But two decades ago I used to host a little mini-site here for my college band with Jon, Ken and Darren. We called ourselves Short Story.
My whole life I have been surprised when art is more transparent than I think it is. If I admire a person’s work then I tend to project onto the creator a sort of aloof mastery, as if technical skill implies utter detachment from the fiction: every first-person narrator a character, and every character held at an amused distance. Which is a myth I think many artists would like to exude about themselves. But then I keep finding out that part of the autobiography is fiction, and the fiction is the autobiography.
There’s so much self-loathing in Frightened Rabbit lyrics. The darker the tone of the loathing, the more I have identified with those lyrics, and held them close. But I didn’t really believe that Scott Hutchison was referring to himself when he sang “I’ve got a voice like a gutter in a toxic storm.” I didn’t think he was actually rejecting his own work when he titled an entire album Pedestrian Verse. He had a beautiful voice and his verse was soaring even when it plunged. He could not have believed the converse about himself, I assumed, not in the face of the evidence.
Now I feel like Minnie Driver in Grosse Point Blank, saying, People joke about the horrible things that they don’t do. They don’t do them. It’s absurd. It is absurd. When I saw that he was a missing person, I thought, oh no, please don’t find him in water. Don’t let my favorite Frightened Rabbit song be a foreshadow. And then I thought, well, the things I guess are never right, so by imagining that course of events I have protected him. This person I don’t know and never met.
The tenth time I typed in his name today to see if they’d found him yet, the news had nothing, but Google suggested that I might try searching for “scott hutchison forth road bridge.”
Part of the reason I keep thinking art is buried in layers of swirling mystery is that I came to popular culture a little late, and music even more so. I take it for granted that everyone else got a head start on understanding it in middle school and I, at 37, have somehow never caught up. I have never felt the same attachment to most of the famously dead musicians that my peers have. But Frightened Rabbit came to me out of spiritus mundi, in a tiny anonymous twitter game I made with my friends, so their music was Mine in a rare way. I can’t count the number of times I have pounded up a Portland hill with my feet matching the drums in “Swim Until You Can’t See Land.” Actually I can count, it’s in iTunes. 68 times. That’s how often my headphones have set my pulse to its beats per minute. That’s how often I have flogged myself onward with its chorus under my breath, demanding, are you a man? Are you a bag of sand?
I’m sorry for not believing you meant what you said, Scott. The pain in Frightened Rabbit songs has been a grounding wire for mine, at times when it built up to the point of danger. I’m sorry none of us could protect you in return.
It’s a list of all the songs I’ve listened to at fifty or more times on my computer or an iDevice, since I started keeping track a little over four years ago:
- “David,” The Radio Dept.
- “The Police And The Private,” Metric
- “Too Young,” Phoenix
- “Good Morning, Hypocrite,” Electric President
- “Daylight Savings Time,” Josh Rouse
- “Dance Anthem of the 80’s,” Regina Spektor
- “Adventures In Solitude,” The New Pornographers
- “Lisztomania,” Phoenix
- “Citrus,” The Hold Steady
- “If I Ever Feel Better,” Phoenix
- “Like She’ll Always Be,” Jimmy Eat World
- “Hold On, Hold On,” Neko Case
- “This Tornado Loves You,” Neko Case
- “La Costa Brava,” Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
- “Powerstripe,” Tigercity
- “My Love Has Gone,” Josh Rouse
- “Alone in Kyoto ,” Air
- “You Stopped Making Sense,” The Radio Dept.
- “Cars And History,” Strays Don’t Sleep
- “Summer,” General Fuzz
- “June,” RJD2 ft. Copywrite
A lot of these actually date back to 2007, when my music collection was constrained by hard drive size and I did a lot more walking around with my iPod. On the whole, though, it’s a pretty accurate list of every song that has obsessed me in recent memory, for better or worse. (It doesn’t include soundtrack songs, which I often loop without really hearing when I’m working or writing.)
I find it interesting that there’s a pretty standard distribution evident in the playcounts: the top three songs have been played as many times as the next six put together, etc. If you want to get a sense of how easily I succumb to certain musical tricks, I made a Grooveshark playlist called The Fifty Club.
Here are some MCs I really like, more or less in order of rising admiration:
- Gift of Gab
- Big Pun
- All the guys in Jurassic 5
- MC Frontalot
- MF DOOM
- Big Boi
- Aesop Rock
But here are my favorite MCs:
Which, I mean, dammit. He is a bad person! He is a product of the same old system wherein white musicians from a black art form are cast in a near-messianic light! I want to have better taste than that, but I don’t. I came to this realization while listening to Recovery, an album composed almost entirely of the same self-excoriation and fury that marked “The Way I Am,” a song I am still not over. Except now he’s doing the whole thing in double-time. No one should be able to move their mouth that fast.
The only person who both raps and rivals Eminem for the #1 spot in my heart is Andre 3000, but despite his skills, it’s almost difficult to think of him as an MC. Big Boi is an excellent rapper, but Andre’s just so much more than that. When I want to listen to a rap album, I might put on Speakerboxxx or Lucious Leftfoot, but not The Love Below or Stankonia: they’re too musical, too much a part of the pop/rap/hip-hop slipstream. Even if you do include him, though, three of my top four are still white, which basically makes me as bad a person as Marshall Mathers. No wonder I identify.
I love Nathan Rabin. I’m just going to quote this whole thing, from his ongoing retrospective on the endless NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC series of chart-topper compilations:
Like The New Radicals, Semisonic will forever be tarnished with the one-hit-wonder tag. That’s a shame, because it was a fantastic power-pop group, a trio of eggheads with a gift for monster hooks, passionate vocals, and sincerity that never lapsed into sentimentality. Their 1996 album debut Great Divide is a minor power-pop masterpiece, but the trio’s follow-up birthed “Closing Time,” the group’s unlikely contribution to the NOW pantheon.
