Matrix of sidewalks
Friday, June 25 2004
Gretchen and I both had hangovers today, although she had the additional problem of having spent hours throwing up instead of sleeping.
At 4:00pm we crossed the Hudson River and drove to Rhinebeck to see Michæl Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 on its opening day. We wanted to vote with our feet and be counted in support of this important film. But when Gretchen went to the Upstate Films ticket window and tried to buy a ticket only twenty minutes before the show, the ticket seller looked at her like she was crazy. It had been sold out for hours. We already knew it was sold out at the other local theatre showing it, Tinker Street in Woodstock, but for some reason we'd assumed we could waltz into a viewing at 4:00pm on a weekday.
For the past two days I've been listening to an apparently obscure rock band called Red Telephone. I use the term "apparently" because I can't find any of their music on KaZaA Lite. All of my Red Telephone MP3s have come to me by passively ripping the Indy Pop Rocks Shoutcast stream using StationRipper. The thing about ripping streams is that you never really know what you're going to get, so it's a great method for discovering new music. Station ripping was, in fact, how I discovered Red Telephone. Given their absence from KaZaA Lite, I'm actually going to have to buy their CD (what a concept!) if I want more of their music. There's an economic model here somewhere, but it only works for extremely obscure bands.
For an obscure band, Red Telephone has a surprisingly ordinary sound, at least on first listen. It's definitely pop rock, but that's where the contradictions begin. It's simultaneously minimalistic and progressive, with extremely simple guitar patterns layered in warm echoy washes over the lyrics. What makes it progressive is the complexity of the arrangements, which can linger for a tome in a beautifully creepy place and then somehow wander astray. Often the songs are profoundly disappointing in how they squander their potential, yet I'm drawn to them over and over again. The arrangements are best when they're leaving something unsaid. For example, my favorite part of the excellent song "Pennsylvania" comes after the lyrics
Pennsylvania, nowhere town
Wanted only to get out
Here you expect one of the guitars to repeat a gorgeous little hook it's been doing all the way up through the song's intro. But it doesn't. Instead what we hear is the drums marking time and the other guitar doing its much quieter lick that we hadn't really been noticing.
As you can tell from the lyrics above, Red Telephone likes the subject of suburban alienation. It's not just suburban alienation either, it's the kind that springs from youthful naivité, ignorance, and selfishness. That thing, whatever it is, is a beautiful thing. I've always been such an internally-focused person that I never really experienced suburban alienation, but I respect it and can empathize based on the thoughts I had as a kid. I remember being four years old and thinking, "Why am I here? How big is this bottle that I'm trapped in?" We can know the world is round and that there are billions and billions of stars, but none of that meant anything when you were a child. Your inclinations itched to hunt impala on the savannah or ride horses on the steppe, but you were trapped in a Matrix of sidewalks, ranch houses, and lawns. For all you knew, the edge of the World - or of the Universe - might have only been three miles away. All of us passed through a phase of medieval ignorance, and then the lucky among us graduated with personal renaissances. Each of us re-experienced an abridged form of civilization's history of discovery, just as our ontogeny recapitulated, to some extent, our phylogeny. For some reason the songs and lyrics of Red Telephone remind me of all these things in a way that nothing else except perhaps "We're Gonna Be Friends" by the White Stripes (which is very different in all other respects). I think the thing I'm talking about here is the lost Eden of experiencing the world without the distractions and biases of a sex drive.
How did I come to like this sort of music? It can't be nurture; music of this sort came into being well after the musical interests of my parents (such as they are) were cast in stone. Thinking about it, though, the pervasive asexuality of my musical interests probably had its roots in the overall asexuality of my upbringing (and I mean this in the WASPy "we don't talk about that sort of thing" way - not that anything so explicit as that was actually ever said).
Another unknown band I like is the Red House Painters, but only because they've managed to do a cover of Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs" that sounds a lot like Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer."
That's two bands having "red" in their names, though (judging by a search of my MP3 collection) "red" is a surprisingly uncommon adjective in band names. My interest in music references to that color comes out of an idea I had of maybe preparing a CD for our "Our House is Red" party, which we're having Sunday evening.
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