Disruptive Juxtaposition

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Help a brother out


1.) Do you commonly experience, or have you ever experienced, a Strong Emotional Reaction as a result of listening to music? By Strong Emotional Reaction, I mean a couple of different things. I don't think, for example, that raising your hand in the "Metal!" sign because of some excitement the music causes in you. But if that's how you interpret Strong Emotional Reaction, then that's cool, and it's data I can use. But a better guiding criteria would be to define a Strong Emotional Reaction as either a) outright crying, b) a throat-lump, or c) the "Desperado Effect", which is when, upon hearing a certain song or kind of music, you stare into space regardless of company or circumstance, much like that one boyfriend of Elaine's on Seinfeld who, every time he hears the Eagles's "Desperado", shushes Elaine and has to just listen.

2.) What music makes you experience this Strong Emotional Reaction, however you define an S.E.R.? Could you describe the music briefly? How fast or slow does it tend to be? What about the lyrics, if there are any? What instruments are involved?

3.) Anecdotes are highly sought after. What experiences with music and being moved by it do you remember? I've shared a couple of my own on this site in recent weeks, especially regarding the Sufjan Stevens song "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us" and Andrew Bird's "Tables and Chairs", but I'm interested in what music has and does have a similar effect on all of you. Does a certain Sinatra song grab you by the shirt collar? There's a country ballad that just seems to have your name all over it, isn't there?


I'm working on something of an essay about contemporary attitudes toward music, begun on the trip back to the city in the first few days of this new year. I began it as a reflection on how unmoving most religious music is now, but now I think it'll be a little more philosophical and a little more wide-ranging. One of the things that remains to be interrogated is the kind of music that Jon liked to listen to over the last few years of life, dark stuff that included Disturbed and Rammstein. There was a Rammstein CD that lay on the floor of the basement weight room that I never listened to but often I'd check out the liner notes between sets of lifting like a third of the weight Jon was typically lifting. These were some bleak photos; Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" has nothing on the way these band members were done up to resemble post-apocalyptic, L.A. 2029 denizens of an alien Abu Ghraib. It's pretty clear, of course, that such depictions feed the self-styled auto-mythologizing certain bands like to perpetuate about themselves; the "darker" they make themselves appear, the more allure they (think they) have. See Marilyn Manson, who's a canny businessman. Anyway. There's an intersection between invented appearances / intentions and actual musical content and ramifications that I think I'll have to explore in this essay I've got going.

So, your contributions would help address this issue about music and its ability to help or hurt us, and why it has this power, and how that power works. If you've never commented on this site before, please, I hope you'll feel free to chip in today. Or email me directly using the link at the upper right of the page. There is no obligation to buy, and your satisfaction is guaranteed. As are replies.



o Cat Power, The Greatest. The title cut astounds, with Chan Marshall singing that once she wanted to be the greatest, and in the background Chan Marshall keens in a terribly sad and high falsetto "greatest, greatest, greatest", which each new "greatest" becomes less off-key until the third "greatest" hits the proper note. It's a song that demonstrates instantly how considered and crafted the record's going to be.

o Belle and Sebastian, The Life Pursuit

o Janis Joplin, Pearl (Deluxe Edition)

o Shawn Amos, Thank You Shirl-ee May

o Silver Jews, Tanglewood Numbers

o Sigur Ros, Takk... (which I already had, but you can't have enough of this record)

o ATB, Seven Years 1998-2005

o Paul McCartney, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. This one is a real grower. You hear a lot about singer-songwriters like Elliott Smith or twee indie pop bands like the Apples in Stereo having a "Beatles-y" sense of melody, and while those comparisons hold, you listen to McCartney and can't help but hear how original the fellow's melodic sense always was and still is. This record might not surprise anybody w/r/t lyrics, melody, instrumentation, etc., but I suspect that that's because we've grown accustomed to McCartney's craftsmanship. It's a little like having a weekly porterhouse steak, with a nice region of medium rareness in the center, and forgetting how accomplished a feat an excellent medium-rare porterhouse really is. You need to slow down and think to yourself, "Hey, I'm enjoying an excellent medium-rare porterhouse. I'm pretty lucky to have this right now." That's how I think of Paul McCartney, anyway.

o Brian Eno, Another Day on Earth.

o Calexico and Iron & Wine, In the Reins. Same deal with the Sigur Ros.

o Roseanne Cash, Black Cadillac. Roseanne's Johnny's daughter. Here's hoping this record applies to certain recent parallels in our own lives, right?



I carry around this little 3x5 pad of paper with a spiral binding in my back pocket. A pen is stored horizontally in this spiral binding, so the whole thing makes a sort of T-shape with a very wide vertical component. On this pad I write numbers, names of bands, Good Ground ideas, images and seed ideas for poems; it's a great habit I think more people could benefit from getting into. Anyway, I wrote the words "My brother Jon is dead" on a page of this pad two days ago, and left the pad open to this page when I replaced the pad in my pocket, so whenever I'd go to reach for the pad I'd see the words, framed in the center of the page like this:

My brother Jon
is dead.

