The role of the bass varies on the music, of course. New Order made the bass a melodic, lead instrument and the drum machine and synths the ‘new’ bass instrument; a lot of the Beatles’ stuff with those slinky Paul basslines he’s known for also works as kind of a lead guitar. A lot of funk or fusion stuff mutates the bass into something else like a drum (e.g. Primus) or a staccatto guitar (Victor Wooten with Bela Fleck, for ex). But for the most part, the bass functions as the center of a piece, tonally and emotionally. It becomes the simplest abstraction to a piece, implying chords and melody (when not explicitly stating both — Jaco was good at that, but his jazz sensibility meant that the songs weren’t ‘pop’, I think this is the crucial je ne sais quois that McCartney’s basslines really brought to the Beatles’ songs — his basslines were melody, they had a pop sensibility and they still kept the crux of the song intact. Bach’s counterpoint stuff does that too. A lot of it is simply that a low tone has a lot of room to play in and will resonate longer. Once you get the air moving, it wants to keep moving, and low tones go through just about anything (and really high tones — this is why marching bands will have a single flute or piccolo player, often, they cut right through all the mids).
I don’t know why I’m even thinking of all this stuff. Olive Oyl and her Tattoo’d Man broke up and I picked up his old bass at their we’re-breaking-up-and-getting-different-places-so-buy-our-old-shit garage sale for 20$, maybe that’s it.
Here’s the band that John Peel called ”always the same, always different”
The 33 1/3 series can be hit or miss; the hits tend to be along the lines of minor editorializing and a lot of history and details with interviews. The books that are good are really good and worth checking out if you like the artist or album on offer.
The misses are dramatic in their misses:
Magnetic Fields’ “69 Love Songs” is a dictionary of all the words used in the lyrics of the album. Seriously.
The Smiths’ “Meat is Murder” is a novella about suicide and how much it sucked being an emo kid in the midwest in the 80s. It’s not bad, but it isn’t about the album.
Black Sabbath’s “Master of Reality” is another novella (by Josh Darnelle of The Mountain Goats) about misunderstood teens.
Radiohead’s “OK Computer” is a bone-dry analysis of the album that discusses none of the music and reads like a treatise on the history of boredom.
Sonic Youth’s “Daydream Nation” is small doses of interestingness between pages of fawning and not-very-well-thought-out prose. I hated this book so much that I registered on Amazon in order to give it a bad review.1
PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me”, another novella.
The Band’s “Music from Big Pink”, a novella about a fictionalized ‘friend of The Band’ who is Zelig and Forrest Gump in his ability to be around at crucial moments in the making of the album. Then there’s the bits where the story centers around him and there’s nothing about the album. Yeah.
Throbbing Gristle’s “20 Jazz Funk Greats” by Drew Daniels (of Matmos). An excellent read consisting mostly of a description of the track/album followed by commentary on it by both Daniels and the band members, from snippets of interviews Daniels conducted with each, separately. There’s a lot of good insight on the tracks and themes behind the music and no overlap with the other books about TG (“Wreckers of Civilisation” or RE/search stuff etc). Daniels’ back-of-the-book blurb says his day job is as a professor and the writing shows it, but thankfully he’s also a fan of the band, it’s music and specifically this album. It really feels like he wrote the book he would have wanted to read, as a fan.
The Minutemen’s “Double Nickels on the Dime” by Michael T. Fournier. There’s bits of fanboy on this, but the enthusiasm gets funneled into good writing and interesting insights, with appropriate interviews. I learned that my CD copy has tracks missing from the original double album. I wonder when SST will get off it’s ass and put out a deluxe version of it.
My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” by Mike McGonigal. Extensive info on and from everyone (except Colm), a great read especially if you don’t want to read the book about Rough Trade just for the MBV bits.
R.E.M.’s “Murmur” by J. Niimi is hands-down the best book in the series. Organized and well-written, broken into distinct sections that have a logical flow, even if you don’t like the band, this is a worthwhile read. The content about the artwork and lyric content is particularly great.
