul enthusiasts. There are other soul songs about how love can repair you, or transform you, or make you see someone else's essence in a way that alters your own (Sir Stanley, above, or Carla Thomas's "I Like What You're Doing (To Me)," for example) but Robinson stays levelheaded. He doesn't ask his woman to let him be part of her (or, more egotistically, for her to be part of him). He isn't looking for a mirror with a glory hole carved in it. He respects the differences between people, and the distances, and in this sense he seems to be writing more about friendship or partnership than about romance:
If you want me baby let me be myself please darlingIf she was a midget, he wouldn't try on her pants. He wouldn't even check the size.
So many ruin their lives trying to be somebody else
I may not can do what other men do
But I try my best to please you
If you want me, come on, baby let me be myself
Labels: ben, power-pop, soul
posted by Ben
Thursday, June 14, 2007
THE LAST LETTER
Available on : The Thesaurus Transcriptions
Bear Family : 1991
LETTERS DON'T COUNT
Screen Gems Columbia : 1969
YOUR PICTURE SAYS REMEMBER, THO' YOUR LETTER SAYS FORGET
Edison Gold Moulded Record
I used to send lots of letters. In college, I had a girlfriend who was at another college, and sometimes each of us would send three or four of them a day. We had no Internet then and we scooped food from stone bowls with our hands.
As soon as email came along, though, things really took off. The problem wasn't sending messages. It was finding someone who was willing to get those messages and give the same back at a clip. The problem was finding someone who corresponded to you.
It might seem that I'm writing about love letters. I'm not, although that's also a worthy topic for a post. It would include Hank Snow, and his eloquent, bitter, all-too-forthright communiqué that doesn't--as the last line tells us--hit its mark. It would include the Nazz, who turn a typically dopey Rundgren pun into a typically beautiful piece of Rundgren pop that goes nuts at the end with its aggressive backing vocals. It would include Frederic Rose, in 1908, warbling out a B-list song with a Grade-A title. It would not include Richard Thompson's "Tear Stained Letter," which, though fine, contains the lyric "The scars ain't never gonna mend in a hurry." (How can something "never mend in a hurry"? Isn't it either/or? He's better than that.)
I'm writing, I think, about songs about messages. Not message songs, like "For What It's Worth" or "Fortunate Son" or "(We Gotta) Bust Outta The Ghetto" or "1 Million Bottlebags," but songs about the equivocal process of trying to reach out and communicate with another person. And though there are probably a million places to start, there's really only one place to start.
I'VE GOTTA GET A MESSAGE TO YOU
The Bee Gees
Polydor : 1968
GOT TO GET A MESSAGE TO YOU
Available on : Total Destruction to Your Mind/Rat On
Charly : 1991
I GOTTA GET A MESSAGE TO YOU
Available on : Tim Rose/Love: A Kind of Hate Story
RPM : 2000
I should start by saying that this song has a story. The main character is condemned to die, and he's desperate to tell his wife that he's sorry and that he loves her. We know this because Robin Gibb has said that's what the song is about, and he co-wrote it. This Death-Row-What-A-Brother-Gibb-Know plotline, though, is among the worst things about the song. For starters, it results in some laughably bad lyrics, which sometimes happens with the Gibbs.
It's only her love that keeps me wearing this dirt.I like to think of it as something more epistolary and epistemological, a song about the urgency and imprecision of communication. Partly because this is because I have already seen "The Green Mile." Partly it's because there is something interesting about the syntax. The man in the song is not saying "I've got to get a message to her." He's saying "to you." This seems to be an internal monologue; he's talking to that part of her that is alive inside of him. The alternative is paradoxical. If his wife hears the song, or any part of it, then she has in fact received a message from him. In that case, he might as well say what he wants to say instead of just saying that he has a message. It's like sending a telegram that says, "I am trying to send you a telegram." And given his precarious state, even if she hears the song, she is certainly hearing it after his execution. There's an issue here not only of the man's death, but of his death as an author. I'm not saying that my logic is flawless, only that the song's logic is flawed.
So why is it so hard to get a message to, or through? Why is it so difficult to be heard, let alone understood? One of the problems is that most forms of expression are insufficient. There's the famous Flaubert passage in which he derides the impotence of language ("Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity"). I'm not sure that it's the bears that are dancing. I'd argue that just as often, it's the messenger -- people are afraid to say the things they mean to say, and so they hem, and they haw, and that's how more language gets born. This isn't to suggest that all writing is evasion, but most works would be shorter if the speeches, and the speech, were more direct. That kind of directness might result from an upjut of bravery, from painful impatience, or from another kind of urgency -- like, say, imminent execution, though we've already seen how circuitous a condemned man can be. If I always had to say just what I meant, things would be...well, different. There would be a little more lust, a little more anger, and fewer jokes. Much of what I'd say would involve my asking people to say things back to me: any things, really, just a conversation (with words, gestures, touch, whatever) so that I know I'm not dead. If I rewrote the Bee Gees' lyrics, they'd go like this:
I've just gotta get a message to youNo worse than Robin.
