Friday, March 31, 2006

Dry the Rain, by The Beta Band

There is a scene in the movie High Fidelity, where Rob, the hero, and his two music-nerd friends and employees Dick and Barry, are working in Championship Vinyl on a busy Saturday. Dick has just met his soon-to-be-girlfriend and is impressing her with his musical knowledge, and Barry is bullying unsuspecting punters into buying the entire Jesus and Mary Chain back catalogue. Then Rob changes the record, and plays this song from the Beta Band’s Three EPs, whispering to Dick as he does so to watch him, he’s about to sell five copies of the EP. The camera pans around the shop and we see the browsing customers nod along to the music, and start to ask who it is. Clearly, Rob is about to be proven right.

The corresponding scene in the book on which the movie is based is different – the Beta Band doesn’t feature, for one. One thing which is the same is the spirit of the scene. Rob, who spends most of the story in inner turmoil and outer obnoxiousness, has a quiet and contented moment as he muses that he feels comfortable among these people, he knows and understands them. This is something which could be interpreted as being rather pathetic, until he describes an incident which I think sums up just what music can do, to us and for us.

He says that once a man came into the shop and hummed a tune that he had heard in his dream. He described the song in great detail, but he wasn’t sure that it even existed, and he wanted Rob to attempt to find it for him. Rob eventually found the song, an obscure reggae number, and the man thanked him in a way that made him feel like more than someone who worked in a record store, he says he felt like a midwife or a painter, someone whose life and job were “routinely transcendent”.

What an evocative phrase. It may sound hysterical to some, but that is the power than music can and, routinely, does have.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

I don't care, by Shakespear's Sister

Thirty-seven hours have elapsed since the time I last slept. Yesterday was not the best day in my life; that is for certain. Not a good day, nor praiseworthy questions. After driving a few miles, a trip-up encounter.


The sound of their tears, an intimate mourning. For a moment it all resembled an amerciable appropriation of pain. A purloined affliction that the afflicted ones had once disdained.

A painter, a photographer, two daughters, a loud lady, a spectacle-lover wife, & a ghost; I.

His corpse, the embodied Fall of Rome. Orally unknown, scriptedly known. Despite an unacknowledged familiarity, he was not a stranger. No. Despite thy self-willed-private undertone, thou were not unknown.

Silence dwelled. Small talk became an affirmation of reaffirmation. A story told repeatedly. A peaceful death. One last sigh. An interpretation of one last smile. Arms that could finally let go.

Do your worst get it all off your chest
I’ll hold my breath and swallow

A reunion. Two sisters reunited through a death. Silence again.

We hurt the ones we love the most
It’s a subtle form of compliment

A conversation held photographer & ghost. Names of bands sprinkled the air.

"& Shakespear's Sister?" ghost asked. "They're the best," photographer said.

I still remember.

One brother & one sister used to sing "I don't care" at the top of their lungs.


I don’t care if you talk about me
I don’t care you can write it out in stone
Whenever I fall, I land on my feet
I don’t care, I just don’t care, no

Their father had just perished. Another battle against cancer lost.

But yes—& yet—, I still remember what he said, "Morir es un instante eterno, tal vez."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Speak no Evil, by Cocteau Twins ( 7" Vinyl Flexidisc, free with "Vinyl Magazine" #21 January 1983)

After the Punk Kingdom, the noise of the elusive wordplay of such stunning beauty...

The smash of the gently guitar: it was the sensation I had the first time I listened to Cocteau Twins. It was the birth of a new musical aura which become a phenomenon of fluctuating images ignoring prevailing music trends.

Liz Fraser and her voice: a siren spoke a new musical esperanto: eclipsing all possible meanings, her voice was beyond any recognizable musical frontier. Meaning in pop lyrics was beautifully useless for the first time.

