Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Second Albums and First Loves: On Infidelity in Stereo

I was driving home today when, god bless ‘em, one of those lovely kids at KRUI jammed Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You.”  It’s great to know that it’s still hooking ‘em all these years later, because the track meant a lot to me.  I think I first heard it when I was 15, or maybe even younger.  Friendless loser that I was, I spent a lot of Friday nights home, staying up after my parents went to bed, and occasionally catching a late show on CBS which would occasionally play “alternative” music.  One of these times I caught a video for “Fade Into You,” nothing but fuzzed out black and white footage, shakily shot from weird angles, equally blurry, burned-but-beautiful sounds, stuff I’d never heard before, really landmark for me.  I jammed So Tonight That I Might See for years after that.  (You can see the video here - it’s extremely weird for me to watch it now, all these years later, resonances of a person I barely remember being).

But when I picked up their followup, Among My Swan, I was massively indifferent.
It’s a really amazing trend in my music consumption – Endtroducing . . . was mind-boggling, but I never even bought The Private PressBoy in Da Corner was a game-changer, but Showtime just turned me off.  More recently, Yellow House changed my life, but I can’t say I’ve listened to Veckitaminest more than three times.  And let’s not get started on third or fourth albums – as much as I was in love with Aesop Rock’s Float, there’s a review off Bazooka Tooth floating around the internet in which I’ve got basically no kind words for him.

What it boils down to is that, even though I am a music scholar (or maybe this is because of it), I’m a really, really bad music fan.  Oh, I love music, don’t get me wrong, but the more I look back, the more I realize how little interest I have in following musicians.  I am the exact opposite of some friends of mine who own every Prince record (Prince!  That’s a lot!).  I guess I conform quite a bit to the ultimate hipster stereotype, the guy looking for “the next big thing.”

But I’m in love with the thrill of finding some sound you couldn’t have even imagined five minutes before you heard it.  You rarely get that as you stick with a group or artist for the long haul – they inevitably get boring or predictable.  Of course, this is just me – plenty of others are fascinated by the detailed process of artistic evolution, pay attention to the small things, maybe feel as much about them as I do about the radical innovations by totally new entrants.  I don’t want to go off the deep end here, but their way may be healthier, at least if we allow any parallel between music fandom and any other part of life.  Take relationships, for instance - what if all my music crushes were women?  Maybe I’d look longingly at the stability of my long-married friends, still fans of one act after all these years.  Of course, maybe they’d feel some similar twinge of jealousy towards me from the other side of the divide.

As lush and romantic as “Fade Into You” is, the aspect of it that grabbed me, even at 15 years old, is its crushing bleakness, from Hope Sandoval’s smoked out, Old West, slowhand croon, to the plodding tambourine, to the shambolic pedal steel.  Not to mention lyrics like “I look to you and I see nothing . . . You live your life, you go in shadows.”  It’s about a love that turns, sooner or later, into alienation and indifference.  It’s about a new sound, a new voice, that eventually grows stale, empty, and disconnected.


Gonzo said...

As the aforementioned friend who owns every Prince record (or do know many of "us"?!) - a few thoughts.

I've always been someone that gets invested in artistic development and career arcs. It's been very easy for me to hear an album or two of an artists and quickly develop an impulse to consume their entire catalog.

I think you're right though, that there is an inevitability of an artist reaching predictability, or more to the point - I totally buy that all artists have a creative "peak." Some have a longer run than others, but I think the most extreme and exceptional cases (Bowie, Prince) have only about a decade's worth of innovation in them. And while I will continue to buy each new Prince record on the day of release, I gave up expecting true innovation in the early/mid 1990s. At best, he (and other artists in this phase of their career) can come up with a pleasing, solid record, but no new tricks.

I'll say this though - I don't find myself engaging in this type of engrossment as much these days, and throughout, most of the artists I have done this with have been the big canonic figures (Bowie, Prince, Zappa, Stevie Wonder, P-Funk, etc. etc.). The last artist I can think of that produced a level of obsession in me is Jack White.

end lengthy rant.

Gonzo said...

Oh and "Fade Into You?" Total classic.