Secret Pop

May 31, 2010

This might not last forever.

I recently rediscovered Lisa Germano's Excerpts From a Love Circus while making a mixtape. There were songs of hers I wanted to include. I included them. But not until I was on a revision of so high a number that you might wonder if I'm expecting to be paid for my product. I'm not.

I used to listen to the album end to end, over and over, all the time, during my first year in Los Angeles. I found meaning in nearly every song. Personal personal things. It was both comforting to hear someone else sing them and also sort of deflating being reminded that nothing I felt was really mine. Disappointment is so tragically ordinary. Everyone feels sad. Everyone gets hurt. Everyone feels cheated, let down, dashed. At one time or another, everyone feels like the world is sitting on their chest and they can neither breathe nor cry out. A night terror.

If you listen to an album enough and then don't listen to it for a long time and then listen to it a lot again, it's likely that it will change. It's likely that you will have changed. You might have changed so much that you don't even hear music in the same way.

That's how it is for me with this album. It's like I've taped over the previous feelings. Drawn over the previous faces. Only hints of the former remain. And even that is more a product of my propensity to remember who I was at the time than what any of it felt like. I remember what was happening around the music. I remember what I was wearing. But I don't completely remember the scorn that I was responding to. That has faded to nothing. It has lost its potency. It's a bottle of soda left open. The peppery sting of the fizz is all gone.

Oh, it's possible that you in your lifetime have never made an actual mixtape. I mean with magnetic tape on a deck that records analog sound. But I made many of those tapes. And if you did, you may recall that sometimes -- when you recorded over a tape more than once -- there would be ghosts. Faraway remnants of songs you meant to erase. This happened to me a lot, because I would work very hard to never have a tape cut off in the middle of a song, but I also didn't want there to be an excess of blank space at the end of a side. So, in some cases after finding that a track didn't quite fit, I would find another song that did. Maybe some short instrumental piece. Or If You Were Here by Thompson Twins. (Two minutes and fifty-six seconds was just right more often than you'd think.) And there might be only a second or two of empty space before the tape ran clear. And in those seconds, you might hear one of these ghosts. Maybe Depeche Mode. Something from Black Celebration. But it would sound like they were playing in an empty pool in the empty gymnasium of an empty school hundreds of miles away.

This Lisa Germano album has similar artifacts for me. Faint ghosts of what I used to feel when I heard those descending notes on what I think is a hammered dulcimer but could also be an auto-harp. Who I thought of as "hero" when she sang, "So what if your hero sells its soul." Who was doing the carrying in the lyric, "You can carry a lie till it makes you fall down." It's like a revival of a play with a mostly new cast. It's not an issue of which version you like better. But there's an argument to be made that a remake occasionally gets the casting more right than anyone expected. And sometimes it's not about which version was more apt. It's just an issue of running into it at a time when it means something to you. I guess that's the issue with most things.

The mistake is listening to anything alone and expecting that anyone is sharing it with you. Even if you put a song on a mixtape. Or a mix CD, as is now the way we do. We listen in different ways. Some people never give a song a chance. Some people don't care about lyrics. Some people don't like to listen to anything from beginning to end. I've spent my life so far gradually learning that what I call one thing is something else to everyone but me. And that there's no crime in that. Letting go the desire to control every aspect of the experience is a gift. But gifts are something I often have difficulty accepting. It takes a certain amount of back and forth.

The world revolves around you. But it revolves around me, too. So how could we see the same one?

May 30, 2010

A Headache Not Worth Having

I used to write more things down. I used to have dreams all the time and remember them. I used to stop mid-sentence and scramble to find a pen. Maybe it's something about all of this micro-blogging. I think of something and just spit it right out. There's never a chance to let the words linger a bit. See where they go. See if anything comes of them. There's no mellowing period. The immediacy overtakes the art. I've even learned to forgive myself if a tweet contains a typo. It's usually an iPhone typing gaff. And if I don't catch it before two other things have been posted, I commit it to history and accept that there will always be evidence that I might not know the difference between "if" and "of." That is an evolutionary shift.

Not so with this blog of mine. Even today, if I happen across a post from years ago where "going" is spelled "giong," I fix it and republish on the spot. Preserving quality for a posterity that is ironically bound to be less expansive and perhaps less attentive than the ones who read what I tweet. Although one could argue that having a great deal of attention for a second or two at a time does not constitute occupying a place of great meaning in people's lives. It's the ones who sit and listen for a while. The ones who wish there was more. Those are the ears worth whispering into. Those are the ones who will hear now and yesterday and sometime later today and be able to tie it all together, context being a precious, precious thing that nearly never accompanies a status update. Those are the ones who would notice if you were tweeting in a series. They wouldn't require the two of three.

But notebook time was a different time. The notebook was a staging area for something more complete. And I would review what I'd written without waiting so long that my handwriting became illegible to me. And I would fill the notebooks up before they began to disintegrate in my handbag. The notebook was a place I would remind myself to make more of things later. And, in general, I would follow through. That is becoming less the case.

These end up being ways for me to feel the vitality in me ebbing. If I sit with a pen poised over a blank notebook page, I might wait for hours and find that nothing seems worth saying. When I was in high school, and we were required to sit and write in a journal for a half-hour period every day for one semester, I often filled those pages up with song lyrics. Because I couldn't think of anything else to say. All my angsty teenage musings and I couldn't make sentences of them. But I could remember the lyrics to songs I liked. And I usually liked them either because they made me feel forlorn and romantic or because they said things that sounded dirty to me. So those are the words I wrote. No one was ever going to read them. It was more an exercise in penmanship than in anything else.

And in some ways, it's a kind of code. A way to say, "I'm feeling something," without having to say what it is. And if anyone gets wise, you can just point out that it's a song and that you didn't write it, and there ends accountability. Anyone who presses you further either doesn't understand social cues or really, really cares about you.

The notebook I carry still contains sporadic history. There's the bit I wrote when I was waiting for that guy, the first time we went out and he was a little late. There's the thing my friend said that made me want to launch a line of greeting cards. There's the mini-diary I kept the first time I flew to New York for my current job and everything seemed so pre-perfect.

I've managed to sunburn my front half pretty well. Tomorrow I will set out in search of balance. And the outcome will be damage in symmetry, but damage just the same.