That's actually how my father told me, that Saturday night, with that same cadence. "Your brother Jon [little pause] is dead." The enjambment represents that little pause. Very clear to me, now, I mean, my complete handle on how that sounded and sounds is impressive. Where were you when JFK etc., I suppose. And having taken this step hasn't produced paroxysms of grief or anything - not that I'd expected it to. But when I'm out of the house and my mind's often otherwise occupied, this step, these 5 words, they put the thought and the fact in its proper place at the forefront of all thought. They have a kind of mantra or koan-like effect. No larger point to make in this little asterisked section. Just sharing.


Fiesta Wednesday (homemade tacos and Coronas) with Betsy Barrett, Denise, Dan "The Man" Callahan - you gonna stand for that, Dan Graham? - and J. was a fun ol' time. A highlight for me personally was going through the alphabet according to sexual / scatological references. It all started with someone calling someone an "A-hole," then as a sort of kneejerk reaction, that person riposted with the "B-hole," which I don't think we defined. Anyway, from there it was onto the "C-hole", the C of which stands for a pretty common, awful word, and "D-hole" (even easier), and on through the other 22 letters. Try it at home!


The older I get, the more I want to talk about what I have done rather than what I plan on doing; focusing on what I have done seems to better foster an attitude of accomplishment and action rather than hoped-for accomplishment and potential action. Wow, the coffee this morning is hitting me now, and I feel completely jacked into this computer, chair, desk, stereo, and Belle & Sebastian CD. Very much part of a circuit of in- and out-put. Anyway, despite this new fondness I have for eschewing to-do lists in favor of already-done lists, I want to say that I'm very excited about sledding down Westcott Reservoir this morning with J., and I'm talking shovels and huge ramps, I'm talking innertubes, I'm talking sunshine as it produces a variety of incandescent effects on a huge white hill, I'm talking gravity-assisted downward flight at grades of 30 degrees and more.

Monday, February 06, 2006

One of those unsatisfying bullet-style, short-on-substance posts

Recently acquired:

Laura Cantrell, Humming by the Flowered Vine

The Go-Betweens, Oceans Apart


Started at the local branch of the international book concern B_______ yesterday. The comparison shocks. Characters at least as colorful as any in New York City. Unbelieveably quiet, considering the Big Top of Capitalism in which it's located.

Oh man, check out that sledding snowman. Haha, that's great.


Camillus and its environs are indeed buried in snow. Rumors say 4-6 inches today, and last night driving on the 690 it seemed that 40 m.p.h. was a reckless, devil-may-care speed. I love that whizzing-through-Space-Mountain effect of plowing through snowstorms. It looks and feels like winter again. I've been waiting for weather like this.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Condition of brain

Somewhat mushy, but better by the minute. The fatigue'd been the cumulative effect of two nights on the town, w/o adequate sleep. I’m unaccustomed to being on the town for more than one night.

Last night’s best and most memorable experiences was dinner at Daniella’s, which is sort of tucked away in Lakeland, generally abutting the New York State Fairgrounds, and appended to a Best Western. Daniella’s Steakhouse is run by a man named Charlie with short but stylish hair, a strong Upstater’s accent, and a proclivity to satisfy requests that he “dance, baby” with a distinctive shoulder wiggle that sometimes anticipates his singing a few bars of whatever song the keyboardist is playing. And oh that keyboardist. I missed his name, but there on his little stool and set of electric ivories next to the kitchen doors, he was able to invest renditions of “Fly Me To the Moon” and “Come Fly With Me” with some surprisingly adept tinkly riffs. Spritely versions of “Happy Birthday” received full dining room participation, even when we had to sing the song twice in succession—once for Mom and once for Susie. Whose pictures follow below.

J. and myself. I seem to be regaling my family with the story of the time I broke my wrist, and cured it with amber spirits; but you can tell from J.'s expression that he knows I'm kidding. But seriously folks: all day long my mother was calling home from the jeweler’s in order to coordinate the evening’s reservations, and to see if Melissa and Adam—I almost wrote Jon just now—had arrived home from Rochester. Mom, see, was trying to get my father back for his birthday surprises earlier this week, and modest though it was in the way of schemes and skulduggery it did wind up being a nice surprise for him. Just for fun, really. And also yesterday, my friend Jayne stopped in on her way to Buffalo, NY. I made omelets for Jayne, J., and myself, the declining quality of which proved that vegetarian omelets are more easily manipulated than steak omelets. That is not a reason to go vegetarian, Jayne. But so anyway it was expected for a little while that afternoon that Jayne might stick around for dinner, and as such there was another empty chair at the steakhouse. It occurred to me once we were seated and had received our drinks that it would be fitting to make a toast to Jon, especially since there was a chair for him; I believe that's what I'm gearing up to do, and believe me when I say that it was appropriately tearful, but not too much. Which seems important to note. He liked a good steak, Jon did. A surf and turf kind of guy.

The parents. They are doing all right.

