The only fortune cookie fortune I ever kept has stayed in my wallet for the last 14 years, tucked between my health insurance card and a New York Subway map. Its message is simple, and correct:
"Saturdays are good days for taking care of chores."
This last Saturday was that, and also a good day for listening to records. And, as it turned out, a pretty good day for keeping track of each and every song I heard, from a stack of records in my living room to a live show to terrible live music on late-night television.
Herewith, the next installment in our series of Listening Diaries: Brooklyn & Manhattan, September 25, 2010.
On the Internet at home:
I've taken to starting my Saturdays with an hour or so of catching up with things on the Internet that I didn't have time to read during the week. It's a strange choice, though in a bizarre way, comforting. Perhaps it says something that I need to ease into the weekend by sifting through the remainders of my work week. Anyway.
The very first piece of music I heard last Saturday was a minute of "Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)" by My Chemical Romance (from a trailer for the band's new album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys via Maura Johnston's blog).
LPs we listened to at home while we cleaned the apartment:
1:00pm - 6:40pm
Neil Young - Harvest
(Side A: 1. Out On The Weekend 2. Harvest 3. A Man Needs A Maid 4. Heart Of Gold 5. Are You Ready For The Country Side B: 1. Old Man 2. There's A World 3. Alabama 4. The Needle And The Damage Done 5. Words)
Why This Record: It's perfect record for wandering around, picking up a couple of weeks of cast-off shoes and newspapers. It's also a perfect record for sitting around reading the newspaper, which is exactly what I had to keep myself from doing for most of Side A.
The Allman Brothers Band - The Road Goes On Forever
(Side I: 1. Black Hearted Woman 2. Dreams 3. Whipping Post 4. Midnight Rider)
Why This Record: My girlfriend picked it.
Where It Came From: I pulled this, along with a few dozen other records, out of the crawl space underneath the basement stairs before my dad sold the house I grew up in.
Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run
(Side I: 1. Thunder Road 2. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out 3. Night 4. Backstreets Side II: 1. Born To Run 2. She's The One 3. Meeting Across The River 4. Jungleland)
Where It Came From: Purchased used. This one has a sticker that says "Jackpot" on the front, which means it came from the great Jackpot Records in Portland, Ore. and was either purchased by me on a trip to visit my mom and younger brother, or by a friend from whom I inherited a couple dozen LPs when he moved across the country five years ago. Spencer, if you want it back, I can totally send your Jane Fonda's Workout Record any time.
Velvet Underground - Loaded
(Side One: 1. Who Loves the Sun 2. Sweet Jane 3. Rock & Roll 4. Cool It Down 5. New Age Side Two: 1. Head Held High 2. Lonesome Cowboy Bill 3. I Found A Reason 4. Train Round The Bend 5. Oh! Sweet Nuthin')
Why This Record: The only VU album I really want to own, though it doesn't include "Femme Fatale," which is the only VU song I really want to sing along with.
Where It Came From: purchased new about a month ago
The Strokes - Room on Fire
(Side A: 1. What Ever Happened? 2. Reptilia 3. Automatic Stop 4. 12:51 5. You Talk Way Too Much 6. Between Love & Hate
Why This Record: Sometimes the pressure to pick a new record triggers a kind of unconscious game of free association, I suppose. Velvet Underground —> The Strokes. Duh.
Where It Came From: Purchased new in 2006, one of the first albums I picked up after deciding I wanted to start listening to LPs.
Washed Out - Life of Leisure EP
(Side A: 1. Get Up 2. New Theory 3. Hold Out Side B: 1. Feel It All Around 2. Lately 3. You'll See It)
Why This Record: I like EPs and short albums and it felt like time for something new. Also, I put the Strokes and Velvets LPs away at the same time, and Washed Out is filed right next to Velvet Underground. Sometimes it's that simple.
Note: Life of Leisure is a 12 inch EP, and every time I put it on, I forget to switch the turntable's speed to 45 rpm. I'm almost used to it at 3/4 speed; even the mp3 sounds a little chipmunk-y to me now.
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
(Side 1: 1. Black Mirror 2. Keep The Car Running 3. Neon Bible 4. Intervention)
Why This Record: This pick belonged to my lovely and intelligent girlfriend. I presume she listened to more after I left for the show.
On the iPod, in the Subway, on the way to the show:
6:40 - 7:00pm
- "Interstate Love Song" by Stone Temple Pilots
(A couple of weeks ago, I heard "Vaseline" on the radio while on a road trip. That song's fine, but this is the STP song it made me want to hear. It's funny how suggestion can turn into compulsion: I bought it on iTunes immediately after returning home, and I'm still working it out of my system.)