Which is that you've gotta get a message to me.
Of the three versions here, my tastes lean toward the Swamp Dogg cover, which is sung with a kind of abject ecstacy, and away from the original - chamber pop, no matter how tremulous, doesn't strike me as a particularly lonely genre. (Tim Rose, on the other hand, does. Rose, of course, was one of those semi-obscure Greenwich Village folk-rockers--the third Tim, behind Buckley and Hardin - and a King of Almosts. He almost had a hit with his slow arrangement of "Hey Joe," which inspired the monster hit by Jimi Hendrix. He almost recorded the headlong version of "With a Little Help From My Friends" that went to Joe Cocker instead. He almost replaced Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones. His life of ups and downs, marked by bouts of alcoholism, ended during a late-career comeback in 2002.)
It's fitting to end with a message song about the importance of messages.
United Artists : 1972
Labels: ben, country, funk, oldies, power-pop, soul
posted by Ben
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
The Pretty Things
Snapper : 1968
Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine in Chicago, and the issue of trust came up. I noted that at times in our friendship - which has spanned eight years, three cities, various jobs and relationships - she has not trusted me. "Of course," she said, like I was stupid for not noticing sooner. "I'm sorry," I said, though I was lamenting more than apologizing. Why has she not always trusted me? Well, look. It's none of your business. I think we can all agree on that. I'll only say that there have been periods where I behaved imperfectly. My intentions were good, of course, but as my imaginary rural grandmother likes to say, "Good intentions are like an empty milking bucket." I like this friend tremendously, and during periods of difficulty I always feel pain, but the trust between us hasn't always been easy to rebuild. Why? I must have said it out loud, because she said, "What?" I stammered the conversation to an end and then went to look for an answer to my question.
IT DON'T COME EASY
Apple c. 1970
This song is better known, of course, in the version sung by Ringo Starr. He got by with a little help from his friend George, who here offers a demo version. It's a love song, in a sense, but there's one lyric that bears upon the discussion I was having with my friend.
I don't ask for muchHow naive and cynical at the same time. How George. I don't really appreciate that he raises the issue without solving it, but maybe that's his way of getting me to think for myself because he won't be there with me.
I only want your trust
And you know it don't come easy
YOU'RE UP TO YOUR SAME OLD TRICKS AGAIN
Available on: Bettye Swann
Astralwerks : 2004
ILL PLACED TRUST
Never Hear the End of It
Sony BMG : 2007
So how do you get someone to trust you? Well, not this way, obviously. If you say you want to meet for lunch, don't show up and say you're not hungry and keep looking at your watch. That's not going to create the kind of foundation you need. And don't embark upon an aggressive campaign of lying and cheating as outlined in the Sloan song (though Sloan also suggests that maybe the person who can't trust is at least partly responsible for the sad stage of affairs as a result of his creeping paranoia). Of course, these are two examples of trust songs that are love songs. Are there any songs about trust in platonic friendship? My imaginary rural grandmother liked to say, "Friends are easy to trust. That's why they're friends. Lovers are impossible to trust, at least within the context of your desire. They are both the thing that completes you and the thing you can never really possess. How can you trust that? Ooooo-eeee! Will you look at that? I just ate a fly!"
TRUST IN ME
Fall Heads Roll
Narnack : 2005
The Beach Boys
Capitol : 1968
Well, that's more like it.
If you need an X-rayWhat a generous offer! I might very well need an X-ray one of these days. And the Beach Boys song, well, there's nothing crazier than Brian Wilson in the spring of 1968.
I'll come 'round to your house and do it for free
You told me when my girl was untrueThe role of trust in this friendship isn't even raised! It's just assumed. Maybe it's part of "the tears." But maybe not. Maybe there's always been trust. Like I said, crazy. But Beach Boy crazy is not your run-of-the-mill crazy, and when I listened to the song again I started to think that maybe there's something to be said for the laid-back approach. I thought about this particular friend, the one from a few paragraphs ago. When I have gotten into the chicanes of distrust with her, I have tried to maneuver my way out aggressively. I have yelled. Sometimes, I have yelled with a drink in my hand. "Hey," I have said, "you should trust me!" This turns out to be stupid. If you try to compel someone else to trust you, you may well be indulging in a kind of bullying that erodes the very trust you are trying to build. I am sure that she has explained this to me, but sometimes it's hard to understand things unless you learn them from a song.
I loaned you money when the funds weren't too cool
I talked your folks out of making you cut off your hair
We've been friends now for so many years
We've been together through the good times and the tears
Dim dipple ee dim dipple ay dim dipple oo dim dee aye oh
Labels: ben, friends, power-pop, soul
posted by Ben
Thursday, May 10, 2007
HEY KARI G.
