Sass and pop songs

I was supposed to go to Grindhouse with my go-to “fun” friend tonight. We talked about it yesterday. We talked about it this afternoon. I called him twice this evening, and his phone jus' rang and rang. There’s nothing worse than getting ditched by somebody you’ve known for ten years. And not just getting ditched. Getting ditched without so much as an explanation, or even a “go fuck yourself.” I’m sitting here, incredibly lonely, drinking leftover beer, listening to the new Panda Bear record (the first half of which, in true Animal Collective tradition, is glorious. The second half of which is ambitious filler). My upper body is covered in bruises, welts, rug burn, and scratches from what has proved to be, in retrospect, the most ill-advised and savage tickle fight of my life. It’s incredible what thinking you have a plan and then finding out you have no plan can do to you. I’m fucking miserable. And pissed. And I’m on the cusp of one of my inevitable month-long manic downswings. Which means, fuck you.

I really don’t like people.

The weather forecast for tomorrow prophecies two inches of snow and “blustery” conditions. “Blustery” is one of those words that, in my head, I always want to associate with comedy, good old fashined Marx Brothers wheeling around on heels and blindly entering doorways and belting out songs from the diaphragm. But in reality, bluster is more apt than any other non-freakish meteorological condition to make me suffer the slings and arrows of FUCK YOU GOD WHY DON'T YOU MAKE IT WARM IT'S FUCKING APRIL. Now that Easter's over, I feel comfortable talking about how badly I want to ballgag god and beat him mercilessly with a sock stuffed full of cream cheese, you know, for being such a jerkoff all the time.

It’s strange. Animal Collective, bless their little hearts, are going to be playing in Iowa City next month. I was going to buy a ticket today, but I decided to against it, because I don’t know anybody who will go with me. I’m not sure why I’m holding off. I guess because, besides the fact that I will run into dozens of people I know without knowing well enough to have gone to the concert with them, going to shows by one’s self is one of the lonelier experiences a person can have, unless one is totally “in the zone.” I grew up in prevailingly suburban and semi-rural areas and was, consistently, at least four years behind the musical zeitgeist, so it still seems to me to be an enormous privilege to be able to see your favorite bands. My first-ever concert was Peter, Paul and Mary (whose rendition of “if I had a hammer” is still perfection, and when Mary’s voice soars up to “freedom!” after fourth verse with the syncopated backing vox, it gets me every time). But I mean, come on. It’s Peter, Paul and Mary. Yeah. I saw them do “Puff the Magic Dragon.” But still. It’s Peter, Paul and Mary. Then, I saw Marky Mark. He took off his pants, “for all the ladies.” Now he has an Academy Award Nomination, and I still enjoy “Good Vibrations.” In fact, to be perfectly honest with you, I’m not even sure which is my favorite “Good Vibrations,” and that’s no slight to the Beach Boys. I’m just saying, I have a soft spot for those ultra-produced early-90s funk-hop soul diva bangers. “I’ve got the power!

“Pump up the jam.”

“The groove is in the heart.”

But it’s a completely different story to see a band that you really, really love. Because, on the one hand, it’s a great deal harder for somebody like me to do. They don’t play around me. And, on the other hand, it’s almost always a disappointment. Nearly every time I’ve been to see a band that is in what I consider to be the first tier of pop musicians – Guided by Voices, or Yo La Tengo, or the Mountain Goats, or pick your poison – they never live up to the dream of them that lives in you. By which I mean to be as horrifically cheesy about it as possible. It’s the rare unexpected burst of greatness – the vastly, shamefully underappreciated Burning Airlines, or the reformed Slint, or a Scandinavian metal band you go see on a whim – that turn out to be the revelatory live experiences. In one respect, it’s obviously because indie-rock, the idiom that most of today’s smart white musicians apply themselves to (because it requires very little actual effort to do it well, and only a lot of luck), does not lend itself well to a bombastic live outpouring of emotion. Do you ever notice that most of the musicians these days who have chops, and aren’t your typical conservatory jazzbo types, are dumb as hell? I submit John Mayer. Whatever. “Work smarter, not harder,” as Scrooge McDuck said before he hooked a belt up to a bicycle and shined dozens of shoes at the same time. My body is a wonderland.

