June 28, 1999
Scott, what are your 10 favorite rock/pop albums of all time? Is it even possible for you to make such a list?
Scott: There's probably no such thing as a subject on which I'm so uninformed that making my top ten would be impossible, and pop album lists is an outright weakness. So here goes; I'll give you not 10 but 20 because the top 10 might be boring what with all the Beatles.
1 BRAIN SALAD SURGERY - Emerson, Lake, and Palmer
Yes, I am kidding about the number 1. My favorite album is actually SGT. PEPPER. What a coward, eh? Some people probably had a little hope for me for a second there. I do think SGT. PEPPER is easily the best record I've heard--as incredible a flowering of the Western tradition as one could ask for. Allen Ginsberg made the radiant observation that it deconstructs (my stupid trendy word, not Ginsberg's) the expulsive element of cultural unity. Personae the "youth movement" would have no thought of but to collectively oppose--the 64-year-old, the parents in "She's Leaving Home," the uniformed "Sergeant," the man who "used to be cruel to his woman," all find inclusion in the worldview, are human, have feelings worth considering and answering. The way that critical opposition to SGT. PEPPER comes into being is revealing; people resent the Beatles' abandonment of rock in favor of eclectic, out-of-fashion forms, as if they perceive kowtowing. Mostly it reduces to "how dare they give aid and comfort to our enemies?"
Do you like Thomas Pynchon? Seems like he'd be your cup of tea. Maybe.
It's been exactly ten years since I read GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, the only one of his I've read, and I still have to admit it's a fine piece of prose wizardry. It does seem to portend a lot of anthropological significance I've never found too coherent (granted that may mean it should be exactly my cup of tea :-) ).
Here's how I'd put my reservation. It's only too easy to read that book and conclude this: that the happy life is one of little accountability. Moral rectitude is exactly synonymous with being low in a social hierarchy. Slothrop is the low guy in civilization's hierarchy, the animal man, I'm guessing his name is meant to suggest sloth and slop as in what you give a pig, and his virtually libertine comportment is positioned as likably frank (in that schema wherein a Freudian won't abide a repressor). His erections are his metaphysical leapfrogging of social unreality which leads to war/bombing, the difference between him and the uptight troublemakers. With status--such as that of officers and top rocket scientists--comes more reason to efface one's naughtiness, engendering a culture whose business it is to keep the animalistic (violence and sex) hidden and depersonalized. That's what comes across to me as how it all works according to the book.
Certainly the depersonalization of violence is a key issue in life, but I think the lumping of violence and sex together under the "dark urges" category is unproductive. Human interpersonal violence is a product of selfhood, and I believe it's unrelated to instinct; animals don't have vengeance, that I can tell. Or maybe I really mean that I don't have the smarts to read the book in a way that squares the heaviosity of the sexual stuff with the heaviosity of the sociopolitical stuff.
Amazed to hear of your childhood preoccupation with the Time/Life volume on The Mind, since I was obsessed with it too & haven't met anyone else who was. I remember the compartments-inside-a-skull painting very clearly. Part of it appears on the cover of some Van Halen album or other!
Right, and I wish it were just a hair more obvious that Mssrs. Halen were using the close-up of the beating scene because they disapproved. Running with the devil and all, you wonder if they meant to answer the electric joy on the onlookers' faces with "now, now." Maybe the title means "we're giving you 'fair warning' that this kind of behavior could lead to suspension."
The book also had a section on LSD research, with photos of zonked research subjects staring at candles, etc. Noting this at age seven or eight (circa 1970-71), I asked my father, "Daddy, what's LSD?" His answer: "It's NOT FOR LITTLE GIRLS!" Hee hee. Anyway, he was right.
I like that answer! I believe THE MIND predates the era of America's campaign to spread enticing misinformation about drugs: "drugs are nothing but an attempt to be fashionably rebellious and 'expand your mind'; YOU DON'T WANT THAT, DO YOU?" The flavor of THE MIND was a lot more "these seem to be useful in studying psychosis."
Did you see Velvet Goldmine? If so, what did you think?
Any notion when the Loud Family might play here again? I remember a very terrific show about six years ago where y'all played "Editions of You" as an encore. I also remember witnessing a drunk woman approaching you post-show with a distinctly predatory/carnal agenda, and your tactful and gentlemanly conduct in the face of that. (I think she might have been me, but amnesia has mercifully drawn the curtain of charity over that scene.)
Thanks, that's kind of an ego stroke! I can live with the fact that it took a fair amount of alcohol to awaken the interest.
Thanks for being you.
Very truly yours,
The Minnesota Einsturzende Neubaten
S. Van Pelt
And thank you and everyone else for not being me.
unlawful Karn Evil knowledge,
Scott, baseball fans, since the earliest expansions, have complained that as new teams get added to either league, pitching talent is being diluted. Basically, they say that there is always a small number of decent pitchers, so the more teams in MLB, the more sub-standard talent has to be used. The theory is somewhat borne out by the fact that many of the truly outstanding hitting records have been set during expansion years.
Hell of a set-up, no?
Do you think that the compact disc has done the same thing to popular music? I mean, before the CD, the record buyer was fairly easily satisfied with the 35-45 minute record. Heck, most pre-CD double albums fit nicely on a single disc when reissued. The CD, though, will hold what? Close to 80 minutes of music? Nowadays the 35-minute CD seems dwarfed by the empty space theoretically left on the platter. I hear people say that they feel ripped off by such a short offering at LP price.
