If you want the short and sweet, skip down to where I say “ALRIGHT. HERE’S WHERE THE MUSIC BEGINS”
I haven’t completed a mix CD since last November. Partially this is because in early December, my hard drive threw itself off some digital cliff, and I’ve only slowly been replenishing my music, which in turn made me quite sad to realize how much of it I had stolen in the first place, now stealing it again. But the other reason is because since I sat down and thought about it, I have had serious mixtape making anxiety.
A few months ago, probably some time around the death of my computer, I was having a conversation about jazz with one of my housemates and a friend made some snaky comment about it. The gist of their was that, more or less, me and my friend (both white) were using terms to discus music originally performed by blacks that was largely suppressed and then co-opted (Dave Brubeck, anyone?) by white people, right up until it was deemed safe to listen to, at which point it became a mark of a highfalutin white person to listen to and talk about jazz, and really feel it. I haven’t talked about jazz since then, but caving into my friend (who, if it matters, is also white), seems like an easy way out, on par with saying that disparities in education levels in the US aren’t related to race, they’re related to socio-economic status. Long story short I was taking the Reagan way out.
But the Clinton way out doesn’t work any better for me. What I’ve been doing since I in any way seriously started to listen to Hip Hop is realizing exactly how homogenous my mixtapes are, at least, by way of the age/racial/time period makeup of the artists involved. If you were to get the press photos of every band on a mixtape I made as I started thinking about this stuff, you’d find, more or less, a bunch of awkward white indie boys (and sometimes some girls), with the only major difference being beard-length. And so I started what I will now mockingly refer to as Gabe’s Grand Old Mixtape Affirmative Action. The first time I tried this I got lucky and it was actually rather seamless; Gillian Welch into De La Soul (featuring Teenage Fanclub) into Sparklehorse. Hey, I thought, that wasn’t so hard. Things got trickier from there (try fitting Dalek, my favorite hip hop group, onto a mixtape. Anywhere. Ever.), and soon I began to question exactly why I was striving for this racial, gender, or even genre diversity. Was it ok that I was a white college student who in the aggregate listened to music that largely catered to white college students, and so when I made a mix CD for an audience of (mostly) white (mostly) college students, it was mainly filled with indie, punk, and the old twangy faux-bluegrass track thrown in 2nd or 3rd to last? I listen to hip hop; I also listen to Dillinger Escape plan and I would absolutely never try to fit them on a mix. This probably comes off as an uppity white dude codedly attempting to deal with whatever racism he might unwittingly and unhappily harbor, but I’m making a spring mix (y’know like the salad thing you buy, but with music.), and I’m still trying to find a place for Common’s “Cold Blooded” on it without it being awkward or obvious.
ALRIGHT. HERE’S WHERE THE MUSIC BEGINS
On nights when my thoughts are as pureed as the above (just look at the length; you certainly don’t have to go back and reread it.) it’s nice to have some Dean Wareham to listen to. Wareham, guitarist and songwriter for both the excellent 80’s band Galaxie 500, and the excellent 90s/2000s band Luna is someone who can do an awful lot with something you’d swear you’d heard before. He is certainly from the Velvet Underground school of writing astonishingly genius pop songs which you only start to notice the intricate parts of on your fifth or six listen. A lot of droning in their early stuff, a lot of strings in their later stuff. for its first few albums luna stole the rhythm section of the Feelies, but they left, and their replacements took out any remaining cricks in the formula.
If Daniel Lanois talks anywhere near as perfectly as he produces, then man would he be one winning conversationalist. His production technique (see: early U2, Emmylou Harris, Time out of Mind by Dylan) is warm but also fragmented. While there usually is some constant running under each track (usually a five o’clock shadow bass line), guitar lines and keyboards appear and dissapear as though wires were being cut then repaired as the recording went on. There’s a wise sense of humor to the style, he knows we only need half a guitar solo to get the point, and so why give us the whole thing. Here are two versions of the same song.