A Night Out with Liam Finn

Peter has a piece in the New York Times today describing his “Night Out with Liam Finn,” whose music he loves. Close readers of the article may be curious to learn the etymology of “daggy,” which did not make it into the final draft: it’s literally a New Zealand word used to describe a sheep’s rear with dung stuck to it.

While on the topic of Peter’s discoveries in indie rock, he stumbled across a link a couple of days ago to the musician Phil Elverum’s photos of every book in his house, which I was completely transfixed by.

If Schoolhouse Rock were Afro-Pop, and Sung by Cape Codders exiled to New York

My favorite song about punctuation is currently Oxford Comma, by Vampire Weekend, a group that I know about because the lead singer, Ezra Koenig, took a Melville seminar I taught a couple of years ago and sent out an all-points bulletin this summer about his band’s shows in Brooklyn. Anyway, it’s very catchy, and in the past few months it’s migrated into my high-frequency playlist. According to the band’s website, it’ll be on an EP that comes out next month.

The Door is Open Wide

Peter wrote this essay last week, after hearing the news about the Go-Betweens’ Grant McLennan:

Grant McLennan, who died of a heart attack May 6 at age 48, wrote my second favorite song of all time. The song is called “Bye Bye Pride,” and it came out in 1987 on “Tallulah,” the fifth album by his band, The Go-Betweens, although I didn’t hear it until 1991, after the group had broken up and put out a retrospective compilation. I did buy “Tallulah” upon its release. I was a sophomore in college, and I must have read something in the Boston Phoenix or one of the city’s free local music papers that said that if I liked jangly guitar pop, which I did, I would love The Go-Betweens. But I’ll confess that I sold the album not long after I bought it, and I’m not sure that I’d even listened to it all the way through. I think it was Gore Vidal who said that you have to be over 40 to fully appreciate Proust. You don’t have to be quite so mature to appreciate The Go-Betweens, but perhaps they were a bit too subtle for an easily distracted 19-year-old.

Three years later, I came across that compilation at the Tower Records on Newbury Street. Its title, “1978-1990,” read like the dates on a headstone. But the CD cover, a simple photo of ferny green leaves reaching up into a cerulean sky, held out nothing but promise: sunlight, growth, clarity. Still, I resisted, remembering the hocked “Tallulah.” I didn’t buy “1978-1990” for another year. I can’t explain what, in the end, prompted me to finally seek it out again. It did, in a sense, call to me. I was somewhere, doing something, and I thought, “I should really go buy that Go-Betweens compilation.”

As any fan with tell you, every Go-Betweens record is divided equally between the band’s two singer-songwriters, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan. McLennan’s songs are often described as sweeter, lusher, more conventional, while Forster is the difficult one, his delivery eccentric and theatrical. (Not long after I became the owner of “1978-1990,” I bought a VHS tape of six of the band’s videos; in each, Forster vamps for the camera, doing everything he can to draw attention to himself. McLennan just stands and strums.) Secretly, every Go-Betweens fan has a preference, be it ever so slight, for one singer over the other. The McLennan songs on “1978-1990,” and the individual albums that I began to buy afterward, immediately became my favorites, but I learned that the roles the two frontmen were assigned by music critics weren’t exactly accurate, that they could actually be reversed. Forster’s songs were witty and arch, but they skimmed the surface. McLennan, at least in the band’s early years, had the darker vision. Only in his 20s, McLennan, like this listener, couldn’t get beyond the losses of childhood, found adulthood confusing and sometimes harrowing.

It is difficult to describe a song in a way that makes sense for someone who hasn’t heard it. It is even harder to communicate the song’s appeal. How can I tell you in words why “Bye Bye Pride” is my second favorite song? I could only play it for you, and the song’s greatness should be evident. I would like to think that is true, but I have played “Bye Bye Pride” and other Go-Betweens songs for my boyfriend, and he is immune to their charms. I have put the song on mix tapes for friends, and not one has singled out that song as being moving or life-altering or special in any way.

Perhaps the song has all of the elements that make up the quintessential Grant McLennan song. There are small, concrete details—mangroves, an electric fan, boats in a bay, a letter dated May 24—that seem to add up to a story, a story that never quite comes into focus. There is, as in most songs, bad romance. And there are lines that I swear are poetry: “In la Brisa de la Palma, a teenage Rasputin takes the sting from her gin.”

What got me, though, was something about the melody, and something about the chorus, that pointed toward release. I was 23, and floating. I loved music and books, and I found a job that allowed me to work for an hour or so a day and spend the rest of my time sitting at a desk reading and looking out the window. But I had no idea what to do next, whether to stay in Boston or to move to New York, whether to stay with my then-boyfriend or leave, whether to find another job or go to graduate school. I would listen to The Go-Betweens on my headphones on the bus ride home from work. I played “Bye Bye Pride” over and over, and the song’s melody mirrored the floating motion of my life. The verses hovered, like a skiff on the water. But then came the chorus, the part that I waited for, when Amanda Brown’s oboe line swooped high, a flourished bouquet of flowers. “Take your shoes and go outside,” sings Grant. “Walk to that tide because the door is open wide.” I couldn’t walk through that door, but it was something to know it was there. —Peter Terzian

Beyoncé ennuyée

Stendhal writes:

I do not know what effect a man’s jealousy has on the heart of the woman he loves. Jealousy on the part of a lover who bores her must inspire extreme irritation almost to the point of hatred, if the object of this jealousy is more attractive than the jealous man, for, as Madame de Coulanges used to say, one only likes jealousy in those of whom one might be jealous one’s self.

The insight is reprised, I find, in a track by Destiny’s Child, “Bug A Boo”:

It’s not hot that when I’m blockin’ your phone number / you call me over your best friend’s house / And it’s not hot that I can’t even go out with my girlfriends / without you trackin’ me down / You need to chill out with that mess / ’cause you can’t keep havin’ me stressed / ’cause everytime my phone rings it seems to be you / and I’m prayin’ that it is someone else