Category Archives: Dispatches for Luna & Max

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#08)

  • An editor of a magazine I used to write for posted this song to Facebook or Twitter seven or eight years ago. I am pretty confident I’ve played it at least monthly ever since.
  • The song is something of a personal lodestone, pulling together three different musical threads I’ve come to better understand in the almost-decade since hearing the song.
  • Simply put, other than hearing their names, I didn’t know the music of Neneh Cherry or of Suicide and this track was the entry point into two discographies that continue to be rewarding for me. The Thing was entirely new to me and they have kept the skronky free jazz flame burning.
  • There was a quarter or two when I was an undergrad at UCLA that were largely soundtracked by the two newish Radiohead albums, Kid A and Amnesiac, as well as Albert Ayler’s Love Cry. I’d play that album on repeat (and almost always on headphones). It opened me up. The Thing get close but there’s always a back-of-the-head itch to just put Love Cry, or Spiritual Unity, or Bells on instead. Or even just briefly revisit Ayler’s cleansing eulogy at Coltrane’s funeral.
  • That is to say, I can’t do much else when I’m listening to Ayler. The music’s too everything everywhere. In contrast, The Thing, older classics from Sun Ra, Sanders, Coleman – I find those really good for writing. My prose gets to drift on that cacophony.
  • And a word about Suicide. Like with free jazz, reams have been written while afloat the sheer, terrifying racket of the first two Suicide records.
  • And another word about Suicide. It was inevitable that “Dream Baby Dream” became the closest thing to a hit for the duo and the thing most people will know them for. It’s a shame considering what else is there. But the song is too goddamn catchy, in its original form, for folks not to consistently cover or evoke. I remember being aghast that Springsteen was covering the song… and then appreciating that it becomes the Springsteen-iest song in his hands. I remember the band Priests vamping on the track during an opening set at Red Rocks shortly after Alan Vega’s death. And I guess the cover/homage/thing that is this LCD Soundsystem song works nearly entirely because it’s Suicide living in the circuits of that track’s wiring.
  • Back to Cherry and The Thing: At about 4:40 when the song just … goes. It feels like Neneh Cherry relinquishes control or—perhaps—gives permission to The Thing’s saxophonist, Mats Gustafsson, to blast off before she re-reigns the galloping mass a minute or so later.
  • The final seconds of plodding, plucked bass. The band has moved elsewhere as the bassist says adieu.
  • The album this song comes from is a pretty beautiful product to think about as a whole: Cherry’s first in more than a decade and a half, jamming and setting versions of other people’s songs free alongside The Thing.
    • And the moment of obvious serendipity: Cherry, the stepdaughter of free jazz pioneer Don Cherry, playing alongside The Thing, a band named after the third track on Don Cherry’s 1966 album Where is Brooklyn? A merging of lineage, homage, and spirit. Dreams being dreamt out loud.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#07)

 

  • “I’m thinking of ways I can get out of things/Just like always.”
  • I found a scratched-to-shit mix CD from probably 2010 with the name of this song sharpied on it. I think it was one of a series of discs I made for Ally during her lengthy LA commutes at the time. A fitting title for a collection of songs for daydreaming in traffic (the rest of the disc was real hit or miss, but included this cover song, which I’d forgotten about…and no, we didn’t name one of our children after the band Luna).
  • I loved the audacity of a mid-‘90s shoegaze band naming their album–Giant Steps–after one of the inarguably best jazz albums of all time. It’s most widely seen as a similar move to naming your album after a Beatles’ classic. But I usually think of this too.
  • The cacophonous build-up/breakdown at the end of this song. The apocalyptic, kitchen-sink sink approach. It’s a micro-genre in and of itself. I imagine the ending of “All You Need is Love” was probably the first time I heard it as a rhetorical move in a pop song (the self-referential refrain from “She Loves You” that fades out was also likely the first post-modern pop moment in my upbringing too, come to think of it). The piano that overtakes the second half of this Dan Deacon song is probably the most blissed-out version of this for me – I regularly come back to this song (and album) and plan to write about it in a future dispatch.
  • The sloshing of woodwinds and feedback and cymbals that bring this track to a close, rising and falling like a tide never at rest.
  • The Boo Radleys as a pluralized name always reminded me of the silliness of the band in Airheads calling themselves the Lone Rangers.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#06)