David Bowie’s “Low” by Hugo Wilcken. Good but focused pretty strictly on Low (although it does touch slightly on “Station To Station”), with very few mentions of thematic ties to the Berlin trilogy. The quotes from Eno and engineers on the album are quite interesting although it does show Bowie at his most paranoid assholish worst (e.g. denying Visconti producer credit on a whim, etc.)
The Beatles’ “Let It Be” by Steve Matteo. Covering the Let It Be and Abbey Road periods (Abbey Road was released first, but recorded after Let It Be — there’s material from each recording session on the albums), with a lot of background on the dissolution of the band and it’s effect on the bandmembers. Not a great deal of demonizing of Yoko beyond fact-stating (“yoko was at this session, beatleX was annoyed at her” etc).
The Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main St.” by Bill Janovitz. A song-by-song breakdown of the Stones’ Americana-influenced album.
The Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique” by Dan Leroy, the addition of the info on the singles and B-sides is really great.
Belle and Sebastian’s “If You’re Feeling Sinister” by Scott Plagenhoef, short and sweet, although if you’ve read anything about the band or this album in another book, it’s unlikely that you’ll find something amazingly new or brilliant.
Nirvana’s “In Utero” by Gillian G. Gaar. Quotes from Albini and info on the videos from this album make this a nice little read.
Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” by Amanda Petrusich, good but suffers from that there is so little known about Drake, there’s quote from musicians on how the album affected them spread out through the book and they wind up feeling like padding.
Velvet Underground’s “The Velvet Underground and Nico” by Joe Harvard, a lot of quotes from other musicians but this doesn’t feel like padding, mostly. Excellent info and history on early days of the band and it’s Warhol period.
Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Kim Cooper, a close contender with the ‘Murmur’ book for best-in-series; a lot of info about a group and album that not much is known about. Everyone interviewed and lots of info about the songs and the band proper.
Pixies’ “Doolittle”: aside from no Kim Deal involvement, everything you could ask for in a book that focuses on just this one Pixies album. Covers the reunion, extensive Frank Black interviews.
1 Special moment of hate: the author writes the lyric to a song and postulates that it’s about a religious thing; something about Satan or fear of Satan, tied to lust or sexuality. He then mentions that he brought this up to Kim Gordon who told him, “no, that’s not what it’s about. that’s totally wrong.” But he decided to leave it in the book anyway. Or analyzing a vocal aside “kick it!” as being about heroin, a few pages away talking about how Sonic Youth and Public Enemy shared a recording studio and how SY were influenced by PE, as if the “kick it!” had no ties to hip-hop.
Let me ‘splain. No, takes too long, let me sum up:
creating is fun. you make a new thing and ideally in the process you learn something about yourself even if it’s something trivial like “i was able to finish this stupid tiny goal”.Â Not every song has to be some Leonard Cohen self-torture brutally honest thing about how Janis Joplin blew you in a hotel room (no, really). Sometimes it has to be. Sometimes you gotta blow off steam about whatever — war or how you can’t stand your fucking job or how that evil bitch broke your heart or whatever. I’ve found that to do that type of stuff justice I have to focus, I can really only get to the austereness, the economy of language that says it exactly right, if I grind against the thing, let it fester like a thorn in my side and then I can think about it dispassionately, clinically. But for making the thing for the sake of making the thing, I find that I need to collaborate, even if it’s improvisationally, with someone else. Something to bounce off of, a spark that makes you go “I had never thought about it quite like that”. There’s a Tom Waits interview where he goes on and on about his wife and he describes how sometimes she’ll help him write a song by suggesting that he write as if they were, for example, travelling in China with a banjo. I don’t know where the hell I’m going with this. Maybe I should collab more. Today’s jam at Eden’s place was short because we ran out of cabling and couldn’t record and I wound up having to go play taxi driver again. C’est la vie.
