“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

Posted by | Tuesday, August 17th, 2010 | 1 Comment

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“Can You Feel It?”

“Can you feel it” by Larry Heard came out in 1986. It featured a 4/4 kick pattern courtesy of a TR-909 drum machine, was bootlegged with vocals from Martin Luther King Jr to Chuck Roberts. The song laid the groundwork for deep house and has inspired countless people.

What else can be said about it? It’s beautiful? Still relevant? “It’s a feeling that no one can understand really unless you’re deep into the vibe of house”?

How do you even talk about music and be accurate or even truthful? It’s like listening to the Olympic Ice Skating competition while in the other room. “There is a drummer. He can keep a beat. The guitarist plays well, but slightly out of tune. The singer closes his eyes when singing loud.”

An acquaintance of mine, having realized she knew a girl that I had dated mentioned that Beth told her that I has described myself as being “passionate about house music”. A shudder inducing statement that I can neither confirm or deny. Obviously none of them could care less about House, Larry Heard or 1988. But what about the finer points of being bug-eyed while dancing to the same beat for 10 hours. What is not to love about having your sweaty jeans reducing your legs to hamburger?

Assuming however, that I was passionate about House wouldn’t that make me an aficionado? Perhaps I was someone who could explain to them why it mattered. I could even show them that they liked it too! They both like Punk rock, perhaps I can go from Iggy Pop and Bowie to the Sex Pistols and Joy Division, and pair up post-punk and post-disco, skipping all that way to DFA and LCD Soundsystem before using Hot Chip to drop back to Chicago. See? Its all the same! If I throw in The Clash, I bet I could even get them all the way to Basic Channel. Even Dubstep perhaps, but really, who cares about Dubstep?

But after all that, showing them how it was related, and why it should matter to them, what if it didn’t? What if they didn’t even appreciate it? Or me for trying to enlighten them? I’ve stopped having fits when I hear people say horrible things behind the back of my dear electronic music. As a teenager I would try to explain to my father that Drum ‘n Bass is the most innovative music to come from the black musical community since rap, he would sigh, pull the tape out of his trucks cassette deck and say to me “This is horrible. The black musical community should be ashamed”. “You should be ashamed” I would retort. “You can’t even feel the bass in your truck”.

Tangent: I used to make up facts (well, I still do, but I used to, too) to try and guilt my father into buying me studio gear. “Dad, Roni Size’s father bought him a mixer that had compression and eq and reverb on every channel”. My dad would usually say something like “England is very far. Perhaps he would be willing to take you in?”

Remember when it was so cool to be a dj? Really. There was a time when dropping the hint about being a dj seemed to people like you had this secret identity. Perhaps you flew all over the world they would wonder, playing Ibiza, London, perhaps a small gig for 2000 of your closest friends in New York. Being a secret dj meant that you couldn’t actually tell them this wasn’t the case, turning even a trip to Tucson help your Aunt bury her beloved husband into a massive series of desert parties. You would sigh, explaining that it was just so hard to make a flight directly from the club, still drunk, still not sure what city you were flying home from.

Now when people find out I make electronic music they invariably ask “Like a dj”? and I invariably respond “No…I mean, I used to dj, but not any more. Sometimes. But it’s not like it used to be…”

“How did it used to be?” they would ask…

I observe and appreciate non-musical art in these silly, removed ways. Take painting. I went inside of a gallery recently. A downtown, corner gallery in the middle of the financial district. The paintings were hung on these nice little walls that stretched around the room. Like an office cubicle, I decided, but with a pretty functionality rather than a utilitarian glumness.  The theme fell into the still life box. Pears and apples, overturned vases on tables. That kind of thing. Everything seemed well executed. I could tell they were pears, apples and vases. Nothing was out of proportion, and while the color was not quite like it would be in real life I was comfortable with it.  I am unable to sign my name with any kind of consistency, so when I look at a painting, I always admire how people can paint things in shapes. “Wow… that sure is round” comes to mind often, as does “Good shadows”. I would say that I am more interested in the technique the artist used to get a result than the result itself, but that is not quite right. I admire that someone can paint things round, but it falls under the same umbrella of admiring jugglers or people who use AutoCad.

I look at the Mona Lisa and I see a woman, a flirty smile, curly hair, soft hands. The cars hung from the ceiling at the SAM? How does someone get to do that? Do you write a letter, explaining that you have this idea for white cars, with lights flashing out of them, but don’t worry, they are suspended?

Design, from furniture to houses to pepper mills is only something I notice if I am forced to notice it. This couch looks cool, but sure makes me sit up straight. Wow, that chair looks like an egg. Why would you buy that? Who made it? Did someone write a letter, “Hey, I have a great idea”?

I look at things like the Roman Aqueducts or the Colosseum and admire how some people got heavy shit in high places. That impresses me. Lots of whips and levers, no O.S.H.A., that’s for sure.

Maybe I am being dishonest. Sometimes when I go inside of a house I realize that my house could be better. Nicer dining room table, get rid of the extra chairs in the living room, replace my entire living room with their living room. I can’t always put my finger on why, but I would rather that I lived at Justin and Tri’s house than mine.

Writing is a trickier thing. I enjoy writing, but do not think I have particular skill for it. My parents started me reading and writing early, I picked it up. I rely on spell check and people who have an aptitude for grammar and punctuation to clean things up for me. I think that this set up is pretty common and have no problems with it. People think of a successful writer as being someone who gets publishes and makes money, doesn’t get called back on Oprah to apologize about a little fudging of facts. Fair enough, but when I look at someone at The Stranger and see that they have written 50 articles about porn or politics or tacos, I usually think “50 articles? That sure is a lot.”

I do not minds typos, run on sentences, grammatical errors or even lies. I just do not like when something happens to interrupt my reading. Like when the page repeats, or the writer says something that contradicts the plot or when he moves onto a new story line with too little resolution for whatever I just spend 20 pages living in. That’s the thing. I live in what I read. Paintings? I observe. If I can read it or hear it, however, I can live in it. I am the boy, the girl, walking, fighting, angry, rich, evil, in love.

Also, If I am reading the vitamin content of a Cliff Bar when you tell me that you are pregnant, it doesn’t count. I was busy living 110% of my RDA of vitamin C.

Sound also has the same hypnotic effect on me. You know, the sound that elevators, traffic and my furnace makes. Drugs fall into that category too, but that is fairly obvious.  Not that I am advocating furnaces or elevators. Wait until you are older of course.

I once heard John Cage talking about the difference between music and sound, and experiencing noise for the sake of noise, and not trying to make it music, just letting it be noise. I understand that. I love flying in planes, because you can’t escape the sound. The take off and the landing are the best parts, euphoric and delicious. It is so wonderful I could just pee. Does anybody else just sink back and relax at all the roaring going on around you?

Larry Heard released “Can You Feel It” in 1986. 24 years later I am having coffee while listening it on my stereo, via a stolen mp3, because my vinyl copy is lost somewhere in my collection. Besides, it was a bootleg anyway. The pads are the musical equivalent of a down comforter on a cool morning. To me. The bass line strolls, not walks, simmers instead of boils. To me, of course. There is a deepness to the song that reminds me of the better part of a decade spent watching the sun come up while waiting to come down. I am reminded of the those blue Mondays, the post weekend melancholy that takes away rest of the week replacing it with a need for Friday night, and Saturday morning.

It’s all so subjective. My father would hate it.

“Dad,” My 15 year old self would say. “This came out of the gay clubs in Chicago. It’s the most important innovation in American black music since Soul”

“Can You Feel It?”

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  1. Tue, August 17, 2010

    Mat, you really should be writing for McSweeny’s. [heart]


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