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Music Consumption: This American Life
03/10/1998 This American Life

I've had incidental music from This American Life lodged in my head for a while now. If anyone's familiar with it, let me know.

03/09/1998 Television: Marquee Moon

What can I possibly say about this? It's absolutely essential. (Do you sense a 70's vibe to my current listening habits?) Buy it, buy it now. Listen to the solos. Listen to the interplay. Listen to the whole damn thing over and over. It's been listed on enough "best guitar album" and "classic" lists, that--if you at all like music made with guitars--you pretty much have no excuse for not having listened to this.

Well, actually, you do. Television and Tom Verlaine never got the representation they could have from their various record companies. They tried, I guess, but it didn't seem smart--not enough copies were pressed, promo copies weren't sent to the right radio stations. I've seen evidence of this in a promo copy of Cover with the sticker of a local radio station that played, at the time Cover was released, adult mush-pop and/or lite dance music. Bad call.

But back to Marquee Moon. Maybe the only flaw on this is the way Andy Johns recorded Tom Verlaine's vocals--there's almost no bottom end to them at all, just treble. His later vocals have a bit more of a chest-voice sound to them. I don't know, maybe he did sound this trebly in the '70s, when his voice was several thousand packs of Gitanes fresher. In any case, the guitars lock and spar, pivot around different distinctive points, and the songs go from here to there in the most unlikely and (after several listens) inevitable ways. It beats most of its descendants hands-down, and it still sounds fresh after (is it really?) 21 years. And who/what else can you say that about?

Of course, it's got to be depressing for an artist to have a venerated debut work. Where do you go from there? Try Dreamtime, recently reissued, and, if you can find it, Words from the Front. Flash Light is also a masterpiece, but I haven't listened to it in quite a while--for about a year and a half I listened to it almost every day. Maybe I should take it out again. Also check out Warm and Cool. It's instrumental, and (as far as I know) the most recent thing he's released, apart from the Miller's Tale collection.

03/09/1998 Patti Smith: Horses

Patti Smith's Horses

Her description of this as "Three chords and the power of the word" fits. From the ecstatic lesbian "Gloria" (yup, that "Gloria") to the desperate gutter dreaming of "Free Money" to the creepy striving transformation of "Birdland" and "Land" (a surreal sexual awakening, "10 Bulls"-like Zen story set to--you guessed it--"Land of a Thousand Dances") this is clearly a woman to be reckoned with. Do you know how to pony? Compare this to just about any other major label release in '75. It spins in your mind long after you've turned off the stereo.

03/09/1998 Patti Smith: Gone Again

Gone Again is also worth checking out (and also features Tom Verlaine on a couple tracks).

03/09/1998 Philip Glass: Kundun

Also worth checking out is the movie Kundun and its soundtrack, which Glass did also. The Glass/Tibetan combination is frighteningly powerful. On NPR's Weekend Edition, there's a weekly review of film scores nominated for the Academy Awards; this week they covered Kundun along with another soundtrack. I thought they gave it short shrift--while they waxed over Danny Elfman's various attributes, the host and the musical expert guest didn't know what to make of Glass's work, particularly complaining about Glass's choice of abrupt endings to pieces, as well as discussing his work in terms of minimalism, which is inaccurate. I guess Glass's work is sort of like Feminism--there's some people who just don't get it.

03/09/1998 Philip Glass: Einstein on the Beach

Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach

The CBS vinyl set with booklet. I got this for $15 at a used record store. It had been played once, if at all. It's a stunning piece of work. While it's edited it down to fit on 4 LPs, there's still a lot to listen to. I've seen a few comments from Glass to the effect that "minimalism" is not a word that's at all applicable to his work, and I'd agree--particularly after hearing the work of La Monte Young, some of whose pieces truly are minimal (and which I like). There's a lot going on in Glass's work, but it's not beating you over the head with busyness. (Well, maybe it's beating you over the head, but not me.)

One of the most impressive moments for me is the first Knee Play, in which the two principle actresses/speakers/dancers speak one of the texts canonically. It's disorienting and strangely moving. The opera is hypnotic and transporting, as well as clear-headed, neutral, nostalgic, and late-night-lonely. Be open to it.

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