Patiently, Patiently


1. "I Believe in Nothing," Vivian Girls: I put together my nine zillionth history- of-punk compilation for someone recently, and ended with this. I think I started anthologizing punk for other people sometime around Flipper’s “Get Away”: you can make a good argument that it’s a story that ended ages ago, but you can make an equally good argument, the Greil Marcus argument, that as long as there’s somebody out there who sounds like they heard their first punk-rock record yesterday, it’s a story that inches forward in fits and starts, across many years. I hadn’t made one of these compilations for a while, and the thing that jumped out at me this time is how virtually everything I put on there post-Nirvana was female: outside of Pavement and “Fell in Love with a Girl” (which is half-female, come to think of it), it was Scrawl, L7, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Hole, Sleater-Kinney, Ladybug, She Mob, and the Vivian Girls. That’s probably not a surprise to anyone who was following closely through the ‘90s, but some of these songs I discovered well after the fact, so I’ve just personally come to the realization that males should never be allowed to sing punk-rock again; women add beauty, sadness, reverie, and lots else that might not have worked so well for Slaughter & the Dogs, but that now seems like the only way to do it. “I Believe in Nothing” also feels elegiac, something it shares with “Get Away” and other compilation-closers along the way like “Teen Age Riot” and Dinosaur Jr. and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I’ll get into the election below, but in a year that was resoundingly about Yes, I found the Vivian Girls’ No especially poignant. 2. "Prismatic Room," Crystal Stilts: Right pretty: give punk-rock to women, and leave the mopey jingle-jangle for men. 3. "You Can Vote However You Like," Ron Clark Academy: Much more than anything Mc- Cain himself did during the campaign, it took a bunch of middle-school black kids from Atlanta to bestow upon him some of the dignity and honor that were supposed to be his currency. Simply by allowing that there was a case to be made for the wrinkly old white guy, a generosity they had no earthly reason to summon, they rescued the campaign from the slime pit of Wright, Ayers, Hannity, Limbaugh, Ferraro, Lynn West- moreland (Mr. Uppity, in case you missed that one), Joe the Populist Prop, and all the other sundry phantasmagoria conspiring to hijack history. Discovering, via An- drew Sullivan, “You Can Vote However You Like” sometime in the waning days of Octo- ber ranked right alongside Iowa and South Carolina as my purest moment of joy in an election I followed obsessively but ultimately didn’t enjoy enough because I spent too much time waiting for the bottom to fall out. These kids, seemingly oblivious to the slime pit, enjoyed the moment as much as humanly possible. 4. "I Love to Move in Here," Moby: Makes me think of those David Bronstein infomer- cials from the ‘90s (I had to go searching for his name), the ones where he’d be do- ing mad schtick inside a nightclub while surrounded by all the women who were clam- oring to meet you if you just called his toll-free number. He’s a Toronto guy, so maybe they only aired up here--you couldn’t avoid them after midnight. Anyway, they were always soundtracked by stuff that sounded just like “I Love to Move in Here.” I haven’t checked, but this year’s list is quite likely the only one since I started submitting them regularly in ’91 that is without hip-hop. Obama moves in, hip-hop moves out: I’m not sure what that means, or if it means anything at all. No hip-hop, that is, unless you count “I Love to Move in Here”’s Generic Rap Guy for Hire, on loan from all those Snap and Culture Beat records of 20 years ago. He’s still talk- ing about kicking it old-school, and he sounds just fine: if you wait long enough, what once would have been hopelessly anachronistic takes on a warm nostalgic hue. 5. "Little Bit," Lykke Li: I saw a short interview with her the other day, and she said that even though she couldn’t understand why people compare her to Bjork, that was okay, she’d much rather it be Bjork than Madonna. I’m not sure--maybe that means her album is otherwise filled with Bjork-like songs. Yikes. Luckily, the one that would fit on a Madonna LP is the one that found me. 6. "Red, White and MILF," Figghole: I’m tempted to quote the lyrics in their entire- ty; it’s not unusual at all for me to come around to ordinary words because the ac- companying music draws me in, but with Figghole playing the kind of generic metal- rap that normally makes me wince, I may well be voting for lyrics here. (Except, except...somewhere in that mysterious alchemical process whereby songs are written, the words are so good that suddenly the generic metal-rap seems exciting again.) From the very first line--“She came to us from the hills of Wasilla/The babes are hot, but the winters are a killer”--the election’s great monster from the id is transformed into a comic-book myth, Paul Bunyan in heels, shooting wolves from helicopters and drinking Miller beer. The YouTube clip has the Ted Nugent singer traipsing around town surrounded Robert-Palmer style by a trio of Palins; piling on one lurid image after another (enough so that you have to sign in now to view it), it plumbs Palin’s softcore appeal as ingeniously as Tina Fey did. On my favorite line of the year, they get all meta: “She might not know about foreign stuff/She might not know about knowin’ stuff.” Swear to god, until this song, I didn’t even know what a MILF was. 7. "Please Stop Dancing," Magnetic Fields: Overall, I don’t get a lot out of this group: I’ve got three tracks from 69 Love Songs on my hard-drive, and this is the only one from Distortion I kept. (I also caught up with Get Lost this year, which on balance I like the best of the three.) When they get it right, though, they’re pret- ty damn great--“Sweet-Lovin’ Man” is one of my favorite songs ever, and “Please Stop Dancing” and those few others aren’t far behind. I don’t know how convincing the new album’s Jesus & Mary Chain angle is. I stumbled over a song called “Too Many Times” by somebody named Ceremony earlier this year, and that one’s so close it’s funny. “Please Stop Dancing” is in the neighborhood, sort of, but it’s also like finding out the Godard film you just saw was supposed to be his version of a musical: “Okay, if you say so...” But the mere fact that there’s somebody out there who thought a Jesus & Mary Chain tribute was a good idea in 2008--as aesthetic project, as sale- able product--well, that alone makes for a good story. 8. "Miles Away," Madonna: Controversies involving the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are very much of the tree-falling-in-the-forest variety, so for anyone who missed it, the Mother of All Rogue Diva’s induction last March generated some not unexpected deri- sion. Leonard Cohen, who also went in, generated none. I have the same question today that I did at the time: in what universe is Leonard Cohen more rock ‘n’ roll than Ma- donna? I love a few early Cohen songs, but I honestly do not understand the mindset that sees him as belonging but Madonna as an interloper. Elsewhere, she underscored how peripheral she’s become by backing the wrong candidate for the Democratic nomina- tion, and when she eventually came over to Obama, she jumped in with embarrassing overkill: her concert montage linking McCain to Hitler thankfully didn’t get a lot of attention, but I’m sure I wasn’t alone among Obama supporters in thinking “please make her disappear for a few months.” And then, of course, the divorce, the genesis of which she openly addresses on “Miles Away.” Not one of Madonna’s great memory songs--the miles are actual physical distance, not metaphorical--but it feels like one anyway. The lilt in her voice when she sings “so far away” is worth any number of HOF inductions. 9. "Chemtrails," Beck: Speaking of which, Beck becomes eligible in 2018. He’s some- where where Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey have been the past few years: he bears lit- tle resemblance to the wunderkind who did “Loser,” but he’s more than halfway home, still hanging around and piling up career numbers. “Chemtrails” ponders the so many, many people out there--where do they come from, where do they all belong? Good ques- tions in 1966, good questions today. 10. "Fluorescent Grey," Deerhunter: The very definition of what a friend and I call “older brother music,” something that should make intuitive sense to anyone whose middle-school years trace back to the early and mid-seventies. For my friend, it was an actual older brother who got him off K-Tel and onto Roxy Music; for me, the sym- bolic older brothers on the senior basketball team who sang “Roll Another Number” on the bus and moved me from CHUM charts to The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. (I’m describing a phenomenon here, not making value judge- ments; Roxy Music had stuff sillier than Rick Dees, and trading in Al Green for Gene- sis is a tragedy that continues to haunt my every waking hour.) It’s about getting a secret glimpse into a mysterious world that seems so much more adult than the one you’re used to. So even though there’s a part of me that knows “Fluorescent Grey” is kind of corny, that psychic OBM door is unlocked and I give in. (Note: This came out in May of 2007, which is really past the point where anyone should be voting for it in 2008. Downloading, Jay Reatard’s cover, confusion...long story short: I messed up. But I’ll leave it on anyway.)

other pieces