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?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I did make plenty of mix tapes and I still have them, mainly because I do cherish those out-runs of tape. My ghosts are less transparent but ghosts just the same. They are just more persistent, like a haunting where the specter hangs out by a particular stair case, or are known to haunt room “some number” of “some hotel.”

For example, in 1986 I made a tape of songs that lead-in with Sting’s Grammy performance of “I Hope the Russians Love Their Children Too“ At the end of that last few feet of tape you speak of, I lead-out by simply plugging a microphone into the mixer and hoisting it to windows edge to record our national anthem followed by South Korea’s, as is customary on military bases. I could hear myself “whispering” to my room mate and I could feel the moment; almost “hear” the air in the room. I now wish I had created more of them in that manner.

In those days it was less about the lyrics. It was about the imagery; the theme, the flow of the mix-tape. I imagined myself within the tape. These days I am outside of the mix. They are more two dimensional. They are less magical I am sorry to say.