Friday, July 18, 2008

Summer Jamz #8: Theon Weber

Download this mix:

Privately Owned

In high school, a little deranged, I called what most people call mix CDs “Grand Anthologies”, and gave each one an oblique title and liner notes written as if I had an audience of millions (if a particular Grand Anthology didn’t soundtrack my walk to school as well as I’d hoped, I’d refer in the notes for the next one to “disappointing sales”). The last Grand Anthology came out in 2004 - my senior year. It was called “Grand Anthology: The Last One”, so with this new one - which by the way is called “Privately Owned” - I join the ranks of Jay-Z, Michael Jordan, and Dick Nixon. Understand that I have since 2004 become clearer, neater, except when it comes to Grand Anthology liner notes. Because the liner notes for “Privately Owned” were written in a hurry, and I’m not sure they make sense. The album’s about summer. Just keep that in mind.

01 T H E W R E N S. surprise, honeycomb.

02 G H O S T F A C E K I L L A H. walk around.

03 T H E K I N K S. top of the pops.

04 O U T K A S T. gasoline dreams.

05 U 2. zooropa.

06 B L U R. on your own.

07 B I K I N I K I L L. i like fucking.

08 W H Y ?. fatalist palmistry.

09 T H E R U N A W A Y S. queens of noise.

10 O K K E R V I L R I V E R. plus ones.

11 T H E R O L L I N G S T O N E S. ventilator blues.

12 E M I N E M. my fault.

13 T R A V E L I N G W I L B U R Y S. margarita.

14 D A V I D B Y R N E. miss america.

15 R A D I O H E A D. palo alto.

16 F U N K A D E L I C. can you get to that.

17 T H E V E R O N I C A S. untouched.

18 Y E A H Y E A H Y E A H S. dudley.

19 T H E D A N D Y W A R H O L S. big indian.

20 L I L ‘ W A Y N E. sky’s the limit (ride 4 my niggaz)

SURPRISE, HONEYCOMB (1). I’m typing this from a studio apartment in Portland, Oregon, at the tail end of a hazy First of July, and what this song is about - besides picking up an old crush as accompanist for a murder spree - is summer restlessness, the desire to get something done, even if it isn’t constructive, and the (secondary) desire to get someone to do it with. But itches lead to impulses, and impulses don’t always pan out. Witness WALK AROUND (2), in which Ghostface, always the world’s tensest gangsta, shoots someone without quite meaning to, can’t get over it, and by the end is pacing back and forth, waving off suggestions and requests to chill, insisting he isn’t going crazy, and finally going back outside because “I can’t take this shit no more; it’s too hot”. Which it is.

Then again, sometimes things work out, transient or not; TOP OF THE POPS (3) chronicles the first half of what Ray Davies’ dry crankiness makes clear will end badly, but that’s what happens in summer: three months of cresting thrills and then it’s September. This song doesn’t end in September, though - it ends in, oh, early July, time to break out the hamburgers and camping permits and GASOLINE DREAMS (4), a flag-burning so severe (and festive!) we need ZOOROPA (5) to come down from it. Zooropa is all about being in Europe and looking at advertisements from behind sunglasses, which makes them look cool (polarization), and it’s probably best to keep the sunglasses on what with the light and the heat and the haze and ON YOUR OWN (6), which might make some kind of lyrical sense beyond Damon Albarn’s vague state-of-the-States, um, “tapestry” (Ross Perot is mentioned, and California, and the chorus - “my joy of life is on a roll” - appears to have been translated from something) but which doesn’t need to because vague tapestries are precisely the sort of thing to which we’re itching to pledge allegiance.

So: we’ve got a season and a country, now we need some ideology. It’s too hot to really work at this, so let’s go with I LIKE FUCKING (7), which along with “White Boy” and probably “New Radio” is the angry giggly capstone of Bikini Kill’s most attractive pyramid. The thing about this band is they were funny. Nobody remembers they were funny because we prefer it when feminists aren’t funny, but they were hilarious, contradicting and mocking and caricaturing themselves, slipping the real rightousness as much under the radar as they could considering they were called Bikini Kill and were always talking about rape. This song builds through two minutes of punchy polemic before concluding with BK’s most profound bit of sarcasm: I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, BABE - well I mean why wouldn’t you, but the answer to that’s all in the sneer, and the antidote for the sneer’s in the guitars. Drop from the heights of radical female pleasure to the depths of overarticulate male misery for FATALIST PALMISTRY (8), the song on this mix in which, though we talk a big game, a lot of us will be spending our summer: our ability to cope is directly proportional to how funny we can be about how screwed we are. This is a defense mechanism, but it’s a good one; it only falls to something like QUEENS OF NOISE (9), from the Runaways’ second album (1977), with guitars hissing from inside the postapocalyptic Haze the Stones pumped out of the fog machines at Altamont to shroud the Seventies. (I don’t think there were actually any fog machines at Altamont.) The Haze is what summer sounds like, always has been; not the Summer Of Love but whichever one Blue Oyster Cult meant. Everything inside it comes out diffused, flattened, hard to get close to. Summer lovers don’t cuddle like winter ones.