I guess what I'm wondering is, do you think that record companies and artists feel pressured to release longer records and, in the process of releasing 50-70 minute albums, accept a lower class of album filler?
Scott: Hell yeah. It's a more complicated equation than that to be sure, but I think one aspect of the personality of late 90s music is that generally people's requirement for drama in the realm of 30-to-60-second durations has gotten really easy to fulfill. People don't mind electronica, ambient, Stereolab, Spiritualized, one bit. That's good--I think--but weird. It's not quite like we're now all jazz listeners, either, because that had to do with being in the presence of heroic personalities, and that's not a necessity at all anymore.
Part of what I mean by "complicated equation" is the following psychological factor: people want to assess 3 to 5 seconds of the music and either bond with it or not bond with it, and if they do, be able to defocus from it for some period of time. When they come back to it, they don't want it to have betrayed their attachment by having mutated into something they're no longer on board for.
Certainly this involves social considerations heavily, and in a way it's deducible from the cachet of amassing knowledge about many non-mainstream releases coupled with the superabundance of CD releases. You appreciate artists who play ball with this by not inundating you with information--if you spend ten minutes intelligently skimming around the average Stereolab record, you can boast complete conversational familiarity with it. I'm a pretty good sized Stereolab fan, so that "you" includes me, I guess.
I mean, look at the suffusion of double CD hip hop releases, and then look at all of the reviews saying that "probably it should have been trimmed to one good disc": scarier still, look how many of the reviewers are right.
Have you noticed that in the past ten years or so that it has become a bit more difficult to locate the "perfect album" (or are you getting jaded?--a self edit)? Is there a correlation? Have you noticed that tracks 5-7 have more than ever become the place where tunes go to die? I have a specialer place in my heart for the perfect 32 minute album than the pretty good 60 minute one. Do you? Do you like soup?
Soup? The food? Yes. And yes, no doubt about it, the "perfect album" idea is not too healthy, since that involves a critical tradition listeners don't buy into very much these days. I do!
thanks for writing
June 14, 1999
scott, here's a question which has been lingering
one of my favorite songs from that album
Scott: Correct. You know, the psychedelic era and all.
is "asleep and awake on the man's freeway".....
is this connected in any way,
"for both being asleep and being awake require the presence of the soul; being awake corresponds to attending and being asleep to the state of inactive knowing."
Actually, no. I read Aristotle for the first time in 1998--something called "The Pocket Aristotle"--and let me tell you one need not be surprised that Jackie Kennedy fell for this man.
Though I've now had a chance to forget a lot of what I read, I think I do remember that passage, though not the exact context, and context would be important if we were asking the question "is what I was thinking about in the song at all like what Aristotle was thinking about?".
As with a lot of the great old thinkers, even when Aristotle is pondering an issue which has been fairly well sorted out in the intervening centuries, his framing of the problem is still revelatory. He has the idea of "entelechy," or the potential of living things to become themselves, e.g., what a seed has that makes it become a plant.
He believes this has something to do with soul, consciousness and intelligence, and he's wondering why a plant soul is going to differ from a human soul, and so forth. In a way this seems pretty quaint in light of genetics and biology, but he drops in a few oddly compelling observations such as that the entelechy of plants has to do with physical growth--plants get bigger, or they're dead--and that's not true with animals. It's hard to explain why, but that grabs me. It's a reminder that if organic life and sentience have anything like a goal of hoarding matter to their own use, there's a strange amount of patience and forbearance to evolution, since, e.g., dolphins probably don't add significantly to the mass taken up by something like kelp.
and speaking of sleep,
not yr sister's sleep
ana luisa morales
It could be that in "Asleep and Awake" I'm thinking about the soul Aristotle says exists when we sleep and the soul he says exists when we're awake, and looking at what would happen if they one day accidentally bumped into each other. That said, I'm not that I know of capable of asserting my waking consciousness while I'm having a dream, so I may be especially poorly qualified to be taking up the issue.
thanks for being a part of Greek week,
June 7, 1999
Scott, this one's a bit personal, but in case you don't mind the question...do your musical efforts pay for themselves?
Scott: Well, they don't earn me a posh living but they certainly pay for themselves.
To what extent do you subsidize your musical activities with the income from your "day job"?
Most years I make money from the band but sometimes there's a little loss depending on where in the releasing and touring cycle things are falling.
And another question: What's your day job? As a software engineer, I'm curious about what you're up to. I remember hearing that you were involved in writing LISP interpreters years ago.
Yes. Well, a LISP compiler actually. I work at an object database company now.
Thanks for all of the excellent music that you've made and are making. I've been enjoying your older releases recently...and I think that you're really onto something with Days For Days with its lush sound, with its integration of Alison's contributions into the songs, and with the rather perfect production.
Thanks, I'm very glad that if I had been dumping huge amounts of my own cash into those records it would not have been entirely my own vanity.
not that my vanity is under control or anything,
May 31, 1999
Scott, first off, thanks for the many years of smart pop music. Days for Days has found permanent air play inside my head.
Scott: Or so you thought last December...
My question is a simple one of guitar techniques. I've been striving for years to record a truly crisp acoustic guitar tone--the tone that Big Star got on #1 Record classics like "Ballad of El Goodo," etc. Upon hearing "Businessmen are Okay," I was struck by what a nice job you did with the acoustic track(s). It seems that you have 2 acoustic tracks, each panned to a different channel. Any advice on gear, effects, compression, etc.?
I have two mikes, an SM57 and an AKG 414, so in a burst of insight I decided to use those two. I get the best results with the 57 in front of the sound hole and the 414 off to the right side a couple of feet. Some engineers have fits when you use two live mikes on an acoustic like that because there's some phase cancellation, but a Leo Kottke record this isn't, so I figure let's live a little. They're compressed using my little dbx 166A and as you note panned left and right.
Not trying to steal any secrets, just learn from one of the best.
Damn you are nice. You're right about those Big Star guitar sounds being stunning. The electrics on Radio City are uncanny, too, and there's got to be some secret reason that those guitars sound so good. Big Star Third is a magnificent record and all but the guitar doesn't have that same otherworldly amount of bite. Of course people preferred "Philadelphia Freedom" 1000-to-one in either case so it's hard to have perspective.
strum und twang,
May 17, 1999
Scott, I noticed that "Cortex the Killer" was on your most recent set list. During your show in Atlanta I believe someone shouted a request for "Cortex," Alison got it started, the rest of y'all came in then aborted a few moments later. You apologized and explained that the song hadn't been rehearsed for the tour.
I was surprised that "Cortex the Killer" wasn't ready for show because it's the first song on the album. The (il)logic being that if you (concert attendee) have had only minimum exposure to Days for Days before you go to the show, chances are you've heard the first track the most, it's the one in your head, and you wanna hear it live. So why not oblige?
Scott: We were trying to simulate those gated vocals at the beginning of the song by going "ha ha ha ha ha" and I guess it was just the right flavor of being hilariously futile that the idea of doing that song became slightly ridiculous, in my mind at least. Then after a while it occurred to us that it could sound okay without those, so we did it at a couple of shows when we got back home.
My question is how do you decide which songs, particularly from the new album, to work up for the tour?
If one is the single, or as they say in the small label world, "radio emphasis track," we play that, since that one is invariably such a monstrous hit lives would literally be in danger if we didn't play it.
I guess it has a lot to do with which new ones we think will go over okay on the first listen. If they have good dynamics like "Lions In the Street," there's a reasonable chance that even if none of the melodic content is clicking for anybody, there's enough drama to the sonics that people will at least have some abstract awareness of being professionally entertained.
As for old songs, it's a bit of an unpopularity contest. You toss a few names of songs around and usually someone will be so sick of playing any given one that it gets rejected. You're sometimes left with the somewhat mangy ones nobody cared much about in the first place, but sometimes those are the most interesting to do.
Do you have any we must do?
thanks for writing,
May 10, 1999
Scott, can you shed any light on the killings in Colorado last week? I want to know what we can do to keep it from happening again and again.
Scott: At Sue's suggestion, I'm answering this question out of order because it's such an important recent topic.
I think the light I can shed is the observation that children aren't ordinarily raised as if there were a need to prevent them from committing violent acts. The assumption is that a lot of corruption would have to come in from outside for our children to turn violent.
This is true in some senses, but there's an important sense in which it isn't true. Any person will take the shortest route to feeling good about himself or herself, and disturbingly little in our era stands in the way of feeling good by dint of simply getting the better of someone else. In its crudest form, this means savoring any situation in which someone else is suffering more than you, which means there's incentive to bring such situations about.
We're strangely unlikely to think in those terms, obvious as they seem to me. We all consider ourselves above succumbing to that kind of feeling good, though none of us is. I relish watching someone getting pulled over for being in the carpool lane not because the crusade against pollution is being advanced, but because I am prone to wickedness, and wherever possible, hypocritically self-righteous wickedness.
Our heritage is one of thinking in rational, evolutionary and psychological terms, and when behavior occurs which doesn't maximize rewards or procreate the species, we get confused and look for brain pathology. I suspect the brains of the adolescents who murdered in Colorado were working just fine. The act they committed was a religious act. How else to categorize it? They needed to do what they did more urgently than they needed food, sex, or to live another day. In their minds they were bringing righteous fury down upon guilty or at best worthless beings in the name of the gods--the highest cosmic arbiters and observers, whose wills guide the movies with the very coolest endings.
We know to warn kids about peer pressure, but I think we need a more accurate model of peer pressure than that kids experienced in wrongdoing have an interest in tempting and corrupting others, and threaten with ostracism when resisted. This again has the defect of flattering ourselves that bad behavior comes from out there somewhere, never from anyone in our family, least of all from children who when they were smaller were sweet creatures and had their complete being in what we said was good and bad. But it is natural enough for members of any group to be willing to up the ante of tolerance of hostility directed outside the group, so far as group solidarity is the thing. A boy will routinely suggest that guns or explosives are needed for the group's great goal, for no other reason than to aggrandize himself in the group's eyes, to show he is not afraid of such conflict escalation, when of course it only occurred to him to make the statement precisely because this was a fear. In the absence of any better school of thought, he will naturally see such a fear as something to overcome to achieve group acceptance. So peer pressure has a strange, self-engendering mutuality. I assume the Colorado shooters were kept well enough isolated from gangs, but were perfectly capable of escalating their mythos in this way to delirious heights of barbarousness.
