Sneak Preview

23 Jan

…from Eryk Salvaggio’s essay about “Electro-Shock Blues.” Full essay will be in Issue 1, coming in early March.

Electro-Shock Blues was about funerals and the weirdness of surviving them. It was constantly reassuring me that my euphoria was acceptable, even healthy, when first confronted with proof that life was arbitrary and terrifying.

The facts of that time have become compressed with those lyrics. Science tells us that we reconstruct our memories every time we recollect them. Memories aren’t photographs, they’re sets of instructions for imagining the past. Music can corrupt those rules. When my best friend came back for the funeral, did she and I drive to the top of a mountain to look at the city, “up over the billboards and the factories and smoke?” Or did I invent that image from the lyrics to “Last Stop: This Town?”



15 Jan

What’s your favorite song with horns these days?


Bjork – Human Behavior

13 Jan

Like a lot of people who were children in the early 90s, the prime MTV years, I (still) miss regularly seeing music videos on TV. I’m not sure why I was allowed to watch MTV when I was seven years old–it seems uncharacteristically negligent of my parents to have just plopped me in front of The Grind and Aeon Flux. But I have such clear memories of watching and very dimly comprehending the strangeness of MTV’s content that it just must not have been on their radar. I’ve heard that when you have children you simply drop out of the pop culture stream; I don’t know that my parents could tell you much about the movies, hit songs, theatre or literature that were released from about 1983 to 1995, when my brother and I were both young.

Music videos were unique in that they were consumed in mainstream venues but could nevertheless get away with being fairly avant-garde. The briefness of the format, supported by music that was already safely popular, seemed to allow for visual experimentation. They were like those short films that no one ever sees except in clips at the Oscars, brief flashes of oddity, except they aired on cable in the middle of the day.

Occasionally, they were even appointment television: I remember being allowed to stay up to watch the debut of the video for Michael Jackson’s “Black or White”; it was an event I experienced with my parents, and I still remember the impact that the effect of the rapidly shifting faces had on me. I didn’t grasp the political message of that, and certainly not the more radical overtones that came in a segment at the music-less conclusion, when Jackson screams, smashes a car, and transforms into a black panther. But I did intuit that there WAS a significance, something presumably belonging to the realm of adults, and that was satisfying in its way: it was a question I was moving toward unraveling.

The first time I saw Bjork’s video for “Human Behavior” was also the first time I felt something I’ll call sublime bafflement; a reaction of, “This exists?!?” It’s also what I felt when I heard Radiohead’s “OK Computer” for the first time, as a thirteen-year-old previewing the album at one of the listening stations in The Wall, my local CD store. (Which has, of course, gone the way of all flesh.) I had no vocabulary to dissect what I saw, no way of interpreting the grotesque moth, the creepy bear costume, the hyperrealism of the forest in the video–but it was kind of better that way. The mysteriousness penetrated and was swallowed up inside me and I accepted it as a part of life, that there were symbols and messages you could understand and not understand at once. I think Jung would have had fun with “Human Behavior.”

It could be that music videos helped prime me for trying to become an artist. I think they made me a more receptive consumer of art–I don’t feel inclined to demand cogent explanations of, say, a David Lynch movie or a Haruki Murakami novel. The process of art-making is imbued with mysticism, so it makes sense that the output, too, may register with the reader or viewer or listener as somehow true without, at the same time, making total sense.

When I was seven, my childhood best friend’s father died after a long illness. That night, when his mother asked him what he wanted to do–an act that I see now as suggesting impressive trust in a child to have an instinctive knowledge of his own needs in an incomprehensible situation–he said that he wanted to come to my house. It was the night of the MTV Video Music Awards. We sat in silence in my den, watching. I remember Pearl Jam getting the best video of the year award for “Jeremy,” and Eddie Vedder said in his acceptance speech that if it weren’t for music, he, too, might have shot himself in front of a classroom. I hadn’t realized that was what was happening; children can be very literal, and I thought that the lyrics “King Jeremy the wicked / ruled his world” meant that the song was about a boy presiding over a fantasy kingdom. I wanted, and couldn’t, say anything to my friend about his father, and probably he felt the same way. It was a night that I understood that terrible things happen.


Sunset Rubdown, Mending of the Gown

12 Jan

I’ve found that one of the odder aspects of my personal relationship with the music I listen to often is that I create narratives for the musicians–usually the singers–based on what I hear, and I don’t want that disrupted by reality. I’ve always imagined that the opening to “Mending of the Gown” is pretty much what it is like inside Spencer Krug’s head, jangly, chaotic, a sensitive, jumpy positivity that could be easily upended by an offhand remark. (“And the paddle go up and the paddle go down”…) I imagine a person with both incredible energy and sensitivity, an endearing combination. Perhaps not all that self-aware. I’ve also always envisioned the woman who sings back-up as being madly in love with Spencer–she thinks he’s the most brilliant person she’s ever met–and he is somewhat oblivious to this.

Is it creepy to do this, a kind of real person fan fic? I do realize this character is just my projection, more a composite of people I’ve known, and my self, than about Spencer Krug. In any case I find this kind of daydreaming that comes about when I listen to music useful in developing characters in my own writing.

Another aspect of my enjoyment of Sunset Rubdown is that it’s the kind of music that is probably extremely annoying to a lot of people. Most of their songs have ADHD, or OCD, building walls of sound, zipping through instruments and structural change-ups, occasionally getting stuck on a particular riff for what most people would probably consider to be way too long. I could understand finding it completely abrasive, and it makes me feel a little superior that I don’t. In a similar vein, I’ve had more than one close relationship with an utterly misanthropic man, and felt it must indicate my specialness that he actually was fond of me. Doesn’t it often feel like music chooses you?