366 Songs 160: I’m On My Way

Another song that got into my head at some point this past weekend, and one that’s far harder to explain away; I hadn’t really thought about this song for years, and when I did find myself remembering it, I softened the hilariously thick Scottish accents of Craig and Charlie Reid (That’d be the Proclaimers, known in America for “500 Miles” and little else, it seems) more than a little bit. But listening to it again, I kind of love it: There’s a very old-fashioned quality to it, especially when you get past the “I’m on my way/From misery to happiness today/Uh-huh uh-huh uh-huh” part and into… what, the bridge? The verse? I’m not sure how you’d define the construction of this song, really. But there’s an old rockabilly sense to this one that I love. It sounds completely at odds with everything that was happening in pop culture in 1988 when it was released, with the exception of Billy Bragg’s stuff at the time… which, now that I think about it, may be why I have such fond memories of it, really. Here’s to bands who wish it was thirty years earlier and somehow convince other people to wish the same.

366 Songs 159: Hello Sunshine

After the rain-themed songs over the weekend, I couldn’t resist choosing this one for today. The fact that I found myself with this song playing on repeat at some point in the last couple of days didn’t hurt, of course. There’s a comfortable feeling to this song, the slow march of it (with slide guitar, piano and constantly-present buzz in the background; it’s got a wonderfully strange arrangement, if you think about it) filled with the warmth of the vocals and gentle comedy of the lyrics (“If you fled a million miles/I’d chase you for a day/If I could be bothered”) to create something soft, unassuming and casually charming. It’s a lovely wee song, really.

A Rainy Day Idea For All That Free Time I Have, Somewhere

Put out here as much as a reminder to myself (Unlike David Brothers’ similar, more-thought-out post here), and short because I’ve not thought this out at all; it’s literally something that popped into my head as I was thinking about the work I still had to do as I wandered back from the gym on Friday. But!

I think I want to do a series of interviews with writers. It started with me thinking about my experience at io9, and the things I did and didn’t like there, and the way it changed me as a writer for better and worse, and then it turned into my wanting to talk to Laura Hudson about what she’d learned as editor-in-chief of Comics Alliance. I mean, that took over her life for years; I was on the periphery of that, insofar as she was my friend and I could see her never stop working, but also that the work wasn’t writing. I imagined talking to her about what she’d learned about writing through editing other people’s work for years, and how it affected her writing, and what she wants to do post-CA, and what she thinks about blogging as a format and an outlet and and and, and then I found myself thinking, wait, I could talk to other bloggers/journalists I know about that kind of thing as well.

I don’t know if there’s an audience for it, other than myself. I don’t know if there’s a reason for it, or whether anyone would say yes to even being interviewed/talking about this kind of thing (I haven’t asked Laura or anyone, I should point out; I just thought about it, then settled in to do more work because that’s what had to be done at that moment, and then life moved on until this came back to me, just now), but still. But still.

366 Songs 158: The Dogs of B.A.

There are too many things about the song that I could list as loving: The sound of the rain before it starts, and the sound of the sea as it finishes; the longing that’s so present in Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn’s voice as she sings (“I looked into the darkening/And while the air did chill/I knew that though I’m here in exile/That you should love me still.” I adore that couplet, the history implied and the selfishness of love gone away with the “You should love me still”); the accordian that appears at 2:13, weirdly and wonderfully fitting as the spoken word section begins and a reminder of how like the sea this song has been until now, ebbing and flowing, wonderfully choppy.

“So many tears could make me blind.” Another lovely, melancholy line (I’m listening again, as I write).

There’s an exoticness to this song, an alienness. But it’s not necessarily an attractive one, which I find makes the song more compelling. There’s something to “The Dogs of B.A.” that reminds me of the feeling you sometimes get in unfamiliar locations, where you don’t understand the language or where you are; even though everything surrounding you is beautiful and unusual, there’s a fear there, too. A sense of being lost, and powerless. This song suggests that to me, and not just in physical locations; it transfers that idea to romance, and love affairs gone wrong. I like that.

On Ana Marie Cox (Briefly)

I have long found myself identifying with Ana Marie Cox; I loved her writing when she was Wonkette, but since she left and went off to do her own thing, I’ve found myself following her from outlet to outlet and wondering whether I am destined to follow in her footsteps by accident (We both have the Gawker Media then Time thing happening). She was interviewed by Talking Points Memo this week about her media intake and output, and there are bits in there that just keep buzzing around my head:

What’s your writing day like?

I still appreciate all the things that are still cliche about the blogger. I do wear draw-string pants all day. I get up, I read, I email with my editor. I have a quota of about three pieces a week. The Guardian is not very rigid about what that looks like. I’m very lucky. I get to kind of pick the topics I’m passionate about. I’m most productive in the middle of the day or the end of the day. It’s been a kind of hard thing to learn about myself.

When I talked to The Guardian, blogging didn’t make sense anymore. It’s 140 characters or it’s something more thoughtful, or longer. People don’t really have an appetite for that 200-to-150 word post, I don’t think.

What’s the future of the “blog”?

I was an American history major, and leaned heavily on Marxist interpretations of history. Means of production determines what it is we trade. The technology supported the kind of short form, but not shortest form, posts of classic blogging. And technology now supports something different. It will depend on what technology supports, and what can be profitable. The blog format was not profitable. Who knows what is? I still think we might go back to nailing up signs on telephone poles.

One thing that can’t be undone: we will never go back to a period where only a privileged few get to put their voices out. I think journalists are finally coming to terms with that.

What use is Twitter?