That this sort of cult-like activity happens or threatens everywhere, and constantly, shouldn't be ignored. It must always be transcended by something else for its power to be mitigated, and parents can't be the transcending morality forever. For those who have no traditional religion which transcends our de facto religion of localized righteous vengeance, and have no potential to attain Christian conversion or Buddhist enlightenment (surely beyond the reach of adolescents, I would think), the best answer may be periodical inoculating talks about how antisocial behavior sometimes does get out of control, coupled with the unfortunately weak panacea of other interests. Parents should make sure kids know that the world is full of wonderful and interesting possibilities for them both nearby and in other places and times in the lives. (Of course I would not hesitate to intervene forcefully at the first sign of actual violence).
I have almost no experience with children so forgive any naiveté in dispensing this advice, but I would like children to have some version of this message, however it might be told to them:
"People, and you along with everyone else, are liable to get into trouble because we like it when other people have a hard time. We think: well, I'm not having as hard a time as they are, so things must be going my way. We'll even think up elaborate and secret excuses to keep things going that way, like arguing that checkers is the best game to play when the secret reason is that we always win at checkers. But the satisfaction we get from behaving that way never lasts; we always need to do it again and again. And this almost never occurs to us; we almost never wake up from this deluded state and see that the satisfaction never takes hold however obsessively we indulge. And the world just gets worse because people are all out looking for secret ways to make everyone more miserable than they. But there's a chance that you can wake up for periods of time. It's not easy, but if you can, there's a chance others will see you and do it too, and you'll have at least a small community of people who aren't secretly making each other miserable. You have to always ask where the victim is, who is getting hurt that we give ourselves permission not to care about. We won't always be strong enough not to go along with the hurting, because there will always be the delusion that if we join with the hurters, then we'll be with the winners, things will be going our way. But those doing the hurting are under the delusion, too, and you must not contribute to it being hard for them to wake up by rewarding them with your subservience."
There, I'm sure no six-year-old will have any trouble sitting through that.
Note: The only truly insightful discussion of this I've seen yet was on another music-related website (coincidence?), an online column called "The War Against Silence". I strongly recommend it, especially this past issue, #221 (ostensibly about ABBA).
I read that also and I agree it was quite penetrating. More than anything I valued his ability to say something like "I could have been one of those killers," and from that go on to make the strangely rare deduction that our culture is unhealthy. That is positively essential thinking.
Thanks for writing.
May 3, 1999
Scott, according to an article in USA Today on November 4th,
Scott: (Yes, Mr. Ask Scott is running a little behind real time...)
the Recording Industry Association of America is suing to keep Diamond Multimedia from selling a palm-sized device that plays MP3-format audio files.
Is the RIAA's lawsuit a legitimate defense of the interests of hard-working musicians? Or is it part of a derriere-garde battle against the fundamental nature of technology, to protect the shrinking turf of a few large media companies?
My topical assessment of the lawsuit is obviously worthless, but I usually consider the social illness of the music business to outweigh these technical debates that crop up. No doubt this one is a little less laughable than those of the "home taping is killing music" era (as usual, expensive studio taping is what's really killing music), but I'm naive enough to, without knowing the specifics, dislike lawsuits as answers.
The claim is that such a device is basically a vehicle for music piracy, and no doubt you can find lots of unauthorized MP3 files on the net. But the net and sound files and digital compression algorithms could also be a way for musicians to make their music available to a wider audience, possibly end-running the areas of publishing and distribution, which seem to be pretty much locked up by five or six huge international companies.
What might save it from becoming a rampant problem at least in the short run are the expensiveness of keeping songs around on hard drives and the lack of a collectable physical artifact. In the extreme case, though, the prospect of only one person in the world having to buy a piece of music and then distributing infinitely many free, high-fidelity copies makes selling your music for a living problematic.
At least earlier this decade, smaller labels made a comfortable living. It was due in a way to the "alternative becomes the mainstream" phenomenon, and like all waves of excitement it led to some good material being produced but also did some permanent damage. In the wake of alt-is-the-mainstream, the mainstream rejects the mainstream. If you look at albums in the Billboard top twenty (or albums in the college top ten, it makes no difference), the common element would be that they'd all purport to be militantly non-mainstream, saying to their audience: picture in your minds the lost souls who buy generic commercial music, and we're not that! We're more down-home, edgier, more deeply emotional, what have you. Things are very divisive and segregated.
There are some exceptions, like maybe Beck, and also the state of affairs existed in much milder form thirty years ago, but it's now so pathological as to be killing the host organism. There's no longer a viable enough self-acknowledged, pan-ethnic mainstream, of listening equals, but rather a nation of mutual superiors.
To a degree the mere fact of more people being able to make records, while good for democracy, erodes the canon in some actually pernicious ways. Filmmaking seems to be much healthier, and for reasons that have nothing to do with the inability to send a pirated movie around on the net. The sheer expense and human investment in a big film is going to give filmmakers a gut fear of excluding an audience sector, so a broad-market movie is less a strange and distrusted thing than a broad-market record. There are a few but not many top-budget film analogies to a country movie or a hip-hop movie, but if they were cheap and studios put out a hundred a year, you can bet that's almost all there would be. Artists like the Beatles and Stevie Wonder used to think like big studios in a good way, or in their earlier days more precisely like small studios hoping to have big crossover hits. They made records with the faith that pretty much anyone might love them.