Speak no Evil, by Cocteau Twins (7" Vinyl Flexidisc, free with "Vinyl Magazine" #21 January 1983)

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Good Vibrations, by Brian Wilson

"It haunts me", Brian Wilson said in 1968, "the word vibrations". He then mentioned that his mother told him when he asked her why dogs bark at some people: "They smell and feel the vibrations of every people". So, Wilson grew up with the idea of vibrations haunting him. In 1966 he created that masterpiece, Pet Sounds, lost his mind and two years later came up with "Good Vibrations" for a project that was never released. "Good Vibrations", the version recorded in 1968, is a proof of how the mind of Wilson was working. He was thinking in terms of George Gershwin, gregorian choirs and bubble-gum pop music. The result was the most expensive single of all time; cellos, theremin, vibraphones, voices recorded over and over and over. After that, nearly 36 years of silence.
By the end of 2004, Wilson reworked his mini suite (as Derek Taylor defined it in 1969), rewrote the lyrics and rearranged the performance, making it longer, which only means one thing, the pleasure lasts four minutes and thirty six seconds instead of the original two and a half. Like with "Ring Of Fire", if more people listened to this song, the world would be so much a better place to live in. Very few songs make me feel so revitalized like this one.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Love Will Tear Us Apart, by Joy Division

Traditionally, love songs don't sound like this. Love stories don't sound like this. We know how they're supposed to go; romantic comedies from Jane Austen to Bridget Jones and everything in between reflect the common perception - they lovestruck couple overcome obstacles and misunderstandings, and the story ends when they get together, or (even better) get married. No-one tells us what happens next - the assumption is that, if they're right for one another, it'll work out, as if by magic.

When the routine bites hard, and ambitions are low

And resentment rides high, but emotions won't grow

This song tells us otherwise - a life with the person you love does not always turn out the way you thought it would. It is about the slow and painful demise of a marriage, a bitter and resentful meditation on the end of a great love.

Why is the bedroom so cold?, you turned away on your side

Is my timing that flawed?, our respect run so dry?

Not much happens throughout - there is no great betrayal and no angry denouement. But this is the strength of the song, it illuminates the pain caused by a gradual growing apart rather than the sting of a sudden break-up.

Yet there's still this appeal, that we've kept through our lives

Worse still, it reminds us that there will always be something between the two lovers regardless of water under the bridge; no-one gets out of love with a clean slate.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Hope There's Someone, by Antony and the Johnsons

Maybe all art is a reflection on the nature of death. Why write, if not, also, in order to say, "I am afraid of dying"?

Oh I'm scared of the middle place
Between light and nowhere
I don't want to be the one
Left in there

Maybe the source of songwriting and storytelling is the need to express desires, wishes, fears and hopes. Maybe it is praying the "original origin" of writing, a need to say, "I hope I will not be alone".

Hope there's someone who'll take care of me
When I die
Will I go

Maybe we all have had that feeling when we go to bed at night. There, alone with our own fears, we look fixedly into the ceiling, and wonder about the meaning of it all; about what lies beyond what we think we can control. It's that very particular emotion of facing one's own end, in a deathbed perhaps, surrounded by the smell of tulips:

There's a ghost on the horizon
When I go to bed
How can I fall asleep at night
How will I rest my head

Maybe all true art is an interrogation of the meaning of life: an expression of the human consciousness of finiteness; the trascendental homelessness experienced when we, alone, in the dark, close our eyes and imagine our end.

Maybe all true art is an expression of hope. Maybe all great pop songs are prayers in their own way: I, too, hope there's someone...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

All cats are grey, by The Cure (Peel Session, 1981-01-07)

1:24 am. Estoy despierto por culpa de la lluvia: mi sueño se deshace en la repentina madrugada y creo:

¿Quién puede buscar entre las piedras los restos de una sombra? La paciencia de la luna, su luz tan esquiva es un cuerpo que me recuerda el humus de la muerte. El cuerpo que habrá de recorrerme con caricias de sangre: será una hora puntual donde la corrupción de tus palabras, donde los fragmentos del mar que recuerdas, donde tu memoria ociosa llena de desolación, donde tu soledad hambrienta, donde el alarido del cielo más bello, donde tus frescos dedos en la piel que más deseas engendren, por única ocasión, la posesión de un reino.

