It’s pouring outside.  I don’t doubt this rain has fucked up many a plan this weekend, but to be honest right now I can’t think of anything nicer.  It smells so good, and it sounds so good, and the air almost tastes good.

Song 3 – We swaggered and swayed

Sufjan Stevens – The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out to Get Us!

Thinking outrageously, I write in cursive
I hide in my bed with the lights on the floor
Wearing three layers of coats and leg warmers
I see my own breath on the face of the door

Oh, I am not quite sleeping
Oh, I am fast in bed
There on the wall in the bedroom creeping
I see a wasp with her wings outstretched

And so begins my favourite track on one of my favourite albums (I think I can add here of all time), Come on Feel the Illinoise. I jumped on the Sufjan band wagon at Illinois, along with, I’d hazard to guess, maybe 90% of his fans. I read a lot of music blogs and message boards and his name had been popping up for some time. Then, Triple J picked up Chicago and played it incessantly – that song just carried me away with it. I picked up the album on a punt really, one day when I was looking for something else. Isn’t that how all the great things are found?

I got the album about 2 weeks before I flew to Cairns for work. I went with the boss (we tend to do these things in tandem), but for some reason I can’t ever remember a time where I’ve felt so alone. It was a weird time for me – a lot of stuff was changing, I was beginning to realize a lot about myself and how I had dealt with some shit that had happened, and I was starting to form an idea of my head about how to pull myself out of it. And it was only me who could do it – pointless to think I could get help from anyone else.

Anyway, on the second day of the trip I was in the foyer of the hotel waiting for the boss to finally finish getting ready to go out for the day, and I had my iPod on shuffle. I was in one of those restless moods where not only was I annoyed with every person within a 100 metre radius for no good reason, I couldn’t settle on a song I actually wanted to listen to. Flick, flick, flick, flick, until suddenly I landed on Sufjan. I had never heard the song before and hadn’t had a chance to listen to any of the album, but the opening of the track, with the gentle, meandering flute and acoustic guitar, automatically smoothed every ruffled feather in me. I could feel the snark just dripping off, and it’s because of this that I left the track playing.

It seems to me that a lot of people these days are Very Grown Up. I, myself, have been accused of this many times. I’ve always, even as a kid, been too adult and too responsible and, according to my family, the sensible one. Maybe it comes from being the eldest child of an absurdly large family? I don’t know. It’s only really been the last 2 or 3 years that I’ve started letting go of that. Now, with the hindsight of adulthood, I realize how quickly I was trying to grow up. I feel some amount of regret about that, too, but there’s no point in dwelling on that.

This song is a little ambiguous about its actual subject, and it’s debatable as to who is telling the story. I’ve interpreted it this way though – a person is lying in bed on a very cold night. Sleep alludes them, and the invisible-yet-visible monsters that permeate that time of the night are forefront in their mind (at least, that’s the feeling I get). They suddenly see a wasp on the wall in the room, and it brings back a vivid memory of growing up.

Cut to some kids swimming at a spot north of Savannah. One of them gets stung by a wasp while he’s in the water – the person telling the story goes to make fun of them and the pain their in, but then feeling and situation overtakes them and it turns into something else altogether. Something confusing and awkward and beautiful.

I’d be hard pressed to find another song that painted a visual picture so effectively in my mind. The early flute brings to mind summer sun, humidity and drowsy afternoons. The darting and almost breathless da da da of the woodwind and the strings brings visions of a wasp darting its way through the air. The joyous pah pah pah of the trumpet represents, I think, how carefree he really felt, regardless of all the angsty confusion with his friend, at the time of the memory. It’s why some people are so moved by classical music – a true interpretation of an artistic vision. Then at 2 mins 30 seconds in when the choir and drums come in, this is especially true of the first time I heard the song, something almost physical wells up inside of me.

The song could be about a young guy coming to terms with his not-so-platonic feelings about his best friend. This is actually the way I interpret it. It could also be narrated from the point of view of a girl, which seems to be the common train of thought on the interweb (what, boys can’t wear legwarmers?!). I’m not actually sure any of that matters. It’s a story about the innocence of childhood, and that clean, uninterrupted view of the world, and the people in your small, personal world, that you have when you’re growing up. Getting older is awkward. You do things and say things before you think them through, and there’s so much in the world about people and emotions and human interaction that you don’t understand. Everything is confusing and complicated and you feel there’s just no way to articulate what you’re experiencing.