But that sort of machinery doesn't run anymore. While I'd stop short of saying web distribution enters into it yet, popular music as music has become so demythologized and democratized that the mentality of mob rule has taken over the minds of both music makers and music listeners in an insidious way. Mobs are never harmonious in the long run. They follow the logic of factions and insurrections. Now more than ever, makers of fashionable music are more than a little embarrassed to sound simply musical, especially musically whimsical, as if that were weakness in battle. To play to either real universality or real subtlety is almost always an offense to the culture, its crime being the weakening of the us in a cultural game of us-against-them.
I think of you as someone who's managed to entertain and enlighten a large audience for many years from outside the whole Sony/BMG/Warner/etc. arena. You also seem to understand technology as well as anyone, and I'm wondering what your thoughts are on this. Do you see technology like this as a threat to your livelihood, or as something that might help you to reach more listeners with your music?
Probably at this point it would help me, but I need a lot of help if you're going to throw around words like "large audience."
Best wishes, and thanks for all the great songs!
ebony and Merchant/Ivory,
April 19, 1999
Scott, I was concerned about something. When I listen to Tinker "Nine Lives to Rigel Five" sounds fine. On "Distortion of Glory," I hear the tape drop out for a split second on the cool backwards cymbal opening (Michael Quercio's psychedelic idea?)
Scott: It might have been. I forget. It's just one of the stock sounds those Simmons cymbals make, I think.
I am concerned about the Game Theory masters. Are they all in good shape? Are they all still in existence?
Good question. I know the Blaze of Glory multitracks had to be "baked" before we did those remixes to keep the oxide from flaking, but I think the others were okay. Though that was nine years ago.
What about the ones that haven't been re-released? I remember an interview with the Go-Go's a few years back, and Belinda Carlisle said the original master of "Cool Jerk" from Vacation (my favorite album from '82) was somehow lost, and therefore wasn't included on the Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's compilation. This may sound silly, but it saddened me. On the run-out groove of Vacation my old vinyl copy says "Is this record a pencil or a beer can?" To me it was/is a pencil. And so is your early work. Please reassure me that all the masters are okay.
Hold on now. Do I feel good about being a pencil rather than a beer can? That's one for the ages. Nobody tells me anything, but I think the masters are okay. What's gone missing is the market incentive to do anything with them.
Always a True Gamester and Loudfan,
Thanks! I appreciate the positive words very much.
Wait--with the pencil, you could write "please get me a beer,"
Scott, please settle two bets:
What are Dangling Participants, if they said:
Scott: No Joshua treason here, but the duress code of the old waste says a corporal can't go seein' the general wearin' only his genes.
As Francis Scott Wilson said,
Only if you're aliturgic to be stings.
then we're all finnished,
April 12, 1999
Scott, me and my chum James are big fans of the one album that is available in Britain (Days for Days).
Scott: Is that really the only one available there? I get a skewed impression because I'm only really familiar with one record store in all of Britain and that's Minus Zero Records, and I think they go way out of their way to stock records like ours.
Any chance of the band ever coming to do some gigs in the UK? You'll have an audience of at least two, especially if you play Guildford Civic Hall (Surrey). The BBC's London radio station, GLR, would be delighted to have a live session from you I'm sure, cause your music is right up their street.
Go on, whaddaya say?
I'd love to play over there, and I'd love to touch base with Paul Ricketts, the Ptolemaic Terrascope folks, and various people I met when I was there in '91 and with the band in '93. There's been some talk for a while about doing a long week in Scotland and England before the U.S. tour this fall, but club owners are funny; they're always wanting that "audience of at least two" figure set in stone or something.
hope we can get together for .53 litre of Guinness,
April 5, 1999
Scott, (and Alison, Gil, Kenny), thanks so much for playing the Cactus Club in Milwaukee. I loved it, and my fellows in my office completely understood for the next week when I would remove any offending CD and put on one of the LF (or GT). Well, OK, they didn't understand, but they tolerated it. But I know that for the next few weeks or so, all of us were kinder to our housemates, more respective of our elders, better lovers, and used less aerosol spray. However, I digress.
Scott: Thank you very much, and I'm glad to hear that it's perhaps possible to establish glorious social harmony with nothing more than the implied threat that at the first sign of trouble, it will be back to you taking off everyone's CD and putting on the Loud Family.
Here's my query: Sometimes, after especially intense periods of listening to your output, I find I need a break from music that has so much DENSITY. And I need to put on the Ramones, or maybe just some old Nuggets compilations. I have found the same problem with Mr. Costello (Elvis). Do you ever find yourself needing to just rock, without thinking? Maybe just forty two verses of "Louie, Louie," or "Wild Thing," without having to worry about how it's interpreted? If so, could you do it in our town? I would love to hear/see it.