I offer this shot as pre-emptive proof that yes, sometimes when I'm drinking a beverage, yes, my pinky hovers off in mid-air in a manner some might call effete. I submit that the gesture is a) fraternal, allowing me to indicate the photographer or whomever, and b) an effective emergency device that, should the glass slip, will foster the catching of the slipped glass. J.'s eyes are closed in exasperation with this explanation, you can be sure.

Melissa and Adam. Cute? Cute.

The best big brotherish evil eye I'm capable of. Note Adam's excellent shirt, which is of a man's silhouette growing comfortably into happy obesity.

Some have opined that we have similar jawlines. Blame the milkman.

The birthday girls. Happy Belated Birthdays! Apparently Mom doesn't want this posted (she just walked in and objected). Too bad!


Recently acquired:

Marvin Gaye, I Want You

Lost in Translation Soundtrack

John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band

The Lost in Translation soundtrack’s been my late night standby, especially the Death in Vegas song “Girls.” The Lennon’s outstanding for the sound of John’s voice in “Mother” and other songs, which sounds sort of like what Whitman’s barbaric yawp turned upside down such that it can contain the maximum range and variety of personal suffering. And the Marvin Gaye, some critics say, is even more of a baby-maker than Let’s Get It On or anything Sade ever released—even Love Deluxe. I can affirm that songs like “Come Live With Me Angel” attain erotic heights the likes of which “You Sure Love to Ball” from Let’s Get It On just doesn’t attain. The reappearance of the hyperventilating, uh, “participants” in the background of the mix remains a smart and colorful touch.


I’ve been learning some things about myself in the last week or so. One is that no matter how much I don’t feel like meeting new people or going to a large Irish pub that’s lousy with unfamiliar garrulous people, I will begin to enjoy myself if I go ahead and order a Dewar’s—which is NOT pronounced deWARR’s, but DUers; take note if you want to prevent stocky bartenders from whispering your erroneous pronunciation into the ear of another bartender, who’ll then laugh heartily.

I’ve also learned that I love having people around. Brooklyn was a bane because there wasn’t much in the way of human presence in my home; my flatmates and I never crossed paths, and the people upstairs, for whom I have no ill will now that I’m out from under their clomping, didn’t seem befriendable for a few reasons. But since I’ve been home there’s been a long extended chain of visits I have had the good pleasure to play host to and enjoy and conspire to extend. There’s been a certain amt. of fatigue involved, but what overwhelms that fatigue is this gratitude for having people around. It’s taken me years to recognize this fact about myself, although in Oregon it was pretty clear that there was an attainable ideal balance between productive solitude and sociability. This recognition occurs simultaneously with what I termed in discussion with J. last night as a certain resurgence of familial activities. That’s another unavoidable and wonderful fact: having other people visit and co-exist allows you to glean perspective on your life and circumstances in a way you haven’t yet been able to do. But this past week has been a sort of return to form, or maybe even a turn to a new and more accomplished form of sociability and the family appreciating company - both its own and that of others.

It’s a high and dark irony that the family would seem to be shifting into this higher gear of care and expressed love for each other in the weeks after Jon’s departure. Of course, Jon’s departure is exactly what is now causing this shifting into that higher gear. Still: the fact that this family and that we as individuals have the capacity to find in ourselves and share with each other a certain joie de vivre makes me wonder if this same joie de vivre could have somehow found expression earlier and aimed at Jon. Nights like last night, Super Bowl spreads like tonight’s Super Bowl spread (Buffalo wings, barbeque chicken legs, honey cornbread, crab dip, all homemade)—all of these items and happenings and people and occasions to gather represent this, I don’t know, energy of kinship which could have arced toward and enveloped Jon in his Colorado months, or in his final Saturday morning, and been strong enough to remind him of nights like last night and tonight. I don’t intend for this paragraph to harp overmuch on the same-old, same-old issues of “What could we have done??”, because there’s not much good in such thinking. What there is instead is an appreciation, I suppose, of such times and a nostalgia for similar times when Jon was there.


To that end:

This morning Melissa and Adam were talking about what they (i.e. Adam) should make for breakfast. Waffles entered the discussion. Melissa remembered when I was making waffles one Sunday (probably it was a Sunday; I’m going on tradition), complete with blueberry compote. Jon asked me what was in the pot, and apparently I began to discourse, as is my wont, about the antioxidant properties of blueberries, and that in some pop-medical study I’d seen somewhere blueberries were agreed to be one of the best foods one can possibly ingest. Which was when Jon said, “Will! I just asked what was in the pot! God!” He had a way of saying such things, exclamatory things, without real anger; I would compare it to the way George Costanza’s dad, or Abbott of Abbott and Costello if that’s more your speed, would get all verklempt and start yelling about the second baseman or the Mansiere. (Remember? “We’re calling it the Bro!” “Mansiere!”) But to continue the comedy metaphor, Jon’s the straight man who doesn’t need a funny man, a Costello or a George, because the force of his exasperation was sufficiently large to let you know that he was kidding. The laugh he tended to let loose after such a short-fused outburst—“God! What a goof!”—was composed of actual and distinct Ha’s, which is my favorite type of laughter.