I’m worried, though. I’m worried to go see Animal Collective and leave cold and unmoved, which is my default emotional position when I’m leaving a concert venue. But Animal Collective isn’t a default concert experience, or shouldn’t be. “Banshee Beat,” which has become easily my favorite track on Feels, makes me really want to believe in something like transcendence. So I just no that if I go see Animal Collective, they won’t play “Banshee Beat.” And that’s the thing about Animal Collective. It’s almost like they feel guilty giving you things that you like unabashedly, so they make it hard for you. I can’t for the life of me find a single reason to like “Bees” or “Native Belle” or any of their grand, sweeping statements that I’m pretty sure THEY would take to be the litmus test of anybody who can really appreciate their band as an artistic entity, and not just a jive-time pop commodity. I mean, come on, I just don’t give a shit about seven minutes of instrumental crackles in a semi-rhythm with Avey Tare chanting in a voice that sounds an awful lot like Adam Sandler-circa-Billy Madison. Then, their pop statements, which are almost always kept concise to the point of truncation, are probably the best anybody has managed since Guided by Voices were at their best. Oh, but they don’t want to give you those for too long. That would be too easy. But that, of course, is just me.

I’m even more worried to go see Stephen Malkmus, one of my two or three favorite living people, for the first time the day after my birthday at the P4K festival. There are too many factors in alignment there. Leader of my all-time favorite band, totally underappreciated solo artist, my birthday, a road trip to North Chicago, several of my best friends – all things I love very much. Whenever things in my life align like that, though, the eventual result is unmitigated disaster, and I don’t know if I’m prepared to go see Stephen Malkmus and just NOT CARE. That would be about as depressing as anything I can think of. In the scope of plausible, non-medical disaster related contingency, that is.

I’m listening to the vinyl copy of Mozart’s Four Quartets for flute and string that I bought from a garage sale at the local church of Christian Science, and it just goes to show that pretty much everything that happened forty years ago is susceptible to the barbs of parody, no matter when you find yourself alive. The cover is a gaudy gilt green and copper horror with four fat naked cherubs that trumpets of itself, “In perfection of style and brilliant virtuosity, Debost is as great a flutist as we know” (Le Figaro) and “Michael Debost may be the finest flutist of our time” (Chicago Tribune). I mean, come on. I don’t even have to try.

Most of the time I think bad beer is better than good beer, but sometimes I don't.

Pastor Pabst Blue Ribbon.

PS, I had so many more mean-spirited things I wanted to say tonight.


Joe said...

Eh, don't commit an intentional fallacy on the Animal Collective's behalf... like most artist/writer/musicians, their motives probably aren't that complicated in a "fuck the audience" sense. I get more of a "we need to move forward" vibe from their few interviews and what little I've seen of them live. When I saw them (pre-Feels), they were languorous and reverb-laden and glorious and, at times, boring; I recognized few (none?) of the main set's songs, since not playing familiar tunes is (or was) the band's live shtick. But they still encored with "Kids on Holiday" and seemed genuinely enthused to be playing a packed room in NYC, so it didn't seem like they were out to punish the "Hey Light" and "We Tigers" lovers in the house. Who knows, though?

- Ryan Martin's brother

D said...

Your point is well taken, but my concern is less with whether they’re TRYING to fuck with the “hey light” fans, and more with the fact that they do fuck with them. I wonder if it isn’t just a different way to psychoanalyze the same spirit (ie, “keep moving forward,” and a “shtick of not playing the songs people know” is a positive way of saying, “not allow for the audience’s preconceptions” and “not play the songs people came to hear”).

My curmudgeonly point is, I’m pretty sure Animal Collective could put on the best concert I’ve ever seen. I’m also pretty sure they won’t. I don’t think AC’re “fuck the audience.” But they certainly don’t want to be the indie rock Three Dog Night, playing “who could win a rabbit” at festivals in their 60s. That’s healthy. Why does it mean, though, that they can’t play “who could win a rabbit”? Don’t they know how much I want to hear it? Mine is not the most artist-friendly perspective. But, when artists have the ability to be revelatory and they withhold it for reasons of authenticity, I get antsy. Of course, at this point the discussion would veer into the age old “populism vs. integrity” area where nothing gets said. So, cheers.