At a time when much of what passed for alternative music was steeped in rage, angst, and sneering irony, Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson was refreshingly willing to be romantic and sincere. He wrote great love songs like “Secret Smile” and “Singing In My Sleep,” and songs that weren’t what they appeared to be, like “Closing Time.”
On the surface, the song finds the romance in barflies scrambling for a closing-time hookup, but according to So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star, the likeable memoir of Semisonic drummer Jacob Slichter, it was written about the birth of Wilson’s first child. The song’s key line is purloined from the Roman philosopher Seneca, who originally wrote, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” It’s a line with multiple meanings; there’s the end of life in the womb and the beginning of life outside, but also a father and mother forsaking the pleasures of youth for the responsibilities of parenthood.
Dear everyone who has mocked my Semisonic completism: YEAH, FUCKERS.
I’ve been meaning to post about this forever! Not forever. Three weeks.
As part of my Christmas present, Kara got tickets for us to see Phoenix on January 24th. It was a really fun show, except for the fact that the people around us did not understand Brendan’s Grand United Concert Zone Theorem with regards to where idiots are allowed to stand. I was really ticked about this at the time, so we started leaving a little early, which meant that we were standing about two feet away when Thomas Mars started wading out through the crowd to climb up on a speaker and declare his love for Portland. Shaky phonecam proof:
He’s an odd-looking dude. But that was pretty cool!
I can play hand percussion, in a sloppy autodidactic fashion, but I’ve never learned to play a normal drum set–I can’t handle a foot pedal or do fills or anything. I’d like to learn, but of course I don’t have anywhere to put a real kit, much less money to blow on a good one, and the noise would get me evicted. I’ve thought about getting an electronic one that I could plug headphones into, just to learn, but those cost even more and even a collapsible one would take up too much space.
The other night, squeezing into the living room, I finally realized that of course I do have an electronic drum kit. It’s the big, awkward drum-kit-shaped object plugged into my Xbox for Rock Band.
No, it’s not pressure-sensitive or anything, but it does have a practice mode and software designed specifically to help me play along to songs I like. I am an idiot. I need to buy a lesson book.
I saw Snüzz live in concert solo only once, last year, while I was living in North Carolina with Jon and Amanda. It was some kind of multi-band benefit thing, and the Brasfields, ardent fans of his, convinced me to go and take a cute girl from OKCupid.
The show (like the date) was a mixed success. It introduced me to Midtown Dickens, my favorite lo-fi act, but while Snüzz was great, he only played for about twenty minutes. Afterwards he sat next to us in the audience, and I mentioned that I was a friend of Jon’s; he smiled broadly and said hey, yeah, Jon and Amanda were awesome, he hoped to see them again sometime. Then I said I’d enjoyed the show but wished it had been longer. He opened his mouth, hesitated, then smiled (less broadly) and just said thanks.
Turns out he was probably forced to stop early by the symptoms of his then-undiagnosed lymphoma. I wish I’d known to say something more tactful. He’s holding the second of a couple benefit concerts himself now; the first was to raise funds for his medical bills, and this one for a group that helps buffer cancer victims against unforeseen costs.
It’s not like I have many non-Brasfield contacts in North Carolina, but hey, if you like good music you should go and toss some money in the hat. It’s this Sunday night at the Blind Tiger in Greensboro.
GUYS! GUYS I FINALLY GOT A DMCA TAKEDOWN NOTICE. I feel like I’m a grownup on the Internet. It only took seven years!
We have received a formal DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice
regarding allegedly infringing content hosted on your site. The specific
content in question is as follows:
The party making the complaint (Deborah Sykes, e-mail:
email@example.com), claims under penalty of perjury to be or
represent the copyright owner of this content. Pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §
512(c), we have removed access to the content in question.
If you believe that these works belong to you and that the copyright
ownership claims of this party are false, you may file a DMCA
counter-notification in the form described by the DMCA, asking that the
content in question be reinstated. Unless we receive notice from the
complaining party that a lawsuit has been filed to restrain you from
posting the content, we will reinstate the content in question within
10-14 days after receiving your counter-notification (which will also be
forwarded on to the party making the complaint).
In the meantime, we ask that you do not replace the content in question,
or in any other way distribute it in conjunction with our services.
Please also be advised that copyright violation is strictly against our
Terms and Conditions, and such offenses risk resulting in immediate
disablement of your account should you not cooperate (not to mention the
legal risk to you if they are true).
We also ask that if you are indeed infringing upon the copyright
associated with these works that you delete them from your account
immediately, and let us know once this has been done. We also ask that
you delete any other infringing works not listed in this take down
notification, if they exist.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
— DreamHost Abuse/Security Team
Web Sheriff is, Google suggests, a DMCA gun-for-hire firm that Van Morrison has been employing for a couple months to hunt down those damn pirate MP3s on the Internet (along with, quite zealously, people saying mean things about him).
Now, my having posted that song seven years ago was unquestionably infringement, and I’d rather not see my hosting service get terminated, so I won’t be filing counternotice. Of course, the explicit purpose of posting it was to get a noncensored version out on filesharing networks, and I think that work is as done as it’s going to get.
So congratulations, Web Sheriff: you did it! You managed to Google “brown-eyed girl mp3,” send a stern email to the ISPs for all the results, and charge a pathetic, aging musician tens of thousands of dollars. Now no one will ever be able to illegally download his songs again.
I think I’m going to print this thing out and frame it.