Sunday, June 24, 2012

Listening Diary

Gone are the teenage days of the sitting in one’s room and letting a new album wash over you. Most people my age couldn’t do that now even if they wanted to.  Well, I do want to, and it’s damn near impossible.

But even back then, when other kids were listening to Pink Floyd lying on their beds stoned, I listening ot it, while sitting at my desk, doing homework. On a Friday night, I’d be reading a novel.

In other words, most of the time, I was rarely sitting there, just listening. In fact, it was a form of not listening. More like absorbing. Through my pores, I guess. And it worked, to an extent.  I still know every note to every solo on Allman Brothers at Fillmore East.

But I fear it’s had the overall effect of making me a slower listener, because it takes me forever to decide if I like something or not. (Meet the Beatles? The jury’s still out...)  Which is why I hate to dismiss music when I may simply have not given it the time it needs.  Like the Green Bay Packers - they never really lost a game, they just ran out of time.

And of course, as adults and parents, our opportunities to just listen are rare. Always “doing something else” is the story of our lives. If we’re lucky, we get to combine activities, like listening to music while surfing the web. I remember reading an article where Captain Beefheart advised his fans to put his record on, and then go mop the floor.  “Music to do something else to”, I guess.

But multi-tasking has been discredited, and neither thing gets done as well as it could have been if done alone. Including actively listening to music. So, these days I’ve got two obstacles to get over: finding the time to listen and finding the time to listen.

So here’s an old geezer’s attempt to listen to and judge new music I picked up on last trip to the record store.

Beck’s Sea Change (2002)
Why did I buy it?  Lots of mentions in my spreadsheet (don’t ask link), despite a mocking Robert Christgau review. And only $8.99!
First Listen – Late evening. I played it at the computer while I sat in the adjoining room. Mrs. Jaybee was at the computer, so she heard it better than me.  She passed on my playing it again for dinner the next night. Too depressing, she said. Me? I thought it was pretty. But then I was in the next room. (Time is bad enough. Space is a whole other blog...)  B+
Prediction: I’ll probably end up liking it a lot.

Bright Eyes Lifted (2002)
Why?: Only one mention, but I loved I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, and it was an allmusic pick.
First Listen– Late that same night.  More sprawling than Wide Awake. More noisy. More warbling. So far, less melody, too.  Not terrible, but not great either. B-
Prediction: I’ll end up loving it.

The Best of Blur (2000)
Why? I don’t know.  A Best of with a bonus CD, used at 8.99?
First Listen: No sooner did I put it on when I realized that the air conditioners needed to go in.  First song, okay. Second song confirmed to be that annoying one my son mentioned. Third is an old favorite. The little I heard of the rest was all right.  Didn’t care for the last song.  B-
Prediction: Disappointment. This is based on the fact that I ended up paying 8.99 for it when I could have gotten it from Amazon for $5. For that alone, I’ll project my self loathing on them and hate them, which is also what I do when I’m slightly disappointed.

Wu Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu Tang (1993)
Why? One of the most mentioned hip hop record.. Plus, that nice young man who helped me charge my car battery years ago in Newark, was wearing one of their tee shirts. First Listen: I kept trying to find the right time to play this.  I settled on a sunny afternoon in the backyard, while the neighbors were barbecueing. I took it off after about 7 seconds, when I heard the first line: “bring the f*cking ruckus!” Okay, maybe another time.  I finally settled on early in the morning before everyone is up, but with the volume low. (Hey, it worked for A Tribe Called Quest!) B
Prediction: Probably not a good bet for summer listening, but by winter I’m really going to like it.

Second Listen:

Beck’s tunes are right there so I almost have no choice but to enjoy them for now. B+
Bright Eyes gets interrupted.  It’s a loooonnng record. Such records make me feel bad. The artist works so hard to create it, and here I am, barely able to find the time to listen. But it’s growing on me. Sloooowly. B
I keep getting up to leave the room after putting on Blur.  This time to clean the grill.  Sounding better, though. B
Tried to listen to Wu Tang Clan again, but Mrs. Jaybee was working and asked me to turn it off.... B


Beck is sounding better and better. But it’ll peak soon, I fear... A-
Bright Eyes almost makes it thru the early morning, until Mrs. Jaybee wakes up. Incomplete
Blur almost makes it thru the late morning until I have to run some errands. And driving around, by the way, is no way to listen to new music. As if doing chores at home is.... Incomplete
Wu Tang benefitted from a beautiful evening when I’m home alone and everything sounded great. A-

Around this time, I got a few more CDs, which made this experiment even more half assed than it was when I started. But I try to soldier on....


Beck continues to maintain a very high level of pleasantness. A-
Bright Eyes gets an uninterrupted play again, and its rough edges are finally starting to smooth out. B
The Mrs. and I had an argument while listening to Blur in the van. I HATED it, and damn near threw it out the window. C-
A beautiful sunny day is not the best time to listen to Wu Tang Clan. The effect of the mayhem gets blunted when I’m lounging in my backyard. B-


Beck is doing just great, but I don’t feel like I really know anything about it except its surface. A-
I’m beginning to notice the individual songs on the Bright Eyes record. A critical development. B+
I no longer hate Blur, but I’m still kinda pissed at it. I will admit that the songs are beginning to become distinguishable. B
I’m enjoying the overall sound and energy of Wu Tang Clan, when Mrs. Jaybee confesses that she hates them. And all I can say is that that nice fellow who helped me start the car - who must now be about thirty-five - will be very disappointed. B+


Beck is in the lead, but I’m doubting his staying power, as I do with all pretty records. A-
Bright Eyes’ ambition and range are now getting clearer. That doesn’t mean that I love the record. If anything, it draws attention to the potential weaknesses. Now that I’m past the noise and conversations, I’m taking in the songs.  Will they turn out to be any good? There’s at least one great one, though. B+
I’m resisting Blur. I don’t quite believe they’re real. In other words, how could they be great if I didn’t know more about them? Unreasonable, I know, but considering what I was going to do with them on the fourth listen, it could be worse. The music, by the way, is in the good, not great, range. They may require good weather. B
Wu Tang is on sabbatical....


Beck continues to sound strong, as my resistance weakens. A-
Now I’m wondering what was so off-putting about Bright Eyes. It’s all hanging together pretty well. B+
Blur is also hanging together well, but it’s just not as compelling. B
Poor Wu Tang....


Beck comes crashing through. On a perfect quiet night for this sad record, both me and Mrs Jaybee love it. A
I’m hearing Bright Eyes now, and the three or so great songs are, well, great. But the length of the record renders the genre exercises a little annoying. B+
And a beautiful afternoon proves me correct about Blur. They’re a pop band, but the songs are stronger than I had hoped. And I like their guitar player.  B+,
Oh where oh where are thou Wu Tang?

And in Conclusion...

I’ll stop now. And here’s how they sound:
Beck:: A
Blur: A-
Bright Eyes: B+
Wu Tang: B+

And here’s how I predict they will sound to me at the end of the year:
Beck: I’ll see through all the beauty and find some flaw to harp on. A-
Blur: Obvious summer records tend to get put away during the cold weather. B+
Bright Eyes: His persistence will eventually win me over. A-
Wu Tang Clan: They’ve been relegated to early morning or late night when Mrs. Jaybee is asleep. But I may finally be getting this music. B+

In other words, despite my wishy washiness, I appear to be sticking to my original opinion. No, not about the music. About what my opinion will be.

Between then and now I hope to formulate a final judgement on Meet the Beatles...

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