Archive for August 2010
Today was Michael Jackson’s birthday, and there was a massive dance party in Prospect Park. We heard it, but didn’t get to see it: We walked Toby through the park in the late afternoon, and the music was booming from the direction of the Nethermede, but Toby wasn’t having any of it and kept tugging in the opposite direction. To his canine sensitivity, the very firmament must have been atremble.
Here’s a video of Blondie recording a cover of a Michael Jackson song during the sessions for their upcoming album, Panic of Girls.
A while back I downloaded Bon Iver’s incredibly lovely cover of Feist’s “The Park,” made when he was visiting an Australian radio station, and for months I listened to it endlessly. I only recently found the video of the performance, which is … okay. It doesn’t exactly add anything to see the prosaic studio trappings or the deejays solemnly looking on, or to listen to their prefatory chucklings. Best to go here and download the song straight up (it’s free).
I think I can safely say that playing soccer has been the high point of my summer. (Caleb’s weekly making of peach-blueberry crisp, which will be taking place in just a few minutes, runs a close second.) I’ve only played the game three times. I’m only marginally better than I was the first time I played. But I wait for our Saturday game all through the week. The feeling of your foot making contact with the ball, of a really good kick—it’s amazing! How could I not have known this all these years? I thought I was a generally non-competitive person who liked his exercise solitary. But it turns out I really like it when my team scores. I like being part of a team. I like falling down. I like the high-fives. I like playing in the evening as it gradually gets dark, and having to quit because we can’t see any more.
The New York Times Magazine ran a piece the other week about the relationship between music and exercise. Essentially, the more upbeat the music on your headphones, the better the workout. I run with an iPod, which is about 95% loaded with melancholy folk music, and I’ve been making an effort to skip over those songs until I find something that will put a little spring in my step. Obviously, I can’t listen to music while playing soccer, but I usually have a song floating through my head anyway. There is that odious musical genre, the “football anthem”—“Tubthumping,” “Unbelievable,” etc. I can see why it works, though, and tonight, out on the field, I was earworming this new Crowded House song, which has a propulsive beat but is subtler stuff. I keep waiting for the video to go from negative to positive.
Twelve hours later: Last night I lay awake thinking about how few years left I have to play soccer. I’m in my early 40s; I’m in pretty good shape, never been seriously injured (knock, knock). Still … ten more years? Do fifty-somethings play soccer? I don’t see a lot of them out there. And to think of all the years in my 20s and 30s when I didn’t play soccer! I was so misguided then that I got my exercise by going to gyms and health clubs. The worst! I’m now dismayed that I poured good money into pedaling repetitiously on droney elliptical trainers and lifting heavy stupid things—and of course, gyms being pleasureless, I didn’t go all that much, though that didn’t stop the monthly credit card charges from coming—when all I needed was a ten dollar soccer ball and a plot of parkland, and I would have been infinitely happier. Down with gyms! People of the world, take to the pitch!
Soccer. Soccer, soccer, soccer.
“Oblivious” sounds as good here as it ever did, and it’s my favorite Aztec Camera song just like it’s everybody’s, but I don’t have any particular associations with it. Some years later, though, I flew to England to visit my friend Kim—my first trip to England, and my first international flight alone. I flew overnight and slept restlessly most of the way, and when I woke up in the morning we were an hour or so outside of London. I felt groggy and crummy, but the sky outside was perfectly blue (possibly the only blue sky I was to see for the trip), and I found “Spanish Horses” on the Virgin music program. Even though the song was ostensibly about Barcelona, it seemed to contain all of my nervous excitement about arriving in a new city. I was working at a Boston bookstore that was owned by an English company; half of the staff was British, so my pockets were stuffed with lists of places my friends had told me to visit, of people to look up, of books and music I hoped to buy.
My high school was pretty rigidly segregated when it came to music fanship. There were a very few new wave kids who liked Duran Duran and Squeeze and other cuddly British bands; one boy in my class had a “Frankie Say Relax” t-shirt. The enormous middle population, the kids who didn’t fall into any particular camp, liked relatively bland stuff like the Police and Genesis, maybe a little Madonna. The jocks liked Journey. The burnouts, who hung out between classes and during lunch in our school’s outdoor “smoking area”—this was the mid-’80s, remember—liked Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Rush. In my senior year I switched from bland to new wave, but I was pretty certain that I was never going to listen to Led Zeppelin in my lifetime.