All cats are grey, by The Cure (Peel Session, 1981-01-07)

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Ring of Fire, by Johnny Cash

I read recently that the English cricket team in their last series deployed a secret weapon when they were getting down (a common fate I imagine for a: the English cricket team and b: for anyone who likes cricket). In their locker room (or what ever the cricketers sit in) someone managed to put on the one tune that, frankly, not only could inspire them to go back on but could inspire anyone to jump into the pits of hell itself. I speak of course of Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash. The only thing surprising to me about this, is the fact that it does not happen more often

There is something about this song. Something beyond the fact that it is a Johnny Cash song (and let us face it that alone grants a song into Valhalla once it dies) and I think I recently realised what it was. I am now convinced that this song is the centre of a vast untapped and hitherto unknown collective male subconscious. Let me explain.

There was a TV show I watched called Spaced that once claim that all men were bound by a primordial instinct (in their case to fight out slow motion gun fights) but that is not the case. Put a group of men together and I am sad to say not all will join in a rousing rendition of using your fingers to play out a gunfight. Some of the ‘sensible’ ones will stand aloof during the entire encounter confused. All men, however, are bound body and soul to Ring of Fire.

I can recount many a time I have gotten a lift home from a friend after a session in the pub, only to find that, to my horror, we have incompatible music tastes. Awful dance music or the most puerile of rap comes blaring out of their speakers. Whenever any of my generous drivers -with horrible music tastes- say ‘This is a compilation CD of all my favourite songs’ I smile because I know what will happen next. They will see my discomfort at the horrible sounds coming from their speakers and say ‘Maybe you’ll like this’ as they skip the CD back to track one or two and without fail it is Ring of Fire and we sing along, very loudly, unashamed of our lack of talent.

The power of Ring of Fire is so strong in quenches another of my friends sacred taboos. At the poker table, we laugh and joke and generally mock each other as a group of guys do, when sitting around a table, drinking and trying to steal money from others. Any sign of weakness will be exploited and derided. Being allowed to listen to music is still hotly debated and is still somewhat frowned upon by the majority and therefore actually singing along to a tune, unsurprisingly, will be meet with a symphony of condemnation and mockery. Ring of Fire is the exception. Play it and we all listen intently (even our member who never listens to any music unless classical) and within twenty seconds one of our members will start singing along for a mere ten seconds. As he finishes, instinctively, another will replace him and so on until we all join in for the chorus.

Why Ring of Fire has this power I cannot say - nor do I know if it effects the opposite gender in the same way (I can only hope so). Perhaps God (if (s)he exists) was listening to it as (s)he created man and it seeped into our subconscious or perhaps the song resonates with the big bang itself. Whatever, I don’t care! I think it is time we stopped merely enjoying this masterpiece and employing it for the good of humankind. What if Ring of Fire was played at every peace conference? During labour disputes? At protests marches and the like? Peace man, that is what will occur.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Schizophrenia, by Sonic Youth


"My future is static..."

A balanced, permissive fate upon twice
Your ages, listening to the poets
From behind their podium, mic twitter
Organize my way through this

An acoustic guitar plugged into this
Arranger, producer, distance the treble
I want to include you in my versions
Affairs born of filling the page
Last time we spoke I was too high
To listen beyond verbs & vowels

What my lack of steady sources reveals
An inadequate funding, reborn sutures
Injuries sustained while breathing fumes
A tour of the city's bohemian landmarks
An accumulation of breaches, jagged
Emphasis of my filial research


Friday, March 17, 2006

Here She Comes Now, as performed by Nirvana

This song makes me nervous.
Maybe it is the endless riff.
Or maybe Cobain's gummy voice.
Or the kick-ass drums by Dave Grohl.
One thing that is certain, the Velvet Underground always made cover-proof songs. Normally, the covers I've heard of their songs are respectful but sound like new songs.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Funeral Party , by The Cure (Richard Skinner Session, 1981-02-26)

Errancia del amanecer:

Las raíces de tu rostro me miran extenuadas por última vez El canto matinal del sol se ha esfumado como el tiempo que vaga entre las sombras monstruosas que se esconden en cada pestañeo tuyo. Palpitas toda entre canto y luz: sé que te desvaneces como una melodía y que tu voz es una duda envuelta en un siniestro remolino breve. Tu presencia: un hermoso atributo, un hechizo agitado ante el menesteroso que todo lo olvida. Ahora, ya más tibia, tu serena sonrisa es sólo un rumor más de la vida: apenas un hilo calcinado entre hierbas y piedra.

The Funeral Party , by The Cure (Richard Skinner Session, 1981-02-26)

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Lazy Line Painter Jane, by Belle and Sebastian

The immediacy of this song is the first thing I should mention. It starts quietly and builds slowly. The guitars are what I suppose a music journalist would call “shimmering”. There is a heavy reliance on a hammond organ, and about halfway through, handclaps enter the mix. All of this makes it seem like a song out of its time; this kind of thing doesn’t belong in the mid-1990s. But the moment I heard it, it grabbed my attention for another reason. I vividly remember where I was – in my bedroom, doing my biology homework while listening to the radio, and what it was that really grabbed me. I’ve always loved it when artists do duets between male and female vocalists, and Belle and Sebastian are perfect illustrations of a band who habitually do this. It begins with Stuart Murdoch’s usual type of vocal; quiet, carefully enunciated and in a fairly high vocal register. He’s almost whispering on the low notes. Then the female vocalist comes in, and that’s when I dropped my pencil. Here they’ve used a guest vocalist; Monica Queen and she’s not like the girls in the band. In fact, she sounds like she regularly eats boys like Stuart Murdoch for breakfast.

I bought the EP that the song was on. In the inlay card, along with the lyrics, was a short story about a girl called Jane, the story that had here been turned into a song; it explained a bit more about our heroine. And that was what made me really love this song, and why it still affects me ten years later; I identified so much with Jane that I had one of those unnerving moments when you irrationally wonder whether someone miles away in another country can read your thoughts. Jane is, in one obvious interpretation, your typical sad and introverted indie loner, the type immortalised by Morrissey so many times that it has become clichéd. I understood her predicament though; she lives in a small village, she is “dreaming of anything”, she wants out. There are intimations that she is in some “trouble”, and she seems to have acquired thrush from licking inanimate objects. The chorus tells us “You will have a boy tonight, on the first bus out of town.”

But at the same time she is more than the cliché; she is not just sad, she is positively defiant. Within a few lines, we find her “trying hard not to please anyone, all the time", she is defiant of the “business world” and of her family. By the end of the song, not only is she going to have that boy tonight, but “You hope that they will see”. It seems Jane has some point to prove. But while all this is going on inside her head, she is venting her anger in a manner that the short story tells us is her “Thursday treat”; she is “running miles in some boy’s jumper”. As she runs, she is picturing her eventual triumph over her circumstances and surroundings. The song keeps getting louder and louder, it keeps building right till the very end; we can almost imagine that we are running with her. By the last chorus, both vocalists are singing like their lives depend on it; much like the way Jane is running. It becomes difficult to tell which one is which at times, and I really think that’s because they are both Jane. She only stops when she is exhausted; she waits at a bus stop to go home. The song and the story leave her at the same point: “wondering how you got your name; and what you’re going to do about it”.

It’s the last line that’s the telling one here. She may not be sure where her destination is, but she knows how she’s going to get there. She was a girl of action, young Jane, not just words.

Ruby Soho, by Rancid

But all I’ve got is this blank stare,
And that don’t carry no clout at all

People who know about these things tell us that smell is more evocative of memories than anything else. I can see their point but, for me, it’s almost overshadowed by music. I associate this song so closely with two people that I can’t hear it without being reduced to an emotional wreck. And I suppose that’s a fair measure of the potency of music generally, and of this straightforward reggae-tinged punk song.