Let’s slow down for a second, then. PLUS ONES (10) is the same Haze scrubbed and mocked by some autumn asshole, remembering a garland of song titles and fiddling with them, and ah yes remember this song? that one? me too, pass the canapes while I don another sweater. It is impossible, in July, to imagine again being so sophisticated! Right now everything’s sweat and itches and barbarism, and let’s check back in with Ghostface who’s still trying to deal (geddit), and VENTILATOR BLUES (11), besides being from Exile On Main Street which understood the Haze better than any of the other albums caught in it, contains one of Mick Jagger’s wisest dumbest lines - “everybody needs some kind of ventilator” which doesn’t mean anyone’s going to get one, which is how you end up with messes like MY FAULT (12). Now this takes place in the spring, expressly, but only because “take” rhymes with “break” and “break” goes with “spring”; pretend for a second that “take” rhymes with “vacation” - which it almost could, really, and Eminem’s supposed to be a professional; why isn’t he on top of this - and it makes more sense, because stupid guys getting stupid girls to do stupid things at stupid parties is really a summer-vacation thing; spring break is when stupid guys get stupid girls to do stupid things on TV. So this girl’s taken all these mushrooms (which Em totally did mean to give her, and being so upfront about this in the first verse and such an equivocating coward about it in the chorus is why he’s funny) and she’s gonna die, and the thing is, you don’t stay at these parties, not unless whatever’s gone wrong really is your fault - you leave poor Marshall Mathers panicking in the corner over the maybecorpse of the girl he maybemeant to give mushrooms, and you’re back into the Haze, and the Traveling Wilburys, old navigators themselves of its slipstreams and dead spots, are playing MARGARITA (13), one of the oddest songs ever written. Fades in, rambles, fades out; Dylan’s probably freestyling; Tom Petty gets a closing line delivered so much like a joke it actually becomes one. “She wrote a long letter on a short piece of paper”. You’re home - the party’s over - and is it August already?

MISS AMERICA (14) is - well, pick your poison. A) the girl you’re chasing all three months; B) like those other America songs we played, but funnier, meaner; C) just that song where David Byrne says both “fuck” and “I’ll be your teenage fanclub”. Whichever you choose you can dance to it (you!) and as we coast nervously towards September sarcastic songs about girls who are also sociopolitical frameworks are the kinds of ironies we prefer with our iced teas. (”American Woman”, by the way, has the Haze, but I don’t like it as much.) Speaking of which here’s Radiohead, who never met a sociopolitical framework they didn’t want to stand next to making scary faces, sunning themselves in dystopian PALO ALTO (15), enjoying Orwell’s Indian summer. This is what the Haze sounded like in 1997. In 1971 it didn’t sound like Funkadelic because Funkadelic weren’t into haze (they more dug earth), which is why CAN YOU GET TO THAT (16) is here - as respite, and also because, remember, it’s the last week of August by now, and there’s barely any Haze any more, just weird chilly winds and a little bit of sighing less-than-green-ery, and someone’s making preparations for the coming separation, and are we about to hit the comedown? The last four tracks, the last four days.

UNTOUCHED (17), then - by a lover, by the accomplishments our serial killer dreamt of back on track one, by Miss America, but not by those Goddamn strings which really aren’t going to leave you alone, or the grasping useless wistfulness you and the Veronicas can’t shake. You’ve got wet eyes now, letting go of things, and so does my favorite active band, whose DUDLEY (18) is a nursery rhyme about loss, hot cold season gonna sink in my sweat, God I wish it was still as hot as it used to be, that the days were as long. There’s barely enough sunlight now for platitudes and summations. BIG INDIAN (19) has both - Polonial hand-me-downs from figurative fathers, end-of-song triumphalism, and OH we just hit September. It’s not summer anymore. So feel free to pretend this last song doesn’t exist. But you’re going to need it, like nuts, for the winter. You’re going to need its braggadocio - so absurd it’s noble - and its sense of apocalypse tastefully quieter than its sense of self-importance. You’re going to need to remember, like it says on laminated flyers in elementary school lunchrooms - they can’t print this stuff if it’s not true - SKY’S THE LIMIT (20). While you’re here why don’t you boast along with Lil’ Wayne - birds don’t fly without your permission. It isn’t true, of course. They’re flying south. Go ahead, let them. And hunker down.



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