In the hit single “Hey Ho” from their debut album, the lead singer of the Lumineers declares that he can write a song (“I don’t know where I went wrong / but I can write a song”). The album that contains this line proves the claim to be both hubris and truth. At least two of the songs are transcendent. Others are less than overwhelming.
After my brother posted his confession that he had endured terrible music all day just for the chance of hearing “Hey Ho”, I decided that I should take a listen. Now, rather than telling me it was a good song and insisting I might like it (perhaps fearing another Gotye incident), my brother posted an entry about the song and left me to my own devices.
I have never been a huge fan of solo Beatles stuff, with the exception of a lot of what George Harrison did in the early 70’s. I am in love with the All things Must Pass album and the title track is slowly becoming one of my favorite songs…or least the top twenty. The version I included above is one I had only heard on the Scorsese’s movie about Harrison called Living in the Material World so I thought it would be good to include a different take on an awesome song.
While driving in my car as usual, with the two little ones making their own private cacophony in the back seat, the wife and I turned on the radio and turned it up. For parents, desperate times are always calling for desperate measures. This moment required the local hip-hop station.
What we got was the recent Rihanna single “Birthday Cake”. I feel almost guilty that, when we write so little about hip-hop and rap, I have to pick on this song, but…this may be one of the worst songs of the year.
My brother recently confessed to his ‘lameness’ as an Elliott Smith fan. That is not to say that he is lame because he is an Elliott Smith Fan, but because he is a fan who rarely listens to the music. I am not quite sure that he is right about being lame.
Some food is so sweet that only children and gluttons can eat large amounts of it. Strong drink is poured in small glasses. Spices are held in abeyance and delivered parsimoniously. Some things are just so pure and strong that to be digested they must be diluted.
The beauty of a song, a poem or any artwork is not the same as food or drink. It cannot be diluted to be enjoyed over time. If the potency is overwhelming, the only solution is to take it in small doses.
And that, my brother and friends, is Elliott Smith. His music is beyond morose. His lyrics are exceptional and often harrowing. The combination of the two is a taut tonic that can uplift your spirits or tear them down. How is this possible?
I truly do love writing this blog and I am extremely happy that my brother and I continue to do so even when he wants to kill me for not posting as much. I want to write more, but as he said in his post a few days back, he does understand that I have another artistic endeavor that is taking up some time. Is it pretentious to refer to my old school country/rock bar band as an artistic endeavor?
Songs of the Year: “Give Me Daughters”, Jonathan FireEater; “Underground”, Ben Folds Five
Runners up: “Torn”, Natalie Imbruglia; “St. Louise is Listening”, Soul Coughing
Honorable Mentions: “Doo Wop”, Lauryn Hill; “The Rockerfeller Skank,” Fatboy Slim
1998 was the year that alt-rock died. I swear it. Later, it was reincarnated as “Indie”, but the death throes had started the year before. Pearl Jam and 311 (!) released live albums; Green Day went soft with “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” and Matchbox 20 acquired yet more fans. It was soon to be Jay-Z’s world and I was merely living in it.
Most people, at least those not fans of the late great Elliott Smith, would recognize this song from the smash indie hit Good Will Hunting. He is not at his best here in front of a million viewers and he doesn’t even perform the whole song, but is the number one biggest exposure he ever had. He was one of the best song writers of the past twenty years and in my mind that is not even an arguable point.
The thing is, he is so morose. So much that I can barely listen to his music that much anymore because I’m a generally happy man and it can be a super downer to listen to some of this fallen man’s music. This is why I am in fact a lame Elliott Smith fan.
“We’re local celebrities now, I’m serious” – the youngerj
You may have noticed that the younger j has not been posting as much. While he blames it on procrastination and seems to think it raises my ire (well, more hackles than ire), the truth is, I know how busy he is. And, to boot, I also know that he’s doing something important.
See, my brother is in a country band. This all happened quite quickly. He started playing the bass before our father passed away and then got serious about it. (Cue crazy musical training montage.) Then, before I knew it he was in a band.
Still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild.
A million dead-end streets and
every time I thought I’d got it made
tt seemed the taste was not so sweet.
So I turned myself to face me
but I’ve never caught a glimpse
of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test
“Changes”, David Bowie
Mostly, the younger J and I talk about the music we listen to and the way it not only shapes our lives but allows us to jump around in time, to experience the same moments over and over again from different vantage points. In this way we celebrate, or at least observe, the way that music shapes our perception of the past, conditions our experience of the present and helps us to make sense of the relationship between the two.
Music, as sound, is at once transcendent and ephemeral—like the smell of an autumn day or the lilacs just blooming, you can recognize it as it embraces you but are cursed never to touch it. There are, however, more tangible aspects to music. CD jewel cases, vinyl album sleeves and even posters provide fodder for the tactile memory.
One unintended consequence of listening to the radio so much recently is that I still often hear songs that played on the radio when I was much younger. The popular format of many stations (modern rock) seems to allow for music at the roots of the modern era (as far back as New Wave, sometimes punk). As a result, listeners get to hear new music and the sounds of our youth (for those of us who are older).
(Just think, our parents had to listen to oldies stations)