Friday, April 13, 2007

588 words about a Neutral Milk Hotel live youtube clip of "Song Against Sex"

this happened somewhere nine years and one day ago:

I posted the words to this song in an earlier Space blog without any explanation. I included no additional comment because the words pretty much speak for themselves. I posted them because "Song Against Sex" also speaks for me. If you could open up my head and peered inside, it would resemble this song.

And the first one tore a picture
Of a dead and hanging man
Who was kissing foreign fishes
That flew right out from this hands
And when I put my arms around him
I felt the blushing blood run through my cheeks
And an eeriness surrounded when his tongue began to speak
And he said...Oh boy you are so pretty
Enough to wrap tight in rice-paper string...
And when I finally kissed him the whole world began to ring
Lost like a bell that's tipping over
With two cracks along both sides
And I knew the world was over so I took a look outside
And watched the fires that were reaching
Up to the weather vane and the tops of trees
And the waiting scene and the sunday dream
They're all waiting here for me

Deli markets with their flower stands
Pretty girls and the burning men
Hanging out on the hooks next to the window displays
And I took out my tongue twice removed from my face
Across a bridge and across the mountains
Threw a nickel in a fountain
To save my soul from all these troubled times
And all the drugs that I don't have the guts to take
To soothe my mind so I'm always sober
Always aching, always heading towards
Mass suicide, occult figurines
And wasted gas-station attendents
Attending to their jobs
And a nice drive in the country
Finds a nice cliff to drop off
Oh when this world just gets so grating
All the grittiness of life
But don't take those pills your boyfriend gave you
You're too wonderful to die

And the last one tore a picture
From a pornographic page
But all the pleasure points attacking all
The looks of love were staged
And its a lie that you've been giving it hurts
You everyday so why should I lay you naked
When its just too far away.
From anything we could call loving
Any love worth living for
So I'll sleep out in the gutter
You can sleep here on the floor
And when I wake up in the morning
I forgot to lock the door
Because with a match that's mean and some gasoline
You won't see me anymore

I know of no other songs that come so close to capturing the simultaneous feeling of anxiety, doom, wonder, and fun I have on a daily basis. The song also captures in words, a belief that I hold and hope to have proven wrong some day: that the ultimate joy of sex is really just a lie. As the lyrics state:

"It's a lie that you've been given/It just hurts you everyday/So why should I lay here naked/When its just too far away/From anything we could call loving/Any love worth living for/ So I'll sleep out in the gutter/ You can sleep here on the floor."

In the end, sex and all its after affects seem more about anxiety and isolation than ecstasy and feeling as close to another person as possible.

So far, as I've experienced it, music is our true communion. It is with music and through experiencing and/or playing music together that we feel closest to one another. And this raw, joyous Neutral Milk Hotel clip is a prime example of that closeness.

Jeff Magnum and his band seem squeezed together on a stage that seems barely big enough to hold them. "Song Against Sex" comes across as chaotic, even in the studio original. And the sense that everything could fall apart is increased by the of claustrophobia of this live setting. The band is physically close to each other on the small stage , and playing their instruments together in song form requires mental and emotional closeness as well.

The band is mashed together, Jeff knocks into the bassist seemingly as an outlet for his punkish nervous energy and because there's simple no room to move around otherwise. Meanwhile, the crowd is mashed against the low stage and is pogoing and dancing and seems like it could rise up and envelope Magnum and Co. at any moment, if the stage holding the band doesn't collapse first under its weight, bringing the band and crowd together into one sweaty pit.

The lyrics are of fire and the apocalypse and yet also of whimsical things such as kissing fish and throwing a coin in a fountain. This contradiction is underpinned by the sliding trombone that comes in around 1:05, turning the world's end funeral into a New Orleans (pre-Katrina) style event. And Magnum's wordless vocals at the end of the verses encompass joy and pain and EVERYTHING else intense.

And that's a summation of my own life: a feel of intensity. And the experiences of intense joy/pleasure and pain/sorrow have a similarity to them, as if the extremes of positive and negative emotion meet at their ends like a Mobius strip.

Watching this video I feel a kinship with the bassist. I don't know his name, but he reminds me of myself. He's tall and thin and carries himself in a hunched over way that's similar to my own posture. Also he has a shaggy hairstyle that looks a lot like my own did before I decided to start growing it long. And while I've never played bass, I've been fascinated with its sound and place in rock music since my teens. In high school I wanted to be a bassist in a punk band because it seemed like the bassist was essential to the driving rhythms and breakdowns of punk/hardcore . And yet it also seemed that the bassist never played anything too complicated and only had to reckon with four strings. So with my limited skill, aspiring to be a bass player seemed a lot more realistic that becoming a guitar player. I also liked how in the live setting, a non-singing bass player could often hang towards the back end of the stage, feeding off the crowd's energy but feeling little pressure to be a showman himself. The bass was often only conspicuous when absent. The bassist seemed like he could get lost in the music. He could lock in with the drummer and just ride the sound waves.

In a notebook dating from the summer of '95, there's a sketch of myself with a bass guitar slung over my shoulder. In the picture, I'm wearing the big JNCO jeans and long-with-narrow-graphics t-shirts popular in the mid 90s among the skate punk crowd of Somerset County, NJ---though I never wore clothes like this in reality. Above the drawing is the text. "I Want to Be a Bass Boy!"

Becoming a bass player never happened. Instead I just stuck to French horn and lived vicariously through my friend Allie. She lived near my neighborhood, played bass in a band called Dilemma and wore the JNCOs and long t-shirts I so admired.

Still, it's easy for me to imagine that Magnum's bassist in this clip is me. He carries himself with an awkwardness I can relate to. On the small stage, he doesn't have much room to move around , but also doesn't seem comfortable just standing still amidst the high energy melee. For the first minute, he looks for a place to go that isn't there. And then he just settles on walking around in a small circle, subjected to the nearby spazzing of Mr. Magnum himself. If I were on that stage I'd probably settle on a similar pattern of movement. This song has a fair amount of dark imagery. But in the end, I come away from this live clip with a sense of catharsis and a smile. It's a bunch of people together playing and experiencing the music that they love.

Life has got a lot of lows and worries, but sometimes it feels great to sing about them or to hear someone else sing about them for you .

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