[Out of Print]
SHE SENDS KISSES
Absolutely Kosher: 2003
A FUNKY SPACE REINCARNATION
Here, My Dear
Tamla Motown: 1978
AH FRAID PUSSY BITE ME
Comi-Kal Cat Fight
Mighty Sparrow: 2001
Once, years ago, in a short story in my first book, "Superbad," a bird sang. It was a small bird, and the song it sang was small, too, though the consequences of singing were enormous. "The bird flew through a gap in the wire, minding its own business, singing - it was actually singing, a happy little song about the spring - and she plugged it at two hundred yards." Pow. Bye, bye, birdie. When I finished the story, I sent it to a friend who was also a writer for his comments. I received one comment, which was that birds didn't sing when they flew. He told me that it was a well-known fact, with a tone that was infuriating but somehow replenished my affection for him. He had enough certainty to send me to the encyclopedia, where I discovered that he was wrong. Many birds, including skylarks and pipits, sing while they're flying. In attempting to differentiate between the British Chimney Swallow and the American Barn Swallow, John James Audubon wrote in Birds of America that "both sing on the wing and when alighted, and the common tweet which they utter when flying off is precisely the same in both." They sing on the wing. That's a song in itself.
"Hey Kari G" is a song in itself, also. The song was written by the Minneapolis power-pop great Dan Sarka, who recorded it first in 1990 with a group called the Sparrows. The Sparrows only released two singles, as far as I know, and Sarka resurfaced a few years later with a band called the Vandalias, who were best-known for existing in both human and cartoon form. Conceptually, they were located somewhere between the Josie and the Pussycats and the Gorillaz; aesthetically, they were closer to Cheap Trick and the Raspberries; somewhere along the way, they rerecorded "Hey Kari G." Eventually The Vandalias folded, like most bands, and Sarka went on form to a band called Stingray Green that released one strong album, "Hard Numbers," before also folding. I read about the demise of Stingray Green just this past week online-the band's farewell concert was May 4-and that sent me back to the Sparrows' version of "Hey Kari G." It's everything it needs to be, both plangent and poignant. The guy in the song-the guy singing the song-hopes against hope that his small, strong voice will reach the girl and turn her toward him once again. It's a document of innocence and hope and sad defiance; he has an idea but no might, and so he cannot bring his idea into the world. I doubt that the girl turned.
The girl also doesn't turn in "She Sends Kisses." The record does, though:
Ten tons against me and you've goneThis is a song about human song, of course, not birdsong. The French composer and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen was obsessed with birdsong. He recorded and notated the songs of birds his entire life, and often integrated birdsong into his music, most notably in his the orchestral work Reveil des Oiseaux, from 1953. Mike Patton, the lead singer of Tomahawk (and, before that, Faith No More and Mr. Bungle) is among the most birdlike of singers, in that he often uses sounds instead of words. Recent research has shown that there is a strong link between birdsong and memory. Birds have unique songs, but they don't simply remember them. They dream of them. While they sleep, they learn what they want, and what they want from their songs and their lives. They may, upon waking, be reminded of what they do not have. The consequences of singing are enormous. Pow. Bye, bye, birdie.
I put your favorite records on
and sit around
it spins around
and you're around again.
There is a desperately beautiful song named "Sparrow" on Marvin Gaye's album Here My Dear, from 1978, which chronicles Gaye's divorce from his first wife and his blossoming love for his second wife. In the song, Marvin explains that he "used to hear a sparrow singing," but that "one day as [he] went along [he] didn't hear his song." This silence doesn't sit well with him, and what starts as a polite request to the sparrow to resume singing becomes a down-on-my-knees-please entreaty. "Sing before you go," he sings. "Sing to me, Marvin Gaye, before you fly away." "Sparrow" ends with a semi-attached bit of poetry, calligraphed in layered, lighter-than-air vocals: "I remember a bird." What kind of bird he remembers is clear from another song, "A Funky Space Reincarnation," that is more relevant here: first, because it's an unhinged, lickerish meditation on flight in which Marvin takes a girl out into the solar system for some interplanetary screwing, and second because it includes a lovely come-on in which he calls his new bride, "Little Miss Birdsong." Anna, Marvin's first wife, was seventeen years his senior and Berry Gordy's sister. Jan, his second wife, was seventeen years his junior and Slim Gaillard's daughter. Jan turned. Marvin turned, too, or had his head turned. He may not have understood why, but Mighty Sparrow did.
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Ben Greenman is the author of several books of fiction, including Superbad, Superworse, and the new A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both: Stories About Human Love. He is an editor at the New Yorker and lives in Brooklyn.
Labels: ben, calypso, indie, power-pop, soul
posted by Alex