February 15, 2005

Yesterday's Playlist

So when I got back home yesterday, I was singing "My Fretful Porpentine" as is my wont, and I realized: Hey, a special day calls for a special playlist. This is what I listen to (after the Satoko Fujii Orchestra's Jo, in the morning before I'd decided to make the day thematic):

Miles Davis: My Funny Valentine, live (I'd been listening to Four, its companion, just the day before);
Mekons: I [heart] Mekons
Palace Music: Lost Blues and Other Songs
Chet Baker: "My Funny Valentine" (should've listened to all of Let's Get Lost, but after Palace Music I wanted more up)
Mike Westbrook Concert Band feat. Norma Winstone: Love Songs
Stefan Jaworzyn and Alan Wilkinson: "My Psychotic Valentine" (from In a Sentimental Mood)

which took me to midnight. I listened to the last track on headphones, as I thought the neighbors might not appreciate it so late at night. Sadly I don't have any Kid Thomas Valentine records.

Listening to the Mekons album again, it occurred to me that I could revisit this dispute with bza. I said that the surprising thing about I [heart] Mekons "wasn't that it was an album of love songs, it was that it was an album of happy love songs."

bza responded, ""I Love the Apple" isn't so happy. I think you're confusing bounciness with happiness."

Who's right?

Well, in my response to bza I said that Sally Timms' songs weren't happy. I want that on the record right away.

1. Millionaire. A Sally song. "Everybody's so in love, but they don't touch or meet." A stark, brutal world where love means nothing. Not happy.

2. Wicked Midnight.

i won't be looking for revenge again
seems like i'll be feeling good, yeah!
more ways to win more ways to better loving
look into these eyes of mine
all the lovely things will come together this time

There's the hint of revenge here, and the storms, but it sounds pretty happy to me overall. By Mekonic standards, at least. We're up against Oblivion here (another Sally special).

3. I Don't Know. "i say i love you, go to hug you, i know i'm lying, i don't know." Er, um. The song is bouncy, at least.

4. Dear Sausage. Sally. I'm not sure exactly what's going on in most of these lyrics, but I'm pretty sure it's not happy. The most positive image of love here is probably "and at the gate where the boneless meet, we melt and merge back into the sea," and that's at best up with the "love and solidarity may sustain us for a little while in a word that's crushing us" mode of Gin Palace, Charlie Cake Park, and "You can't live alone" ending to Journey to the End of Night. "Dear Sausage" is my favorite song on this album.

5. All I Want. "virtual reality, i smell you but never touch, my day spent just wondering, waiting to hear your call." I would claim that this represents the yearning aspect of love rather than the complete alienation of "Millionaire." Still, I'm not doing very well here.

6. Special. "feeling you move, you move me, you're running through me." I don't see anything negative here. It may be about sex more than love but that's part of it, right?

7. St. Valentine's Day. OK, this is the crux of my argument here. "love, it is a killing thing, did you ever feel the pain or hear the noise of kisses on cold skin in the rain?" is not, I insist, actually negative about love. And Sally's verse, "i went to church last sunday night, i knew him and he knew me, making love on the mossy stone, moonlight burns so bright" is positively ecstatic. I defy you to find a precedent in the Mekons' work.

8. I [heart] Apple. I don't see why bza picked on this one. "i like the apple and i like a pear, i like your curly black hair," what's not happy about that? The material surroundings may be squalid but that's how it is in Mekons land.

9. Love Letter. Sally. Absolutely, utterly despairing. "she crushed this letter down into a ball, so nothing could disturb her heart." Brrrrr.

10. Honeymoon in Hell. Hmm, that title isn't going to help me out. And the ending, "i'd swap ten years of married life to have it all again" cuts both ways, dunnit? Hmm.

11. Too Personal. I'm not sure I understand most of the lyrics here, either. The ending, "a small gift of knowledge, i'm still trying to understand," I'd argue is redemptive, but history punching him in the nose and the blade designed to pierce the hardest heart may not be so positive.

12. Point of No Return. A Lonesome Bob cover. It's about doing wrong and "there's a darker side of love i'm bound to learn." Not happy really.

OK, so we're at about 4 or 5 happy love songs out of 12. But for finding unalloyed happiness in Mekons songs (outside of Me) that, as in baseball, is a damn good average. And we actually have a majority of non-Sally songs on this album, if you grant me some generous readings.

Posted by Matt Weiner at February 15, 2005 02:36 PM

I left a comment on this entry at unfogged's "huzzah" post, but I suppose it makes more sense here:

Hey, Satoko Fujii! Way to go! Have you heard her duo album with Tatsuya Yoshida? (Apparently they played either Victoriaville or ... some prog festival? I can't remember. Anyway, they played this festival and Yoshida did a solo on his jacket zipper. I mean, happy birthday.

Posted by: ben wolfson at February 15, 2005 10:01 PM

Late as ever (I'd check your blog more often if you did more music and less philosophy of language), but I'll still comment:

We probably don't disagree that much. What I wanted to register was mainly the fact that even when the sentiment seems happy in these songs it's allowed with an awareness that happiness is fleeting, or based on self-deception, or flawed in some other way. You yourself noted in your earlier reponse that the trasience of happiness is thematic in "I Love the Apple" (and I think it's worse than that; recall "You decide I am the one/The one you want this afternoon").

Also, you're misreading "Wicked Midnight." First, happiness appears there only in prospect, not in actuality: the song is about someone trying to dust themelves off and talk themslves back into sexual/romantic optimism. Second, what we learn is how risible the terms in which we think about our own romantic agency would sound to others if they could hear what's going on in our heads. I mean, how can you hear the refrain "More ways to win/More ways to better loving" except as mocking the state of mind being portrayed?

I might be willing to give you "St. Valentine's Day." My contrarian half is tempted to insist that it's supposed to stand as a fantasy. The scenes being painted are too good to be true. (I'mm not just supposing that the Mekons' general blightedness has to be present here. Consider the title. Fiding true bliss on Valentine's Day? Too perfect.) But I won't insist.

Posted by: bza at February 20, 2005 05:49 PM

Umf: "allowed with an awareness" should be "alloyed with an awareness".

Posted by: bza at February 20, 2005 05:50 PM

I should add that none of this is based on a re-listening or a check of the lyrics, so I'm more than half-expecting my readings to be punctured by some irrefutable lyrical evidence.

Posted by: bza at February 20, 2005 05:53 PM

I quoted "Wicked Midnite" deceptively; the passage begins "hints in the forest that tomorrow night." So it's all prospective. As is "in the hour when this storm has passed" at the last line. But I'd argue most happiness is prospective.

(The line you quote reminds me of "Club Mekon": "Sex no longer held a mystery/I saw it as a commodity to be bought and sold like rock'n'roll." I might argue that WM is realistic where CM is cynical, unless cynicism is realism. Of course CM is Sally.)

"I [heart] Apple" may be mostly about quick sex, like "Special." But is that wrong? (Stu says Tom Greenhalgh is unwilling to commit to any reading of the song. But I don't believe in authorial intention as constituting meaning, so that's no help.)

Probably I'm just so cynical that an acknowledgment that happiness is fleeting, or based on self-deception, or flawed in some other way seems as happy as you can be without, well, self-deception. Like you said, we don't disagree that much.

And I should've thrown up "When Darkness Falls" as a contrast for "Honeymoon in Hell."

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 21, 2005 03:44 PM