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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.

And if you’re looking for something a little lighter to read, check out Green Arrow’s blog. Things must be mighty quiet in Star City lately. From The Beat.

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

By : Frank Yang at 8:31 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. david says:

    Are you planning to see Richman? He’s one of a handful of artists I always go out of my way to see when he’s anywhere close.

    I felt the same way about Miles Davis’s autobiography as you did about the Kot book, I felt like a very lazy listener. Afterwards I pulled out every Miles Davis album I own and listened with new appreciation after reading his insights.

  2. Frank says:

    I don’t really know any of Richman’s stuff, but I think I will go to one of the shows – I hear he’s quite good whether you’re a fan or not.

  3. Jorge says:

    Have you heard the Apostle of Hustle record? I’ve read good things and just ordered it…. wondering what your take on it is?

  4. Frank says:

    I listened to some of the AofH record at a listening station yesterday. Sounded alright, very instrumental and textural, what I heard reminded me a lot of "You Forgot It In People", it made me think he might have had a bigger contributing role in that album than maybe some others in the BSS galaxy. The reviews have been very positive, though.

  5. Jorge says:

    Thanks Frank….if it reminded you of YFIIP that’s all-right in my book as that was one of my favorites of last year. Apparently, he spent some time in Cuba, which is where he got inspired for this record…this is even more exciting for me, being half-Cuban. Can’t wait to hear it!

  6. Awryter says:

    How early do you think is early? Like, for Guthrie, do you thinking getting there by 7 would give us enough time to get a nice standing spot?

  7. mike says:

    Frank…an e-mail update from Arts & Crafts I received indicated that the Apostle of Hustle instore begins at 8pm on Aug 29th…also to Awryter, security’s pretty tight at Harbourfront and they don’t usually allow standing in front of the stage [unless you have a front row seat I guess]….also if your in front be prepared for security to tell you to NOT use flash photography.

  8. Frank says:

    thanks for the tips, Mike. I’m planning on showing up closer to 6 or so, basically grab some dinner then hang out at the entrance. And I don’t intend to use my flash, anyway. hopefully there’ll be barely enough daylight/dusklight to get some pics – and hopefully I’ll be close enough to bother trying.

  9. Tab S. says:

    re: Stars – yeah, i meant to add in my comment on Wherry’s blog that i thought it somewhat odd that Torq was putting out the Memphis disc (see review next week in Eye) so close to the Stars release, but i think that had more to do with delays on the Memphis project than anything else.

    in fact, i was really surprised (pleasantly!) to hear that they’re putting out the Stars disc so soon after it was completed. great thing about being on an indie label that has its shit together, i guess. ;)