Sufjan Stevens honestly writes about childhood, its effect on adult demons, and general human interaction better than anyone else I know (another example is Pittsfield from the album The Avalanche, which I’ve already written about). He does it with such a sweetness and generosity and you get the feeling that every lyric is so personal to him. He is not trying to drive a message or create a catchy lyrical hook or even (though he sometimes hits the mark) write poetry. He’s just telling a story, and a very personal story at that. He’s trying to explain his view of the world and the view of the people in his world. It sucks me in every time.

Seemingly, for a lot of fans of this album, this song is a bit of a sleeper. Perhaps it only hit me so hard because of past experience or what have you, but I doubt anyone could argue with the beauty of the musical arrangements or lyrics. That day in Cairns it managed to talk me back from some cranky ledge, and it was a reminder of times that were less complicated and less full of assumed adultness. I really, really needed it at that time.

For some reason this song is now almost always what I put in my ears at airport gates while I’m waiting to board a flight. I have no idea why that is, but I always get this incredible urge to hear it then. I spend a lot of time in airports and hotels with my job (although not so much in the last few months), and I think this song has a way of transporting me and, as it did the first time I heard it, stripping away the dead wood of the day. That’s a powerful thing.

Fate is not just whose cooking smells good

Every time I shop I buy tinned tomatoes. I have no idea why this is – I use them, sure, but not every day of the week. It’s one of those things that you come across in the supermarket, and even if it’s not on your list, you think to yourself ‘well, you know, you can never have too many diced organic tinned tomatoes’. It’s not like they go bad.

A little while ago while I was putting groceries away I realised I had a distinct lack of space in the cupboard. I sat cross legged on the floor in front of said cupboard and started pulling shit outta there, trying to see what the issue was. Turns out I had 11 cans of tinned tomatoes. Say what?! I clearly have a problem.

Due to this, every time I’ve shopped since then I’ve not picked any up. I knew, in my head, I had enough stockpiled to stave off scurvy in around 4 third world villages. Tonight I got home, put some Flaming Lips on, and started chopping vegetables to make a pasta sauce. I bend down and open the cupboard to find…

No tomatoes. WTF? This is why I need to make a shopping list BEFORE I go to the supermarket.

Anyhoo, the servo up the road saved the day and now I have enough pasta to feed a small army. Anyone want to come over?

I am progressing abominably

Work is kicking my ass this week.  It’s only going to get worse, too, before it gets better.  With the 442 issues we’re having and 2 of the girls going into the sales tomorrow, we’re going to be a bit stretched.  I think I have, however, managed to wangle enough space to work from home on Monday and Tuesday next week.  This not only means 2 solid days of writing webpage content with no interruptions, it also means coming to work in flannelette pyjamas.

And the world (and Karen) will rejoice.

I spent most of last night watching a DVD of Neutral Milk Hotel playing both at the Electric Lounge in Austin and a birthday party in Athens, Georgia.  What a god damn revelation that was.  NMH and Jeff Mangum have for me always taken on this strange, magical quality.  I think this is mainly because I came to the music so late, and because I only knew of them after the band had gone on permanent hiatus.  That genuinely makes me a little sad.

Anyway, just like a mythical creature that you suddenly realize actually exists, NMH is a magical band that actually played gigs.  And amazing gigs, seemingly.  The version of Naomi at the Austin gig is crazy and all the instrumental stuff is amazing – when they play The Fool (hah!) and there’s all the crazy trumpets and trombones and horns and piano accordions and guitars and drums all marching about the stage, you get this strange feeling that you’re experiencing something not of this world.