I do like to "just rock," but at the risk of overanalyzing the overanalysis, it was easier to just rock in the days of Elvis and the Beatles than it is now. You'll have noticed that since about 1968, rock has been associated with revolution, and most rock critics have cast suspicious eyes on acts like Elvis and the Beatles who meant not to do much harm. You can make a good argument for excluding John Lennon from the category of the harmless, but let's assume you can take my general meaning.
If you immersed yourself in "Louie, Louie" or "Wild Thing," you were in danger of no worse consequence than teen romance. If you immerse yourself in Public Enemy or Nirvana, who delight rock critics with the authenticity of their dangerousness, you had better not be too vulnerable a person, or you might go off and do something very...dangerous.
That's not to criticize, or to promote censorship. I personally like Nirvana more than I like Elvis, and even more I like someone like Patti Smith, who brings with her a knowledge of the momentum of her poetic tradition. It's inherently dangerous to take on the big issues, and I admire people who do it well. But I can't be very happy immersing myself in something I feel I need my sharpest philosophical eye to assess. I want what I immerse myself in to be pretty harmless, or pretty unambiguously right-headed. Since punk, audiences always have their professor's robes on. We see Johnny Rotten wearing a swastika, but we're not really supposed to like Nazism, we're supposed to know that's incidental to the meta-statement, which is that we should unite against whoever would compromise our freedom of expression. Very nice; very scholarly. But I am so provincial as not to go immersing myself, to say "take me I'm yours," and "look everyone--Johnny with the swastika over there is the way and the light."
"Wild Thing" I do rock out to.
BTW, I love the web site, although the level with which you and the rest of your fans discuss your music and literature is a bit intimidating to me. However, let's talk about buildings, and I'll try to blow your socks off.
Okay, here goes. "How about that Frank Lloyd Wright? If you want a big, wide, flat place, you better call old Frank Lloyd Wright."
With no cute or pithy sign off,
the kids are losing their minds,
March 22, 1999
Scott, I noticed that DAYS FOR DAYS is a much warmer sounding record than INTERBABE CONCERN. (I liked that you took pride in its "cold and lifeless" digitalness, you big rebel).
Scott: You know the man can't touch me.
What did you do different (recording-wise) between the 2 records?
The recording circumstances were almost completely different. About the only similarities were that both were digital (ADAT) and a lot of the overdubs for both were done in my living room. INTERBABE CONCERN was a lot more unstructured. I did guitar and vocals to click tracks, and then afterward we put drums and bass on, which is really backward. Also, Joe Becker was in the process of leaving the group and didn't play on all the tracks, so that added to the chaos. DAYS FOR DAYS was played all together in a sound studio, and not to click, and we were pretty far from being overrehearsed, and all that just leads to a more organic feel.
Which new pieces of equipment assisted this change? (or is it more common for you to rent commercial studio time?)
We have to do drums and mixing in a studio at the very least. I wouldn't have enough mikes to do drums and I wouldn't want to find out if I've got enough good will with the neighbors.
I'm assuming that you have your own computer based recording facility.
Actually, no, the computers have belonged to other people. Paul Wieneke did a little digital software editing during the final stages of working on INTERBABE CONCERN, and a person I know named Tim Walters did a lot of digital treatments on the odd-numbered songs from DAYS FOR DAYS. All the computers we used were free-range computers.
What microphones got the most use on the two records?
For all the singing I used an AKG 414 going live into a plain old dbx transistor compressor/gate/limiter. All the guitar amp miking was with a Shure SM 57. Those are pretty uninteresting choices. The one somewhat weird thing I do is lay everything down with a fairly heavy gating and compression on it. It's annoying in a way because you have to be careful not to make little breathing noises that are too loud, or you can hear the gate opening up, but I eventually need gating because otherwise you can hear cars going by, and I've really come to believe in letting the singer hear the processing that's going to be on it later. I think he or she then naturally gravitates toward singing in a way that makes that sound good, which is different in subtle ways from singing to make an uncompressed, flattering-reverb signal sound good.
The bracing thought is how much craft and science go into getting my voice to sound even as good as it does.
and of course I always use a mark27 on the floor tom...
March 15, 1999
Scott, a couple of years ago a fellow fan and I, having just met via e-mail, were gushing fannishly about your music--he, in particular, about your lyrics. He found your religious imagery compelling but quite mysterious, but I (raised in Boston) found one thing leaping out at me--a burning question. Were you raised Catholic? (I surmise, but this may be going too far out on a limb, that if so, it might have been in a community where this was less common than it is in my home town.)
Scott: I am actually Baptist and Christian Scientist by heritage, but I am not baptized and my parents never forced a word of religion on me. I haven't heard about anyone in the X-Sci half of the family keeping the kids home to die of intestinal blockage, but maybe those just aren't the favorite Thanksgiving dinner stories.
I have taken communion in an Episcopalian ceremony. I hope that was okay; my understanding is they don't consider it sinful for the unbaptized to do so. I believe a number of religions tell the truth if you really listen, humbly but not looking for the excuse you need to renounce your entire life. By taking communion I say I live insofar as I partake in the body and blood of Christ--the Incarnation of the divine and the self-sacrificing. And insofar as I do not, I perish with my corporeal death.
But nothing makes me believe in the Pope's infallibility interpreting the Word of God, so I cannot be a Catholic, and nothing makes me feel qualified to give testimony to the physical resurrection because so far as I know I was not there (don't let's start with reincarnation!), so I doubt I can be a Protestant.
