Fits and Starts
Lili Taylor, who has always beguiled me despite her never really getting to play a babe (except, tellingly, in Bright Angel, a film that proves the hard-edged prose of Richard Ford, another kind of beauty that has always beguiled me, seems so odd when spoken by real people and not the page), made her first impression, way before she was queen of the indies, in Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything. If you’ve seen the film you must remember her as the sweet and moony girl with a guitar who has written 65 songs for the boy who has dumped her. She could be laughed at. But we, and here I hope I have earned the plural first person, can’t, really. The knitting and re-knitting of obsession we all know a thing or two about, especially when music is the thread we use to sew up our dreams. After all, how does John Cusack finally woo and win Ione Skye? With a boombox held high over his head, and Peter Gabriel singing his thoughts for him, and without even knowing it making “In Your Eyes” an anthem for high school proms for half a decade.
But that’s pop music for you, or me, or us. And pop, although short for popular, perhaps only works its magic when it speaks to us, whispers to us, crooks its finger in our direction, one stained-with-sadness heart at a time. That we follow, lost and in love, and soon notice we follow others, that there’s a line of lovers, well, that’s what makes pop pop. Choose any song that chose you, that held you in its chords, that played its clichés like strings just for you, and you’ll see what I mean.
Ain’t love, life, grand. That’s all, and one gigantic three letter word that is, and all pop hopes to attest to. No, that’s not right, either, for attest is one of those hedge words with time written all over it, intellect too busy with a spray can in its hand. The best pop is-es. Present tense in a way even writing can never be, as the sentence winds its way by its very accumulative nature off into short term memory. Why does rock and roll matter? It’s the rare place America lets art and entertainment be one, it lets the venal and spiritual (or the economic and sexual, if you prefer) collapse--the old melting pot--or better yet, expand into something bigger than us, a collective experience, if that isn’t too much to ask of three minutes, two guitars, bass, and drums. But the real thing (and try to use that phrase without thinking Coca-Cola) is never too much: “Jailhouse Rock” is the real “We Are the World.”
Or, to start again (and again and again, a juke box’s, that is a real one that still plays 45s, series of drops, a DJ’s segues from tune to tune)...love, rock ‘n’ roll, and religion all talk the same language of ecstasy and damnation, stairways to heaven and free-fallin’ to hell. What the greatest songs do is enforce this, which is why we get scared and excited and confused and contradictory, and love and hate like a coin toss. It’s all about life closing down while it opens up, about projection and unity, about communion--there, I’ve said it--and the way rock is beyond academia, literary journals, and this very blather I can’t help but tease through. The stubborn streak of true-blue-American anti-intellectual venom is on the mark: fuck thinking, let’s dance, or go one better, fuck dancing, let’s fuck. Even the caring, careful appreciation of a thinker like Peter Guralnick or Greil Marcus is too much; you want to just seize the moment, after all, and thinking is always kind of past tense, isn’t it?
It’s sad, then, that with CDs one of the things we’ve lost beyond the elusive “warmth” audiophiles go on about, and perhaps means something else all together, is the very term “record.” Let’s make a record. We’re a real band now, we’re going to record. That’s what music is, or can be, the mark, the memory, the moment written out in space. Like the Buzzcocks sang, it feels so real, but why can’t I touch it? Getting back to Cameron Crowe, again, a failed director of fine moments (which is an achievement, really it is), and to his film Singles (and how could the pun not be intended), there’s the seduction moment, with Campbell Scott alone at last with Kyra Sedgwick in his apartment, and he’s got LP’s and by the way he holds them you know he loves them, which means he can love, which means he’s been sold the whole bill of goods and the two of them are destined for each other, she cannot resist, particularly in a movie, the only thing that hypes love more than music, as it’s the only thing bigger, even in the tinniest of mall theatres. Scott’s character says without saying, If I let you see this much of me, what can I have in return, what will you hum for me, what can you share, and how could you not? Because it is vinyl, and it is my heart.
Of course here I romance an age, my past, romance itself. But doing it and recognizing I’m doing it takes nothing away from it as a fact. An attempt at ironic detachment only attaches me more, for now I lavish attention on the ephemeral, which I realize, as a collector of LPs and now CDs, as a one-time disc jockey and a long-time music critic, has been my life.
But then again, we’re all ephemera if you take the long look at it.