The Natives Have Grown Bored

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If you have writer’s block, or whatever you want to call it, should you simply forge ahead and adhere to some kind of logical writing schedule regardless, or should you wait patiently for your thoughts and feelings to coalesce coherently into some kind of transcribable shape? And if you choose the latter course — which we all know can sometimes mean waiting literally forever — is there anything you can do to help speed along the process?

A philosophically inclined friend recommends trying to go back to first principles, which to me is about making sense of the outside world from the relative safety of your bedroom using a cheap acoustic guitar and whatever clumsy, lo-fi recording apparatus is handy. (“Back in my room, I wonder then I/Sit on the bed, and look at the sky…”) Blown chords, flubbed lyrics, tape hiss, incidental background noises — that’s the aesthetic that will always be closest to my heart.

I don’t know much about Heather Merritt except that she’s an 18-year-old songwriter who lives in the Bay Area and listens to “Willie Deadwilder” every day. But what more do you need to know? Oh, and apparently she’s far along enough in her musical explorations to have discovered the unimaginable heart-tugging utility of the D-A-Em-G chord progression. (Listen how she uses it to throw an expert sucker punch, letting the line “movies that we’ll never see” hang in the air for a moment before completing the couplet.) First things, indeed. Lovely, Devastationalist and inspiring. More soon…

No Cure For Boredom (Heather Merritt)

Heather Merritt

Joe Lies

Here at Devastationalist HQ, we get a fair amount of e-mail from people helpfully alerting us to examples of Devastationaliana they’ve encountered out there in the real world. Their help — your help — is indispensable to our mission here, and though we have no decoder rings or other rewards to offer in return (yet!) don’t think your efforts aren’t greatly appreciated.

Like reader Joe McGinty, who sent in this song a few weeks back. (And really, he might as well have just sent me a bag of heroin! But I shouldn’t complain since he also was kind enough to supply his own accompanying guest bloggerel.) Take it away, Joe:

“Here is why it’s the Best Song Ever:

1. Heartbreaking lyrics that I relate to all too well. Check.
2. Sexy French chanteuse singing them. Check.
3. The Aladdin Sane meets Liberace piano part. Double check.
4. The second chord of the chorus. When it hits, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Oh, and also, the way she sighs right before the chorus, each time a little more resigned.
And the strings, coming in at just the right spot.”

Everything I Cannot See (Jarvis Cocker/Nicolas Godin/Jean-Benoit Dunckel)

Charlotte Gainsbourg

I feel you all around me
You are everything I cannot see
As the ocean crawls onto the shoreline
So you lap at the edges of me

And now, as I’m walking
I know that you’re watching me move
For as much as I need you
I must walk away from you

You’re my life, you’re my hope
You’re the chain, you’re the rope
You’re my god, you’re my hell
You’re the sky, you’re myself
You’re the reason I’m living
You’re all that I have to discover

You’re the rain, you’re the stars
You’re so near, you’re so far
You’re my friend, you’re my foe
You’re the miles left to go
You are everything I ever wanted
And you are my lover

So I carry I carry the flowers
The flowers that are dead in my hands
They will rise up at the very sight of you
They will naturally understand
That today is the day
That we find out once and for all
Now you know I must leave here
You must let me stand or fall

You’re my life, you’re my hope
You’re the chain, you’re the rope
You’re my god, you’re my hell
You’re the sky, you’re myself
You’re the reason I’m living
You’re all that I have to discover

You’re the rain, you’re the stars
You’re so near, you’re so far
You’re my friend, you’re my foe
You’re the miles left to go
You are everything I ever wanted
And you are my lover

If I leave will you follow?
Can I put my faith in you?

You’re my life, you’re my hope
You’re the chain, you’re the rope
You’re my god, you’re my hell
You’re the sky, you’re myself
You’re the reason I’m living
You’re all that I have to discover

You’re the rain, you’re the stars
You’re so near, you’re so far
You’re my friend, you’re my foe
You’re the miles left to go
You are everything I ever wanted
And you are my lover

And I love you now
As I loved you then
But this island life
Just had to end
But you will allways be
My special friend
I will carry you with me
And we can love again

Now the drizzle
Soaks us to the skin
And the stars hang like a noose
So let’s face this together
Now this storm is finally though

You’re my life, you’re my hope
You’re the chain, you’re the rope
You’re my god, you’re my hell
You’re the sky, you’re myself
You’re the reason I’m living
You’re all that I have to discover

You’re the rain, you’re the stars
You’re so near, you’re so far
You’re my friend, you’re my foe
You’re the miles left to go
You are everything I ever wanted
And you are my lover

Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most

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The other day, amidst dazzling sunshine, I attended a wake for a friend of mine. She was a little bit younger than me, and her infuriatingly short life had been characterized by stretches of both astonishing brilliance and debilitating psychological turmoil.

It was, of course, unbearably sad, but there was at least one moment of bleak hilarity:

There was an open casket. And one of the eulogizers (he was trying hard to make sure that all of us who hadn’t seen her for awhile got the point that it wasn’t suicide, that she had in fact managed to put her life back together in recent years) was saying how radiant and healthy she had been looking lately. And then, gesturing helplessly at the casket, at the corpse, he said: “This doesn’t do her justice.”

Good Day (Ray Davies)

The Kinks

Dead Like Me

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How many singers have covered the song “Lonesome Town”? Dylan does it sometimes. Paul McCartney. Jerry Garcia. It must have really touched a nerve back there in 1958, when all those guys were still teenagers and Ricky Nelson’s hit version was blaring out of car radios and juke boxes everywhere. Still, of all those cover versions, only the the Cramps truly managed to restart the song’s tinny, psychotic heart. And of all those singers, only the monster Lux ended up completely overcome, sobbing helplessly into the microphone.

Lonesome Town (Baker Knight)
The Cramps

Look Across the Water

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Right now, it’s Amy Winehouse pretty much 24/7 around here. (Liam’s favorite is “Rehab.”) And — I swear this on a stack of Bibles — I fell for her music before I knew even the slightest thing about her absolutely riveting personal life. But I couldn’t have wished for any sweeter icing on the cake of my obsession. (Be still, my heart.) Bless her.

“Valerie” is an acoustic cover of a song by The Zutons she did for a television show. My ex-wife was crazy about the original Zutons version (a UK #9, produced by Stephen Street — the song was written by The Zuton’s singer/guitarist, David McCabe) and had sent that to me about a year ago. I loved it too, and it immediately became an iPod staple. And so in the throes of my current mania I was both astounded and delighted to discover that Amy Winehouse was covering the song. A full-on neo-soul version appears on her new album, but this off-the-cuff performance is eminently more sublime — as such things so often are.

Valerie (David McCabe/The Zutons)

Amy Winehouse

Irresistible Addendum Department:

This Amy Winehouse quote from the LA Times comes via Mrs. Kennedy:

“I know there are people in the world who have worse problems than falling in love and having it blow up in your face,” she said. “But I didn’t want to just wake up drinking, and crying, and listening to the Shangri-Las, and go to sleep, and wake up drinking, and listening to the Shangri-Las. So I turned it into songs, and that’s how I got through it.”

It seems there are no end of reasons to love that girl!

Revel In Your Abandon

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A month ago I wrote about “It Comes and Goes” by Sandy Rogers, saying that no other song I know of better captures a certain kind of apocalyptic ennui. But there is a flipside to the rotgut and fleabags of “It Comes and Goes,” an equal-but-opposite, high-thread-count view of personal endtimes replete with caviar, champagne and kinky sex, all served up in the world’s poshest hotel rooms.

“Titanic Days,” by the late, great Kirsty MacColl, conflates the awesome, crushing power of romantic disaster with the enormity of civilization’s impending doom, and then upends the resulting mess by turning it all into a cause for celebration. I can’t for the life of me guess how this is done, but it gives me a mad rush every time I hear her sing, “My love/Always/We should rejoice/In these Titanic Days!” Kirsty makes it sound like if you’re going to go down anyway, it would be somehow more fun — more fuck-you defiant — to slit your wrists with a diamond-studded, gold razor.