I may be able to become a JoEpiscopalian; I'm not sure. I'm into Buddhism as an observer but in a way it's evasive to go with a culturally remote religion.
Scott, as a ravenous Nabokov fan, I've always been drawn to LOLITA NATION's flirtatious relationship with the book. Is there (or are there) a specific facet or sensibility in the book that inspired or influenced the album? Or is it a more general reference to the state of being young or naive?
Scott: Less general than that, though it would have to be somewhat general, since I've never read LOLITA. I've seen the movie, and I've read PALE FIRE. I know, no legal loophole there, I must still be hung in the square, but the fact is I knew all I needed to know for my appropriation of the concept to work for me. The old-man/young-girl situation shows in sharp relief how isolated people in relationships can be. There they are, filling a need for each other, but they're on different planets entirely, and the balance of need is unstable.
What you mention is the most important echo, though. In my mid-twenties I felt powerless and persecuted. What did the world want me for? The title made me think of an entire generation of Lolitas: someone--our parents? God?--needed us to be there, but the need felt neurotic and uncompassionate. In "We Love You Carol and Alison" (my favorite Game Theory song) I'm trying to express that teen alienation thing that the kids go for, but I'm also fishing around for a basis of proper adulthood.
March 8, 1999
Scott, my girlfriend continues to have an itchy scalp after using her shampoo which of course contains sodium laureth sulfate. I thought it could be the water pressure, but this problem continued even after our most recent move. The pressure is so high now that it blows you all over the tub.
Scott: You mean the water pressure problem continued after a move? Is there any possibility that you have inadvertently been living not in houses or apartments but hydroelectric plants?
Could it be the sodium laureth sulfate?
A number of people have written to tell me that other people have told them that sodium laureth sulfate is really bad news--that it's used to clean grease off driveways or something and someone thinks it causes cancer. I wasn't overwhelmingly convinced myself, but you might want to first shampoo some lab rats and see if whatever condition they develop is worse than having dingy fur. My only interest in biochemical compounds is their obvious usefulness in lyric poetry.
P.S. I lost touch with Game Theory after college, I also seem to have lost my copy of Lolita Nation (but we won't get into that).
Actually, Game Theory lost touch with existence very soon after that.
Our radio stations in Minneapolis are either tiny college stations that you need to be in their studio to pick up, or owned by Disney (is "No Doubt" even music?). I couldn't be happier finding out about Loud Family. You continue to amaze me.
Much appreciated! I am withheld by annoying vocalist professional courtesy from addressing your comment on No Doubt.
Of all the major religions, Buddhism has the best outfits...
hey hey we're the monks,
March 1, 1999
Scott, I just want to tell you how much your music has meant to me over the years. I have been a fan since 1987, when I bought The Big Shot Chronicles, a few months before the release of Lolita Nation. I recently bought a "Friend of the Family" sticker and put it on the back of my car. I became an obsessed fan back in '87 and tracked down all the vinyl EP releases from Game Theory. I'm thinking of getting the Distortion album cover transferred to a t-shirt. Your juvenilia is better than most other musicians' mature works, believe me.
Scott: It boggles my mind when people say such nice things; thank you. Not to stanch the flow of credibility, but I was pretty old (23) when we did Distortion.
I am a drummer, and was so happy to find that Gil Ray has returned! He is one of my favorite drummers, right up there with Moe Tucker, Gina Schock from the Go-Go's, Keith Strickland in the early B-52's line-up and Bobby Gillespie on the first J and M Chain album. Gil definitely has a '60s feel in his style. I used to play Big Shot and Lolita at home while I had my sticks out to learn all the cool drum parts. I especially like his groove on "The Waist and the Knees." I still can't do it the way he does. Anyway, Scott, your music has been a regular part of my life almost daily for 11 and a half years. You keep making it, and I'll keep buying it and enjoying it.
I love Gil, too, and I'll pass along the compliment. Thanks again for writing such an encouraging message.
Oh, by the way, who are your favorite writers? Do you like Douglas Coupland? Jeff Gomez?
Never read either of them. I'm actually not all that well read when it comes to fiction, especially recent fiction.
Who do you like that is/are considered classic?
On another occasion I answered the question "what are my favorite novels?," which is different from my favorite writers, and maybe I'll play up the difference even more by saying these need not be fiction writers, but any writer for whom I would probably be part of the intended audience. I will excuse myself from evaluating important writers writing to radically different cultures from my own, such as early Buddhist haikuists, or Martin Heidegger.
In laying out this list, my sketch strikes me as pretentious--as if I were qualified to judge weightier matters than I am. But to be one of the ten greatest writers of all time seems to me to mean you're beating a lot stiffer competition than F. Scott Fitzgerald. You would be claiming not just that you could compel and entertain modern readers more skillfully than others aiming at that same goal, but that you could create a text that ranks with the great Western texts, and would continue to do so after centuries, which means you encapsulate a truth which withstands the overturning of the goals of language your century aims at. Therefore I'm thinking less of writerly skills in a particular idiom--on which subject I'm certainly no expert--than simply how indelible an impression certain texts have made on me.
drama: William Shakespeare
Probably the easiest selection for anyone who is afraid smart people will be watching. I've read or seen about 15 of the plays--more than enough to realize that their continuing relevance to the entire spectrum of social situations is beyond question.