Actually, I’ll tell you what it reminded me of – you know when you were a kid, and you read those very old, illustrated hardcover books?  Enid Blyton and the like.  About the elves and the fairies and magical trees and chairs that fly.  Maybe that was just me.  Anyway, the illustrations in those books are of children and magical creatures playing instruments and dancing and having wonderful adventures.  Only, these illustrations are frozen in time – as much as you want to step through the page and join in, you just can’t.  They are also from another time and place that you’ll never get to experience and you’ll never understand.  When I was watching that DVD last night I got this weird deja vu and the same sensation I did when I was a kid looking at those illustrations – here was something wonderful that I was never likely to fully understand and never likely to experience first hand.  That, though, was part of what made it so wonderful.

The first song on from the Athens set, Little Birds, has actually affected me quite a lot.  I’ve watched it twice again tonight and each time I get hit with such a sadness.  It’s not only his explanation of the song – it’s the way he delivers it, and also the way he makes sure his audience is keeping up and understanding part way through; almost like he’s protecting the boy and his story from being further misunderstood.

I was going to post another song tonight but I read it back just now and felt a resounding BLAH.  Best to reread it and go again tomorrow, when my brain doesn’t feel like it’s trying to force its way out of my head.  I really need a decent night’s sleep tonight.

Also, I can’t stop listening to the song This Side of the Blue by Joanna Newsom.  That song is honestly just JOY personified.

And the rest of our lives will the moments accrue
When the shape of their goneness will flare up anew
And we do what we have to do, re-loo re-loo
Which is all you can do on this side of the blue

Sigh.  Sleep now.

Song 2 – Raise me up, and don’t let me fall

Love Rescue Me – U2

Apparently, at one point in time, there was a meeting of musical demi-gods Bono and Bob Dylan. The story goes (and there are a few variations of this theme, so take it how you will), that the night before the meeting Bono dreamt the lyrics of a song that felt familiar to him, but that he couldn’t place. When he woke up he jotted down as many of the lyrics as he could remember. He convinced himself that it was a Dylan song, and so asked him when he eventually met with him – Dylan confirmed it wasn’t. At that point Bono showed Dylan the lyrics and they collaborated to finish the song.

And so Love Rescue Me was born.

It was 1992. I was still mucking about with my horse the majority of the time, but a boy had started riding where I took lessons and for some reason (even given my debilitating shyness) he took a shine to me. Angus was Trouble. My dad hated him, his mother despaired about him, and the police kept close eye on him. For a 16 year old girl it was all terribly exciting. He used to leave his house at stupid hours of the night and walk all the way to my house (from Kooringal, which in hindsight was no mean feat) to give me mix tapes he’d made or copies of albums he owned. One of the albums he copied me was Rattle and Hum.

Mum had had it on vinyl for a while and (as was the case with a lot of her music – I mean, Jethro Tull!?!?) I’d never really paid attention. It suddenly became a lot more interesting when it was on a (probably TEAC) ex-blank tape, handwritten-on by a boy who made my stomach belly flop. The first time I listened to the album right through I listened so hard. Was there a message in there for me? At the time the only message I really wanted was from the last track on the album (der) and my love-addled 16 year old brain was happy with that little delusion.

I was remarking to someone not that long ago that all my older albums, the ones I’ve been listening to for many, many years, are still in A and B sides in my head. Love Rescue Me is track 2 side B. It’s really a track 2 kinda song, too, just like Angel of Harlem is a track 1 kinda song. My head just does not get around the idea of it being track 11 – it is an EPIC song, really, and track 11 just is not the right place for it.

Track 2, Side B, okay?

The song starts out with simple, finger picked acoustic guitar, accompanied by sorrowful, drawn out harmonica. By the time the bass comes in you’re drawn into the reflective melancholy that permeates the lyrics throughout the song. Being as lyrically driven as I am, it’s the words in the song that have me now. Initially, though, the reason I played it on repeat was the sound. That lilting, bittersweet sound that climaxed eventually into a cacophony of brass and guitar and drums. Also, this sound has more than a little bit of country to it – the whole alt-country thing is a clearly a deep-rooted passion of mine that I’ve been denying and suppressing with my typical smalltowngirlthatescaped cynicism. I’m working on that.

While the verses softly swing and lilt, the chorus, in both the brass and Bono’s vocal, are like a desperate crying out. The song gradually escalates so that he’s shouting the lyric over and over again in that way only Bono can manage. Loooove, I said love, rescue me….

(baaaaaaaaah dah bah dah baaaah)
(baaaaaaaaah dah bah dah baaaah)
OH MY LOVE@(*#&*^!!!!!!!!

In the palaaaaaace of my, shaaame
I said love…
(baaaaaaaaah baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah)

Umm, yeah. You get the picture.

The lyrics are profoundly personal – the narrator is clearly at a crossroads and is looking for some kind of salvation. Any faith he had in religion is long gone. The desperation in his voice, particularly when it reaches the climax before the end, is palpable. The imagery throughout the song is so stark and menacing – I picture desert and dark skies and burning buildings and hollow eyes.

The tortured soul finds some amount of reprieve though.

I’ve conquered my past
The future is here at last
I stand at the entrance to a new world I can see
The ruins to the right of me
Will soon have lost sight of me
Love, rescue me

It finishes quietly, with some resignation, but not without hope. It’s the gutted exhaustion you feel after you’ve been to hell and back and realized, once you’ve hit the other side, that you still have all your extremities.

I know this song so well now that I can sing along to every wail and scream. I can also throw my arms and legs around in perfect time to the drums, to when the brass comes in, and to when Bono hits the high notes. I know this song as well as I know myself.

Song 1 – Still my heart this moment

Gorecki – Lamb

I go through stages of listening to a lot of Lamb. I own Fear of Fours, the self-titled album and also the Best Of, so I wouldn’t call myself a die hard fan. Still, at times there is nothing else that will do. The sounds they weave and the aural landscapes they create are oftentimes perfect for a particular mood I’m in. Also, the baseline and bah dah bah dah in B-Line make me so HAPPY.

But that’s not the song I’m writing about.

Gorecki is one of those songs that is stopyoudeadinyourtracks beautiful. I’ve known people to brush it off as being overly sentimental but I think they’re missing the point. So many people in the world shut themselves off to experiencing true emotion and interaction with others due to the potential hurt involved. They talk in metaphor, or they play little word games, or they dress up sentences with ambivalence and ambiguity so they can quickly backpedal should a situation go bad. Save the heart at all costs.

Do you know how much strength it takes to strip all that back? Actually, you probably do. Anyone who has ever fallen for someone or who is even remotely self-aware knows that. To place yourself in front of another person and declare unequivocally that they are the one for you leaves yourself so wide open to hurt and absolute devastation. It takes so much strength to bare your heart like that. There was never a truer example of this than Gorecki –

If I should die this very moment
I wouldn’t fear
For I’ve never known completeness
Like being here
Wrapped in the warmth of you
Loving every breath of you
Still in my heart this moment
Or it might burst

Could we stay right here
Until the end of time, until the earth stops turning?
Wanna love you until the seas run dry
I’ve found the one I’ve waited for

I’ve found the one I’ve waited for. It’s so final. Like she, or at least, the narrator of this particular story, is done now. There is nothing better or truer than this. For a person like me who is so indecisive and constantly second-guessing, this is astounding.

I have my own story relating to this song that’s less than fun. I had broken up with Alan (the first time, because lord knows that was the worst one) and I was leaving work. Silly me thought I had been hiding well the fact that I was desolate and torn apart on the inside. Pat followed me to the gate on my way out of the office and said ‘are you doing okay?’ and I at this point kinda lost it and said ‘no, not really’. She was very good and I’m sure said all the right things and I eventually got in the car and drove away. I had the radio on, and the window was down and I remember the cool air being some relief on my hot face. A girl phoned up and requested Gorecki because it was her wedding the following week and they were hoping to use it in the ceremony. I was fine until Lou started singing. She barely got through the first line before I had to pull off the road. It was possibly THE worst song I could have heard at that particular time.

Now the song means something different to me though. I’m a lot less idealistic, sure, but it’s still heartening. I don’t want to lose that part of me that is prepared to open myself up wide to potential hurt and therefore potential happiness. It reminds me to always stay open to opportunity and to love and to people and to emotion, because shutting yourself down or building a wall around yourself is no way to live. The more wide open you are the more room there is for the good stuff to come in. It’s not just the lyrics though. The way the song builds to the crescendo of chimes and drums and bass and chanting at the end is just spine tingling.

I’m not sure I could ever get sick of hearing it.