Thursday, July 3, 2008

Oh the Humanity: Muxtape Mix Volume 2

To hear what I'm talking about, go to

I'm making a compilation of (mostly really depressing) songs on my Muxtape page, but if you don't want to listen to the whole mix and probably kill yourself, just go there to listen to Bill WIthers' "Liza." Holy jeez is that a beauty.

Lately I've been going back and listening to a lot of songs I loved as a teenager. Something that happens every few years for me. But this time around all I can think is "how did I possibly understand that when I was 16?" And I think it just comes down to the fact that those songs have emotional reverberations that go way past the specifics of what the songwriter means by his or her lyrics. I mean, the "Outro" by the Catherine Wheel is a weirdly bitter post-love song that I only now really get, but the way he tells the story is so fucking genius. The sparse guitar, the inflection in his voice: You can tell that Rob Whasisface just sort of needed to get this song out of his system. And I don't know if I got romantic loneliness when I heard Sinatra's version of "Wee Small Hours," but it still affected me pretty deeply. Now I don't even think about the words, I just hear that amazing melody. So these things work both ways.

But "Liza," man, "Liza." "Liza" is the song that I'm not sure I really get now, but I can tell Bill really fucking means it and it breaks my heart. I mean, I don't think Bill Withers ever sang a line he didn't believe in—if he did, he's the best liar in the history of liars. But some day I reckon I'll be looking back and thinking of hearing it for the first time (that would be tonight/this morning) and I'll wonder what I heard in it way back when. So, for posterity, I just hear an awful lot of humanity in it.

So yeah. I'm a sad bastard. "If the Shoe Fits, Cut The Foot Off" is a total sad bastard tune from one of my favorite dudes around, Ben Barnett. And on this track he successfully peels away every layer of bullshit and just gives it to you straight. We obviously can't live our whole lives that way—it would be too painful—but when you hear an artist really expose him or herself in that way, it can be so transcendent and revealing and inspiring. The few artists I can think of who always seem emotionally raw also have a deep-seated sadness to them. People like Withers, Nina Simone, Otis Redding, Elliott Smith, BIll Murray, Magic Johnson, Johnny Cash...George Carlin had that, too, despite the whole "potty mouth" thing, he seemed to carry that heavy load that comes from showing ones hand all the time. That's the thing: With people who really mainline into our common humanity through their art, it always seems like it's killing them a little. I mean, if you've ever seen a video of Bob Marley? The greats always look like it is physically hurting them to play.

Or maybe it's a magic trick.

Sorry. I said this blog would get stream-of-consciousness on you from time to time. Just go listen to "Liza."

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