Journal tags: song

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Getting back

The three-part almost nine-hour long documentary Get Back is quite fascinating.

First of all, the fact that all this footage exists is remarkable. It’s as if Disney had announced that they’d found the footage for a film shot between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.

Still, does this treasure trove really warrant the daunting length of this new Beatles documentary? As Terence puts it:

There are two problems with this Peter Jackson documentary. The first is that it is far too long - are casual fans really going to sit through 9 hours of a band bickering? The second problem is that it is far too short! Beatles obsessives (like me) could happily drink in a hundred hours of this stuff.

In some ways, watching Get Back is liking watching one of those Andy Warhol art projects where he just pointed a camera at someone for 24 hours. It’s simultaneously boring and yet oddly mesmerising.

What struck myself and Jessica watching Get Back was how much it was like our experience of playing with Salter Cane. I’m not saying Salter Cane are like The Beatles. I’m saying that The Beatles are like Salter Cane and every other band on the planet when it comes to how the sausage gets made. The same kind of highs. The same kind of lows. And above all, the same kind of tedium. Spending hours and hours in a practice room or a recording studio is simultaneously exciting and dull. This documentary captures that perfectly.

I suppose Peter Jackson could’ve made a three-part fly-on-the-wall documentary series about any band and I would’ve found it equally interesting. But this is The Beatles and that means there’s a whole mythology that comes along for the ride. So, yes, it’s like watching paint dry, but on the other hand, it’s paint painted by The Beatles.

What I liked about Get Back is that it demystified the band. The revelation for me was really understanding that this was just four lads from Liverpool making music together. And I know I shouldn’t be surprised by that—the Beatles themselves spent years insisting they were just four lads from Liverpool making music together, but, y’know …it’s The Beatles!

There’s a scene in the Danny Boyle film Yesterday where the main character plays Let It Be for the first time in a world where The Beatles have never existed. It’s one of the few funny parts of the film. It’s funny because to everyone else it’s just some new song but we, the audience, know that it’s not just some new song…

Christ, this is Let It Be! You’re the first people on Earth to hear this song! This is like watching Da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa right in front of your bloody eyes!

But truth is even more amusing than fiction. In the first episode of Get Back, we get to see when Paul starts noodling on the piano playing Let It Be for the first time. It’s a momentous occasion and the reaction from everyone around him is …complete indifference. People are chatting, discussing a set design that will never get built, and generally ignoring the nascent song being played. I laughed out loud.

There’s another moment when George brings in the song he wrote the night before, I Me Mine. He plays it while John and Yoko waltz around. It’s in 3/4 time and it’s minor key. I turned to Jessica and said “That’s the most Salter Cane sounding one.” Then, I swear at that moment, after George has stopped playing that song, he plays a brief little riff on the guitar that sounded exactly like a Salter Cane song we’re working on right now. Myself and Jessica turned to each other and said, “What was that‽”

Funnily enough, when we told this to Chris, the singer in Salter Cane, he mentioned how that was the scene that had stood out to him as well, but not for that riff (he hadn’t noticed the similarity). For him, it was about how George had brought just a scrap of a song. Chris realised it was the kind of scrap that he would come up with, but then discard, thinking there’s not enough there. So maybe there’s a lesson here about sharing those scraps.

Watching Get Back, I was trying to figure out if it was so fascinating to me and Jessica (and Chris) because we’re in a band. Would it resonate with other people?

The answer, it turns out, is yes, very much so. Everyone’s been sharing that clip of Paul coming up with the beginnings of the song Get Back. The general reaction is one of breathless wonder. But as Chris said, “How did you think songs happened?” His reaction was more like “yup, accurate.”

Inevitably, there are people mining the documentary for lessons in creativity, design, and leadership. There are already Medium think-pieces and newsletters analysing the processes on display. I guarantee you that there will be multiple conference talks at UX events over the next few years that will include footage from Get Back.

I understand how you could watch this documentary and take away the lesson that these were musical geniuses forging remarkable works of cultural importance. But that’s not what I took from it. I came away from it thinking they’re just a band who wrote and recorded some songs. Weirdly, that made me appreciate The Beatles even more. And it made me appreciate all the other bands and all the other songs out there.

Songs I liked from 2018

100 words 075

Today was a Salter Cane practice day. It was a good one. We tried throwing some old songs at our new drummer, Emily. They stuck surprisingly well. Anomie, Long Gone, John Hope …they all sounded pretty damn good. To be honest, Emily was probably playing them better than the rest of us.

It was an energetic band practice so by the time I got home, I was really tired. I kicked back and relaxed with the latest copy of Spaceflight magazine from the British Interplanetary Society.

Then I went outside and watched the International Space Station fly over my house.

