asker

Anonymous asked: Where do you stand on the Silver Jews? American Water is one of my favorite albums of the last 20 years, and I think that I might be finally reaching a great place with Bright Flight. But Starlite Walker, Natural Bridge, etc. have been harder for me. On these records, I seem to be more affected by two or three songs—or two or three moments (like the "I'm talking about another house" line in New Orleans on Starlite Walker)—than the effect of the albums as a whole. What about you?

markrichardson:

I pretty much agree with your take here: American Water is an unbelievable masterpiece, the other albums are much less so. Oddly though I think they all have unbelievable highs that make me forget some of the songs I skip. I think 4-5 of the best songs he ever wrote are on Natural Bridge (How to Rent a Room, Albemarle Station, The Frontier Index, Dallas, Black and Brown Blues). He was musically inconsistent, even when his lyrics were excellent. I would rank them like this:

  1. American Water
  2. The Natural Bridge
  3. Tanglewood Numbers
  4. Bright Flight
  5. Starlite Walker
  6. Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea
  7. all the early stuff

I would rank Silver Jews records like this:

  1. American Water
  2. Starlite Walker
  3. Tanglewood Numbers
  4. Bright Flight
  5. The Natural Bridge
  6. Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea
  7. shit he left on an answering machine

Starlite Walker was the record - more so than Slanted and Enchanted - where I realized, I can do this.  I can write songs and record them and it doesn’t really matter what they sound like, which, personally, is what makes it special.  Slanted has the same vibe to it, but there’s a certain mastery of the guitar on that record and a certain style that is obviously an aesthetic, artistic, conscious choice - i.e., SM’s fingerprints - whereas Starlite Walker was the work of a 27 year old who had drunk 50,000 beers and needed to get some shit off of his chest and the delivery system had not yet been mastered, had not yet caught up with the sentiments Berman wanted to express.  The record is a sad man’s head, old before his time, though he is a man that is steeped in the history of his country, which meant Berman knew that there is always hope - hope and beauty - and it’s only on this record we get his completely unfiltered version of America because he couldn’t refine it yet and I always love that more than anything, raw and imperfect but true.  

keyframedaily:

Brando, before and after make-up.

keyframedaily:

Brando, before and after make-up.

(via criterioncollection)

totalvibration:

Ohhhhhh, now I get it. 

totalvibration:

Ohhhhhh, now I get it. 

Lover’s Remorse

It’s what makes up the universe that’s interesting, not the universe itself.

I wrote “Alex in the Summer” about a girl a year or so ago.  I wrote and recorded it and then played it for my buddy in his Carroll Gardens apartment.  After the song was over, he turned to me and said, “Great song, bro.  I really like it.”

Another triumph.  I had pulled at his heartstrings.  Once again, Dan Grgas had written a gem, another tune for the ages.  No one could touch me.  No one.

“But bro,” he continued, “when are you going to stop writing about girls?”

And just like that, I knew that I could never write the same kind of music again.  He’d found me out.  I had been struggling to write songs that were about more than girls and my romantic life, but I was too lazy and scared to discover a new path; a new way of approaching lyrics.  Scared of the work that I would have to put in and scared that I wouldn’t be able to do it.  Fear plus apathy is not a good combination.

At that point I had been writing songs for about six years.  I thought I was relatively good at it.  The music always seemed to come, even though I never really knew what I was doing.  Melodies seemed to pop out of my mouth when I played some chords.  I didn’t put too much thought into the music since I knew nothing about music theory or composition.  I felt I had good taste in other people’s music, so I trusted I would have good taste in my own, and would be able to identify when I had written something good or bad with a divisive, critical mind independent of my own feelings towards the music I had created.

Where I have more control - a literal control, an exacting, conscious control - is in writing the lyrics.  With the lyrics, I didn’t want to just trust my gut, I wanted to construct something consciously.  Mystery is always involved in art, and you never can quite understand why a song will resonate with a listener, but I wanted write lyrics that Dan Grgas could look at and say, “I wrote A because of B and it works because of the way I did 4, 5, and 6.  C is part of D, which relates to 8, 9, 10, and then III and IV tie it together because of the words I wrote in the first verse of A and B.”  I needed to understand why I wrote what I wrote, both in content and structure.  The lyrics could no longer simply be the regurgitation of what I felt and thoughtthe very instant I wrote the song.  No more writing off the top of my head.