  • If ever there was a band that should have been an utter disaster, Dead Man’s Bones would have been the one to bet on. A celebrity’s (Gosling) side project, a halloween themed album, and a children’s choir? That sounds terrible. And yet, a decade later, it’s still one of my most listened to albums. (I always appreciated the opening of the Pitchfork review of the album in this regard.)
  • “Name in Stone”–as far as I can tell–was the only non-album track that was released from this project.
  • “Name in Stone” doesn’t have the same highs as some of the other songs on the album proper (e.g. “My Body’s a Zombie for You” or “Pa Pa Power“)
    • Sub dispatch: “Pa Pa Power” might be one of the more affirming songs I would listen to when I needed a boost. It also might be anarchic, anthemic song we need in this current pandemic moment, “Burn the street, burn the cars, Pa pa power, pa pa power!”
  • It’s weird how Gosling’s career interwove his singing more and more after this album’s release. He does a song in Blue Valentine and then, of course, La La Land a while later. In whatever context you get the same guttural doo-wop-y vocals that are central to Dead Man’s Bones.
  • The video approximates the goofiness of the band’s live shows. The different times I saw them around L.A., the children would be dressed in retro halloween costumes and the opener would be something of a variety show/camp-y magician act. It was very in step with the atmosphere of Dead Man’s Bones: “fun” scary. (You get the vibe in this video, I think.)
  • I appreciate that the “Name in Stone” video feels like a cobbled together, student-film. Like their shows and the album as a whole, it feels like it was fun to make. It was probably a fairly expensive side project that couldn’t have been all that profitable compared to the demands of Hollywood. The band would play a couple unreleased songs at their shows, but I can’t imagine a second album ever making a lot of sense financially.
  • “I raised my flag up into your heart, and you let the winds come tear it apart.”
  • “Uh, Dead Man’s Bones Name in Stone take two. UH.”

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#05)

If
If you
If you could
If you could only
If you could only stop
It you could only stop your
If you could only stop your heart
If you could only stop your heartbeat
If you could only stop your heartbeat for
If you could only stop your heartbeat for one heart
If you could only stop your heartbeat for one heartbeat

 

  • Sometime you might need solace through song. This one has served that role for me, for a long time now.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#04)

  • The entire video is such a weird time-capsule of a time that doesn’t feel that far off. The design of YouTube as a platform, less than a decade ago, is pretty different from what it is today and suggests an evolving relationship between us as viewers and consumers of new media spaces. And while the mash-up thing isn’t new/hasn’t gone away, this feels, for me, like a moment that converged with a lot of my own writing around participatory culture and fandom.
  • This LCD Soundsystem album, too, was one that I listened to constantly (so much so that a different song on the album was played at our wedding, by our friend Peter).
  • The anticipation at around 0:36-38 when the cursor hovers over the play button.
  • Often, when I’m writing in my office at home, I have a film playing on silent while I listen to something loud. The key is to get a movie just slow enough to grab your attention for a sec before you dip back into the words in front of you. Tarkovsky’s films, Wong Kar-Wai’s, Fassbinder’s -OR- mid-’90s movies like Empire Records, Hackers, Josie and the Pussycats, etc. Elevator to the Gallows is definitely a film that’s been on rotation in the past. AND, aside from an unhealthy collection of albums from the Acid Mothers Temple groups, I probably possess more Miles Davis albums, live recordings, bootlegs, etc. than any other artist. Of course I dig his soundtrack work for Malle’s film. And yet, because of how I tend to work, I’ve probably only actually heard this soundtrack in the context of the film once or twice. Seeing this YouTube clip as a reminder of Davis watching a screen as he blows magic is something else.
  • I’ve listened to “New York, I Love You” dozens of times, seen the band play it live a couple of times, watch the faux final concert doc once in a while, and play the whole damn thing on our record player when I have the time (i.e. not often). This version–with Miles, with the french discussion, with the simple tweaks a la adjusting volume nobs, with the slightly obnoxious zooming in–is my preferred version of this song.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#03)

Untitled

  • From the poem “what was said at the bus stop” by Danez Smith.
  • The poem is in their most recent book.
  • The book’s cover says the book is called Homie and the book’s “note on the title” is one the most satisfying revelations I’ve encountered.
  • I don’t think I sat as fully in the wondering of the word “solidarity” until this stanza and I think the links to history and to lineage and to empathy have had me on tilt in the weeks since I first read it.
  • I couldn’t choose an excerpt from the book’s opening poem, “my president.” That poem–like the entire collection–sings and swings from one line to the next, unrelenting and unremorseful (just moresful?).

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#02)

  • The vamping/harmonizing warm-up for the first 20 seconds.
  • The finger point to the recording when the piano comes in at 0:21, like she’s Timbaland introducing the world to Dirt Off Your Shoulders.
  • The anticipatory breath at 1:06 before jumping into the song.
  • When the make-up artist tries to join along by dancing at 1:38.
  • Would I have watched this video as many times as I have if this song/version was ever properly recorded or released?
  • Weirdly, defunct SoCal punk band Abe Vigoda did the closest spiritual cover of the song.

Dispatches for Luna & Max (#01)

Untitled

(from Until the End of the World)

To get back to posting around here somewhat regularly, I’m planning to tag occasional media–sounds, snippets, images, gestures–to revisit when Luna and Max get (a little) older. As an opening, this still from Wim Wenders’ film feels like an appropriate, meta reflection on memory, media, and meaning. If you’ve got a spare 4.5 hours, it’s a helluva film.