When you associate a song with a time when things are good, when you are close to certain people, and when it seems that things will continue in that vein forever, it is sometimes a surprise to realise that the song in question is in fact a sad song. Of course I objectively knew that already. But this fact was really brought home to me when all the things I had taken for granted came to an abrupt and unpleasant end. The death of a close friend is always hard, and so is a break-up with a person you had been so sure would always be there. I miss them both in innumerable ways, and when I hear this song, I am reminded why, and what those times were like. It seems fitting that it’s a sad song really. The really painful thing is that, while I am fine now, they are not, and so the memories will always be tainted. And that just breaks my heart.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Everything Reminds Me of Her, by Elliott Smith

You leave, and you think it is as if nothing had happened. But you know there is no nothing like forgetting: you walk that street and you can sense it, in the back of your mind, somewhere across the bone marrow of your spine. It can be a feeling that lasts for a mere two minutes and some seconds.

There is a light behind every guitar chord; a dark shroud around the empty-roomness of his voice. It's a brief snapshot, a guitar-and-voice-and-ink polaroid of those things-that-are-not-things that remind you of everything. It's difficult to accept it, but there's no need to lie about it; even when

The spin of the earth impaled a silhouette of the sun on the steeple

I am reminded, unavoidably, of her. It is, as a matter of fact, a question of light. Of those moments in which real life erupts into the present as a collection of memories made of tastes, textures, sounds and shivers. You may deny it, but there comes the moment in every one's life in which you have to accept it.

And you listen and you are reminded of those streets that have become forever meaningful. A song of memory and truth. Face it: you were so close, and you let it go...

Why are you staring into outer space, crying?
Just because you came across it, and lost it.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Kiko And The Lavender Moon, by Los Lobos

Just another band from East LA? No. And this song proves it. I remember when they came to Mexico City in march 2000. My father was a big fan, and when he lived with us he constantly listened to them. One of my first musical memories is him listening to the La Bamba sountrack. Rafa phoned me that same afternoon: "Hey, I got tickets for a concert by a band named Los Lobos later tonight. You know them?" I was shocked and a few minutes later, we were at the Blanquita Theatre, downtown. A half empty auditorium. No more than 600 people. Los Lobos playing rock and roll. Los Lobos playing blues. Los Lobos playing cumbia, "Kiko..." included. A couple dancing in the aisle. A security man telling them not to do it. They do not care at all, and keep doing it. David Hidalgo onstage with his accordion. César Rosas and his eternal sunglasses. Los Lobos playing mexican rancheras. Los Lobos jamming. Rafa tells me: "Where have these guys been all my life?"

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Space Oddity, By David Bowie

My first real musical experience. David Bowie. He probably seems the perfect starting place but the thing about Space Oddity, the thing that made it a turning point in how I saw music, was that it was never Bowie to me.

I heard if first years ago when I was about six or seven. It was summer and I was in the car with my mother. I am not sure where we were headed but we were just by Marley Park and it was bright out. The radio was not of much interest to me back then and I was in the back seat playing with one of my toys. That was until it came on. I don’t know if my mother had raised the volume of the radio or if it was just the shock of that voice coming up from the muted intro but I stopped what I was doing and I listened. The fact that I was a fan of anything to do with space was probably another big selling point.

I sat there listening in disbelief as Major Tom went into the endless unknown and was forever separated from his wife. This wasn’t how songs were suppose to be. Lyrics weren’t meant to have meaning or tell stories. People just wanted something that rhymed and was easy to sing along to. Songs were not meant to give you a space opera. Space was a topic only of interest to us Sci-Fi fans. Normal people just wouldn’t want to listen to that. Most certainly, songs did not end with the hero being lost. No one could possibly be interested in a song like this. No one but me. Whoever this singer was, I was sure that only he and I could understand the importance of this song.