A few years later, in college, I read somewhere that Let’s Active, a band that I liked, was covering “Dancing Days” at live shows. I was at my new waviest then, and I thought, really? The point about bands like Let’s Active was that they were underdoggy; they were supposed to be for the kids who were intimidated by Led Zeppelin, by all that noise and satanism. I wanted to hear what there was about this song that attracted Mitch Easter, my hair care idol, so I bought a cheap used copy of Houses of the Holy. I played “Dancing Days” a bunch of times, and thought it was actually pretty good. Then I went out and bought the album with the symbols for a title—this was thrilling; me buying Led Zeppelin albums! I picked out some favorites on that, like “Going to California,” which I had heard was about Joni Mitchell. I liked these songs okay, I should say; I didn’t like them nearly as much as I liked, say, Aztec Camera or the Three O’Clock; I probably convinced myself that I liked them more than I did. But mixed up in this liking was the feeling that I was playing outside of type—that I could effortlessly cross into the high school camp of kids who liked bad, scary music. (The badness was confirmed for me when a friend and I played “Stairway to Heaven” backwards and heard the warpy—but genuinely chilling!—devil-worship messages that might be real or might be some kind of mass delusion.) I became pretty proud of the fact that I liked Led Zeppelin, and another part of this was probably a kind of straining to be not so typically gay, because, you know, at the time I really liked Erasure a lot too.
I can’t even say that I’m completely over this phenomenon twenty years later. The other day we went to a stoop sale in our neighborhood. A young couple were transferring all of their CDs onto iTunes and getting rid of the actual discs, an act of questionable wisdom, but we picked up for two bucks each Pedro the Lion and Mount Eerie—which, truth be told, are still sitting here unlistened to. And then the couple didn’t have enough singles to give us back the dollar in change they owed us for the Fiestaware teacups we bought, so they said, why don’t you pick out another CD? I took Early Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin Volume One. Mostly I wanted to hear “The Battle of Evermore,” in the more recent context of being a Sandy Denny enthusiast (I find the song a little grating, actually), but also there was a little bit again of, ah, the loud music that the good kid likes! I’ve skipped around on the disc while cooking dinner, and I still don’t know where I stand with this band. Do I genuinely like them, or do I ironically like them, or is it somewhere in between, that they’re just pretty good if I’m in the mood? I love the massive drum sound at the beginning of “When the Levee Breaks,” but then there’s a lot of caterwauling after. The first half of “Stairway” is a little ridiculous. And I just don’t want to hear “Whole Lotta Love” again, ever—I had to hear it so many times blasting on boomboxes from the back of the school bus. Mostly, the songs exhaust me.
Not “Immigrant Song,” though. “Immigrant Song” is awesome.
Last night we played soccer in Prospect Park with some friends. The last time I played soccer was probably in 1984, for high school gym class, and so I was a little rusty, to say the least. We played with two teams of four, and it took me the first fifteen minutes to remember who was on my team. I didn’t get any fantastic kicks in, and when I did kick the ball, I’d forget that I was supposed to be kicking it to someone—I’d look up and realize that I was kicking it in the direction of our opponents. But once or twice I did some good defense. I know this because a few times the ball came towards me, and other players came after the ball, and there’d be a quick little kerfuffle in which my foot would graze the ball, which then went off in a different direction, and the other members of the team would say “good defense.” Mostly I just ran around, hoping that I wasn’t ruining the game. But everyone was nice, and there was no one yelling at me “Why didn’t you cover him?!?” or “What are you, afraid of the goddam ball?” like there was in high school. It was a pretty good reminder, if I needed one, of why being an adult is so much better than being a teenager.
Today I feel too sore and sluggish to come up with any high-concept blog posts. I just landed on the above Superchunk video, though, which I’ve always thought was very funny, so I’ll post it. The video is so funny, in fact, it’s easy to forget that the song is really good too. The “directors” are played by David Cross and Janeane Garofalo.
Superchunk often tucks acoustic versions of its songs on b-sides, and I always like those, sometimes better than the original band versions. This is one of their early songs, performed by two of the group’s members, Mac MacCaughan and Laura Ballance, at a bookstore last year, on a tour to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Merge, the record label they own, and the publication of a book chronicling its history.