First things first: the new Decemberists’ single is fucking awesome. Go click that, they will give you the mp3 for free. Which is good, because rakes are broke.
Second things second: this pregnancy thing is harrowing. I’ve gone from stone sleep to dressed and going WHAT in 2 seconds flat. So far no baby yet.
3rd things next: so I’m at the hospital at like fucking ungodly-a.m. or whatever, and the world turns so daylight happens and here comes the inaugural and holy fuck we have a black president. and fucking hell, he’s smart, and capable, and maybe, just maybe, the whole country isn’t going into ruin right this fucking second. Cleolinda Jones said something about holding your breath and being horrified that the last 8 years have been something that the people of the country actually wanted and how horrifyingly terrible the idea of that has been, and honestly I’ve still been holding my breath, worried that it might not happen, that something would fuck up before President-elect Obama became President Obama. My standards are not high: anyone who won’t be a craven whore, intent on just using the flag to whip his flaccid dick all over the constitution and the ideals of what this country should be would be a great improvement.
xkcd’s strip today brings up house of leaves by mark z danielewski. which is a genius book. nightmare-causing, take your breath away reading, for real. some of the writing is not as poetic as say harlan ellison’s “speculative fiction” but it’s certainly more claustrophobically horrifying. i finished this book at the bar, the day before my last conversation with the woman i thought was the love of my life. still is? i don’t know. i stopped thinking about it. she’s still the love of my life, but now in the past tense I guess. It’s just one of those things where you associate something with what was happening — e.g. Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works II” 2nd disc is to me an incredibly erotic piece of music, just because of associations — and House of Leaves is just a picture of a raw gaping wound. It doesn’t hurt, but it reminds me that there was a tender part exposed and hurting.
So but what do you do? How do you just drop it? No one I know who’s gone through hellfire and brimstone can adequately explain. And it’s such a personal, subjective thing. If there’s a universal that I have found in this, it’s that people tend to pull back, reserve more of themselves and give less away. And that’s so horrible, so very sad. But I see it time and again in my friends, and I see it in myself. The nerve numbed, you learn that you don’t know what’s normal anymore, so you learn to not trust yourself to keep from getting hurt.Â
Sterling and I ate sushi, a while ago, and we talked about it, again. Except this time she was sober because of the pregnancy, so this time she remembered it I think. And it boils down to: I know it’s not all my fault. But I feel like it is. I blame myself, even though I know it’s not like that. The bitch of it is, I am sure she blames me too. Which is galling, especially considering the condescending attitude she gave me when last we spoke. Really, that’s how I keep my anger going.
So yeah, this started as “look! comic link to awesome book!” and is now about me me me me. Well it’s my blog so fuck you if you don’t like it. Get yr own.
Enjoy this amazing and very entertaining speech by Malcom Gladwell on the lessons of happiness, self-knowlege and hidden desires inherent we can learn from spaghetti sauce:
Picked up “Monk Alone”: 2.5 hours of Thelonious Monk on the piano alone. It’s a little bit like going mad in heaven. He does some standards and things you wouldn’t expect (“everything happens to me”, “just a gigolo”) in his inimitable style. I really try to play guitar like he plays piano but god it’s like planning to fall down the stairs: you can’t do it naturally without fucking up. The odd accents, the pauses and embellishments.
“Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea” and the four (!) versions of “everything happens to me” are just too. fucking. hardcore.
what do you want misbegotten whore your every word like something fetid another abortion scraped from the drooling maw of your cunt-mouth you never tire of hurting the ones around you you set the hooks deep, god knows god knows you played the victim so often you forgot it was a part the world doesn’t owe you, god knows.
I really must talk to Aik about getting him to drum, if only for just this song.
Laural‘s away message today was a link to CASSETTE FROM MY EX which is now the 2nd or third time I’d heard about the site. And so I finally clicked it. It’s like an aural post-secret, kindasorta. I am both terrified and hoping that a mix of mine winds up there, but the odds are kinda low. Obladi.