Thursday, August 26th, 2004
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
I’ve just finished Greg Kot’s Wilco biography Learning How To Die, and it’s making me reconsider how I experience music. I’ll be the first to confess I have a pretty lousy attention span and while I’ll become intensely interested in something for a while, I’ll just as easily drop it and seek out something new. I’m a lot the same way with music – Always looking for something new, perhaps not making the necessary effort the extract the full experience from a work. When I read some reviews that go on at length about why something is a triumph or a failure, I sometimes wonder if I’ve been listening to the same record. I tend to listen to the big picture, the song, the feelings evoked, et cetera. Getting into the minutae of the instrumentation, arrangement, lyrics and so forth, doesn’t happen much with me anymore – generally because I’ve got too much other music I want to listen to. So in a way, it’s like my musical addiction is diminishing my overall enjoyment of music. Weird. And also sad because as a musician, I’m not taking advantage of the potential wealth of inspiration at my disposal to the extent that I really should be. But back to the original point.
Learning How To Die was a real eye-opener for me in relating to the music it chronicles. In reading Kot’s descriptions of how the music on the Uncle Tupelo and Wilco records came to be – the emotions, the artistic intent, the success and failures – it dawned on me that for all the countless times I’ve listened to all these records, I may not have ever really listened. Am I getting all I can from these records? Is it enough to see the forest and appreciate the forest, or do I owe it to myself and the artist to go in and inspect each tree, each leaf? When Kot describes Glenn Kotche’s contribution to “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” as, “a percussion tour de force, devising two separate but complimentary rhythm lines on a tap kit and a set of hubcaps, and then embellishing them by running handheld electric fans across piano strings, tapping away on floor tiles, and pounding crotales”, did I even notice all that effort? Should I have? If put on the spot, I think the best answer I could come up with is, “It sounds cool and Kotche is a helluva drummer”. Yeah, that’s insightful.
It’s interesting because my approach to music is so different from my approach to, say, film. When I’m watching a movie, I’ll consider my initial gut reaction to the film, whether it’s positive or negative, and use that as a starting point to try and understand WHY I responded that way. What did I like about it, what did I not. Very rational and intellectual-like. With music, however, I tend to stop at the visceral – either I like it or I don’t. The whys and wherefores, I tend not to get into. I keep it on an emotional level – this has worked out fine for me thus far, though I’ve gotten into discussions about music with people and feel a little stupid when the only justification for why I this something is good is, “I like it”. On the other hand, I guess that’s all that really matters. It just makes for lousy conversation.
Neurotic much? Yeah, just a touch.
Anyway, again – back to the original point. I enjoyed the book quite a bit as it’s (obviously) given me food for thought and provided a different angle for listening to these records. Some have found it dry and uninteresting, and yeah, it’s not much of a VH1 Behind The Music (though it did make a decent documentary film). I was glad for the further insight into the utter dysfunction of Uncle Tupelo, the nature of the difficulties working with Billy Bragg on the Mermaid Avenue albums and some explanation for the constant revolving door of personnel in Wilco (I always wondered what happened to Max Johnston). It’s a pretty quick read and as a fan I can recommend it. For other fans.
Also sure to be interesting reading are Bob Dylan’s memoirs. The first set, entitled Chronicles: Volume One hits the shelves October 12 and offers a first-person accounting of his early days. Dylan is a notoriously reticent character, so I’m curious to see how much he puts forth for public consumption and how much he doesn’t.
To backtrack a bit to the Wilco book, someone has finally put up a decent Uncle Tupelo fansite. About damn time. There’s an extensive gigography, lyrics, some never-before-seen (by me, anyway) live photos and old interviews/articles, including this one – Uncle Tupelo rates the beers.
NOW documents the rise and fall(?) of Broken Social Scene, who claim that the Social Scene may quite literally be broken and that tomorrow night’s free show at Harbourfront for the Gobsmacked festival will be their last. Truth? I don’t know, but I’ll be there anyway. BSS are on at 9, Jim Guthrie at 8. Get there early. Waaaay early.
And in BSS-related news, BSS guitarist Andrew Whiteman’s alter-ego as Apostle Of Hustle will be doing a free in-store at Soundscapes on August 29 (I forget the time, probably 6 or 7) to promote his new album Folkloric Feel, while Metric will be at the Docks on October 8 supporting radio crap-stars Billy Talent. Death From Above 1979 round out that bill. Tickets on sale Saturday. Finally, in response to yesterday’s question, Pop (All Love) and his commenters inform us that Amy Millan’s solo record is finished, but on the shelf till Spring at least while she focuses on promoting the new Stars record. So there you go. Funny how that won’t stop Stars singer Torquil Campbell from releasing an album from his side-project Memphis on August 31.
Also appearing at Gobsmacked, albeit on Saturday, are The Hidden Cameras, whom eye profiles in this week’s issue. There’s a lot of good stuff at this festival – check out the schedule for full details.
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead (it’s fun to write the whole thing out every once in a while) have postponed their new record till 2005 but that’s not stopping them from touring this Fall. They’re at the Opera House on October 23. Tickets on sale now, $15.
Jonathan Richman has rescheduled his three cancelled June shows. He’ll now be at the Lula Lounge November 8 through 10 doing his charming and quirky troubadour thing. There is no halfway-decent Jonathan Richman site on the internet to link to. At all. Weird.
np – Uncle Tupelo / Still Feel Gone