Monday, September 20, 2010

Cante Moderna

Now the music divides us into tribes.

Arcade Fire

My horse “Modern Song” came in 20 to 1 at Del Mar. I had sixty bucks to spend back on art and song. In a West Coast coffee joint I bought three records: Arcade Fire, “The Suburbs;” then a re-mastered version of the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and finally, Jimmy Webb’s new one: “Just Across the River.” Three explorations into modern song. Arcade Fire, an indie band from Canada, sings up life and death in suburbia. The songs are decent. There’s the usual wispy, indie vocal sound – and the hand-printed lyric book which implies “ah, gee whiz, here’s our poetry.” That’s ok. It works as a soundtrack for this “indie age.” Tolerable good.

Then I put on Sergeant Peppers’. Luckily I put it on second. My God. Have not listened to this in 20 years. I assumed it would sound like a dated psychedelic artifact. Naw. This is a record about loneliness, depression, age, death, suicide…masked in a circus-musico format. The end of the world at Coney Island, with raunch guitars, superb vocal arrangements, and gut wrenching singing. It’s the Beatles, of course. Unfair to compare them with anyone else. This was like finding a forgotten Van Gogh in the closet. The record was recorded on a four track tape machine 33 years ago. Where has our technology taken us? I would borrow from William S. Burroughs in inferring that modern digital technology may be leading us toward boredom and oblivion… much like the Burroughs’ character who taught his anus to talk as a circus trick. Pretty soon the anus talked by itself and the man’s mouth and brain atrophied. But, ah, this Peppers record! Bob Dylan is pictured on the cover next to Simon Rodia, the man who built the Watts Towers. It’s modern carny folk art. Dig.

Then I put on Jimmy Webb. Only Webb could have written pop standards about a Wichita telephone Lineman; a lovesick guy cleaning his gun and dreaming of Galveston (recorded here with Lucinda Williams), and a man who leaves his girl on the West Coast and drives across the Southwest, singing up the lonely landscape - like songline-walking aboriginals. Webb is able to compose short odes to the common man; with a “pop” feel. His songs manifest the lyrical and melodic qualities of intelligent, hip Broadway show songs. It’s hard to pull off. They’re built to last forever. Like 1959 Cadillacs.

The three records rotated around the truck radio. Finally, to clean the palette, I put in an old record by flamenco singer Camaron de La Isla. Camaron was junkie who died twenty years ago in Spain. 100,000 people attended the funeral. He is sainted.This is guttural, throat bleeding gypsy soul, to the rhythm of hand claps and hammer on anvil. Primal. Not for the faint of heart. Subterranean. Moorish. Ole! Cante hondo! Modern Song.

(Jimmy Webb and Jesse Winchester will be on our January train: see: www.rootsontherails.com)

5 comments:

Test said...

I happen to agree about Arcade Fire. A decent record, but no classic. I'll have another go at Seargeant Pepper's and I will check out Jimmy Webb. Thanks!

But I must say that there's still a lot of good artist and records out there under the radar. Check out Steve Wynn's Tick, Tick, Tick, Drive by Trucker's Brighter than Creations Dark and Ian Hunter's Man Overboard. All of these delivers great literary songwriting. They aren't exactly youngsters, but maybe that's why they're so good?

Thom Jurek said...

I will leave Sgt. Pepper and Jimmy Webb out of this, but I will say, as a person, as an individual listener who is inundated with this stuff everyday as part of his job, that Arcade Fire may have craft, but they have no soul; and that's way more than many indie bands who have neither. They have angst and good record collections.

What fucks with e is this: Right now, in R&B, there is an underground that is putting out recordings of such quality that they are so well written, so beautifully made for a pittance, that they in the same league as records by Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, and Donny Hathaway, or if you will, Carla Thomas, Martha Reeves, and even Aretha Franklin. The problem, because the whole goddam world is so infatuated with indie rock (because it is written about ad nauseum, played all over NPR so yuppies can feel hip, and peddled by chain stores and has lost its very sense of identity if indeed it ever had one that was unified), this music has few places to be granted exposure--Russell, you know better than anyone the struggle I'm talking about. My point is, when Robert Plant can talk about "spook music" on national television (the Today show), and not get called on it, and when artists such like Jose James, Foreign Exchange, Sa Ra Collective, and many others can create innovative, building-on-the -foundations, 21st century R&B that touches on everything from jazz to Brazilian music from the deep well of American soul and old school hip hop, because indie rock is somehow "more important" to the masses (and the new form of yuppie pop) , something is deeply messed up.

Tor Hershman said...

Didn't Webb also write "McArthur Park"?

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Tom,
Farkin Oath! When are you coming to New Zealand! There are people here whom are aware.
Cheers,
Rob

Greg said...

Last Friday the wife and I had the opportunity to see the first screening of "Love Shines", the film about Ron Sexsmith's new record. Producer of the record - Bob Rock of Metallica fame. I'd been a fan of Sexsmith for years but did not know of his history. Figured he was another great singer songwriter and big super star like Tom R :-). Then his wife came on the film to talk about Ron, how they didn't own a washer and dryer and how Ron would be in the laundramat and folks would say "Hey you're Ron Sexsmith - can I have your autograph? then wait a minute - what's Ron Sexsmith doing in a laundramat washing his clothes?". Theater 7 in the Granville complex went pretty quiet ... So how fucked up is that? A guy like Sexsmith who writes songs that can stand up with ANYONE, ANYTIME and is a personal favorite of Elvis Costella and Steve Earl; and he's perpetually broke! Not a junky or someone who has blown the cash. This is a guy who has just never sold his records. Records that need to be heard. Something is just really messed with the music business ... but we all know that. Thanks TR for the soapbox, looking forward to the January train!