My theory at that age was that it must have been some mistake, a complete fluke, that it had been allowed to play on the radio. I had been lucky to hear it. Of course I grew older and I learned of the importance of Bowie but for some reason I never really made the connection between him and this song for quite a time after that. This meant for a good six years at least the song existed solely as a cherished childhood memory that I thought was only for me. It is nice that I can now pull out the song whenever I want and that I know so many people who love it but, truthfully, I preferred it when it was a song that seemed specially written for me.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Faith, by The Cure (Richard Skinner Sessions, 1981-02-26)

As I read some shadows are creeping in my books: they hope to live among the curves, the names, the grey lines, the syllables. Even when the words live in profound stillness in my bookshelves, there is no reason to respect eternity. Shadows gnaw the heart of words tonight. My eyes, as they read, are ascending, climbing, sucking out the essence of life. There is enough light to see the incorrigible hope of some shadows: they lurched along the valley of the blank pages. They have been trying to find the proper shape of love: their muscles are climbing up those branches (my books). Naturally, I do not care. St Augustine’s words are echoing in my hands. Anything might happen. But words came to raise their voices mysteriously. The shadows wavered.

Words stilled life for a second. The light in my room became furtive: it was a look of perpetual apprehension.

My eyes broke off a bloom there.

Faith by The Cure (Richard Skinner Sessions, 1981-02-26)

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

After All, by Mojave 3

We trick ourselves into believing we are happy. We postpone, defer, intoxicate ourselves looking for a light. We are afraid, in the end, of truly feeling. We hear the first key, the guitar being scratched, the paced, regular slow march of percussive chords. In times of speed, slowness appears as unwanted, as sad: "please change that, it's depressing". We live in a culture of make-up and façade, the eternal masking of emotion. If it touches you, it's undesirable. Culture of superficiality and fear; culture of simulacra and pretense. But this music touches within, defies prejudices and demands from the listener an open skin, the acceptance of unhealed wounds. No, don't change that, sit there, still, and listen. Look into your abyss. After all, we are just looking for love. It takes a little strength. The will to look within. Give a smile to your own loneliness. Find something to believe in, holding tight. It's a question, after all, of becoming conscious. Things are not right but we pretend they are. We think no one else notices, but it is felt, indeed. Sit still. Dance with your broken heart. Listen to the cello come in, shine in its bass darkness with the luminous guitar, guided by the basic, delicious keyboard. The voice is spectral, as slow as the time needed to heal, full of echoes and siren's chants. We are all in a desert, under the starry night of our lonely self. But loneliness does not have to be painful. Have the will to stop having fear of being afraid, of feeling sad, of remembering, of accepting your failures. Let music speak to you and reveal truths. After all, this is something to believe in.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Blue Prelude, by Koko Taylor

Cuando se padece un dolor físico y ningún analgésico es eficaz, la esperanza se estrecha y los planes parecen totalmente arruinados. Te dices "no hay esperanza" y cualquier intento de contrarrestar esta idea se viene abajo; "no hay esperanza" repites y te convences de que no la hay. La prueba más sólida para tu desesperanza es tu cuerpo que decae sin remedio y que te deja sin espacio para respirar, para actuar. En este estado ni la esperanza del amor te anima, todo está perdido de antemano y te dices sin mucha convicción "ya veremos lo que pasa mañana", aunque bien sabes que mañana está a 24 horas de distancia. ¡Carajo!

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Names, by Cat Power

In your face I read the words: Fuck you and the whole world. That scared me a bit and made me feel respect for you. Man you had such nice black long hair when you were fifteen. I used to take pictures of you and you took pictures of me too. You were not good as a kid. You were not good enough in your teens either. That’s what assholes told you in school. Am I beautiful? You would murmur in silence. I never saw such a gentle smile in my life. I wished I had such a slim yet strong body like yours. But you couldn’t believe it yourself. And when that bitch came to your life, she told you you were gorgeous, because you were. But you thought she just liked you a lot and was sort of blind. Her greediness for you grew more and more. She wanted you and she wanted more. Everybody knew. I got tired of gossip and one day I asked her to leave you alone. You want me to kick your ass don’t you? No darling, I wanna kick yours I said, without really noticing what the fuck I was saying. Nothing happened because you came out of the house and I slipped away. (I’m on the peaceful side if you know what I mean.) Not a word about it. Not your style. Since I was a small girl I always worried for you, for your well-being. I always wanted you to be safe. It was my way to say: I love you. It was my clumsy way to say: You are beautiful. You were my baby brother, understand?