- "A More Perfect Union" by Titus Andronicus
- "Titus Andronicus Forever" by Titus Andronicus
- "Four Score And Seven" by Titus Andronicus
Three songs, downloaded from mp3 blogs, as prep for the show.
Webster Hall, Manhattan:
7:15pm - 10:30pm
"Starve the Beat" / "Buried in the Nude" / "Boss" / "Sheep" / "Lights Out"
I arrived at Webster Hall a few minutes after Screaming Females took the stage, which is a shame for a couple of reasons. First, because I was invited to this concert by the band's publicist, and got in on the guest list (worth noting because not paying for a show is the sort of thing can absolutely change your experience), but more importantly because Screaming Females is led by a monster of a guitar player named Marissa Paternoster who looks a little bit like a Ray Davies teddy bear and sings like she's trying to punch you with her throat muscles. The band is awesome. I wish I'd seen more.
"All I Know" / "Free Energy" / "Dream City" / "Young Hearts" / "Bad Stuff" / "Something In Common" / "C'mon Let's Dance" / "Bang Pop" / "Hope Child"
Gleeful costumed pastiche with no interest in sound beyond 1983. After this set, I heard a fellow concert-goer tell a late-arriving friend that Free Energy was "kind of a bad band, but really fun." This seemed wrong to me — they're excellent musicians who write songs that seem like they should play over B-movies about the last day of high school in 1978, and they have the mustaches to prove it.
Nonetheless, I spent most of this set sitting on the back of the venue, reading a couple of short stories ("The Swimmer" by John Cheever and "Ask Me If I Care" by Jennifer Egan, ftr). Which, probably not by coincidence, was how I spent a decent amount of time at dances when I actually was in high school. Maybe Free Energy deserves credit for conjuring that feeling effectively.
"A More Perfect Union" / "Richard II" / "No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future" / "Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ" / "Theme From 'Cheers'" / "Titus Andronicus" / "To Old Friends And New" / "The Battle of Hampton Roads" / "Titus Andronicus Forever" / "...And Ever" / "Four Score and Seven" / "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock n' Roll)" (AC/DC cover featuring Free Energy)
If Titus Andronicus, on record, isn't exactly singular yet, the energy the band brings to its live show makes thinking of anyone else a serious challenge. Unlike Screaming Females and Free Energy, enthusiasm wins out over precision, and of the three bands on the bill, Titus was the only one that managed to translate their energy into a feeling of urgency.
Almost every song in the set has a sing-along moment, and the crowd — middle aged rockers vibing off the Springsteen/Replacements/Pogues feeling and indie rockers alike — goes almost as raspy as Stickles on songs like "Theme From 'Cheers'" ("I need a whiskey! / I need a whiskey! / I need a whiskey! / Right now!) and "... And Ever" ("The enemy is everywhere!").
No iPod on the way home. The only sound that competes with the conversations of fellow subway-riders is the ringing in my ears.
Katy Perry on Saturday Night Live
"California Gurls" (around 12am) and "Teenage Dream" (around 12:50am)
It doesn't need to be said again how bad just about every single musical guest on this show sounds — the mix is always funny, with the vocals up too high, and the drums too low and everything else limp and characterless, like it's spilling from speakers home-made out of notebook paper and dirty towels.
I'm not sure if the problem is worse when it damages the performance of an artist you care about, or when it exposes and enhances the obvious flaws of a singer who doesn't have you in her corner to start off with. As previously noted, I have some tolerance for Ms. Perry, but this performance doesn't go well. During "California Gurls," it looks like she's singing to a backing track, which wouldn't go against the history of this particular television program. I start to wonder here if back-up singers for pop stars who "dance" while they "sing" aren't possibly selected for their ability to closely imitate the tone of said stars. Listening more closely, it becomes pretty clear that the back-up singer in the blue cotton-candy wig is pulling "Perry double" duty on the chorus (file under: things I never would have noticed if I hadn't watched the performance multiple times on the Internet).
Watching SNL means you also hear the show's saxophony theme song, plus other incidental themes composed for the show's sketches — like the theme to the "Bronx Beat" sketch or the fanfare that leads into "Weekend Update." I suppose music probably played during the commercials between sketches, but Saturday Night Live is pretty much a show by which to sink lower and lower into the couch and "rest your eyes" until something like an overly made-up pop starlet dances onto the screen between puffs of fake cotton candy and assaults your eyeballs open.