And girls always seemed to be at the forefront of my mind.  It’s natural, but it confines the possibilities of lyrics to a narrow avenue.  I had to discover a new way since I had lost control over the words.  I got lazy.  I let the words come out of my head without a filter.  I relied too heavily on the Mystery of Art rather than the hard work of editing and re-writing.  I had become complacent when songwriting is about exploration.

Now, I don’t want to say that the idea of “love” was necessarily at the forefront of my mind because love is larger than girls.  Girls are the embodiment of a certain kind of love, a romantic love, a sexual love - but what about the love of a man for his dog?   A man for his mother?   For the idea of a forgotten way of living?   I discovered I wanted to write about love, but not about romantic love.   Not about girls.  Girls could pop up in the story, but no more playground-kiss-me-on-the-swing type stuff.  I wanted to write about a dirty tampon.  I wanted to write about a venetian blind keeping the sun from my eye.  I wanted to write about details, and see what came from that.

I didn’t write for a while.  I didn’t touch the guitar.  I wrote some words down but didn’t look at them after they had been written.  No work, no thought, no nothing.  Scared and lazy.   

But one day - I won’t forget the moment - I was ready to write again.  I felt the urge.  I felt the need.  I had taken a shower and the sun was shining through my window.  I grabbed my computer and rested it on my bed.  I set up my chair.  I picked up my guitar and I began.  

Earlier that week I had had a notion about a character, an ex-ballplayer, and I wanted to write about him.  I’d also been thinking about basing my lyrics on very specific details from this ex-ballplayer’s life, stripping generalities and metaphors from my writing and including nothing but literal meaning.  I would write about a washed up individual, and if girls became a part of it it would only be in the details of this man’s journey.

An hour later I had finished the song, at least the initial draft.   It usually takes weeks for me to really sculpt songs to completion by playing it over and over until every single word falls into place.  That song is called “Pet Peeves” and I had accomplished what I had set out to do, more or less.  I had written about very specific details, and since then, I have found that if I focus on details I will write songs that aren’t about girls, but about life and - wait for it - THE HUMAN CONDITION.   

Writing about very specific things allows for much larger associations, or perhaps truer to life associations, I find.  If I write, “I see a boy in his bathroom beginning to masturbate” - showing, not telling - I think that’s more affective than writing, “A boy is as pitiful as a dying rat in a gutter”.  Because he’s not a rat in a gutter.  He’s a boy jerking off in his bathroom.  The detail is all that’s needed.  The description of what is happening.  The details are enough to show everything.  The listener will make the connections.  It’s now up to them to decide for themselves how pitiful this boy is - or not.

I focus on brand names, on kinds of foods.  I focus on the specifics of a location, of Brooklyn, let’s say, or better yet, the corner of McGuinness and Norman Ave and the bumper sticker on the Volvo sedan that’s parked there at six P.M. every second Tuesday.  That’s a song, that bumper sticker.  That might encompass human existence more effectively than writing about some larger than life generality, of writing about the sun falling from the sky because you love a girl.  The beauty of being specific is that it shapes a larger world while simultaneously giving definition to a smaller one.  The beauty of specifics is that focusing on them will lead to themes you hadn’t necessarily planned to write about.  The beauty of specifics is that there is an unending well of things to write about, and you won’t be sitting there strumming about how much you love the pretty girl over and over again.

At one point, I only wrote about romance and heartbreak.  I used details to break away from that.  I still do believe that the best songs ever written have been written about girls, about romantic love, but when I was stuck I used this tool to break free and I have found that, since then, it’s so much more rewarding to write about the atom in my finger than the entire galaxy.  The atom is a better representation of the largeness of human life.  It’s what makes up the universe that’s interesting, not the universe itself.

Every muscle must be tight.

Every muscle must be tight.

Photographs by Thom Sheridan

In 1986, the United Way attempted to break the world record for balloon launches, by releasing 1.5 million balloons, which resulted in two deaths, millions in lawsuits, and a devastating environmental impact.

(via greenpointers)