August 25, 2008

don't hide - the snake can see you

Peter Saul, Vietnam, 1966

* Top ten conservative idiots.

* Pitchfork interviews David Berman. excellent interview, very much worth your time. excerpt:

Pitchfork: When you were writing this record and you were switching guitars, was that a big mindset shift for you?

DB: Yeah. I would say after the songs got kind of started up and had a direction or something, I'll use whatever to put me in the mood, whatever that means, whether that means reading. Like when I'm writing a song, I'll read certain books around that subject, especially if I'm stuck.

Like I was really stuck with candy, and I read like four books about candy. There really aren't any great books about candy.

Pitchfork: How many times did you have to rebuild these songs before you recorded them?

DB: Many times. Oh, every single song had a whole different direction. Well, not a different direction. All the songs were being written together, and I got 'em all lined up side by side so they had a purpose, a direction.

One of the cool things about doing songs side by side is that you build them all up, and while they're all there together, if you don't go right into the studio, you can change them to take into account their neighbors. If you were writing and the album was the form, not taking that one step before putting the album together seems ridiculous-- like leaving out a last draft of writing anything.

We had these songs recorded, and we had the basic tracking, but I kept having delays. The last thing I was going to do was the vocals; I didn't want to go work on them again, but it was driving me crazy. At first, it would just be one edit, one line, one song, like, "That one line, it's arbitrary. It doesn't contribute to the song. It doesn't follow what came before." I'd go back in there, and to take that out, it totally destroys the effect of verse on the other side of the song. Just to get rid of this one thing you have a choice now: "God, I might have to roll the whole thing back, make it something I can fuckin' care about."

You have to be able to switch to the listener's point of view when you're preparing a song or writing it, switch back and forth like that John Travolta movie, Face/Off and be like: "What objection might the listener have?" I had gone through every song and done that after saying, "These are all done. I just need to change one thing." And then there would be time and time. By the end, I wanted more time to write, actually.

Things like "San Francisco B.C.", there's this line like, "He came at me with some fist cuisine," and it had previously been, "He came at me with all he had." I took that out because I realized "all he had" was a cliché. I thought really quickly "fist cuisine." It was one of the last things I was changing, but now I look at it and I realize if I had one more day, I probably would have changed it to "he served me up some fist cuisine."

[Thinks] Maybe that second correction wouldn't have been such a good idea because the first verb, serve-- you're not expecting some guy standing there putting out a cigarette butt to start serving. "He came at me" at least gives you a moment to prepare for fist cuisine so you can unwrap that, and say, "OK, fist in your face, in your mouth, whatever, chewing." So you're always on this line like, "He served it up, or he came at me. What am I going to do? Choice A will lead to a completely different [place] than Choice B in every way. A lot of that.

In retrospect, it was kind of fun. It's how I imagined a poet like [Louis] Zukofsky working, having examined each word and putting each word on trial and made it pass. So I kind of felt it was very old-fashioned. Growing up and making art sort of slapdash is sort of an artistic position that also seemed somehow virtuous in 1980 or 1990 with postmodernism. You're thinking, "Well, I really like this not only because it's really interesting and its critique is unbelievably enjoyable, but it takes the privileging of craft away." When art is about craftsmanship, then guys like me don't make it as artists.

I always used to wonder if I revised enough, and I've come to the conclusion that i haven't. So it's real hard right now practicing some of the songs from the past. I see certain lines, certain sections, being not as strong as other areas. It makes me want to change the words, and I think, "But that ruins the experience for someone who's singing along or something.

Pitchfork: What's a song that you really want to change?

DB: Well, one would be in a song, "Slow Education". I got that one idea again, the one about dying, and it's just embarrassing to me. A lot of the things on Bright Flight, that's where I feel most rawly exposed. But going back earlier, there's a lot of stuff I find not so much embarrassing in the sense of too-close-to-the-bone, but more trivial. I feel like I guess some people who listen to those records probably feel. I would prefer that those songs were thought out more. But, at that time, I don't think I even had a model of songwriters who were writing coherent songs, really.

Pitchfork: If you hate these songs, why play them?

DB: I guess it's the same reason I didn't look at that movie Silver Jew. I knew that, if I did, I would have to make changes. I would see myself doing perfectly fine things, but I would have a personal reason for not liking, just because people are hard on themselves. So I have to figure that I'm being hard on myself about things.

For the most part, I am really taking that into consideration because of the small amount of songs that I am considering: It's like one from the first record, two songs from the second, four songs from the third, then two songs, then five songs, then nine songs. To me, it's like the compromise as a set between the worst concert I ever saw, which was going to see Hüsker Dü, who I'd never seen before. They played Warehouse: Songs and Stories, sides one through four straight through. I waited expecting-- even in the encore, which was the 45th song-- that they would come through with something for me. But also to see what I can now see: When I look at R.E.M.'s set list from Ireland last year, you see all these new songs in there, and you see one or two of the good ones you remember in there. I can't even imagine what it'd be like to be there or do that. I don't want to do that to anyone.

* "The future is not in the hands of fate but in ours." -- J.J. Jusserand


Blogger PJB said...

I just listened to Bee Thousand this past weekend...Def. a back to school record.

10:29 AM  

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