Future Mythologies

A Textual Journey with Maxwell Von Bismarck

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Oh wait, that last post was supposed to be about Jeff Buckley. Maybe he deserves a full length essay, with "Boy" as the centerpiece. Let's give that a shot.

I love the Smiths, and the first song by them that I loved was "The Boy with a Thorn in his Side", but it wasn't until I heard Jeff Buckley sing it that I knew what the song was really about. And his live half-improvised version (that I can't even find on slsk right now) makes it hard to hear anything in the Smiths version when I go back and listen to it.

Now I learn that it's not even a favorite among Smiths fans. Which is quite easy for me to now believe, as I feel like I'm half Smiths fan. The other half doesn't hate the band, but wonders what the obsession is that the other half has.

I am a lonely, skinny, white boy who stays at home and reads most nights (Friday nights at the library back in college, what nostalgia). But I don't adore Morrissey or think he's mad-sexy like Elvis or anything. I've certainly copped a lot of style from watching him in videos, but I was more convinced of the sexiness of Johnny Marr or Mike Joyce, who I guess are more traditionally brilliant musicians. Johnny Marr is the single greatest guitar player of all time, and Mike Joyce is a criminally underappreciated drummer who should have his own fan club. I was wary of solo Morrissey until I heard "Everyday is Like Sunday", and sometimes his voice ruins songs (Why can't he sing in tune on Ask??? It was so close to being the perfect love single!"

I forget about that half when I hear one song, of course. And that song is not "How Soon is Now", though it is a colossal single, the Smiths trump card, the crowning achievement. Yes, but the song I'm talking about here is:

Headmaster Ritual

Just the name sounds magical to me now, because I can barely sing it in my head, but I know if I put it on, I'll be transported to a different place. A place where Johnny Marr and Stephen Morrissey are telling 2 different parts of the same story at the same time. Marr tells the most beautiful stories through music. And Morrissey puts through the most chilling invective where the word "bastard" sounds like the dirtiest of swear words.

That, and the chorus has no words.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

How do I describe the feelings that rush through me, at the same rate as that of the many abrupt musical changes. The feeling, I mean, of hearing a sexagenarian "rock star" (America's Mozart? Well maybe in that neither accomplished anything of note after the age of 35).

It was the first thing I ever downloaded on mp3, in 1998, when the concept was known only to a few nerdish types. "Prayer" was enough to convince me it was the real thing (an actual legendary Beach Boys recording!) but it was Heroes and Villains that hit me, the moment where the vocal harmony kicks in. From then it on it was amazement after amazement, and it became the most important music to me my senior year of high school. Probably helped by the fact that no one I knew had heard it (actually, all the music I liked was like that).

So what is this new Smile like? A travesty? Brian Wilson making fun of himself forty years ago? No, he's probably being serious. That's the problem. It's like watching late night television and seeing someone do a half-assed parody of your favorite obscure song. The only decent example of this is Good Vibrations, where he seems to karaoke his own classic.

Or maybe it's that the original version was just so much better. The sketches, which seemed to convey empty landscapes of music that could have floated out of Wilson's mind had he actually gotten around to it. Empty canvases of ghost towns and praries, waterfalls splashing into the ocean, fires raging through 19th century cities. People chatting endlessly about carrots. Maybe it's the fact that Brian Wilson didn't have the stroke victim lisp (surely the most obvious sign he's not a teenager anymore). The fact that Carl Wilson was there (he was forever 16). Maybe it's that Brian Wilson seems to have taken his arrangement cues from the bootleggers, and not the other way around.

Or maybe it's that this is the ultimate toadie to the Mojo Morons, those who exalt the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan in roughly that order and see the rest of music as a gradual decline.

This album just doesn't seem to do justice to the memory of sitting at the chorus room piano, banging out "Holidays" because I had no classes that day (I was a senior!). A most carefree time when the world of recorded music seemed to hold so many beautiful secrets I had yet to uncover (well, it did!). Back when an indie record guide was the promise of a hundred swoon-inducing gems.

You, know, I used to think I was aging in reverse in regards to cynicism, but Brian Wilson Presents Smile makes me feel 80 years old, as I play it in the background on my laptop while I translate Greek sentences. I just wish there were more 2004 releases to soothe my spirit. As it is, I've only discovered a few, like the gorgeous dreamy swoon-inducing-for-sure "Could Well Be In", which I could write a review about by writing the opposite of every single statement I've made here.

I feel sick. I think I'll put on Mozart's 40th.


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