The Lost Lemonworld

When the always-excellent Radiolab podcast turned its attention to the subject of creativity and motivation in an episode called ‘Help?’, they spoke to Elizabeth Gilbert who reminisced about interviewing Tom Waits on this topic:

He was talking about how every song has a distinctive identity that it comes into the world with, and it needs to be taken in different ways. He said there are songs that you have to sneak up on like you’re hunting for a rare bird, and there are songs that come fully intact like a dream taken through a straw. There are songs that you find little bits of like pieces of gum you find underneath the desk, and you scrape them off and you put them together and you make something out of it.

And there are songs, he said, that need to be bullied. He said he’s been in the studio working on a song and the whole album is done and this one song won’t give itself over and — everyone’s gotten used to seeing him do things like this — he’ll march up and down the studio talking to the song, saying “The rest of the family is in the car! We’re all going on vacation! You coming along or not? You’ve got 10 minutes or else you’re getting left behind!”

Last year the New York Times ran a profile of The National, written while they were still recording the wonderful High Violet—my favourite album of last year. The piece circles around the ongoing problems the band were having trying to tame the song Lemonworld:

Since January they’d done it bright, done it drowsy, done it with violin parts overnighted from Australia by Padma Newsome, done it so many ways Bryce despaired, “It’s a riddle we can’t solve.”

This is exactly what we’ve been going through with Salter Cane. For about a year we had a song that had been defying us, stubbornly refusing to reach that breakthrough moment where it all seems to come together. We took a break from the song for a while and when we came back to it, we tried approaching it as a new piece. That seems to be working. It’s finally coming together.

In the end we realised that we trying to make the song into something bigger than it needed to be. Sometimes it’s okay for a song to be small and simple. That seems to be the case with Lemonworld:

Matt said afterward, “we tried so hard and it always seemed to fail as a rock song. It lost the charm of the ugly little demo. Now it’s the ugliest, worst-mixed, least-polished song on the record, and it took the longest to get there.”

I think that Lemonworld is a strong song. It even stands up to be being butchered by me on the bouzouki.

Lemonworld on Huffduffer

The Best Songs I Acquired in 2006 Ever

Richard has published his annual round-up of the past year’s music available, as usual, on CD for anyone willing to reciprocate. It’s a great idea that always reminds me of Thurston Moore’s essay in Wired magazine on the subject of mix tapes:

Once again, we’re being told that home taping (in the form of ripping and burning) is killing music. But it’s not: It simply exists as a nod to the true love and ego involved in sharing music with friends and lovers. Trying to control music sharing — by shutting down P2P sites or MP3 blogs or BitTorrent or whatever other technology comes along — is like trying to control an affair of the heart. Nothing will stop it.

Inspired by my esteemed colleague’s example, I hereby present a short list of songs from some of my favourite albums of 2006. To say that I bought all these songs would be stretching the truth beyond its elastic limit.

Laid low

The song Lay Low by My Morning Jacket is the eighth track on the album Z. When the song starts, it seems like your typical My Morning Jacket song, ‘though perhaps a bit more upbeat than most. For the first few minutes, Jim James sings away in his usual style.

At precisely three minutes and three seconds, the vocals cease and the purely instrumental portion of the song begins. As one guitar continues to play the melody line, a second guitar begins its solo.

It starts like something from Wayne’s World: a cheesy little figure tapped out quickly on the fretboard. But then it begins to soar. Far from being cheesy, it quickly becomes clear that what I’m hearing is the sound of joy articulated through the manipulation of steel strings stretched over a piece of wood, amplified by electricity.

As the lead guitar settles into a repeated motif, the guitar that was previously maintaining the melody line switches over. At exactly three minutes and thirty seconds, it starts repeating a mantra of notes that are infectiously simple.

For a short while, the two guitars play their separate parts until, at three minutes and thirty three seconds, they meet. The mantra, the riff — call it what you will — is now being played in unison, raising my spirits and pushing the song forward.

The guitars remain in unison until just after four minutes into the song. Now they begin to really let loose, each soaring in its own direction as the rest of the band increase the intensity of the backing.

Two seconds before the five minute mark, the guitar parts are once again reunited, but this time in harmony rather than unison. At five minutes and nineteen seconds, a piano — that was always there but I just hadn’t noticed until now — begins to pick out a delicate tinkling melody in a high register. It sounds impossibly fragile surrounded by a whirlwind of guitars, drums, and bass, but it cuts right through. And it is beautiful.

At five minutes and twenty six seconds, as the piano continues to play, one of the guitars drops down low and starts growling out its solo. From there, everything tumbles inevitably to the end of the song.

The band stops playing at five minutes and fifty seconds, but we’re given another twenty seconds to hear the notes fade to silence. The instrumental break has lasted three minutes. It is the most uplifting and joyous three minutes that has ever been captured in a recording studio.

Now, divine air! now is his soul ravish’d! Is it not strange that sheep’s guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies?