Tundra — Casey Dienel

Something a little more obscure and contemporary to balance things out. From Casey Dienel’s debut album, “Wind-Up Canary.”

I marvel in awe at the humble idiosyncrasy of songs like this. And the little details kill me, like the tulle she “bought at JoAnn Fabrics.”

Tundra (Casey Dienel)

Casey Dienel

7 Devastationalist Wonders


1. For Tammy Rae — Bikini Kill

A tsunami of white noise that sounds like it was recorded in a basement using tin-can/string technology hides an unbearably fragile melody and the sad truth that romantic love can’t keep the awful outside world at bay forever, no matter how loud you play.

2. Creep — Pretenders

Overwhelming live acoustic cover of the Radiohead song. When Chrissie says cry, you cry.

3. When I Was Drinking — Hem

Question: Would you trade hard-won sobriety to go back to the days of wine and roses? Answer: Maybe. And how does Sally Ellison pull this off without even the merest hint of sentimentality?

4. These Days — Nico

5. I Really Wanted You — Mascott

This is Kendall Jane Meade’s cover of a song by English folkie Steve Tilston. Quietly done, simple, clear. A bleak winter day of a song.

6. Putting the Damage On — Tori Amos

Come on! How is this done?? Really! How does she do it?? And it not only rips your heart out — it’s even funny!

7. To Sir, With Love — Lulu

If it only had the “What? What?!” it would be on this list, but of course it has so much more.

Bruiseology — The Waitresses

I don’t think I want to just start randomly posting Devastationalist Masterpieces here — hell, if that were the case, I could just upload the entire contents of my iPOD. But this song is exceptional because the whole concept of Bruiseology (!) is such an incredibly self-aware formulation of the Devastationalist’s Dilemma. (And not just lyrically, I might add. The music does a very good job of capturing what it sounds like inside a Devastationalist’s head.)


The Waitresses

Co-Coward — Bettie Serveert

If there were a Devastationalist Hall of Fame, “Dusty in Memphis” would no doubt be one of the first things you’d see displayed under glass in the grand entrance rotunda (after you made it up all those tear-stained marble steps, past the imposing 50-foot statue of Nico and her harmonium). But not all Devastationalist Masterpieces are created by the obvious Devastionalist Masters — those who devoted their unhappy lives to the practice.

For most people, thankfully, Devastationalism is a temporary, transitional state like any other. And when you are making songs, for example, you can potentially capture that (or any) state with a purity that by definition does not and could not exist in real life, which is always impure, constantly in transition. And it would be an egregious error to compare the purity of the songs with the compromises of real life, and find real life to be lacking in integrity because of this.

For a certain kind of person, this is an easy mistake to make. And not that I would ever presume to make any kind of rules about anything, but a good rule of thumb might be that you should try to make work that resonates truthfully with your life, rather than try to live a life that resonates truthfully with your work. Sometimes I get that backwards, to understate the case.

Another tangential point to add might be that “resonance” is a tricky thing, and can be achieved in an infinite number of ways — direct mirroring is one way, certainly, but perhaps not the most advisable. (Though I guess sometimes you can work things out in songs you can only aspire to catch up to in real life.)

I have been listening to Bettie Serveert’s “Dust Bunnies” this week because it seems to me that a lot of it is about trying to break free from the bonds of Devastationalism. One song, “Misery Galore,” goes like this in its entirety:

Have I felt this way before
All my life was misery galore
I got used to living on my own
Got my feelings safely tucked away at home

Now my feet have finally touched the ground
Now my eyes have finally looked around
You say, where have you been all the time
I say somewhere drifting, drifting in my mind

But “Co-Coward” is my current fave. I truly believe that if your heart is true and you deal in genuine good faith, sometimes you get a second chance to atone for your tragic mistakes. I was going to post an MP3 of the song here, but could not resist showing off how I figured out the YouTube video thing. Besides, the video is pretty funny. Never hurts to add a little Yin to the Yang.

Devastationalism’s Greatest Hits

In an earlier post I talked about how I liked a certain song of mine because I thought it came closest to capturing the Devastationalist spirit. But of course, there are Devastationalist Masters out there in the world, the hems of whose garments I am not worthy to even touch.

Maybe in future posts I will try to draw a Devastationalist map of music, books, movies and TV that represent the vertigo-inducing pinnacle of Devastationalism. I could list literally hundreds of examples. Maybe thousands. Probably you could, too. Like “Dusty In Memphis,” one of Devastationalism’s purest, most sacred and holy artifacts. This particular song can boil blood.

Don’t Forget About Me (Goffin-King)

Dusty Springfield

More Songs to Dead Friends


Cake on a Rake

Philip Shelley and his Amazing All-Girl Band

My ex-girlfriend Jan sometimes worked for a friend of hers who did balloon-animal shows at children’s birhtday parties, and one day they needed a third hand to help out carrying stuff, driving, etc. The party was at a big, rich house on Long Island. About 50 little kids. After setting up, there wasn’t much for me to do but drink Heinekens in the corner and watch the show. When they brought out this big, humongous cake for the bratty little brithday boy, he burst into tears! “I didn’t want cake,” he bawled, “I wanted Cake on a Rake!” I had no idea what he meant, but for the first time all day I sympathized with him.

Hey Caroline, is it simply divine
Or is it lonely where you are?
I know it’s hard to judge the distance
But it’s really not that far

And in a way I’m glad you never had to see
All of the things you love collapse so easily
Like tissue paper huts in a monsoon

Caroline, don’t apologize
You gave a good fight
You dared to meet their eyes
You didn’t want cake
You wanted cake on a rake

Out in the yard I play your tape
And I think about that spring
I should be sad, but I’m all right
‘Cause I love to hear you sing


Post-Mortem Bar

Philip Shelley and his Amazing All-Girl Band

An All-Girl Band staple. This was the amazing, heartbreaking acoustic song that played over the final scene of the movie “Longtime Companion.” The movie credits said it was by someone called Zane Campbell. This was in pre-Internet Stone Age, and Mr. Campbell proved impossible to track down. Nor could we find any CDs. We asked everybody, scoured little record stores, nothing. We ended up learning the song by renting the video of the movie and holding up a cassette recorder to the TV. Later, it turned out Zane Campbell was alive and very well, right here in New York. He had a brilliant band called The Dry Drunks, and was playing around everywhere. He had heard that there was this other band out there (us) doing his song and showed up at one of our gigs, so we corralled him onstage to sing it. I’m sure he’s still around, though I haven’t seen him in years. I do know that his original version of the song has many more verses and doesn’t go to the bridge directly after the first chorus — the movie people had taken a few liberties with his recording. But it was the only version we knew.

When I cleaned out your room
I painted the walls to cover any memories
But still it seemed like you were hovering over
Still out there keeping an eye on me

We’ll go down to the post-mortem bar
And catch up on the years that have passed between us
And we’ll tell our stories
Do you remember when the world was just like a carnival opening up

If I could have just one more day with you the way it used to be
All the things I should have said would pour out of me

I took a walk I didn’t know which way I was going
But somehow or other I ended up here
Where we said we’d meet again and I guess I was hoping
But the place had been closed down awhile
It was all dark in there

Country Mile — Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura is the first band I’ve fallen head over heels in love with since my friend Rebecca turned me on to Hem back in 2002. I’ve been playing their current album “Let’s Get Out of This Country” incessantly this week, especially this song. Exquisitely gorgeous.

Country Mile (Tracyanne Campbell)

Camera Obscura