souvenirs

I found some good music downloads elsewhere – V-Fib Recordings has a whole raft of good, semi-obscure music. I noticed that a good number of these bands had Milwaukee connections (even though the active musicians featured are currently based in locales as various as New York, Richmond, Minneapolis, and elsewhere) – which turns out to be not too surprising, as the folks who run the site are former Milwaukeeans as well. Or at least names familiar to me, but I might have been drunk at the time.

Anyway, moving way way over to the other side of the whirled wired web, we run headlong into a Bubblegum Machine. In the future, you’ll be able to actually get real, chewable bubblegum on the Intarnets – but for now, you’ll just have to chew on Britisher Martin Lampen’s take on the variety pack of sometimes moldy old records. Remember how mid-sixties soul lyrics often used an extended metaphor – “I Second That Emotion,” etc.? So here’s Joe Tex with a track called “Buying a Book,” which uses one of the more obscurely convoluted romantic-sexual metaphors around. Fun track though – and don’t miss the instrumental “Chocolate Cherry,” which isn’t a metaphor.

The history of the world is legible in the random shufflings of my iTune – or so I sometimes like to believe. This time, though, it amused me by following up “Buying a Book” with John Entwistle’s “The Window Shopper” (a song I downloaded from Feed Me Good Tunes) which also mentions books in a, umm, romantic context. And what the hell is that in the background? It sounds like Entwistle poached a sackbut and shawm player from Richard Thompson, in one of Thompson’s pointed-floppy-shoe-wearing excursions into funky medievalia. You do know that Entwistle was very well-read, right? So I’m sure this song is actually from Chaucer or something.

Finally, two last comments on the whole R.E.M. thing:

1. I think “the biggest wagon is the empty wagon is the noisiest” (from “Little America”) is a great summation of all too much that happens all too often. It sounds like something some wise old toothless guy spitting outside a general store might say – but he’d be right.

2. If I wanted to force the chorus of “Sitting Still” to be semi-parsible into sense, I’d render it “Up to par and Katie bars the kitchen ties that knot me in/Set a trap for lovemaking, a waste of time, sitting still.” But it’s not that (“bars” rhymes with “ties” as Stipe sings it, and the consonant in “ties” is clearly an “s” – i.e., “size,” “sighs,” or possibly “signs”): too bad, as the first line would then both allude to the Southern phrase “Katie bar the door” and to the cliche “the ties that bind,” with a hint of restrictive apron strings as well. It doesn’t matter: the song isn’t about what Stipe sings, but how he sings it. You really only need that, and two lines and the way he sings them in particular: “get away from me” and “can you hear me?” The rest of the words are blunt-cut, scissored, failed communication (I read the song as companion to “9-9” – “conversation fear” – and a more frustrated, angry take on the personal distance Stipe would explore more openly in “Good Advices” and the heartbreaking “Kohoutek.”)

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “souvenirs

  1. Anonymous

    The second part of the “Sitting Still” chorus (verified in multiple places) is “sit in traffic up big hill a waste of time sitting still”, which means .. something??

    Thanks for putting up all the R.E.M. stuff. “Skank” used to be played in a medley between “9-9” and “Wind Out” so I have a hard time hearing it by itself.

    -Anonymousteve

  2. 2fs

    Re “Skank”: yeah, I can hear how that would work – probably where I heard it (maybe not listed as such in gigographies). About the lyrics: where was that interp verified? Cuz that’s actually a variant I hadn’t run into (“sit and try for the big kill” is another one), and usually Stipe’s just said the words are nonsense and he doesn’t even know what they are. Which I don’t believe – since he sings ’em the same, at least on the couple bootlegs I’ve heard. I think he just doesn’t like them any more, whatever they might be. Regardless, I think there are several early R.E.M. lyrics that are best appreciated as word sculpture: just as no one looks at a modern sculpture and says “what does that spoon have to do with that macrame bit?” – it’s just visual/textural or whatever – the same is true for some of those lyrics, I’d argue. It’s not nonsense – but it’s not syntactical sense either.

  3. James

    I hear it as “Katie bars the size/let me in.” Which may only be my mind trying to make some sense of what I am hearing and creating a logical connection.

    The theme of communications pops up in Stipes lyrics frequently, even as late as “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight” (sidewinder=phone chord). If I remember correctly, in his R.E.M. book Marcus Gray claims that Stipe was inspired to write “Sitting Still” from someone he knew who taught deaf children (hence the “I can hear you/Can you hear me” line). The best things I’ve read on Stipe’s lyrics are Gray’s book and a UK newsweekly feature written in the mid-80’s by Sean O’Hagan (the music journalist, not the High Llamas guy). O’Hagan’s piece was included in that R.E.M. Companion book published a few years ago.

    I have many recordings of early R.E.M. shows and I have to agree that Stipe is (more or less) consistent in singing the lyrics the same from show to show, though he sometimes dumped an entire set of lyrics for new ones (ie., “Fall on Me.”)

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