Monday, November 16, 2009

You / Me Tunes

What's my sign? What's my credo? What's my line? What's my song?

No, I don't mean favorite tune. That's transitory. That's a placeholder. I mean what do I sound like on the tonal spectrum? What are the soaring flows, the thumping percussives, and the underlying textures that pulse through our internal rhythms. They spill over into the out-loud arena -- both the soft and the loudspeakers that lie beyond our headphones (and the echoes of our minds).

The answer is not likely to be one genre than a single character trait. There's multiple personality disorder but there's an order to the multiples of symphonic bursts that spread through our own chambers and into the public hearings of concert halls where our blending vibes can reverberate.

Make no mistake. Song-typing is not limited to musicians who spend every unclaimed mental moment on manufacturing and stamping their unique sound signatures on a world of commerce formerly known as the music industry. Yes, there's the goosebumps elevated by the soul-nurturing benefit of our favored musical affirmations. But we dispatch melodies of our own making through the words, cadences, and beliefs we voice. Is there a song book in our dialect? Is the spoken word a poetic extension of our unspoken and deeper selves? Nope, it's not of-thee-I wax immaculate about the swig of Kool-aid that produces those supercalifragilous blue birds on my sunshine-laden shoulder.

It's about getting to know that inner voice of the people we love. What they send through our ears becomes ingrained in our hearts long before the catch in our throats in the face of overwhelming love and friendship. Another aspect of song types transcends inputs and outputs. It's the overlap between our mutual soul grooves. That's where the goosebumps meet the road. That's why as the music industry collapses in its own dogma and hypocrisy we fork over sums for concerts that tower above our CD and downloading dollars.

We are spending several multiples of retail recordings to hear artists sing songs we know from the studio, from the live version, from the remixes, and from the remakes. These memory captures are imprinted on our heart strings and we will gladly surrender them for one more encore performance. True, we love the muse of the creator and the craft of the performer but we're also looking to share the love in the room and around the stage where our song types can connect, fuse, and energize us better than the unsung sounds -- the speeches, sermons, and pep rallies that can never storm our chambers like the courtship of two or more mutual song types.

One of the other irresistible fetishes about sketching your friends through song comps is that you can design the interstices between musical genres and the overlapping loves shared by two and reviled by the rest. Often a wonderful tune will find itself tugged in several directions because it's evocative of more than one song type. The tie-breakers are left to the subtexts underpinning the segues and lyrical overtones that resonate in each compilation.

Misfitness for Life

I keep friends. If I make one, that means it's for keeps (my bromances anyway). Another theme coursing through these strong characters is that most of them are iconoclasts -- they wouldn't join any group that would circulate a sign-up sheet. Independent of thought and social endorsements we never met a trend we didn't smash. We never entered into agreements that required the active cooperation of adults. Authority was conferred by expertise, not tenure. And we never met an authority figure that we didn't question.

That Groucho-styled opt-in marketing approach describes the braintrust known as Garo Bolishuk Bank that hails from the mid-section of lukewarm Long Island -- Walt Whitman High School, circa Carter administration.

We renew our friendship vows, rotating hosts for our annual reunion. Each year I indulge in assembling a compilation CD that chronicles the melodic imprints of each member -- a work-in-progress musical persona. That might sound a bit presumptuous. Painting the self-portrait of another person's identity through song leaves out the chance for musical self-portraitures.

What I like most about this exercise is that it includes a lifetime of feedback about favorite bands, songs, and even bridges or chord progressions within those songs that lifted the spirit, parted the clouds, and raised the occasional goose bumps in our tonal beings. For me part of that ascension of an altered musical state is the overlap between us -- the experiencing and re-experiencing of it with these friends. That's where I'm going with these compilations.

It's not a coincidence that we were highly competitive with each other when it came to the three third rails of our teenage years (baseball, sex, and music). When we re-opened our music channels years later everyone was able to reveal their guilty pleasures (aural, not carnal). Soon after music was dropped from the competition. We grew comfortable in our collective musical skins and passed the rapture around with willingness and reverence.