Besides the news speed, I guess as a writer, my personality as a writer has always been that I like working within a form. If I was a poet, I’d write haiku. The restrictions and constrictions fit me, they bring out the trouble maker in me. Definitely Twitter does that. The trick of being able to say something in 140 characters is something I get satisfaction from pulling off. In a way Twitter is the area of writing where I am truly doing writing for its own sake. I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I have added something to a conversation.

Should journalism be entertaining?

Of course. Not always, but it’s not bad to be entertaining. I sometimes think, there are journalists and writers who, when it’s convenient, call themselves entertainers. I’ve been guilty of that myself. Sometimes you practice journalism whether you like or not.

At what point does humor get in the way of a serious point? Does it ever?

It doesn’t have to get in the way. What I’ve learned the hard way is that if you offend enough people, they will lose sight of the point you are trying to make. There’s a way you can use offense to make a point. It’s an area that I can’t give you any boundaries about. It is a risk that I’m obviously willing to take a lot of the time. It’s what passes for maturity in my world that I try to sometimes rein it in because I feel like the point I want to make is more important than shock value.

There’s a lot there that I’m still unpacking; I feel like I totally agree on the use of Twitter as “pure” writing, as well as the line about offending enough people that they lose sight of the point you’re trying to make. I got the funniest brush-off from someone I’d reached out to on Twitter today for a Time piece, and it just made me think that he was one of those people; he’d decided that I was “the enemy” and had better things to do with his time. Ah, well.

“It’s 140 characters or it’s something more thoughtful, or longer.” I keep coming back to that. I don’t think she’s wrong.

366 Songs 157: It’s Raining

My brain is too tired for commentary; today, I’ve declared something akin to a sick day – It’s officially my day of not producing content for people, and instead hanging out with my lovely wife and trying to pretend that writing about technology and pop culture isn’t a seven-days-a-week, twenty-four-hours-a-day gig. So, instead, this post written last night as you read this, during a rainstorm that is both chilly and refreshing, and a song that fits the bill for such days. I love Quasi’s scruffy pop; it’s funny and dirty and creaky in all the right ways. This is a great song, for all those very reasons.

(There’s another post in an hour or so, but I wrote that one on Friday evening as well. Technology!)

“When Words Don’t Do The Trick Anymore”

A song in a musical works best when a character has to sing— when words won’t do the trick anymore. The same idea applies to a long speech in a play or a movie or on television. You want to force the character out of a conversational pattern. In the pilot of The Newsroom, a new series for HBO, TV news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) emotionally checked out years ago, and now he’s sitting on a college panel, hearing the same shouting match between right and left he’s been hearing forever, and the arguments have become noise. A student asks what makes America the world’s greatest country, and Will dodges the question with glib answers. But the moderator keeps needling him until…snap.

I really like this breakdown of a speech in the new Sorkin show, by Sorkin. The idea of the dialogue as music appeals to me, especially seeing how it affects Sorkin’s construction of said speech. “To resolve a melody, you have to end on either the tonic or the dominant. (Try humming ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ right now, but leave off ‘snow.’ You’ll feel like you need to sneeze.) So Will ends where he started.” Makes me want to try and get better at everything I write; I want to claim music in my writing, even though it’s just words.

366 Songs 156: Son of Sam

Also from Elliott Smith’s Figure 8, also great: Son of Sam, which ends up with a lovely piano line but apparently started as something entirely guitar-based; this was originally released as a “demo version” of the song:

And here’s the final, album version with the piano taking the place of the guitar:

First off: The finished version really gains something from the piano, doesn’t it? Not that it wasn’t a great song before – It clearly was/is, not least of all because of the lyrics, which feature amongst some of Smith’s best; I’ll get back to that in a second – but the piano adds not just a fragility and variation in aural color, but also the greatness of the honky-tonk piano moment that happens after “King for a day” at 1:42.

Secondly, back to those lyrics: I love the creepiness inherent in the song, embedded deep in lines like “I’m not uncomfortable being weird/Long revered options disappear/But I know what to do” and “Acting under orders from above,” but the surrender as the song closes is a lovely piece of taking one common thing and turning it into something much less comfortable (As if naming the song after a serial killer wasn’t hint enough): “I may talk in my sleep tonight/Cause I don’t know what I am/I’m a little like you/More like the son of Sam,” followed by a “ahhhhh,ahhhh, ahhhh” breath out/pop note moment that’s just a little bit more unsettling because of where it ended up.

Here’s to being not uncomfortable, being weird.

366 Songs 155: Stupidity Tries

This just in from the “Lovely little pop songs that sometimes get lost in the reputation of their creators” department. 2000’s Figure 8 is, looking back on it, a strange album for Elliott Smith; it’s the only one, for example, that doesn’t include a cuss word anywhere on it, and also the one where he’s at his most obviously “produced,” for want of a better way to put it. Because of that, I’ve tended to think of it in my head as his “pop” album, which both is – It was created with the intent of “crossing over” and building on the success of XO, after all – and isn’t – Smith was never really not pop, if you listen to his music and hear his influences and obvious gift for melody – true.

Nonetheless, “Stupidity Tries” is a great pop song, one that mixes subtle arrangement (At 1:11, the lovely use of horns, softening the moment even though there aren’t any horns anywhere else in the song, and get replaced with pedal steel when the moment recurs at 2:21; the strings that provide structure and grace, lifting from the guitars at 3:23 and take the song home from there) and wonderfully… Smithian lyrics (“The enemy/is within/Don’t confuse/me with him”) to come up with something that could only be more delicious if it didn’t fade out at the end. I mean, seriously people: You can even hear it finish really quietly before the fade’s done. You couldn’t just have let that happen…?

Also lovely: Smith’s live versions of the song, which ditch the more elaborate orchestration for something more Beatles-rocking-out-y: