Friday, September 22, 2006

Something I Learned Today

Why am I so much happier today than the last few days? Nothing in my life has changed, really. I don't have anything big coming up soon to look forward to. What gives? I think I know: I listened to Hüsker Dü in the car today.

Well EXCUSE ME for not discovering Hüsker Dü (band ahoy... wtf) when they first hit the scene. I kind of wasn't born yet. And while Zen Arcade (not to mention the Minutemen's landmark Double Nickels on the Dime) was released in the year of my birth, I think 1984 was a bit early for the "play Mozart to your baby" movement; I don't think the "play hardcore punk rock to your baby" movement has yet taken hold...

As I drove to work
my ears made a connection:
early R.E.M.

"No shit," said teh 'webs
American underground
came from those two bands

Listening to my dad's R.E.M. albums back in the day I never would have made the connection between R.E.M. and anything resembling hardcore punk. But the similar melodies of the Hüskers made me think of other similarities between their loud, violent, rushed-together rock and the folky pop of R.E.M. And for some reason as I was running two songs played next to eachother in my mind, one each of my favorite songs from the two bands: Something I Learned Today and The One I Love. Both in minor keys (perhaps even the same key... my ear wants to say that, but hasn't heard the latter song in a really long time), both utilizing lots of III and flat-VII (I think you call it flat-VII still in a minor key, because regular vii implies that it's raised... meh, you know what I mean), both briefly flirting with the relative major, both almost completely diatonic. They feel very similar despite differences in volume, production values and vocal styles.

But there's more to think about in The One I Love. R.E.M. isn't telling a story like a folk singer/songwriter or pleading to a lover like a rock star. The lyrics, despite their haunting delivery, are hardcore through and through. They are in some sense distant, never addressing or identifying his love. They repeat themselves over and over again, expressing and then reiterating, to drive home the point, his lonliness and regret. And almost every line of the song is self-referential, alternately identifying and questioning itself. Play it faster, turn up the intellectuality and sarcasm and shout the lyrics, and you've got yourself a Minutemen song (What could be romantic to Mike Watt / He's only a skeleton . . .). Of course R.E.M. differentiates themselves from the hardcore crowd by not turning up the intellectuality and sarcasm, and just delivering the emotions of the song in a straight-up way that resonates naturally in the mainstream heart.

It was a long run, to be able to think all that, at the speed that I usually think while running. Actually, I think really quickly most of the time but repeat every thought 5 or 10 times, that's what it feels like. More times than that when I'm nervous or something. Running divides my rate of thought significantly because I also have to think about breathing and putting feet in front of eachother and that. Right. But actually I got through all that in the first six miles and the rest of the time (probably another 6 or 7 miles but I don't know exactly) I was pretty much either spacing out or playing music in my head, repeating each line like 5 or 10 times in a row, which just must be a habit because of how my brain usually works. I'm wierd. That's how I write music, too, except worse. There's no flow or continuity whatsoever, I think of a line and it plays through my head 30 times or so until I'm utterly sick of it, then I move on to the next one. By the time I finish writing a song I've heard all the good parts so many times I don't want to hear them ever again. Unless the good parts are really good, in which case I could hear them plenty more times. But yeah, after this run I looked totally bad-ass. People were looking at me funny. It was awesome.

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