In hindsight it makes sense that as legendary we were in our own minds we were still in a restless joust over the epic shows and songwriting talents, and studio panache, and even the rock critics themselves that we were somewhat channeling in our posturings. The most common rivalry and one returned to many times was the theatrics that arose over the defense of glossily-produced, bordering-on-bombastic, progressive bands in the art rock camp versus the stripped-down sound of the fashion show surrounding the more danceable likes of the new wave set.

It was never much of a fight. Each faction walked away more convinced it knew talents that would outlast the opposable trends and excesses. What's so wonderful in our grown adult stage is that these arguments have proven hollow, false, and easily collapsible into a keener and more speckled sound spectrum that any of us could have imagined in the heyday of record labels, payola, and 'classic rock' when the delivery arrived in heaviest rotation through the formulaic simplicity of 'corporate rock.'

The album is a dead medium. True, artists need day jobs more than ever -- even the ones we pay to go see. However, no one can convince me that assembling 100 stellar tunes from an equal number of me tune contributors is anything but a golden age unlike any song markets we experienced as teens. Yeah, it's a challenge to keep something so fresh and fluid straight but the rich pageantry of sounds and choices keeps my brain spongy and heart bouncing. The tunefuls of Garo, Dish, Bal, and Canuck pulse on to the pandemonium of our perpetual and different motion drummers.

1 comment:

Marc Solomon said...

I finally finished—can you believe it?—listening to all five discs from this year’s reunion. You can pin the blame for my sloth on my ongoing (and probably outmoded) need to make sure that when I encounter new art, it has to be with a full attention span. I don’t listen to music I don’t know while I’m vacuuming or chatting with Katie on the way to ballet any more than I watch a movie while I’m going to the bathroom on another floor. It’s as much a compliment to you (I hope) as it is to the artists involved that I like lying on the hardwood or sitting on the couch with a nightshade on and the music my only focal point. Those moments are obviously rare; hence, the delay.

Canuck’s disc was my favorite, but the one that holds together the strongest thematically was Alfie’s—it actually came off like a conversation between you two. As ever, I gave full attention to the capsule descriptions provided for every track; some of them, I even deciphered (or so I think).

The sheer wealth of material here (I think the number of bands with more than one song can be counter on the fingers of less than one hand) is staggering, and it really is the answer to the question you posed to me a while ago: why haven’t I made a CD in a while? (Besides—I assume you meant to add—the Christmas CDs, which even I admit don’t count.)

Half the fun, I readily admit, of making compilations was (yeah, note past tense) the simple act of showing off: to be the first to plant the flag, the one to bring something new to the ongoing Bolishuck conversation. It was work—work I loved, to be sure, but work nevertheless. Look at all the great acts you were able to find without ever having to visit a record store, or read a single trade or obscure consumer publication (Trouser Press, NME)—without, in fact, having to even leave your couch! For me, however, the subtext to the compilation always was: look who I had to find the hard way! Oh, I had to read a review that made the record sound fascinating, gamble money I didn’t have on imports and hard-to-find singles with otherwise unavailable B-sides, cancel all other obligations so my weekends were free to visit every underground record store in the East & West Villages! That work gave me pride of ownership, which I admit the digital environment of the past 12, 13 years has completely taken away.

And that notion of being first: do you know how many bands you’ve featured on here are ones I’ve been stockpiling on my hard drive in case the urge to indoctrinate Bolishuck ever hit? Dozens and dozens. Even bands I don’t see here on these five discs that I could throw on a disc and send out tomorrow are probably just bands that didn’t make your cut this time around. (For that matter, a compilation in this day and age could just simply be me sending out an e-mail with 30 clickable URLs or attached files.)

So I guess it’s just a matter of ceding territory, of admitting the drive is gone. You do such an incredible job that anything I added would feel redundant. I’m like one of those monks who used to illuminate manuscripts, contemplating Johannes Gutenberg and thinking, “Time to develop an alcohol problem, I guess.”

Anyway: outstanding job, as per usual. And I’m happy to read about Jeremiah and his skin.



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