One moment that often seems apropos is Lear's outrage at Cordelia's answer of "nothing" when he asks his daughters what they have to say to flatter him to earn their inheritance. His insistence that "nothing will come of nothing" underscores our perpetual, insidious recourse to tit-for-tat--how true love is robbed of reality when it must be in the context of this, and relative to that.
poetry: T.S. Eliot, Dante
Eliot would probably think me an idiot for declaring him the equal of Dante, but from where I sit Eliot is our times' greatest literary resource. Future generations will consider Eliot and Joyce unnecessarily difficult, but for me they were the only avenue to certain truths. To me, "The Waste Land" is astounding in its anthropological precision. One day, after enough sixth graders have shot their classmates, maybe we'll become more attentive to Eliot in 1922 saying (effectively) marriage, community, and culture are for all of us deathly ill, and here's why...
As for Dante, the Divine Comedy, besides being gorgeous poetry and invention, is probably the most enduring and applicable moral system in the Western world. If someone asked me whom I disapproved of more, Kenneth Starr or Bill Clinton, I would say: Ken Starr (assuming our chief executive isn't actually guilty of rape or harrassment); the sowers of discord and scandal, especially against a popular head of state, are much farther down in hell than the lustful.
book-length fiction: James Joyce
The masterpieces are backbreaking intellectual exercises, and I feel funny recommending them because I had to have so much outside help to interpret them for me, but how they do tell it like it is. Bloom in ULYSSES is an antihero not in the trivial sense of not being admirable, but in the sense of refusing, in subtle ways but at every turn, to buy into a system where validation comes from besting others.
FINNEGANS WAKE is virtually non-English--a long novel written in approximation of a dream, in which there is never more than a hint of sense being made. It's not so much the author deciding to tell a story in a playfully obscure way, as it is Joyce rudely collapsing history, with its incidental and linguistic disparities intact, into a few hundred pages as a way of getting at the answer to the question: what story does this tell?
A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN is also brilliant, and, for fans of such spectacle, a brutal ravaging of the Catholic Church.
short fiction: Flannery O'Connor
She writes about people near the limits of psychological crisis and interpersonal dysfunction, and in most authors such a distanced look at losers and wackos from the American South would feel abusive and voyeuristic. In O'Connor, though, we're invited to note what milder form each of us has of every sociopathy we read about with amused scorn. Typically we catch someone in an act of harsh treatment, and note the comically flimsy mental justification behind it, only to be sobered by the similarity to our own justifications that never seemed flimsy before.
I wish I had the text in front of me, but in one story a man goes to bed relishing the thought that his little boy "would finally find out he wasn't as smart as he thought he was [(mis)quoted from memory]." Usually all we need to feel righteous is solid proof that someone in close proximity is wronger than we are.
modern philosophy: Martin Buber, Rene Girard
Buber is a somewhat mystical Jewish scholar from the early 20th century. I have no particular use for lofty spirituality, since as a typical suburban Californian grown up agnostic, if anyone is not going to get it, I'm not going to get it. I've nevertheless found his thoughts on relationships in I AND THOU to be, somehow, more powerful than anything from other philosophers. In short, he asserts that we lose the knowledge of what relationships truly are because they are inevitably objectified. We tend to hear this as cliché and/or say "so what?," but a strange loop becomes apparent: when a relationship becomes objectified, we mean that it becomes a mere commodity in another system. But what the "other system" must be constituted by is relationships with other people. Yet, if all relationships are objectified, all social currency everywhere is ultimately devalued.
Rene Girard is living; until recently he taught here in the bay area at Stanford. I've mentioned him in a couple of other contexts, and I'll advertise again that he's my pick to be remembered as the important humanities theorist of our age. His theories of human imitativeness and the role of sacrifice in primitive cultures are unprecedentedly profound and far-reaching in their implications. After reading Girard, I thought of Harrison Ford in THE FUGITIVE, saying that if it was all a puzzle "...then I just found a big piece."
classical philosophy: Plato
No one agrees with everything Plato says, or ought to, but he thought more accurately about more important issues than most well-educated people today with all their (can I say "our"?) modern sophistication.
As an example, it occurred to him to be leery of fictional media on the grounds that society will be disrupted by people ascribing more authority to it than is deserved. We today can think only of this threatening free speech, and so it does, but what percentage of the population have their sentiments roused by a well-made movie and think "this has told me an important truth," as opposed to "this has told me what the filmmakers know will make money if they tell me?"
religious texts: [writer of John's Gospel], [writer(s)/editor(s) of Genesis]
Whether you believe every miracle story or think it's an elaborate scheme to underfund the NEA, the story of the passion of Christ is, it seems to me, the most often told and least forgettable story in Western culture. No one you know doesn't know that a man supposedly preached love and brotherhood 2000 years ago and was cruelly executed for his trouble, and very few people don't think important issues hang in the balance of what it all means (granted, many believe it's responsible for great evil on the part of the Church).
Similarly, Genesis, containing so many stories of lasting cultural weight, and such multilayered observations as "God created man in his own image" are simply too important to leave off a list of the greatest writings.
...tragically, leaving no room for Anne Rice once again
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