Source: John W. Poole, NPR
The man behind the Magnetic Fields.
Oddly, the first song I ever loved by the Magnetic Fields
wasn't their song at all. It was a cover of Superchunk's "100,000 Fireflies,"I heard sung by another band. It was Superchunk's cover of the Magnetic Fields' "100,000 Fireflies,"* and it was one of the theme songs for one of my best friends and I, the summer before our senior year of high school. When I later heard the original, the tinkly instrumentation, drum machine, and ethereal vocals sounded as innocent as capturing the little blinky bugs on a summer evening... but the lyrics were much more grown up, a nod to our impending adulthood. My next Magnetic obsession fit my moody freshman year of college, when I'd listen to Get Lost on repeat, especially "All the Umbrellas in London." By then I knew that Stephin Merritt was the man behind the music, an incredibly prolific, creative, and nimble songwriter with the perfect dose of temperamentality needed to attain the moniker of artistic genius. I've seen him live a handful of times, sometimes petulant due to rowdy drunks playing pool, but more often poetic and generous, taking requests from the audience and playing like he's got all night. So this is going to sound like a shameless plug, but I hope by now I've convinced you of my sincerity... the new NPR Music site is an absolute gem, and the Project Song with Stephin Merritt literally took my breath away. They gave him two days and two prompts — a photo and a date, 1974 — to write a song. And it's absolutely beautiful.
*Commenter roosevelt, you are SO RIGHT! Of course! I completely got turned around in my head writing this (meant to say I heard the cover first, arrgh, what a dummy!), but of COURSE the original is the MF version. You are so right.