"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Friday, July 15, 2005

So Kasey was talking about how certain songs pass from freshness to familiarity through an “imprinting process” involving a certain intimacy between him and his iPod. Then he applied this to poems, which was over my head. I was reminded of this today when I was talking to my friend, Satanslim, about Bonnie “Prince” Billie’s “Greatest Palace Music,” an album that Palace fans almost universally deride as a travesty, a mockery, a sham—a butchering of classic songs. I happen to love “Greatest Palace Music.” I’m also not a Palace fan from way back, and this is the problem. Satan made me a mixed CD recently, containing the original Palace versions of some of these songs, and to my ear, they sound like what they are: lo-fi versions of the same songs. So I prefer the remakes. Satan and I were imprinted differently, however. On the same CD, Satan includes a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” by Lyle Lovett from the 1991 compilation “Deadicated,” which featured then-popular artists playing Garcia-Hunter-Weir classics. I was 18 years old when that album came out, and for the life of me I have no idea why I bought it. I had never even heard the Grateful Dead before. All I knew about them was that my 11th grade high school English teacher loved them, especially the song “Ripple,” (covered here by Jane’s Addiction). Anyway, I bought the CD and instantly fell in love with several songs: “Truckin’” (Dwight Yoakam), “Uncle John’s Band” (Indigo Girls), “Bertha” (Los Lobos), and the aforementioned “Friend of the Devil.” It wasn’t until a few years later that I heard the originals, and I was neither impressed or disappointed by them—same songs, different sounds. However, as the years wore on, I began to regard the Dead songs as Dead songs. The original version of “Friend of the Devil” appeals to me more now than Lovett’s version, which now sounds wan and lifeless, slowed down. It’s still a good song, but I like the Dead’s performance much better. And I think that’s the point—what we fall in love with (or what I fall in love with) is a SONG, not the production or the performer, though I will prefer one version over another. The thing about “Greatest Palace Music” is this: it’s a collection of gorgeous songs. Whether I’ll come to prefer the Palace originals remains to be seen, but in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the music.

I suggested to Satan that the disappointment he feels when listening to GPM may be something akin to the way an old school metal fan (like myself) felt when Metallica released “The Black Album.” It was a complete betrayal to fans who enjoyed “Kill
‘Em All,” and “Master of Puppets.” Besides, I secretly always preferred “Garage Days Re-revisited,” a sloppily recorded selection of covers—I suspect it wasn’t the raw production that I loved, but the songs themselves, the Misfits’ “Last Caress,” for one. And yes, the original (even more unproduced, like all classic Misfits recordings) is much better.


Anonymous said...

I hear Tony Tost is really into Greatest Palace Music... you can read into that whatever you like.


Michael said...

Cool post. I have this theory about music, which is, like most of theories, not completed fleshed-out and, if I stood screaming it on a street corner, would probably sound a little crazy. Nevertheless:

All music is nostalgia. Even when you hear a song for the first time, no matter how much you love or hate it, you immediately associate it with a feeling/person/place, current or past. And we so associate music with certain times or people in our lives that this is the reason people become defensive about songs that they might not otherwise really care to defend. If someone insults Foreigner or Def Leppard, and you love them, it's like a personal attack on your past and everything that made you what you are.

For wild example: '80s New Wave songs like Taco's "Puttin' On The Ritz" or After The Fire's "Der Kommisar." I know that these are not "good" songs, that they are effluvia in the long, stream of great rock 'n' roll -- let alone great music -- that has ever been produced by mankind. However, they remind me of my childhood, they're "comfort" songs that mean a great deal to me. So I have a knee-jerk reaction when people start to slag off that kind of '80s music. No, it's not as important as the Smiths or Replacements or R.E.M., but, damnit, I love it.

So this is why I often have a problem with those High Fidelity/Pitchfork types who only listen to the hippest music. You know the kind: the more obscure the better. "[Band X] has actually released an album; they're way too mainstream." Hey, I like esoteric/weird/never-heard-before/underappreciated music. If it's good and not just weird for the sake of weird. But I also love Mr. Big's "To Be With You."

Will I ever think the Backstreet Boys are good? No. In the same way I don't like and never liked New Kids on the Block. But in 5 or 10 years, when I meet someone who grew up with the Backstreet Boys as background music to their childhood, will I understand why they might feel affection for them? Absolutely.

Will this stop me from making fun of them? Sadly, probably not. But I'll certainly be doing it out of empathy.