I figured I’d write about George Jones for First Song of the Month, and I figured I’d jump the gun and put it up today instead of on Wednesday. He was one of my very favorite singers of all time, someone I would think about on a daily basis. When an artist like that passes away, suddenly the whole world feels cheaper. I can’t think of a country singer better than him, past, present, or future. Country music has its towering, legendary writers, and its icons, and its total-package musicians, but it only had one George Jones and everybody pretty much knew no one else could touch him when it came to that voice. Like Johnny Cash, I imagine that as time goes on it will get harder and harder to believe there really even was a real George Jones, that the legend is going to devour the man, because those records are just going to grow and grow in stature until they loom above all the puny contemporary efforts of everyone who is still somewhat sincerely trying to make country music.
A new Lovestreams single.
Today I’m putting out a video for another one of the Lovestreams songs. The song is called “There’s Video.” This is a shorter edit of it – maybe at some point in the future I’ll put out the longer version. I did this video with my close friend Scott Coffey, the actor and director. Scott was in a bunch of films including several John Hughes movies and several more David Lynch movies before graduating to directing with Ellie Parker in 2004. He shot this video on an early-generation DV camera, the same camera he’d used for Ellie Parker, and it was already outdated then – with this weird early-digital video quality to the picture that manufacturers have since gotten away from, have improved on. Almost all of the effects are in-camera.
My Blackberry (when I had a Blackberry) did that thing of letting you put words it didn’t recognize into a “custom dictionary” so that it would recognize them and not try to correct them in the comical way that Apple phones do. I recently found the drawer with all my old phones, going back years, and looked at that custom dictionary file and realized the list of inputted words reads like this weird glimpse of my touring life circa 2009 or so. It’s like a tour diary where I don’t need to tell you too much more because you can fill in the blanks yourself.
No Guru, No Method, No Teacher, the album this song is from, was released in 1986, when Van was 41. Rarely-mentioned and underappreciated, the record is in many ways a perfect rock album for grown-ups. The production is professional and slick – at times, almost overly slick. The tempos are slow and relaxed. There are no fast songs, no moments of urgency, no rock and roll franticness. The instruments – keyboards, pianos, backup singers – all float in a glassy kind of haze. Fans of a rawer Van Morrison – from his earliest albums and his work with Them – would be excused for thinking of this album as soft. It is soft. This is the work of a middle-aged rock and roller who is fully, openly copping to and embracing his middle-agedness. As such, the general inoffensive prettiness of the music is a perfect extension of the theme. Under the musical haze, though, all the big themes of middle age are pondered. Looming death. Bodily “defects.” The temptation to sell out. Lost childhood. This last theme is most poignantly handled by Van’s frequent overt references to Astral Weeks, which this record is trying in some way to respond. On “In the Garden,” Van takes us to “that garden, we with rain.” It’s the same garden from “Sweet Thing.” Or at least it’s the same words.
I’m starting a new feature for this site called “First Song of the Month.” It’s just what it sounds like – a monthly feature on songs that have struck me recently, and why.
I have seen Woodstock and I have seen The Last Waltz. I have seen Don’t Look Back, Eat the Document, and No Direction Home. I have seen the Maysles Brothers’ documentary about the Rolling Stones, as well as Jean-Luc Godard’s semi-documentary about the Rolling Stones and Robert Frank’s notoriously unreleased documentary about the Rolling Stones, which legend has it you’re only legally allowed to watch in the presence of both Jagger and Richards. I have seen The Great Rock and Roll Swindle as well as The Filth and the Fury, Julien Temple’s two different documentaries about the Sex Pistols. I have seen that double-DVD Tom Petty documentary. I have seen the special features. I have seen the movie where Chris Holmes from W.A.S.P. slowly drinks himself nearly to death in a darkened swimming pool enclosure and Ozzy pours the orange juice all over the counter. To varying degrees, I enjoyed all these films, but if you asked me to tell you my very-favorite-ever cinematic document of a rock and roll band, I would have to break down and admit that it’s a 10-dollar import DVD of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show doing a live-for-German-TV performance sometime in 1974. I have seen it at least 30 times. No other cinematic musical document has so consistently reminded me what playing rock and roll onstage should, at its very highest point, feel like.
In the early part of last year I started renting a room down in a basement a couple neighborhoods over from my apartment in Brooklyn and I started going in and working every day of the week there, just shutting the door and writing until evening. I decided to do a project there I’d wanted to do for years and years, which is to make an album by myself and for myself, an album that doesn’t owe anything to music I made before.
A life lifted off a news page. A pictorial of you alone in your room, fighting off suicide furiously, with the Astronettes bootleg and a bent-back spoon. A bus tour through drab poverty. I came over and you offered me the guest room. A lie for a single pageview, courtesy of the assailant-who-loves-you. Advice for the heartsick clergyman. The snake in the grass and the ghost at the feast, the jack of all asses and the last of the least are all flown, first-class, to the team retreat. The inventor of anger. The perfector of being distracted when someone is talking to you, but just slightly – super slightly. She said, “I don’t care who you are and don’t care what you were – you can’t look away from the Shock Corridor.”
My last entry in this Top Ten Experiences With Music In 2012 series happened on Thursday night. I had a whole other entry planned, but Thursday topped that, which is nice. It’s nice when music can come out of nowhere and change your plans and change how you feel about the world going forward.