Titanic Days (Kirsty MacColl)

Kirsty MacColl

Rusted, Rotted, Falling Apart

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This weekend we were talking about how, whatever it is you do, where and when you came into a thing will always disproportionately color your thoughts about it, no matter how many years you subsequently put in and how much more perspective you gain over time.

My idea of what constitutes a torch song was seared into my nervous system not by listening to Billie Holiday or Frank Sinatra, but by watching Cindy Wilson of The B-52’s singing “Hero Worship” at Max’s one night — cooing, crying, shrieking, moaning, growling, almost barking psychotically at the end, so overwhelming was her devotion. I could barely breathe, my teenage heart was breaking so hard.

The solo-Cindy-torch-song-from-the-Twilight-Zone tradition continued only to The B’s second album (or maybe third, if you count “Loveland” on Mesopotamia), but “Give Me Back My Man” on Wild Planet was at least the equal of “Hero Worship” in its surreal and unsettling evocation of lost love’s desolating effect. More than sad, it’s haunted. The part that goes, “Walking out of Korvette’s/Package in her hand/Motions to all the sea birds/Throws divinity on the sand” — that always scares me to death.

Give Me Back My Man (Schneider, R. Wilson, Strickland, C. Wilson)

The B-52’s

It Comes and Goes — Sandy Rogers

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No song I know of better captures the fleeting but unbearable intensity of certain terrible urges. The urge to die, to do yourself in, of course, but also the urge to just obliterate yourself with cheap rot-gut alcohol and filthy, loveless sex — to try and hide your soul from the eyes of god behind the locked door of a motel room.

It was Liz Seidman who first played me the album this song is from, the soundtrack of “Fool For Love” by Sandy Rogers, probably in 1989. Sandy was Sam Shepard’s sister or something, and she had made this kind of surreal, sparse, Devastationalist country masterpiece. I don’t know who had first played it for Elizabeth, but when she passed it on to me she made sure that I understood it was something more than a run-of-the-mill music recommendation.

Despite the subsequent attentions of Quentin Tarantino (who used the song “Fool For Love” on the soundtrack of “Reservoir Dogs”), to my knowledge, this record has never been reissued on CD, though vinyl copies are not hard to track down. (This un-pristine MP3 was made from a cassette of a cassette of the vinyl record — you don’t have to listen closely to hear the snap-crackle-pop.)

There was a follow-up CD, “Green Moon,” that came out in the late 90s (about a decade after “Fool For Love”) which I ordered by phone from Rattle Records in Santa Rosa, California. In the course of the call, it became apparent that the phone number was the home phone number of the Sandy Rogers household and that I was indeed placing the order with Sandy herself, though I was way too shy to capitalize on this realization by either gushing or asking a pointed question.

It Comes and Goes (Sandy Rogers)

Sandy Rogers

And When I’m Sad, I Slide

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It’s good now and then, especially when life won’t stop surprising you in the worst possible ways, to be reminded that music literally has restorative powers. As I was reminded by my iPod this morning while racing for the train. This song, written by Kathleen Hanna, is as beautiful as anything ever conjured up by a human being on this earth. I believe in this. Thank God.

For Tammy Rae (Kathleen Hanna, Billy Karren, Tobi Vail and Kathi Wilcox)

Bikini Kill

Past the billboards and the magazines
I dream about being with you
We can’t hear a word they say
Let’s pretend we own the world today

I know it’s cold outside
But when we’re together I got nothing to hide
Hold on tight I will never let you down
It can’t rain on our side of town

Wipe the sweat from my hair
Tell me we’re not better off
Wipe the tears from my face
The sunnyside of the street where we are

(Yes, this same song was previously featured on this blog in an earlier post
as one of 7 Devastationalist Wonders.)